Jai Paul – Crush

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A good cover can be hard to pull off, always tight-roping the smarmy/douchebag border. Rap songs into acoustic guitar. Backstreet Boys song → acoustic guitar. Most of them follow this pattern. There are a lot of covers out there, but type in ukelele cover in Youtube and prepare to take a hand full of SSRIs. Jai Paul avoids the tongue-in-cheek, self-aware, wink wink nod nod, and instead takes the 90’s track “Crush”–by one hit wonder, Jennifer Paige — and makes this version as much his, as her’s (or whatever fat white guy wrote it for her).

Paul’s hush tone voice is pushed back and forth, overlapping with the distended bassline, then being smothered under it like a pillow over an inmate’s face. Paige makes “Crush” sound flirty, with her enunciated presence clear and upfront, whereas Paul has salt on his tongue, fighting to be picked out from all the percussive layers. Paul’s trick is not switching genre, slowing the tempo, turning it into a dance track, but instead adding and adding until the song is a gorged monster, lying docile enough to see, slipped into an idle food coma.

Animal Collective – Centipede Hz

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There’s definitely an unnamed pressure, an expectation if you will, for a band with the batting average that Animal Collective has had for the last 10 years. What it must be like to produce a follow up to the perfect wisking of sugar-crack melodies and fuzziness that was 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavillion. Long time fans know whatever happens from the Collective will never be the Direct-to-DVD sequel that is often the expectation of the follow-up but it doesn’t make the acceptance of the new direction any less of a expectation. Thankfully some bands do whatever they damn well please.

On their 9th studio album Centipede Hz, Animal Collective take some distance from the Panda Bear-heavy hooks–the kind of immediate infatuation that brought “My Girls” to the coffee shop playlists–but returns with the quartet playing more angular songs. Animal Collective have always been a band that respectfully ignores fan’s expectations and wants, rather opting for what entertains their own curiosity. The sounds here are murkier, each song segways into the other with low-fi radio pieces, the connective tissue as ribbons of oscillations through every corner of the album.

“We like to imagine what an alien band might sounds like, especially if they were catching snippets and phrases of radio frequencies off the earth,” Panda Bear told Pitchfork.

The album opening “Moonjock” follows Avey Tare through a recounting of a childhood road trip, listening to his headphones in the back of a station wagon, singing us into the beginning of a journey the way we fondly looks at unpleasant teenage outings with the family (“And mom she was our singer and we kept alive on greasy fries/I held onto my stash of jams that ran along in Michelin time”)

It starts with analog radio signals, tuning in and out until cymbals crash open the track, a change from previous production. On Merriweather Post Pavillion  AC went to length to mask the traditional instruments with a soccer riot’s worth of effects, daring you to guess what was a synth and what was at one time a drum or bass line. And that process worked by focusing the listen on the music and not distract with mental images of men doing guitar wanks.

In a natural evolution of their sound, almost every track here shows the band in instrumental form–unheard since the Freak Folk Feels. Bits of keyboards peek through (“AppleSauce”), basses bounce (“Rosie Oh”), and drums–those drums–they’re the organic war march that fuels Centipede.

“New Town Burnout” longs for feelings of comfort (“When I make it/Back home/I’ll take my shoes off/I’ll take my coat off/I’ll leave my belongings alone”). “Monkey Riches” debates the merits of nostalgia (“But why am I still looking for a golden age?/You tell me that I ought to have a golden wage”) and life goals (“Every time I look up at that blurry sun/All I think about are bodies floating up”). Deakin returns, and like a good friend that hasn’t been seen in awhile, he startles at first, taking lead vocals on “Wide Eyed”, but feels right at home.

Animal Collective is an amorphous blob of audio turning into whatever they feel like they are at any given time. Band members come and go and their sounds change but never does the quality suffer. Centipede Hz may be an alien inspiration but there couldn’t be anything more human than these earthbound four.

Cashmere Cat – With Me

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Hello! and welcome the year 2014! We are almost 2 weeks into the new year and so far It’s pretty similar to 2013 so far except for probably a bit colder. I’m sure you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolution but that’s okay, so has everybody else. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short time of existing it’s to always keep your resolutions within the realm of reason. That’s why in 2014 I pledge to listen to good music, eat, and sleep more (probably). Time permitting, I also hope to write a bit more but we will see as the first three will probably take the lion’s share of my time.

My newest obsession in 2014 is the Norwegian electronic producer Cashmere Cat. His latest single ‘With Me’ came out a month ago and I’ve been listening to it on repeat for the last week. I’d like to compare it to Dubstep but I feel like that would cheapen it; mostly because there is only one bass’centric’ breakdown, and the rest are synth.  however I think there are some stylistic similarities. The largest being the balance between grainy lo-fi breaks and the sweeter melody.

