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Music

Disclosure – You & Me (Feat. Eliza Doolittle)

disclosure eliza doolittle you & me

This is scratching an itch that hasn’t been taken care of since SBTRKT’s debut dropped a few years back.

The brothers that make up Disclosure, Guy and Howard Lawrence, are 21 and 18 respectively. Seeing as they’ve putting material out since late 2010, it’s enough to make 23 year old feel like I’ve been over the hill for a while now. Oh well. I can’t be mad about it, especially when the Brothers Lawrence are bequeathing the listening public with a song this good.

You & Me starts off with some nicely syncopated drums and it only gets better from there. I’ve never heard the whole dubstep/post-dubstep/future garage/whatever sound married to pop songwriting work as well as it does here. It sounds so good on paper – evocative melodies, esoteric effects, skittering drums with a verse-chorus-verse form providing a foundation, all given a powerful boost by a forward facing production– that you have to wonder why it’s not applied more in practice. Some cinematic strings underpin the second half of the two-part chorus and they’re an absolutely sublime addition. Sublimity is basically You & Me’s M.O.

And those vocals! Eliza Doolittl;s presence really elevates the proceedings to the next level. Doolittle has this naturally earthy soulfulness to her voice that’s immediately relatable. She’s also got enough technical ability that any vibrato or sudden leap in pitch sounds effortless. The paramour pep talk that comprise the lyrics are uplifting. Pretty damn sexy, too.

Home is where the heart is
And I gave it to you in a paper bag
Even though it’s tarnished
You told me it’s the best you ever had
You got my secret combination
And I don’t be giving that out easily
In my deepest dedication
I could tell that you had brought the same for me

In your big house on the hill
Where you keep your dollar bills
And you stashed my heart
Somewhere in the dark
Keep it safe I know you will
Know you will, know you will
Know you will
I know you will.”

I can’t stress how catchy You & Me is. The song has hooks to spare. The chorus itself is really broken out into three parts, each section distinguishing itself in the ways it will entice you.

The last minute or so of the track is a lone, programmed beat rattling away. It only takes a few seconds for one to realize that it’s the same beat that lead the intro of the song. This sonic bookend is just pleading with me to put this one back into immediate rotation. I happily oblige.

Disclosure – You & Me (Feat. Eliza Doolittle)

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Music

Kris Menace Featuring Black Hills – Waiting For You (Oliver Remix)

Can you imagine what the world is going to look like in five years? In ten?

The march of progress, in technology and culture, is inexorable. The really great thing about it? Our vision of tomorrow is constantly shifting. So which future are you looking forward to? There’s those that think our urban centers are going to take an agrarian turn. I’m not talking farms in your backyard as much as massive towers, smartly laid out with open indoor green spaces and fauna covering the exterior, that are more organic than they are pre-fab. Hell, some close friends of mine are looking forward to getting uploaded to the internet, Matrix-style.

Though it is looking less and less likely an outcome, there will always be a spot in my heart for some kind of Blade Runner-esque metropolis. With less grime, of course. At least that possible future has a bit of character to it! A bit of grit to go along with the towers imposing their size and geometry against the sky and the sleek user interfaces of our floating Minority Report computer screens.

I’ve been biased by today’s musical selection. It’s impossible not to conjure those visions while Kris Menace Featuring Black Hills’ Waiting For You (Oliver Remix) is pumping through my headphones.

Well, there’s a bit more glamour and glitz in Waiting For You. But the vibe is about right. The synths alternatively twinkle and warble high in the mix or they’re providing the full-bodied mid-range bounce. The remix manages this wholly contemporary trick of integrating some of dubstep’s penchant for glitchy maximalism, nu-disco’s devotion to melody, and a very 80s brand of confidence.

No matter what philosophy on where the world is going you subscribe to, I’m certain you’ll be able to get down with this.

Kris Menace Featuring Black Hills – Waiting For You (Oliver Remix)

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Music

Ghostface Killah – The Rise Of The Ghostface Killah

ghostface killah

The DeLucas pressed Tony’s remains
Into 12 vinyl records
One for each member of the family
But little did they know
He would return…”

Bang bang. Somebody shot Tony Starks down. But he wouldn’t give up the Ghost.

FACT: There is no artist in any genre who has constructed a more compelling mythology for themselves than Ghostface Killah. It’s beyond wordsmithery or a compelling flow or great concepts or that voice that would command attention while reading the receipt from your last visit to the grocery store. It’s all that and more. The fact that one of hip-hop’s most engaging online editorial voices adopted the Ghostface identity and voice for their writing pretty much sums it up. How could anyone else top that high-quality imitative flattery?

Side bar – imagine if Ghostface got together with Quentin Tarantino to bang out a screenplay. You couldn’t pay me to stay away from the theatre on that opening weekend.

