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The Top Five Albums of 2015: Neeharika’s List

31 Dec

2015 has been a great year for music, particularly for solo artists. Adele released 25, a follow-up album to her groundbreaking age-denoted 19 and 21 that immediately rose to the top of charts and minds. Attention-grabbing British superstars aside, the underground scene saw the meteoric rise of gender-fluid pop stars, solo ventures of established bands, and a general proliferation of great individual-driven acts. So without further ado, here are the Top Five albums that caught our attention this year.

  1. Multi-Love, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

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The Auckland-Portland collective, driven by singer-songwriter Ruben Nielson, has been a critic favorite since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2011. In early 2015, the band released Multi-Love, an album that defies the psychedelia genre by incorporating minimalist versions of vintage pop elements. For example, the eponymous track is a shimmery mix of Lonerism-era Tame Impala and your favorite Scandinavian pop from the 80s. On “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”, a slinky horns section segues into a syncopated interpretation of a disco-heyday track.

In fact, both tracks highlight the stylistic theme that pervades the entire album: the fact that Nielson has a damned good ear for understanding how to turn a musical trope inside out. Take “The World is Crowded”: it’s counter-intuitive that the song could be that sonically pleasing when it has so much potential to be sped-up and jazzed-up into, say, a Maroon 5 hit. But Nielson makes it work, and with great confidence. The same with “Puzzles”: there’s enough snaking bass on there to pique Josh Homme’s interest, but Nielson tames the beast with his chosen pace.

Overall, Multi-Love starts off as a fresh take on psych-pop and ends as a stand-alone great album. Guaranteed to stay with you a few years.

Best track: “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”

  1. Art Angels, Grimes

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Grimes shot to the top of the charts in 2011 with her absurd, literate brand of synth pop. The music video of her viral hit, “Genesis”, was inspired by a Judgment Day painting drawn by a 15th-century Dutch religious painter, and she considers Hustler Magazine CFO’s daughter Brooke Candy as her personal muse. Her idiosyncrasies may paint her as purely an art-pop phenomena, but with Art Angels, Grimes successfully crosses over into pop that can be enjoyed by all, no matter personal dispositions towards abstract art.

What surprised us on first listen is the fact that almost every track on the album could be a bonafide pop hit, if only exaggerated with a few mainstream flourishes. However, Grimes’ eccentric touches – whether it’s the vocal trills on “Flesh without Blood” or the K-pop-inspired AutoTune on “Kill V. Maim” – elevate the album much beyond its mainstream confines.

Art Angels really rises above the bar set by Visions because of the sheer number of new landscapes that Grimes has explored. “Venus Fly”, featuring the inimitable Janelle Monae, has a bomb-ass beat that could be the soundtrack to an advert by an impossibly-cool fast-fashion brand. If “California” came on the radio, you would be sure that it was a remixed version of a Taylor Swift-outtake from her country-darling days. Essentially, Grimes has managed to surprise us by being, well, normal.

Art Angels sees Grimes evolve from a wildfire underground act to a unique pop star that is okay with taking a wider audience into her fold. And that’s definitely a good thing.

Best track: “Venus Fly”

  1. Ratchet, Shamir

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Shamir and his home-town, Las Vegas, have one key aspect in common: they defy normality. Vegas is the world’s playground, a campy, adult-sized amusement park with rides that revolve around desperation and addiction. On Ratchet, Shamir defies age, gender, orientation and our expectations by creating ten tracks that succinctly sum up his generation.

“Vegas”, the album opener, is an ode to this very connection. With an androgynous voice as fluid as his gender, Shamir gives us an insider’s view into life in Sin City (“You can come to the city of sin and get away without bail/But if you’re living in the city oh you already in hell”) over a sparse beat that bubbles and pops. Vegas is the spiritual backbone of many of his sparkly dancefloor tracks, as well. For example, “Hot Mess”, with surreal Hot Chip-esque beats slathered against an acid house bass, hides anguish behind hypnotic Technicolor, much like Las Vegas does.

