Empowering and cool – that’s Beatrix Kiddo and Tove Styrke’s Kiddo.
On paper, The Social Experiment‘s Surf is one big wank-fest with a bunch of high-profile guests coming together for a somewhat challenging jazz-hip-hop fusion record, but in practice its intentions are pure and its output is joyous, thoughtful and finessed.
It’s an understatement to say that this whole The Social Experiment project has been a little confusing. While everybody was waiting for Chance The Rapper to capitalise on his hype with a huge solo record, he decided rather to take the back seat and hand the spotlight to trumpet player Donnie Trumpet and include himself within The Social Experiment group. Then, Chance said the album would drop in a week – that was almost a month ago. And now, it’s finally dropped on iTunes as a free release.
The tactic of releasing it for free on iTunes feels far removed from U2’s strategy. Surf has not been forced upon anybody, but it probably should be because it’s one of the year’s most effortlessly positive, feel-good records. The music is obviously the main reason for that but it’s the communal, unpretentious vibe of it that makes it so easy to sink into and enjoy.
Surf features credits of almost 100 musicians from Eryka Badu to Jeremih, from B.O.B. to Big Sean but never does it feel like their names have been used to further the project’s commercial appeal. iTunes lists none of the guests on the site’s tracklist and even when they do appear, it’s not immediately recognisable. Janelle Monáe’s feature consists of a few vocal coos that add to the track but don’t make her the star. If there is a star of this record it’s Donnie Trumpet, but for the most it’s a team effort.
It’s important to note this before talking about the music because the communal efforts of The Social Experiment’s friends and heroes is a huge part of the record’s disposition. Nearly every song on the record sounds like it’s been recorded in a room full of like-minded people. On Slip Slide, Busta Rhymes’ flow is the most natural it’s been in a long time as he reels off a jovial verse over howling trumpets. Beyoncé’s new favourite rapper, D.R.A.M. appears on Caretaker but instead of using his big break to play the frontman, he lulls into a hazy melody.
Chance The Rapper plays narrator for most of the record, delivering verses that are part-narration, part-rap, part-poetry. He helps make the juxtaposition between jazz and hip-hop seamless as he retains his Chicago flow but also adopts a jazz-fused delicateness. He goes from being the main event to a subtle contributor. He delivers a stunning, train-of-thought verse on Rememory, so great that the instruments need not contribute to the melody as Chance directs it without assistance. In stark contrast, on Windows he simply scats in the background.
He does a great job of being a prevalent voice without taking over as the main event. “I don’t wanna be cool, I just wanna be me,” he sing-raps on Wanna Be Cool – a feel-good rebellion track complete with ‘80s drums. It’s the truest lyric of the record. Surf is not a trendy record. It may feature on-trend rapper like Quavos, BJ the Chicago Kid, Kid Louie but they’re not there rapping over Hit-Boy or Mike Will Made It beats, headed straight to urban radio, they’re rapping over sparse, delicate instrumentals that are at times bare-boned.
That’s not to say the record is a lone-wolf among the spectrum of releases this year. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was full of jazz infusions and saxophonist Kasami Washington’s The Epic has people of all musical tastes salivating. Surf, perhaps, sits in between those two records.
It would be remiss to review the record and not mention the brass-work. Donnie Trumpet, known to his mother as Nico Segal, does an expert job over the whole LP of creating an atmosphere where the trumpet is the climax. It’s the thread that ties together all the genre-skipping. On Go it’s sexy over a Nile Rodgers-esque instrumental and on Sunday Candy it orchestrates the marching band feel. The trumpet’s voice is as memorable as Chance’s and is the thing that continuously brings a big fat smile to the listener.
You could pull apart the intricacies of this record for days. You could go deep into how the trumpet on Windows literally sounds like wind rustling in a curtain or how Quavo of Migos fame’s verse is the most hip-hop moment on the record and yet it still manages to pull him out of his comfort zone while feeling comfortable, but the small brush strokes don’t seem to matter when the big picture is so great.
