Essential Selection By Oliver Clasper
Answer Code Request
From the dark corners of Berlin’s Kreuzberg and Neukölln districts comes this highly impressive debut album courtesy of one of Europe’s most consistent record labels, and one that has its roots firmly inside Berghain. Patrick Gräser, who produces and plays live under the alias Answer Code Request, recently put out an EP on Ostgut Ton, but here he is afforded the extra space, which he uses wisely. Eschewing traditional dance floor tracks for meandering compositions that breathe and swell in a swirl of ambient sound and aural resonance, Gräser creates a distinctive energy through his delicate use of keys, pads, synths, and sequencers. You can’t help but be mesmerized by ‘Odyssey Sequence’, and there isn’t even a drum in sight. It’s head music of the inter-stellar kind.
Being the son of an American vocal legend can often mean living under a constant cloud of comparison from peers and press alike. On the other hand, it can prove to be an ideal platform if you have ambitions to be an artist in your own right. Thankfully we don’t have that situation on this record. While father Bobby took a more classical approach to singing and musicianship (mainly due to the generation into which he was born), his eldest son has the syncopated drums of electronica and boom-bap hip-hop seeping through his bones. His debut on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label is off-kilter and woozy, with McFerrin himself taking up production duties. His voice is beautiful, but overall the album feels somewhat half-baked, and an obvious step down from his last EP – which was eight years ago.
The Air Between Words
In 2005, he produced some of the most interesting drum’n’bass around, but the scene had stilted around that time (and has yet to recover), and he was the last of the good batch. Martyn then fell heavily into the then nascent dubstep scene, releasing sumptuous slow-burners such as ‘JW on a Good Night’; up until his debut Great Lengths he used those foundations as his starting point. He has since released on LA’s Brainfeeder label, as well as shown his adeptness at more predictable house and techno cuts. On his third LP, it must be said that the brush strokes are a little broader; synths swirl and vocals soar, rather than whisper, and it feels less experimental and broody, which was what made him so special. But that doesn’t make it any less accomplished.
Strange to think that it’s been a decade since the London label first arrived on the scene. Over that ten year period, and under the shrewd stewardship of DJ and producer Kode9, the label has championed some of the most exciting talent in the underground – both overseas as well as closer to home – with the likes of Burial, DVA, King Midas Sound, Cooly G, Kyle Hall, and, more recently, DJ Rashad, on their roster (releasing his incredible debut LP Double Cup just months before his untimely death). Here they celebrate by putting out a whopping 36 tracks, both old and new. Being Hyperdub it’s all about lo-fi bass music that puts to the fore the dubbier elements, but there are also some other gems in there, reminding us how far they’ve come, as well as how influential they’ve been.
2014 seems to be the year of the twentieth anniversary reissue. Following hot on the heels of Nas’ Illmatic, Mobb Deep’s The Infamous, and fellow Pacific Northwest crew Nirvana’s Nevermind, Soundgarden gift us with five discs worth of remixes, demos, and live versions of the band’s faultless fourth album. 1994 was an especially ripe year for American music, and the grunge-cum-metal group led by the charismatic Chris Cornell were at the forefront of the movement, alongside the likes of similarly mainstream artists Pearl Jam, Alice and Chains, Metallica, and Nirvana. But Soundgarden were never a cut and dry grunge outfit, while also lacking the distracting in-fighting and personal insecurities of some of their Seattle peers. ‘Fell on Black Days’ is something special.
Da Mind of Traxman Vol.2
Once a unique sub-culture really only understood by those who actually lived and breathed it, juke, footwork, and ghetto house quickly went from niche, to underground, to relative mainstream in just a few years. Now suburban white kids in Supreme caps dance awkwardly as the movement’s technicians show them how it’s done, much to the delight of the former. Traxman has been a staple of the Chicago scene for long enough, and here the badman of the Windy City releases his second volume of jittery, sexually-explicit, bass-heavy tracks that to the layman can sound both brilliant and simple as shit, which is what makes them so damned effective. Check out ‘Blow Your Whistle’ for just such a track, while the opening has more depth.