Shamir also stands out as the best representation of his post-millennial generation, a group that has never known life without the endless possibilities facilitated by the Internet. On “Make a Scene”, a dizzying ode to poor teenage decisions, Shamir exhorts you to kiss strangers in lust-fuelled nights while simultaneously thumbing his nose at superficial Tinder culture. He expands on this theme on “On the Regular” – “Don’t try me, I’m not a free sample”, he chides, atop a dazzling mash-up of boasts reminiscent of Le1f and Azalea Banks. It’s only fitting that the song has been used for Android Wear commercials!

With Ratchet, Shamir has proven that he has a future as bright as his hometown’s glittering Strip. Expect more from this guy, for sure.

Best track: “On the Regular”

  1. In Colour, Jamie xx

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Jamie xx, one-half of Britain’s foremost minimalist act the xx, is a master of repition. He knows how to balance a layer, carefully and precisely, until the track becomes a chaotic, living beast – like a Jenga tower in reverse.

While the xx is mainly known for breathy vocals over sparse beats, In Colours shows off the range of Jamie xx’s textural arsenal. Jungle beats form the perfect, if unlikely, minimalist element on “Gosh”, which reels you in with chant-like thumps that belie a melody forming right in front of your ears. On “SeeSaw”, a trip-hop pulse creates the perfect anti-thesis to xx bandmate Romy Croft’s signature dreampop vocals. “Obvs” is a four-minute electronic paean to the steelpan; it’s even more magical than it sounds.

The album-standout “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” just serves to prove Jamie’s hypnotic dexterity. Although the song features Young Thug spitting lyrics that would make Lil Wayne blush, and wonky dancehall beats from Popcaan, the genius lies in Jamie’s skill in synthesizing these elements into a summer-time radio hit.

On In Colour, Jamie xx displays layering wizardry that hasn’t been seen since this side of Merriweather Post Pavilion. A musical roller coaster, if there ever was one.

Best track: “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”

  1. Currents, Tame Impala

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If you’ve been reading our articles for a while, you know that we’re great fans of Tame Impala. The Perth pysch phenomenon’s Lonerism earned numerous mentions on our articles throughout 2012 and eventually topped our year-end list. It’s déjà vu, then: Currents is, in our honest opinion, the best album of the year.

Over the three years since Lonerism, Kevin Parker – the one-man army behind Tame Impala – has grown considerably. His words have sharpened, his beats are more full-bodied and his anguish is far more complex. While previous records allowed us not-so-fleeting glimpses into his brooding mania, Currents shows him alternatively trying to let go more and hold on tighter – a fascinating combination that leaves you hooked from start to end.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the haunting album-opener “Let It Happen”. Parker speaks of a voice telling him to let his paranoia go, but undercuts his would-be catharsis with gloom that chills you to your bones: “If my takeoff fails, make up some other story/And if I never come back, tell my mother I’m sorry.” It’s a train-wreck, slowed down to a speed that underscores the stark beauty in destruction.

He shows progress, though. On “Cause I’m A Man”, he accepts his faults as the man in the relationship, slicing away at self-hate by handing over the reins to his woman (“You see, I have a conscience and it’s never fooled/ But it’s prone to be overruled”). “Eventually” sparkles with liberation, after a break-up that would have left erstwhile-Parker in a death spiral (“But I know that I’ll be happier/And I know you will too”). It’s an interesting turn of events.

Currents lies at the exact sweet spot of lyrical genius and musical innovation, alongside its two predecessors. It’s also perfectly-named: Kevin Parker is changing as a person, and his music circles him like an eddy in a flowing stream. Aptly, Currents will change your life – if you just let it happen.

Best track: “Let It Happen”

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Top Class: The Best Music of the Year

29 Dec

Seasons’ greetings to our readers! As Year Twenty-Twelve winds down, there are a few inevitable questions that arise. Why did the Mayans provide such an anticlimax? Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? What were the best albums of the year?

Unfortunately, prophecies and politics are not our forte, but we proudly share with you our take on the year’s best in music.  From R&B superstars to British indie rock, Top Five Records covers the top five records (duh) from the year that was.