What really endears me to this song is the timing. Cashmere Cat is loose and playful with it. At first it might seem like everything is just a bit ‘off,’ but I think the reality is a purposeful experimentation. I think the most obvious and best example of this is right off the bat when he drops the very first crunchy synth riff. When listening closely you can hear the bells start to lag behind. 99% I think that this would come off as a rookie mistake. Cashmere Cat somehow makes it work and makes it work well.

If you want more from this artist be sure to check out his last EP Mirror Maru as well as his guest set on Diplo & Friends BBCR1.

Cashmere Cat – With Me

Cashmere Cat – Mirror Maru EP

Cashmere Cat – Diplo and Friends BBCR1

Drake – “Too Much (feat. Sampha)”

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What sets Drake apart from other mainstream rappers is that the man attempts poetry on topics other than the tired. This does not mean he doesn’t slip into the occasional safe rap topics, like money, cars, and butts, but on every album there is a serious amount of lyrical skill between the fluffier parts. The first time hearing Nothing Was The Same’s “Started from the Bottom” is misleading to what’s going on in Drake’s newest studio album but it’s simultaneously a summery of the entire album. Fame and money were part of the equation as far back as 2007’s album-strength mixtape Comeback Season, catching him on topics of coming up as a backpack rapper, giving everything he’s got to get rich and famous. But now that he’s got what he asked for the strongest songs are those that catch him alone, stepping back away from his buddies, and talking Real Talk about what all three of those things–money, cars, ass–mean to his life now, if anything.

“Too Much (feat. Sampha)” has Drake contemplating if his life is any better now with all his old dreams realized. The real terror seems to come when he can’t find what direction to move in anymore, and the possibility that getting rich will make him lazy (“Stuck in the house, need to get out more/ I’ve been stacking up like I’m fundraising/ Most people in my position get complacent”).

Sampha’s vocals are a nice change from Rhianna–who makes a small nation’s wage only singing rap choruses–and sets tone, alongside solo clapping and his looping trills, echoing a loneliness that’s not seen with rappers known by their cliques. Drake sounds rushed in in delivery, angst ridden almost, like he’s held in his mother’s isolation too long (“Hate the fact my mom cooped up in her apartment,telling herself/ That she’s too sick to get dressed up and go do shit, like that’s true shit”), sharing it finally in the only way he knows how: by rapping. It’s a rap game mobius strip he’s walking, one that might not have a solution; being rich doesn’t mean being happy.

GladKill – What Goes On [Free Download]

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So I just happened to stumble onto the ‘What goes on” EP from Cali producer Gladkill. I’ve never heard of Gladkill before but I’m stoked about it him already. His music is just the kind of chilled out electro I’ve been looking for recently. He released it yesterday and is “name your price” off of his Bandcamp. I always feel a bit guilty punching in zero for those name your price options. I feel like it’s saying “your music ain’t worth dick to me.” But I’m a broke bitch so what are you gonna do? Anyway I’m doing this post in part to ease my conscience because this album is damn good; and if I can’t pay him I can at least spread the word.

Gladkill – What Goes On [Free Download]

Mansions on the Moon – Full Moon EP [Free Download]

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My new favorite band of the week has got to be Mansions on the Moon. Although to be honest I was unaware of their existence until about a week ago when I stumbled on the fact that Paper Diamonds helped direct the video for their new single. Their Full Moon EP is damn good, but I also enjoyed digging through their back albums. It seems they’ve been operating in one of my musical blind spots because they’ve collaborated with some serious talent as well as their first album being presented (I’m not sure what “presented” means exactly) by Diplo and DJ Benzi.

Their comparable to Washed Out in terms of their sound, the sort of, chill tempo electronic. To be honest they remind me of The Helio Sequence with their strong almost folky vocals but that’s a pretty vague reference.

There’s one song in particular that stuck out to me in an odd/humorous way. Radio is probably my favorite song of the EP both in the aesthetical sense but also because its kind of weird. When I first listened to it I didn’t really catch on to the lyrics, I probably assumed it was about a girl or something standard like that. But after hearing it a couple of times I started picking up the refrain which goes like “just because you hear it on the radio, doesn’t make it beautiful,” which was kind of like “what the fuck.” It’s this really intense emotionally driven sounding song, but there actually just bitching about the shit songs on the radio. I mean I agree with them, it just seems like a weird medium. It’s just ironic to me that there is this really beautiful song with passe lyrics about how pop music sucks. I think the dull irony of it makes me like the song even more. (That is Irony right?)

Oh shit, and its free to download, so enjoy.

Mansions on the Moon – Full Moon EP [Free Download]

Mansions on the Moon – Radio

Snorlax [C. Farwell] – Scuba Divin’

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Scuba. Diving. Snorlax. Is my new favorite thing, and I have absolutely no shame in blasting this song on full blast as I drive around, absolutely none.

