Pairs Well With…Flying Lotus, Odd Future, Wu Tang Clan
Flying Lotus’ alter ego is Captain Murphy, a hip hop, comic hero/villain that expectedly rhymes over dark, innovative beats and melodies. His latest is “Cosplay”, a one-off single filling the gap until FlyLo’s upcoming full-length You’re Dead! Dark with quirky wordplay, “Cosplay” is indicative of an artist who can go anywhere at anytime. Captain Murphy was paired up with soulful instrumentalist Thundercat at SXSW this year, a frequent collaborator whose eclectic, forward-thinking mindset is a snap-in to FlyLo’s spaced-out foundation.
2013 Review: Captain Murphy is Flying Lotus’ rap alias, when he introduced the persona he kept his identity a secret which led to internet speculation of hilarious proportions. At a live show he removed a ski mask he wore to hide his identity to put the speculation to rest. His mixtape DUΔLITY has a ominous hypnotic tone and loosely tells the story of a cult leader through Murphy’s raspy flow, random sound bites, and samples. Flying Lotus’ Captain Murphy material adds an interesting new layer to his already deep catalog.
Pairs well with…Kaskade, Alan Braxe, Treasure Fingers
OEB deep disco house favorite Amtrac made another run through SXSW this year with AM Only, opening a prime showcase of reliable, forward-thinking artists. His latest is a pair of trance-pop singles in “Undefeated” and “Primal”, proving there is strength in EDM without relying on a dubby drop.
2013 Review: Amtrac is a solid house producer and DJ. The sound is something of a vocal deep disco house with brushes of sustained lo-fi synth and the occasional break from the 4x4 pattern. The vibe is part poolside, part lounge, part mainstage, depending on where the needle runs. If you ever loved house music, if you enjoyed that moment in the early 90s when slower-tempo house tracks from Crystal Waters and Robin S vibed through your radio speakers, if you’ve ever warmed up to house from a cautious distance—-Amtrac is an opening to rediscover the genre. Let it bring you back to a moment when you were floating and bopping about the dancefloor or dorm room, when you were chanting along without knowing quite what you were chanting. House music can be a youth-preserving, effervescent force, a beautiful melody that holds your chin up even when times are tough.
Pairs Well With…fun., The Neighbourhood, MyNameIsJohnMichael
Tysson has been gigging for only about a half-year, but dual singles “Bigger” and “Lost” have established what could be a forebearer to a future mainstream hit. Regal percussion, harmonized vocals and anthemic peaks are the concrete of Tysson’s sound. While Tysson is a new band, songwriter John Michael Rouchell has laid a healthy, rock groundwork from his previous unit MyNameIsJohnMichael. The New Orleans songwriter’s pop sensibility is pretty remarkable on both songs – everything falls so nicely in its handcrafted home. The builds and handclaps seem to amalgamate so naturally – I’m betting Rouchell took in some buzzing bands on prior years’ festival runs to influence this new direction. Tysson’s next date is at Halloween weekend’s Voodoo Experience festival, so keep an ear out for new music from Tysson this fall in anticipation.
In a twist to the normal SXSW story, I actually wasn’t too drawn in from a chance set with Zella Day during an early afternoon day party this year, but a listen to her introductory tracks released since has presented a pleasant change of mind. Day’s sound is one of minor melodrama. Pop-focused production elevates bangers like “East of Eden” and “Sweet Ophelia”, a mainstream sound that could fool a hipster into becoming a fan. Latest track “Compass” takes an opposite approach, a true-to-form piano ballad of one-on-one introspection. Day has a beautiful tone to match, pretty and naturally melancholic. Every one of Zella Day’s songs are a little different (four originals – a de facto debut EP is glued together), a good sign for what’s to come in that each is strong and relevant in its own way.
Hip hop, R&B and down-tempo electronica – all elements of emerging producer STwo’s impressive concoctions. STwo is a beatmaker and remixer by trade, but his tracks are so well rounded that they work as complete pieces without accompaniment. His music is easy on the ears, minimizing body-shaking intentions for massaged melodies and understated rhythmic anchors. Latest track “Aura”, released just this week, is perhaps STwo’s most spacious yet. While this follows in STwo’s mostly instrumental foundation, be sure to give a listen to “Lovin U” for a fully formed, down-tempo R&B-pop song. At just twenty years old, STwo is overflowing with potential – keep an ear out for this early streak of strength to continue into the next few years.
Sweater Beats – “Where You Are” (w/ Vindata and Bella Hunter)
Pairs Well With…Ryan Hemsworth, Esta, STwo
Some more pop music from the future comes from Sweater Beats, another strong entry into the world of R&B electronica. Sweater Beats’ music is often accompanied by sexy, mysterious vocals as complete tracks, but the intricacies of his intricate production is what makes these tunes so warm. Whether going for punch or patience, Sweater Beats puts his own spin on the open genre. Melodies are unique and come from left field, understanding that the beat is just the start of the music experience. Some songs are full-on dance numbers (“Where You Are”, “MLLN DLLR”) and are complemented by minimal tracks, a yin-yang counterpoint without losing some pop accessibility. 2013 EP That Feel has already been followed up by some choice collaborations and remixes, a sign of things to come for sure from this promising NYC producer.
Pairs Well With…Ryan Hemsworth, Nosaj Thing, Flying Lotus
Orbital waves and bubbling beats underscore producer Shlohmo’s music, a beautiful current to take on R&B and hip hop scores. Shlohmo’s recent efforts, including remixes, originals and collaborations, are spot on, full without overflowing. This is not necessarily dance music - rather beats and melodies play right for the head. Haunted bass rumbles and unexpected rhythms are also tenets Shlohmo’s sound, one that transforms with his latest work with R&B artist Jeremih. The No More EP is sexy, moody and hazily transparent. Each note and beat is wide and purposeful, a hallmark of the maturity the young LA producer has reached at this point in his career. Shlohmo is spending this month on the European festival circuit, running through six countries in nine days to well-earned larger stages.
