My basically year-long obsession with Grimes had to come to an end at some point (actually, it’s still not over, but let’s pretend). So I went looking for other musical worlds to live in, the physical-seeming places that some musicians create, which may call up all kinds of other references in film, music, and books, but which ultimately feel totally original (as the Guardian wrote of Grimes, “By sounding a little like everything you’ve ever heard, the whole sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard”).
Motivated by the fear that my computer would explode if I listened to “Vowels = Space and Time” one more time, here are four new or new-ish artists deserving of escapist fans. Credit is due to certain music blogs (my favorites right now are Yours Truly, Data Transmission, The Line of Best Fit, and Noisey).
Twigs, aka Tahlia Barnett, is an emerging electronic musician and singer from England, and she (possibly they – it’s not clear whether there’s another person in Twigs) doesn’t sound much like anyone else: the atmosphere of her music is both intimate and airy, creepy and pretty. Her song “Breathe” is getting the most attention on blogs right now, but it’s “Hide” that stands out for me: a filtered R&B-inspired guitar lick, a sparse locomotive beat that on paper is incongruous (but really not!) to the other elements of the song. Then there’s Barnett’s wounded, breathy vocals and the synth bass that comes in to underscore her melody. The beat soon slows down to a stop and it’s all over in under three minutes, but an intriguing 2:59 it was.
Trying to pinpoint exactly what’s happening on British singer Jessie Ware‘s debut album, August’s Devotion, is part of its joy. It’s not often that a handful of producers coming together for one project can sound this refreshing. “Still Love Me” sounds like 1999-era Prince, with its elaborate reverbed harmonies and snappy beat. “Something Inside” is subtle, like a Sia or Album Leaf song. But then the voice – a voice lost in backup-singer world for years – comes in to sing, “Let me run / let me feel like someone” with a melody that you didn’t see coming. “Wildest Moments,” one of this album’s hits, sounds like contemporary R&B. Listening to the beat, it could be a Ryan Tedder-penned Beyoncé track, but Ware’s voice has a much warmer tone, and she moves around the scale fluidly and modestly: singing is all expression for her, no acrobatics.
There’s a lot of interesting and surprising instrumentation on this album: rhythmic electric guitar solos, grimey beats, understated drum and bass elements, and tons of male-female vocal backups (a reminder that men are really underused as backup singers). And the lyrics are full of honesty and originality. “Taking In Water” begins: “I wish I was you / A piece of gold at the bottom of the blue.” Ugh.
One of my favorite nights out ever was a DJ set the British electronic duo Mount Kimbie performed on the last night of SXSW in 2011. It was in the low-ceilinged basement of the Boiler Room, with people leaning noncommittally against walls and pillars before eventually drawing nearer to the blacklit setup of laptops, Kaoss pads and mixers at the front of the room (you can hear some of the set on Soundcloud, courtesty of the Boiler Room). No alcohol or drugs were required on this night, because Mount Kimbie’s music – lying somewhere between dubstep, IDM and garage – is transformative on its own. Music just a little more palatable than theirs shows up on mainstream radio in the UK, where I grew up, and has done for more than a decade, so my love of Mount Kimbie has as much to do with the ghosts of electronic music past as about what newness this duo is bringing to the table (a lot). They’ve released one full-length album so far (2010’s Crooks and Liars) and four EPs, of which their first, Maybes, is my personal favorite.
Holly Herndon’s music is complicated, uncompromising and boundary-pushing. It’s minimal electronic, but there’s no other genre descriptor you can really use without limiting it somehow (even “minimal” seems a bit confining). Herndon released her debut, Movement, on RVNG Intl. last month, and it’s a product of Herndon’s many studious years in Berlin and at Mills College in Oakland, a hotbed of adventurous electronic musicians. The word “movement” goes a long way toward describing what the album, which consists of seven tracks of widely varying length, feels like. Her voice is the focal point on the album: she manipulates it so heavily and varyingly, making it at times sound like a beat, and at other times an atmosphere or a texture all its own. One question that comes to mind: how? Herndon discusses her love of the laptop-as-instrument in the profile below, and reveals some of the technical magic that went into Movement.