It’s no secret that Spotify has one of the worst online radio algorithms in existence. However, with their library and a few decent playlists, I’ve occasionally been able to find some good music. In this edition of “Yeah I got nothin’,” we’re going to pretend that rather than having nothing specific to talk about this month, I’ve prepared a list of my top recent discoveries on Spotify.
The Japanese House
About a decade ago, Imogen Heap released a remarkable song called Hide and Seek. Accomplished using only a vocoder, the song stood out as perhaps the closest a clearly electronic track came to the “rawness” of an acoustic recording. I think she did a fantastic job on that song, and since then I’ve always been a fan of vocal manipulation in music. The Japanese House has taken the aesthetics of that sound and raised the bar with her music. The first song of hers that I heard was Pools to Bathe In (from the same-titled EP), which has got a good sense of movement and shift in feel from airiness to a kind of dark bass as the song progresses.
The song that really got me on board was Clean. It has a tremendous amount of positive energy, and I love the layers that the harmonized vocals add to the otherwise fairly minimal track. Notwithstanding the degree to which the song adheres to a standard pop structure, she managed the build-up to the chorus sections very well. I particularly like how she makes the first transition from a light tone to the heavier, more powerful, yet restrained sound that carries the song forward (around 0:35) — I believe I’ve used the term “controlled detonation” to describe the effect in the past.
The last song I’d like to highlight is Teeth. I really agree with the choices she made in the production of this track. I love the little guitar riff that gets overlaid periodically. The ethereal harmonized vocals and synthesizer effects continue to be like a warm coat around one of the comfiest EP’s I’ve heard all year. I highly recommend listening to all of her stuff. There isn’t that much, and she has yet to release a bad track.
[Hip-hop, West coast]
I haven’t been listening to as much hip-hop these days as I used to, but I have really liked what I heard out of Vince Staples so far. He is from Long Beach, California, which is the setting for most of his raps. His production, although varied, consists of a lot of low, nearly sub-bass lines with occasional trap elements.
My favorite track of his is definitely Norf Norf (as in “Norfside” Long Beach). He’s got excellent flow, and the beat is absolutely filthy. As it happens, this song was produced by Clams Casino, the mastermind behind several of Lil B’s hits. Thankfully, despite the “based” backing track, Staples doesn’t slur his rapping. On the contrary, he’s actually got a pretty articulate style. Is he the most technical rapper I’ve ever heard? No. He’s got character, though.
You would assume I would have picked this up in Norf Norf, but it wasn’t until Blue Suede that I realized that this is no-shit “Vince is a crip” legit gangsta rap. I’m sure he appreciates me reviewing his songs. Anyway, this is another song with a deep, sickening beat. I don’t feel his flow is as strong here as it was in Norf Norf, but the song is more of an anthem than a straight-up hip-hop track in my mind, so it’s not surprising.
The last one I’ll mention is Señorita, one of his newest singles. All my earlier remarks still apply, but I really like how he/his producer ends this one. It escalates into a kind of drone to put the already “on edge” vibe of the song right over.
This band is by no means new, but they’re new to me and this is my blog, so you can damn well deal with it. Sometimes trip-hop artists are lost in the shadow created by such widely-acclaimed groups like Massive Attack and Portishead. Bowery Electric, like several other artists I’ve found since getting into the genre, is an example of a truly (forgive the colloquialism) dank band that should not be overlooked.
I was actually really impressed with these guys when I first listened to their latest album, Lushlife. It’s an album that is hard to find a fault with. Take Passages, for example. It’s trip-hop incarnate: it’s chill, smooth, urban, groovy, grunge-y, it’s got that cyber punk aesthetic that reminds me of The Matrix. When I want to hear a trip-hop song, this is what I expect to hear.
Lushlife itself is another great track off the album. Another song that just hits all the right spots for someone who wants to get into the mood of trip-hop.
Their most popular song is actually off a different album, Beat, and it is called Fear of Flying. It’s definitely got a different feel to it; it’s more of a shoegaze song than trip-hop per se. Still not too shabby. On the whole, this is another band I fully recommend.
[Indie rock, emo]
I mentioned Weatherbox one time as a sidenote in an earlier post, but I now believe that wasn’t enough. The band has got a rather unique sound and I’ve actually been listening to them more frequently lately, so it’s time to talk more about them.
Last month, when I wrote about *shels, I pointed out that when a band’s sound is particularly heavy in comparison to their peers, you tend to notice. Weatherbox is the same way with indie rock (and emo specifically). I wouldn’t call them explosive, and I wouldn’t say they make use of the loud-quiet dichotomy that I sometimes talk about. They’re just loud, and high energy, and in a way they just catch fire and keep blazing song after song. It’s great driving music.
Drop the Mike is a good example. The guitars have a powerful tone to them, and while the song shares all of its solidly melodic nature with emo, it just feels more aggressive, or purposeful. The juxtaposition of the guitars with the vocalist’s nasally tone is oddly satisfying.
Trippin’ the Life Fantastic is the magnum opus of the group. It is a showcase of everything they do well: the driving guitars, the energy, the melody. The song is a journey, and you definitely end up somewhere different at the end of the song than where it started.
The last song I’ll throw out is Atoms Smash. As it happens, all three of these tracks are off the same album: American Art. I highly recommend it, and even moreso I recommend listening to it at high volume. Weatherbox will make the most of your stereo.
It has been a point of mine for quite a while to not spend too much time only listening to one genre of music. It’s really the only way to gain an appreciation for music outside one’s comfort zone, and along the way I’ve picked up artists for my library that I would have strongly disliked only 7-8 years ago. It’s a nice feeling of freedom in art that I highly recommend.
Sites like last.fm and Spotify generally do a good job of providing exposure to artists that would be unheard of normally, and although Spotify still has some work to do, I’ve been pretty satisfied since I joined.