St. Catherine by Ducktails

Ducktails - St. Catherine

You’re floating in a small boat with an umbrella protruding from the middle that shades you from the sun, soon to set behind a nearby hill. Surfers glide by you on either side as your craft bobs over cresting waves, and you are steadily taken to a nearby shore by the ocean. The beach is lined with torches, lit by the smiling individuals that surround you. You pull your boat into the sand and look out to the water, covered in floating, twinkling lights . . .

In a previous “review,” I mentioned the lauded element of “warmth” in music. This record radiates like few other releases this year, and it comes from a band that I’ve been into for quite some time. St. Catherine is the newest full-length by Ducktails, a group originally conceived as a solo project by Matt Mondanile, who also plays guitar for Real Estate. This is a deceptively simple album filled to the brim with cozy pockets of golden songwriting.

Mondanile channels the distinct aura of serene comfort from his other band, and maintains his always-compelling guitar melodies that are strewn across previous records. However, these pieces of music are embossed with a different kind of sheen, an entrancing quality of psychedelia characterized by tasteful instrumental loops and ethereal sonic layering. It’s innovative while also possessing an air of familiarity.

The immaculate production can be attributed to the ingenious Rob Schnapf, who co-produced some of Elliot Smith’s best works. There’s a meticulous attention to detail, shown in the shimmery acoustic guitars, pristine drum EQ-ing, and vivid string arrangements. Julia Holter’s featured vocals on “Church” are just the cherry on top. If you’re seeking warmly familiar, entrancingly psychedelic pop, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

St. Catherine by Ducktails

M3LL155X by FKA twigs

FKA twigs - M3LL155X

You’re in a dark club, drenched in sweat and filled with adrenaline invoked by the previous act, who’s now leaving the stage. Glass begins to shatter around the room, and the fragments fly through the air towards you. You cover your face, but peak through your hands when you don’t feel anything. The shards form a shell surrounding you, and after a long while, the glass falls to the floor. An ancient temple stands before you, and you hear singing . . .

Who else felt themselves aching for something to hold us over until the follow-up to the marvelous LP1? I know I did, so I find myself elated upon this release. M3LL155X is the newest musical offering from British singer/songwriter/producer/dancer FKA twigs, an artist that’s crafted an already-remarkable discography in the few short years she’s been creating music. This new EP expands that catalog in some strangely captivating ways.

Twigs possesses an unerring, glassy voice that shimmers through all the cavernous, machine-like electronic instrumentation that fills this brief, five-song endeavor. However, rather than obfuscating her singing in the shimmery, aqueous tones of previous releases, she prowls with confidence and projects her vocals with a distinct element of power. A full-length record that sounds like this would be an unstoppable force.

The melodies, progressions, and song formats that inhabit these pieces of music are some of the most alluring that twigs has conceived thus far, but her lyrics have also received a potent enhancement. She delves into the disfigurement of beauty, the exaltation of sex, and deep vulnerability. If there exists a role model for pop star feminism, twigs is it. If you’re seeking cavernous, experimental r&b, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

M3LL155X by FKA twigs

You Disgust Me by Gangrene (The Alchemist + Oh No)

Gangrene - You Disgust Me

You’re walking through the rain between the city’s colossal buildings when you fall through an open hole in the asphalt. You plunge through the darkness into murky, putrid water. Dimly lit torches line the filthy walls of the tunnel, so you follow them. After a long while, you enter a tight opening and emerge into a massive dome filled with harshly constructed buildings. You enter the nearest door and walk into a club of some sort. You sit, and the lights go down . . .

When it comes to hip-hop, my personal stance is the filthier and more raw, the better. You Disgust Me is the newest full-length from duo Gangrene, made up by veteran producer/rappers The Alchemist and Oh No. Both of these artists need no introduction, as their respective, equally mountainous bodies of work are rooted in and throughout hip-hop’s extensive history; yet, they still manage to surprise with this one.

The concoction of Alchemist’s no-holds-barred sample frenzy and frigidly synthesized boom-bap beats, mixed with Oh No’s compellingly rhythmic productions results in some seriously grimy trunk-rattlers. Each track is tinged with vocal samples spoken by a multitude of whacked-out, substance-influenced individuals, giving the record an eerily captivating, slimy back-alley feel; like an entrancing, artistically grotesque film.

Both Alchemist and Oh No are highly adept lyricists in their own right, and prove it time and time again across this record, but it’s worthy to note the quality roster of features. Action Bronson, Chuck Strangers, Evidence, Havoc, Fashawn, Your Old Droog, and the late Sean Price (RIP) contribute killer verses that further accentuate this treasure in a trash can. If you’re seeking wonderfully filthy hip-hop, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

You Disgust Me by Gangrene (The Alchemist + Oh No)

Universes by Seven Davis Jr.

