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Back in December we had the chance to premiere the incredibly smooth, disco-leaning pop single “Kimono” from Swedish duo Tundran, and it stopped us dead in our tracks. Even with its December release, “Kimono” managed to sneak its way into this writer’s “Honorable Mentions” section for best singles of 2015, and we’d been patiently waiting in the months since for their follow up. Luckily for us, that day has finally graced our ears, as Tundran returns with another expertly crafted slice of laid-back groove, “Last Drive”. A subdued electric piano leads into another buttery, legato melody which dominates most of the tune before a lush and balanced vocal steals the rest of Tundran’s latest record. “Last Drive” comes as part of a Double A-Side release through heavyweight tastemakers PRMD Music, and will see an official February 12th release. Until then, enjoy “Last Drive” above.
Upstart independent house & disco label French Press Records have demanded our listening attention through their brief, but deeply groovy output. We first heard label founder Allen French’s “Rosie”, the imprint’s debut release, back in November and after following up with a few more choice dance cuts, French Press are back again with a raucous deep-disco burner from L.A. based newcomer Bon Volta. “Higher”, Bon Volta’s debut release, wraps heavy synth lines, groovily swung analog bass progressions, and a pitched down vocal sample from queen Diana Ross inside a foundation of classic house sensibility. With its thumping club groove, it’s hard not to draw up comparisons to some of the earlier Nora En Pure & Croatia Squad records which rapidly swept through the underground, and we think that’s quite a good thing. Bon Volta’s already received early support from one of the most consistently tasteful artists in any corner of house music, Vanilla Ace, and he’s certainly received our full Ninja stamp of approval as well, marking what looks to be a pretty big 2016 for both Bon Volta and French Press. Stream “Higher” above.
2015 was quite the year in the world of music. While much of this writer’s work comes within some corner of dance music, many of my favorites this year fell somewhere between the worlds of electronic-pop and every different iteration of indie one could come up with. We finally got those largely anticipated LP’s from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Beach House, Tame Impala, Disclosure, Grimes & more (heck even New Order made a resurgence), but we were knocked off balance by more than a few surprises as well. While many critics and blogs were busy championing those aforementioned artists & albums; tunes from Lower Dens, Calvin Love, Thundercat, Youth Lagoon, Kurt Vile, Motorama, Mas Ysa, GEMS, Autre Ne Veut, and loads more quietly stirred their fair share of competition into the pot. While whittling down to just 15 songs (plus even more ‘Honorable Mentions’ at the bottom) was perhaps one of the more painstaking things you could put a (semi) serious music journalist through, it was an enriching undertaking and hopefully I managed to dig up a few tunes you may have missed in 2015 to your end-of-the-year lists. Enjoy, and let’s hope 2016 offers just as many amazing highs.
15.) Gilligan Moss – “Stasis”
One of the more exciting producers to grab our attention in 2015, Brooklyn via Chicago producer & sound artist Gilligan Moss released one of the most neglectfully under-reviewed entries into this year’s list of album contenders, the excellent, genre-skirting EP Ceremonial. It was tough to choose just one single, but we arrived on the EP’s closing tune:”Stasis”. Hopping out of the gates with a rolling arpeggiated synth, clicky percussion and a light dose of grand piano, “Stasis” chases down a synth-pop prognosis and smashes it to bits with hints of a sensible psych influence and club-first house foundation. Gilligan Moss treats the tune’s vocal just as craftily as his instrumentation, cutting and looping effortlessly through hazy and delicate incantations that sound somewhere between Sean Ryder’s most indulgent bellows and the Macintosh computer SimpleText application used on OK Computer’s “Fitter Happier”. Just beautiful stuff to our Ninja ears really. For a real taste of Moss’ range, don’t skip on the rest of Moss’ Ceremonial either, to get a much clearer grasp on why he’s been targeted as one of our ‘ones to watch in 2016′ list.
Coming in with one of the most criminally underrated albums this year, Escape From Evil, and hailing from one of the more overlooked indie scenes in Baltimore (see: Future Islands, Beach House), Lower Dens also quietly dropped one of the most beautiful singles of the year in “Ondine”. At first glance, “Ondine” appears to be a sugary-sweet pop ditty, as its syncopated drum-machine cadence, light & glittery synths, and cherry guitar layering set the perfect backdrop for Jana Hunter’s aching lyrics to unfold on. But, when she repeats the song’s devastating vocal hook -“I will treat you better” then bellows the most painful iteration of “Hold On” we’ve ever heard- you just can’t help but to fall like a broken feather into its center. Hold on for a minute while we go cry.
“Annie” was the alt-pop posterchild of 2015. With its asymmetrically bent synth stabs and Palomo’s breathy incantations, it’s the kind of breezy, faux-dub/tropical pop synthesis that acts like Tears For Fears and Duran Duran concocted to mass pop stardom in the early 80’s. “Annie” fluidly bends a kind of electronic instrumentation that soothes the most vicious of new-wave revivalists with the kind of forward thinking, pop experimentalism that seems to excite those *ahem* droves of snooty music writers as well. If you missed it, back in October Ninja Dom put together an incredible review of Neon Indian’s 2015 return to the LP formatVEGA INT’l Night School, which does much more justice to each track than this writer ever could.
