1. “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” – Morricone Youth. This wild, expansive piece grabs from a wide array of movie soundtrack, traditional, and current indie-rock influences as part of a soundtrack for Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 German animated silent film of the same name. (The film is the oldest known surviving animated film.) It’s the sort of genre-defying, eclectic, intensely unique music that doubles as a “stump the music journalist” game.
2. “Cumulus” – Koltbach. This is straight-up what trip-hop sounds like in 2016. The stark, staccato beats, the dusky mood, and the lush piano all hearken back to early trip-hop. The burbling, zippy synths update the sound pleasantly. This is solid, impressive work.
3. “Rattlesnake No. 3” – The Aquaerials. Thundering piano low-end commands my attention pretty thoroughly, and this high-drama instrumental piece has it in spades. Some pad synths play in for atmosphere, but this one’s all about the piano.
4. “Vi 1” – DYLDO. A cascading, woozy bit of piano and violin, like a quartet on psychedelics. It’s a bit of a disorienting piece–it feels like something familiar hidden in the waves, but the modulations make it uniquely other. Fascinating.
5. “Anillo delicado encantado” – Jorge Segovia. A playful, quirky piece from Segovia that sounds at the beginning like the sort of work you might find in the adventuring segments of an RPG (Final Fantasy came to mind first, then Zelda), but it rapidly transitions into a lusher, fuller section and back out. There’s a lot going on in this short piece, which is what makes it such fun to listen to.
6. “Slooshy Klang” – Niles Cooper. Not actually slooshy or clangy, this piano-and-violin work is a sort of deconstructed Carly Comando piece, as a pulsing, pressing lead melody gets anxiety and breaks up into staccato parts. The violin just adds to the air of uncertainty. It’s the sort of thing that appears at the nadir of a protagonist’s arc in movies: really sad, in a majestic sort of way.
7. “Rain” – Frode-5. Not too long, not too short, this solo piano piece sets up a pensive mood, inhabits it, and lets it fade off into the distance. Restraint is key here, and overall the piece works wonderfully.
Slow Magic‘s How to Run Away combines chillwave and chiptune, two of my favorite niche genres, to create a whole album that lives in the tension between lush and staccato. “Hold Still” shows off the dichotomy best, where flowing synths and chill beats in the bulk of the song give way to a mini-dubstep coda with screamin’ single-note synths straight out of a video game somewhere.
Slow Magic does have songs that show off both sides: “Youth Group” sounds like Final Fantasy-inspired chiptune, while “Girls” is right in line with Pogo and Blackbird Blackbird in terms of chopped-vocals/smooth synths chillwave construction. But it’s the songs where the elements cross (and are augmented by insistent piano, as is often the case) where the songs shine. It’s not as high-energy as Anamanaguchi, but this isn’t sit-back-and-relax music either. It strives to make its own path, and that’s commendable no matter what genre you’re in.
Remedies also has some serious chiptune influences, but they choose trip-hop as their second ingredient. Slow Magic chooses upbeat, bright moods; Remedies chooses downtempo, midnight-blue moods to go along with high-pitched synths. The sounds from all your SNES dungeon gaming have found new life in Believers, re-appropriated in unique ways.
This is most clearly shown in single “Trap,” where the opening riff sends me back to Zelda: Link to the Past, while the dreamy synths and autotuned vocals take the song in a different direction. The vocals appear throughout the album, graduating the tunes of Believers from easily-classified electro jams to a more complex and rewarding description: a hybrid R&B/alt hip-hop project. “Time” is a particularly evocative example of their hip-hop grooves, while follow-up “Good Books” shows off their R&B chops in vocal melodies and spurned-lover lyrics. Chiptune, trip-hop, hip-hop, and R&B in a blender seems like a tough thing to imagine, but Remedies sounds surprisingly assured and mature in pulling it off.
ODESZA‘s In Return also has some R&B influences, particularly in the Shy Guys feature “All We Need” and the smooth instrumental banger “Kusanagi.” But it’s a side effect of ODESZA’s main mission: absorb every possible electro-based genre into its own version of what electronic music should be. Call it post-dub if you like, but there’s hardly a drop to be found here (even of the artsy version they originally came to prominence on). Instead, there’s flashes of clubby electro-pop (“Sun Models”), soundtrack-ready mood backdrops (“Sundara”), laconic electronic estimations of quirky indie-pop (“Memories That You Call”), and more. The opening of “For Us” sounds like the start of Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing,” which is more compliment than not from this party.
By absorbing the lessons of many different strains of electronic music (including chiptune!), ODESZA has crafted an album that blows past all of them. There’s not a cloying or cheesy moment on this whole album, which is a testament to the group’s skill and nuance. (I love Anamanaguchi, because cheesiness is the point. When cheesiness is not the end goal, that’s when it gets problematic.) If you’re into electronic music, you really should be listening to ODESZA. For my money, they’re making the most interesting electronic music around.
2. “Start Again” – Slow Readers Club. There’s a dark, slinky, sexy groove that falls between Interpol and Bloc Party going on in this hook-filled tune.
3. “Feels Like Work” – The Slang. Jimmy Eat World seems to have a monopoly on the introspective rock song that is both emotionally powerful and actually rocking, but The Slang are throwing their hat in the ring with this tune. I’m a fan of this towering rock tune.
4. “The Lord’s Favorite” – Iceage. These Danes make this tune sound like some sort of high-speed, drunken Johnny Cash outtake, from the musical style to the depictions of drinking and hard living. (That’s high praise, in case you were wondering.)
5. “Why I Had to Go” – Bishop Allen. People who weren’t necessarily fans of Bishop Allen’s latest power-pop single will rejoice at this eclectic, affected indie-pop tune reminiscent of their previous work.
7. “Hold Still” – Slow Magic. Threatening ODESZA’s place as my favorite electro artist right now, Slow Magic makes moody, ethereal moments out of the most minor of sounds. This one does open up into a bit of an epic slow jam, but never includes a ton of instruments to overwhelm you with.
8. “Trap” – Remedies. This smooth, well-crafted electro jam has strong Zelda/Final Fantasy vibes, and I’m totally down with that.
9. “Weightless” – Grand Pavilion. These newcomers take a slow jam/R&B angle on their electro work, complete with autotune reveries.
10. “Bark and Sticks” – Kosoti. I never thought I’d be into a fusion of alt-folk and funky rhythms, but lo and behold. Really unique mood here.
11. “We All Been There” – Chris Heller. Mmm, sometimes you just gotta have some piano-fronted blue-eyed soul/R&B in your life. Heller really nails the soulful chorus.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.