Think of some tracks that were weirdly brilliant enough in their original incarnations not to need a quirky remix, and chances are that Arthur Russell's "This Is How We Walk On The Moon" might be pretty high up that list. Turns out you’d be completely wrong about that assessment, though: Labyrinth Ear ably demonstrate that a remix was exactly what the track needed. Everything about their take on it is brilliant - not least the fact that they make something very sparse sound like it would comfortably get a club’s worth of young-‘uns jumping up and down. Plus, they kept in the creepy, pitched-down vocals about two-thirds of the way through, so bonus points for that.
There are two of them - boy (Tom E) and girl (Emily J), in what seems to be becoming quite a common set-up in alternative electronica circles. It’s a formula that certainly seems to be paying dividends for all involved. They’re based out of London, and have been putting out music since 2010 - their début Oak EP is still up for grabs as a free download on their Soundcloud.
An immediate comparison that jumps out is The Knife, and not just because of the basic set-up of a mixed-gender pair. Like the Swedish duo, they have a knack for blending odd sound design with eminently accessible pop tracks. They perhaps lean more towards dancefloor-friendliness, à la Ladytron, but if you’re expecting formulaic four-to-the-floor, expect to be disappointed. Hushed vocals drift about in a sea of reverb; toe-tapping percussion never gets in the way of left-field distorted pads; lyrics ruminate on love lost rather than getting lashed and laid.
I expect Labyrinth Ear will particularly appeal if you’re someone who, in theory, approves of Amon Tobin's recent work, but just wishes it was a bit less… you know… odd. Their latest EP, Apparitions, is packed full of production touches that could come straight from Isam, but rather than being the main even, these touches exist in support of melodic songs. The highlight for me was "Amethyst Days", which has a lovely, ambient lounge feel, but the whole EP is well worth checking out. Also, I can’t hear "Humble Bones" without immediately thinking of Minnie Riperton's "Inside My Love". (Now you won’t be able to either. Ha!) Whatever, that counts as a good thing.
You can stream the whole of Apparitions below, and grab a download of their take on Arthur Russell. Seriously, if you’re planning a swanky house party any time soon, ditch David Guetta and play some Labyrinth Ear. It’ll make you a quantifiably better person.
Secluded for the better part of the last year, the London quintet, Zulu Winter, wrote and recorded their debut album, with little to no wrap up, outside two tremendously popular singles, “Never Leave” and “Let’s Move Back to Front”, followed by “We Should Be Swimming”. They received the typical accolades that incur dozens of comparisons to contemporaries, some more warranted than others. With a list of influences and references as distinct as Armenian director Sergei Parajanov and Alice Coltrane, it’s hard to know what to make of the final product, Language. Frontman Will Daunt leads the band with his falsetto vocals and penchant for xylophones, albeit with little innovation, continuing the argument that Zulu Winter might not be completely living up to their potential.
Claimed as the umpteenth “new Vaccines”, it’s natural for the hype machine to go on overdrive with Zulu Winter, especially when nearly every blog reviews and artist’s first work, even if it’s only been months since their formation. Going on small tour with similar acts Clock Opera and Outfit, then venturing to America at the early part of this year, they kept their album completely under wraps outside of the few tracks they played on the road. Opening for the massively popular band Keane, they opened themselves up to comparisons won’t stop anytime soon. The restrictive nature of being a “buzz band” seemingly took its toll, and the pressure to continue on their current route was overwhelming, but the music still contains a certain appeal, even if it’s to an audience of mainstream pop fans.
The opener, “Key To My Heart” starts off with Afrobeat percussion and droning field recordings, alluding to a grandiose spirit that never quite arrives. Not a bad song, but the song never evolves into what it promised. “We Should Be Swimming” is a great step up, with throbbing bass that could be played on any dance floor on both sides of the Atlantic, but again it doesn’t live up to expectations. The songs that follow (“Bitter Moon” through “Silver Tongue”) continue on the same vein. The first single “Let’s Move Back to Front”, provides something different. It has a strong Morrissey influence; there’s no other way to describe such macabre lyrics delivered in such a delighted manner.
I suppose I’m mostly baffled at the lack of experimentation, the likes of which they had alluded to in interviews and articles I’ve read over the past few months. Despite the various mixtapes they posted to their blog or the mentions of musical influences such as Bradford Cox, the crisp, detailed, run-of-the-mill nature of their production proved much to the contrary. While I enjoyed most of the album, I couldn’t differentiate where the aforementioned influences started and where the lofty contemporary sound ended. From the heap of sound, the best comparison I can draw is to English indie rock band Wild Beasts, but again, this band’s biggest detriment is their lack of identity; I can only draw comparisons and cite obvious influences.
