Overloaded by all the “new music” options you keep hearing about? We’re here to help. Here’s four songs we think you should fucking know (this week). Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments too.
- Onuinu – “Mirror Gazer”
Writer’s Note: I had this written for last week and had to bump it due to two Frenchmen leaking one of the most discussion-worthy albums of the year. C’est la vie. With this knowledge, enjoy the mental exercise of adding a week onto any dates I mention below…
Remember last week when I said I was having one of those crazy kind of weeks and needed Vondelpark to sing me to sleep? Well, I’m writing this from the tail end of that week. About 3 1/2 minutes ago, I was neck-deep in emails (while simultaneously watching the evil Miami Heat eviscerate the Bulls), and enjoying being the star of my own pity party. But then I decided to hit play on Onuinu’s album Mirror Gazer that my friend Kat had sent to me a few days earlier. Fast forward 3 1/2 minutes to my current present (your week-old past, depending on when you’re reading this), and I am now rocking out with myself while sitting at the desk in my living room. And I’m not willing to admit just how funky I got with my bad self when that guitar riff came in around the 4:08 mark of “Mirror Gazer,” but it was pretty funky.
Onuinu’s bounce is irresistibly contagious, like a sonic Tigger. The rhythms are simple enough to be earworms but groovy enough to encourage finding your own way through them. The vocals of Dorian Duvall, the one-man-band behind it all are the perfect blend of distinct yet comfortable, and I was flat out amazed to find out that it was just one person making these encapsulating musical landscapes and formulating these waves of sound. And when I found out he was from Cleveland, which I thought just specialized in shitty sports teams and Drew Carey, my jaw was on the floor. The grandson of two gospel/honkey tonk performers, Duvall eventually eschewed traditional instruments in favor of more electronic fare, and has seemed to truly find his voice by sampling the sounds of others.
I’ve already mentioned the lead track, “Mirror Gazer,” and its effect on my funkiness, but the rest of the album is just as entertaining. The second track, “Always Awkward,” is the kind of songs The Knocks should start making again, and “A Night With” is a drippy interlude that gives no warning for the dark, dancey, DFA-bassed “A Step In The Right Direction” that succeeds it. But while middler “Last Words” proves that he can do vintage synthesizer ballads as well as anyone else and “Forever” is a solid enough experiment with wobble, the album really picks up again with “Ice Palace”, which is the kind of deceptively danceable pop that Miike Snow used to do so well. The closer, “Happy Home” is a bright, fittingly celebratory ending to an album that saved my Wednesday night and will most likely be replayed by me on many a weekend night as well. I owe immense gratitude to the Cleveland-born, Portland-living Mr. Duvall, and expect to hear more buzz about him soon. Now I just have to worry about nightmares of LeBron James dunking me into a pit of emails or something.
For those of you with short attention spans that don’t want to check out the whole album, make sure to give “Mirror Gazer,” “Always Awkward,” “Ice Palace,” and “Happy Home” a spin. They’re worth it.
- Smallpools – “Dreaming”
Last weekend, a few of the All Things Go writers and I headed to the beach to discuss important things like the future of music journalism, crowdfunding’s impact on independent music, and whether the habanero or cucumber-basil infused tequilas made for the better margarita (the answer: 3 parts habanero, 1 part cucumber-basil). On the drive up there, editor Adrian Maseda, friend-of-the-blog Andy, and I decided to blast nothing but high school-era pop punk like New Found Glory, Brand New, and even some Dashboard Confessional. It was nostalgically wonderful, and, while I am reminded every now and then that the Van’s Warped Tour still powers on, I lamented that “emo’s” heyday was light years behind us.
But after a few rousing games of Cards Against Humanity, too many margaritas, and a great late night dance party, we were back on the road the next day and listening to more contemporary jams. And when I heard “Dreaming” by LA-based Smallpools, I realized that pop-punk didn’t die; it evolved. Bands like Head Automatica, Hellogoodbye, Motion City Soundtrack (whose earlier catalogue will forever be underrated), and The Format all lived under the general umbrella of pop-punk, but if you replace some lead guitars for synthesizers, throw a few more electronic drum kits in there, and change the downbeats, their songs could easily be mistaken for the infectious synth-pop that has taken a hold of today’s youth-oriented music scenes.
