Mixtapes, Music, Myself

The Second 2016 Playlist

Just in time for April, another selection of songs that makes my head bop, my toes curl and my fingers fly on the keyboard.

I have had Grimes’ new album, Art Angels on heavy rotation the last few weeks. My love for this album has been bolstered by a long interview with the artiste that I read recently, and a book called Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory. It’s a stunning collection of tracks — accessible and complex at the same time, and self-aware, in a strange way. Grimes has appeared on my older playlists, obviously, but I have never been as completely blown away by the totality of her earlier albums. ‘Kill v Maim’ is here because it’s one of the weirdest songs on Art Angels: the video is all glitter and J-pop, and her voice takes on textures that . What makes the song really special is the concept ­— it is sung from the point of view of Al Pacino in Godfather II, except ‘except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space’. Um, yeah. Fuck.

Klimeks is a British producer that falls squarely into the ambient/synthpop genre, much like Burial and even Mura Masa, both of whom are artistes I love. In fact, if ‘Tokyo Train’, a track from 2013, had pitch-shifted vocals, I would probably think it was Mura Masa. Though that’s kind of doing Klimeks injustice, he has a very distinctive sound that makes for great listening both at home and at work. Calm yet filled with nervous tension.

Moderat’s new album Moderat III is out already, and this was one of the first singles that I heard from it. The video features a sci-fi story with teenagers harvesting crystals in a dystopian world, and it feels like an avant garde video game someone else is playing when you get high. The song is so distinctively Moderat – the sharp synth wail, the repeating 5-beat snare pattern at 16 bar intervals, the layered vocals.

Julietta’s ‘Conquest’ is a catchy pop song about heartbreak. It has this unsettling tremolo synth loop going on at first, which is kind of distracting, but the song ultimately wins it with her voice and the main hook.

Early Winters is one of my favorite bands, and their second album ‘Vanishing Act’ is my album of choice on silent, meditative nights. Their third album has been forthcoming, but what we got was a 2:13 minute song that proves that they have not lost a little bit of the wonderful sound and the unique mood of their collaborative act. Justin, Carina, Dan and Zach, please finish your album.


Shadow and Light are a Delhi-based band that caught my attention through a random link that someone shared. Pavithra Chari and Anindo Bose make for a wonderful collaboration; she is the vocalist and lyricist, while he works on the music production and provides harmonies. Oh, the harmonies. ‘Dua’ makes me very happy indeed, with its nimble mix of the jazz piano and a mellifluous ghazal.

Synthwave is a genre inspired by 80s film, video and TV soundtracks, mostly driven by non-American bands. You can hear the sound in the OST of Drive, or in the music of Com Truise. This Carpenter Brut track needs no endorsement. The video is batshit insane, and the propulsive synth-driven beat puts you square in the center of B-movie action.

What is it with young British electronic musicians? Feint is 22, and his Drum and Bass songs burrow their way into my brain like nothing else. Veela’s vocals work beautifully on this song.

Thomas Vent is electro-funk with a dollop of dubstep. You better have your dancing shoes on.

I had included Sir Sly’s ‘You Haunt Me’ in an earlier playlist, but my preference was for the remix of the song, rather than the original. This song drove me crazy, with its hypnotic beat and Landon Jacobs’ whisky-smooth voice and the throbbing, glitchy arpeggiator that comes in somewhere in the middle. The video’s wonderful too, makes you want to not blink at all.

It’s funny how artistes take on new meaning with a bit of context. I heard Mr Oizo one fine day, thanks to a random online recommendation. Two days later, while in conversation about weird cinema with a bunch o’ fellow-nerds at a signing, the name Quentin Depeaux came up, who is a French film-maker that has made some surreal films. Turns out Mr Oizo is Depeaux’s side-project as a DJ/musician. And his music is as sufficiently weird as his filmography, according to people in the know.

A New Zealand-based band that has settled in LA, BRÅVES has had its share of crazy videos ­— including one with full frontal male nudity. This video is tamer, but the song is a crisp crowdpleaser.