While the record has its various flaws, and I have my various reservations, Zulu Winter have assembled a well-crafted first effort. It’s easy to take offense at failure to deliver on their promises and ambitions, especially with a band whose reputation precedes them so much as Zulu Winter, but despite its various shortcomings Language has an underlining groundwork for something more inspired.
Skrillex: ruining dubstep for everyone since 2010. I’ll put my hands up and admit that I did enjoy him on my first couple of listens, but it’s quickly become clear that his repertoire consists entirely of abrasive wobble-bass. Thankfully, while the explosion of mainstream dubstep sounds pretty stale, there are still some artisan producers out there taking it in a more innovative direction. London-based James Blake springs to mind, and London-based Ben Ash (Two Inch Punch). Now we have London-based Bobby Tank to add to that roster. Looks like you’d best leave this scene to London, America - we’re the original, and we’re still the best.
Where listening to Skrillex is sort of like scratching the inside of your windpipe with a serrated knife, listening to Bobby Tank is more like spreading chocolate on yourself and kicking back on a chaise longue. In fact, the only real difference from that is that in real life, rather than kicking back, it makes you want to move your feet. Like Blake and Ash, he eschews filtered saw bass in favour of a smoother, deeper sound - rather than relying on a gimmick to get the frat boys waving their beers in the air, he goes for this old-school thing called groove.
Nowhere is that more apparent than on one of his many stand-out tracks, "Sexy Thang". A more appropriate title has quite possibly never been used before. While his latest numbers have mainly sat in low-tempo dubstep territory, his earlier tracks - “Sexy Thang” included - have a very definite disco and French electro influence. His favourite musician is Michael Jackson; his favourite musical era is the ’80s (just look at the artwork). There are moments in amongst the vocal slices and slap bass samples when you could almost be listening to Justice or Daft Punk. And I’m talking "Discovery" era, here.
Bobby Tank bears almost as much similarity to the sliced-and-diced glitch-hop of Young Montana? as he does to his fellow Londoners, and above all it’s this that makes me so excited to hear more from him. He’s taking dubstep in a new direction (albeit one that’s very conscious of its roots). We’ve tried infinite monkeys; it’s time to let some musicians take over. Add to that the fact that when he feels like it he can unleash synth symphonies worthy of M83, and you have yourself one helladelicious musical pie.
Label talks are apparently in progress as I write, so given that and the straight-up quality of the tracks, expect to hear a lot more from Bobby over the coming months. You can stream a generously large selection of his tracks below, but I urge you to follow up the links for more. I have almost nothing bad to say about him, other than that it’s a shame he didn’t name himself Booby Tank. Now that would be a sexy thang.
I would be lying if I said that remixes and the like were totally “my kind of thing”, but when I read about a band offering a remixing of The Supremes I couldn’t help but have a listen at least to satisfy my curiosity. What I heard made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up (no joke). Whilst my reaction may have been borderline cliché, White Label are anything but.
Originally from Scotland; White label are a trio now based in London and Berlin. Their album "Stolen Voices" was formed after countless back-and-forth transfers of the work-in-progress files between the UK and Germany via Skype. After which the results were mixed by Andy Jackson (currently overseeing the forthcoming Pink Floyd reissues).
"Jean 1" is the first song on their album ”Stolen Voices”, and also the cause of said clichéd reaction. It is a Northern Soul reworking of "5:30 Plane" by The Supremes, sung by Jean Terrell. The vocals are great and feel both grainy and hallowed, which makes vinyl what it is, and yet at the same time are clear enough that none of the amazing vocal quality that The Supremes possessed is lost. Weaved in as well are modern touches, such as stuttering Terrell’s voice in parts that remind you whose talent is being showcased.
The rest of the album is a veritable highlight reel of influential artists, taking in the likes of The Beach Boys and David Bowie, each beautifully mixed and arranged. A personal favourite has to be The Beatles track "John 1". Originally titled "Child Of Nature" on the 1968 Esher Beatles demos for "The White Album", it has a touch of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound Of Silence" to it. It feels dreamy, and as with the Supremes track has a rich, full sound that truly encapsulates the spirit of the band.
Both tracks mentioned are streamed free below, as is a link to where you can buy their album - which is well worth the money!
Chicago, Boston, Europe … You could be forgiven for thinking that Netherlands might be, you know, Dutch. They’re not, though. They’re roughly as Dutch as I am - in name only. Did you know the name Rutherford was originally Dutch? Did you care? Anyway, the point is that Netherlands are from Southampton, are now based in London, and to the best of my knowledge have not a Flemish bone in their bodies.
