- “Diamond in the Rough” – Dr!ve. This weekend I was out at Kibitz Room, and the boogie-down vibe of the red-velvet-lit d!ve bar, where a 99-year-old David Bowie lookalike sat sipping bourbon, could be described with this synth-pop, funk-dr!ven jam. As light as the instrumentation is, there is soul and richness in the brown liquor-warmth of it all.
- “Baby When I Close My Eyes” – Sweet Spirit. The nine-piece indie band brings it on like a crop top-wearing ‘90s chick with sticky sweet vocals, an attractive string section, and sexy rock qualities.
- “Highly Emotional” – Benjamin Verdoes. F**k. This really is strikingly emotional. Longing, pulling, swirling soundscapes paired with echoed vocals that sound like they’re galaxies away, how could it not be?
- “Air” – Clas Tuuth. An electronic breeze of hand claps, light, feminine vocals, and a natural easiness of sound.
- “Two Bodies” – Flight Facilities (Henri remix). All he needs is five minutes, and all I needed was a half hour to pick myself up off the floor after hearing this gorgeous remake that emphasizes suave European vocals with string, piano, and of course, that tempestuous house beat.
- “Heart of Glass” – Korr-A. Had to give a shout out to last weekend’s Los Angeles Mad Decent Block Party with this colorful, pop-trap dance party track. Korr-A is that chick people hated on in high school because she was just so much damn cooler than they were.
- “Groove Squared” – Ghost Lover (Steve Hope remix). Powerful piano, blubbering bass, and minimalist vocals bring Barcelona-infused vibes that make me sad to see summer go.
- “Chicago Warehouse Party 1995” – Thee Koukouvaya. If this had a video, it would go something like this: Aliens zap you up into a multi-dimensional, techno-laced, time-barren universe and then drop you back down through the atmosphere, tumbling towards Chicago, and crash you through a stained glass warehouse ceiling onto the tranced-out, upward arms of dancing strangers.
- “Burred Lens” – Arts & Crafts (WIN WIN remix). Burred Lens brings crispness to the Arts & Crafts original that once gets going, rhymically zigzags down an angel-white powdered vertical. Hint, hint, 2:07.
- “Arch” – Rough Year. Bringing a raw realness that only a citizen of the City of Brotherly Love could deliver, trans artist Rough Year texturizes grit, spooky vocal snippets, and demonic percussion for over eleven minutes of an experience as deep and dark as those Philly potholes.
- “Golden, Blinding (Feat. Galun)” – Alek Fin. James Blake-esque vocals with severe electronic sensuality it’s not hard to be magnetized to. I haven’t seen Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’d imagine the movie should have went something like this…
- “Say My Name (Fakear Remix)” – Odesza (feat. Zyra). Fakear’s fresh remake of the Odesza hit is sophisticated, adding a new filter of flyness achieved through twinkling synth, diamond-encrusted vocal bits, and subtly brilliant drops. This is a crisp remix that’s been released in appropriate unison with the autumnal equinox.
1. “Soul Makossa (Money)” – Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP. Take the summery flirtatiousness of D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha” with Lou Bega’s trumpet-filled “Mambo No. 5,” and turn it up five notches on the dopeness meter. It’s a total pull-this-out-nonchalantly-at-a-party-and-immediately-become-the-coolest-person-there tune; the new “Macarena” we have all been waiting for.
2. “Glider” – Greyhat. This track hails from Foreign Family Collective, where radiant Odesza influence gleams through sci-fi glitch, guiding you through a labyrinth of zips, zaps, bings, and bass.
3. “The Gift of Giving” – CDAD. Labeled as dadstep, CDAD places breathtakingly honest lyrics with deep male vocals for a James Blake-vibe that is somehow rawer and heavier, but just as sensual.
4. “Spring” – Calvert. ‘Easy, Breezy, Electronic Pop Cover Girl’ could be the slogan on this track, which is laden with buttery vocals and a catchy, paisley-patterned beat.
5. “Cave Drops” – Minor Rain. A psychedelic experience in the rain forest and this beautifully textured chillstep track go hand-in-hand, or wing-in-wing–whichever takes you as high as Minor Rain has intended.