I stumbled across the work of the pianist/multi-instrumentalist Lambert while looking for more artistes like Deaf Center and Nils Frohm. German artiste who has recently performed at the Hotel Cafe, and I wish I had known of him before his act. Must have been fun to see him live.

Ibeyi means ‘twins’ in Yoruba (a language spoken in Nigeria), and true to their name, the band is made up on twin sisters Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz, whose music combines Cuban, French and Nigerian influences. I paid attention to their music from a remix of ‘River’, which removed their vocals altogether, focusing on the thumping percussive beat of the track. A waste, if you ask me, because their voices give you goose-bumps, and the video leaves you holding your breath, literally. I love how the song ends with Yoruban lyrics. These sisters are incredible.

Nombe is Noah McBeth, a musician from Germany who now lives in Los Angeles. The lead guitar riff in the song ‘California Girls’ reminds me of ‘Finally Moving’ by Pretty Lights ­— the song that Avicii and Flo Rida made huge hits of. But that resemblance is just enough for you to pay attention to it, the song stands up well on its own.

The first thing that gets me about Tom Misch’s ‘Memory’ is its use of steel drums. The song weaves its layers around this single bar loop, which changes only when the vocals come in, almost 2 minutes into the song. It takes off with a crunchy guitar solo, and a drum-and-clap beat that glides in and out. Beautiful, beautiful track.

OH SHIT! This Four Tet remix of Jon Hopkins gut-punched me when I heard it the first time. The piano, if I may, is like moonlight peeping in through the trees as you drive through a dark forest late at night. Not your normal moonlight, more like moonlight in high contrast and embroidered with gold and fairydust. And then there’s stars going supernova as you suddenly begin flying into the sky, and there are colors everywhere and you can barely feel your own body. The closest you may get to this experience is if you are sitting on a window seat and your plane is about to land in LA late in the night. Or something like that. The video is insane on its own, but with the song, whoof!

Umm, yeah, Hans Zimmer’s theme for Batman v Superman featured heavily in my listening all of last month. “Day of the Dead’ particularly, because it goes from tenderness to dread to melancholy to bombast in the space of a few minutes, weaving layers over the four note Kal El theme from Man of Steel. Especially with the pizzicato strings ticking along like a time bomb.

That would have been the last song on the playlist, but for the fact that I noticed that Hana had released the video for her exquisite ‘Clay’. There’s also the added connection of her opening for Grimes in her last tour. My favorite moment on the song, the point when I knew it was going to be on constant rotation, is when the beat comes in at 0:56. Love the use of echo in her voice, and the warbly violin-sound that creeps into the track.

Mixtapes, Music

The First 2016 Playlist

I might as well stop arranging playlists by month. I started calling this the January 2016 playlist, but it’s already middle of February – and you will admit that’s kind of dumb.

Chairlift’s Moth is the first album I have fallen in love with this year. ‘Ch-Ching’ is the hallmark of the lot, featuring not one, not two, but three different hooks that latch on to your brain. Add to it the vogue-happy dance video featuring the lovely Caroline Polachek in that orange dress; the sexy brass riffs that sneak in and out of the vocals; the random “ow”s and “whoo”s punctuating the track. Patrick Wimberly’s drum programming – specifically the use of the rimshot and finger-clicks, and that wonderful ratatat drum phrase – also a winner. 27-99-23, y’all.

I saw Father John Misty live at Treasure Island Music Fest last year, and this zany song —accompanied by a video that is filled with Kanye-West-level of self-love — is one of my favorite tracks from his new album I Love You Honeybear. 

Gunship makes tripped-out electropop. This video has He-Man, Hellraiser, and a host of other B-show video tributes in claymation.

Is ‘Kamikaze’ the solo song that makes MØ explode on the mainstream scene? The lady made her name with her 2014 album (‘Pilgrim’ featured on one of my earlier playlists) and collaborations with Ariana Grande and Major Lazer, but the upcoming studio album with Diplo producing sounds like it’s on another level altogether. The tune’s so infectious, and the main instrumental riff (which sounds like a shakuhachi blended with a celtic violin) gets into your head faster than the fumes from a 43-year old bottle of Glendronach. ‘Take me to the party/kami kami kaze’ doesn’t make much sense, but sometimes a song doesn’t have to. Yet another vogue video, and it’s not a coincidence.