So aside from the titular man, what do we talk about when we talk about The Rise Of The Ghostface Killah? Atmosphere, for one. This bad boy is absolutely drenched in it. With the snares tuned loose and the cymbals lightly splashy, the drums provide a rickety bedrock. The choir of female voices that open the track bring the drama right quick. It’s all about that guitar tremolo though. Really, the production on the song, courtesy of Adrian Younge, is a marvel in and of itself.

Of course, this is a track from Pretty Tone so wordplay must be discussed. Ghostface has put out concept tracks and albums in the past, but The Rise Of… is high concept even for a dude who is used to writing the script and casting himself in the lead role. Our hero is a newly minted supernatural being – ex-mafioso, whacked by his employers – hell bent on vengance. There is much to mine here.

Tommy guns are irrelevant, I’m bulletproof now
I could fly through the air and duck your chick-a-pow
Black superhero, crime boss arch nemesis
Good vs. Evil since the first book of Genesis
Battle to the end that’s the way of the thriller
And Starks is reborn as the Ghostface KILLAH
No one could get iller.”

By the way, that “getting ashes pressed into vinyl records” that RZA is going on about in the intro is actually a thing that anyone can do. Try not to feel like a don when you put this on.

Ghostface Killah – The Rise Of The Ghostface Killah

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Music

Martin Brodin – Badabing

martin brodin badabing

The sun is keeping longer hours these days. While I welcome the incoming months of bright skies and rising mercury levels, I will keep my same late hours.

It’s how I’ve always been. When I was a kid I would stay up late watching television deep into the night. I was fascinated to learn, at a fairly early age, that MTV did still play music videos. Granted, they were on at some ungodly hour. 2 or 3 in the morning or something like that. Memories of my afterhours music binging from that time are hazy at best. Surreal, really. Half-remembered. I would pass out eventually, tucked in by the flickering glow of the television. That was my indoctrination.

Here I am now, typing this out in my darkened apartment. Streetlights are lamping the street below. The buildings across the way are darkened and devoid of movement. The bright screen of my laptop burns into my corneas. My headphones fit snug over my ears. It’s late. I’m dialed in. I’m passing out. The more things change, you know the rest. Of course, I could snap out of this mode at any time. Living in the city as I do means that finding ones self in the middle of the action is as easy as throwing on a jacket and hoofing it down to the nearest subway station.

Martin Brodin’s Badabing is the perfect soundtrack for the state I’m in. Brodin’s brand of sleek, minimal electro disco is totally urban in nature. These synths and manipulations are enabled by technology. The samples – squealing brakes of subway cars, jet engines taking off overhead – drive this point home. And is there any genre of music more synonymous with late night city life? I don’t think so. The track saunters with a self-satisfied gait. You can’t fault its ‘tude though. Badabing is dripping with cool and every drop of swagger exuded is well earned.

That’s not all. Brodin’s work also reminds me of my yesteryears. Of my time spent taking in too much music too late into the night. I can’t quite put my finger on it. The key synth motives, restated time and again, are elevated from hooks to hypnotic charms. Context is lost. Stimuli flicker in and out of the periphery. The guitar line that pops in near the middle adds texture but not enough to grab onto. Another synth wavers in and wavers out in short order. It’s a feeling of knowing what you’re looking at, but not quite knowing what you’re seeing. Let this enfold you.

Martin Brodin – Badabing

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Music

Hermitude – HyperParadise (Flume Remix)

Hermitude Hyperparadise

I saw this photo earlier in the week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Well, not thinking about it, per se. More just rolling it around in my head. Considering the meaning of it. This is one of those photos you see in the “Best Of’ year end retrospectives but for those of you unwilling to spare an extra click, I’ll describe. The shot is of John Isner, a tennis player competing in the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship. The picture was taken with Isner is in motion, his feet lifting off the ground, about to follow through on his serve. Thing is, this information is only suggested. We don’t see Isner staring across the net at his opponent. We can’t see the sweat off his brow, and there’s no way to judge his form. The only part of Isner that’s visible is his ankles and feet. The real action lies along the clay and chalk. The photographer, Eric Gay, focused on Isner’s silhouette, a crooked but surprisingly detailed visual account of movement and form. The shadow tells the story.

The abstraction, the suggestion, the shift in focus. Once the point of reference is repurposed, new stories and fresh meanings begin to emerge. A new narrative, spun from the same cloth.

Flume’s work on Hermitude’s HyperParadise hit me in much the same way as that photograph. I’ve seen tennis being played before, even played a bit in my youth. That said I’m not well versed in the sport and I have no opinion of Isner as a player. To compare: Hermitude is an Australian hip-hop/electronic production cooperative. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to hip-hop and electronic music but I’ve never heard any of their stuff before.

