Diggin’ in the Carts: Episodes 5 and 6

Diggin’ in the Carts: Episode 5

It’s been a minute since Red Bull Music Academy closed out their Diggin’ in the Carts series, but I still wanted to post the two last episodes here in case you missed them. Episode 5, which you can stream above, is completely dedicated to the monumental works of Nobuo Uematsu. This legendary composer began his career with Square in 1985 and has garnered fame that has stretched well beyond the world of video games. His soundtracks for the Final Fantasy series are widely held to be among the greatest and most recognizable of any era or platform. These works— especially the masterpiece that is Final Fantasy VI— certainly helped define a crucial period of my musical education. Thanks, Nobuo.

Diggin’ in the Carts: Episode 6

The final installment of Diggin’ in the Carts examines our current epoch of video game soundtracks, which has moved from the innovative niche of chiptune music and FM synthesis into a mode that is much more aligned with mainstream music production and film scoring. It’s certainly interesting to hear the grandiose soundtracks of the present day and think about the fascinating evolution of the video game music industry and its soundtracks. While some folks are rushing to hammer you over the head with John Williams stock strings and overly epic orchestral compositions in today’s games, there are still plenty of more interesting works bubbling throughout the industry.

I don’t imagine the nostalgia for that early era of video game music will ever truly fade, but as the genre’s primary disciples rise to prominence in their creative fields, those familiar blips and bleeps continue to strongly influence electronic, hip-hop, and pop music of the here and now. As these sounds feed back into a new generation of listeners and gamers, I imagine some might be surprised at how much they recognize when Mom or Dad plugs in the ol’ NES now and then.

Aquarian: Aquarian EP + “Soma”

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Earlier this week, Brooklyn’s stellar rave-agitator Aquarian released his latest EP: a self-titled plunge into his familiar niche of cold, cascading techno. These new tunes stand out as more polished than previous works without sacrificing the producer’s dark and gritty edge, propelled by unstoppable acid blips and a more prominent integration of classic breaks like Lyn Collins’ indelible jungle and Bmore club “Think (About It)” loop and the Godfather of all breakbeats, the Amen break. A welcome further exploration of the intersection of techno, jungle, acid, and bass music, the four originals on Aquarian occasionally recall the strengths of some of the finer Modern Love works— most notably on the massive “Event Horizon”, which swells and crashes under spastic Amen flips and heavy industrial drum stutters. Supported by a couple noteworthy remixes from Throwing Snow and Nautiluss, this is not an EP to sleep on.

Aquarian is out now on UNO NYC. Pick up a copy at Juno or on iTunes.

Check out the video for opening track “SOMA” below, which features sounds and visuals alike that build upon disquieting beauty before opening up into a frantic, blistering assault of pulsing, propulsive arcs and cuts.

Jimmy Edgar: “Who’s Watchin”

Jimmy Edgar

I, for one, welcome our new feline overlords.

Jimmy Edgar, prolific Warp Records affiliate and Ultramajic label boss, just dropped his latest record earlier this week. The final in a trilogy of EPs centered around an exploration of the primal elements, Saline represents Edgar’s reflection on the element of Earth. For me, this record is less immovable weight or slowly eroding soil, but instead roils and simmers fiercely like the core of our planet. From the bubbling acid of the opener “Burn”, on through the skittering house of “Decalcify”, the ghetto house-tinged “Walk Show” (featuring the late, great DJ Rashad), and the hypnotic club gem “Who’s Watchin”, Saline is a solid offering from one of contemporary electronic music’s most consistent producers.

The music video for “Who’s Watchin”, released by Ultramajic last week, is a kind of fever dream of cat Tumblr inception laced with フレッド (Freddy) YOLO vaporwave aesthetics. I can only assume the tie-in to Saline is that as salt is a necessary building block of life on the planet Earth, so are cats a necessary building block of life on the internet.

Check out the video below and stream all of the Saline EP right here. Or just cut to the chase and snag a copy from Beatport.

Andy Stott: “Violence” + New LP

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With the March release of Millie & Andrea‘s Drop the Vowels — the debut collaborative LP of Modern Love labelmates Andy Stott and Miles Whittaker (of Demdike Stare) — I didn’t expect we’d get to hear too much else from Stott in 2014. I’m glad to know that I was completely wrong about that, as Andy recently dropped the first single from Faith in Strangers, his forthcoming follow-up to 2012’s masterful Luxury Problems.

“Violence”, which welcomely features the vocal work of Luxury Problems collaborator Alison Skidmore, takes the unsettling calm and crushing ominousness indicative of Stott’s recent works and pushes them into an even more extreme diametric balance. The track begins with an interplay of whispering synth drones and Skidmore’s breathy vocals, a nearly serene soundscape blackened by a permeating sense of dread and sporadic flourishes of piercing, harsh tones. The relative tranquillity eventually succumbs to a growing crescendo as Skidmore’s vocals rise from faint murmurs to more forceful ethereal intonations and Stott begins to layer drum tracks and menacing, rattling low-end. Ultimately, any semblance of serenity is utterly torn asunder by the cacophony. This track is heavy, even by Andy Stott’s standards.

Look for Faith in Strangers to drop on November 18th via Modern Love. If this jam is any indication, it should be one of the most notable records of the year. Stream “Violence” below and pre-order Faith in Strangers over at Bleep.

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 examines 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 sound processor. 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)

How to Dress Well

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.