With rap mixtapes and DJ sets springing forth on blogs and Facebook accounts like an over-ripe harvest of late, it’s refreshing to find that someone isn’t sticking to the stock standard formula. With his new mixtape project Pianist Envy - yes, that really is the title -, Canadian piano genius Gonzales has flipped things, offering up a collection of quasi-covers in which Gonzales restrings populist jams from the likes of 50 Cent, Beyonce and Lil Wayne as ivory-thumping epics.
After past work with Feist and Jamie Lidell, cover work for Daft Punk and Boys Noize and turns as an MC and electro artist, Pianist Envy is Gonzales cementing his reputation as pop music’s artful chameleon, shifting from one idea to the next with not only swiftness but perfect execution. - Dave Ruby Howe
Goldfrapp - Head First
Having pitched a seriously beguiling curveball with their fourth record, 2008's ambiguous Seventh Tree, UK electronic boffins Goldfrapp have seemingly stepped back onto the dancefloor for new LP, March's Head First. From the first taste of the album, coming in the form of new single Rocket, the band have rediscovered their love of electro, festooning the radio jam with neon-embossed hooks and Atari-aping synths. We like this a lot.
The Sound Of Arrows - TBA
Thus far Sweden's The Sound Of Arrows have given us just a handful of songs, released on labels like Labrador and Neon Gold, and whilst quantity is (unfortunately) not their thing, quality surely is. The Scandinavian duo have managed to breath life into whatever they touch, lacing their singles with widescreen pop sensibilities, buoyant synthesisers and un-ironic slices of Euro-pop. With a full length finally at hand it's time for The Sound Of Arrows to truly shine.
She & Him - Volume Two
Just like our album forecasts, good things come in twos, right? It's therefore fitting that the indie nerd's dream-come-true collaboration of Merge stalwart M Ward and Zooey Deschanel as She & Him would return for a second round of twee-pop loveliness. Set for a staggered March/April release, Volume Two will pick up where the duo left off, namely making boys and girls in cardigans swoon
The Drums - TBA
With every music sheet in the world teetering on the verge of delirium over The Drums and the surf-pop resurrection found on their debut EP, Summertime, from last year, the band were an easy shoe-in for this list. But beyond the deafening buzz that The Drums are stirring up as they march ahead to their first full length the group manage to back it all up, delivering lean and polished indie-rock tunes with style, accessibility and intelligence.
Vampire Weekend - Contra
Having brought afro-leaning indie sensibilities and boat shoes back into the mainstream with their irrepressible debut album way back in 2008, New York prepsters Vampire Weekend essentially set themselves up as the poster boys of the difficult second album. After all that hype and crossover success, how could they better themselves? From the first tastes of their follow up disc, Contra, due in January, not much has changed, with the band still rocking polos and summery hooks, but it's clear their charm hasn't faded in the slightest with the band now rocking more self-assured playfulness than ever.
Uffie - Sex, Dreams & Denim Jeans
Bursting onto the electro scene with over-sexed raps and over-dosed electro beats courtesy of the Ed Banger crew, Miami-via-Paris MC Uffie seemed poised to take a lofty position as the middle ground between Peaches and M.I.A., but, uh, she just never really released anything. That's going to change when she finally drops the delightfully titled Sex Dreams & Denim Jeans LP next year. With hook ups from Mr Oizo, SebastiAn and Mirwais she's definitely in good company, but time may've passed her by. Whatever the result, we'll definitely be listening.
Delphic - Acolyte
Sounding like the spiritual heirs to New Order's brand of immaculate electronic pop, young Machesterites Delphic have been making all the right moves in their short career. Already they've partnered up with the tastemakers behind labels like Modular and Kitsune, not to mention scoring the coup of having golden-touch producer Ewan Pearson helm their debut album Acolyte. Packing an arsenal of soaring vocals, champagne synthesizers and driving hooks, get ready to hear a hell of a lot about Delphic. - Dave Ruby Howe
Opening with just a billowing piano refrain and acoustic strumming, you get the immediate feeling that there's something pretty interesting about The Gadsdens' breakthrough single The Sailor Song. After that initial hook, the UK quintet completely ensnare you with some witting strings and slurred vocal coos from singer Jody Gadsden, sounding like he's had one too many drinks and far too many sleepless nights. Expect to see these guys gobbled up by the Greys Anatomy crowd in no time. - Oliver Queen
What is it that makes Australian electro duo Tim & Jean so special? That's not meant as a corny opening line for this feature, that's a genuine question. We really want to know what kind of magic potion is running through the water in their hometown of Perth or how many virgins one needs to sacrifice in order to have what they have.
