Diggin’ in the Carts: Episode Four

Last Thursday, the Red Bull Music Academy released another installment of Diggin’ in the Carts, their miniseries exploring the history of video game music. This episode examined the influence of Sega, first in the arcade world and then with the release of their Mega Drive (aka Genesis) console and its FM-synth driven sounds. This clearly separated the soundtracks of the Mega Drive from those on the NES or the PC Engine systems and channeled the kind of sounds more reminiscent of contemporary pop music. As such, the creators of video game music began to play an even more central role in the industry and composers like Yuzo Koshiro (The Revenge of ShinobiStreets of Rage) even found themselves being credited on the title screens of games. The composers of this era brought more sophistication to their soundtracks and put more emphasis on songwriting. Pulling from fusion, rock, latin jazz, J-pop, house, Detroit techno, and other influences, pioneers like Yuzo Koshiro, Masato Nakamura, and Hiro helped to redefine what a video game score could be.

shh#ffb6c1, Secret Songs’ First Comp <3

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Whether effortlessly blending trapped-out hip-hop with SNES classics, choppin’ up somethin’ next level for any number of MCs, or crafting his own beautiful original compositions, Ryan Hemsworth has long been reshaping the musical landscape as a DJ, producer, and songwriter. The man has many styles, moving from the charmingly twee, to the profoundly emotional, to the dark and moody. Yet, no matter how disparate they may appear, all of his works seem to have that Hemsworth touch, his oblique fingerprints hiding in the folds of the melodies, or the textures of the synths, or the rhythms of the drumwork.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Ryan recently revealed his latest endeavor as the curator of Secret Songs, a new bi-weekly series of Soundcloud-distributed tracks that features a slew of underappreciated up-and-coming producers. To celebrate the release of the first ten jams via Secret Songs, which have all been excellent, Hemsworth has organized the first compilation for the series: shh#ffb6c1. A collection of ten new songs all inspired by “light pink”, this cleverly-titled (#ffb6c1 is the HTML color code for light pink) inaugural comp was clearly put together by a masterful selector. Not only is shh#ffb6c1 packed with quality—from “PC Music Princess” GFOTY‘s blistering, brain-melting opener, to Kero Kero Bonito‘s intoxicatingly catchy “Flamingo”, to the fragile longing of Cuushe‘s “Do You Feel Me”— but the compilation also flows pitch perfectly, each track representing a fragment of Ryan Hemsworth’s excellent and eclectic taste.

You can stream shh#ffb6c1 in its entirety below and download the comp over at the Secret Songs website. Thanks Hemmy, can’t wait for more. <3

Kendrick Lamar: “i”

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Kendrick Lamar dropped a brand new single today— the self-esteem boosting “i” is our first glimpse at his forthcoming LP.

After the contemplative weight of good kid, m.A.A.d city and the ruthless shot-firing of “Control”, Lamar pumps the breaks and puts this new jam on some serious Outkast vibes, bolstered by a sample of The Isley Brother’s “That Lady” that uplifts the track on some of that love thyself, feel-good ish. I’m hearing some Thundercat flourishes on that bass solo outro too— considering he’s confirmed to be working on another track for the LP, that shouldn’t be too surprising. On “i”, Kendrick just sounds comfortable above all else and spits with all the cool confidence of a victory lap. Fair enough for the current messiah of rap who’s released one of the greatest hip-hop LPs in recent memory. You’ve earned it, K-Dot. But, on the first couple listens this track is a bit light for my tastes. What do ya’ll think?

There’s no release date for the LP yet, but Kendrick recently said that he has recorded 30 to 40 new songs and at this point hasn’t asked any other MCs to appear on the album. “I have so much to say! It’s somewhat selfish of me”, he says. The rumor mill’s projected a late 2014 or early 2015 release for the hotly anticipated follow-up to good kid m.A.A.d city. Regardless of how you feel about this song, that’s still something worth looking forward to.

Diggin’ in the Carts: Episode Three

If you missed it, be sure to check out episode three of Diggin’ in the Carts, the Red Bull Music Academy‘s ongoing exploration of the history of video game music and the pervasive impact of the composers of Japan. This installment covers the rise of 16-bit gaming systems and the monumental influence of the soundtrack from Street Fighter II. Input from resident gaming experts, Street Fighter II composer Yoko Shimomura, as well as contemporary artists Dizzee Rascal, Ikonika, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Groundislava, and others fill out this chapter of the story. Great stuff so far!