Surf is a record made with friends who also brought their friends. Everyone on this record, from The Social Experiment to the guests, have put their best foot forward and still managed to blend into one tightly-bound collection.
The album has its standouts. Miracle is a poetic opener and Windows is sparse beauty but there’s no emotional benefit in picking and dropping singular tracks. The giddy feeling that comes of moving from a howling trumpet into the unapologetic joy of Sunday Candy at the end of the album just doesn’t happen if you haven’t already sat through 14 tracks.
Whether or not more hip-hop will follow in the direction of Surf is yet to be seen but regardless it’s an important record it shows how effective selflessness can be in music.
On Wanna Be Cool, Californian artist drops the line, “So why don’t you just be the you that you know you are/You know, when nobody else is there?’ And that captures the very essence of what’s happening on Surf.
After dropping an EP and a few mixtapes, Oismia, a South Australian MPC mastermind with a blues/ folk background, has finally released his full length debut. Occupying the middle ground between Pete Rock’s soulful hip hop and Andres’ jazzy house, Oismia is a breath of fresh air in an Australian beat scene dominated by quantised 808 hihats and too familiar synths.
Nicaragua Nights is his debut LP, and it delivers from start to finish. Informed by repeat listenings of Bonobo’s North Borders, and artists like Lapalux and guys on Brainfeeder, Oisima skilfully manages a delicate mix of instrumental tracks and those with added vocalists to create a work which will appeal to fans of the beats scene and also to a casual listener.
His newfound approach to songwriting, as opposed to mere beat-making, shines through on Sun of Truth featuring the soulful vocals of Mei Sariswati, and on one of his earlier tracks Everything About Her featuring Anabel Weston. Anabel Weston also features on Makes me Feel Alright, a track which uses space to great effect, emphasising the atmospherics and the lofty beat. The real delights of the album come from the instrumental tracks like Grovers Lament, Summertime Shuffle and MmmHmm which showcase a lush, jazzy side, all featuring Oismia’s unique push pull.
The majority of the album features live recordings, as opposed to just samples, and this helps set this album apart from its peers’. The final track of the album Take Your Time, is a fitting closer, bringing everything to a climax in a wash of instrumentation, which features contributions from a twenty of his friends, collaborators and some Swedish backpackers.
In recent years Australian electronic music has been labelled as the ‘Australian Sound’, due to the rise of Future Classic artists such as Flume. Oisima and artists like Hiatus Kaiyote, and Jordan Rakei (and maybe Chet Faker), are putting forward a good case that a new, more soulful, phase of that sound has dawned.
Hermitude have been there and done that, and that may be the biggest understatement of the year. Luke Dubber and Angus Stuart are one of the longest performing electronic duos in Australian music, originally forming Hermitude in the year 2000. Starting out with primarily hip-hop style beats, Hermitude’s sound has developed to incorporate a huge range of styles of music. It’s incredible to think that they’ve been making electronic music for well over a decade, and their latest LP Dark Night Sweet Light more than affirms their legendary status among Aussie producers.
Their fifth studio album and the long awaited follow up to their hugely successful HyperParadise came out late last week, and in Dark Night Sweet Light the boys deliver their most mature record yet. The crucial aspects that make this latest LP what it is are essentially twofold. Firstly it’s a hugely satisfying listening experience and the tracklist fits together in an incredibly listenable way to be listened in order one after another. As well as this, the diversity of samples, collaborators, and different manner in which various songs are paced on this album shows off Hermitude’s diversity and talent in its most pure form. Its big singles also have obvious potential to carry the record to success themselves.
One of the most important aspects of any LP lies in its potential to be listened to as a whole work of art. Dark Night Sweet Light ebbs and flows in a storylike way with up-tempo dance tracks placed throughout as well as several more chilled articles. It kicks off with the fast-paced and heavily synthesized Hijinx, and this is followed by the banging single featuring Young Tapz called Through The Roof. The direction of the album is then slowed down significantly through much more relaxed singles like the rumbling snare-dominated track Bermuda Bay and the mesmerising lyrics of Chloe Kaul on the spacious Crazy Love.
