It is nice to know that in this world were a lot of rap and hip-hop has been dumbed down to mumbling bedroom wannabes talking in street tough cliches over the same off the shelf meandering beats that occasionally you can still stumble across something which reminds you of the golden age. Challenger swaggers like an old school hip-hop classic but is nothing if not forward looking, talking in the language of today and adding a real street edge and dark anticipation through the choice and flow of words. It is sharp, punchy and for a change revels in its own lyricism, something which seems to have ironically been lost from the genres which arose from a cappella street poetry.
I love music that refuses to sit in neat generic demarcations. I love music that is happy to exist in a multi-cultural sonic world. I love music that looks to the future rather than back at past glories. To find that all in one place is a rare and wonderfully satisfying thing but that is exactly what I found when giving Songs With Venissa a spin. I might not know exactly what Afro-Futurism, the description that producer Paul Edwards uses to indicate the nature of the music that he makes is, but when you come out the other side of this 6 track e.p. you realise that it is the perfect name for what him and Cuban-American jazz vocalist Venissa Santi create here.
And for all the dark, sultry beats and spacious electronica that the name implies, there is so much more going on here. My Schwinn blends the sound of that continent with more exotic India traditions and Lucky mixes heavy dub grooves and infectious pop with warped western classical outbursts. Heartbeat takes a turn into lazy late night jazz-hop and If I Could Write A Letter is so ahead of its time, so unlike anything you have heard so far that it might truly be the sound of the future.
The world is an ever shrinking place, certainly culturally speaking. Tools and traditions, sounds and styles which may never have crossed paths in the past are now creative bed fellows. As people mix so do their sounds and stories, their attitudes and ideas and the more that happens the more interesting and original those new blends of music become. Genres are dead, long live music.
Hourglass is a song which says so much about the musical world we find ourselves in today. With the abandonment of the old tribal allegiances, the hard and fast rules which created rigid styles, musicians are freer to make music which wilfully fuses genres, cross-pollinates sounds and gene-splices musical DNA. Less and less are we presented with music which conforms strictly to one form or another, but which is instead free to pick and chose the sonic building blocks it uses from a wide and ever changing source.
What Daarien has created takes that idea to its logical conclusion and what we find is that classical grandeur sits comfortably alongside trip-hop cool, chilled electronica with hazy dream-pop landscapes, the urban with the urbane. The real charm is this seamless blend of an ambient vibe with seeping electronica, of majestic but distant atmospherics, of intrigue and anticipation, of restraint and understatement. Even when the textures and sonic layers are writ large they are done so in a water-colour style application rather seeking to make their point through vibrant, thick oils. (Not the best of analogies but I’m sure you understand the point I’m making.) The result is a series of windswept and gossamer like sounds hanging around the lead lines rather than anything more intrusive or bombastic.
Neo-classical charm is threaded through futuristic beats, plaintive electronica washes through vocal delicacy, dance floor culture is turned into smoke and anagrams and dream-pop vibes soak into a wholly new sensual and understated EDM sound. This understated and majestic grace runs through the video as well, as it leads us through a narrative filled with sumptuous backdrops and rich colours and upmarket locations.
But more than anything this song is all about the vocals which hang somewhere between classical choral, almost religious tones and the sort of dramatic world-pop that came so easily to the likes of Lisa Gerrard and Dead Can Dance. It contains the same music as an instrument qualities which make it occasionally merge into the music to become another beguiling and exotic layer in the songs make up rather than merely the narrative device.
Timeless is a word that is much over used when applied to music, but here Daarien does indeed fashion something timeless, something that references the past but looks to the future but also something without genre, location or direction. Why road sign your music for the listener, far better surely, to have them follow you off the beaten track with eyes full of wonder, open to adventure and ready to go with the flow?
It isn’t often that the philosophical end of astrophysics finds itself entwined with the cutting end of experimental drum and bass, but I have to wonder why it doesn’t happen more often. Fermi’s Paradox has been explored many times, in film, TV and now in music but the basic question remains unanswered. If the universe is infinite and therefore filled with myriad extra-terrestrial civilisations, why have we not yet encountered any? Or put simply…Where Are They?