6. “Pieces” – Yellow Shoots. Of course, we need a trip-hop track somewhere on here, and “Pieces” is it. Smooth groove, easy vocals, and a soaring build from the start give this one a mellow R&B flare.
7. “sore” – elle le fantôme. Twinkling, like metallic rain, and a drudging-along rhythm create a damp, dreamy setting. The gloomy vocals of elle le fantome and her resisting, determined lyrics create a glittery, yet spooky, experience.
8. “The Real” – Hein Cooper. The ice-cold, abstract album art featuring a blurred Cooper perfectly illustrates this melancholy indie electronic track. “The Real” has a classic rock n’ roll appeal to it, making it one of the most versatile on this list.
9. “Queen” – Jon Zott. This is my kind of house music love song: minimalist, clean, and very obviously focused on declaring he’s found “the one,” his queen, this tempting groove. This one’s for the ladies!
10. “Play Out” – Zola Blood. Just like the album art, featuring a hot pink blob of what appears to be a rock molting from the inside, “Play Out” drips and dribbles into catchy dreampop. Lyrics like, “I’ll be the left side, if you’ll be the right/I’ll let it bloom and then let it die,” add an emotive dimension to an already gracefully complex electronic track. —Rachel Haney
1. “Take a Dive” – By Day By Night. Big, friendly synth-pop that’s a mix between M83 dusky drama and Chad Valley exuberance.
2. “You’ve Got Somethin‘” – Air Bag One. I don’t know if it’s just my vantage point, but it seems like we’ve moved from big synth-centric ’80s jams to big vocal-centric ’80s jams. If so, Air Bag One is on point with this tune.
3. “Time (feat. La Petite Rouge)” – Haring. Wavering chillwave synths create a blissful mood before a neat and tidy beat comes in to give the song motion and structure. It grows from there, without ever overwhelming the initial mood. Beautiful.
4. “A Berry Bursts” – Twin Hidden. This enthusiastic, difficult-to-classify track sits somewhere between gentle indie-pop, low-key electro, and Tokyo Police Club’s giddy pop-rock attack. It’s way fun, whatever it is.
5. “Kangarang” – Casual Strangers. This psych-rock tune explores the more ambient, experimental, almost electronic vibes of the genre–eschewing huge guitars for a deep groove, this song is a burbling, thoughtful instrumental jam.
6. “Start Again (ft. Amy)” – Stefansson. I can’t resist an EDM song that is tasteful and restrained with the more stereotypically brash audio elements of the genre.
7. “Lackluster No.” – Nova Heart. A stark, sparse landscape gives way to an elegant, pristine, magnetic body of the song. It fuses electronic elements and live bass in a surprising way. It grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.
8. “World Government” – Heptagon Heaven. Do you need six minutes of arpeggiated synths, great sound washes, and general “cool” vibe? Of course you do.
9. “Indian Summer” – Jai Wolf. The stuttering optimism of Gold Panda fused to ODESZA’s artsy, high ideals post-dub makes for a deeply impressive track.
Rise, from the San Francisco-based producer Lane 8, is a sleek, dreamy gem of a house record. From the emotion-packed pacing to several male and female vocalists to the thought-out track lengths, Lane 8 has taken into consideration every aspect of the listening experience.
The first track, “Loving You,” is a slow-building standout with dazzling, commanding cooing from vocalist Lulu James. “Are we gonna be here forever/Wrapped up, captivated,” she sings, comparing love to suspension and treading on water as a dance-inducing techno beat escalates. “I’m a fool for love. I’m a fool for loving you,” James confidently proclaims like a man-eating ‘80s R&B/pop singer, launching an uplifting vibe that pulses throughout the album.
“Diamonds” seduces with hollow percussion that drips like wooden rain, contrasting beautifully with the breathy vocals by duo Solomon Grey. The pair is also featured on “Hot As You Want,” where jabbing synth drops in and out between their misty vocals. The lovingly honest lyrics, “You’re all I need, you’re all I need/You’re all I see, you’re all I see,” compliment the driving nature of the track.
