A quirky, varied Soul Selection Mix, with infusions of dance music that weave in and out between lyrical hip-hop and a soulful second half: that’s the most accurate way I can describe Night Beds’ “Strangers in Paradise Mix.” Its over 30-minute duration begins with fresh electronic pieces, intertwined by rich R&B and dense hip-hop beats. Duke Dumont’s “Street Walker” sets the mix off, then the mix manifests a Disclosure sleekness with Cyril Hahn’s “Slow.” I was most intrigued by Jacques Greene’s remix of Ciara’s “Sorry,” which elevates the mood with exotic percussion and sleepy-eyed vocals.
A third of the way through we’re presented with a few Jaylib tracks to yank us out of that sensual pool and bounce around various hip-hop snippets with static transitions, like changing the channel on different genres; the common denominator is the constant groove. “Woman” by WoodzSTHLM feat. Night Beds slows it down again halfway, tumbling into a series of romantic tracks, such as “Antidotum” by Kobana.
Ambiance draws the tide out with “Cybertrance” by Les Mes, which rumbles for minutes. It ends with a retro whisper of a song that you may recognize: “Stranger in Paradise” by Vic Damone. But the antepenultimate is what stamped this mix shut like a hot wax seal on a piece of parchment: “Ain’t Got Time” by Roy Ayers shimmies it up with jazz and powerful lyrics: “The war has just begun/the war for freedom…We ain’t got time to be tired/We got a long, long way to go.” Check out Night Beds’ latest album, Ivywild, for more.
Leon Van Les is a Latvian house wizard. On his track, “Life,” the vocalist repeats a single far-away phrase, staying true to mainly instrumental house music roots: “Do what you do with what you want out of life.” Not only is Van Les’s production trimmed and clean, but the combination of pure house and a taste of tropical left my palate cleansed of the usual tumble of genres. (Not that I don’t support the genre-less movement, because it’s awesome.) It felt refreshing to hear straight, sophisticated house music equipped with blinking female vocals, sharp strings, and a quick-to-build house beat that drops into a Kygo-esque sonic whirlpool with underwater fluorescent lights.
Leon Van Les shows another side with the track “Basics,” which has navy blue tones; it’s deeper, more Cathedral, but just as shiny as “Life.” A jabbing rhythm balls up into dark, vibrating synth that sounds like an electronic organ at Church of the Holy House Music. My favorite parts of the song are the carefully-employed drops that, instead of exploding into shards of mind-blowing bass, accentuate Van Les’s poignant elements: crisp production, suspenseful beats that gain momentum throughout, and minimalism, which seeps in through our Church of the Holy House Music’s vents. It’s the spectral simplicity, keeping with the basics if you will, that stamps this Leon Van Les track a warehouse banger. —Rachel Haney
1. “Too Deep in Love” – Kylie Odetta. Post-modern pop that mashes hip-hop and torch song, electro jam and walking-speed diva pop tune. It’s an infectious blend.
2. “Tide Teeth” – Night Beds. So I didn’t expect Night Beds to go all electro-soul on us, but he’s cranking out the sensuous slow jamz here.
3. “Kindred” – Red Cosmos. Smeary synths, staccato percussion, perky treble melodies and dour vocals create a unique space somewhere between dream-pop and downtempo psych-rock.
4. “Khazé” – Mune. That moment where post-punk was turning into new wave (which would soon birth synth-pop) was a hazy phaze where energy and lackadaisical dreaming seemed to coexist. Mune gets that.
5. “Aftergold” – Big Wild. Electro doesn’t always have to feature big, walloping synths: “Aftergold” relies on strings, plunky marimba, uncomplicated beats, and burbling vocals to create an energizing, impressive track.
6. “ Ghost ft. Patrick Baker” – Lane 8. Artsy electro drawing off trance and funk instead of dubstep is a welcome thing in my book. This tune never has a major drop, and that’s 100% cool with me.
7. “Away – Reptile Youth. The Flaming Lips dabble in electronic music, but Reptile Youth puts the creaky, eccentric, cosmic vibes that the lips peddle firmly into the electro milieu. The vocals of the two outfits are particularly similar.
8. “Amalie” – Colornoise. This track has the sort of mystic, atmospheric vibes that Fleetwood Mac was able to conjure up, only with a bit more ominous, gritty vibe on one end and sweeter vocals on the other.
1. “Keys in the Lake” – Hillström and Billy. This Swedish indie-rock track starts out at a level of enthusiasm that many songs crescendo to. It grows from there, if you can imagine that.
2. “Everything at Once” – Her Magic Wand. Authentic drum sounds power this M83-meets-Interpol-meets-Air jam.
