Slow Magic asserts clear artistic vision and transcends place in third studio album, ‘Float’ [Interview + Album Review]

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Music lovers around the world are familiar with the legendary Colorado venue Red Rocks. Artists dream of playing the world-class outdoor venue for sometimes their entire careers.

Slow Magic is one of the lucky ones chosen to share his music there as an opening act for ODESZA, and he vivdly recalls the myriad of emotions coursing through him as he stepped up to the stage amidst a sold-out crowd.

“I was actually just telling myself throughout the set, ‘This is really scary, and crazy, don’t mess up,’” he announced in a conversation a few days ago.

The clean, crisp elevation air chilled the audience’s skin, as the Mile High sun set over the Rockies. That’s when Slow Magic stole the show last May with his energetic showmanship and impeccable production skills, balancing live and electronic instrumentation.

“It was an incredible experience,” continues the enigmatic producer, “and after the show it kind of all sunk in.”

 

It wasn’t always this way. Before the young musician was playing Red Rocks, Slow Magic was still learning his instruments of choice back in 2011.

“On my third [ever] show, my laptop completely fried just before my set so I handed an iPod with all my tracks to the sound guy and borrowed a drum from my friends who were also playing that night. I had played drums for a really long time but never connected the dots until that moment. I played the drum in the center of the crowd for the whole set and by the end my hands were a bit bloody.”

Armed with his instruments of choice — a computer, a MIDI keyboard, and a couple of drums — Slow Magic has become known for his unmistakable sound and his imaginative, animalistic persona. “Music by your imaginary friend,” reads his Twitter bio.

His image, a tribal-inspired live ethos, has become synonymous with his sonic identity, with its ethereal mix of distorted vocals, swirling synths, and light jazz.

Yet, it has been three years since the release of his sophomore project, How To Run Away, which the producer says was focused around themes of escapism, and of disconnecting from a sense of place.

October 4 marked another milestone in Slow Magic’s career as he releases his third studio album, Float, on the Sony-distributed imprint Downtown Records. And, while he’s far past the point in his career of having to explain why he chooses to stay hidden beneath the neon zebra mask, the 13-track LP lays out his innate, authentic sound while asserting a clear artistic vision for where he’s been (and where he’s going).

“Its also an album about Love, in a happy and a realistic sense, even sometimes in a dark sense.”

Work for Float  began during Slow Magic’s time in Iceland. Referring to the album’s major underlying message, Slow Magic points a similar theme of his last album: “To me its about escapism, wanting to float away. Not exactly to disconnect but to float above.” Yet, on Float, Slow Magic refers to his newly-minted vision of ‘escapism’ in the transcendental sense. It is about transcending physical place, rather than a need to disconnect from it.

Once the instrumentals began to take shape, Slow Magic turned to vocalists Peter Silberman (from The Antlers), Kate Boy, Tropics, Toulouse, and MNDR to add more layers to Float.

Speaking to his vocalists, which he alluded to as a completely new challenge, Slow Magic lightly quips about his collaborators never having met him in person.

“Funny enough I realized that I never was in the same room with any of the collaborators, which is fitting as no one knows who I am anyway.”

One artist Slow Magic lamented on not being able to work with in person was MNDR, who’s laid down vocals for the likes of Feed Me and Flume. “MNDR is amazing, and her vocals have a lot of depth to them. The song really came together naturally, and I think it’s because her vocals were so strong from the start.” Standing as the album’s fourth track, “Shivers” spotlights MNDR’s Grammy-winning vocals, with it’s airy, narcotic allure, pulling them together into a distinctly chill track with distorted synths and Slow’s signature budding drum work.

When one thinks to Slow Magic’s theme of escapism, and how it resonates across multiple albums, it speaks volumes to the spaces with which Slow Magic lives and inhabits. Elaborating on the Float‘s theme further, Slow Magic mentions how “its also an album about Love, in a happy and a realistic sense, even sometimes in a dark sense.”

He elaborates, “It’s kind of a balance on the whole album between happy and sad or dark emotions.”

One track he cites at the center of this thematic is the Peter Silberman-assisted ballad, “Belong 2 Me.” The album’s centerpiece track is haunting and mysterious, yet relaxed and unrestrained, speaking to the yin-and-yang duality in which Slow Magic calls attention to. “Love is something powerful and sometimes uncontrollable,” he finally reveals.

Looking to the future, Slow Magic says he would love to see himself working with a distinctly eminent type of artist – from DNTEL and Ben Gibbard to Sufjan Stevens, Sigur Ros, and Yung Lean.

As for the extremely well-rounded vocal talent on Float, Slow Magic seems drawn to certain type of vocal quality — airy and atmospheric, bright and elegant — for which the producer says adds to the particular kind of aesthetic he’s working to create.

slow magic

“Since it [Float] was my first time working with vocalists for features, I approached it very carefully. I think the challenge is to bring a lot of people in on the project but still to keep it cohesive sonically, and I think it ended up working very well. All of the vocalists compliment a each other in some ways.”

From the sprawling warmth of “Light,” featuring Tropics, to the 80s indie-pop throwback style of “Mind,” featuring Kate Boy, Slow Magic’s thoughtfulness to vocals really shines. There is a keen balance between his erratic, raw sounds and what each vocalist brings to the track.

Take, for instance, Kate Boy’s energetic pop-sensible style that calls on the “shoegaze” style of late 80s/early 90s British indie-rock. One almost feels as if they’re center stage in an angsty John Hughes teen movie. For “Mind,” Slow Magic wanted to take a step back from the original sound of his debut album, Triangle, while still doing something new.

