Ryan Hemsworth might be one of the fastest rising DJs and remixers in the game. The 22 year old producer certainly has his own style and sound. As opposed to the multitudes of heavily-layered, over manipulated trap-house artists, his style lends more to the shoe-gazing, half speed beats. He redid Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You” with snappier drums and a heavier melody. And, quite excellently, redid the TFIB favorite “Open” by Rhye into a heavier, speedier club jam. And for me, his mix for Diplo & Friends has been one of the better mixes of 2013, combining ambient, ethereal, and dubtrapr™ like few can.
Yet it seems like his remix of “Genesis” by Grimes might be one of the few tracks of this year to get the idea of a remix right. Upon initial listen, the track feels like a swirling reduction of Grimes’ iconic piano lines, her voice phased down to smack against the bass. But the drums kick in, then, finally, the heavy harmony in the compressed synths. Splicing the lyrics into pieces, the echo-drenched “My heart” almost never leaves the mix. It’s a crystallization, a focused reinterpretation of one of the best songs of 2012. Just as good as good on the beach as it is on the dance floor.
Say what you will about the two, but few have revived interest in Jamaican music as Diplo and Switch’s zombie-killing creation, Major Lazer. Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do was a stunning record, a perfect follow up from the iconic mixtapes Diplo put out in the years prior. To some extent, the hype for their new album Free the Universe is not just necessary, but proper. The record mashes dancehall, dub, trap and thatratchetmusic all at once, perfect for dance floors from Silver Lake to Brooklyn to Kingston.
Yet the song to watch might be this one. “Get Free” displays the beauty of dub reggae so perfectly. Equal parts Augustus Pablo and classic R&B, there’s something beautiful here. Amber Coffman asks “What will I do without my dreams?” as the beat bubbles back and forth like water on a choppy stream. A synthy horn pops in, dancing on the reggae rhythm. The chorus rings out on so many levels: “Look at me, I just can’t believe what they’ve done to me: We could never get free, I just want to be…” Are they talking about the government? The style of music? The oppression in Jamaica? Or just that subconscious desire to live? No matter. We all want to get free, don’t we?
The words “honky tonk” will always feel hokey to me. A ragtime style originated from dive bars of the early 20th century, it evolved into “Okie” or “hillbilly music” through it’s simplicity and straight rhythms. It didn’t really have a place in country or popular music until the legendary Ernest Tubb brought it to Nashville. Much of the Nashville sound in the 50’s and 60’s steeped itself in the minimalist style, eschewing strings and large bands for simple instruments and solid stories. Since then, the style, moreso than the word itself, became ingrained in American culture. Buck Owens gave it a pair of telecasters and global appeal, Gram Parsons asked us to “close down the honky-tonks” in 1969, the Byrds lost themselves in a honky tonk, the country bad boy Waylon Jennings put out a record called Honky Tonk Heroes, and even the Eagles gave the Bakersfield style a try. The legend sealed itself into American consciousness.
Son Volt’s latest release, Honky Tonk is more than just a throw back. It is a uniquely American record, each song loaded by Jay Farrar’s expert song writing in a way few records have offered in years.
I was first introduced to the Portland-based label Dropping Gems two years ago when they released their first compilation, Gem Drops. I was shocked. Here was a labor of love, done by friends for friends, with incredible beats and songs, and all the revenue went to the American Cancer Society. I stayed fresh and young, I got down with some kale jams (seriously), and I loved it so much I even featured a track on my Redford Rise mixtape, for all of you to enjoy.
Gem Drops Two followed the next year with the same inspired blend of tracks. Anything from synth pop, hip hop beats, ambient, drone… it was there. This was music to fall in love to, to get lost in a forest with, to make you dance in the sunshine. Once again, the proceeds went to cancer. Once again, I was smitten with the music.
Gem Drops Three came out yesterday. Many of the same things are there, but after several years, the sound is more refined. This is a labor of love. So through some help by friends of friends, I got a chance to ask label founder and Portland native Aaron Meola how he does it. And in the loving tradition of The Fox Is Black interviews, I asked him five questions about music, love, and passion.
The beautiful thing with music is, that while getting what you expect is pretty great, when you get something you never expected it’s the best. That seems to be the case with Jennifer Lee aka TOKiMONSTA, the LA-based beatsmith, producer, and songwriter. The versatility of her style seems as random and spasmodic as her home city. One minute you’re in a chopped up hip hop song, the next a slow R&B crooner, then a beat-heavy banger, and finally some electronic bliss pop. It’s almost a trademark of the whole Low End Theory/Brainfeeder crew. If you think you understand what’s happening, you might have missed the whole point.
So we’re more than amped to see what is happening on her new album, Half Shadows.
The career of Sean Green, aka Bonobo, has been one of slow yet steady ascent. A DJ and producer, his debut record Animal Magic contained the trademarks of a man impressed in the details. One could listen to the record without realizing the jazzy, funkified trip-hop beats have been playing and seeping into your brain. The sitars ring, the guitar strings fuzz, drums mute, and all of a sudden the listener is transfixed. When Black Sands came out in 2010, the formula was complete – global melodies, hip hop precussion, a meditative producers touch. “Kiara” remains one of my favorite “play-this-any-time-of-day” track of the past 5 years, while “Eyesdown” is the most seductive 9 megabytes available for remixes. Listening to Black Sands can be akin to sitting in a Van der Rohe chair. The details are everywhere, you just have to look.
So needless to say, The North Borders might be the most anticipated release on Ninja Tune this year.
Ghostpoet is a rising star of UK grime/rap/garage vocalists. Ever since 2011’s pristine Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, his cult following status has only grown larger, including some stateside love (myself included, of course). His music wonderfully blends moodiness and reflection. The dark, brooding beats hover and oscillate between grime, trip hop and backpacker hip hop. And his voice, well, his voice captures an emotional context that few can achieve. “Cash and Carry Me Home” was remixed endlessly, while “Survive It” feels like a million life lessons all rolled up into one. So where’s the follow up?
The new album, Some Say I So Say Light, emerged on May 6 to equal aplomb. Not afraid of bending genres and convention, the record takes soul, rap, grime, and reflective or meditative lyrics and mashes them together. Fortunately for us, the excellent new single “Meltdown” gets remixed by the one and only Squarepusher. He amps it up a few notches, dropping the meditative nature of the track into a wobbly, brilliant mashing of sound. This is one of those songs that will feel iconic for the year as time goes by, a microcosm of the variety of sound in 2013.
Yours Truly, SF based music documentarians, have spent the better part of the last year videotaping some of the more innovative trendsetters in music. Be it the newest smoldering Los Angeles IT-girl or a new soul singer, they have chronicled some of the best emerging artists in the past few years. Recently, they taped Shlomo and Jeremih while they worked on a new single.