sumochief

 

Hip-hop and jazz are genres which, while not necessarily standardly associated with one another, have something of a natural affinity: that similar inclination towards boundless, exciting, uninhibited free-styling and improvisation.  Think of The Roots and their bluesy, soulful off-the-cuff sounds; the sultry vibe of Mark Farina’s Mushroom Jazz compilations; Robert Glasper’s mesmerising musical explorations; or, indeed, the slick, seamless beats and production of J Dilla.

Thus enter Londoners SumoChief, straight out of the spectacular creative hub that is Steez, bringing live instrumentation back to the forefront of the game with their new ‘Sumobeats’ EP, out last week on Lunatick Records.  The sound is fresh and fairly minimalist, with pretty trills of keyboard, chilled, airy beats and sweet, fluid lines of guitar rippling over the top in track ‘1 of 1′.  The sublime ‘Gator Season’ has a somewhat more urban feel, with beautiful piano samples and a perfect dusky feel which just begs to have some verses spit over the top – a sentiment that makes the reworking of the song into ‘It is What It Is’ with guest bars from MadLean a very welcome addition to the end of the EP.  Slam the Poet and Cecil B Demented feature too, on the sweet and breezy ‘Segundo’, while ‘Happy Joy’ is a little odd – if gratifyingly so – with a recording of Alan Watts expounding on music interspersed throughout the pleasantly laid back, immersive melodies.

There’s a nice immediacy and freshness to their use of live instrumentation in hip-hop, and there’s something incredibly telling about the sample in ‘Gator Season’ where the speaker laments, “There’s a whole generation that attends concerts now who has no idea what live music is supposed to be about”. Sumochief could be bringing this new generation of hip-hop fans back to that exquisite rawness that only comes with live music.  It’s not groundbreaking, certainly, but ‘Sumobeats’ is a welcome start: a respectful nod to those in the genre before them, and a looming promise of exciting future collaborations to meld with their crepuscular sounds.

TT_hi (by Robert Glowacki)

Technology and teamwork are both words one might associate with the World Cup, a sporting event which I essentially stay aware of and mention for fear of otherwise being socially ostracised.  Topical reference to prove my worth now made, Technology+Teamwork are in fact a band comprising of Anthony Silvester (of XX Teens) and Sarah Jones (of both Hot Chip and NYPC).  After meeting at Bestival, the pair decided to create music together, and thus exists the strangely entrancing new debut single, Small Victory.  It’s an odd track – slightly jarring and dissonant with its ethereal, dislocated vocals singing the sweet little refrain of “You saw something in me (I didn’t know what you were looking for) / something no one else can see (I didn’t know what you were staying for)”, both their disconcertingly electronically-treated, robotic yet warm voices melding together over the top of eerie, whirring, whooshing melodies and beautifully light, frenetic rhythms.  Then there are the yet-to-be released remixes – a squelchy, upbeat version from Joe Goddard that vaguely recalls New Order, and a gorgeous, dazzling, slow yet funky take from Grosvenor.

The single is out via Parlour Records on 21st July [pre-order here], and is very much worth a listen if somewhat disarming, unusual synth-pop is your thing.

Ben_Khan (1)I had a conversation today about how, because of the internet, there is this pressing need to be up-to-date on new music.  If Jamie xx dropped a track three days ago, then that might as well have been three months ago, such is the sheer volume and frequency of releases out there, and the sense of duty to be in some way ahead of the curve.  It is not necessarily something that this blog has ever been particularly swayed by, given my propensity to post here about three times a year and, on those sweet, rare occasions, to write about some entirely irrelevant album from ten years ago.  Nonetheless, I feel strangely inclined to apologise for being behind the rest of the world when only posting about Ben Khan now, even though his debut EP, ‘1992’, isn’t even out yet.

Politely tight-lipped about his identity beyond what he thinks people need to know, Khan is an artist making music from a beautifully unique amalgamation of different genres.  The songs are at times lush R&B with a sultry, soulful, bluesy undercurrent, but then there are glimmers of glitchy, removed, pretty electro shuddering through, with a sometimes almost Middle Eastern, ethereal vibe.  His wonderful vocals are soft as a caress on top of it all; somehow coy yet knowingly seductive.

There is a crepuscular warmth to his tracks – a splash of something almost tropical in moments like the elephant-like sirens of trumpet bursting forth in ‘Eden'; a disarming darkness to the gentle, titillating sway of ‘Drive (Part I)’, with its pseudo-breathless vocals.  ‘Savage’ pulsates with a heady, squelchy dance-y sound, though ultimately it does less for me than the rest of his demoes.  ‘Youth’ slowly crescendoes from a subtle, refined quietness into a gorgeous, sunny piece of delight; all glorious, bouncing beats, saccharine sweet vocals and pretty little trills of synth.