Perhaps what makes the entire Float LP come together so coherently are the album’s instrumental tracks. The album’s first couple of instrumental tracks — “Valhalla,” “Skeleton Pink,” and the previously released “Drums” — string together the entire first half of the album so seamlessly that the tracks begin to take on a quality of their vocally mastered counterparts.

Yet, the album’s twelfth track, “Midnight Sun,” may just be the standout instrumental track of the album. Equipped with quirky synths, changing tempos, and a fun and elegant song structure, the track is light-hearted and laid-back. Its the type of piece one would find themselves chilling out to in a hammock down by the creek or gearing up for a night of partying with the friends.

One cannot speak about the musicality of Slow Magic’s third studio album, Float, without speaking about his visceral live production. The experience is so authentic and imaginative, so ethereal and raw, that one is transported to another time and space. Perhaps that is the kind of full circle experience of his cross-dimensional appeal. To listen to the Float LP in full is to be certain of an eventuality that one will see the songs performed live somehow, someday soon.

As an artist, though, the break-out producer says he’s always looking for new ways to grow his live production set-up. “The more I think of expanding the more and more i feel like I can do with the simple set up and the more I want to challenge myself.”

Watching Slow Magic on stage, as he balances the many moving parts of multiple instruments, is as intimidating to think about doing as it is an impressive sight to behold. “I am working on a ton of new things for my upcoming tour though, things I can’t say at the moment. So I’m always thinking of ways I can make the show a better experience.”

“I tried to stay away from listening to current electronic type music while I was working on this record.”

Above all, Float is transcendental, creative, and other-worldly. It is at times soothing and melodic, while, at others, staccato and upbeat. What stands out most about the album, however, is how it stands in complete opposition to itself. Like the yin-and-yang, the album reminds us of the duality of the human experience. It is both light and dark, gritty and soft, imaginative and real, both deeply conflicted and profoundly enlightened – and, ultimately, Slow Magic’s message is about learning to love ourselves in all those spaces.

Slow Magic will embark on a world tour in support of Float this fall. Stream the full Float LP below.

 

 

Four Tet’s ‘New Energy’ is a texturized, transcendent work of renewal [ALBUM REVIEW]

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Four Tet‘s  routinely provides a sound alternative in an ever-expanding landscape of sonic saturation

If the United Kingdom were to crown a Prime Minister to rule over its cutting-edge dance culture, the prolific producer, whose real name is Kieran Hebden, would undoubtedly be at the forefront of deserving acts. His lifelong body of work is a continuously-furthered effervescent endeavor and yet his humility matches his incredible skill.

Four Tet’s output can only be placed in one genre as of late: therapeutic.

As an artist, Hebden channels a lifetime of influences, with an experimental grandeur echoed by few. Whether it be jazz, techno, psychedelia, or traditional Indian dance music that Hebden pulls in, his repertoire occupies a niche that is both uplifting and desolate, full of both darkness and light. His melodies are woven together as if their respective elements were concocted only to be synthesized by way of his imagination. Asked to articulate his work in an interview, Hebden tells The Guardian“I want to be able to look back when I’m an old man and have these records tell a story,” Hebden tells The Guardian, when asked to articulate his work in an interview.

Fortunately, Hebden’s synthesis of both the ephemeral and more permanent is plentiful.

FourTet_WIDE

 

Hebden’s focus has been on the latter of the aforementioned as of late. He began to self-release his albums back in 2012 after a decade on Domino Records. In a rare interview with Rolling Stone in 2015, he expounded upon this decision:

“I had a child and time became very precious to me. I needed to eliminate the things that weren’t efficient: marketing stuff, interviews, strategy, promotion. I didn’t want to worry about that anymore. I just wanted to create the best possible stuff I could for the most hardcore and devoted fans. I could achieve so much on Twitter and social media that all that energy going to getting on the racks at Barnes & Noble was so trivial.”

He’s since delivered on his coyly set aforementioned goal with the release of his ninth studio album, New Energy. Its entire rollout is also by way of his own doing—marketing via socials, limited interviews, etc.

Though Hebden’s already teased out four of the fourteen tracks, New Energy’s serpentine instrumentation is a circuitous avoidance of sonic similarity, meditative and intricately-devised. Its tracks exude a panoptic enigma that is regenerated upon each new listen.

New Energy is a transcendent piece for Four Tet, as if the title hadn’t already served as some pre-indication. Albeit, the tracks themselves do not stray far from the Hebden that ascended the reigns of experimental dance music in the early 2000’s. It is with their implemented instrumentation, the record’s downtempo focus, and limited employment of minimal techno, rather, that the work differs from previous releases. But, that is also where New Energy shines.

On “Planet,” a seven-minute track released prior to the record, Four Tet echoes the cultural sentiments long intertwined with his music.

“Ba Teaches Yoga,” a track off the epochal Beautiful Rewind LP—which Hebden wrote after the passing of his grandmother— comes to mind when listening to the new “Planet.” “Planet” serves as the cultural forefront on New Energy, albeit in a newfound deliverance.  It’s important to weigh in the placement of “Planet” as the final track of New Energy as well. One may posit that its use as an epilogue serves as a farewell to the culturally-lamented works and rather a homage to the cultural influence on his work.

This is not to say Hebden’s choice of an instrumental, downtempo focus on New Energy is a dismissal of his previous cultural sonic narrative. Perhaps a cultural-leaning deliverance was just what was exuded at a moment in his life. This has always been the way Four Tet’s created music and grown as an artist, after all, expounding upon what it is that he loves. In doing so, others may relish in a feeling or find an element that they too love.

