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Abby Diamond – There’s A Light In My Room

Sleek yet nuanced, the artwork for “There’s A Light In My Room” sits somewhere between fashion magazine photoshoot and art display. Abby Diamond’s first single of the year is thus an appropriately intriguing single that balances rich r&b with disorienting alt-pop instrumentation. Most notably, the fusion of a weighty low-end and quirky stylings à la chopped up chime-samples functions as the song’s hook – a risky move to make its centerpiece its most experimental moment, sure, but Diamond walks the fine line of accessibility and uncertainty with grace.

The audiovisual package of “There’s A Light In My Room” in its entirety has me thinking about the intersection between these two modes of art. There’s obviously the music video, but what about still images and music to complement them? Should album artwork transcend its role as an initial framing device and instead be observed throughout the entirety of a listen? From this perspective, the artist’s vision isn’t sacrificed in favor of listeners projecting thoughts irrelevant to the art they’re engaging with (unless, of course, the artist’s goal is a symbiotic relationship). I’ll have to speak to some artistic minds in my circle about where the visual ends and the audio begins.

Muneshine & DARCYS – Full Throttle (PWNDTIAC Remix)

I love re-releases of old video games that maintain the core ethos of the original while making it more accessible for new audiences. In particular, I’ve been drooling over Nintendo’s forthcoming Metroid: Samus Returns, a newly imagined take on Metroid II for the 3DS. As someone who fell in love with the series through another re-release in Metroid Zero Mission (alongside my personal favorite, Metroid Fusion), I’m thrilled at the opportunity to experience the story of Metroid II without severely outdated graphics and lack of functionality that made it impossible for me to digest.

The refitting of past trends into new experiences obviously extends outside the realm of video games and into other art forms like music, so Muneshine and DARCYS have opted to let the two intersect on PWNDTIAC’s remix of “Full Throttle”. Featuring retro-soaked artwork, Nintendo-referencing logo and all, it features unmistakably ’80s synthesizers that take an exhilarating turn during the flip’s halfway point. Much like the upcoming Metroid, though, it’s part of a genuinely modern vision as it shifts into infectious house territory with an edgy groove. I can’t confirm whether Samus Returns is a success just yet, but I can say for certain that PWNDTIAC’s “Full Throttle” flip is one.

HRDY – Cruel Summer (Feat. Malvina)

I swear I’m not trying to always write about the 80s but it keeps making its way to me even when I’m listening to new music. So when “Cruel Summer” first came out it felt like the cheesier side of the 80s sound…not hair metal cheesy, but the kind of cheesy that would be playing at a hair salon while moms got their hair sprayed up and talked gossip for hours. Maybe that’s just my feelings but regardless HRDY’s take on the Bananarama (sheesh what a name) staple is a hell of a lot cooler. The smooth modern house vibes are super tight and give the track a more direct vibe that goes beyond salon background tunes. And the drop…what a slick and sexy approach, it’s just killer.

As if I wasn’t already amazed by this Cruel Summer cover enough, Malvina’s vocals come in and take things to a whole new level. I don’t want to sound like I’m overreacting, but I’m going to because she seriously has the talent of a top tier topliner. The confidence in her voice is just infectious and when the subtleties of how she lets out “now you’re gone” right before the drop are straight ear candy. And once again, I’ve gotta give HRDY some major credit because the way he blends Malvina’s vocals into his production is seamless. If you had told teenage me that I’d be nerding out over a “Cruel Summer” cover I probably would’ve laughed in your face yet here we are!

One last thought…isn’t it so cool that cover songs can not only reignite love for a favorite like Johnny Cash covering Hurt, but take a song that you never liked and turning it into a new favorite? It goes to show that sometimes the best ideas aren’t always executed in a way that clicks with you the first time around and it takes a genuine creative mind to translate those ideas into something great. And don’t get me wrong, “Cruel Summer” is indisputably a classic, it just never connected with me until HRDY and Malvina came along.

Axel Mansoor – Wasted My Love (Remix Pack)

“I guess it’s time to move on the next best thing.” I’m not sure if Axel Mansoor was talking about releasing a remix pack once we decided we wanted to hear more of “Wasted My Love”, but it worked out quite nicely. Sleeping Lion and Dulsae’s flips of the track do Mansoor’s infectious vocal performance justice while channeling it into two sides of the melodic bass spectrum – that’s what I’d call the next best thing from the original. Sleeping Lion’s remix takes a smooth, downtempo approach that accentuates the melancholy of the original while simultaneously fusing it with subtly fluttering synths. On the flip side, Dulsae accelerates “Wasted My Love” into a colorful frenzy that makes Mansoor’s lyrics feel…dare I say triumphant?