Air + Kilometers doesn’t provide the answers but it does provide a suitably eclectic dance track to help you ponder the question. It is a quirky and slightly off-kilter blend of blissed out but confident dance, wonky drum and bass, mathy trip-hop and more ambient textures, a journey that takes you from the inner most workings of the enquiring mind out into the vastness of space, a track which links the firing synapses that drive thought with distant galaxies and the very quest for life. How Quantum is that?
Where Are They? is the third release from Anthony Rodriguez’s Threshold, an album which aims to deliver one track a month throughout the year, the first two having already gain critical praise and found a following amongst thinkers, dreamers, clubland EDMers and alt-synth-pop kids alike. Music is a powerful beast, anything drawing lines between the dance floor and the science lab, the dreamweave and the thought-provoking, ecstasy and academia is something to be reckoned with.
Air + Kilometers are the missing link between not only virtual worlds within our own culture, but perhaps between actual, alien worlds and our own planet. And as I listen to this I can’t help thinking that somewhere out there, a radio-telescope on a distant planet is picking up its elegant and wonderfully odd rhythms. The groove is out there!
Revelling in the past is all very well and good but the best music, or at least the most original, seems to be made as people move things forward. It’s evolution, it’s forward-thinking, it is the way the world turns. Miles Casella is the sound of the world turning and music moving into pastures new. Yes, you can break the song apart and find very recognisable musical building blocks being used, but it is what they are used to build which is the real charm.
Over a lazy and sultry trip-hop groove he hangs soulful vibes, cool jazz, sensual saxophones and wonderfully affected vocals. Hey Fine beats with a hip-hop heart but it also evokes a timeless blues bar jam, and a strange blend of cocktail lounge sophistication and urban street smarts. But I guess that is how the whole scene rolls forward and you can run a thread through blues, jazz and soul that eventually takes you to hip-hop and then beyond as that in turn has evolved into its own offshoots and sub-genres But they all come from the underground, form honest expression, from the heart, which is why blending them together seems such a natural thing to do. So natural that it is amazing that no one has managed to weave them together this brilliantly before. Then again, there always has to be someone who gets there first!
There does seem to be a change in the urban genres of late, hip-hop, rap and R&B seems to be struggling to write its next chapter and whilst you have to admire anyone who tries to find new musical ground to conquer, thread new ideas and styles together, most of these musical experiments seem to have been the sonic equivalent of dropping a hand grenade into the middle of the listener’s expectations and then trying to rearrange the debris into new and pleasing shapes. Sure, you really shake things, and then some, but you also find that the result is normally, well…a total disaster. But all these terrible chimeric creations and monstrous genre-splicing acts merely to highlight just how right Miles Casella gets it.
And even though there is a wonderful familiarity to the song, Hey Fine does feel like a first, a bold step forward, a post-genre style that pushes beyond the rules and regulations, ignores the fickle finger of fashion and has no time for musical guardians and narrow-minded pedants telling it what hip-hop should be about. Maybe we should stop using genres, labels, pigeon-holes altogether, after all it really is lazy journalists, like myself, who employ them to make our lives easier, after all Miles Casella clearly isn’t worried about genres and their narrow demarcations and maybe that is a lesson to all of us.
Not only is hERON a long distance collaboration between musicians in Seattle and San Antonio, it is a collaboration between musical worlds, between eras and genres as well. At the core of these lovely, languid largely instrumentals is a trip-hop beat, a solid groove that they use to hang any number of musical oddments on. You could draw lines on an imaginary four dimensional map which help explain the album, lines which connect the small clubs of Bristol, England in the 90s with the urban street music from the previous decade that inspired them, you could also use them to connect 70’s alternative soul experiments with 60s European chamber pop, avant-garde soundtracks with American West Coast psychedelia.
You could carry on joining dots that represent eras and styles and then many more connecting places and thoughts, music and stories that have no business being connected. Stare at the pattern of the lines for a long time, and then shut your eyes. The stars dancing behind your eyelids is the music that makes up this mercurial album. Flipout employs some smooth jazz motifs, It’s Too Late seems to wander across the vastness of space in search of a home, Chillmode seems to be a strange collision of east and west whilst Melt Away has the resonant guitars and inherent menace of a Lynchian soundtrack.