It’s interesting to see those “rebellious” youths that only 10 years ago might have been wearing Hot Topic-bought band tees slip on neon accouterments instead, believing themselves to be as anti-establishment as their Boxcar Racing ancestors, all the while insisting that their movement is independent and misunderstood (just like how us punk-lite kids didn’t think we owed anything to the grunge kids before us). While the message and music might be a bit brighter, as the signature rock “horns” have been replaced by that heart-shaped thing the kids are doing, the sound and spirit are essentially the same. But so is life, and with a new generation of youth forcing me and my compatriots into the realms of late 20-somethingness, the only thing left to do is smile at their naivety and bask in my own temporary self-assuredness that I will then ridicule 10 years later. But anyway, this band Smallpools…
If Smallpools were born in 1987 as opposed to however old/young they are, I’m fairly sure they’d have been opening up for Starting Line circa 2004 and that maddeningly catchy keyboard line would be brought to you by a distorted guitar and broken down over a palm-muted guitar. But the fact is, Smallpools are here now, right on the precipice of SUMMER 2013, and thanks to Captain Cuts (who I know thanks to a phenomenal remix of Icona Pop’s “Manners”) handling production, they’re poised to reach for the golden ring of THE SUMMER JAM that their obvious influences Passion Pit and Naked and Famous once held tight. Brought to you by the record label (and ATG-homies) Neon Gold, I’d put my money on this song being inescapable come July 4th weekend. So when a 17-year-old-kid in neon face paint that’s drunk off stolen beer starts humming this as they stumble by you, try to remember the pop-punk kid you once were (but hate to admit), smile, and celebrate American culture in all its cyclical glory.
- Dark Bells – “Wildflowers”
A few weeks ago, my friend Josh had a girl named Lara visit him, and Lara just so happened to be a gorgeous french girl. She went to a few shows with us and even got to see how AMERICAN we could be at BYT’s Kentucky Derby party. One night, after the Daughter concert at Black Cat, as they left the bar, I wondered aloud to our remaining friends why random French girls don’t just fall into my life like that.
Then, amazingly, a few days later, I checked Twitter, as I am wont to do, and had a message from an unknown French girl that happened to be a fan of MESITA WATCH 2013. Knowing full well I might be getting catfished, I still decided to reply back, and now, a few weeks and messages later, I have a great funnel of new music that’s popular in France.
Last week she sent me this track from the London (by way of Sydney) band Darkbells, telling me she really enjoyed it, and when a mysterious French girl/catfish tells you they enjoy a song, you definitely give it a listen. I was remunerated with a track whose guitar lines fit somewhere between Radiohead’s “Airbag” and “National Anthem,” but whose general feel fits more into the psychedelic shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine. The vocals that are belted out by lead-singer Teneil Throssell are injected nicely, and the breakdown is milked for all its worth, allowing the explosion at 5:29 to really ignite. Overall, it’s a meandering, but well-written, bit of dreamily reverberated rock that utilizes its parts nicely to build a song that feels familiar from the first listen and only grows on you from there.
The B-side to this single, “Run For Daze” is a bit tighter in terms of its construction and is more accessible than its wandering A-side, so if you’re not feeling ethereal enough for “Wildflowers”, let “Run For Daze” nab a second chance from you. And if you hate both, well, then don’t pick up their EP when it’s released in the next few months; but just know, you’re hurting a mysterious French catfish’s feelings (this is completely unrelated, but click this link. I Googled “french catfish,” only for that to be first result. The world is a fucked up place…).
- Ras Nebyu – “Washington Slizzards”
Future DC-scene savior Modi Oyewole, who has already passed on some great artists for this article sent me a random GChat the other day that just said, “the best rapper outta DC is named ras nebyu.” I’ve learned by now not to question him, so instead I just clicked the link for the music video for “Washington Slizzards,” the single off his first mixtape. Not even counting the great name, about 22 seconds into the song, I was ready to back up Modi’s assertion.
Ras Nebyu was raised in Uptown DC to an African American mother and an Ethiopian father, and his style of backpack hip-hop leans on his Rastafarian/Pan-Africanist upbringing. What’s intriguing is that, while I didn’t notice it on first listen, his lyrics contain more of a social conscious and commentary than I would have thought someone his age would produce. Having just released his latest mixtape, Babylon’s Most Wanted, only 5 months ago, it’s pretty noteworthy to see people like Modi already paying attention and heaping on praise. Personally, I think Babylon’s Most Wanted is perfectly adequate; it found me tuning out occasionally during passive listens, but when I took the time to focus on Ras’ wordplay and delivery, I was really able to appreciate his talents.
The simple beats of the mixtape can be a bit monotonous, but it does give Nebyu ample space to play around in, and sometimes it’s great to see what an artist can make with only a few basic colors at their disposal. His immense skill is especially apparent on tracks when he brings on other rappers (who I assume are closer to friends than other rapper) who can’t even begin to keep up with him. It’s like an episode of Pros vs. Joes when you realize just how superhuman a true professional is (though I do feel like I should call out K.E.L.L.S.’ great take on Bone Thugs on “My City”).
Personally, my favorite track on the mixtape is “Uptown Paradise,” one of the more immediately-accesible songs on the album and one that’s incredibly smooth while still making my white, gentrifying guilt do somersaults. Even though Babylon’s Most Wanted doesn’t hold up well as an album, songs like “Uptown Paradise” give glimpses into what Ras Nebyu is capable of. I’m hoping in the future he reaches back into what made “Washington Slizzards” so great, but either way, this is definitely a young Washingtonian to get behind and keep an eye out for in the future. Modi’s never wrong about this stuff.