ON REPEAT: How To Dress Well – “Repeat Pleasure” (A. G. Cook Remix)

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How To Dress Well (aka Tom Krell)

ON REPEAT is a feature at Chickens Don’t Clap! that draws special attention to my favorite, faaaavorite tracks. It’s all love here, but these jams are the cream of the crop in my world right now.

PC Music founder A. G. Cook and Numbers producer Sophie (all but an official member of the PC Music crew) are currently leading a revolution of self-aware, warped, club-leaning pop music that is as infectious as it is innovative. Cook continues to prove himself as the most measured and accessible producer of the bunch, capable of the kind of hyped-up, distorted club music that characterizes the collective, but also something far more patient like this slow-burning rework of How To Dress Well‘s “Repeat Pleasure”.

From its bizarrely bent intro on through its climactic finish, this remix is nothing short of ingenious. Cook dismantles the entire composition and restructures it to his liking, twisting the first verse into a jagged mess of pitch shifts and light sprinklings of synth in a reimagined introduction for the track. The second verse of the song is cut completely, as are the soft and warm acoustic sounds of the original. Instead, Cook relishes the refrains of “Repeat Pleasure” and allows Tom Krell’s vocals to soar over cold, otherworldly walls of synth. The sharp falsetto of “broken my heart will go on” is looped and layered with backup vocals to brilliant effect, helping to create incredible levels of tension in conjunction with Cook’s crescendos of heart-wrenching chords. Finally, as the power of that moment builds upon itself exponentially, the tension snaps and this rework collapses into a subtly unresolved ending that subconsciously drives me to want to play the song again. Intentional or not, this little detail feels reflective of the song’s subject matter— the search for closure amongst anxiety and pain, driven by a nagging pull of chronic dissatisfaction and longing.

For me, this masterful rework from the King Midas of PC Music markedly improves upon the original. Or, at least, turns it into something far more powerful and affecting. An impressive feat, but I’m pretty convinced I shouldn’t expect any less from A. G. Cook  or his affiliates at this point.

Pick up How To Dress Well’s acclaimed new LP, “What Is This Heart?”, over here and peruse the latest releases from PC Music right here.

Tobias Jesso Jr: Take Away Show, 09.10.2014

Tobias Jesso, Jr. is surely the Internet’s indie wunderkind of the moment. This young Vancouver songsmith has entered the scene very cautiously since he was “discovered” after he sent his demo to Chet ‘JR’ White from the now-defunct San Francisco band Girls. A little anticipation goes a long way in this age of instant gratification, but Jesso’s output over the last year amounts to only two fragile and impressive demos uploaded to his YouTube account. That is until his live session for La Blogothèque‘s ongoing “Take Away Show” series, performed at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles, cropped up last week.

Jesso’s sound has been likened to any number of piano man singer-songwriters and vulnerable indie darlings— Daniel Johnston, Harry Nilsson, Elton John, Cass McCombs, Jackson Browne, Sparklehorse, and the list goes on. Personally, I’m hearing flashes of Ben Folds, Elliot Smith, and John Lennon at their most tender shine through, as far as increasingly loaded comparisons go. Wait, Ben Folds covered Elliot Smith for The AV Club? Okay, maybe this is it. No… not quite. Maybe Jesso’s just internalized Lennon’s Dakota Demos and put his own spin on the sound. One thing’s clear: wherever he’s coming from, we should be glad he made it here and is crafting such quiet, emotive, and lyrically warm tunes. So far, they all feel pretty timeless.

His live session for La Blogothèque features a performance of his first demo, “Just a Dream”, as well as the previously unheard stunner “Without You”. “Why can’t you just love me? / Should I move on, or should I wait? / And how’d you get so high above me…? / I reach higher, every day”, Jesso aches over the heartfelt nostalgia of his piano melody. He’s not reinventing the wheel here, but he commands a real power nonetheless.

Look for Tobias Jesso, Jr. to release his debut LP on True Panther Sounds sometime in the spring of 2015.

