Speaking of Cali hip-hop, two of the most important figures in the contemporary L.A. rap scene, Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus, just revealed a surprising new collaborative single. The pair embody two of the dominant themes that have been bouncing around it recently: on one hand, a nostalgia-tinged re-engagement with the city’s gangsta rap history, and on the other, a psychedelic deconstructionist movement, influenced by cosmic free jazz, that’s doing to the boom bap what Ornette Coleman did to bebop. They may seem like artists with very disparate goals, but “Never Catch Me” shows that they’re more compatible than they may seem on the surface.
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Even in an age where music has become immediately accessible to anyone in the world with an Internet connection and no need to wait for import CDs to make their way across the ocean and into Tower Records, it’s not uncommon for songs to find their American audience months or even years after breaking in Europe. In fact, some fairly sizeable hits have happened that way—Disclosure’s “Latch,” Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” and Ellie Goulding’s “Lights,” for example.
There are a handful of such singles on the Hot 100 right now. Among them: Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High),” which this week reached No. 23, its highest point in the 13 weeks it’s spent on the chart. Lo initially self-released “Habits” in March of last year, after which it was picked up by a label and reissued in December. But it wasn’t until this past March, with the official release of a remix that the California duo Hippie Sabotage had originally posted online, that the song really took off. The remix hit the top 10 in a half-dozen countries in Europe and Oceania, and was picked up by a number of influential American pop blogs.
LA’s Allah-Las are one of the few bands in existence that can come off as brain-meltingly psychedelic and totally chill at the exact same time. With the jangly guitars and vocal harmonies of a ’60s folk rock group and the hippie-fied, mind-expanding quality of a Carlos Castaneda book, they’ve spent the past few years instigating a cosmic takeover of the underground garage rock scene.
Their latest single, “Buffalo Nickel,” from their upcoming sophomore album Worship the Sun (out Sept. 16 on Innovative Leisure), is a fantastic place to jump on their trip. The video, made using the same handmade stop-motion techniques that were popular 50 years ago, makes a perfect accompaniment to the song’s slightly rough-hewn psychedelia.
Kandace Springs is a young musician, but she seems to have more in common with artists from before the Internet upended the music industry. Her break didn’t come through social media, but by blowing away music heavyweights like Prince and Don Was with virtuosic interpretations of songs by Bonnie Raitt and Sam Smith. And while her style is deeply indebted to ’70s soul music, she’s not a purely retro act—for her debut LP, out next spring, she’s put together a production and songwriting team whose members have previously worked with CeeLo Green, Alicia Keys, and Bruno Mars.
In the meantime, Springs is releasing a self-titled four-song EP on Sept. 30. Lead single “West Coast,” produced by the duo Pop and Oak—who’ve worked with Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, and Usher—is buoyant neosoul that combines a rollicking horn arrangement and a bumping rap beat. Springs makes her TV debut Oct. 3 on Letterman. READ FULL STORY
Shabazz Palaces’ 2011 debut Black Up had a luxurious sleekness to its sound and a fiery political charge to its lyrics—qualities that it shared with Watch the Throne, which was released just a few weeks later—but with far less concern for pleasing a pop-oriented audience. For their new album, Lese Majesty, the duo has responded to Black Up‘s surprising success by pushing even further out with even more political intensity, even weirder beats, and much weirder promo photos.
Lese Majesty isn’t as easily accessible their first album, with song structures that consistently refuse to follow standard pop blueprints. But beat-maker Fly Guy ‘Dai and MC Palaceer Lazaro (aka former Digable Planets member Ishmael Butler) make sure to provide enough hooks to help listeners get on their deconstructionist level. A lot of them come on “#CAKE,” which is the closest thing to radio-friendly that the album gets, with a warped take on an old-school electro-rap beat and lyrics that walk a line between club-friendly sing-along and psychedelic chanting.
Denver’s BLKHRTS are part of an insurgent movement that’s given hip-hop its own version of punk rock, overflowing with anarchic energy and intensely distorted sounds. They’re a little more gothed out than the other acts that fall under the umbrella of “noise rap,” like CLPPNG and the recently disbanded Death Grips. In an interview with their hometown alt-weekly, the Denver Westword, the group’s producer Yonnas Abraham–who makes the band’s beats on an outdated, not entirely functional, 20-year-old sampler–calls himself, “obsessed with romance, obsessed with death, and obsessed with the color black.”