3. “This Picture’s Old” – Stereogramm. Arpeggiator-heavy synth-pop from the “faster faster faster” school of thought, tempered with a relaxed vocal delivery that creates a fun tension. In lesser hands it could have been goofy, but instead it’s endearing.
4. “Young Oblivion” – Memoryy. If the giddiness of MGMT could have been tempered by the darkling sheen of The Naked and Famous, we’d have had this jubilant track earlier than we do.
5. “Wherever You Are” – New Arcades. If you’re looking for a huge, synthy pop track, here’s a strong candidate.
6. “Me vs. I (Rimski Bronski Mix)” – Hannah Schneider. Schneider is a neo-classical/electro/singer-songwriter somewhat in a more-recognizable-Bjork vein. This remix gives her sound bounce, lift, and vaguely African rhythms for a really fun time.
7. “Part of the Problem” – Trey Mumz. With a name like that, I’d expect auto-tuned R&B slow jamz. Instead, it’s auto-tuned psych slow jamz. Mad skillz.
8. “Me, Liquor & God” – Night Beds. If you go electro, you better know what you’re doing. Night Beds does a good job of keeping his melodic gifts on display while transitioning from soaring country to club-friendly, arch electronica.
9. “Sudden Acts” – Temple Invisible. Portishead-style trip-hop vocals meet witch house-style synths: a dark rave ensues.
10. “Raise the Gate (ft. Body Games)” – T0W3RS. First rule of electronica: know when to get out. This two-and-a-half-minute slice of ominous vibes and slinky rhythms hits it right on.
11. “Reykjavik, January 2015” – Teen Daze. My favorite “started as chillwave” outfit is now augmenting their core sound with the icy/warm tension of pensive melodies and pushing rhythms. The result is a beautiful piano-led tune.
My last MP3 drop was pretty chill. Here’s some decidedly energetic MP3s to get you through the middle of the week.
ENERGY AND STUFF
1. “The Scope of All This Rebuilding” – The Hotelier. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the incredible title of the album this comes from: Home, like Noplace Is There. Then appreciate the frantic, emotionally charged, complex arrangements of this mile-a-minute pop-punk rager. It’s a workout, y’all.
2. “On Your Own” – Germany Germany. Clubby house with some neat synths and a great nighttime vibe? SECRET TECHNO FAN EMERGES!
3. “Tear Your Hate Apart” – Monks of Mellonwah. I cover hardly any modern rock, but man–these guys know what’s up. Interpol-esque moods, great falsetto, and strong control of atmosphere call up Muse comparions, but without the proggy bloat.
4. “Here We Go Again” – King Champion Sounds. The line between punk and post-punk is muddied here by horns that aspire to stay out of ska territory by being textural and integral to the sound.
5. “Evergreen (Feat. I AM DIVE)” – Brunetto. Moody electro incorporating fractured breakbeats, muscly tones, and some chill vocals (for contrast).
6. “Pulsing (Feat. Nina K)” – Tomas Barfod. You’re driving on an empty highway through a major metropolitan area at 4 a.m. This perfectly titled electro track is playing on the stereo.
7. “How Do You Know” – Scary Little Friends. Neil Young guitars, skyscraping vocals, and a ragtag alt-country feel propel this tune to great heights.
8. “Head for the Hills” – Night Beds. Night Beds can do no wrong so far, as the folky troubadour gives us a few triumphant indie-rock moments here. Give your ears a rest and enjoy this one.
February-April is Spring release season, and there’s always more than I can cover as a single man. However, I can mitigate this partially through mixtapes! Today I’ve got a folk/country one; tomorrow I have an indie-pop-rock one.
Alt Your Country Are Belong to Us
1. “You Don’t Know Better Than Me” – Luke Winslow-King. Easy-going folk/country vibe hits some New Orleans swing with gorgeous results.
2. “Beneath the Willow Tree” – The Lonesome Outfit. This yearning, gospel-inflected country tune features great vocals.
3. “Grandstanders” – Sunjacket. Carl Hauck is in a band? Of course it’s wonderful. Fans of Animal Collective and My Morning Jacket will enjoy this moody, rumbling, intricate tune.
4. “Ramona” – Night Beds. Everyone’s all up in Night Beds. They are totally right.
5. “Fall With You” – Mikaela Kahn. Snare shuffle, a beautiful voice and a strong mood: yup, you’ve sold me.
6. “Griping” – Dear Blanca. The horns and vocals in this song are absolutely excellent.
7. “Secret” – Time Travels. If there is clapping and singing in your song, I will cheer. This jaunty, indie-pop by way of alt-country tune makes me cheer.
8. “Junior Year” – Case Closed. A little bit country, a little bit pop-punk, a little bit The Format.
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.