5. Jake Bugg, by Jake Bugg

Young 19 year old singer-songwriter from Clifton, Nottinghamshire

Young 19 year old singer-songwriter from Clifton, Nottinghamshire

Chiming in at number five is one of England’s finest singer-songwriters – and certainly the youngest. 1994-born Jake Bugg (né Jacob Edwin Kennedy of Nottinghamshire) impressively channels artists from at least thirty years before his birth in his eponymous debut album Jake Bugg. Yes, the overarching obvious influence is Bob Dylan, but there’s a healthy bit of Lonnie Donegan and Graham Nash in there too. The entire concoction is astounding for several reasons: he strums and finger-picks like he could be pals with Nick Cave; he writes and phrases like he could be a contemporary of 2005-06 era Alex Turner; and he looks like Britain’s answer to Justin Bieber.

Raucous skiffle/country stomp “Lightning Bolt” starts the album off on a rather good note, and sets the tone too. “Two Fingers” is a tribute to his life in Clifton: fat joints, too much alcohol, and an unnamed man in the house flinging curses at Jake’s mother, while “Seen It All” deals with pills, gangster crews, and the kind of parties where everyone carries a knife. Surely, it is enough to send a young man into spirals –Jake admits that he’s “run down some dark alleys” in his head. The lad’s appeal shines through in “Two Fingers”, though: his “Hey, it’s fine/I left it behind” closer adds that subtle touch of having ‘seen it all’ and being all the wiser because of it. “Ballad of Mr Jones” is a slow-burning epic about a powerless man who drunkenly takes things into his own hands; we guarantee that you spend the song thinking, How the hell is this guy just nineteen? The best song on the album, however, is still our old favorite. Jake Bugg’s album is an hourglass, with one bulb set in yesteryear’s bluesy tarnish and other set in today’s grisly reality – the best part is that you don’t even notice the sand flowing between the two.

Must check out: “Someone Told Me”, “Ballad of Mr Jones”, “Lightning Bolt”

4. Channel ORANGE, by Frank Ocean

Christopher Francis Ocean.

Christopher Francis Ocean.

Clocking in at our number four is R&B critical darling Frank Ocean. Last year, Mr. Ocean’s mixtape Nostalgia.ULTRA topped many a critic’s list. The current member of oddball rap troupe Odd Future was an erstwhile songwriter for artists as varied and well-known as Beyonce, Justin Bieber and John Legend. But with his debut mixtape, Frank has decided to step out of the background, and has since then come into his own as perhaps the best R&B artist recording today.

Channel ORANGE was cleverly released in the very week that normally girl-lusting Frank Ocean confessed (on Tumblr!) to being in unrequited love with a man for many years. The shock surrounding the news, coupled with a series of shrewdly-timed interviews, meant that Frank was the biggest thing in music at that point. Happily, the album lives up to the hype.

Frank Ocean's tell-all Tumblr post

Frank Ocean’s tell-all Tumblr post

“Forrest Gump” is about that same man, who ran Frank’s mind for a few years (Run, Forrest, Run. Get it?). On “Bad Religion”, he sings/confesses in earnest (“I could never make him love me/ Never make him love me”) to a taxi driver/shrink for the hour, and you’re left wondering if ‘he’ is the man in “Forrest Gump”, or God, who historically tends to frown upon homosexuality. Prostitute/Queen of Egypt mash-up “Cleopatra” is equally rich in religious motifs. (We wrote about it earlier this year.) But we felt that the best songs on the album arise when Frank pairs his emotional revelations with an R&B foil of sorts: such as Outkast’s Andre 3000 on “Pink Matter”, or our personal album pick “Super Rich Kids” featuring fellow Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt.

What really strikes you about Frank Ocean is his ability to turn the hedonistic ideal on its head: that a life of drugs, alcohol and sex can rebound into a very acute sense of loneliness and defeat. Flip over to Channel ORANGE, asap.