The intensity is once again lifted through the back end of the LP, with the absolute climax being undoubtedly presented through the already hugely popular single The Buzz which has one of the most captivating drops going around at the moment, and followed up by some heavy tropical vibes on Metropolis. Dark Night Sweet Light concludes with the piano-heavy Searchlight Reprise which is definitely a satisfying conclusion.
It’s also the diversity of samples that Hermitude make the most of that have made them successful of the years. There are numerous and very distinctive synthetic sounds that are used in most tracks on this album in varying ways, but the boys are also masters of incorporating samples from outside the box and using them in ways that you generally wouldn’t expect.
One example of this is the fantastically tasteful use of brass in Through The Roof where trumpet and trombone samples are used in the build-up to the drop. In Hazy Love feat. Chloe Kaul they make use of audio-crackling, the type that you might have found occurring naturally on vinyl records. Searchlight Reprise feat. Yeo makes masterful use of a melody build around a piano melody, and Shift is based around a mandolin-sounding riff that is used almost throughout the whole track.
Aside from the already released Through The Roof and The Buzz, the other huge single on the album is called Searchlight and features the gorgeous vocals of Yeo. Like the other two aforementioned singles, Searchlight is built around Hermitude’s classic Trap style percussion and buzzing basslines. But although these three singles will carry Dark Night Sweet Light into the charts, to fail to appreciate the rest of the album would be ab absolute travesty. It is truly a complete work of musical art, brought to you by two guys who have done it all, and who will surely continue to captivate audiences for years.
Hermitude Tour Dates:
Friday, 12th June 2015
Thursday, 18th June 2015
Friday, 19th June 2015
170 Russell, Melbourne
Friday, 26th June 2015
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Saturday, 27th June 2015
The Met, Brisbane
THIS ALBUM IS A THING OF BEAUTY AND YOU SHOULD ALL LISTEN TO IT.
Hiatus Kaiyote is one of those prolific Australian bands that have quickly become a genre-defining piece of the national and international musical landscape. After their debut self-produced album Tawk Tomahawk gained them worldwide recognition, the outfit have gone on to play sold out shows around the world, be nominated for a Grammy, as well as getting a personal thumbs ups from high profile musicians like Erykah Badu Prince, Pharrell Williams and Questlove.
Now Hiatus Kaiyote’s world-class future-soul sound (to find some sort of genre to box this into) is explored further with this new offering. Choose Your Weapon is a wonderfully atmospheric and vibrant collection of songs – and is one of those albums you can sit in the dark with headphones on, and simply just listen to. In saying that, there is a definite overindulgence of material and ideas, with a tendency to sounding quite messy at times. Some further structural edits would not have gone astray, but ultimately, nothing is taken away by it being “too much”, and the result is still a magical cacophony of sounds from the four-piece.
Saturated with deliciously electronic, acoustic, futuristic, and psychedelic elements, no one mood is evident, going from the soothing, soulful sounds of Fingerprint and almost lethargic Prince Minikid, to the grungy chaos of Swamp Thing and sporadic urgency which eventuates in Atari. Chaotic and complex song structures constantly tryst with Nai Palm’s warm vocal tone, in songs such as Shaolin Monk Motherfunk where lullaby like vocals are driven by a strong hip hop beat, moving between smooth and choppy, and ending in a smorgasbord of mechanical crunch and synths.
This album isn’t one of those one-off listens – it’s a collection of highly evolved songwriting and music that refuses to just be mindlessly consumed. Ongoing themes of consciousness and nature are what hold it all together, the intricacy of every song even extending to the music embodying the quality of the element being spoken about, such as the illusion of bubbles and ripples created in Breathing Underwater.
The dynamic nature of the band and its various personalities is evident in the rich tapestry of sounds which communicate a collaborative project where everything works together to create this vibrant landscape of sound. Laputa is a great example of this – an ethereal foray into a trance-like world of synths, rhythms made up of clicks and clacks, spoken word and soaring vocals.
Overall, Choose Your Weapon is a wonderfully disjointed and chaotic album with lovely moments of peace, introspective thought and warmth.