Near the album’s end is the track “Daughter,” a number that intertwines a vast number of influences Hebden draws on. “Daughter” broods in its vocals, only to be met with an exquisite, delicate piano track underneath. The number is likely an outreach of Hebden’s desire to create long-lasting, momentous pieces. After all, there’s a child’s voice at the end. It’s likely a track that honors an element in his life that he is deeply fond of— his own kin.

New Energy is indeed Four Tet’s way of expounding on all of the elements of life he so deeply enjoys, created in the hopes that the listener may find new elements or cultures they themselves are fond of, too.

New Energy is out now via BMG.

 

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AC Slater obstructs the norm in debut album ‘Outsiders’ [ALBUM REVIEW]

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The premier innovator of the revolutionary party brand Night Bass Aaron Clevenger — otherwise known as AC Slater — defines his creative integrity in the form of his debut album, Outsiders. Hailed as ‘the king of heavy bass house in America,’ the artist has grown his creative brand from the ground up, rising above the ranks and succeeding in constructing a genre-driven movement.

After getting his start partying and DJing in the late ’90s, AC Slater would soon find himself joining the Brooklyn-based label Trouble & Bass in 2008 to release his remix of “Turn the Music Up,” a track that would introduce his stylistic severity. Today, after years of building one of the most globally respected dance music institutions, Clevenger seeks to further break through the fold in the highly-anticipated release of his first full-length record. 

Ac Slater

 

AC Slater’s meteoric rise, however, did not rely on appealing to the masses, but instead of the overhaul of the mainstream allure of electronic music. The Night Bass brand started off as a monthly party series where the avant-garde beatmaker could play out his own deep, bass-centric rhythms as well as bring in similarly fresh talent from across the globe. Fast-forward a year later, the trailblazing collective took to the road in 2015, introducing his hypnotic, bass-fueled brewery of experimental music to all corners of the country.

Within that framework, AC Slater’s progressive status was in full effect, and he extended the party series into a full-blown record label that would go on to procure releases from the likes of Jack Beats, Sindin, Shift K3yWax Motif, and more.

Devisive, yet unconfined, the vanguard was determined on setting himself outside the realm of normalcy, seeking out a vision that integrates creative self-direction with communal rebellion.

“I follow my instincts. Everything coming out on Night Bass is signed literally because it’s something I would play out, or something I really believe in. I just want to do cool things with cool people: that’s the ethos behind Night Bass. Visually I just want it to be very recognizable, and the events and DJ bookings simply just have to make sense for our sound.”

Night Bass

As for his debut album, Outsiders stands as a resounding encapsulation of AC Slater’s built up accreditation in the dance music realm. All of Clevenger’s characteristic tonalities in the 11-track record are present— the bone-rattling bass, the sweat-inducing UK garage tempos, and the infectious accessibility — all wrapped up into one vastly-accomplished project. Adding to the piece’s thematic element, Outsiders also features a roster of respectable talent that fall along a wide spectrum of pioneering tastemakers.

“There’s a range of people who inspired me like Sinden and Herve up to newer artists who are carving their own lane like Rome Fortune. Everyone on there is super talented and I think each could even be labeled as “outsiders” themselves, and I mean that in the best and most positive way.”

When asked which track out of the album embodies the message behind the record best, AC Slater finds that “Misfits” encapsulates the message behind the project the most. “The instrumental is hype, bubbly and sneaky sounding. If the beat sounds right and the bass feels nice, you know we’re gonna go all night” just capture how I feel about music: I try not to get caught up in the hype, just do what I enjoy and not what is popular or trendy. That’s what the album is all about.”

“I’ve always felt like an outsider when it comes to the music industry, even one as small as the rave scene once was before the EDM phenomenon. It’s my first album so I really wanted to capture my personal experience within that context.”

AC Slater does exactly that in Outsiders, weaving in his personal development into each song with perfect finesse. The record is filled to the brim with the producer’s most fundamental and expressive work. Starting off the album, “Ring the Alarm” reigns in a confident and assertive demeanor, fortifying the LP’s domineering edge. “Dealer” highlights the producer’s musical versatility, calling upon the resilient lyricism of Rome Fortune alongside hints of Tchami‘s future bass flair. Appealing to his more grungy side, “Taking Off” with Shoffy features gorgeous UK Garage elements, while his track “Dope Slinger” stands out as an unapologetic party anthem, filled with booty-bouncing bass lines and riotous fervor.

It goes without saying, every aspect of Outsiders is held up by the smallest detail. “As far as the album art, I wanted to capture an image of a group of younger kids that are outsiders, who have been drawn to each other to build their own family. I wanted it to have an underground feel. […] They’re outsiders, they’re literally outside of the box on the album art,” stated Clevenger on the more visual aspects of the LP.

Outsiders is a testament to self-revival; an autobiography of Aaron Clevenger’s urge to break boundaries and bring people together through a new force of music. AC Slater’s debut record celebrates the vision of non-conformity, the unsettled elite, the blazing individuals who seek out the bigger and louder personas in life. As for the artist himself, the avid producer hasn’t lost his touch, providing us with his most cohesive bass house catalog that can be appreciated by those who readily choose to position themselves outside the norm.

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Illenium transcends genres; touches listeners to their core with sophomore album ‘Awake’ [ALBUM REVIEW]

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It has been eight long months of releases and teasers, but as of midnight EST on September 21, the wait for Illenium‘s sophomore album is finally over. Nick Miller, the man behind the productions, is undoubtedly known as one of the more prolific producers of our era, thanks to his consistent output and meteoric rise. While Miller has carved out the future bass genre and helped define its sound, this LP proves he has the ability to transcend genres and appeal to a wide variety of fan bases. This is no small feat that is becoming an increasingly difficult road to navigate as a producer in a day and age, where electronic music fan bases are becoming more fragmented as the industry continues to commercialized.