Diggin’ in the Carts: Episode Two

Yesterday, Red Bull Music Academy released episode two of Diggin’ in the Carts— their new series exploring the history of video game music and the far-reaching influence of Japanese composers and game studios on contemporary electronic music, hip-hop, and Western pop culture. So far the series feels more like a pastiche of fascinating little stories from the intertwined development of game music composition and game hardware rather than a fully realized chronicle of the history with complete context. Regardless, there’s much to be gleaned from these first couple episodes.

This installment covers the monumental legacy of Konami and lesser-powerhouse Sunsoft, the raw power of Castlevania and Contra, Masashi Kageyama’s masterful soundtrack for Gimmick!, the convergence of Jpop composers like Akio Dobashi (of Rebecca) and video game music, and the use of additional sound chips within game cartridges to push the sound capabilities of the NES to their limits. Lagrange Point, a game that featured a soundtrack composed by Dobashi, actually had a six-channel FM synth chip embedded in the cartridge. Just amazing.

I’m also reminded that I need to give a shout out to comedian Brent Weinbach’s amazing video game music podcast, The Legacy Music Hour. These guys have definitely been diggin’ in the carts and have covered some of the best game music of all time, including some truly deep cuts even for those well-versed in the genre. Enjoy the new Diggin’ in the Carts episode above and be sure to go check out their podcast afterward.

Ryan Hemsworth & Tomggg: “Cream Soda”

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To celebrate his upcoming tour of Japan, Ryan Hemsworth went and dropped an excellent collab with Japanese producer and Maltine Records-affiliate Tomggg a couple weeks go. It should come as no surprise that this track has been in heavy rotation ever since.

On “Cream Soda”, saccharine melodies as sweet as the song’s namesake float along with the whimsy of Earthbound (which receives a deserved nod in the single’s awesome artwork above) and ultimately crescendo into jaw-dropping, nearly tear-inducing heights of joy. Only Hemsworth could flip a “Move That Dope” sample into a track this adorable so effortlessly— whippin’-and-flippin’ the yam never felt so kawaii. Tomggg’s hand is also palpable here, as his distinctive use of those metallic xylophone samples really carries this composition.

Stream and download this triumphant gem below… good luck trying to turn it off once you do.

Sophie: Boiler Room, 08.22.2014

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Sophie’s immaculate avatar twiddlin’ knobs like a pro

The Ray-Ban sponsored Boiler Room LA session celebrating the upcoming release of Hudson Mohawke‘s Chimes EP was an awkward spectacle to behold. The live stream went down the rabbit hole quickly after Oneohtrix Point Never‘s solid ambient opening set. Between the kabuki dancers, Eric Wareheim’s decidedly odd and disconnected performance as host (not in the good, Tim & Eric-absurdist way), the concept heavy unveil of QT‘s impossibly sweet debut single “Hey QT”, Busta Rhymes’ cringe-worthy, “I’m not gonna lie right now, I’m high-as-fuck” grade guest performance, Hudson Mohawke’s haphazard mixing, and the lengthy pauses due to continuous technical difficulties, this was certainly a head-scratcher for the ages. Also, is it just me or did HudMo play more songs from the new Rustie record than from the EP he was supposed to be hyping? Lunice eventually brought everyone back to Earth with one of his characteristically energetic trapped-out sets, but he also felt misplaced as the closer for the night.

In my opinion, the reps from PC Music easily stole the show as the only performers who, at least in part, actually set out to confound the audience. QT’s performance of this summer’s bubbliest, and decidedly divisive, dance-pop anthem was equal parts commentary, troll, and genuine statement. A consistent outpouring of internet adoration and rage has ensued. Sophie’s set was packed with swirling, fizzy, forward-thinking club sounds— much of it unreleased— and was laced with its own bit of performance art in that it was performed by an unnamed drag queen DJ stand-in. Some attendees reported that the actual Sophie was there, disguised as a security guard for the duration of the set. Some were so ecstatic they couldn’t contain themselves:

Either way the PC Music movement is only getting more impressive and I’m glad to see them infiltrating more and more spaces that need to be challenged. As great as their tunes are, half the fun is watching the ol’ stick-in-the-muds of electronic music and music criticism explode in a ball of rage and demand to know why everyone is pretending to like these tracks. Of course, the jokes on the detractors; the vehement hatred leveled at QT, Sophie, and their ilk only makes them stronger. I’m looking forward to the next great boundary push from PC Music. Until then, I’ll keep these unreleased Sophie jams on repeat.