Must listen: “Bad Religion”, “Super Rich Kids”, “Cleopatra”

3. Django Django, by Django Django

Art school kids from Edinburgh

Art school kids from Edinburgh

Imagine that you live in a space station in year 2250 with the rest of the humans, decades after the Earth has proved uninhabitable. Imagine that you then decide to zap yourself back to ancient Cairo, find yourself a bodacious desert caravan, zap yourself forward to the Californian desert of the 1850s right into a spaghetti Western, and finally go on a caravan journey to the Pacific Ocean where you decide to go surfing. If you can imagine all this, then you’re prepared to listen to Django Django, the eponymous debut album by four of the finest specimens of Edinburgh’s art-school scene.

Even if you can’t imagine what we describe above, start listening. Django Django have made it easy for you to picture with the aptly entitled album opener “Introduction”, where synths from the future meet rugged outlaw whistles of Old West, while “Hail Bop” transitions seamlessly from this seething drama into almost a Beta Band-like classic, echo-y pop rock. (Interesting trivia: Django Django’s David Maclean is in fact the little brother of the Beta Band’s keyboardist John Maclean!)

Django Django album cover

Django Django album cover

“Skies over Cairo” is a mind-blowing instrumental piece that could soundtrack a revamped version of the video game Prince of Persia if it were rewritten as a mystery-thriller, while “Zumm Zumm” heads south right into the sub-Sahara.

The album’s centerpieces, though, are the two singles that the band has released. “Default” jangles with unrelenting percussion, chant-chorus lyrics and synths straight from hyperspace, and is overall one of the catchiest songs you will hear in your life. MGMT only wishes they were this good. “Waveforms” is the other crowning glory in this overall glorious album. Starting off exactly like a Major Lazer song, the synth-drama slowly unfolds in a cerebral haze that is more organized that it seems on surface. The song ends with the entire band chanting a hypnotic mantra:“Touch it, break it, shake it yeah/ Take it apart and break it yeah/ Try to rearrange it yeah/ Couldn’t recreate it yeah”.

And that’s what the band essentially does. They take noises from various locations and time periods of world history, and rebuild it into a colorful kaleidoscopic juggernaut that is wholly organic and fully fantastic.

Must listen: “Default”, “Waveforms”, “Skies Over Cairo”

2. good kid, m.A.A.d. city, by Kendrick Lamar

good kid, m.A.A.d. city: A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar

good kid, m.A.A.d. city: A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar

Straight-out-of-Compton Kendrick Lamar’s debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, is a meditation on what makes a classic, near-perfect hip-hop album. The album cover features a young Kendrick in the background and a tall bottle of booze in the foreground; Kendrick sets the familiar atmosphere that has consumed many a rapper: that of the over-arching influences of a mad city’s harsh realities, especially for a young black man. The difference between Kendrick and all those other rappers is the other element pictured on the album cover – family – because of which Kendrick managed to stay a ‘good kid’ despite Compton’s gang culture.

But that doesn’t make a classic hip-hop album: not quite. Kendrick is also an excellent rapper, an adept storyteller, and an intelligent young man, and is able to convey his thoughts in a killer flow over some seriously slick beats. Kendrick has correctly subtitled the album ‘a short film by Kendrick Lamar’. It’s a flipbook of glimpses into Kendrick’s life – from teenage lust and gang temptations to the maturity of young adulthood – and it’s so well-articulated that you could actually be watching a movie.

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth

On “Sherane”, a teenaged Kendrick drives out to his girlfriend’s house, mad with lust: only to stop short at her driveway at the sight of two hooded gang members; a voice mail from his mother, asking him to come back home, ends the song. The story continues in a skit on “Poetic Justice”, where he eventually gets jumped by the two gangsters on account of being on their turf. This event catalyses his thought process on “good kid”, where he realizes that he’s stuck between the ‘red and blue’ of Compton’s gangs and the ‘red and blue’ [police lights] of the bigoted cops. “I’ve never been violent, unless I’m with the homies,” explains ‘good kid’ Kendrick on “The Art of Peer Pressure”, and these are the same influences that he tries to overthrow on “m.A.A.d city”.