With just one song circulating around at the moment, the blissful synth-pop jam Come Around, Tim & Jean have already blown bloggers and industry types away. Indeed, after wowing Australian audiences as part of Triple J radio’s Unearthed competition, the duo has found itself in the middle of a major label bidding war in the US, cementing its buzz as the next big thing set to go supernova in 2010.
On Come Around the kids, and yes I do mean kids as the two are just 15 and 18 respectively, show off a surprisingly masterful knack for melding mirror-ball electronics with stomping choruses and irresistible hooks. With more gold like this on the way now's the ideal time to fall for Tim & Jean as you can bet you'll be hearing a lot of them very soon. Listen below. - Dave Ruby Howe
See also 21 yr old Australian Jonathan Boulet
There’s no question rap music is in the midst of a major sea change. The jeans are getting tighter, the hoodies brighter. Gangsta is out, hipster is in, and those who don’t adapt are told they’re becoming obsolete. The fresh wave is young and ambitious, full of entrepreneurial spirit whilst spitting about SEGA and sneakers.
But away from the bum rush of hipster rap is a cleaner, more precise alternative.Throughout its reinventions, hip hop’s party trick has been its continued relevance as a medium for social and personal commentary, and it’s in this realm that 5 0’Clock Shadowboxers exist. This is soul-searing music, full of coiled aggression and biting humour. Shadowboxers’ rapper, Zilla Rocca, will laugh about the absurdity of it all one moment, and king hit you for not caring enough the next.
And he careens over some of the most carefully deployed sampology this side of a RJD2 record. Blurry Drones has grafted enough vinyl ammunition for three rap records and then crammed it all onto one. But this isn’t scattershot producing – throwing licks until one sticks – it’s precision work, carefully folded together for maximum effect. This is hip hop front-end loaded with killer instinct and a desperate perspiration. 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers are trapped in the dark corners of soul and society, and have just offered you a front row ticket as they fight their way out. – Matt Shea
Electro has always been the bread and butter of the Western crowd. France kicked off the distortion explosion with Justice, DatA and the Ed Banger sound, while the US set have been high balling with crunchy jams courtesy of the Los Angeles party set, including Steve Aoki's Dim Mak crew as well as Classixx and the late great Guns N Bombs. But over in Japan, Shinichi Osawa has been making plenty of noise with his relentless output of forward thinking, super-sized bangers, beating his Western contemporaries at their own game.
Having already unleashed a celebrated artist album back in 2007 (The One), Osawa's latest masterpiece comes in Teppan Yaki, and despite its dubious title, the oversized package collects all of Osawa's biggest remixes to date, including main-room reworks for the likes of Boys Noize, Cazals, Van She and Bag Raiders, as well as an extra disc of the producer's remixes for Japanese artists like De De Mouse, becoming a primer of sorts for far-out Japanese club culture. – Dave Ruby Howe
Shinichi Osawa's Teppan Yaki is out now.
September is always a busy month in the world of hip-hop and rap music, and this year's calender month marks another landmark period for the booming genre, with a host of big releases attracting attention. Amongst the release schedule, three records in particular standout, namely, Kid Cudi's debut LP Man On The Moon: The End Of The Day, Jay-Z's star-stuffed The Blueprint 3 and Wu-Tang mainstay Raekwon's long-awaited Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II. Yet although those first two records are securing the bulk of press hype, it's Raekwon that's seemingly walked away triumphant from this rap battle royal, delivering an album of blazingly fierce rap.
