Six From The Vault

by on June 2, 2013

Posted in: Electronic, Music, Uncategorized

How you livin’, dear readers? When it came time to sit down and write this first-ever music blog post, I quickly came to a crushing realization: I am not a hipster. As much as I aspire to always be up on the newest, most cutting-edge releases, playing records that are literally hot off the press, I have neither the time nor the desire to sift through mountains of lesser-quality material to get to the really good stuff. There are already a crapload many blogs that essentially act as curators of new music, and it’s easy to get lost in the cultural deluge of the Internet age. However, I do like music (quite a lot) and I think I’d like writing about it, too. So forgive me if my bimonthly posts are a little behind the times–I promise they’ll be worth your while. Usually.

The focus of this blog is going to be music you can dance to. Sometimes this dancing will best be done at a party, sometimes alone in your living room. Sometimes sober, sometimes not. Sometimes happy and sometimes sad, but always with a beat. Probably. Oh, and you will often find it is good for making out to. Less specifically, I will tend to write about downtempo/glo-fi (best genre name)/trip-hop and the like. Think Shlohmo, Nosaj Thing, TOKiMONSTA, and Majestic Casual.

Anyway, thanks for reading. You’re probably pretty cool if you’re reading this, so thanks for being cool also. What follows is a list of six tracks that are not too terribly recent but that I still repeat often enough to drive my neighbors crazy.

I’m not a huge fan of pitch-shifted vocals. It took me a long time to get used to Dan Deacon’s “chipmunk voice,” which I used to see as a fatal flaw in otherwise awesome electronic tracks. But as the effect has become a trademark of artists like Deacon and A$AP Rocky, I’ve started to come around. There’s nothing like an impossibly deep male voice rapping about hard drugs, glocks, and drunk driving to push a party from ordinary rager to absolute crunkfest or to deepen a hazy, chilled-out track to a hypnotic, totally blunted head-nodder. And there’s a lot of potential for artificially raised vocals to give a sense of emotional vulnerability, of being wholly enveloped in a futuristic technological wash that suggests both utopia and dystopia, often within the same track. Monsieur Adi hasn’t actually done anything to alter Noonie Bao’s voice from the original on this remix of Don Diablo’s “M1 Stinger,” but his chopped, unintelligible rendering of her lyrics transforms the song from an oddly upbeat, rave-ready offering to a truly mournful anthem to failed romance that manages to be introspective and danceable all at once. This is what I want to hear the DJ drop when I’m in the middle of the floor alone watching all the confident, outgoing people having a great time.

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Staying in the realm of dubstep-inflected tracks that don’t make me want to bolt for the nearest elevator, allow me to reintroduce an old favorite. I really enjoy the various approaches producers have been taking toward remaking neo-R&B/soul into smooth, lascivious club jams, so it’s a shame that I’ve only encountered Kastle’s remix of “Me & U,” by Cassie, in one mix ever (Buck Banger’s “Smoov Wiv It,” made special for the ladies, which, incidentally, I once used to convince a former girlfriend to attend a dubstep show with me). Thankfully, Cassie’s lyrics remain the focal point for the remix, because the original is a veritable Song of Solomon for the twenty-first century. Ok, maybe not, but Kastle triples the vocal stem and adds a vocoder in a lower register to create a really distinctive, original sound. That, plus some forceful midrange synths and a seductive stuttering lead make for an expansive, club-ready track that doesn’t sacrifice the intimacy of the original.  We even get to keep hearing Cassie’s breathy little exclamations throughout. Here we have the perfect soundtrack for sensual front-to-front grinding, preferably with black lights and a multicolored disco ball overhead. (Plus it’s a free download!)

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Upon reflection, “Promise” by Ciara was begging for exactly the treatment FALCONS gave it on their space&b EP Remixxes Vol. 1. The slow-burning, yet somewhat underwhelming original is turbocharged into an uptempo, feel-good track that became a mainstay of my personal rotation after I heard the first fifteen seconds. Different vocal lines are interwoven to create quick, funky rhythms against a fractured synth backdrop that lives up to the template set by L.A. beats pioneers like Flying Lotus and Thundercat. Some listeners might find the mix might a bit cluttered, a common problem in remixes that use more than just one or two stems, but the hook is absurdly catchy, and the use sidechain compression is just right (like Goldilocks). If you’re into this one, FALCONS is definitely worth checking out. They’ve built a relatively extensive catalog–two EP’s of remixes and the seven-track Indian Summer–in less than two years, and have a finely-tuned ear for sounds that straddle the divide between psychedelic glitch and soulful vocal melodies. Also, I really like their drum processing–no stock sounds there.

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Another track I fell in love with at first listen is “Ink” by The Blank, a k a Henry Ascroft from Perth, Australia. This track is a sublimely restrained and mysterious, moving from a deep-house-style buildup to a half-time downtempo groove that pulls you into lonely trance for the next two minutes. It’s a simple formula, but there is genius here in this ascetic interpretation of EDM. There are two chords in the entire song, and after the initial drop, the groove stays. Without the predictable addition of new elements every four or eight bars, the listener begins to pick out different parts of the mix over the length of the track. There’s sort of an aural illusion happening in the dual hi-hats, each playing syncopated patterns that fill the gaps in the other. That the track ends with a buildup to a drop that goes nowhere adds to the sparse feel–did the last three minutes even happen? (As a side note, be careful where you put this song in any iTunes playlist, because the transition can actually be quite jarring. One solution: hit repeat.)

The Blank – Ink:

Daedelus is perhaps best known for his technical skills in the controllerism style, especially his groundbreaking use of Monome controllers. But his musical sensibilities are as sophisticated as his nimble fingers, and nowhere is this more evident than his remix of Jeremih’s “773 Love.” Jeremih (or at least the producers with which he surrounds himself) is pretty adept at manipulating vocals and creating unique, inviting worlds of sound. The transformation Daedelus undertakes with this remix runs in the same vein as Falcons’ reworking of “Promise:” the tempo is dramatically increased, and the track is given a buoyant, joyful vibe. Daedelus plays with rhythm in much of his work, challenging the listener with off-beat snare hits and warped time signatures. For example, this track doesn’t know if it wants to be in 2/2 or half time, and vacillates freely between them. What is special about this song, and others like it, is the cognitive dissonance between these difficult rhythms and the context of the track. We may find Daedelus in the category of EDM, but having two left feet would be a great asset in dancing to this music. For me, this makes it all the easier to listen to this remix again and again (which I have, to a fault).

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Reaching waaay back, let’s throw in “Tea Leaf Dancers,” by Flying Lotus, the artist responsible for just about everything this blog is likely to cover. This 2008 gem is actually a little more straightforward than most of FlyLo’s work, which tends to be on the inaccessible, experimental side. But the man’s genius is evident here: supremely cool, breathing synth tones are made just the slightest bit warmer by the ethereal vocal stylings of Andreya Triana to create music that is a natural accompaniment for cruising through the city at 2:00 A.M. or sitting by your window, watching the rain fall. As one of the musicians at the forefront of the ‘beat scene’ that is slowly working its way into various styles of underground and independent music, expect to read and hear more about Flying Lotus here in the future.

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And there you have it. Check back June 16 for a new post (if you feel like it). #trill #swerve #getlucky

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