Awake will only further his prominence as a producer with its 13-tracks ranging from feel good music to intense bass laced drops. Miller even dabbles within the indie electronic genre, showcasing his ability to diversify his oeuvre while still maintaining his signature style.

Illenium-press photo

There is no stronger start to an album than “Needed You” featuring Dia Frampton. The song, which is opens to flowing vocals that melt into an incredible bass drop, resonates in the listener’s mind far past the song’s close. The track combines Illenium’s mastery of mystical elements and sounds as well as powerful bass juxtaposed with unique vocals. Should there be one song selected to describe the tone for the entire album, “Needed You” could certainly vie for this position.

Five singles from the album have been released this year including the second track “Crawl Outta Love,” whose subtle intro with Annika Wells’ vocals and piano deceivingly put the listener at ease. The track hits listeners in their core with its heightened tempo and all-consuming drop. “Fractures,” “Feel Good” — co-produced with Gryffin — “Sound of Walking Away” and most recently “Leaving” make up the rest of the tracks from Awake that were previously released. Representative of Illenium’s talent and engaged fanbase, these five tracks combined have already amassed nearly 83 million streams combined on Spotify alone.

The third track, “No Time Like Now,” although short, is where we see Illenium begin to swerve from his established style into a more indie electronic sound, with guitar forming the backbone of the song. It is a good segue into the fourth track “Free Fall,” which delves back into the resonating bass intercut with melodic vocals.

“Where’d U Go” showcases a collaboration between Miller and his roommate Said the Sky, otherwise known as Trevor Christensen. The upbeat track immediately draws the listener in with a catchy beat that falls almost immediately into an intense drop. As the track continues, vocal layers of a children’s choir lightens the track before submerging the listener back into the hard drop that would resonate with dubstep, future bass, and progressive fans alike. “Where’d U Go” is one of the more upbeat tracks of the album, so those looking for a workout anthem or night out tune should look no further.

Illenium Said the Sky

Illenium stars to venture into more commercial territory with the second half of the album, although this is far from sellout as the tracks still maintaining a distinct edge. “Lost” with Emilie Brandt veers into a progressive house vibe, with the catchy vocals carrying the track. As with all of Miller’s version of “commercial” music, “Lost” is still far different than anything one would hear on the radio.

“Taking Me Higher” wouldn’t be out of place on Passion Pit record. The track is an interesting juxtaposition of sounds, synths, and styles that melts into a perfect tune for a relaxing afternoon.

Prized vocalist MAX — who has recently collaborated with Rain Man, 3LAU, as well as Flux Pavilion — is featured on Awake‘s penultimate entry, titled “Beautiful Creatures.” Guitar once again is used as the foundation for this track and paves the way for MAX’s vocals to be the centerpiece of the song. It can only be described as melodic with a hint of mystical, and is likely to be a radio hit.

Illenium finishes the album on “Let You Go,” a collaboration with Ember Island. An orchestra compliments the vocals on this downtempo affair, and serves as a beautiful, fitting ending for a beautiful album.

While many call albums an outdated form of releasing music, we can only be thankful that Illenium ignores this and decided to create a masterful full-length in Awake. The producer has left another imprint that further solidifies his prominence in the electronic music community. It is no secret that Miller is a breath of fresh air within a genre that is receiving increased skepticism for turning pop, to say nothing of stale, and, indeed, his music has the unique ability to be played on a radio without compromising its integrity.

 

 

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Innovative duo Oliver release otherworldly album, ‘Full Circle’

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LA based DJ and producer duo Oliver is known for their futuristic vibe infused with excerpts of classic instrumentation. Their brand new album, Full Circle, is an eclectic mix of styles that still maintains the duo’s signature sound. With an array of classic and novel variations, Oliver keeps listeners on their toes as each song transitions into the next surprising wave of euphoria.

The album opens with “Portrait,” a reverberating introduction that echoes harmonies into an escalation of bliss, delivering a preview of what is to come throughout the album. Along the way, Oliver’s style had evolved from the creation of the album to the finalized product that was released to the public.

The album took two years to finish so a lot can change in that amount of time. The first song “Ottomatic” was made almost three years ago where “Go With It” was made a month ago, in that amount of time of go through so many different phases of inspiration. Most of the more uptempo songs on the record were made early on, I think we just switched gears over the last year and started getting back into soul and R&B music. Over all I think our production choices a engineering kind of bring it all together.

Their sound can best be described as upbeat, high-energy, and incorporates a variety of stylistic elements including funky, jazzy and R&B feels, all amped up by electronic beats. Oliver has also introduced Chromeo, Elohim, Yelle and others into the album, creating entirely unique sentiments within each track. The result is simply stunning.

We’ve always loved collaboration with other artists but in the past it’s mostly been us producing for their records. This time we kind of got to lead the way which was really fun. In the past we were more track driven, meaning we didn’t work with vocalists a lot, so that took a while to adjust to. We have so much love and admiration for everybody we worked with so that made the song writing process easy.

The duo does not hold back when it comes to putting their ideas on the line. Unafraid of the unknown, they venture right into uncharted territory by experimenting with a style so distinct and incomparable that each piece flows effortlessly and is packed with pleasant surprises.

We make honest music that comes from a place of love. This album is us doing exactly what we wanted, just being ourselves and getting to try a lot of different ideas.

One of the most notable tracks on the album is “At Night,” a moving, colorful original that has a simple yet dimensional melody, calming builds, and an overall relaxed feel. They explain the formation of the dynamic piece that happened to be a long process, but was well worth the wait.