Lane 8 incorporates just as many melodic elements as his heavy tonality. “Klara” uses the same dark, steady rhythm and metallic percussion that you’d hear playing in a Roman aperitivo bar. “Cosi” distorts like a VHS tape being rewound, breaking and pausing only to stir back up again. “Sunlight” and “Rise” are other melodic tracks, the title track blending both dreamy vocals and computer synth for an enchanting, upbeat club quality.
On “Ghost,” a galloping beat canters underneath slow piano; emotional vocals from Patrick Baker give it an Odesza feel at first. It ends up weighing in on the blissful side of deep house though, emitting such happy plucks that it could easily go tropical. “All I want is just to feel you/Everything just looks so see-through,” Baker sings like a ballad on this shorter, feel-good track.
“Undercover” also has that versatility to it. Matthew Dear’s raspy vocals, which balance the track’s high-pitched pop synth and progressive house builds, make this a throw-on-repeat song. Dear’s breathtaking vocal presence on “Undercover” shines at a perfect time on the album, reminding you that there’s a calculated journey Rise is taking you on. If a pan flute or sax was added, this could be a tropical house track ready to lick salt and squeeze limes.
The best way to describe Rise is versatile, like the multi-purpose cleaner of house records, except a lot sexier than that. Lane 8 hits on many varying aspects of deep house, all while staying loyal to his clean, heavy style and proving, once again, that the man masters mood. —Rachel Haney
Underground club producers Perdido Key transcend house music, varying into many upbeat dimensions that lug dark tones beneath the surface. Their latest EP, Lost is Found, is a lucid dream, pulling us into a labyrinth of psychedelic compounds and synthetic bass lines. Lost is Found journeys through its five tracks like a person entering a new room every few minutes at a dingy house party.
The title track starts by immediately lulling you into an opening scene of a cinematic warehouse venue. You can almost feel the passing slimy shoulder of a trance dancer. Four-on-the-floor rhythm provides a steady, uniform beat that emphasizes its deep house origins. With dreamy, light vocals layered on top, this is a flawless contrast of harshness and lovely ambiance. It has an Odesza feel initially, but the jacking rhythm quickly cuts through the fogginess. The ending gets mistier, trailing behind us distantly, echoed. You soon realize this track, and the whole EP, is an obscure and perplexing take on electronica.
Quick, even tempo is carried over into “I’m Free,” which exhales a spellbinding river of sharp, varied, static sounds complemented by deep vocals that dip in tone. The build-up halfway through the song sucks up the griminess with a laser-beam zap, and then drops down a series of clanking sounds, like banging on dull kitchenware.
“Rat Acid” is a peak time Techno cut that hops, soars and pops. It sounds like a recording of an arcade game’s inner-workings with its all-over-the-place bounciness and Pac-Man-like bits.
Earl Grey numbs “Lost is Found” into something heavy and sublime that somehow still maintains an elegant loftiness. This may be due to the angelic whispering that at first tries to seep through unnoticed. It has a SBTRKT dankness to it. The William Earl remix of “I’m Free” belongs in an action thriller. Its drawn-out layers build suspense and keep us wanting more, epitomizing Perdido Key’s hypnotizing prowess.
Perdido Key’s eccentric take on techno is dense, frenetic and lively. This NYC duo has captured their city’s grungy energy in Lost is Found through entrancing left-field house and the familiar scents of a sweaty, pulsating basement. —Rachel Haney
Problems That Fix Themselves – Which Is Worse. This electronic duo creates gently unfolding, melodic ambient/glitch music. They manage to make glitch not sound brittle and lifeless, especially on standout track “8:62.” Elsewhere they make circuitbending sound downright beautiful; this might be the easiest introduction to the technically and musically intimidating practice I’ve ever heard. It’s not ODESZA by any means, but fans of melodic post-dub will find connections they may not have expected.
