If you've been to any electronic music performance, chances are that you've heard someone say: “here comes the drop!” and probably anticipated it yourself. I know I have.
The thing is, a “drop” is really just a parallel of the chorus of a pop/rock song, or oftentimes, the “hook” of a hip-hop tune; building to a peak is a large part of music that’s made for an audience. Electronic music purists have decried the dilution of dance music into a formula required to manage the energy of an increasingly mainstream crowd of casual listeners, but what they’re seeing is really just the popularization of the genre, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. The real issue is, how much spectacular music is really on the radio these days? Club and radio friendly music still has some gems (Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools” is one example), but unless the music can sell, it’s restricted to the internet’s music blogs and live shows. Here are ten songs that aren't built exclusively to showcase some form of the “drop,” and might go under the radar for that reason. You’ll never hear them on the radio (except maybe #10), and you might have to listen carefully more carefully than usual, but you’ll be missing out if you don’t!
The voice and guitar in “Hollow Bedroom” match the song’s couple, rising and falling together, in harmony but independent enough to feel as if they are trying to stand on their own. Though the song is less than two minutes long, it’s compact lyrics and sparse instrumentation captures the precarious balance between autonomy and dependence. It’s a thoughtful take on the manner in which those opposites are manifest in inherently flawed persons who have been coupled together, and whether they can be overcome.
Katie Crutchfield seems to sings of a deep connection as if it existed only by virtue of the couple’s faults “we’ll remain connected a staggered youth, flowered with nerves and shadows and truth,” but there’s something more here. At the outset of the song a proud gesture belies true feeling, “I left like I got my way, but truly I left with nothing at all,” but the depth of that emotion wont be denied “it swept in, like a strong wind” leaving behind a “Hollow Bedroom,” with room for nothing but themselves “I don’t believe I care at all, what they hear through these walls.”
As his interviews and the real story about proposing to his wife reveal, Devendra Banhart has and will always be a little weird. That weirdness has served him well, resulting in refreshingly inventive, inimitable, and incredibly well written music. The first single from his newest release Mala is no exception. According to the press release for the song, "In my head there was this little movie … Hildegard is sequestered in her cloister, and one day she gets a VHS cassette and it's the prime era of the MTV VJ … and she says. 'That's how I'm going to get my message across.” The subdued atmospherics combine with a building funky bassline-percussion combination to capture the cloistered atmosphere of a nun’s convent and it’s embrace of unexpected means for spreading her beliefs. Bizarre? Check. Awesome? Check.
I really wish that there were an instrumental to “Barcode.” The verse from Dominic Lord (who?) is typical uninspired and tired rap fare, boasts of money, objectified women, gun references, but Blood Diamond’s instrumental is phenomenal and worth featuring here in spite of that verse (Lord is omitted from the 4 minute song’s final 2 minutes). For the Grimes collaborator and usually electronically pop producer, this is evidence of a stylistic flexibility I hope will be recognized so as to feature more talented MC’s in the future.
The introduction’s musicality comes from it’s the piano riff being played and looped rather than sampled, and indicates the musical perspective with which Lemaitre wrote the rest of the song. The vocal bounces with fluidity on par with that of Thomas Mars of Phoenix, and just as Mars’ vocals are perhaps the defining element of the French band’s spectacular live shows, the vocal from “Cut to Black” defines the song as authentic – it really sounds like live music. As you hear musical fills that unburden themselves of overly compressed, mechanical and overwhelmingly electronic production that plagues what passes for “disco” these days, you feel surrounded by a live band under a shimmering disco ball.
CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
Like the title of Fat Tony's upcoming mixtape Smart Ass Black Boy the hook to "Hood Party" could be interpreted as racially charged in a derisive manner, but not if you're listening attentively. The guest appearance from Das Racist's brainy Kool AD should be enough to make any listener revisit the lyrics twice. Fat Tony is certainly aware of race and it's divisiveness, but transforming that idea into a rap song that explores, albeit briefly, the implications of gentrification and the changing definitions of the "hood" is the last thing you'd expect.
You’re probably aware of the recent rise of electronic music into popular music, but if you’ve really been paying attention you’ve caught wind not only of the ascent of more mainstream, festival headlining, Grammy winning acts, but also of an underground sound that’s digging it’s heels in in the face of the commercialization of electronic music. What falls somewhere between the labels of deep house, tech house, techno and UK bass (a la Dirtybird Records) is leading the underground charge, of which Tube & Berger’s “Greyjoy” is a prime example. As this song demonstrates, a deep groove, subtle variation, and a musical build is as capable of as much dance energy as a fist pumping “progressive” house drop (From 2:07-3:10 is a groove production masterclass, as is everything before and after).
The first minute of “And” plays like a continuation of UK producer Dauwd’s previous productions, largely indebted to the UK bass scene. The two-step shifting of hi-hats, sharp tribal snare substitutes and bizarre gear shifting samples (or whatever that sound is) are immaculately arranged, on par with Scuba or any UK bass heavyweight. As you let the groove sink in, though, and the bounce of the bassline comes alive, the syncopation of various reverb soaked synths and samples create sonic sculptures of layer seamlessly placed upon one another. “And” is an appropriate name for a tune that adds layer after layer, gathering critical mass like a nuclear reaction meant for the dance floor. When the layers begin to fade, the listener does not experience the removal of one discrete layer after another, as in turning off the lights in a building one by one, like tamed, practical and productive forms of energy. The song ends slowly, like a fire that has exhausted the materials for its combustion, leaving burning embers behind as the impression of the musical force that was.
I was immediately overwhelmed by the brilliance of “Lines,” from new full length Tracing Echoes, and with how well written, developed, and recorded “Lines” sounds I wasn’t surprised to hear that they’ve been a force for a couple of years now. Having won the Icelandic equivalent of Britain’s Mercury Prize and performing at SXSW the past two years, means they’ve made the rounds, and I can’t believe I’d never heard of them until now. More accessible than The Knife (and writing better song structures) yet less pop than Chvrches, but perhaps more impressive than either, Bloodgroup is one band to watch.
Be sure to check out “Fall”!!!
Lapalux’s (aka Steward Howard) upcoming Nostalchic is perhaps the album I’ve most been looking forward to in 2013. It’s love music cast in the mold of beat-making and production wizardry so skillful and unique that Flying Lotus signed Howard to his Brainfeeder label, and will release Nostalchic on it. I’ve got no words to do this justice, so I’ll leave you with the opening lines from “Without You,” which describe the effect of the song better than I ever could: “Haunted by thoughts that suck you in, that pull you under, mmm tight…”
I could believe neither that Future and Ciara had written such a great tune, nor that Mike WiLL Made It was responsible for the production, but I’m glad I didn’t ignore this tune. It’s a straightforward, R&B slow-jam, with tasteful sampling, surprisingly sparing use of, and mood appropriate, percussion, and a great vocal hook. Baby-making music at its finest.
If you can appreciate “dropless” electronic music marvels, this one is for you.
On the Mix, Off the Mix