The album’s story arc – and Kendrick’s process of transition – finds its end on “Real”, in a heartbreaking skit with Kendrick’s parents. “Any nigga can kill a man, that don’t make you a real nigga,” his father tells him, “Real is responsibility, real is taking care of your motherfucking family, real is God, nigga,” while his mother chimes in with, “I love you, Kendrick.”  Kendrick Lamar has created more than an album: he has actually written a poignant and all-too-real script of gang culture’s harrowing influence. We strongly urge you to listen to good kid, m.A.A.d. city. It’s a masterpiece.

Must listen: “The Art of Peer Pressure”, “good kid”, “Real”

1. Lonerism, by Tame Impala

Album cover

Lonerism.

Over the course of the year, we have already sung numerous praises for Perth’s retro-psychedelic sensation Tame Impala. Over the course of the year, we also realized another thing: nothing else we’ve heard in 2012 has been able to match up to their album. The conclusion? Tame Impala’s sophomore album Lonerism is, in our honest opinion, the best album of 2012.

Yes, it is true, Tame Impala sounds like they might’ve fit in well in the late 1960s. Yes, it is true, lead singer Kevin Parker sounds eerily like Jim Morrison and John Lennon. But either one of those facts wouldn’t make them brilliant, or even that notable: psychedelic rock revivalists are a dime a dozen. Lonerism is special because Tame Impala’s band members have swathed themselves in the spirit of that bygone era so meticulously that they know no other way of making music; so that when the digital-age sheathes of synths (or any other elements) are inevitably added in, they seem perfectly organic even against the retro backdrop.

The umbrella theme on Lonerism stems from Kevin Parker’s acute introversion and subsequent loneliness. This manifests itself in songs that are at different stages of his thought process: from the suppliant “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” to the resigned “Keep On Lying” to the wonderfully nihilist and expressly titled “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control”.

Perth boys

Perth boys

The whole album is a giant trip; and each of the songs is, individually, a mini-trip that swirls and floats around in your head, with enough small quirks and strokes of genius embedded in the album to leave you spell-bound. There’s that moment on “Mind Mischief” when the strobe vocals and atmospherics wind down by a fraction to surface a guitar riff. There’s that moment on “Sun’s Coming Up” where the mournful piano ballad unexpectedly switches into hopeful, reverb-heavy wah-wahs: like musical sublimation. There’s that moment on “Keep On Lying” when the guitars, drums and non-diegetic laughter suddenly sync up, and a new phase of the song begins. These magical moments can and will vary for each listener and listen, which means that Lonerism is that rare, ever-replenishing goldmine: a classic.

“Elephant”(music video!) is an unrelenting, mind-blowing animal of a track that overtakes your entire mind for a few minutes; Tame Impala hypnotize you into their world with cymbal crashes, drum rolls and that bassline, dear God. Fluffy white clouds float lazily by in an azure sky on “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” (music video!), and you’re too headily high to notice what Parker’s really saying (“But I got my hopes up again, oh no, not again/ Feels like we only go backwards darling.”). “She Just Won’t Believe Me” is a snatch of four-sentence brilliance, like a mistakenly-tuned radio station.

We tried, but we just couldn’t stop ourselves from describing nearly every song on this album.

Tame Impala’s Lonerism sounds like that one unforgettable stoned reverie (we’ve all had one) that you had in college when you were tripping on weed and listening to ‘60s psychedelia. If you like The Doors, post-Revolver Beatles, early Pink Floyd or getting high, you will love this album. Even if you don’t really like any of these things, you’ll still like Lonerism. We guarantee it.

Must listen: “Elephant”, “Keep On Lying”, “Mind Mischief”

Agree with our top five? Disagree? Let us know in the comment section below!

Top Five New Songs to Break the Silence

9 Oct

Greetings. We realize that it’s been a disastrously long time since this site has directed the questing listener towards any good music. We also realize that there is no better way to redeem ourselves than by presenting you, reader, with five new songs that are sure to, well, strike a chord, whatever your genre-preference.