I don’t think it’s a stretch – admitting a personal struggle of intense emotions on a song being distributed to hundreds of thousands of ears is a triumph in its own right, so Dulsae’s remix takes that bravery to celebratory heights. And from a personal perspective, the expression of emotions is something that should be celebrated, whether it’s in the macro like a song or in the micro like a conversation between friends. Just last night, I shared about a simultaneous feeling of anger and sadness – not only did my friend listen while I talked through the situation, but they were outright congratulatory because I opened up and vocally wrestled with a complex set of feelings. Macro, micro, somewhere in between, let’s celebrate it all!

San Holo – The Future (Taska Black Remix)

In the midst of a discussion about working toward the future yesterday, an acquaintance said that too many people think too far ahead – they’re focused on a grandiose vision years down the road without focusing on the present. It’s important to have aspirations, but rather than banking on huge leaps of progress, you have to break it down day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. The progress you make in each of those fleeting moments is key, and from my experience, being cognizant of each of those successes provides self-satisfaction and the willingness to keep working.

Now that I got that little anecdote out of the way, let’s talk about Taska Black’s “The Future” remix. The original was a bombshell of an electronic+rock fusion from San Holo and James Vincent McMorrow that coincided perfectly with the addition of live performances to Holo’s DJ sets, but to be quite honest, Black has reimagined the track in a fashion that’s much more my speed. With McMorrow’s vocals pitched up and down at will alongside a rapid-fire barrage of ethereal synths and spine-tingling percussion during its hook, the remix taps into a lush, hypnotic sound that makes it so easy to slip away for its 3 minute runtime. If Black’s take on “The Future” somehow doesn’t click for you, though, there’s plenty more remixes of the Holo+McMorrow collaboration for your listening pleasure on Spotify.

Highschool Jacob – E Flat

Vocalists these days don’t seem to have the swagger I came to expect from straight up stage stealers like Michael Jackson and Pete Burns. You might think I’m talking about how they look on stage, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong there – have you seen how awkward The Weeknd (this decade’s supposed response to Michael Jackson) looks trying to channel his idol? But the swagger I’m talking about is the kind you can hear in their voice. Every note they sang had an edge to it and a dramatic feel that made their music so much more captivating.

You just don’t find that sound in the mainstream anymore (maybe Lorde is the exception?), but it’s apparently been hiding in the underground with a serious talent in Highschool Jacob. His new single “E Flat” finds him singing with a variety of inflections and approaches that only an ultra confident vocalist could pull off, going from understated to show-stopping within milliseconds. The instrumentals are the cherry on top here as they go the route of gorgeous, modern indie-pop with as much nuance as Jacob’s vocals. I’m not sure if his dancing skills match those of seminal ’80s icons, but he damn sure has the vocal chops to rival the best of them!

LondonBridge – Best Friends

Space Yacht is a consistently positive space that finds a colorful group of Angelenos going hard every Tuesday night for a revolving door of rising and established creatives alike. Resident ringleader LondonBridge is not only one of the brains behind Space Yacht, but also a producer that thrives on absurdly groovy house tunes with a playful edge. Case and point: his brand new Best Friends EP. The title track is an ode to best friends in the club for keeping each other company (physically, and when the drugs hit, mentally), and much like the Pez on the artwork, it’s a sugary-sweet approach that’s just plain fun.

Its follow-up, “Can You Feel It”, is a rallying cry for “big booty bitches in the place right now” that’s likely going to incite waves of ass shaking in Sound and clubs beyond. Standing in the outside patio as a haze of smoke and loud conversation washes over, while the dance-floor swells with hypnotized dancing, bodies moving solo and with one another while “Can You Feel It” pumps through the speakers…I can see it all now. In fact, I’ll probably see it next Tuesday! Here’s to LB for knowing how to work crowds with not only killer lineups, but killer music!