If you think Lana Del Rey is vapid and commercial music, you haven’t been paying attention – I don’t care if she is. She has her West Coast gangsta style melded with classic pop/rock  routine down pat (listen to the guitar riff and the tonal shift at 1:18. Isn’t that a Beatles chord from ‘And I Love Her’?), and it works so well. I have heard three different versions of this song, and they all bring different things to the table. The original is classic Lana, and the (mostly) black-and-white video gets bonus points for being shot in Marina del Rey, my hood till a few months ago.

One of the many songs that sample Quantic Soul Orchestra’s track ‘Pushin On’, ‘Triburbia’ is a delectable goblet of funk served chilled. Caution: It will stir and shake you.

Speaking of delectable, Pal William introduced me to the joys of New Jersey-born Melody Gardot. Add to that velvety-chocolate voice some old-school orchestral strings floating in the background, with a jazz brush-drum beat that patters like raindrops on windows, and you have ‘Baby I’m A Fool’. Yum.

If there was a playlist of music videos to get high to, Rone’s ‘Bye Bye Macadam’ would fall squarely under the psychedelia section. Observe how deceptively simple the song is, a miasma of sawtooth waves over a drum and bass track. I am starting to get into Rone’s discography now, and have high hopes.

NEW FALLULAH ALBUM END OF FEBRUARY, BITCHES! She has released 4 singles from the new album so far, and they are oh-so-wonderful.The tremolo in her voice makes my knees go weak every single time, and her use of the female chorus is flawless. Lovely to see an artiste grow so much over the years and still maintain a unique identity. Go check out ‘Perfect Tense’, the titular single from the album, also out on Youtube.

I heard the second part of this schizophrenic song first – ‘Dystopia’. ‘The earth is on fire/We don’t have no daughter/let the motherfucker burn’ was something that got into my head instantly. Found out the first part ‘Utopia’, and it was like Kraftwerk ate mushrooms and had wild monkey sex with a Korg arpeggiator to come up with alien disco music. SO much fun!

Fenech-Soler is an electronic outfit from Northamptonshire in the UK, which puts them in the same geographical location as The Magus of Northampton – consider this a gratuitous way for me to mention my favorite writer, who I haven’t talked about in a while. But their music is great. This song’s from their second album, which came out in 2013, and

Jarryd James’ ‘Do You Remember’ feels me with dread for some reason. Maybe it’s the ominous chords, or the layered voices. Or maybe the earnestness in the voice appeals to me and I am in denial.

I keep getting turned off by the sameness of the Indian live music shows – Coke Studio, MTV Unplugged, Dewarists and so on, but occasionally a song pops out and makes me jump right back in. Ram Sampath’s set, in particular his cover of the traditional Oriya ‘Rangabati’ did that recently. Sona Mahapatra puts heart and soul into her rendition, and watching the video makes me grin at the sheer joy of her performance – obviously her familiarity with the language helps, observe the change in expression when she says “Tuhu tuhu’ at 2:51. Tony & Rajesh’s rap kick your teeth in (not as much as when they sing the other Bharatiyar Love Rap) and Rituraj Mohanty is stellar. What a song!

The Chainsmokers’ ‘Let You Go’ is a perfect LA song. Shout-out to the Last Bookstore – and holy shit, never thought of it as a make-out zone. Runyon Canyon too, ha! The first comment on that video tells you exactly what to expect though, so er, be warned.

Yeah, there’s a band called British India. Yup, they’re pretty damn good. They’re from Australia, and contrary to my aversion to standard guitar bands, they have proved to be a good exception. The video is weird in a nice way.

Toldja I am a Chairlift fan, so had to end the playlist with the other song from their album that’s stuck in my head. This one has a crunchy rock guitar, pumping beats, and Caroline at her awkward best in the video. ‘Hey Romeo/Put on your running shoes, I am ready to go’ makes me want to go start running again. I probably should, right?

Mixtapes, Music

The Last 2015 Playlist

In these last hours of the year, I figured I might as well publish one last playlist. It’s a little longer than usual, but its heart is in the right place.