It is a great album, it covers so much ground over its twelve tracks and if you think that instrumentals are the stuff of background music, think again. It isn’t that the music is imposing, anything but, it is that the music is beguiling, otherworldly and mercurial that it will have you tying to unpick it, explore it and try to see how it all fits together. Any music which engages the lister in such a way has to be a good thing, right?
Fassine has been teasing us with chilled and sophisticated tracks accompanied by intriguing videos for months now as they pave the way for Gourami, the latest, long awaited full album. This last chapter before the big reveal sees them at their most minimal, a beat cloaked in whispers and anticipation, the trip-hop vibe of the fledgling Portishead, the fragility of Warpaint and the ethereality of SPC ECO meeting in a loving embrace.
Neo-classical charm is threaded through futuristic beats, plaintive electronica washes through vocal delicacy, dance floor culture is turned into smoke and anagrams and dream-pop vibes soak into a wholly new sensual and understated EDM sound. This minimalist vibe even runs through the video, a hypnotic monochrome affair, again just lyrics and (hoof) beats, hypnotic and understated matching the slick and spacious music that drives it.
We have known for a long time that the pending album is going to be well worth waiting for, what has been floated out into the world so far has been wonderfully enticing, their track record has revealed impeccable taste and musical finesse, and if that isn’t what the world needs right now I’ll eat my Kate Bush albums.
I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for kickstarter funding I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have is a very particular set of words. Words I have acquired over a very long career. Words that make me a nightmare for musicians like you. If you stop sending me your music that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will describe your music in the most verbose way possible.
Just as some of the more production line music, style over substance pop and unadventurous artists with their skinny jeans and complicated hair cause me to trot out the same well rehearsed lines, when I find myself on the receiving end of such mercurial music as that on the debut album from Astroblue Express, I feel like writing about it is what I have been training for all my reviewing life. Finally music so textured so well crafted, so layered, subtle and supple, that I feel like I am wielding a pen like a scalpel, that I am less reviewing, more attempting open surgery to dissect, reveal and understand what lies before me. But where to make the first incision? The heart!
The heart of this music, the pulse, the very lifeblood of the album is a wonderful blend of classical ethereality, sonorous dream-pop and ambient soundscapes. Sometimes this is driven by trip-hop beats or glitchy, futuristic sounds, but more often than not it is all about a sense of quiet majesty, one often built less out of the sounds being conjured and collided and more about the atmosphere and anticipation that lingers behind the vocals and between the notes.
Often these post-genre experiments feel less like songs and more like a series of musical statements that conjure scenes and scenarios of a fleeting cinematic memory or a glimpse of the future, otherworldly soundtrack or alien music being picked up in high tech laboratories. Ranging from atmospheric minimalism, though slow-burning post-rock dynamic builds, to soaring anthemic crescendos, and back to quiet classical granduar, it covers a lot of ground even within each individual track.
It is music based on mood rather than message, music that depicts scenes rather than tells stories, music about images rather than ideas. It is music of the isolation tank, just exist within it, become one with it, heavy meditation, a solitary experience. Some music is aimed at the brain, intelligent and intricate, some at the heart, emotive and alluring, Astroblue Express does nothing less than aim for your very soul.
Musical Landscapes change and do so with ever increasing speed. Music now has little physical form, live shows are being replaced by streams and feeds and music videos are becoming a major player again. Where once they were the advert for the product, now increasingly they are the product. The wonderfully named Roy’s Iron DNA have grasped this idea and run with it and built a whole artist project around the concept. Musically they blend lusciously dark yet solid trip-hop beats, razor wire guitar lines and grooves so intoxicating that you want to elope, set up a home and raise a family with.
But it is in the distribution of the album that something truly revolutionary is taking place. In their words –
The album, entitled ‘Exposure’, will be released as a tabloid style newspaper with each page scannable with a smart-phone/tablet app enabling the reader to play an individually commissioned video for a track from the album. 10,000 copies of the newspaper will be distributed to 250+ outlets across the length and breadth of Scotland and will be entirely free of charge ensuring an estimated 100,000 readership!
Available everywhere from music shops and cafes to galleries, pubs, clubs, colleges and universities the publication will herald a new dawn for album releases. No other act has combined augmented reality with visual art and music in such a way before.