Needless to say, the promise of Ben Khan is seeming a very exciting prospect on the basis of these sublime tracks.  With his EP out on May 5th, now seems as good a time as any to acquaint yourselves with the reasons for the hype.

Listen to Ben Khan on his SoundCloud. You can pre-order his ‘1992’ EP from iTunes, here.

 

lateofthepier

 

As is customary procedure every two months or so, I have been on a bit of a David Bowie binge these past couple days.  At some point I will be sure to wax lyrical specifically on the great man himself, but this particular spell of Bowie indulgence has led me to metaphorically dusting off my old Late of the Pier MP3s because, in my mind, musically Late of the Pier were innovating in the spirit of Bowie, and their inexplicable absence for the past few years has been very upsetting.

Their Erol Alkan-produced debut album, Fantasy Black Channel, was released back in 2008, and boasted some extraordinary soundscapes.  Bright, brazen and brimming over with a really wild, weird sense of otherworldliness, these were songs which wouldn’t have sounded amiss soundtracking Bowie’s Labyrinth – or, as the band described themselves, it was “music to have asthma to”.  There aren’t really any two Late of the Pier songs which sound the same, and yet their sound never seemed to lack a sense of cohesion – rather, it was quite exciting that everything could be so all over the place.

‘The Bears Are Coming’ has its tribal, almost afrobeat rhythms, dancing beneath lush ripples of chaotic synths; ‘VW’ is an intense instrumental cacophony of brilliance, with thick, dramatic, dissonant swathes of sound; ‘Focker’ and ‘White Snake’ are both frantic and bizarre numbers with a much bigger nod to rock than the rest of their oeuvre; while ‘Heartbeat’ is a beautifully fluid piece of pop with a particularly sweet guitar line; and I always had a soft spot for the squelchy, sparkling, short but sweet ‘Random Firl’ with its lovely, brief, kind of psychedelic lyrics: “Lately, I’ve been thinking this whole world seems too hard / And I’d be better off to undo everything / But maybe it was only the Sun behind the clouds making everything seem nasty / Behind the clouds / It’s lovely behind the clouds”.

This is without covering a lot of their work, but my favourite three Late of the Pier songs would have to be ‘Space and the Woods’, ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ and their last (hopefully not last ever) single, ‘Blueberry’.  I’m not necessarily proud about it, but the band’s first single – the Gary Numan-esque ‘Space and the Woods’ – was my ringtone for a time, with its twinkling intro diffusing into dark, punchy, dance-y melodies and surprisingly quite profound lyrics, trying – according to an interview I just read - “to weigh up what is more important; a person or an inanimate object, or an absence of anything”.  ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ is a a fantastic piece of dance pop, wearing its odd, glam ’80s influences on its sleeve, all jumping beats and spacey rock with some exquisitely realised moments: “So put your hands on your waistline / and move your body to the bass line / And get your hands on some cheap wine / And keep moving ’til you feel fine” is arguably some of the funnest, most delightful lyricism of the past ten years.  ‘Blueberry’ was something a bit different, though: all gorgeous soaring anthem full of spacey strangeness, with delicate, pop verses and a sublime, again kind of psychedelic sound, with a chorus of children singing at the end, and it seemed promising of incredible things to come.    

I do not know what Late of the Pier are currently doing.  I do not know when – or if – they will release more music.  I just felt the need to take a moment and heap some gushing praise on a band whose oeuvre should not be left to gather dust in the recesses of 2008 when the NME were trying to make “new rave” a thing.  They were making some amazingly weird and innovative stuff, and the British music scene was all the more exciting for their presence.  Wherever you are, please come back soon.

968full-yeah-yeah-yeahs

It was around this time two years ago when the idea of dumping my very neglected old music blog in favour of starting a new one which I could neglect just the same first crossed my mind.  The time of year, tellingly, is my annual pre-exam study leave, during which I am sitting around listening to music and looking for ways to procrastinate even more so than is normal.  Two years ago, I decided that the raw intensity of Le Tigre’s eponymous album was perfect study music, finding something quite motivational in the raucous yet driven songs.  As I embark once more into exam season, my ability to concentrate on one topic of study for a prolonged period of time is wavering more than ever, but as the riotgrrl music before made me realise, channelling stress and rage into work can be a fairly efficient way of going about these things – hence, my rediscovery of the Is Is EP by Yeah Yeah Yeahs has gone down pretty nicely as regards imploring myself to put my head down and work.