Continuing with the international theme, the five-piece make a brand of dream-pop that sounds far more American than European: think Galaxie 500, or the eternal touchstones of the genre Mazzy Star. Like the latter, they tie in a distinctive folk and country edge to the sound, with tremolo guitars and understated, cooing harmonies.
Having only started gigging in August, it’s fair to say that Netherlands are still in the process of establishing themselves. You can tell because when you Google their unofficial debut EP, "Places To Haunt", the bulk of the results seem to be about allegedly ghost-infested houses in the Low Countries. That said, you can tell it’s a pretty damn good effort because the two results that do point to it happen to come right at the top. Or maybe that’s just good SEO.
Either way, it is a damn good EP. The three tracks, "Something Or Nothing", "Sleeping" and "Amour" are between them mellow, heart-warming and mature. “Something Or Nothing” and “Amour” will be seeing a proper release as the A- and B-sides respectively of a single in December; in the meantime, the live shows are finally getting underway, so expect to hear more from these guys pretty much any time around now.
You can listen to the aforementioned trio below, or follow up the links for more information about live dates.
When I first heard the single “Close Your Eyes” by The Bullitts I knew I had to hear it again.
I listened the song over and over and over again, ‘til I was bobbing my head and singing along. The single’s hypnotic opening monologue, repeated throughout like a mantra, ebbing perfectly with the beat; the undercurrent of the soft female voice of Lucy Liu (yes, that’s that Lucy Liu’s breathy recitation) opens you up to the soulful falsetto of Danny Defreitas, and you’re all in, ready for whatever else will happen by the time Jay Electronica's (who has worked with the likes of Jay-Z, Erykah Badu and J Dilla, among others—check out his take on Jon Brion’s “Eternal Sunshine” score) puts the icing on the cake.
The group has an air of mystery, with members being fairly high profile individuals, yet little has been publicized about this unique collaboration; the aforementioned album “They Die By Dawn…” has been forthcoming for a long time with no clear release date; even getting a band photo has been a goose chase, hence the veiled album art above.
What is known is producer and writer Jeymes Samuel seems to be largely behind the operation. The album “They Die By Dawn & Other Short Stories” is said to have collaborations with more major players such as Mos Def. The permanent members of the group seem to be guitarist and vocalist Noel F. Whelan, guitarist Stevie V., bassist Stevie J. and drummer Mick Hefferon.
I don’t think I’ve come across a collaboration like this since getting into Massive Attack. Though the two couldn’t be more different, the blending of genres and engenue of guest vocalists is very alluring in both cases. “Those Silly Names” is another song that evokes this notion. A ballad, it reveals more of the spectrum this group is capable of, the percussion touching elements of trip-hop, even. And on songs like “Run & Hide,” which also features Jay Electronica, so many small pieces come together to make an effortless sound. This group has surprised me many times with how the very different elements of music can work with each other, i.e. spoken word, falsetto singing, rapping, ethereal synths and bassy beats.
"I knew there was more before there was nothing," Liu repeats over and over in "Close Your Eyes". For The Bullitts, this is something being proven true, as they take hip hop and make it sound new, showing me again that pop music can still be interesting and good.
I think you can file the new band, League, under the catchiest band of 2011. They first grabbed the indie-blog world with their ridiculously infectious track, “Golden Maps,” which has it all - a synthetic loop, fun vocals (think Passion Pit collides with MGMT), and a catchy beat that builds, making it impossible not to dance.
This duo, Jorge Ribeiro and José Tornada, comes to us from London, UK, and have a way of making the techno beats and vocals reminiscent of the Flashdance days of the 80’s, sound cool (i.e. “A-61” v. Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight”). Originally, students on their way toward far too restrained careers, Ribeiro and Tornada ditched their books and went straight for the synthesizer.
While I kid about “A-61,” the track actually has a lot of depth, filled with lingering guitar strokes, an intense electronic loop, airy and slightly sadistic sounding vocals, and accompanied by accentuated drumbeats to add drama. In fact, their entire “Golden Maps EP”, which is an astonishing and impressive eight tracks, has depth, variety, and a strong point of view. Their sound is signatory, which is a great quality to have in this new age of electronic music. Their disc art is perfect for their character - light and sunny, yet introspective and dreamy.