No favorites, [on the album] I can’t really be objective about my own music unfortunately. I guess right now I like “At Night,” it was a really simple demo that we did back in 11′ and we always kept coming back to it, I was so happy to finally finish and release it.

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ODESZA’s ‘A Moment Apart’ is evocative, organic, and profoundly resilient [Album Review]

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Tomorrow marks the exact three-year mark since ODESZA released their second LP, In Return. Today, September 8, Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight have stepped out of the woodwork for their third full-length album, A Moment Apart, out on their Foreign Family Collective imprint.

The relentless touring that followed ODESZA’s sophomore LP gave way to rainy Seattle studio sessions in the winter of 2016, with finishing touches being made earlier this spring. The result is a 16-track treasure trove of indie-electronic gems that represents ODESZA’s artistic evolution and their penchant for raw experimentation.

“This newest album, I think, is a lot more about growth and progression and maturity. I don’t think we’re trying to reinvent the wheel, its really just about us pursuing our sound to the fullest,” Mills revealed in a recent interview.

Building upon their Pacific Northwest folk-inspired sound, ODESZA’s A Moment Apart plays with weighted atmospheres and shimmering synth lines while invoking familiar feelings of nostalgia, optimism and hope. “We kind of rediscovered [our] sound, in a sense, and reconnected to it,” says Knight, “It has flavors of what was, but is also something new and progressive.”

odesza-press

Photo courtesy of Avi Loud.

The album, is without a doubt, a statement that ODESZA’s dynamic range is worthy of pop mainstream attention. Only time will tell, but there are two thematic qualities as to why the LP works so seamlessly: close attention to form and genre, and a dedication to organic experimentation.

What is immediately evident off the Seattle-based duo’s humble masterpiece is its stunning ingenuity and its delicate balance between the ebullient and ethereal, from it’s dreamlike melodies and glitchy sun-kissed vocals to it’s crunchy drums with their large sweeping bass lines.

Take the album’s first couple of instrumental tracks, “A Moment Apart” and “Boy,” which ODESZA has been teasing in their live sets since early spring. The tracks stand as the instrumental launching pad for blasting off into ODESZA’s rich, corporeal sound – one which collapses both time and space dimensions – wrapping the listener into a cocoon of emotional longing for what was, what is, and what has yet to come.

As the album progresses, a clear picture is painted. A story begins to emerge in sound. Rather than making a statement of longing for summer, as with their previous Summer’s Gone LP in 2012, Mills and Knight bring listeners with them on an emotive, cyclical journey through the four seasons.

The album’s twelfth track, “Thin Floors and Tall Ceilings,” resembles the dark, rainy winters of the Pacific Northwest, while, at the same time, expressing a longing for summer, all packaged into one chilling ballad. With indecipherable synthesized vocals, which sound as if they’ve been rinsed through an old phonograph, the top lines slowly building over a powerful string section and pulsating timpani drums.

“Cuidad,” the following track, carries with it the warmth and glowing fervor of summer, with it’s more scattered tempos and upbeat appeal. The result is a playful track that is simultaneously lighthearted and fun while being both dark and daring, uplifting and, at times, melancholy.

Speaking to Dancing Astronaut on the LP’s development, Knight referred to A Moment Apart as the full embodiment of the seasons in Seattle, noting how location has an immense impact on their sound:

“Seattle is known for it’s kind of rock and folk and kind of indie scene so a lot of those elements make it into [our] music. And this album specifically is very organic and I think we were trying to hold on to more organic instrumentation and I think that is due a lot to where we come from.”

A Moment Apart is chock so full of rich narratives, and pulls from so many complimentary genres that one can easily see how they all come together into a seamless story arch. Chalk it up to Clay and Harrison’s expert understanding of form as well as their dedication to integrating live instrumentation while on tour, which includes their Northwest-bred band – complete with a crisply rehearsed drum line, a horn section, and lead guitarist and old college buddy, Sean Kusanagi, who also doubles as their filmmaker.

The album’s very organic, very introspective nature actually belies the raw energy of ODESZA’s consistently sold-out live shows. This live ethos cuts across the new album in dynamic, layered songs with raw overtones and cinematic appeal, such as the RY X-assisted track, “Corners Of The Earth,” the instrumental track “Meridian,” and the all-Spanish ballad featuring The Chamanas “Everything At Your Feet.”

Time and again, Mills and Knight have shown deep drive and humility for working with others. Indeed, the entire assemblage of work is filled with radio-ready hit collaborations with the likes of Russian pop-folk sensation, Regina Skeptor, and the reigning
“King of Soul,” Leon Bridges.

Clay and Harrison have admitted that they prefer to work with lesser known names for how they aren’t tied down to one specific sonic direction and thus more often willing to experiment with their organic soundscapes. Yet, perhaps the album’s most captivating song is the haunting Regina Skeptor ballad, “Just a Memory,” which the boys revealed, after an intimate hotel rehearsal with Skeptor, they completely stripped down the instrumentals to capture the raw energy with which she imbued the hotel room.

ODESZA and Leon Bridges Eric Tra

Leon Bridges performs with ODESZA at Bumbershoot. Photo courtesy of Eric Tra.

While it has received mixed fan reviews, the album’s fourteenth track, “Falls,” is an inspirational, uplifting ditty which fuses dream-pop ingredients with elements of world. With anthemic lyrics that are as palpable as it’s sound design, the track spotlights the smooth, soaring vocals of Sasha Sloan over a gentle horn section and the electronic duo’s signature drum work. Each added sonic layer becomes a new piece of the story that wraps the listener up into new plot lines rooted not in words and lyrics, but inside musical form itself.