Whilst Raekwon's competitors have been focussing on dressing up their records with head-scratching concepts (Cudi's Man On The Moon is divided into five acts with Common narrating the action, go figure) and an overload of big name guests (Kanye West, Rihanna, Drake, Young Jeezy and even Empire Of The Sun make appearances on The Blueprint 3), Raekwon gets down to business on OB4CL2. The infamous Wu-Tang rapper sounds entirely uninhibited on the record, letting loose some serious lyrical fire throughout. Of course, there's a few hook-ups with producers like Dr. Dre and the late great J Dilla, but beyond that, the record is a reminder for all who'd forgotten that Wu-Tang Clan and especially Raekwon are as potent and essential as ever. - Dave Ruby Howe
You’re in a difficult position when you find a new band and are ready to swear your undying love to them but you find out they’ve released one solitary song. You don’t know where they’ll go from here, you don’t know if you’ll even like it when they do because of you listened to that one little tune around fifty times already. Undeniably, you’re in a quandary. I know the feeling. For the last month we’ve been playing to death a track called Look At Me by UK synth-poppers Mirrors. It’s filled with pillow-soft synth bubbles, chilly atmospherics and glumstruck vocals which result in a resolutely stunning three and half minutes. But it’s not enough. As is common with such cases of new-band fixations, we had to know more about this enigmatic four piece.
As it turns out, Mirrors are as shrouded in mystery as their music, with scarcely little about the band yet to be revealed other than that they came together following the unfortunate conclusion of Mumm-Ra. “Since the growth of the Internet as a promotional tool, bands have become extremely accessible, and the mystique has vanished,” Mirrors says. “Mirrors aim to preserve that sense of mystery. Everything about us is presented subject to our vigorous aesthetic. What might be expected with other bands, we do not expect from ourselves.”
Beginning with such a bold and ambitious declaration as that makes it clear. Mirrors know what they want. Call it calculated, but I’d call it considered. They’re constructing an environment around the band itself, which, like Look At Me, is frighteningly easy to become immersed in.
“Our aspirations are to make a sort of electronic soul music,” Mirrors reveals. “. Individually, we had all come from a background of traditional pop music, and each of us felt as though we had taken it as far as we wanted to. Gradually we started falling in love with the seemingly limitless possibilities of electronic music as well as those artists that have managed to imbue stark electronic sounds with emotion and feeling.”
From here, Mirrors confirm that their next move is to reward the faithful and get out some new material. “We’re currently working towards an album’s worth of material. The process is very slow as we effectively build our songs in the studio, piece by piece until we have something that fits the band aesthetic. It’s very methodical, but it works. We want to alter the way people approach commercial/pop music. We want pop music to be an experience, not just a song.” Sounds like a plan. – Dave Ruby Howe
San Francisco duo Girls are masters of simplicity. From their love of stripped back and fuzzed-out garage rock tunes to their deliberately direct album title (it’s literally just called Album) Girls keep everything simple and immediate, and it really works for them.
On Album, the duo of Chris Owens and Chet White traverse through a set of sun drenched San Fran tales, from top-down roadtrips, to hazy trip-outs and wistful bust ups. While that might come off as a bit scattered, Album never feels ill-considered, and really Girls are just in a rush to move onto their next creative spark, never fussing over their production credentials or instrumentation.
As it stands, Album is pretty much perfectly of the moment. Whether you’re in the Southern Hemisphere and starting to head into the warmer months or you’re in Northern Hemisphere and are already feeling nostalgic for the fading summer moments, this is for you. – Dave Ruby Howe
Hot on the heels (or rather casually surfing behind) the success of psychedelic pop acts like MGMT, Animal Collective and long dormant sample-masters The Avalanches comes this new wave of blissed out artists with an affection for skewed pop-music and windswept psychdelica. Already the victim of a host of silly genre names – including no-fi, dreamwave and the piss-taking chillgaze – the emergence of this scene has been dominated by the likes of Washed Out, Emil & Friends and unquestionably, mystery-clad US duo Neon Indian.
The brainchild of former Ghosthustler and current VEGA mainman Alan Palomo, Neon Indian have already kicked up whirlwind of hype in their relatively short career and it’s easy to see why. With their debut LP, the appropriately named Psychic Chasms, Neon Indian successfully build this sprawling, psychedelic landscape of misshapen samples and bottomed-out synthesizers that feels like the perfect mixtape for a spontaneous cross-country roadtrip, twisting and turning through desert roads and star-clad night skies.
Whatever we’re calling this genre it is all sorts of fantastic. – Dave Ruby Howe