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thundercat

After we heard prolific Brainfeeder bass embassador Thundercat’s debut album, The Golden Age of the Apocalypse, it was safe to assume that the creative relationship between Flying Lotus and Thundercat would be one of the most productive and important collaborations of this decade. Yes, Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat has only released one album, but his bass work has been present in Flying Lotus’ music since the mind-blowing and critically acclaimed Cosmogramma, where his free jazz sensibilities created some of the most transcendent moments on the LP. Beyond that, the two have proven to possess crazy experimental boundary-pushing tendencies, a crystal clear collaborative vision, and a bountiful friendship. Because of this, their true promise is in the music they have yet to release, perhaps the music on Thundercat’s sophomore LP, The Apocalypse, which was announced this week, along with the first single, “Heartbreaks + Setbacks”.

Bruner’s music has always been emotional, but in the past it has felt like the emotion was trying to reach you from behind the smoke of indulgent free jazz, or through the frenzy of Bruner’s bass shredding. Here Lotus and Thundercat have tried something different. The emotion touches you. It arrests you for three minutes and twenty-three seconds and then lets you go. The pure emotion succeeds this time with the accessibility of the song, no doubt. It’s still got the snappy rawness of a Thundercat cut, but gone are the jazz fusion chord acrobatics, wonky drum patterns, and space station bleeps. You’re still riding high, but you’re in the clouds, feeling the wind, a little closer to earth. Mono/Poly also has a production credit on “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” and my guess is that he’s lent his ethereal production chops to the atmosphere, the clear, bright drums and that insistent synth line that feels like the a sonic embodiment of the iconic Brainfeeder spark. Thundercat’s vocal and songwriting performance is not without its setbacks, as some of the pop style phrasing sounds forced (as one user so aptly pointed out in the comments, “can’t nobody stop the juice so baby tell me what’s the use?”). Yes, it sounds a bit reminiscent of the radio in the early 2000s, but not distractingly so and perhaps to its benefit. Beyond its emotive qualities and Bruner’s clear technical skill, this is the most commercially viable music the duo has released to date.

The Apocalyse is out on Brainfeeder this July 9th.

tokimonsta

Last week, wide-brim hat donning Los Angeles icon Jennifer Lee aka Tokimonsta released her sophomore LP Half Shadows on pop-oriented label Ultra Music. Since debuting her debut album Midnight Menu in 2010, Lee has been a touchstone for beat music and when you press play on Half Shadows (streaming courtesy of Noisey), you’ll know you’re listening to Tokimonsta. The mix of fluid movement, dreamlike atmosphere and swaggedelic beat are unmistakable. Basically, the entire album is Tokimonsta reminding us why she rocks. While the opening track “The Center” is a bit safe, and there are a couple other instances of that restraint from really blowing minds throughout the album, there is a larger success here that renders the little disappointments irrelevant: Tokimonsta has succeeded in making songs.

From the delightfully weird “The Force” featuring Kool Keith to the lush, hypnotic “Green” featuring Andreya Triana, to the striking “Moon Rise” with Jesse Boykins,  Half Shadows separates itself from other contemporary electronic albums that utilize vocals through a number of means. Instead of burying vocals deep in the mix, making them nearly unintelligible as an aesthetic, or compensating for what is all too often a lack of substance within the lyrics by manipulating them as “textures” (sorry Flying Lotus), Lee makes them shine with a clear and pristine quality so they can add an important layer of meaning to the song far beyond their acoustic quality. “Clean Slate” features frequent collaborator Gavin Turek and is a song about starting all over again if there’s a chance. In this light, the chords become hopeful, the drums become patient, and the production is clean, clean, clean. Furthermore, the ‘track’ follows the composition of the ‘song’, not the other way around. The drums go double time in the second half because it makes sense with the change in the vocals. Normally, all of this would be fairly obvious but in the context of electronic music, which is so often grid-based and repetitive, it is refreshing and demands multiple listens to recognize how the song’s beat and arrangement evolve with its vocals.