A Moment Apart stands as a nostalgic and spiritually-adept magnum opus of lyrical and instrumental sound. It is a collection of tracks that are as euphoric and expressive as they are evocative and substantive. One might, therefore, go as far as to call the album a crowning achievement of ODESZA’s career, in its commitment to both musical convention and organic experimentation as well as in how it ventures to piece together spatial and temporal layers into a larger sonic storyline. Certainly, it is ODESZA’s most narrative endeavor to date. Or, in other words, it is the most nuanced, intentional, and fully-fleshed out project on their resume.

What stands out most about the album, however, is how it is overwhelmingly corporeal. A Moment Apart is, more than anything else, an immersive, embodied, all-consuming exploration of the inner self, one which begins at the ears and delves deep into the psyche, catapulting its listeners into both the happy and hard times, while tapping those universal memories to remind us we are both one and the same. The album reminds us that the human experience is as joyous as it is painful. It is both gritty and soft, both bleak and wildly colorful, cinematic and emotional, imaginative and real, raw, organic, and profoundly resilient.

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LCD Soundsystem sets itself apart once more, ages with poise on ‘American Dream’ [Album Review]

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On April 2, 2011, the world said its goodbyes to LCD Soundsystem—or so it thought.

Nearly 20,000 people gathered together in white and black funeral attire for the band’s sold out show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. No one’s ever fully prepared for death, but the figurative passing of a pivotal player such as James Murphy & co. was one the musical community mourned with vigor.

After deciding to end the band in the best of lights, literally, came the installment of the celebratory occasion and one the band poured itself into entirely. Delving deep into their expansive discography, LCD’s farewell show was their longest to date, where the entourage played out 28 of their best tracks. Luckily, those who were unable to pay their respects were given an opportunity to revel in the celebration as Pitchfork aired the event and the band even went on to release a live album of the show shortly after. The long goodbye, as it was dubbed, is still available for streaming on Spotify.

But going one step further, a more telling piece was delivered after the farewell show. A documentary entitled Shut Up and Play the Hits, released in 2012, captured the group’s farewell gig and attempted to contextualize why a band so beloved would break up at its height.

Today — several years, one enormous farewell concert, and an eventual, somewhat controversial reunion later — we’ve finally arrived at the delivery date of LCD Soundsystem’s return record American Dream. A scene from the farewell gig film comes to mind when trying to gain an understanding of why the group has at last returned. In the scene and prior to the MSG gig, James Murphy sat down with music critic Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman asked the question, “When you start a band, do you imagine how it will end?” To which Murphy later responds, “I didn’t start a band. I made a record.”

James Murphy has always been publicly adamant that LCD played for fun. When he announced the group’s return at the very end of 2015, he described it as such: “This is just the bus full of substitute teachers back from their coffee break with new music and the same weird gear — or as much of it as we still have (it’s very interesting to re-buy the same gear, and in some cases buy gear back from people you sold it to), and rambling around trying to be louder than everyone else.”

Moving from behind the turntables to serving at the forefront of the dance-punk movement and, in turn, pioneering a label is a lot to have accomplished in a short time. Murphy was already 32 years old when LCD put out its first record in 2002. Understandably, his self-consciousness regarding age was an element deeply intertwined with their music. It’s important to place the context of Murphy’s success, or rather, his affinity to prevent it, from blowing up in his face.

In retrospect, a look at Murphy’s career moves does achieve what he had always set out to accomplish. A generation of indie kids was given plentiful numbers to dance to. No matter the sonic box LCD’s tunes are placed in — whether it’s dance-punk, electro-disco, alternative dance, disco-punk or art-funk — lovers and haters of LCD Soundsystem alike need remember the seminal torchbearer’s inception was accidental and thoughtfully not overbearing once achieved.

However, it’s not unlikely that a performer as reflexively self-conscious, and oftentimes obsessive as Murphy did imagine the end of LCD before it arrived. Among the group’s best-known songs is, “All My Friends,” a resolute reflection on the evasiveness of “neat” endings after all. “It comes apart,” Murphy croons on the track, “the way it does in bad films—except the part when the moral kicks in.”

Perhaps when music aficionados inevitably start a band, accidental or not, they imagine themselves wallowing in its glory. Murphy though is an anomaly. His music has long been the antithesis. Focused more on dealing with age, coolness, relevance and on American Dream—loss.

While Murphy laments his lost time on the record greatly, in areas such the dominating dance number, “tonite.” Yet, he also utilizes a more somber reflexive in places. The track “how do you sleep?” is both a sonically and lyrically emotive nine-minute epic, hitting on the lost relationship of a friend and early business partner Tim Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy abruptly left New York and moved back to the U.K. without notifying Murphy or Jonathan Galkin of his DFA departure. “Whatever fits in your pockets, you’ll get your due,” is likely a reference to the lawsuit Murphy and Galkin filed with Goldsworthy. As Goldsworthy left by his own will, Murphy seems to be conveying he owes little if anything at all to the former-friend and others who have left the picture.

Most notably, Murphy & co. also pays homage to the late artist David Bowie on the record, whom the group has also credited inspired their return. “I spent a good amount of time with David Bowie, and I was talking about getting the band back together. Murphy said in an interview with BBC, ‘Does it make you uncomfortable?’ I said ‘Yeah’, and he said, ‘Good – it should. You should be uncomfortable’ … David was always making himself uncomfortable.” In all of its glory, the record seems to be working up to this climactic final number, the 12-minute “black screen.” In what can be viewed as a eulogy to Bowie, Murphy’s friend, and mentor, the lyrics suggest grieving at the loss of the loved one, but also lament once more on time, specifically on the lack of time invested. “I’m bad with people things/But I should have tried more,” likely Murphy’s internalized the value of time and overcoming ego.