This is the kind of track that grabs you quick and pulls you along. Some familiar elements create a persuasive, enticing foundation. It’s lavish and skewed something new. A few of the different synth parts sound lush and full bodied. But Flume never eases back. The tempo is fluid, picking up and building at one point to a drop with little suggestion but to lasting affection. The vocals are pitched and chopped to bits. I can only pick up one line for certain.

Never had to worry, never had to worry.”

This could’ve played out in so many ways. This is the only way it could be.

Hermitude – HyperParadise (Flume Remix)

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Music

BenZel – Fallin’ Love (Alex Young Remix)

Benzel

I left Washington DC at the wrong time.

I grew up in the immediate suburbs of DC. So immediate that many of my peers and myself would say that we were from DC, or the DC area, as a form of geographic shorthand. Most people don’t get it. Bigger city folk see it as cultural re-appropriation. Part of it is. Doesn’t change the connection I have to the area at large. It’s my de facto home city, seeing as my burb wouldn’t exist without it.

So the musical acculturation of the city is a bittersweet thing for me. Used to be that any contemporary music culture was imported. Go-go had been DC’s main musical contribution to the rest of the world. Most people don’t know what the hell go-go is. But now! Now things are absolutely popping off, thanks in part to electronic music’s growth in popularity over the past few years. And I’m not there to enjoy it!

Ah well. Thanks to this miraculous arrangement of cables, fiberoptics, servers, and chips we know as the internet, I can still enjoy the audio products of the city. Like this remix of BenZel’s Fallin’ Love by DC native Alex Young. Alas, DC can’t claim either Umi Takashi or Yoko Watanabe, the principals that comprise BenZel.

Ah well. Can’t win ’em all. Besides, this song is a notch in the W column of life. It starts out sunny and funky before Young takes the reins. Then it turns into a straight clapper. This is the kind of song that puts its charms front and center. The hip-hop heart inspires syncopated head nodding. The bright synths and major key melody gives the one the feeling that your turned towards the sky and your hands are extended upwards, palms outstretched. Chill and uplifting. Not a bad way to be.

BenZel – Fallin’ Love (Alex Young Remix)

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Music

Sir Sly – Ghost

sir sly ghost

Le petit mort, or, “the little death”. The phrase is French in origin, basically a winking, euphemistic term for orgasm. It refers to that final, ecstatic moment of release, when the mind lets go for but a moment. A short, powerful attack, followed by a momentary decay, a sustain that may last just a moment longer, and then the afterglow in the release.

Alright, enough speechifying. The Parisians put it much more concisely and cleverly anyways. But if you’re reading EMPT, you already know that the French have a certain way with words.

Little deaths haunt Sir Sly’s Ghost in a number of ways. The track maintains a steady ebb and flow throughout, compositionally speaking, with the builds in the verses gently cresting at the choruses. This keeps up for the first two thirds of the track, while the last leg unfurls into complete synth-pop maudlin bliss. The instrumentation keeps in line with this theme of loss, with the church-y organs adding some color to the harmony.

What other deaths is Landon James trying to bring the listeners’ attention? At first it sounds like a case of two ships passing in the night. Then it sounds like a true death of the heart, a loss existential. But could it be something more?

Go ahead and stand up straight
Straight against the wall
Why did I go for you?
Pick you up when you fall
Was I too drunk to say what I said to you?
Was I too blind to see right through you?

You flew out on a plane
Came crashing into the ocean
And then you haunted me
Don’t have a clue what’s the motion
So every now and then it feels so soothing
When you float on a bit and move right though me

Get up, save face
Find your way back to the grave
You’ll never find your way back home
You’re a ghost.”

Which isn’t to say that this is a bummer of a cut. Maybe it’s James’ smooth croon, which sounds affecting either in conversational sing-song or hushed falsetto. Maybe it’s the incognito electro vibe it has going on. After a while, you stop asking why or how. You’re too busy hitting play again.

Sir Sly – Ghost

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Music

Alex Metric – Scandalism

lights

It’s all about elevation, you know? Isn’t that a big part of music’s appeal? It is for me. Fact of the matter is I don’t consider myself a spiritual person. A big aspect of this – a symptom, a catalyst, I’m not sure – is that it’s hard to give myself over to anything at all. Except for music, except for stuff like this.

Epiphanic. That’s all that needs to be said about this Alex Metric track.

But I go on. Scandalism sounds like it was transported from some parallel universe that’s a few years further in development than ours. One where raves and EDM shows hew even closer to events with spiritual significance than they do in the here and now. This is lazer light show gospel music. This is a hymn for the young, alive, and full of life. That organ-like synth peel at the beginning lends to this vibe. The cascading keyboard arpeggios and chime-like bell noises don’t hurt it, either. There’s plenty of 80s aping goodness in here too. So much of the production has this soft-focus glow to it. The white noise “wooshes” that billow through the background also lend the entire thing a breezy, airy feeling.

