It’s 2015 and everyone has a music video. Your mom pulled out her iPhone the other day and recorded your dad lip-syncing Shakira in the kitchen—in full 1080p HD video. It probably has a few hundred plays on Youtube by now. The kid who lives down the street from your apartment has an aspiring rap career and half a dozen music videos of himself standing in front of convenience stores, smoking joints and rubbing his hands together. It isn’t 1996 anymore. It doesn’t take a ridiculous budget and a connection with MTV to produce a music video and have it seen by the world. Everyone has the equipment to make it and a platform for the world to see it. In their pocket.
Of course, this oversaturation means 99% of music videos you see today are garbage.
We need a savior. And that savior might come in the form of Tove Styrke, a Swedish pop singer who came out of nowhere to release two incredible music videos in the last four months. Her videos take place in weird corners of the world you’ve never seen before. They’re edgy. They’re catchy as hell. They don’t waste time with elaborate stories, instead focusing on creating a feeling that resonates with viewers. They take you to a different place and make you forget you’re staring at a screen. You’ll want to watch them over and over again. They do exactly what the hell music videos are supposed to do. And I can’t get enough of ‘em.
Back in January 2013, I stumbled on an EP uploaded to Soundcloud by a mysterious 16-year-old girl from New Zealand. The songs had a few hundred plays each and her social media accounts only had a handful of followers. But her music was stunning. At the time, I embarrassingly gushed about how you could play her music for “your little sister, your grandma, AND that artsy neighbor who hates your little sister, your grandma, and everything they stand for”. Beyond being immediately accessible, it was pretty obvious she had it, and the fact that she was rumored to be 16 made things even more interesting.
That girl was Lorde.
You know the rest of the story. I’m still kicking myself for passing up on a chance to interview her before anyone else did after having the dumb luck to randomly stumble on her Soundcloud account before anyone else (but that’s another story). What she really represented for me was that magical moment every music fan lives for: finding a new artist who immediately blows you away and gets you excited about music again. I literally had goosebumps ten seconds into my first listen of “Royals” (I understand how silly that sounds now—but it was mindblowing hearing that song after casually pressing play on a random Soundcloud upload with zero expectations).
Anyway, I had that feeling again the other day after hearing Grace Mitchell. I don’t know if it’s just the fact that she sounds a lot like Lorde, but I can’t help remembering the first time I listened to “Royals” when I hear her music. As much as I try to avoid comparisons (especially with young new artists), it’s hard to ignore the similarities to Lorde. Mitchell is also 16 and her musical style is very similar (which might actually be the biggest knock against her at this point). And she lives in my backyard (Portland), so I have no excuse not to pay attention. After securing a spot on the soundtrack for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with a Hall and Oates cover, she recently released her debut EP, Design.
Listen below as lush electronic instrumentation provides the canvas for Mitchell’s mature-beyond-her-years vocal and songwriting chops. Be prepared for larger-than-life theatrical songs that would sound perfect in the background of epic slow-motion scenes in action movies (or something like that). The full EP also includes a fourth song called “Always & Forever,” but that isn’t currently available on Soundcloud, so you’ll have to listen to that by other means.
Remember 1998? Yeah, me neither. But YouTube tells me Lenny Kravitz songs were in the background of TV ads everywhere and the NYC rocker was about to begin a ridiculous four year long streak as Grammy winner for “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.”
That’s not important, though. What’s important is that he had an eight year old daughter at the time named Zoe. She would go on to have a successful acting career (starring in several films including X-Men: First Class and After Earth). Then she woke up one morning and realized she had too much God-given talent to act in movies opposite Jaden Smith. So she quit that and started making music instead (because she’s Zoe Fucking Kravitz and she can do whatever she wants).
After brief stints in a few bands, she eventually landed with a group called Lolawolf—who proved to have more going for them than just having one of the greatest band names of all time. After a few solid singles (including “Jimmy Franco”), the New York trio just quietly dropped one of the most fascinating pop records of the year. Zoe’s strong vocals and pop sensibilities provide the glue for a collage of off-kilter production full of experimental electronic/pop production. On songs like “Skipping Days”, I hear influences from 90s boy bands. Then on tracks like “AYO”, I pick up on a vibe similar to MIA’s. The whole thing is a beautiful example of left-field pop. It’s the kind of music that a snobby music nerd could appreciate alongside his 12-year-old niece. Stream the album in full below.
If this song had an e-harmony profile, it would probably include an angsty lyric like “People suck, they never change” in its bio and I would never ask it out on a date. If I was the hiring manager at a department store and this song applied for a job, I would dismiss it after it handed me a resume filled with incomplete sentences and weird internet references printed on intentionally lo-fi paper. If the lyrics of this song were written on a bathroom wall, I would assume it was written by an emo teenager who was feeling a little nostalgic. Ok, you get my point.