Considering the formal constraint that can be placed on musical projects, bands can be very limiting, in a way. It’s with his obsessive nature in mind and fear of becoming irrelevant that fans of LCD can gain an understanding of why James Murphy needed to let go and internalize his life’s dealings, only to have come together again.

American Dream is a celebratory acceptance of loss and what’s gained in return. One that takes on infinite meanings and one that Murphy has let drive him to create some of the most freeing and sonically expanse music of LCD Soundsystem’s career.

American Dream is out now via Columbia/DFA.

On ‘First Landing,’ Moon Boots looks to the past to build towards the future

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Music, dance music especially, operates on emotion and intuition, it exists to generate reactions that writing and rhetoric cannot. Music, again, dance music in particular, is also profoundly contextual. A record that is written for loud clubs and late night dance floors may not exactly click when heard through earbuds on the subway, but, when listened to in its proper context, feels like a masterpiece.

Most of the time, when we at DA are reviewing an album, we listen to it alone, through headphones. sitting at home. Listening to music in this context invites analysis, invites rationalization, and can trick us reviewers into thinking that it is our duty to explain an album. We mention this because First Landing, the debut LP from Ajunadeep star Moon Boots, is an undeniably accomplished piece of music, but a difficult one to write about. It’s an album that isn’t looking to be explained. It’s meant to be danced to.

Moon Boots 2017 headshot purple

 

First Landing, although decidedly its own entity, is rooted deeply in the long disco tradition, and its greatest strength is its ability to deploy the techniques of old school disco, R & B, and soul, without losing its contemporary, current sound. Moon Boots demonstrates a prodigious understanding of tonality on this record, evident everywhere from the lush, complex chord progression that introduce the first song, “Fortune Teller,” to the melodic runs that bridge phrases in the album’s closer, “Red Sky.”

Like all great songwriters, Moon Boots both upholds and subverts our expectations of musical convention to maintain interest and hold our attention. Note the stair-stepping bass line that propels the verses of “Keep the Faith,” its elliptical syncopation, the way it runs through scale tones without ever settling on the note it seems to be leading to. Then, when the chorus hits, it gets right in step with groove, emphasizing chord roots and giving the choruses a richness and fullness that contrasts wonderfully with the counterpoint of the verses.

The album is full of deceptively clever uses of counterpoint, of divergence, that pervade it with a dynamism and complexity that more than make up for the predictable schmaltziness of the written-for-radio lyrics. The cast of guest vocalists all do a fine job, but it doesn’t really matter what they’re saying. Moon Boots treats the vocals as just another instrument in his arrangement, and seems, above all, interested in the timbre of the voices, in their harmonies and phrasing.

In its own way, First Landing is dance music at its most elemental. its interest lies only in its pure sound, and the response that sound evokes in the listener. It’s rhythm and melody, point and counterpoint, not in the service of something greater, but for their own sake.

First Landing is worth a listen, even if it’s through cheap headphones on your commute. But we think that a better way to listen to it would be somewhere you can dance, somewhere with lots of people, and speakers loud enough that you can feel the beat in your core. In that context, it might just sound like a masterpiece.

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Neon Tiger releases debut album Paperback Sunset

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The 80s are back in Neon Tiger‘s debut album titled Paperback Sunset, as the album artfully combines Indie Rock with electronic music to create a unique blend of genres. Neon Tiger is an indie-electro hybrid spin off from Australian DJ/Producer Maarcos. Paperback Sunset brings lyrical emotion to the fore, with songs like “Neon Rose” and “We Can Run” telling stories of love. “Summer”, along with some other tracks on the album, also feature Neon Tiger as a vocalist. Other vocalists featured throughout the album include Coyle Girelli, Sunsun, CONWAY, Color Drive. Norman Doray, and Barbara Tucker.

Paperback Sunset features 14 tracks, and if you purchase the album on iTunes, you receive a free digital booklet as an extra.

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REZZ flouts convention and asserts her musical dominance in ‘Mass Manipulation’ [Interview + Album Review]

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How does one define REZZ?

It’s a question that musicians, critics, and fans alike have pored over throughout the artist’s brief, but momentous musical tenure. Once dubbed by the masses as the “female Gesaffelstein,” Isabelle Rezazadeh has since transcended this reductive – albeit, highly laudable – characterization, to create a style that is entirely her own.

“People used to compare me to Gesaffelstein, but we don’t sound alike at all in my opinion,” REZZ told us in a conversation earlier this year. “There are some similarities… we both make dark music.” The 22-year-old producer further noted that she’s outgrown the phase of her career in which it is necessary, or even accurate to liken her music to that of other artists: “I find that as of late, I’m the one being compared to. I find that lately people are saying, ‘You sound like Rezz.’”

“I like simplicity in everything.”

Today, August 4, marks the biggest milestone of Isabelle Rezazadeh’s career to date, as she releases her debut album, Mass Manipulation. And, while she’s far past the point in her career when she was consistently – and inaccurately – referred to as “dark queen of techno,” the eight-track mau5trap LP puts forth her innate, authentic sound with greater strength and clarity than ever before in her career.

“I make this music in such a pure, real, could-not-be-more-authentic of a place in my brain and so it’s so natural and real for me. so for people to be saying it sounds like me means a lot to me because… it’s literally a part of who I am.”

Like any true artist, REZZ arrives at her signature sound through adhering to an intangible, but indomitable vision – one which comes from a psychedelic headspace that she describes as “almost inhuman.”