Chances are you have already heard some of Wolf Gang’s songs and didn’t even realize it. Wolf Gang’s self-titled EP has only been out for a few months, but it has caught on fire fast and the songs are just as intoxicating and hot. Wolf Gang, not actually a “gang,” is a solo act that goes by the name of Max McElligott during the day. McElligott, originally from London, has been in and out of the music scene, but he’s made a comeback making music that is true to who he is, and the results are “Something Unusual” in the best possible way.
Wolf Gang teamed up with producer, Dave Fridmann, best known for his amazing work with artists like MGMT and The Flaming Lips. The EP is chock-full of catchy dance tunes such as “Lions In A Cage” but then slows it down with “Something Unusual” and “Back to Back” that’s just as infectious as the other tracks.
I was first mesmerized by Wolf Gang after listening to “Back to Back,” which is reminiscent of fellow Londoners, The XX. The lyrics and the soft beat, ironically, blew me away. Wolf Gang’s lyrics are sweet and relatable, which makes his songs just that more amazing.
While technology can do a number of things to music these days, there is something to say for Wolf Gang’s sound and vocals that are strong and full of energy, where you would have never imagined that Wolf Gang was a one-man-show. His tracks are so fun and peppy that all I want to do is jump around, bust out some 1980s throwback dance moves.
You can listen to a few samples from his upcoming debut full-length album, “Suego Faults” on his website. I’ve already listened to the free streaming on repeat so many times that Wolf Gang is going to start charging me. One new song, not on his EP but available via the Suego Faults Sampler is “The King and All His Men,” which is another example of Wolf Gang’s energetic and powerful sound. The album is set to release on June 27, which I will undoubtedly play on repeat as well.
Don’t you just love it when you think that you’re going to have a normal, run of the mill evening and something so astonishing happens that it lifts its way out of the ordinary? That’s what happened the other night when I clicked on the link in the email that I received about this guy, Halls.
Halls is a South-east London producer otherwise known as Sam Howard and he’s making a bit of a name for himself in the electronic world.
The UK is currently awash with electronic talent at the moment so to stand out you’ve got to be special and Halls is rather special. Looking at his picture up there you’d think he’s more like the kind of guy you’d find hanging round the scene rather than creating it, but his ability to produce ethereal dreamscapes of sound is so accomplished that when I first heard these tracks I was totally blown away, expecting them to come from someone who’d been around far longer.
With homage to the likes of Burial, Mount Kimbie and Gold Panda all present, his ability to build layers interwoven with micro-samples, warped strings and his own fragile voice mean that his style is most definitely his own.
His new single, “Solace” has just been released and is backed by “Colossus” and “Brave New World”. Together the three tracks give you a glimpse of this style and why we here at Listen Before You Buy think he is definitely one to watch. We’re not alone on that front as Gold Panda have just got him to remix their track “Marriage” (I’m spoiling you by including that to).
If you want to catch him live he’s got two gigs coming up in London – one on 15th April at Star of King’s Cross and another on 28th April at Club The Mammoth with Japayork and co. at The Queen of Hoxton.
You can be pretty confident you’re going to enjoy a track when you hear a ten second clip over dodgy headphones on a noisy train, and then spend the rest of the five hour journey humming it over and over and tapping your feet. Or, in the case of Two Inch Punch, trying to hum it - because humans can’t make sounds like that.
It seems a little premature to be voicing a preference for James Blake's early work, but let me go right ahead and do just that. “CMYK” was a treat. TIP - a.k.a. Ben Ash - captures that same frenetic energy, and chills it out. Bass-lines this fuzzy should be illegal, or certified as official members of the Care Bear fraternity.
It’s not an easy one to pin down, musically. Dubstep springs to mind, sure. Apparently it’s no longer permitted to be a UK electronic artist and not produce dubstep, but where the genre-at-large has already descended into a mass of uninspired tropes, this feels like it comes from the near future.
Not that it’s abandoned the past, either, with its sampled soul vocals and crackling glitch synths. Jimmy Tamborello would be proud. Ben self-identifies as “lovestep”, which is one of the less appealing labels I’ve heard lately; but you know what? It kinda fits. Or perhaps the music’s just so damn good I don’t care: it’s hard to tell.
He’s already worked with the likes of Lil Wayne and Little Boots, but expect him to be tearing up the London and UK-wide scenes on his own terms as of… well, about now, actually. For those lucky enough to be in London, a (very) limited 12” double A-side of “Love You Up” and “Luv Luv” is out on Rough Trade and Phonica. Unfortunately, quite a few tracks have disappeared from his Soundcloud lately. Fingers crossed for an EP shortly, then, I guess.
Summer can’t come fast enough, because beers in the park are going to taste at least 146% sweeter with this on in the background.