In what might be the most sinister track to grab an OEB spotlight, Sophie’s “Lemonade” is two minutes of spoken madness amid twisting and unpredictable beats. The trick is that its also one of the catchiest. The English producer is following up a string of singles in the same vein, including the space-Pong rumble of “Bipp” and relatively traditional trance rhythms of “Nothing More To Say”. It’s a quick evolution one and certainly a fearless one – “Lemonade” and “Hard” both are sonically piercing and rhythmically complex. The acid house/drum and bass leanings seem to take queues from warped acts like Squarepusher, catalyzed by chippy K-Pop samples for something wholly unique. Even though technicians will dig into the nuances here, Sophie certainly isn’t demanding serious stares with his music, so don’t worry about shimmying in your office chair to this one.
Outside Lands 2014 OEB Spotlight: Hiss Golden Messenger – “Saturday’s Song”
Pairs Well With…Califone, Strand of Oaks, Megafaun
Hiss Golden Messenger’s fifth record, Lateness of Dancers, is due next month and based on a couple of early singles, it’s shaping up to be one of the fullest sounding efforts from the alt country duo to date. “Saturday’s Song” is a 70s style rambler, paced slowly but nicely covering the sonic spectrum front to back. “Brother, Do You Know The Road” has a strong Neil Young vibe - not a surprise really, one can hear his imprint all over Hiss Golden Messenger’s catalog. Members of Megafaun accompany the North Carolina duo on the record and their contribution is right up front, spacing out and rounding the edges that make up the exacting mode of earlier records like Haw and Poor Moon.e, Hiss Golden Messenger is a songwriter band, lyrically rich, heavy and traditional. The band has a strong live reputation as well – they’ll be gigging on Sunday afternoon at Outside Lands, 2:45 on the Panhandle stage.
Outside Lands 2014 OEB Spotlight: Mikal Cronin –“Soul in Motion”
Pairs Well With…Ty Segall, Real Estate, Natural Child
Rock/pop singer-songwriter Mikal Cronin has just a few concert dates this summer to keep trekking in support of 2013’s excellent MCII, a diverse record that should make for hazy afternoon showcase at Outside Lands. He did drop a 7” earlier this year with one-off “Soul in Motion”, a rave-up that builds from acoustic pop to psychedelic swirls of harmony. Check out Mikal Cronin on Friday at 4:30 on the Panhandle stage.
2013 Review: Mikal Cronin’s sound comes emblazoned in a thick wall of fuzz, but through that haze is a really strong, power pop songwriter. In fact, his 2013 releases perfectly show two distinct sides of the decade-veteran artist. Earlier this year, Cronin and Ty Segall re-released their 2009 collaborative record, Reverse Shark Attack, a lo fi punk record put on tape with utter abandonment. This sounds like two kids trying to blow out their speakers with a taste of the eclectic rock directions both artists will take. On the other hand, Cronin just released the lead single to his upcoming sophomore solo effort, MCII. “Shout It Out” is a breezy summer anthem with a pummeling chorus, a song that has every ability to really take off as the seasons turn the snow away the next few months.
Outside Lands 2014 Spotlight: Made In Heights – “Murakami”
Pairs Well With…Lorde, Sylvan Esso, Tove Lo
Electronic pop duo Made In Heights is so precise, milking every beat and note for maximum effect. There are moments of drop-like rockets in a few of Made In Heights’ recent singles and their introductory, self-titled full-length, but most of their music is rather minimal. Dreamy chords, samples and unknown vehicles of ambience carry Made In Heights’ sound, a nice foundation for vocalist Kelsey Bulkin to lay down her hip-hop/R&B-inspired riffs. There is a mix of light and dark, clarity and fog, dynamics that resonate with a windows-down ride or a lonely, headphone listen. Through all of these patient flows and angelic tones, Bulkin is fundamentally a pop vocalist in her tone and delivery, a grounding element that further enhances Made in Heights as an act to keep a close eye on the next few years. Made in Heights has an early spot Sunday afternoon at Outside Lands – they’re playing at the Twin Peaks stage at 12:40.
Smallpools are one of those little bands that sparked a fire right out of the gate, reaping the rewards with what must be their biggest performance to date this weekend at Lollapalooza. While Smallpools has an expectedly fresh sound, they don’t hesitate to go big. Breakout “Dreaming” still is the nucleus of Smallpools’ music, a soaring pop banger that’s a really nice example of synths and guitars working in fluent harmony. Their debut LP is four-out-of-four anthems, power pop that understands what makes electronic pop, well, pop. New track “Killer Whales” doesn’t slow the train, grabbing some 80s dance melodies to fatten Smallpools’ sound. It’s suggested taking Smallpools in small doses, even more fitting in a festival environment. Smallpools is consistently upbeat, so moping will not be tolerated if you are walking past their give-it-all gig at Lollapalooza, Saturday at 5:15 at The Grove.
Down-tempo and innovatively patient, The Range’s Nonfiction is a slow burner that uses repetition and build as the cornerstone of its musical statement. It’s a dramatic one, formed out of nothing to only be engulfed in sound. Each part of The Range’s music is spotlighted before another layer is added, allowing the ear to hear every texture, so precisely placed. Avoiding pop, 4/4 forms, The Range takes his cues more from the heart than as a pure technician. This type of layering likens The Range more to post rock than down-tempo EDM, replacing a traditional band format with pads and keyboards without losing a sense of soul. The Range has followed up this year with an EP, Panasonic, that focuses more on off-backbeats than the harmonic one of Nonfiction, a pivot with sharper, extroverted results.