2015 was a huge year for Brooklyn based multi-instrumentalist John Jagos, and this was the single that started it all. “Wake” sputters out a balmy, smooth vocal wrapped around his usual brand of off-kilter, hand-keyed electronic pop structuring for a feel that is simultaneously familiar, unique and addictive. “Wake” leans ever so slightly toward a corner of yacht-rock that would make Bill Hader & Fred Armisen’s Documentary Now! fictional supergroup ‘The Blue-Jean Committee’ tip their hats, but the ambient tones utilized here wash over its listener like an enveloping fog to create a soundscape that touches upon numerous aural aesthetics. “Wake”, was an entrancing and utterly lovely tune combining a number of things we love about Jagos’ Brothertiger project and a welcome peak into his excellent 2015 Out Of Touch LP.
Long time staples of every indie-writer-in-the-know’s list of genre pushing acts, Deerhunter’s follow up to 2013’s Monomania, Fading Frontier, delivered more than a few bright spots. On “Living My Life”, Deerhunter delivers a special kind of syrupy pop creaminess –which hasn’t been the most affixed comparison to their experimental pop catalog. Encased in a gauzy, droning splash of guitar and precisely sourced electronics, “Living My Life” wields the kind of majesty that so many critics demand of their most high-minded musicians; especially of Bradford Cox. Quite simply, it’s a sad song that feels happy, and an incredible single entry into one of the decade’s most impressive libraries.
10.) DIIV – “Bent” (Roi’s Song)
From the reverby, amorphous guitar chords to its paced drumming; “Bent” lets its listener settle in warmly before Zachary Cole Smith’s icy vocals penetrate its sonic terrain. On this record, Smith’s cadence is an achy one, rising and falling like the sleeping chest of whoever you’re sharing your bed with, but without nearly as many affectations as were in play on their debut long-player Oshin. But his incantations aren’t distant either, coming across as intimately as a shared conversation over a pillow case, while Devin Ruben Perez’s bassline plucks along heartily enough to subtly captivate its listener without delineating from the rest of the tune’s lovely instrumentation. We’re chomping at the bit for the release of 2016’s Is The Is Are and this was one of the biggest reasons why.
“Gosh” (and pretty much all of Jamie xx’s amazing 2015 LP In Colour) is a musical study in perspective. What starts under a fully magnified scope focused on heavy bass and a simple vocal hook, gradually pans further and further out, flipping from a microscopic gaze to a telescopic overview, until its almighty, high-pitched synth crescendo clobbers through a soup of chopped and sampled percussion to shatter everything apart, simultaneously opening even more space for In Colour to rebuild with a sort of Big Bang cyclicality. There’s just so much at play within this one 3 minute sonic trek, it’s overwhelming. With two solo albums and two albums with The xx under his belt, yung Jamie has quickly become the genre-pushing “it-boy” amongst both the underground dance heads and indie nostalgists all at once. And it’s tunes like this which help solidify his place in the spotlight.
8.) Roosevelt – “Night Moves”
Roosevelt has long felt like an act waiting for that one crossover hit before spilling over into mainstream consciousness. While we’ve been waiting pretty patiently for another full body of work after 2013’s phenomenal Elliot EP, we were luckily held over by “Night Moves” as a single which popped up unannounced on Greco-Roman Records’ Soundcloud earlier this year. On “Night Moves”, all of Roosevelt’s sonic elements for which we’ve grown to love are still there; the warm and suffuse melodies, the soothing psychedelia and the streamlined pop structures, but this time around they’ve wrapped themselves much more closely than ever to the realm of dance music. Carefully layed out acid synth -which leans into Phuture’s 1987 vision more than his tastemaking contemporaries might stray towards- worms its way throughout a thick sea of pop mutations, while a steady four-four kick never relinquishes its hold on the entire track. We could go on for hours about the finely tuned single that was “Night Moves”, but we’ll just let you listen instead.
Idaho seems like quite the unlikely place for genre-pushing experimentalist pop acts to flourish, yet here we are almost in 2016 and Youth Lagoon finds themselves sitting in the heart of Boise, churning out some of this writer’s favorite music of the young decade. After 2013’s incredible Wondrous Bughouse, we’d been patiently waiting for a follow-up, and Youth Lagoon returned as sharp as ever in 2015 with Savage Hills Ballroom. The album’s second single, “Highway Patrol Stun Gun,” was inspired by one of the absolute worst media themes this year: increasing reports of police violence. About the tune, band mastermind Trevor Powers stated: “With all the police brutality in the media, it seemed like every single day there was some element of chaos—but in different forms. It just got so bad. I feel like we live in this shitstorm now where there’s so many corrupt people in high places, people getting away with all this shit. So, I sat down and I decided to just write whatever came to my mind. Living in Idaho, it’s easy to feel isolated from all of these events, and that was sort of my way of dealing with it.” “Highway Patrol Stun Gun” features notable characteristics of previous Youth Lagoon work, like Powers’ ambling, innocent tenor, but also diverges; incorporating a much wider variety of instrumentation coupled with an acute sense of careful production. While we grew just as tired of the repeated police brutality headlines, we’re just happy that Powers chose to deal with the aforementioned “shitstorm” with such a great tune.
