5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless

With the way music is consumed continuously changing, the way it is created changes too – artists have found new and exciting ways to destroy the limitations of genre, meld an array of sounds together and shape it into music that pushes boundaries, while still retaining the core of musicality. This charge into a genreless future is being led by a few stellar artists, each in a class of their own while defying categories.

#1. Danny Brown

Danny has been a flag-bearer of irreverence since his breakout XXX mixtape, melding punk rock aggression and energy with hardcore punchline rap over harsh electronica. His drugged-up vocals had no real melody to them, but he flows over any instrumental through a form of controlled chaos, like a hulking rugby player bouncing off the punches of a musical pinball machine. His form of vocal delivery might be rapping, but his music has brought together aspects from an array of genres – from EDM to industrial to electropop – to form a genreless hybrid.

Also listen to: Dip25 Bucks 

#2. Bon Iver

Bon Iver began as Justin Vernon’s intimate acoustic project, expanding his sound on the next album with more layered production, alongside delicate, beautifully measured vocals. But the biggest left turn came with his decidedly weird 22, A Million. Legitimizing ‘folktronica’ with an unconventional blend of acoustic guitars and soft keys with ambient synths and electronicized percussion, the album is this generation’s Kid A. It’s quintessentially indie in its disdain for mainstream genre conventions, and Bon Iver has thus made music all the better for it. 

Also listen to: Skinny LoveHolocene

#3. Flying Lotus

FlyLo is the definition of a musical autuer – he can envision cohesive, stunning genre-melding like few other musicians can, and reject every notion of genre to create niche subgenres all his own.  From instrumental hip-hop, to IDM, to ambient electronica,  to contemporary jazz, he takes existing sounds and infuses them with his own contrarian tendencies, creating experimental music that is never comfortable sticking to established tropes. Flying Lotus represents the rebellious voice of this generation of music, thus laying the foundation for the future.

Also listen to: MmmHmmPutty Boy Strut

#4. Young Thug

Young Thug is a divisive figure, earning as much hate from hip-hop purists as love from the newer generation of the genre’s fans. But restricting him to the genre of hip-hop itself might be a mistake – his singsong voice is unlike any other, and he modulates it to be hilariously fun, a crooner or noticeably sneering. The production matches his tone – fromn trap bangers to smooth, glittering pop and RnB jams, Thugga’s repertoire of musical talent defies every box fans and critics alike have tried to put him in.

Also listen to: Best FriendDigits

#5. Kaytranada

Kaytranada, unlike FlyLo, has a definite sound – dominated by deep bass and hip-hop sensibilities, his base template acts as a blank slate into which Kay paints in strokes of a number of genres. He draws from soundscapes that date back decades, and brings them into contemporary music in a decidedly revisionist manner – he doesn’t assimilate funk, RnB and soul into his music as much as breathe new life into it while respecting its roots. Kaytranada makes music like a true fan – acknowledging the past while looking firmly towards a creative future.

Also listen to: Holy Hole Inna DonutDrive Me Crazy

5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless

Five Songs For The Weekend – IV

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. 3WW by alt-J

alt-J could’ve stuck to their indie art-rock vibe for another album, and most fans would’ve loved the album nevertheless. But this gorgeous, subdued track sounds like nothing they’ve ever done before, while reminding the listener in subtle ways that this is the band so many of us fell in love with – the gentle folktronica, Joe Newman’s unmistakable voice all remain. Few bands do esoterica that remains immensely enjoyable like alt-J does, and this track gives us plenty of reason to be excited for Relaxer. 

#2. Third of May / Ōdaigahara by Fleet Foxes

It’s been 6 long years since Fleet Foxes came out with an album, and no band has quite been able to fill the gaps they left behind. But Third of May / Ōdaigahara makes the worth seem wholly worth it. The sprawling track is a poetic masterpiece, a meditation on life’s ups and downs in a musician’s voice, with a warmth that feels like the quiet woods on a cloudy day. The instrumental outro section might be one of the loveliest pieces of music Fleet Foxes have constructed, and it’s a great sign of the music to come.