It begins with ‘Heartsigh’, a song that will possibly remain the musical high-point of 2015 for me. This song feels like waking up on a morning with the sun streaming into my bedroom and the smell of bacon wafting in, while a puppy comes up on the bed and licks my nose. The video obviously has nothing to do with this mental visual, but  it stands wonderfully on its own, and conveys an idea of what a Purity Ring concert feels like.

Mura Masa is the stage-name of Alex Crossan, a musician and producer from Great Britain, who is all of 19, which makes me mad and happy at the same time. Mad because fucking 19. Happy, because this is the kind of musician who provides a gigantic fuck-you to people who claim there is no good music coming out nowadays, or that the best music happened in the 70s, or whatever bullshit excuse they choose to come up with for their lack of musical taste or awareness. Mura Masa’s ‘Soundtrack to a Death’ is one of the best things I have discovered this year. His signature style – crisp beats, pitch-shifted vocals and instruments that delight and awe – mesh wonderfully with Shura’s vocals on this particular track, aided by the single-shot video.

I heard Duke Dumont’s ‘I Got U’ early this year, and that particular track hooked me quite a bit. But ‘Ocean Drive’ does one better, with its 80s aesthetic and insta-earworminess. A song that makes me want to take off in a convertible along LA streets at night, blasting it at full volume.

Eric Prydz’s ‘Opus’ is a ridiculous song, in the best sense of the word. 9 minutes long, with a 3 minute build-up, this is a track that confuses club-goers and kinda reminds me of the trick used during the filming of the motorbike sequence in The Dark Knight, where the sound designer revved the engine sound to a higher and higher pitch throughout. This song, similarly, keeps building and building and building to a maddening crescendo – and keeps going on, contrary to the drop-and-ebb rules of trance music. Has me smiling wide every single time.

Magic happens when you put two talented musicians together – and if they are Chet Faker and Flume, it’s organic, wild magic; a spell that wraps you with eldritch tendrils of delight. Sorry, just went full Arkham Asylum there. But ‘Drop the Game’ is just that good a song, the voice and the music and the dancing mesmerizing beyond belief.

I thought Lil Dicky was a lot of fun, and this video definitely plays it for laughs (pay attention to the motivational posters on the wall of the office). Love his rapping skills too, and that Snoop D guy isn’t a slouch either.

Humeysha is Goldspot crossed with Kula Shaker, and I suspect I would enjoy their music more with substances inside me. It’s by Zain Alam, a Wesleyan alumnus (neat, huh, N?) who spent time in India researching the partition and experimenting with Indian music. The band is the result, and the results are encouraging, to say the least.

Alina Baraz is 21 (sigh!) and from Los Angeles by way of Ohio. She follows the modern-day tradition (er, of my favorite electronic outfits, I mean) of collaborating with an electronic producer named Galimatias she met online, to come up with some tracks that make wonderful use of her voice and give us musical textures that are crunchy and delicious and very very satisfying. Just listen to the piano backing in ‘Fantasy’ to know what I mean.

I heart Jamie XX. I am letting his new album grow on me very very slowly, to savor it better. So far, I have obsessed over three songs, and this one’s the second, a beautiful quiet song about loud places and heartbreak and relationship expectations. The other songs will turn up on future playlists, I can feel it.

I heard Conner Youngblood’s ‘Confidence EP’ and was struck by how similar his voice sounded to that of a young AR Rahman, especially on the title track. This song is low on the ARR-semblance, but is the perfect late-night and dread chill combination. The sound of the trumpet resemble the the baying of wild animals in the distance; the voice creeps under your skin; the drone just is, in the background.

Cashmere Cat came into my life via Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco in November, the only music fest I went to this year, and an experience well worth the drive both ways. His set was incredible, and it befuddles me that there are still musicians like him that elude me but for pure luck. Mura Masa considers him a major influence on his music, and I can totally see it. ‘Without Me’ is a great video too.