In the time of our lengthy absence, quite a few things have happened in the world of good music. Animal Collective, venerable mainstream-tiptoeing giants of the indie world, released a new album, as did equally beloved rock band Grizzly Bear. Flying Lotus put forward another experimental banquet, while recently-divorced Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth teamed up with the world’s most famous widow Yoko Ono for an intriguing project entitled, simply, YOKOKIMTHURSTON. Space-rock pioneers Muse also released a new album, and fellow country-men Coldplay thought it would be clever to have a Barbadian superstar play a Japanese woman in a song entitled “Princess of China”. Meanwhile, England also gave us the latest Adele-inspired offering in the form of Jewish class-act Jessie Ware.

So what should you listen to amongst all this exciting new music? Read on!

Dark Doo Wop, by MS MR

Sparsely-titled NYC duo MS MR Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow (MS for her, MR for him) really like Tumblr: so much that they released their debut EP, Candy Bar Creep Show, on the platform for all and sundry to hear. The EP itself is full of operatic, lush drama that’s just a beguiling sneer short of Lana del Rey and a crisp shade of vulnerability more than a household radio-hit. However, it can be argued that MS MR are still to find their true sound to go with their well-formed Tumblr identity.

But all is forgiven because of ‘Dark Doo Wop’, which evokes the same haunting, ethereal beauty of witnessing graphic violence set to a score of 50s Stepford-pop. “This world is gonna burn, burn, burn, burn/ As long as we’re going down, baby you should stick around,” sings Plapinger, and in her supreme gift she makes you feel both the helplessness of her world collapsing around her, and the sickly romance of wanting him to stick around despite it all. If you’re going to listen to only one song from this set of five, it’s this one.

Goooo, by TNGHT

TNGHT really like colors. The cover art of their eponymous EP is a promising, confident riot of colors and (to take forward the obvious metaphor we’re building towards), so is their music. Think Timbaland on MDMA, or for the hipsters, karaoke-track Sleigh Bells (but harder, better, faster, stronger). TNGHT consists of Glasgow-based Hudson Mohawke and Montreal-based Lunice, but their sound is of a frantic, hedonistic NYC party: the sort of the unadulterated ecstasy from which the Weeknd’s soul-crushing post-high R&B could have possibly derived from.

‘Goooo’ is a prime example of TNGHT’s brilliance, with a tinny hair-raising whine leading into some of the boldest, slickest beats you’ve ever heard in your life. The whole ‘song’ blips and bleeps along with the assertive ferocity that can’t be bought or mimed: TNGHT is just that cool. When you hear the biggest names in rap and hip-hop dropping a verse or two over TNGHT’s beats (it’s going to happen soon; this seems almost built for that), remember: you heard it here first.

Rosie Oh, by Animal Collective

When we last saw Animal Collective, their drugged-out campfire-electronica was, much to fans’ surprise, slathered in a wholly accessible pop sheen. Consequently, yet unexpectedly, they were on the precipice of mainstream success, but managed to keep enough of their inimitable quirk to satisfy fans who have been there from Feels and earlier. The question with Centipede Hz, the new offering from the Baltimore group, was whether it would lean more towards their pop album Merriweather Post Pavilion, or hearken back to the ‘Fireworks’-era Golden Age. The answer, of course, is what we should have expected from Animal Collective: it is neither. In fact, it’s something else altogether.

Our favorite track off of the album has to be the swirly, beautiful ‘Rosie Oh’, a track that’s so upbeat that it could be the music for the forest-friends sequence of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Especially since Merriweather, Animal Collective (Panda Bear in particular) have gotten very good at writing metaphorical lyrics that double as pop songs. “You had opened up the door and made a place where I could sit inside and fortify/ But I said no I’d rather not; said no I’d rather not step in,” sings Panda, but soon sees the error of his cold-shouldering ways. “I’d like to embrace it all; have I made this or is it that I’ve been made?” he wonders later. Try to catch the words, if you’re not too busy grinning from how happy ‘Rosie Oh’ makes you.

Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control, by Tame Impala

Close your eyes for a minute, and think of every single 60s psych-rock cliché you can possibly think of. A crash of cymbal, followed by a deep drum flourish; slightly off-tune piano; distorted, lingering vocals tweaked into cryptic depths; the slightest peppering of Eastern inflections; and a good old-fashioned dreamy, ebb-and-swell three-minute wordless segment bang in the middle. Until we heard Lonerism, Perth band Tame Impala’s second album, we didn’t think it was possible to recreate all those elements into a song without sounding like you’re just ripping off from a bunch of immortal bands. You could put “Nothing That Has Happened So Far…” right in between “Whole Lotta Love” and “A Day In The Life” on a 60s playlist you’ve heard tens of times before: and you’d be hard-pinned to cop out this song from October 2012. It doesn’t hurt at all that singer Kevin Parker sounds almost exactly like John Lennon.

Listen to this song if you’ve ever wondered why they don’t make music anymore quite like Zep or Floyd or the Beatles.

Yet Again, by Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear makes pretty music. It’s not pretty in a sugar-rush twee way. It’s not pretty in a vulnerable solo/acoustic way. And it’s not pretty in any way that uses modern-day sound-engineering tricks. Grizzly Bear makes full-bodied, organic music which is pretty because it’s technically flawless, musically upright and just plain real. You can picture these guys playing guitars and drums and singing choruses into a microphone each: in fact, you can almost see them performing right in front of you. In the era of dubstep and EDM, when you really don’t know what the music ends and where the smoke-and-mirrors begin (or, really, sometimes what ‘music’ is), Grizzly Bear are a comfortable, honest reminder that real music – the kind even your grandparents could recognize as music – still exists.

“Yet Again” is the lead single off of their remarkable latest album Shields. (Watch the music video for the same above: it is a suitably pretty video about the troubled life of a teen-aged ice-skater.) While it doesn’t equal Grizzly Bear’s career-wide shining jewel, it does remind one nicely that they’re as brilliant as ever. The wistful vocalization in the middle is a little Suzanne Vega, we thought, and just as well: they possess her brilliance at writing an honest-to-God good song. Listen to “Yet Again” if you just want to listen to music that sounds like music, goddamnit.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the Comments section.

More New Tracks to Impress Your Friends

27 Jul

For those who appreciated our earlier such venture, and for those of you just joining us, we present to you a list of five songs that were on perpetual repeat this week. Here we go.

Constant Conversations, by Passion Pit

In one of the first articles on this site, we talked about Passion Pit’s “I’ll Be Alright”, a frantic pop song that slyly talked about self-loathing. This time, we shall hope to introduce you to “Constant Conversations”, which is quite removed from being a pop song: in fact, it’s an R&B jam.

“Constant Conversations” has measured R&B beats as the foundation (“constant”), layered with lead singer Michael Angelakos’ pained confessions of failure (“conversations”). While this is a pretty common theme on Passion Pit songs, one usually sees Angelakos restraining himself on the gloominess. Here, though, he goes all out.

 

These are the kind of confessions that come out when you’re inebriated, and Angelakos confirms this: “I never wanna hurt you baby, I’m just a mess with a name and the price/ And now I’m drunker then before they told me drinking doesn’t make me nice,” he says, and you know there’s no inhibitions here. While the vintage R&B layering is spectacular – Boyz II Men and Usher have got nothing on Passion Pit – what really steals the show is the heartbreaking chorus. Brilliant way to start your way into Gossamer.

Fineshrine, by Purity Ring

Corin Roddick and Megan James

Purity Ring is an electronic band from Canada, composed of singer Megan James and instrumentalist Corin Roddick. Since April, when their astonishing debut Shrines released, they’ve become famous for dreamy, elegant, clean electro-pop with strange song titles– for example, “Ungirthed”, “Obedear” and “Amenamy”. The song we like best is “Fineshrine”, a graceful synth-pop song with slick beats and a voice like Elizabeth Fraser’s on “Teardrop”.

To describe any further would be to do no justice for the song: James’ peculiar phrasings and porcelain vocals need to be heard to be appreciated. Imagine if MGMT released a song featuring Norah Jones, and you’ll only be halfway to imagining “Fineshrine”.