Nate Allen and the Pac-Away Dots – Take Out the Trash. The wild songwriter behind the folk/punk duo Destroy Nate Allen! took a long, hard look at the ills of society. The subsequent musical and lyrical response was a bit darker and weightier than DNA! purveys, although the songs of Take Out the Trash still fit in the folk/punk category. Allen’s raspy voice is perfectly suited to righteous indignation, and so tunes like “West Side Blues” come together perfectly with impassioned vocals over brazen electric guitars. On the other end of the spectrum, gentler tunes like “Social Equality” aim an introspective lens at social justice with banjo, brushed drums, and acoustic guitar. It may make you laugh a bit less and think a bit more than DNA!, but the songwriting chops are just as strong (and in some places stronger) for the change in topic.
Kayte Grace — Chapter 2: Sail There EP. Kayte Grace’s country-folk-pop is a charming, romantic brew that will appeal to fans of Taylor Swift, Twin Forks, and young love. There’s infinite depth to be mined in young love, and Grace does that here, both melodically and lyrically. It’s smooth, sweet, but not too saccharine; if you’re swooning over someone right now, you’ll be all about it.
Hit Those Keys
1. “8:62” – Problems That Fix Themselves. Breakbeats! Grit! Weird noises! Thundering rhythms! Melodic elements that tie them all together! Artsy electro doesn’t get much more fun for me than this.
2. “Waited 4 U (ODESZA remix)” – Slow Magic. My two favorite post-dub electro artists collaborating on a remix? My ears are about to explode.
3. “Showin’ Off” – Fascinator. Anything related to trip-hop is on my mind. Drop in intriguing strings, flutes, and ’90s Brit-pop sneer, and you’ve got my full attention.
4. “Steal My Car” – Shy for Shore. Heavily dramatic, Vangelis-style synths dominate this ’80s throwback pop single.
5. “City Lover” – Max and the Electric. Somewhere between early ’00s Strokes, slinky funk and Bloc Party-cool vibes. Get your nice suit out.
6. “What’s In It For Me?” – Astrid’s Tea Party. The driving electro of M83, the airtight arrangements of blondie Blondie, and furious female vocals (a la Stevie Nicks) make this into a club-ready jam.
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.
1. “My Young Love Was as Blind as Ray Charles and Half as Cold as Heat” – Kye Alfred Hillig. Not content to drop one contender for album of the year in 2014, Hillig is gearing up for release #2. From the sounds of this, he’s still on a roll. Or, if you’d like…
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.
6. “Memories That You Call (feat. Monsoonsiren)” – ODESZA. My favorite post-dub electro group drops a quirky, upbeat, friendly tune that makes me want to go running.
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.
Part two of this seasonal MP3 mix sees me getting antsy with the quietness I usually cover and jonesing for some big, brash rock and pop sounds.
1. “Fourth of July” – Zoo Brother. This unabashedly summery indie-pop cut starts off with fireworks blasting.
2. “What Love Looks Like” – Rebecca Roubion. Are you tired of pristine, joyful folk-pop from guy/girl duos like the Weepies and Jenny & Tyler? ME NEITHER.
3. “Sun Models (Feat. Madelyn Grant)” – ODESZA. Even post-dub artsy electronic groups are getting in on the summery vibes. I am thoroughly on board with this upbeat, airy track.
4. “High Times” – Blonde Summer. This one’s just a gimme, you know? Excellent summery pop here, complete with awesome video.
5. “Modern Romance” – The Forty Nineteens. The joke on this one is that this is a ’50s-style rock’n’roll band with heavy surf influences singing about modern things. Modern when? Who cares. Summer on.
6. “I’m a Freak” – Wise Girl. The components of this song are exclusively big guitars, loud drums, a bass guitar (I think?), and female vocals. I love power-pop.
7. “Killing Time” – The Mirror Trap. Big, brash, Killers-esque rock, because nothing says springtime to me like humongous synths. Chase winter away.
8. “Hex X.O.” – North by North. Rock swagger, flamboyant vocals, and dramatic flair (a la My Chemical Romance) make this track total road trip fun.
9. “Alabama Movies” – Skating Polly. If your version of summertime driving includes snarling, female-fronted grunge, Oklahomans Skating Polly need to be on your radar.
10. “Bulash” – Walrus. Ain’t no summer without woozy, off-kilter psych.