Hit the jump to read the full review…

Stream: Tokimonsta – “The Force” Feat. Kool Keith

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lapalux

When I heard my first Lapalux track, he had just signed to Brainfeeder as their first UK artist. His style was being called “post-dubstep”, which suggests that he heard dubstep, and thought “I should make music too”. The story doesn’t quite go like that. Stuart Howard  was a student of sound before dubstep and ‘beat scene’ were even ideas. You can hear it in his 2008 Forest EP, his first release. It’s a world of texture, waves of emotion, and frenetic disorientation that was informed by an intense study and absorbtion of sound aesthetics, with music production being more a means to an end and this pure expression being the end in itself. He creates his boundary crushing sound through a century-spanning sonic palette, always focused on the character of his sound sources and how they work together. With each release leading up to March 25th’s highly anticipated debut LP “Nostalchic”, his fusion of R&B melodic and harmonic motifs with neck-breaking beats and meticulously nuanced textural movement has fully taken shape, as has his mastery over the most dense yet lucid sound-world in modern electronic music. Lapalux doesn’t use these influences because they’re chic, he does so because his life’s work is to reconcile all these sounds into something beautiful.

I had the great honor of catching up with the man himself in February to talk about what it means to be releasing his first full length album, working with vocalists, and his creative process.

Continued after the jump…

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First of all, happy birthday to the legend, the great J Dilla who’s signature sound inspired a lot of the music we write about here. Today, Ghostly International beatsmith Shigeto released a Soundcloud set that’s “All raw. Unfinished. Made in an hour or so with friends. Inspired my J Dilla’s effortless and relentless output.”

This is a special collection of tracks and one that does justice to J Dilla’s experimentation, workhorse mentality, soulful sound, and tendency to put you in a percussive headlock. On the flip-side, If you take a step back, some of these tracks sound more indebted to the current state of electronic beat music in general than to Dilla’s influence specifically, and that just proves his influence was so great It’s hard to say where you can or can’t hear Jay Dee-isms. The raw acoustic drums, chopped vocal samples, lingering hi-end textures, and big bass-lines definitely take us back. The Joseph Deas collaborations are a personal favorite for drifting off. I hope we see them collaborating more in the future. Stream and download below.

mike gao beta world peace

I was first introduced to Los Angeles/San Diego producer Mike Gao’s music when I peeped a Daisuke Tanabe collaboration as I was just getting into ECM (Ear Candy Music, I just coined that).  At the time it wasn’t easy to find much work of his, but what I did hear was enough to convince me that I should keep watching this guy. His blend of hip hop, space funk, abstraction, textures, and a sound design repertoire that could pull it all together cohesively meant he was going to do some serious damage. Enter Beta World Peace. 

Without exception, these are seven bangers. Each track is a creature that lurches along with its own personality, palpitates, and slobbers kicks, hats and snares as it walks. Where Gao excels is in sculpting and sequencing sounds in an original way. His sound design game is off the charts.

The bass that welcomes us to Gao’s world in “Vamos” is redonkulous, and the redonkulosity doesn’t let up for 24 minutes. There’s something deliberately sticky and thick about the drum and bass processing that makes his beats feel like they’re scratching and clawing at your speaker cones. In “Comin Off That High” we are treated to some old school rave/footwork/juke sounding stuff. Then Gao does a quick synth stretch and throws us into the trap pit, then pulls us back out to do it again. I don’t know what high I’m supposed to be coming off of but it’s not working.

Though it’s clear Gao shines at sound design and beat-smithery, sometimes this means the work sacrifices the song as a work of art for the indulgence in these wild sonic acrobatics, but what is at first a challenging meandering feel at its best becomes a language Gao can use to explore horizontal collage and the element of surprise.