Danish quartet and creators of all things genre-bending Mew are back after a 6 year silence with their 6th album, + – (a welcome title after the exhausting 2009 LP-No More Stories Are Told Today, I’m Sorry They Washed Away //No More Stories, The World Is Grey, I’m Tired, Let’s Wash Away).
+ – is a whole lot to take in then pull apart. There should almost be a disclaimer on the front that reads “DON’T THINK-JUST ENJOY”. It also feels like + – cannot be simply listened to track by track but rather as a whole piece. Not to say each song does not completely captivate the listener or deserve individual merit, it’s more a matter of there being so much grandiose that a 5 minute track does not do Mew’s work justice.
The genre penned by the band for their unique sound is often “indie-stadium” or “art prog” and with that in mind + – has been a surprise to all fans as the songs seem much more accessible and dare I say, “pop-ish”. In no way does this mean things have been simplified, if anything you can almost hear 6 years worth of meticulous planning and writing in the intricate soundscapes. Glistening vocals from singer Jonas Bjerre stamp each track with the Mew “sound” as it were for any fan would recognise Bjerre’s fragile yet powerful voice a mile off. The unworldly power of his falsetto has often fought (however successfully) against Mew’s angst ridden blend of post and prog-rock but with + – you get the feeling that the band have finally begun to move as one. It’s also worth mentioning that original bass player Johan Wohlert is back after leaving the band to raise a family. His welcome return really drives home the notion that + – is the product of a band that have transcended individual thinking and are creating music as one. Using the word “shimmering” to describe this new blend of grand prog-pop might sound a little bizarre but then again, there is nothing standard about this album.
There are also two noteworthy cameos on the album – one being Bloc Party guitarist Russell Lissack adding his signature sound to My Complications which he both played on and co-wrote. His playing is immediately recognisable without even knowing beforehand. It hits you like a big smack in the face and might be the only thing on the album that feels kind of out of place to me, like it’s humanising an otherwise non-human sound.
The second cameo is made by New Zealand songstress and Interns’ sweetheart Kimbra who duets with Bjerre on The Night Believer. Kimbra has openly sung her praises of Mew over the years and often refers to them when talking about major influences to her music. It seems to be a match made in heaven as both vocalists blend together in a heart-achingly beautiful manner.
With the acceptance of much more symphonic and experimental pop in the current commercial market, the big question here is, is there hope for chart success? Not that one could imagine the band giving a flying fuck about topping charts but perhaps a bit of commercial recognition could lead to a 2015 tour that would include our humble shores. One thing that is certain is that + – will garner plenty of praise from critics and musicians alike. Mew once again have catapulted themselves out of the stratosphere and onto a far away planet where bands like Sigur Ros and M83 also like to hang out.
+ – is best devoured in one extensive single sitting. There are soaring vocals and heart-bursting happiness a plenty. The melodies are as unpredictable as the backbeats and the entire album is rounded off with a 7-minute beauty entitled, Cross The River On Your Own that is so mind shattering in its melancholic beauty that you might actually shed a few tears on this rainy afternoon.
In a year where the best albums of the year list is already looking pretty full, there is space for Mew’s comeback because it’s daring, inventive and yet completely accessible.
When you think of a heartbreak record you might think Adele’s 21, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk or even Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There, but it’s difficult to think of many electronic records that really had their heart in their mouth. A cursory listen to Samo Sound Boy’s latest record Begging Please and you’d be forgiven for not picking the emotional contents straight away. Begging Please is a collection of bass-heavy tracks with chopped vocal samples – in fact the word ‘love’ isn’t mentioned once, but there’s more to this than lyrical obviousness. Samo Sound Boy has created a sonic journey that proves words are unnecessary when the melodies are so coated in emotion.
Before this, Samo Sound Boy’s greatest accomplishment was the DJ Dodger Stadium record he created with fellow Body High member Jerome LOL. The project mastered puppetry of the heart, swelling with big climaxes and hands-in-the-air vocal-sample triumphs. Samo’s first solo record is not as joyous as that record, but it’s just as emotionally commanding.