Released back in 2007, this early EP is a bit different from the poppier, synth-tinged era of It’s Blitz (which love, but for slightly different reasons).  This EP is rock music: brazen, gut-wrenching, turbulent, sexually-charged, fantastic rock music.  Karen O screeches and sneers, one minute all shrugging nonchalance in her New York cool sprechgesang, the next bold and impassioned in her teasing, seductive, feral growls of melodies.  The music of Zinner and Chase swells around her, sometimes washing her along into intricate, blazing crescendoes and sometimes ebbing into sparser yet just as provocative and fervent shuffles of instrumentation.

Incredible opener ‘Rockers to Swallow’ is all raw, vigorous intensity with threatening, commandeering, throatiness from O and spiralling, gritty yet somehow almost-psychedelic guitar and chaotic yet somehow controlled drumming.  ‘Down Boy’ starts as a gentler, more romantic sounding number, with Zinner’s sweet, twinkling keyboards ushering in smooth percussion and soft vocals from O – that is, for around forty-five seconds, before things get intense all over again in the chorus and, no, she’s not yelling quite so much anymore, but O is still a domineering force, all coy but in control as she sings, (and you can almost hear her smiling), “Down boy, down” atop of the more tumultuous guitars.  ‘Kiss Kiss’ is a glitchy song full of frantic, lusty, propulsive palpitations, while ‘Isis’ swirls and snarls with a strangely dissonant, quasi-Middle Eastern vibe.  The final track ’10 X 10′ with the juddering, potent instrumentation and O’s repeated girlish “ah-ah”s, contrasting with her low, unforgiving growl throughout the rest of the song perhaps best surmises the EP – it can have moments of nonchalant, coy femininity, certainly, but the Is Is EP is primarily angry, turbulent and, well, empowered sexiness.

I am detracting from it massively to say that it is good background study music, because it is a fantastic rock EP (with the flaw that befalls all good EPs of being too short and leaving you wanting)… but it works pretty well in that exam time capacity all the same.

You can buy the Is Is EP here.  If you’re into your Lou Reed and your Patti Smith, you will love this as much as I do.

Image

Hearing this for the first time today, I genuinely thought that I was being played some remix of an obscure ABBA B-side.  With its frothy, sugary choruses and squelchy, cheesy beats resonating beneath, the latest track to be revealed from Metronomy’s upcoming album (incidentally, also called Love Letters) is a joy to listen to.  The song bursts to life with spiralling keyboards and yearning, romantic lyrics from the delicate intonations of Joseph Mount and that euphoric ’70s pop punch of Anna Prior’s chorus, all melting nicely into some warm and smooth caramel trumpet jams.

Between the sheer catchiness of the music itself and lines like, “From far across the sea / they fly from you to me / but still I get no sleep / oh, my love / don’t be mad / ‘cos I’ll keep on writing / love letters”, it’s hard not to be a little bit besotted with Love Letters.  The video was also directed by Michel Gondry, which makes for some pretty wonderful watching.

The other taste of the new album last year was the dazzling lovelorn shuffle of I’m Aquarius, with the beautiful caress of the looped female vocals singing, “shoop-doop-doop-ahhh”.  Between that and the title track, then, it would seem Love Letters is an album to get very excited about.

You can pre-order the album (out March 10th on Because Records) from here.

Collaborations are always a fun aspect in any genre, but I think ’90s/’00s R&B had some particularly great examples of artists coming together and creating some one-off wonders.  There are a whole host of excellent tracks which highlight this idea, but I’d say that some of the best of these efforts were between male hip-hop artists and female R&B artists.  This set-up of one male, one female allowed for sometimes sugary, romantic numbers, but just as easily lent themselves to some all-out sleazy vibes.  The male hip-hop star and female R&B/pop singer collaboration is one that lives on into the 2010s, and it tends to go down very well – however, I firmly maintain the glory days are those of Ja Rule doing collaborations with pretty much every female artist going, living it large.

I don’t think there’s any point in denying that there is a whole lot of misogyny and over-sexualisation of women in ’90s/’00s R&B and hip-hop (B2K, I love you, but these lyrics are a wee bit questionable), but if Robin Thicke has taught us anything this year, it’s that pop music in general has a tendency to be pretty sexist.  Luckily for this era of R&B, ladies like Destiny’s Child and TLC kept the girl power going – but that’s a topic for another post.  For now, here are seven (sometimes a little bit sexist) classics of male-female duets, rooted in ’90s/’00s R&B:

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