“Udon Quixote”, exemplifies this habit. The first minute is a sustained onslaught of synth heavy space funk with crunchy bass. Then without warning we cut to a totally different section based only on a vocal sample and a jazz horn section. As quickly as it disappeared, our tasty space groove reappears. To Gao’s credit, the two sections are kept in the same sound-world by the drum processing and tempo consistency, and the juxtaposition of the minimal section with the synth explosion brings new focus to the power of that complex jazz/soul chord progression.

“Precipice (Precipitate)” stands out as the most successful extreme of this idiosyncratic meandering quality as Gao succeeds in being minimal, intricate, and specific while juggling disparate sonic elements and transitions the song to a confident new place with the almost breakbeat sounding drum roll sample sounding oh so perfectly woven into place. The difference here is that subtle sounds like those sunny synth chords are maintained throughout the transition to gradually pull us into a new place.

Across the board, Beta World Peace Gao creates ear candy and high energy, booming beats. Knowing Gao’s work ethic and track record, this is just a preview of bigger things to come for its producer. World Peace 1.0?

Mike Gao’s ‘Beta World Peace’ is available now via HW&W.

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Earlier today, I explored the Gaslamp Quarter in anticipation of living in downtown San Diego and toured a couple apartments and checked out the scene there. There’s a jazz club, a couple standard dance clubs, a House of Blues, a bunch of awesome restaurants and bars, etc. It was actually quite nice. I talked to a waitress at one bar and another side of the Gaslamp started to reveal itself. She said most of the people walking around there are visitors and tourists and there really is next to no “Gaslamp arts community” even among people who work and live there. There are tons of bars and music venues, but alas there’s no Dubspot, no Boiler Room, no Low End Theory, nowhere where like-minded creative people can learn from each-other, just the predictable instant gratification of the familiar. I may go out there tonight. I may hear Gangam style. I too may feel like killing the Gaslamp.

Willie Bensussen (aka the Mothafuckin Gaslamp Killer) got his name from his penchant for clearing those dancefloors with dubstep, hip-hop, and whatever the heck else he wanted to play. There’s some poetic justice to the fact that the bass music that he played, which was once shunned and marginalized by those clubs, is slowly making its way into the clubs there as popular music. Just earlier this year the Gaslamp Killer played Vouyer, as if to signal that things had come full circle. With the increasing popularity of Dubstep Trap and world music, maybe there’s hope for some like minded people to bring a more experimental scene there. Maybe one day there will even be a Boiler Room San Diego. That said, in speaking to more of the locals there today, I confirmed that the majority of Gaslamp-goers are still tourists who will be dancing to top 40 tonight while you listen to the Gaslamp Killer  BBC Essential Mix.

As expected, This mix is heavy, gritty, challenging, groovy, and eclectic. It has its share of Brainfeeder bangers, but really leans toward the more obscure, which is for the better. It shows the breadth of GLK’s musical inspiration and reminds us of a couple of things. First, 70s psychedelic rock gives us a unique look at the roots of todays electronic music effects. Deliberately dense delay, heavy filtration, flange, and phasing all have roots in that era and there’s endless inspiration there. Second, The amount of obscure eastern music that we haven’t heard is staggering, and there’s a whole frontier of new music that can come from that. The distortion and dirt of Gaslamp’s original tracks fit right in the mix with the classic vinyl gems he’s played and you can really get a glimpse into where his musical sensibilities are coming from. He also seems to have a thing for screaming organs.

This mix is NSFGL.

Stream the whole mix here for the next 7 days

Captain Murphy is now a household name (or maybe a messy apartment name if the rest of the fan-base is anything like the author). We still have no idea who Captain Murphy is. I trust Flying Lotus when he says it’s just a young rapper with dope rhymes who is camera shy. Maybe there will be some clues on Duality, which is set to drop this Thursday the 15th.