#3. Meditation ft. Jazmine Sullivan, KAYTRANADA by Goldlink

Goldlink is master of the bounce – he’s been making dance-floor rap for a while now, without having to resort to generic trap or club bangers. Meditation is mellower than his usual offerings, but thanks to a deep, bass-heavy instrumental by the incredible Kaytranda, it’s bound to get you vibing along nevertheless. Add in Jazmine Sullivan’s jazz vocals, and you have a smooth track more than worthy of a dance.

#4. Liability by Lorde

After the upbeat and bittersweet Green Light, the piano ballad that is Liability is a tidal wave of insular melancholy. It wears its sadness on its sleeve, exploring parts of Lorde’s psyche that she herself admits to have not written into her music before. As with so much of her music, it feels like it’s written for her audience as much as for herself. This is beautifully simple, moving song – if Melodrama sounds like this, it will cement Lorde’s status as one of the best musicians of our generation.

#5. Red Mercedes by Aminé

Red Mercedes is definitely not the song you’d have expected from Aminé after Caroline – this is a more traditional rap track in terms of melody, but it certainly retains the light-heartedness of the first track, albeit with an audible sneer post the success of Caroline. Aminé’s flows on the track with ease, the grimy production appropriate for the track’s mood. It’s going to be interesting to see where the budding artist goes next.

 

 

 

 

Five Songs For The Weekend – IV

Divide by Ed Sheeran

es-divide-final-artwork-lo-res

When the lead singles off Divide came out, I was torn. I’m a huge Ed fan, but there was a glossy layer here that I did not expect. Castle On The Hill was lyrically beautiful, with doses of wonderful nostalgia, but was overproduced. Shape of You was the worse offender, with generic pop production and basic lyrics that I thought Ed to be better than. It is with quite some trepidation that I waited for Divide to come out. And while the album is far from his strongest work – the shadow of commercialized pop looms heavy – there are quite a few memorable songs on here that satiates the Ed fanboy in me.

Much of the album is Ed Sheeran at his sappy best – or worst, depending on how you feel about it – with tracks like Perfect and How Would You Feel (Paean) being unabashedly saccharine. These are songs that you cannot help but give in to when you’re the right kind of mood – it’s pretty much a given that Perfect is going to play at weddings everywhere, after Ed’s very own Thinking Out Loud. But you can’t help but feel like you’ve heard these songs before from him; there’s a certain spark missing, the one that you felt when you first heard his music. The production has gotten safer, and the lyrics a tad more pedestrian. I’ll certainly be listening to these songs quite a bit, but I doubt they have the memorability of some of his earlier work.

Dive and Happier, for example, are moving songs and personal favourites that have echoes of some of Ed’s best songs. The former has Ed imploring the woman of his affections to be true to her words; he’s falling for her, but is unsure if he should be. The hook makes for a perfect sing-along, and the intensity with which he sings them stirs up emotions locked away. The latter, meanwhile, is a melancholy recollection of nights at the bar and happiness from times past, on a song that speaks to all the cracks in all of us. They’re passionate, emotional songs – but it lacks the visceral sadness that came with listening to Give Me Love or Photograph for the first time.

It’s also at this point that you realize that Ed is trying to appeal to every part of his fanbase, albeit unevenly. Tracks like Galway Girl, New Man and Nancy Mulligan are catchy and a lot of fun, and represent the range of Ed’s influences, from his Irish roots to disses worthy of a modern rap track – unfortunately, they are rather incongruous with the rest of the album, worsened by the track sequencing.

Ed Sheeran has clearly stuck to a formula with Divide – there isn’t much here that Ed hasn’t done before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the new music isn’t worthy of your time. Even the biggest detractors will find a couple of songs here more than enjoyable; and for a fan like me, there are enough great songs here to keep me satisfied till the next album cycle.