Fortunately, this song doesn’t live on paper (or e-harmony profiles, resumes, or bathroom walls). It exists in the magical realm of songs, allowing it the fourth-dimensional advantage of having an energy that can’t be explained on paper. It has a mood. It has a vibe. It rises above clichéd lyrics and makes you feel something. In this case, that something is a wonderful spirit of youthful independence with a chip on its shoulder that I can’t get enough of. Stream it below and watch the VHS-inspired music video here.
I don’t know when it happened, but sometime over the last four years Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr became one of my favorite bands. After reeling me in back in 2010 with a goofy name and a quirky music video, they’ve proven themselves as one of the few bands I can count on to consistently produce awesome music while also continuing to push themselves in new creative directions. If I decided to make a list of my 10 favorite bands of the decade, they’d be near the top. That was solidified for me when I saw them in person last March (read my review of that show here).
Anyway, today they returned with one of my favorite tracks to date. And it’s buttery. So damn buttery. I don’t even know what that means, but I know it’s the only way to really describe this song. After kicking off with some pretty King Krule-esque guitars, the Detroit duo does wonderful things with a vocoder to turn in an r&b-influenced track that I’ve already listened to eleven times this morning. Stream it below.
No one knew who Ryn Weaver was this morning. Then the 24-year-old singer uploaded this powerhouse of a dance pop single and turned the heads of every blog on the Internet. It’s easy to see why. The song (which features production credits from Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit, Benny Blanco, and Cashmere Cat) is an insanely catchy example of the perfect debut track for a young artist. It also arrives just in time for the official start of summer. Also, if you’re on the fence about dubbing Weaver your “favorite new artist” — she posted this on Instagram once. So there’s that.
It sounds like a horrible joke. After emerging in 2012 as one of my favorite bands of all time with a phenomenal debut album, An Awesome Wave, Alt-J announced that bassist/guitarist Gwil Sainsbury had left the band. Then this morning they finally released the lead single from their next album — and it features a Miley Cyrus sample. I almost cried. They wouldn’t have been tears of happiness, either. It was bad.
Then I pressed play. Whoa. They did it. Alt-J lost an important piece of their band and still managed to follow up an impossibly good debut album with a more than satisfying single that samples Miley freakin’ Cyrus of all people. Amazing. Also, along with the song came some information about their sophomore album: It’s called This Is All Yours and it’s slated for a release date of September 22, 2014. Pre-order it here and listen to “Hunger of the Pine” below.
I just got back from a music festival, which means for three days my senses were overwhelmed. Four stages blared music from oversized speakers fourteen hours a day and campground subwoofers filled in the silence all night. For a music lover, it was paradise.
Looking back, though, all the most memorable moments happened in moments of relative silence. Like the walk between stages when a random girl left her group of friends and changed directions to meow at my friend’s shirt that had an adorable kitten printed on it — only to lose her mind when my other friend turned around and revealed an adorable puppy printed on his own shirt. Or when Major Lazer paused the barrage of bass for a moment and somehow convinced thousands of people to take their shirts off and throw them in the air before realizing they’d have to spend the rest of the show topless.
It’s funny how the most memorable things usually happen when we take a moment to quiet all the noise that surrounds us. Giving space between everything is the only way to let something special in. That’s what made this quote from the new Mexico City Blondes song so fascinating:
I hope you’re not reading this before bed. I really hope you didn’t just finish a long day at work and visited this blog in search of some nice relaxing music to help you drift into a cozy night of sleep. Alison Wonderland’s barrage of bass-heavy trap drums won’t lull you to sleep. Like an overzealous drunk friend at a night club, it’ll slap you in the face and pull you onto the dance floor. Listening to this song before bed is like like drinking three cans of Red Bull and trying to take a nap. If you’re in the mood to party, though—I can’t think of a better soundtrack than some Alison Wonderland. Enjoy.
An unfortunate casualty of the trappings of major label record deals, Asher Roth has been in a no man’s land of sorts for the past few years. After his hugely successful single, “I Love College” in 2008, Asher has been battling confused public perceptions. Despite the admittedly corny lines in “I Love College”, he’s always been an impressive lyricist and the majority of his catalog (outside of that breakout single) leans more to the underground side of things than Top 40 pop charts. The unfortunate position he’s found himself in is that of a rapper who’s seen as “too commercial” and a “corny sellout” by the underground crowd, who is no longer interested in making artistic sacrifices to appeal to the pop crowd. He’s caught in the middle.
Fortunately for Asher, times have changed and after years of being forced to keep material away from fans by a major record label who doesn’t know what to do with an artist like this, he’s finally able to self-release a digital album for his hungry fans. Solely produced by my favorite production team in the game, Blended Babies, the album is a laid-back bluesey project that finds Asher comfortable and in his element. Although it’s a couple days late for 4/20, this thing is here in plenty of time for summer bbq’s and roadtrips. Listen below via a youtube playlist from Asher himself.