In an interview with Fact Magazine the LA producer said Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear was a huge influence on the record. It’s a far out connection but one that’s discovered once you really dig into Begging Please. As bizarre as it may sound, Begging Please acts as an appropriation of the motown genre. There are timeless soulful vocals, the emotion is immediately captured through the melodies and the music is euphoric, even if the subject matter is not. Even the title of Begging Please draws us back to songs like The Temptations Ain’t Too Proud To Beg or The Four Seasons’ Beggin’.
From the album’s beginning, Samo takes us on a journey, building up climaxes and then scattering them like dust; giving us swelling vocal samples only to replace them with isolated synths. After all it’s a story of heartbreak and that includes rose-coloured flashbacks as well as thundering lows. Baby Don’t Stop is giddy with infatuation while something like What Can I Do is a desolate tale of desperation.
Beggin Please is an album of juxtapositions. When we’re lifted up with the dense instrumentation of Save Wait Time, we’re immediately pulled back down with the haunting haziness of Got It Bad. When Feel Something fills up with attraction, The Only Thing elongates the synths and once again puts us at an arms length with the album’s most recurring character – Samo’s once lover.
Samo’s debut is a ride. At times it’s heavy-hearted and dark but it’s triumphant finisher You Come For Me makes it all worth it. With the most rousing vocal sample of the record, Samo builds it up into a firework-worthy masterpiece that continues to build right up until it comes apart at the seams around the four minute thirty mark. As heavy as the album gets, it’s somewhat reassuring that it ends on such a high-mark as if it’s ready to go through those feelings all over again.
Begging Please is a fine example of the emotional power that predominantly instrumental electronic albums can hold. Samo Sound Boy created this record by himself and while you could lazily call it introverted, it’s not. This is an album that wears its heart on its sleeve through crushing beats, soulful vocal samples and climatic instrumental layering. Sonically it’s cohesive, but it’s hard to attach to a genre. While it represents a moment in Samo Sound Boy’s life, it doesn’t sound like it’s specifically attached to 2015. And that’s what makes it a classic.
The Wombats have long divided fans since the release of two albums with such contrasting sounds, leaving many hoping that their latest offering, Glitterbug, would be a throw-back to the raw, indie sound of their 2007 album A Guide to Love, Loss and Depression. Whilst this newest LP doesn’t outwardly fit such a mould, it certainly incorporates some of the finest musical aspects of their last two albums in a way will please fans of both albums.
This Modern Glitch represented a more pop-oriented style of The Wombats that we hadn’t seen before, and it’s definitely true to say that they’ve stuck with a similar style for decent portion of Glitterbug. However, the use of synths and synthetic effects is outwardly more mature and measured. This maturity and polish can be seen in pop tracks like echo-heavy Be Your Shadow and the deep-synth oriented This Is Not A Party, which both have a much cleaner electronic feel.
Fear not though, if you loved The Wombats of old, as there are also clear and sentimental gestures back to their old style in the indie-rock style of tracks like the grungy The English Summer and the riff-based Sex And Question Marks. But even these contributions have a more refined feel to them.
Slow jams like Emoticons and Greek Tragedy are just so true to the sound that The Wombats made their own in 2007, creating a perfect mix of pop and indie-rock with a gorgeous balance between guitars and synthetically created sounds.
This album also tells a story not only about the band’s experiences but also of a band that has achieved an incredible level of diversity. Specifically the tracks played in order tell a story about an English boy and Californian girl, but I find the musical journey much more interesting. This story follows the development of diversity in instrumentation, in style, in tempo and in texture. There are banging radio hits like Be Your Shadow, ballads like the incredibly soulful and melodic Isabel, and raucous tunes like Pink Lemonade.
The point of all these comparisons is to show the thing that really stands out about Glitterbug, which is about how it perfectly unites two opposing styles that The Wombats have tinkered with throughout their time as a band. Unsurprising as this time, instead of using a number of producers as they did with their previous two releases, the Wombats recorded most of the tracks at the studio of Mark Crew; one of the key producers behind fellow UK rockers Bastille.