There’s also this sense of restraint, a couple marks of maturity here and there. The builds progress with purpose. As a result, the melodic crescendos are all well earned and more pleasurable as a result. But even in the midst of poise and consideration, there are moments of pure joy. I’m looking at you, synth lead that first comes in a little after the two-minute mark. Hot damn.

Scandalism shimmers, shines, and it’ll leave you aglow. Let this wash over you.

Alex Metric – Scandalism

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Music

Wild Belle – It’s Too Late (Employee Of The Year Remix)

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I recently finished a novel, The Killer Angels, whose prose could be charitably described as straightforward and strong. You could also call it basic, unassuming, or dull, depending on your tastes in literature. It’s a book about a tough subject – war – and while it isn’t Hemingway, it’s fairly restrained in its descriptions and retellings, much to its benefit.

I’ve been an avid reader my entire life. I’ve read many books; books that have ran the gamut in sensibility from high to low. I’ve been challenged, engrossed, and upset by the pages I’ve buried my face in over the years. I’m also cognizant of how my tastes have evolved. If I had picked this book up a few years back, I would have likely been unmoved and bored and would’ve tossed it away in short order. I liked my writing flowery, with pages rich in vocabulary and overflowing in detail. But my tastes have shifted. Now I have an appreciation for the minimal.

Many creators have put together great works that are nearly overflowing with ideas. Even more creators put together works that are truly overflowing with ideas. Great writing, like great music, can be maximalist in nature. A surplus of voices, the implementation of multiple stylistic conventions, and tonal shifts galore can all add up to an ebullient masterwork. Or they can lead to a muddled product that will not engage anyone aside from the composer. Dazzle all you want with your technical prowess. But if no one’s connecting to your art, then you’re just getting high on your own supply.

What then is the case for small gestures and restraint? What it boils down to is this: there’s a great deal of power in the unsaid. What better way to make something stand out by making it the only something? Compelling material can pop in high relief when it has nothing to compete with. But there’s something else. The real strength in the minimal is those gaps and voids, where context becomes abstraction and a listener’s imagination can run wild. Employee Of The Year’s remix of Wild Belle’s It’s Too Late takes this philosophy to heart. Every aspect of this track rings out and the spaces inbetween are caulked with emotion. The results are mesmerizing.

In a song like this, not much is happening and everything is happening. Very few effects employed here, and what is utilized is imparted in dashes and bits. There’s some doubling on Natalie Bergman’s vocals and hey affect and ache, unadorned. The electric guitar is used mostly to add a bit of texture to an acoustic piano. This results in a simple two-chord progression taking on some new emotional heft. Best of all, the lyrics match the subdued sonic atmosphere. When Bergman relates the core of her desires, simple and direct as they are, her only accompaniment is a gently undulating synth line. While she eventually completes the verse with the full strength of the production behind herm her desires couldn’t be more universal, and she doesn’t need a lot of words and sounds to convey them.

I need a man that treats me right
He’ll feed me supper more than twice
I’m not asking for lots of fancy toys
Someone to keep me warm at night.”

Anything but stark, every part of this track stands out like black ink on white paper. Oh by the way, I loved the book. I loved this track in much the same way.

Wild Belle – It’s Too Late (Employee Of The Year Remix)

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Music

Lafayette – Mauvaise Mine (Jupiter reMix)

la lune les etoiles

Now this is a tie loosener and I mean that in the, “it’s Friday, you just got out of work and you’re about to trip the light fantastic with friends, confidants, and a few fun strangers you’ve yet to make the acquaintance and the suit is staying but you’re getting ready to wild out a bit and this half-windsor feels really constricting all of a sudden,” sense of the term. Yes, you can tell that I’m looking forward to the weekend.

This one starts out pretty minimally – just a tinny drum beat and a simple keyboard motif – before it transforms into a sweet piece of candy coated nu-discofied funk. Here, the neon lights shine bright. An R&B guitar riff mingles with the synth line while another keyboard lays down a fat bass. But it’s nimble and tweaks the formula a bit as so much great French electronic does. Did I mention that Lafayette and their remixers Juptier are both Parisian acts? If a title like Mauvaise Mine wasn’t a dead giveaway, then the pervasive sense of luxury that this track positively exudes should’ve tipped any listener off.

It’s hard not to be positive at the moment. While it doesn’t really feel like Spring is upon us the season is, in fact, a thing that is currently happening. That means that despite the chill one might find themselves in (those of us living in New York included), sunny days and quality weather is imminent. No subtext and no dilemmas here. The only one should have in the coming weeks and months, outside of the Big Things and Important Issues, is what are the best ways to spend your time and who to spend it with. You’ve got your work cut out for you, I know.

Lafayette – Mauvaise Mine (Jupiter reMix)