Disa Jakobs hails from Copenhagen, and the original version of Sculpture is layered like Gregorian chants. The live version strips it all down, leaving behind a cheerier version of the song and her voice in full focus, but then the electric guitar kicks in and gives it another tinge altogether. I will be looking forward to more of her music.

‘Silhouettes’ by Floating Points is a work of art in every way possible. I could stare at the video for hours. I could (and have, actually) listen to them for days. Electro-jazz at it’s finest.

Both the Cashmere Cat video and that for ‘Disclosure’ by You & Me (which is also a Flume remix, btw, that guy keeps popping up everywhere) would probably melt Pahlaj Nihalani’s eyeballs because of the amount of onscreen kissing that happens in the two videos.

Tülpa’s ‘A Lil’ Rain’ is a beautiful instrumental, one that weaves its own dreams for you when you close your eyes and listen to it. But this animated fan video by Project 9 on Youtube takes it to another level altogether. This is like Sylvain Chomet meets Ivan Bilibin and the two enter a bar with George Herriman in tow. C’est incroyable!

Ben Khan’s ‘Eden’ and Bad Kingdom’s ‘Moderat’ are songs linked – at least in my mind – with a piercing brass shriek that turn up in both. You will know what I mean when you listen to them. My thought is that they are both the same sample, used in different ways and to convey different moods, in the two songs. You are free to disagree, but I am probably right.

Mixtapes, Music

The Return of the Monthly Playlist: August 2015

Yeah, I seem to have been remiss in updating the monthly playlists, so here’s a double-dose of music for the last two months. I did create the playlists, but somehow did not get around to creating a post.

Commentary below:

Chvrches is one of those bands that I like the sound of, but kind of feel that their first album got lost in the wave of similar-sounding synthpop albums that came out around the same time, with female vocalists. Or maybe it’s because there are way too many such bands in my ambit. This is the first single from their new album, due to release end of September, and to say I am obsessed by the song and the video is understating it. The sound and themes are linked to Purity Ring’s ‘Another Eternity’, an album that has captured my heart since it released early this year. It is the three-note sawtooth riff that got my attention, but the pulsating chorus is what really drew me in. And holy shit, Lauren Mayberry (singer, song-writer, drummer girl and journalist? Talk about over-achieving!) is so SHINY in that video, in the Whedonian sense of the term.

I stumbled on ‘Hanging On’, and it took me a few anguished days of confusion to figure out why it sounded so maddeningly familiar – Ellie Goulding had covered it. The original version runs circles around the cover, Pat Grossi’s voice and arrangements are just heartbreakingly beautiful. It always struck me as a water song, for some reason, and it’s gratifying to see the video.

I have no idea how Hot Chip manages to make every single one of their albums sound so fresh and intriguing. This track is from their newest album Why Make Sense?, and it’s dancey as fuck.

I heard Trifonic’s Emergence around the same time as BT’s This Binary Universe, mostly because the latter got me searching for albums with a similar sound. I was listening to BT’s pseudo-follow-up to TBU, called If the Stars Are Eternal So Are You and I, and obviously revisited Emergence. Much like the revisiting old haunts, this took me down a different head-space. ‘Good Enough’ is the last song in the album, and the acoustic guitar strum is what gets me every time. (1:52, wait for it)

Kyla LaGrange is an English singer with South African/Zimbabwean roots and the kind of voice that feels like a delicious scoop of ice-cream on a warm summer day. The steel drum loop gives it a bouncy calypso vibe. Love it.

Pretty fucking genius to use GTAV (that’s the iconic game from Rockstar Studios, for those who came in late) game-play and cut-scenes to make the video for this song. Reminds me of Com Truise. I would try and describe their sound but the official description works just fine – “a neon soaked, late night, sonic getaway drive, dripping with analog synthesizers, cinematic vocals and cyberpunk values, all exploding from the front cover of a dusty plastic VHS case which has lain forgotten since 1984”. Like a Nicholas Wending Refn wet dream.

Israeli band Garden City Movement’s ‘Move On’ is the kind of track you want to get high and make out to. ‘Nuff said. Oh, and kinda NSFW video. So’s M83’s ‘Wait’, that comes along a few tracks later and Alpine’s ‘Gasoline’.