“It’s this part of my brain that I just can see and hear a certain vibe of music and sounds… and I’m really inspired by that,” she asserts. “I want to get as much music out of that part of my brain as I can.”

To attempt a reduction of REZZ’s music into typical genre stereotypes is to wallow in futility. In the producer’s own words, her music is “all very slow paced and chill and vibey, and [it] sucks you right in. It’s almost like a [hypnotic] void… you’re gone, but you’re all there, all at the same time.”

“That’s how I feel, that’s how I want other people to feel, and that’s what I’m inspired by,” she continues. “That’s the main thing i’m super inspired by, just getting my vision out there in the most accurate way possible.”

In terms of her modus operandi, it still makes sense to liken REZZ to Gesaffelstein. The vision which drives her necessitates that she integrate her authentic musical inspirations with her live show and overall aesthetic – arguably, her own sort of Gesamtkunstwerk. And, like Gesaffelstein, a major way through which REZZ achieves this mission is through an emphasis on raw minimalism.

“I love simplicity in music. I think it can be very heavy hitting and to the point… obviously complex tunes can be cool too, but I like simplicity in everything,” says Rezazadeh. “Simplicity in mindset, simplicity in clothing, simplicity in the way you present yourself. It’s totally a lifestyle.”

rezz exchange la 2017 4 rukes

“ I feel like I’m making music that is telling people how to feel.”

Throughout Mass Manipulation, REZZ achieves her vision, in part, by channeling her passion for psychology. The artist acknowledges that her interest in cognitive science has made her “aware of [her] feelings, why [she reacts] to things a certain way, and why other people react to things a certain way.” A knowledge which, when harnessed properly, has allowed her “to evolve as a person and a producer, stay focused and motivated, and not lose track of [her] vision.”

Thematically, Rezazadeh’s album pinpoints the nexus between expressing her own feelings authentically and determining her audience’s reaction to their musical manifestation on a visceral level. “ I feel like I’m making music that is telling people how to feel,” she says. “I just want me, my music and everything about my brand to be based around hypnotizing the masses through my music,” she says. And, from the album’s hauntingly mesmerizing opener, “Relax,” the artist successfully endeavors to do just that.

When prompted to tell the story of Mass Manipulation in her own words, REZZ states, “It’s more of a reaction or commentary to modern consumption habits. We trade more in ideas and media than tangible things, so this is my intangible idea of how existence looks – or could look.”

“I just want… everything about my brand to be based around hypnotizing the masses through my music.”

Those who follow REZZ religiously are already well-versed in the canon of her debut album. In a fervently-followed album rollout, the artist provided her first impressions on “how existence looks” by released the first half of her album.

Over the course of the past month, Rezazadeh’s newly-released album singles – “Relax,” “Diluted Brains,” “Premonition,” and “Drugs!” – have become as important a facet of her musical catalogue as any other songs released in the past three years. Meanwhile, hitherto unreleased songs such as “Green Gusher” and “Synesthesia” have been staples in her sets for quite some time.

As a whole, the album traverses REZZ’s aforementioned musical vision, from the sinister psychedelia of “Drugs!” and “Green Gusher,” to the quaking minimalism of “Ascension” and “Diluted Brains.”

Additionally, the album plays host to what very well may be the most virulent production of Rezazadeh’s career thus far, “Livid.” In this maniacal, menacing track, REZZ has arguably achieved her most memorable output since 2016’s “Edge,” and has, once again, demonstrated the true breadth of her abilities.

With the thoughtful construction of Mass Manipulation, and with the visceral draw of songs like “Livid,” Isabelle Rezazadeh has proven that she’s far past the leap from “rising star” to dance music icon. Yet, despite her swift evolution to this artistic phase, the artist’s recruitments on the album indicate that she is still in touch with her inner bedroom producer.

More vocally than most of her peers within the industry, REZZ has used her highly-publicized album as a platform to highlight dark horse producers. She invites up-and-comers Knodis, 13, and Kotek on “Premonition,” “Drugs!,” and “Ascension,” respectively. By prominently including the aforementioned as collaborators, rather than featured (or uncredited) artists, Rezazadeh aims to offer these artists a similar opportunity in their nascent careers to that which deadmau5 provided her in the not-too-distant past.

In stark opposition to the “ensemble cast” collaborations which permeate much of today’s dance music climate, REZZ states, “I don’t care how big or small artists are, it’s all about the music to me.”

“People would be surprised how many talented unknown names there are out there,” she coyly adds, though she is quick to dispel any rumors of creating her own imprint in the near future. “I have thought about it but I’d rather put all my focus on my own music as that’s what keeps me sane & what I’m most passionate about.”

rezz exchange la 2017 3 rukes

 

After full consideration of Mass Manipulation and Isabelle’s inspirations, we get a better sense of the previously-posed question, “How does one define REZZ?”

The Canadian producer can’t be defined according to her connection to a specific style or sect of ancestral artists. Nor should she ever again be lauded for being a tremendous talent “at her young age”; indeed, Rezazadeh is far past the stage of her career wherein focusing on her precocity doesn’t inadvertently detract from her deeply-conceived trajectory.

REZZ is at the forefront of a new movement. Hers is a mission which bridges the gap between commercial and underground dance music, and one which eschews formulaic success strategies for unique concepts and authentic sounds.

There’s a reason that hundreds of thousands of fans fervently flock to their fondly-dubbed “Space Mom.” Infiltrating an industry in which commodification strengthens its grip every day, REZZ is one of the rare producers who is strictly putting forth art.

And, in doing so, she’s creating an alternative blueprint for the new age of dance music

This story features additional reporting by Alexandra Blair.

All photos are by Rukes.