BONUS:

I live-tweeted my first listen of the album. Check it out:

 

 

Divide by Ed Sheeran

Lorde is Vibrant and Passionate on ‘Green Light’

It’s been a long time since we really heard from Lorde. A couple of one-offs aside, her stellar debut album came out way back in 2013. For a young artist just starting out in music, this might have been a serious risk, considering the short term memories of listeners today. But Lorde is not most artists. In her own words, she took a couple of years to live her life, and to grow up, and to present a more mature version of herself to the world on her sophomore album. And make no mistake, Green Light is not the same Lorde you knew from Pure Heroine.

What Lorde has been, and continues to be, is one of the most interesting musicians around. The necessity of having producers on her team who have helped shape her words and in turn, crafted a musical identity with her, is evident on this track. The glitzy techno-pop instrumental sets the tone for a night of drunken dancing, before the intensity of the lyrics set in, which is where Lorde truly shines. She is unambiguously one of the finest songwriters in pop music, and the duality of wanting to move on from an ex while still aching for the past is conveyed with stunning honesty. The many waves of emotions associated with such an experience of disorienting heartbreak are brought out with the earnestness of someone who has truly lived it, and her vocals – which are some of her best – moves between the spectrum of her feelings effortlessly. The result is, as Lorde says herself,

[…] very different, and kinda unexpected. it’s complex and funny and sad and joyous and it’ll make you DANCE

When Lorde first burst onto the scene, we were both of the same age; 17 year olds on the precipice of adulthood, yet not quite ready to move on from our heady teen years. Pure Heroine, then, was a wonderful, relevant reflection of that time. But 4 years is a long time in this phase of our lives. And despite the evident world of difference between us, the emotional growth and changes are universal. This is what makes Lorde one of my favourite artists – she captures the moment beautifully, and expresses it in a language that feels like mine. It’s a testament to the power of her art, and I cannot wait to hear what she’s got in store for Melodrama. 

Lorde is Vibrant and Passionate on ‘Green Light’

India Needs Hip Hop Right Now

In February of 2016, the ‘JNU incident‘ rocked India, and laid bare, among other things, an insidious campaign by the government to clamp down on voices of protest and dissent – voices such as that of Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and more. In the aftermath of their own struggles against the system, support poured in from multiple avenues, including one that hasn’t been prominent since the days of the freedom struggle – the protest song. Local producers Dub Sharma and MojoJojo turned the slogans and speeches of the movement – by Kanhaiya and Umar, respectively – into revolutionary anthems. The songs were earworms, with appropriately rousing production, which went viral and turned into protest tools themselves. The sampling and instrumental reminded one of the foremost anti-establishment musical genre of our times – hip hop.

 

Hip hop is rooted in sociopolitical struggle, as a way for minorities and the disadvantaged to express themselves. Spoken word legend, Gil Scott Heron, whose work is often credited with laying the foundation for hip hop, and rap’s lyrical themes, had explicitly political pieces, such as the seminal The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. 

 

Possibly the first ‘conscious’ rap track, the classic The Message by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, continued this tradition, relaying the reality of the ghettos millions of Black men and women were stuck in, to the radios of White America. Groups such as the unapologetic Public Enemy were far rawer and angrier, directly speaking to the powers that be, and vowing to tear them down – sample this lyric that’s gone down in hip hop history:

I got a letter from the government the other day
I opened and read it, it said they were suckers

 

This represented a blunt attack on the institutions that sought to blur the line between patriotism and toeing the government line. It refused acquiescence to the majority view, of false nationalism. This is a stance that many in India can relate to right now, despite the prevalent fierce authoritarianism and majority-appeasement. And in such an environment, musicians are a critical voice, one that can represent, and reach large sections of the population. And fortunately, unlike Scott Heron’s time, the revolution need not be televised for it to reach the masses – social media, YouTube, SoundCloud and more have democratized the spread of music.

Luckily, Indian hip hop has taken advantage of this ecosystem to develop a grassroots movement that is slowly but surely seeping into the mainstream. Way back in 2007, Blaaze put out Ban The Crooked Police, an indictment of the corrupt police force that was a singular political moment in Indian music. Unfortunately, the song never gained the traction it should have. But it was an important moment, and one that many familiar with the Indian rap community recognize as a classic.