Jazz and electronic music come together in BadBadNotGood’s works, and ‘Can’t Leave The Night’ definitely goes places. I love how the drum and bassline takes over around 1:00, after the dreampop beginning. Breakestra’s ‘Come On Over’ is more funk than jazz, and I love the ever-loving shit out of it.

Trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf pays haunting tribute to the place of his birth in a trippy 11 minute track. The lead instrument, at times, sounds like it’s talking to you; at times a whisper, at times raucously laughing along to a joke it knows and wants you to hear, and sometimes, it just wants you to give in. I gave in.

Sir Sly’s ‘You Haunt Me’ sounds way better in the AMTRAC remix. Seriously, try listening to the original after you have heard this, no comparison at all. Wonderful when a song’s texture and feel changes completely in a different mix.

Kate Boy makes the dirtiest, illest riffs ever. Such a distinctive sound this song has, with just the right kind of thematic connection to their earlier ‘Northern Lights’, which blew my mind a few years ago. A song like this needs to be followed by something as dreamy as ‘Technicolor Beat’, just so your heart calms down. An aural relaxant, let’s say.

Don’t you love the name ‘Whilk and Misky’? The flamenco guitars and claps, the voice, and especially the moment when the bass drums jump in – this feels like the perfect summer song.

Laura Welsh’s moment of fame came this year with the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack, but it is this song that made me fall for her. Reminds me of the likes of Modern Talking and Laura Brannigan.

Sometimes, you just want a song like ‘Cheerleader’ playing in your life. No pretension, no deep lyrics, just something you can bop your head – and body – to.

The saddest thing about listening to Burial’s ‘Archangel’ for the first time is wondering why I hadn’t it heard it so far, and the crippling thought that there is so much great music that I haven’t heard yet. This song (and album) came out in 2007, can you believe it?

Did you like this? Which track did you like/hate the most? Do you know music that you think I may like? Did you think my commentary is annoying? Does my taste suck? Talk to me at beatzo@gmail.com, or leave a comment.

Mixtapes, Music

A Very Delayed June Playlist

Here’s another month’s worth of recurring, female-heavy music arranged in a playlist with no discernible order.

Three of them are Indian tracks – the first is the ethereal ‘Sway With Me’ from Dhruv Ghanekar’s 2015 album Voyage, an album I am enjoying quite a bit. It includes an Axomiya track called ‘Baare Baare’, and a collaboration with Ila Arun called ‘Dhima’, both highly recommended. The other two Indian tracks are a trippy number called ‘Manali Trance’ sung by Neha Kakkar, with music by Yo Yo Honey Singh, and a song I can only call slacker-pop, by this duo Tanishk-Vayu, who went on to compose a song for Tanu Weds Manu 2.

Two of my favorite dirt-pop ladies – Inna and Alexandra Stan – collaborate on We Wanna’, and goddamn if this does not make my Romanian friends throw hissy fits, when I proclaim my love for them.

Rhye’s ‘Open’ and Braid’s ‘Miniskirt’ are both songs of beauty and power that give me goosebumps when sitting at work. Kaleo’s ‘All the Pretty Girls’ work on that level, almost, but is more calming.

I have been obsessing about Brigitte’s album ‘Et vous, tu m’aimes’ the past few weeks, and it was quite a struggle to pick one song from that album for this playlist. The album begins with the sassy ‘Battez Vous’, goes into the ‘Coeur de Chewing Gum’, all sensual and naughty and makes my knees go weak at ‘English Song’. This one’s the right kind of everything, I think.

Mansions on the Moon is an LA band that popped up in my life a few weeks ago and last week, I saw them at a free show. This city is great that way.

Hudson Mohawke is a producer who has collaborated with Kanye West and is part of the trap-music band TNGHT. His second full-length album came out last month.

Sia’s new song is amazing, like all her other songs. Tove Lo gives me a boner every time I listen to her. Because if I love her right, we fuck for life, on and on and on.

Blood Orange’s Chamakay makes me wish I hadn’t listened to them in the middle of my Brigitte obsession – it is so hard to switch allegiances. But I will cope, I promise.