Seven Davis Jr. - Universes

It’s the mid-2260s, and funk is back, baby! The revival has taken the planet by storm, so the collective decision was made, by popular vote, to ceaselessly pipe the lauded sounds onto the streets. You wave to your robot brethren as you strut down the sidewalk in rhythmic stride with the music, same as everybody else. Is the tempo steadily speeding up? Everything is moving so fast now, and your surroundings are becoming a blur. All you can do is listen . . .

Funk is certainly alive and thriving, and it’s refreshing to see that artists continue to explore the capabilities on the fringes of the genre. Universes is the newest full-length from Houston-born producer and vocalist Seven Davis Jr., a groove mastermind in a galaxy all his own. Davis has stated that he’s sick of playing gigs where people opt to remain still rather than dance, so this record removes that option entirely.

There’s something so abnormally fun about this album. It’s stuffed to the brim with funk-tinged house anthems primed for an oddball crowd. Some of the foundational rhythms sound wonky upon first listen, but the gradual integration of each eccentric component around Davis’ superb bass lines and soulfully sultry vocals results in some hip-shakers for the ages. I’d like to see anyone try to stand still while this is on.

Although Davis possesses a clear forte in the feet-moving category, he may show his most vivid innovations when he slows everything down. Intro “Imagination” is a woozy, soulful stumble; “Fighters” is the closest thing I’ve heard to gospel dub; “Afterlife” is a disorienting march through electronic experimentalism. Seven Davis Jr. does it all, and he does it well. If you’re seeking otherworldly, funk-tinged house, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

Universes by Seven Davis Jr.

The Expanding Flower Planet by Deradoorian

Deradoorian - The Expanding Flower Planet

You trudge through a murky swamp. The thick black water glows with an uncanny luminescence, like a jelly-fish on its last legs. Dead plants hang above your head and surround you on the muddy shores, black as the water itself. The sun rises steadily in front of you, and countless pinholes of light illuminate the swamp. You hear a faint tone, and then another, and then you look closely at the flowers. They have mouths, and they are singing . . .

Has this year peaked for music? This record of the year contender laughs in the face of that question. The Expanding Flower Planet is the debut full-length by Angel Deradoorian, a wonderfully innovative multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who previously played bass and sang in The Dirty Projectors, and currently accounts for one third of Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks. Even with her stellar track record, this may be her best work yet.

Her notable collaborations also include Flying Lotus, Charli XCX, Vampire Weekend, Matmos, and even U2; this list screams versatility, and no holds are barred on this record in that regard. Deradoorian delves into pulsing krautrock rhythms, folk-tinged orchestrations, ’60s psych-rock, and traverses the expanse between classical minimalism and explosive maximalism. It’s a delectable treat for the musically scatterbrained.

In the core of it all is Deradoorian herself, a seraphic voice that permeates through every pore of this record. Her singing dazzles within every context that she utilizes it: soaring leads, textured harmonies, cavernous bass, twinkly ornamentations, and everything in between. Every production is captivating, but Deradoorian’s voice commands it all. If you’re seeking dream-like instrumentation with enveloping vocals, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

The Expanding Flower Planet by Deradoorian

Top Live Acts of FYF Fest 2015

FYF Fest 2015

Let me preface this by stating that FYF Fest is one of my absolute favorite events year after year. This was my fifth time attending this gloriously diverse festival, and I felt compelled to write a bit about the most captivating performances. I narrowed this “non-ranked” list down to a rounded ten, five each from Saturday and Sunday. Please check out albums by all of these artists, because they are all amazing in their own right!

Lower Dens FYF

Lower Dens

Since the release of their spectacular new album Escape From Evil, I’ve been highly anticipating a chance to witness the splendor of this band in a live environment. Jana Hunter’s stoic stage presence entranced the late afternoon crowd seeking refuge from the sun in the cool, dark Arena stage, as the group performed choice cuts from the new record. Highlights: “I Am The Earth,” “To Die In L.A.,” closing with “Brains.”

BADBADNOTGOOD FYF

BADBADNOTGOOD

Here’s a group that stands alone when it comes to live improvisation. Within the Arena, this jazz-minded trio of drums, guitar and bass were joined by a brilliant saxophonist that infused a new level of energy into the band’s instrumentally expanded covers of legendary tracks by a variety of producers. These guys deal in “sessions,” so each song is stretched to it’s furthest artistic capabilities. Highlight: “Putty Boy Strut” by Flying Lotus.

UMO FYF

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

The Lawn stage holds a cherished place in the hearts of many FYF veterans; you can’t beat the wide-open grass field, bountiful shade, and easy access to two beer gardens with decent views and sound, so when Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage in the late afternoon haze just before the sun set, their timelessly funky charm knew no bounds. Highlights: “The World Is Crowded,” “So Good At Being In Trouble,” “Multi-Love.”