 

Fortunately, two of the biggest names on the scene right now, Naezy and Divine, belong to a breed of rapper that rep the communities they come from, and present intricate details of their lives, while continuously working their way upwards. This parallels the rise of rappers in 90s America, whether it be Nas, Biggie, Jay Z on the East Coast, or N.W.A, Tupac and their like on the West Coast – who told gritty tales of the environments they were a product of, and hence vividly brought into the public consciousness the lives of people who were glossed over for decades. They were angry, they had something to say, and they wanted to claim glory. Take the song that is largely responsible for Naezy and Divine’s status in music, the stellar collaboration, Mere Gully Mein. 

The language employed is important – the vernacular is straight from the streets they’re from, and is a lyrical trip through the narrow gullys and tiny houses they grew up in, and refuse to abandon. There is pride in what these places, and the people in them, have given them, with the occasional nod to the institutionalized corruption; a favourite line is

Chor mere gully mein, woh toh saala mantri hai

The music video enhances the verbal imagery, providing visual context to the music, with glimpses of everyday life, as well as shots of celebration of how far they’ve come, hip hop dancing and all. It’s an honest representation of the rappers’ lives, in a manner reminiscent of the roots of the genre in sound and theme, such as the classic Nas track, NY State of Mind. What Nas accomplished was an exercise in lyrical painting, presenting imagery that rang true for the communities it came from, while challenging the preconceptions of the white majority in the rest of America. Similarly, Naezy and Divine are fresh young voices for people that were subject to one-note stereotypical representation in popular culture. It’s only when these tropes are broken and rewritten that the monotone narrative of governments and privileged voices can be challenged, and attacked.

These new narratives are being written right now – Naezy’s latest track, Azaad Hu Mai, is an aggressive declaration of freedom from oppressive forces, with a stunning flow and lyrical acrobatics that put him among the best, irrespective of language, rapped over production that harkens back to the glory days of NY rap. But possibly the most important of this release is its form, as part of the popular music streaming app, Saavn’s Artist Original Program, of which Naezy is the first to be a part of. This represents a merge of his music into the mainstream, a blow to the grand old forces of generic Bollywood music, thus making for a fierce, revolutionary statement. Remember, this is a guy that started off recording music on his iPad just a few short years ago. Naezy has come a long way, and it’s an essential rebuff of the status quo – a role he acknowledges and owns, with lyrics such as

Vyaktigat koshish se bhi kraanti ka aagaz hu mai

Divine, meanwhile, is firmly grounded in the streets, and his Gully Gang, his music expressing the passion of someone who’s had little to his name. This music is released through Sony Music Entertainment India, one of the biggest record labels in the country, and one that usually restricts itself to Bollywood. This integration of underground hip hop into the mainstream reflects the rise of major label hip hop in the US in the 90s; mistakes were made then, but with that precedent, it seems likely that Divine and his ilk will fight to retain creative control. It’s heartening, then, that his latest songs stick to his roots.

 

And there are the rappers who are using music purely as an activistic tool, such as the indomitable Sofia Ashraf. Since her most famous song, the anti-Unilever Kodaikanal Won’tSofia has taken a stand on multiple other political issues, including most recently, the infamous Sasikala.

 

Sofia and her band take their message against divisive politics literally to the streets outside Sasikala’s residence, before they’re stopped by a cop. It’s a small, yet powerful moment – it’s hip hop as protest, a voice for those deemed voiceless. It’s a testament to the necessity of music existing outside traditional avenues of music, away from the privileged avenues of movie industries that forced political correctness into Indian music. This is art at its truest, its purest.