His latest collaboration with Azizi Gibson and Jeremiah Jae meets or exceeds the level of dopeness we expect from Murphy. It’s got the haphazard vocal interjections under the main vocal common in Azizi Gbson x Jeremiah Jae collaborations, together with the intense bouts of pitch shifting of Captain Murphy that has come to define his vocal presence. On the upcoming Duality mixtape It will be nice to hear these smooth sailing hip hop tunes right next to heavy trap beats of the likes of Shake Weight.

This beat has Flying Lotus written all over it from the drum compression to the granular ambience in the background. It sounds like one of the ones he’s had lying around for a few years and finally found an artist worthy of it. The beat carries the track but the vocals really just prove that these guys are great lyricists. Listen for a final fantasy reference, a lord of the rings reference, and what sounds like a Talib Kweli diss(?).

Daedelus-Looking Ocean

Looking Ocean, the new release by L.A. beat magician Daedelus, is up for free download at Scion A/V.  With this EP, We find our hero embarking on a journey in a new direction and to a new dimension. After creating a musical persona that centers around shuffling, stretching, warping, and layering found samples and synths characteristic of a certain genre to reveal unexpected yet even more groovy patterns, he has stepped outside of that space, or perhaps further into it. Now we hear no discernable samples, just lush synths and crushed drums that stand alone and carry new emotions with them. This mixture forms the base of new rhythmic and harmonic soundscapes that Daedelus lets swirl around you and lift you up to the heavens. Still, despite these wings we can hear the roots quite clearly. Daedelus commented on the youtube video for “Platforming”:

“I’d challenge any players out there (especially Jazz) to perform over these changes. The chords are a circle of fifths (same as “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane). I know the song might not be the first you’d think of performing along with, but the results could surprise…”

Challenge accepted.

Beyond this, The tracks “Looking Ocean” with Brainfeeder’s resident virtuoso pianist Austin Peralta and “Flying Sail” With Computer Jay have some of the most compelling and unconventional synergies of futuristic rhythmic and compositional experimentation with traditional melodic and chordal… well… just listen, and download.

Here’s “Platforming” for your viewing and listening pleasure.

I’ve been patiently awaiting this album since I first saw Bhatia tweet that he’d covered Flying Lotus’s “Pickled” on his last release, the gorgeous EP Strata. What kind of future-jazz craziness might await on Yes It Will? On Tuesday, My questions were answered. I must admit upon a third listen this is very challenging music. It is certainly not background music as the opening track ironically suggests. This isn’t foreground music either. Like the best free jazz and bebop, This is music that forces you to reinterpret the dimensions in which you thought music existed. More than that though, this album is bursting with life.

I had the pleasure of seeing Bhatia and his band play “Try” and “Endogenous Oscillators” from this album live at Pianos NYC during his residency there and I was blown away by the freedom of “Endogenous Oscillators” (also my favorite track on the album) endlessly developing on itself and changing its own rules, behaving almost like the stream of consciousness of a very caffeinated and scatterbrained person. it enters a system of a couple of repeated polyrhythms and riffs, then leaves it behind, seemingly forgetting it, to move on to a more searching guitar solo. Then the guitar blends with saxophone and trumpets and they get tied into an arhythmic conversation, all the while the percussion and bass accenting and contextualizing every moment. After a perfectly disheveled drum solo, we revisit the two earlier themes, one building and fading into the other, and the song ends.

The affirmation and confidence of the album’s title can be heard in Bhatia’s braving of uncharted time signatures with a sense of purpose, repeated statements of unconventional harmony and disharmony as common in his guitar licks as in the full orchestra he employs at certain points. Needless to say that we are kept on earth by both the use of real instruments and the musical training of real instrumentalists. lots of them. Some moments call to mind Pat Metheny, Elvin Jones, the Coltranes, Herbie Hancock, and friends, but there are so many new inspirations Bhatia willingly absorbs into his music, as though it was Jazz becoming a snowball rolling down a hill of music, picking up math rock, minimalism, ambient music, electronic music, and contemporary classical music along the way, and hitting you in the face at the bottom of the hill.
You can almost hear someone saying, “This won’t work.” and Bhatia saying “Yes It Will.”