 
Jumanji, by Azealia Banks

Azealia Banks is a 21-year-old rapper from Harlem, New York. She has a fascination with mermaids, and sounds like the biggest riot since MIA hit the scene. “Jumanji” is a single from her mixtape Fantasea, and featured on the single cover is a children’s-book-like image of Ms. Banks dancing with a very dapper elephant. Frankly, that image says all you need to know about “Jumanji”. The beats on this song sound half like a ferocious jungle and half like an children’s birthday party, but they anyway take a back seat to the mind-boggling flow of Azealia’s rhymes.

Ms. Banks has more swag than Nicki Minaj, better flow than Kanye, and enough braggadocio to rival Jay Z. Her beats include dramatic drums, plinky calypso, and gratuitous amounts of energy. She frequently chant-raps lines like “Real bitch, all day/ Uptown, Broadway” and “I do it ‘cause it’s my duty / Crazy and kinda spooky/ Yo boobie, step up ya coochie,” in a way that very few female rappers can pull off. If you think Nicki Minaj would do well to learn real swag like Lil’ Kim’s, then you’re going to like Azealia Banks.

Listen to it here.

Elephant, by Tame Impala

It’s easy to judge Tame Impala wrongly: to be fairly honest, their name sounds like hipster nonsense. But if ever a reason to not judge a book by its cover (or a band by its name), it is here: because Tame Impala is, in fact, a very good classic rock tribute band.

“Elephant”, the first single from the upcoming Lonerism album of the Perth, Australia band, starts off with heavy, stomping bass-and-drums and a voice that sounds like Mr. Mojo Risin’ himself. Seriously, we DARE you to listen to the first ten seconds of the song without being reminded of the Doors. And like any good stoner/psychedelic rock band, the lyrics are deliciously mystical and obtuse. “I bet he feels like an elephant, shaking his big grey trunk for the hell of it,” goes the opening line, over a beat that feels like, well, an entire line of elephants shaking their big grey trunks for the hell of it. Spiffy.

 

Looking at the YouTube comments section for the video, there seems to be legions of fans trying to classify the song’s sound using the trusted “This is like that one classic rock band, but with a front man from a different band” formula. So far, good ones we’ve read include “Josh Homme fronting the Beatles”, “Syd Barrett fronting Black Sabbath” and “Wolfmother lead singer fronting Deep Purple”, but our contribution would have to be “Jim Morrison fronting Cream”. What do you think?

Wut, by Le1f

 

We’ll cut right to the chase. Here are three reasons to listen to this song immediately:

1. It has the slickest beats you’ll hear all year: a mixture of alarm bells, vuvuzelas and handclaps that will (and I guarantee this) get stuck in your head.

2. Le1f is signed to Greedhead, the record label run by Himanshu Suri, who is one-half of Das Racist, who as we all know are the coolest people on the Internet.

3. Le1f is a ludicrously flamboyant gay black rapper who raps – or rather, brags – about being a ludicrously flamboyant gay black rapper.

“Wut” is the first song from his mixtape Dark York for which Le1f has released a music video, and good God, what a spectacular music video it is. At one point, Le1f grinds on the thigh of a male mannequin who just happens to be wearing a Pikachu mask. Shockingly, you hardly notice all of that, because your jaw is too busy dropping at Le1f’s flow: he spits out seventy (!) words of spectacular swagger in ten seconds (we counted).

Of course, like any self-respecting rap music video, “Wut” has a couple of busty women who are strutting their stuff for you, but it’s pretty ironic here, because Le1f struts his stuff along with them – plus he’s got way better moves than them anyway. Yes, he’s gay (understatement) but it’s amazing how he brags about it, brazenly, the same way 50 Cent brags about his cars and women or Snoop about his weed and women or Kanye about Louis Vuitton and women.  “I’m the kind of jawn closet dudes wanna go steady on,” he boasts, before going on to explain, “I make a neo-Nazi kamikaze want to firebomb.” He’s right.

Agree with our list? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section!

– Neeharika.

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