And Then They Shoot Your Cousin
What if we were to take A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul aside. Wouldn’t The Roots be likely to be everyone’s favourite hip-hop group. No? Maybe some readers prefer the rowdy MC-led Wu-Tang, or the punk sensibilities of the Odd Future collective, but even still, The Roots are arguably the most musically talented, as well as the most prolific, hip-hop band that’s still going strong today. This is the Philly crew’s eleventh studio album, and while they have taken a more satirical approach to the song-writing here (perhaps influenced by their time spent in Jimmy Fallon’s company), the music accompaniment is as strong as ever, displaying its usual jazz and blues inflections while leaving room for the intensity that befits all great hip-hop records. Black Thought’s vocal delivery and Questlove’s production are as on point as ever, even if the LP as a whole is a touch lightweight.
Asian Essential Selections By Charlie Tamoto
After winning the Best New Artist at the Golden Melody Awards in Taiwan back in 2010, Lala Hsu has repeatedly proved herself to be an important singer-songwriter in the Chinese music scene. For her forth album, Missing Person, she continues to push her boundaries with songs like ‘Ms. Uneasy’ and ‘Voice of the Tree Cave’, which are upbeat summery tunes that play with electro beats and quirky rhythms for an indie pop feel. Her main plug, ‘Missing Person’, is a ballad that’s layered with a melodic piano melody that’s simple, understated and emotional. The lyrics are gripping and capture the subtleties and intricacies of loneliness. This album is probably the strongest and most focused work from Hsu. It highlights her strengths in acoustic folky ballads while offering something that’s new, but still very Hsu.
Big Bang’s Taeyang has recently dropped his oh-so-sexy sophomore album, Rise, which is a combination of electro pop, hip-hop, RnB, dance layered with his smooth vocals. ‘Ears, Nose, Lips’ is quite different from the 26-year-olds usual breakout dance hits. The carefully timed progression of the song reveals a softer and more thoughtful side of Taeyang as he showcases his boy band vocals. This song has already topped the Korean charts for over 20 consecutive days. Another notable easy listening track is ‘This Ain’t it’. The soft rock ballad blends seamlessly with Taeyang’s voice. For an adrenaline rush, ‘Ringa Linga’ offers addictive dance beats. Composed by Taeyang’s fellow band mate G-Dragon, ‘Ringa Linga’ is rhythmic, playfully repetitive and gives a chance for Taeyang to show off his signature dance moves. The album on a whole sounds Rhianna-esque, with dark brooding moments, heavy urban notes balanced by fast-paced, sweaty dance tracks that are sexy and fun.
The World Has Changed
In the past decade, the rock quartet of Supper Moment has probably been one of the most popular acts to emerge in the second wave of rock bands in Hong Kong – embodying the zeitgeist of the city’s youth with their lyrics and spirited sound. The band comprises of lead singer Sunny Chan, guitarist Martin Leung, bassist Billy ‘CK’ Cheung and drummer Hugh Chan, who have dropped their softer acoustic strides for a heavier rock beat on their second full-length album, ‘The World Has Changed’. This reflects in the rollicking and aggressive pop rock track ‘Robot’, which throws together speedy and smashing guitar rifts that hasn’t been part of the bands previous repertoire. Things slow down with the encouraging rock ballad, ‘Endless’, which has become the most popular track on the album.
Japan’s queen of soul has finally dropped her long anticipated album, New Morning. Misia is an incredible lyricist and songwriter, but when you think of her, the first thing that should come to mind is her rich, singular voice. She can hit the highest notes like Mariah, bust out gospel like Aretha and power through a ballad like an early 90s Whitney. After 16 years in the biz, Misia has decided to go back to the basics with her staple soul and RnB tracks that are both groovy and dreamy. Her title track, ‘Boku wa Pegasus Kimi wa Polaris’, is full of vocal textures and highlights Misia’s vast vocal range. ‘Hope & Dream’ is one of the few dance tracks on the entire album and proves to be a worthy listen with its energetic beat and inspiring lyrics. To keep things going on a high note, Misia delivers a trippy disco club tune on ‘Kimi no Taiyou ni Narou’.