BLKHRTS goth tendencies come through loud and clear on “Porties,” where they rap about romantic complications over a beat that samples Bauhaus’ “She’s In Parties.” The video, with its moody, high-contrast visuals and party-hardy action, sums up the group’s mission nicely.
Kelela and Le1f are two independent artists teetering on the verge of serious pop stardom. Kelela is part of a new wave of R&B artists forging connections with the leading edge of electronic dance music who’s made a fan of, among others, Solange Knowles, who put her on the avant-R&B compilation, Saint Heron, that she released on her Saint Records label last year. Le1f, meanwhile, is doing something similar with rap and the underground club scene, and the raw energy he brought to his Letterman performance earlier this year gave him an unexpected foothold in the mainstream.
Neither of the two are content to just wait around for their seemingly inevitable breaks to come through. Both are busy at work on their next big moves. But in the meantime, while those projects are coming together, they’ve paired up to record “OICU.” Produced by beat-maker P. Morris, the track showcases their mutual talents for creating a vibe that’s spacey, sexy, and effortlessly chill. It’s a match made in stoner-avant-pop heaven.
In a half press conference, half fan event hosted on a Yahoo! livestream this afternoon, Taylor Swift shared a new single, its video, and the news that she has a new album out Oct. 27. The song, “Shake It Off,” is an enthusiastic, uptempo composition with flourishes of retro soul thanks to a skronking horn arrangement and a dance-friendly energy that the video, directed by Mark Romanek, reflects with performances by dancers in styles ranging from ballet to twerking. In a surprise turn, Swift handles the song’s rap interlude herself.
The album will be called 1989, both for the year of Swift’s birth and the period of pop history that it draws most heavily from. Swift said that according to people she talked to in the course of investigating late ’80s pop, the era was “apparently a time of limitless potential.” She described 1989 as both “my very first documented, official pop album” and “my favorite album we ever made.”
1989 is available for pre-order from Swift’s website, which seems to be down at the moment thanks to an overwhelming amount of traffic. A deluxe version of the LP will feature several songs in their earliest demo form as voice memos saved to Swift’s phone, as well as reproductions from Polaroids she’s shot.
Electronic music pioneer Richard D. James, best known by the stage name Aphex Twin, has never seemed too interested in the traditional album cycle that the pop music industry is based around. Instead, he has released music under a bewildering number of different aliases, or in limited editions, or only on vinyl, or in assorted other ways to make buying and listening to his music more complicated than the average artist. He wasn’t even directly involved with his latest release, a digital edition of a previously unissued 1994 album recorded under the pseudonym Caustic Window that was sold by a group of diehard fans via a Kickstarter campaign.
In recent days, he’s announced the release of his first album of new material since 2001’s double-LP Drukqs in a typically cryptic manner. The first clues that something was in the works came over the weekend, when a blimp bearing the Aphex Twin logo standing in for the zero in “2014,” was spotted hovering over a music venue in London. In New York City, the same logo appeared stenciled on sidewalks in Chelsea and Midtown outside of Carnegie Hall. (The authenticity of a plate where the logo appears in a smear of jerk sauce has yet to be determined.)
Earlier today, James tweeted a link to a website accessible only through the anonymous web browser Tor, ie. a link to the Deep Web, which is better known as an online destination for illegal pornography and virtual drug markets than promotional sites for electronic music albums.
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When Chilean singer-songwriter Yael Meyer began working on the song “Human Divine,” it was “much more mellow and acoustic track than it is on the record,” she writes. “I wrote it late and night and recorded a very rough demo of it and you could hear the keyboard making this really cool clicking sound that kind of made it sound like there was a beat underneath the song. So even though it was very mellow song, the implied beat made gave me the feeling that maybe this could be a dance song.”
The end result is bouncy, ebullient electropop that should appeal to the considerable number of people who are still waiting for Grimes to write another “Oblivion.” It also contains a timely, uplifting lyrical message: “You always hear in the news about the worst possible things happening in the world,” Meyer writes, “because that’s what sells, and that generates a fear-based society built on the idea that everything that happens is horrible. But I believe that there is a balance between good and evil. Yes, there is a lot of bad stuff happening, but there are also a lot of people doing good and it makes me believe that really good is leading the way after all.”
Meyer’s Warrior Heart drops Sept. 16 on KLI Records.
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