I got a sense that Bhatia’s music is impressionist music, aiming to not only convey emotion, but to process chaos of modern life by finding parallels and intersections between the Jazz medium which is a staple of such expression and the electronic medium which has potential as a modern day tool for this expression. If you like Herbie Hancock’s  Maiden Voyage, and you like Flying Lotus’s Cosmogramma, you’ll love this.

Be sure to check out the Sons of the Morning Remix EP as well.

Here’s a link to the album on Itunes, out on Rest Assured.

Here’s a video of the Live performance of “Try”.

For fans of experimental beat music, Stuart Howard AKA Lapalux represents a constantly rising bar. Since his production techniques are so huge and his style and artistic choices so personal and unpredictable, he’s the kind of producer people just have to watch to see what he does next, rather than judge in reference to a fleeting trend. An early and enduring fascination with analog tape manipulation is a large factor in the fresh but rooted sound he has harnessed. In his new EP, Some Other Time, Lapalux further expands and saturates (literally and figuratively) his world of sound and takes it in a refreshing direction. A lot of this new work feels even more inspired by the intersection of R&B with both the past and future of electronic music.

I’ll save your valuable time by listing here all the onomatopoeia and sonic descriptors I would have used in the rest of this article if it was much longer: “Buzz, pop, crackle, skitter, skip, lush, collisions, collapse, jittery, measured, fluid, swirling, whirling, winding, spindly, windy, vivid, brittle, jagged.”

So now that that’s out of the way I can talk about some of my favorite moments.

Unlike many Lapalux jams, the opening song, “Quartz”, remains innocent and free without descending into madness. Instead, meandering vocals and airy resonances create a pensive, soothing atmosphere, suggesting a place that would be nice to get lost in.

Throughout the EP, many will recognize the quality of certain sounds. Maybe a bass we’ve heard in dubstep, out-of-context foley sounds like those we’ve heard on other Brainfeeder releases , noise and rummaging textures we’ve heard in computer music for years, strings we’ve heard in symphonies, but they’ve never been used to make us cringe the way that I did at the 1 minute mark of “Strangling You With the Cord”. It’s a song that is as homicidal as its name suggests. Whatever/ whoever is being strangled here is to be permanently scarred and will probably never again make the mistake that provoked this song. It’s that cringe of distress or terror or torment that activated the neurons that awaken memories of when I’ve cringed like that before, thus transferring directly to me the emotion that created the song in the first place, without lyrics as a vehicle. I’d argue that Lapalux is at his best at these moments.

One similarity to his past releases is that sounds seem to brace themselves in anticipation for their turn to dive in on our ears in one crushing blow after another. We hear this same tendency epitomized in “Time Spike Jamz” of of Many Faces Out Of Focus, but really all across his catalogue. To avoid completely losing track of all these sounds, Lapalux has always masterfully woven some sort of hook into every track, whether through vocals or chord progressions. What has progressed about his style on Some Other Time is the level of control and attention to detail which allows the tracks to be even more transportive and immersive.

“Forgetting and Learning Again” with Kerry Leatham is the standout track and the one I want to hear again and again. It is larger than life, and has a staggering amount of soul. It has the most pleasurable sounds on this EP, going effortlessly between between decadent bass and keys, and sounds that various creatures from Alice and Wonderland might make if you stepped on them or they were scurrying away from you in a magical forest. The towering force of the beat combined with the emotion of the vocal really penetrates. In the final minute of the song, we’re treated to a distant anticipation, and an absolutely arresting final statement by Lapalux and Leatham, the latter of which is on track to “have another” and is probably “having another” right now as I write this. Much like whatever Leatham is having another of, this EP is intoxicating from beginning to end.