Indian hip hop is just beginning to come into its own, but it has already ensured that it’s a force to reckon with. There are dozens more rappers other than the ones mentioned here who are making their presence felt, and will continue to contriubte to the burgeoning scene. Their very act of creating music for their communities is political, and as their music evolves, it is sure to find ways to make far more explicit statements. There is hope that our rappers, in the words of the Mighty Mos Def, will take

Hip-Hop past all your tall social hurdles

India Needs Hip Hop Right Now

Five Songs for the Weekend – III

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. Slide ft. Frank Ocean and Migos by Calvin Harris

The excitement for this unlikely collaboration has been extremely high since it was first teased, and thankfully, it delivers. Backed by shimmering retro-pop production courtesy of Calvin, Frank Oceans delivers some fantastically smooth vocals – think sipping on some rum in a hammock by the beach – before the track transitions seamlessly to the melodic rap of Quavos and Offset. It’s reminiscent in parts of of 90s/early-00s rap-RnB collabs, with some distinctly trap stylings. Summer it is not, but it’s one of Calvin’s best songs in a while, and perfect for the summer. (Find the full song on Spotify)

#2. 2 Lovin U by DJ Premier and Miguel

This was unexpected. Premier hasn’t lost a step with the beats – the funk on this is crazy with some rich guitars, the scratched vocal samples adding that signature Preemo touch. Miguel lays on the silken vocals, floating over the production with unmatched swagger. Everything about this song screams a hit.

#3. Incredible by Future

Damn, Future went from underground trapper to straight up alt-RnB superstar in a week with HNDRXX. A true tropical jam, the synths are vibrant, with just a little edge, and the bass-heavy drums give this a deep house vibe. Future’s vocals are at their cleanest, crafting a trap-RnB ode to his woman in a way only he can. This has the potential to be in heavy rotation in the coming months.

#4. Anoxia by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is decidedly one of the weirdest bands out there, and thankfully, also one of the most prolific. No two of their albums sound the same, and their latest, Flying Microtonal Banana is no different. Finding a strange middle ground between desert and psychedelic rock, Anoxia sounds like a snake charmer on acid. Coupled with their lo-fi vocals, esoteric lyrics and impeccable mixing, the track sounds like one’s stumbled into a dimension that straddles the nomad and the shaman. What could they possibly come up with next?

#5. Walk On By ft. Kendrick Lamar by Thundercat

Thundercat is possibly one of the most creative purveyors of the new wave of RnB, and his collaborations with Kendrick are always phenomenal – Walk On By is no different. While Bruner reflects on the disorientation following the end of a relationship, Kendrick continues to paint striking images of the lives of the disenfranchised. The hazy production is an appropriately melancholy backdrop to their verses, and ties together a track that would be a perfect soundtrack to a plodding, sad walk.

Five Songs for the Weekend – III

Life Will See You Now by Jens Lekman

My introduction to Jens Lekman came with the first single to this very album – What’s That Perfume That You Wear? – a discovery that instantly made me regret not finding his music earlier. The catchy, upbeat track with vibrant production masked a wistful recollection of a lover past. The remainder of Life Will See You Now adopts a similar formula, with production that is guaranteed to  (at the very least) get you moving in your seat, contrasted with lyrics that contemplate losing one’s people in shades of melancholy, hope and nostalgia.

 

The uniqueness of Jens’ songwriting lies in his ability to wring humour out of often sad situations and instances – Evening Prayer, for example, begins with an anecdote about a 3D printed model of a cancer tumour (you can’t make this up) and evolves into a rumination on emotional intimacy.  Wedding in Finistère is bittersweet, painting a (very possibly real) scene of a bride unsure of her future, and the uncertain territory of marriage, juxtapositioned with an instrumental that would sound right at home at a beach wedding’s dance. Album closer, Dandelion Seed, is possibly the most heartfelt and downtempo song here, contemplating the pace of Jens’ life, paralleling an actual journey.

Jens Lekman perfectly encapsulates the saying, “brevity is the soul of wit,” his music offering meditations on life that are assured to bring a half-smile to your face, while taking you to times and places in your memories, all while setting a summery groove to the words. Life Will See You Now is sure to be a 2017 favourite.

 

Life Will See You Now by Jens Lekman