Even though Snorlax (the DJ not the Pokemon) is clearly goofing around on this track I have to say that it’s actually pretty good… I mean like, good good. I feel a bit stupid saying this, I think this song really shows off Snorlax’s compositional strength. The sad thing is, is that I’m being totally serious. Call it overanalyzing but I think It also hints at a classical training background… But then again I could  be confusing a puddle for an ocean and it’s just him fucking around, doing what he does best. Either way “Scuba Divin'” will change your life.

Snorlax – Scuba Divin’

Action Bronson – “Water Sports”

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Action Bronson is a rapper with so much character he might as well be an animated bear. The entire length of “Water Sports” (maybe his career) is not so much a huge joke than a collection of recordings that show a bunch of guys–Bronson, RiFF RaFF, Statik Selektah, et al–joking around. They look like they’re having fun because they are.

“Water Sports” is no exception. Right away, Bronson tail whips into the thick of it with “Shit yo, it’s like I’m always dunking on Dikembe Mutombo,” something so irreverent it could only come from his big body. Harry Fraud’s production flutters with vintage flutes and cymbals, which act as the Hummingbird engine that makes what Bronson does look effortless on this track.

What follows is a series of lines that vaguely run the track of summer activities, sometimes involving water. “420 SC, yes he/Doing fuckin’ endos on the Jetski” a line that makes the jump into connecting title and lyrical content, and explodes a load of asinine alliteration.

Okay, Okay. I know. This isn’t Sage Francis; there’s no poetic undertone of political despiar or a verse about the battered life of a beautiful hooker. One would be hard pressed to get anything of a meaning from a line like “Eleven thousand on the overcoat straight from Nova Scot/Hover on boats, wines with summer notes” but then again, this dude’s just having fun.

David Wong – Mediation of Ecstatic Energy

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I by no means was listening to music within the years that the true psychedelic rock movement took place, unless one is willing to consider Ace of Base psychedelic rock–or even rock at all (pssst they’re not!). Hell, what even is Psychedelic Rock? “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”? The band Cream?

Who cares.

Dustin Wong, of obscure Ponytail fame, creates this instrumental album, deeply layered in guitar loops and a minimalism that brings very small sounds into very big sounds and builds, note by note, a mountain of psychedelia. On Mediation of Ecstatic Energy tracks go from catchy to abrasive then lull into a relaxing mantra before dropping into a drug-induced racing riff in the next song. This is where the strength of Wong’s skills as a song writer come in; he puts an entire human psyche  inside each track, knowing that nothing is seen from one side forever.

“Aura Peeled Off” is an onion being built (or peeled off) one track at a time. It starts with muted strumming and leads into a shiny brights mountain exploding with shiny synesthetic colors. Every song has a journey from one sound, repeating bright melodies, to another the invading layers, and always coming out as something much more complex by the end of the song.

“(A) shows (B) his analysis and (C) looked over” brings to mind data feed into a 1950s refrigerator computer, punching holes in punch cards and analyzing with arbitrary computer sounds (*bleepbloop*) and growing warmer from over exhaustion into some ascendent technology heaven to calculated for one song.

“Liberal Christian Youth Ministry” is edged with static and guitar distortion with sensitive plucking coming through the noise, until it pushes the rough into a glitter, and turning into a sunny day.

Mediation of Ecstatic Energy does what any good video game, movie, or art piece does, it creates a sense that there’s a trip to be had, and you’re going to pick-up a bunch of characters–traits, people, skills– on the way, then by the end, a vast swath of a singular person’s little universe will have been conquered. It’s Experimental in a true sense of the word, and psychedelic not in the sense that one is hallucinating, but in the purest more sober form a mind can be altered. It doesn’t rely on a human voice, drums, or even a chorus, but lets the listener decide how the mind changes.

The Blow – From the Future

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The blow is one of those bands you accidentally downloaded off Kazaa, became fascinated with, listened to late at nights in bed and in long car rides alone, then years later find out that all your friends know about, and they’re as secret as Boca Burgers.

It’s been forever since we’ve heard new stuff by The Blow and the assumption was that they’d slipped into the hiatus oblivion forever. “From the Future” is a plesent September surprise, making every past fan gleek at the synth’s bass heavy bounce paried with Khaela Maricich’s big sisterly voice.

She can still channel the “Hey Boy” angst we got on past albums like when she confesses her existential crisis (“I fear the future/ Or I fear that there won’t be one all”)  then lets us know how it messed with her daily life (“The moon screams in my ear ‘ stay up all night'”), it’s the kind of mental uncertainty all artists go through where  they measure their days left on earth, spend less time sleeping, and waste all this energy on worrying about death when it could have been used to create. The lyrics, while simple, are telling and intimate, like we’re reading from an adult’s diary. It’s easy to see Maricich telling us, in ernest, she’ll never be a pop star, and making herself all the more in the process. Let’s hope she continues to share alone time with us all.

The new self-titled album The Blow is out in October