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.
Wildcat! Wildcat!’s lead singles from their upcoming debut full-length No Moon at All (due 8/5) are the real deal. “Hero” is a pulsing synth-rock track has a hushed, yet epic nature. “Holloway (Hey Love)” is an even more accomplished track, spaced out melodies twisting through a joyous march. Wildcat! Wildcat! take a huge pop sound and then cut it in half, pulling back to not be abrasive to an indie ear. Sick stuff. Wildcat! Wildcat! have an early afternoon slot at Lollapalooza, Saturday at 1:30 on the Lake Shore stage, one of many reasons to spot up early at these big tent festivals.
2013 Review: With only a triplet of released tracks floating around the web, Wildcat! Wildcat! are brimming with potential leading into SXSW. The Los Angeles based trio builds their songs both organically and electronically, reaching towards a pulsing pop sound. This isn’t quite radio-friendly material, rather Wildcat! Wildcat! focuses on inventive melodies and diversions with an experimental eye towards songwriting. Their introverted style is similar to Passion Pit – you could beat your head to the beat or take a closer listen to discover a fully formed composition. Dance pop, reggae, ambience and indie rock all take their turns within each track. Wildcat! Wildcat! is the most interesting electronic-based artist I’ve reviewed so far (note: Lucas covers many of these), so I’m really hoping they can translate this well to the stage at SXSW.
Lollapalooza 2014 OEB Spotlight: Jhene Aiko – “The Pressure”
Pairs Well With…Alicia Keys, Banks, Rhianna
It’s hard at this point to imagine that Jhene Aiko’s upcoming debut full-length will score a growing fanbase. Hip hop, pop and chillwave ideas blend into a contemporary R&B foundation in Aiko’s music. She’s really accessible, but still nakedly personal – a sick combination that works with Aiko’s songwriting. If Aiko sings a pop hook, melodies underneath will be foreign and mysterious, and vice versa. She’s teamed up with No I.D. and his Cocaine 80s squad for production throughout the record, one that has already been previewed in spirit with last year’s transitional EP Sail Out. Jhene Aiko has found some perfect gigs this year opening for both Drake and The Weeknd, both of which align well with her sound and presence, forgoing coordinated dance moves for honest, soul-baring performances. Jhene Aiko opens up the Samsung Galaxy stage at Lollapalooza Sunday at 12:45.
Lollapalooza 2014 OEB Spotlight: Anna Lunoe – “All Out”
Pairs Well With…Flume, DCUP, The Goodwill
Lollapalooza has had a nice track record of evenly booking rock, pop and dance acts, connecting the dots in these increasingly interlocking genre pillars. Anna Lunoe is a nice testament to that – a DJ whose 2014 singles range from airy pop jams (“All Out”) to furious, rhythmic beats (“Bass Drum Dealer”). It’s rare to see this mix of lounge and cerebral dance and makes one of Lunoe’s set pleasingly unpredictable. Her Lollapalooza set is sure to do the same for the early risers – Anna Lunoe opens up Perry’s on Saturday at noon.
2013 Review: Anna Lunoe has built up her reputation in her native Australia over the past couple years not only for her turntable technique, but also for her indie pop sensibility to what is normally a space reserved for booming bass and fist-pumping antics. Lunoe throws back to Chicago house throughout her singles, a laid-back approach meant to generate a hazy sweat. In fact, Lunoe is more a traditionalist than a futurist in the genre, a comforting palette for the 30+ crowd (i.e. me).