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.
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.
Kris Orlowski’s clip for “Believer” reminds me of Arcade Fire’s visual aesthetics. The song is a much louder indie-rock than he’s previously put out, and the guitar-heavy backdrop frames his vocals beautifully.
WolfCryer is on a hot streak, even while walking around in the snow playing a guitar. (“Sparrow”)
Okay, no dancers here. But this is a really, really good surrealist montage; bands try to do this all the time, but most fail. This one is mesmerizing, irresistible, and truly bizarre.
1. “If There’s Time” – Odesza. Chilled-out post-dub with some trip-hop vibes. In other words, let’s jump in the car and be real cinematic about this.
2. “Parade of Youth” – Ponychase. The art for this track is a cassette tape, because this dreamy new wave/synth-pop jam is the sort of thing we were putting on plastic love notes to each other in the mid-’80s.
3. “Goldleaf” – RCRDS. Once existential dread hit the ’80s, then RCRDS’ ears perked up. Check out that analog bass magic.
4. “Start Something New” – Devotion. Then along came shoegaze, which was the other thing that the ’80s spit out besides grunge. The vibe here is golden.
5. “Flowers” – Humfree Bug Art. Killers + Funeral-era Arcade Fire = wonderful.
6. “The Photo Line” – Pale Houses. Remember the first time you heard “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie and it was the most important thing that had happened in the whole day? “The Photo Line” is like that.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.