Jon Hopkins FYF

Jon Hopkins

Back in the Arena, Jon Hopkins put on an otherworldly performance like I’ve never experienced. Hopkins is a sound design warlock that takes audiences on a subtly evolving journey through visceral, bass-heavy electronic dance music; this, combined with the Arena’s tendency to amplify those lower frequencies, resulted in some ethereally transcendant moments. Highlight: “Open Eye Signal.”

Battles FYF

Battles

If I spoke about bands that I’ve been aching to see live, there’s a good chance that this group was somewhere near the top of the list. Battles is a trio of bombastic drums and two wonderfully imaginative multi-instrumentalists utilizing various guitars, loops, and synths to create interlocking rhythms that entranced the Trees crowd in a primal way. Watch for the release of their new album La Di Da Di in September. Highlight: “Atlas.”

Run The Jewels FYF

Run The Jewels

What more can I say about Run The Jewels’ live performance that hasn’t already been exclaimed countless times across nearly every music outlet? It’s astounding that a group possesses this much energy, and they didn’t once let up even slightly during the course of their Main stage bombardment. Bottom line: you need to see these guys live every chance you get. Highlight: “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” with Zack de la Rocha.

HEALTH FYF

HEALTH

This is another one of those bands that I never thought I’d get the chance to experience live. Accurately encompassing HEALTH’s sound in a few words is nigh impossible, and they displayed their perplexing brand of eerily percussive, noise-filled pop-rock to an entirely captivated Trees stage audience. Watch for a “review” of their new album DEATH MAGIC on here soon! Highlights: “Die Slow,” “STONEFIST,” “Crimewave.”

Flying Lotus FYF

Flying Lotus

FlyLo, FlyLo, FlyLo. Let it be a testament to the supreme talent of this artist that this was my seventh or eighth time witnessing his live performance, and he’s never once put on a show that was anything less than breathtaking. This year, he was called upon at the last minute to fill a nighttime DJ slot in the Arena, and the lack of preparation time did nothing to deter his supernatural ability. Highlights: “Camel,” “The Killing Joke.”

Kanye West FYF

Kanye West

I haven’t seen Kanye live since ’06, so I had my doubts that were quelled soon after the start of his epic Main stage performance. He’s another artist that was called upon at the eleventh hour, but stepping in as a replacement for headliner Frank Ocean presents massive shoes to fill. I’m happy to report that he stole the show on Saturday. Highlights: “Black Skinhead,” “Jesus Walks,” “Gold Digger,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” etc. etc. etc.

DAngelo FYF

D’Angelo & The Vanguard

Here it is, folks; the be-all and end-all, top live act of FYF 2015. D’Angelo has a charismatic live presence unlike any other artist, and some of the tightest musicians this side of anywhere accompany him in his new backing band The Vanguard. There’s a reason that a D’Angelo performance is so highly lauded, and that’s because he’s a goddamn spectacle. Highlights: “Brown Sugar,” “Spanish Joint,” “Really Love.”

I hope you enjoyed this list of my favorite live acts of FYF Fest 2015! It’s something a little different and I plan to return to daily album “reviews” tomorrow, but let me know if these lists are something that you’d like to see more of, and I urge you to attend 2016’s FYF Fest and to check out albums by all of these artists!

– stasi (@stasisphere)

Top Live Acts of FYF Fest 2015

Downers by Jamaican Queens

Jamaican Queens - Downers

You’re immersed in vast darkness. The only thing you can feel is the wooden floor beneath you, but you hear the faint sound of shuffling feet all around you. Suddenly a low, heavy tone permeates through your body and vibrates your bones. You look around, and you see that you are encircled by many people, but you can only see their mouths. Many are laughing, some are kissing, and they’re all smiling. Another monstrous tone resonates through you . . .

It’s a tough job, but somebody needs to be the flag-bearer for the loveless and the proudly brokenhearted. There are copious somber records, melancholic records, downer records if you will, so there ought to be a counterbalance in the form of a loudly content voice screaming in the face of bitter romance. Downers is the newest full-length from Detroit trio Jamaican Queens, and it falls in that category of which I speak.

This is an album about love, but these songs are about the kind of self-destructive love that drives one mad with resentment and misunderstanding. However, contrary to the ironic record title, these tracks are the furthest thing from downers. This group utilizes a unique concoction of neon synths and trap instrumentation to craft intricately-composed, genre-spanning anthems for the rambunctious romantic naysayer.

These pieces of music traverse through club-primed hip-hop, gothic indie-rock, experimental electronic, and baroque pop without skipping a beat, and frontman Ryan Spencer’s potent lyrics cut through it all with a sharp tongue. Although the subject matter may carry a heavy weight, the music as a whole is inescapably fun. If you’re seeking rambunctiously diverse, loveless electronic music, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

Downers by Jamaican Queens