Finis Mundi – Lose It All? (What If)

Have you ever found yourself hypnotized by the cyclical events of a metro underground? Have you watched people circulate from train to platform, platform to train? Have you watched the trains come and go? Have you stepped onto that train before departure? Have you snapped out of it? Has summer heat permeated through the packed train’s every crook and cranny as nightfall approaches? Has a portable speaker blasted a song ’til it echoes from wall to wall?

What if it was Lose It All?

Smiles, dancing, and loud conversation abound – that’s what would happen. I say that without a semblance of doubt because Finis Mundi’s newest builds up layers of tension that cascade into a satisfying release of vocal samples and sharp synths intertwined. For a track whose narrative is wrapped up in personal relationships, its sound brings a communal vibe that just doesn’t feel right being enjoyed in solace. It’s a track that deserves to be shared and experienced with friends, strangers, and everyone in between – maybe on a summer night where heat permeates through a packed train’s every crook and cranny as nightfall approaches, all the while a speaker blasts Lose It All ’til it echoes from wall to wall.

Truitt & Light House – Tokyo

With attention spans for digesting music shorter than ever, artists have been forced to diversify their sounds at risk of spreading their sonic palate too thin. As a direct result, I’ve found myself saving hoards of songs for a brilliant 30-second run surrounded by less impressive content that unfortunately feels forced. There’s of course still tunes that outright stun, though, and this new one from Truitt & Light House is one of them. “Tokyo” incorporates melodic, synth-pop sourced vocals with a delectable electronic hook whose stabby synths flow seamlessly from one verse to the next. The highlight of the track is undoubtedly the second run of the hook as Brigetta’s vocals soar atop the beat while it suddenly transitions into pure house percussion, yet unlike so many songs I’ve come across, this one is supported by a fantastic structure from start to finish.

Since I’m an unabashed fan of album artwork, can we also take a moment to talk about how perfect the visual for “Tokyo” is? Between the romantic red tones, mysterious blue that makes up the skyline, and inspiring light green of the night sky, it sets a mood before one even presses play on the track. It devises a world that I want to slip into and explore while soundtracked by Truitt’s wondrous, starry-eyed music.

Saukrates – The Underground Tapes

Well, we’re officially old. It had been knocking on the door, but when a rapper about the same age as you can re-release a classic album about 20 years after it’s initial release, well, now said door has been torn off it’s hinges. I can vividly remember when “Father Time” dropped, probably in 1998. I had never heard of Saukrates before that song, but I never forgot about him afterwards. At that moment, Toronto, and Canada in general didn’t have much of an international presence in the rap scene yet. If any presence at all. I remembered seeing a video from Maestro Fresh Wes on Yo! MTV Raps when i was a kid and that was the extent of my exposure to Canadian hiphop.

Saukrates was memorable for a lot of reasons, namely his tough, gruff voice that still somehow flowed like hot butter and ridiculous beats that were filled with classic drum breaks and smart samples. There was an East Coast feel to his music and style but he didn’t come off like another NYC rapper at all. There was something distinctly different about him and the underground hiphop world definitely took notice. Everytime I tuned into Friday Night Flavas (the wildly popular “underground” hiphop show that ran on Friday nights on LA’s massive urban/dance station Power 106) I’d hear “Father Time” or “Hate Runs Deep” or something else featuring Saukrates. Or maybe a track from his TO contemporaries Kardinal Offishall or Choclair. Whatever the case, Toronto was making it’s presence felt in hiphop for the first time, and it would only be 9 or 10 short years later that would Drake drop “You Da Best” and begin the process of finishing the job that Soxx and crew started.

As much as i tend to think like an “old head,” I can appreciate what the kids are doing with hiphop right now. I can’t really listen to much of it, but I get it. And I know they probably feel about 90’s hiphop/boom-bap the way I felt about Sugar Hill Gang and Kurtis Blow when I was a kid – I couldn’t get into it no matter how much I was “supposed to.” I think there’s a specific DNA of a generation, and if you’re born into that time, you have a bit of that DNA wired into you. I’m laced with the boom-bap DNA and I always will be. I don’t expect a 20 year old Lil Uzi Vert fan to spend too much time with our “classics” but I do really hope that a re-release such as “The Underground Tapes” can sneak into the kids consciousness. Everything about the album represents that late 90’s hiphop DIY aesthetic, in sound, style and presentation. It’s an album that would help anyone gain a new appreciation for a very vital moment in hiphop history.