6.) Kurt Vile – “Pretty Pimpin”
A simple, fingerpicked indie-folk guitar loop dominates most of Kurt Vile’s beautiful b’lieve i’m goin down opener “Pretty Pimpin”, but it’s in the rolling opus’ lyrical details where it all blossoms into something much more. A most basic encounter with his reflection in the bathroom mirror sends him into a daze: “Who’s that stupid clown blocking the bathroom sink?” he quips, trying to “recognize” and come to grips with “the man in the mirror”. Vile’s Slick Rick level of storytelling is on full display on “Pretty Pimpin” and cracks the door wide open for by far one of the brightest LP entries to 2015. Clearly Vile’s time since leaving THe War On Drugs has done the dazed superstar a world of good.
5.) Mac DeMarco – “The Way You’d Love Her”
In just two-and-a-half minutes, “The Way You’d Love Her” displays just about everything we love about Canadian indie-maestro. Perhaps there is none better at dragging a wave of sarcastic ribbing through the wide-eyed, hopeful, heartfelt ballad than Mac DeMarco. On “The Way You’d Love Her”, Demarco’s faintly mumbled reverberations take center stage as with much of his most stirring work; hypnotizing and drawing its listener into the romance – until he gives a little yelp and breaks the mood with a classically Demarco, pitch-controlled, indie-surf guitar solo to wrap things up. How could you not just swoon to this one?
Perhaps the most exciting and perplexing artistic entry into this writer’s constantly expanding list of new groundbreaking acts, Thomas Arsenault’s Mas Ysa project shot straight into our hearts with a bullet this year; especially behind power-single “Look Up”. Hurtling drums and cascades of synth propel “Look Up” forward throughout its quick duration, but the most welcoming addition to Mas Ysa’s sonic toolbox, and one we think pulled him from art-house-hipster’s iPods into more mainstream territory, was an acoustic guitar that plays like it was lifted straight from Ben Gibbard’s The Photo Album stem collection. “Look Up”‘s end result wonderfully displays a compelling growth in Mas Ysa’s craft, and one that’s got us beyond excited for what 2016 brings from Mas Ysa.
How one unique kid from North Las Vegas managed to take the entire indie-pop world by storm will always be beyond me. Shamir Bailey never had an army of press or publicicsts behind him; rather the wunderkind producer/singer/songwriter let his debut LP Ratchet and its gorgeous slices of tuneage speak for him instead. Hell, it wasn’t even until at least four months after Ratchet‘s release that it was even available on torrent clients. Now, in 2015 that, ninjas, is called flying under the radar. But, it was largely the radio success of lead single “On The Regular” which pushed Shamir from a cooped up bedroom artist to ‘Late Show’ darling. “On The Regular” was the hyper addictive blend of Warehouse era Chicago house swing, 80’s synths that lean in on you like the arm of someone on a NY subway, pop structuring and of course Shamir’s delicate refrain; which all resulted into our favorite purely pop cut of the year.
2.) Tame Impala – “Let It Happen”
The sea-change from the deepest throws of psych-rock displayed on Innerspeaker and Lonerism presents itself immediately on Currents’ opener “Let It Happen”- a tune we’re sure you’re familiar with. Right off the bat, Tame Impala diehards may have noticed an immediate structural change as an analog four-four snare and kickdrum pattern takes center stage with next to nothing in the realm of those scuzzy and heavy guitars we’ve grown accustomed from Kevin Parker’s baby. That is of course, until six minutes in, you’re clobbered by a loopy and simple four-chord guitar progression which only really enhances this track’s ambient minutiae. But it’s the entire build and movement that seals its listener into Currents from this one single. There’s more nuanced hi-pass drum filtering put into “Let It Happen” than most bands would dream of utilizing in their entire careers, save for cdance producers (which after “Elephant” isn’t too surprising really) signaling Tame Impala’s careful and precise attention to not only their lead single, but the album as a whole. “Let It Happen” simultaneously cracks open Currents like a punch in the gut, while giving the long-player the necessary room it needs to breathe and evolve as an entire movement. Quite honestly, it may be this writer’s favorite opening to any album within the annals of time, and if you it, be sure to check out another one of Ninja Dom’s insightful and captivating LP reviews for Currents here.
On “Them Changes”, the six-string Brainfeeder bass virtuoso known as Thundercat has strayed from the post-breakup day-to-day struggle thematically found frequently on his last LP Apocalypse, and this time glumly arrived at full-blown devastation. The tune is a warning shot of sorts, as “Nobody Move/There’s Blood On The Floor” forms the first line and only digs further into the overwhelming finality and acceptance of heartbreak similar to a cop stumbling across a murder scene. While lyrically, “Them Changes” is a morbidly morose view into Thundercat’s expansive headspace, musically, he’s built one of the richest soundscapes of any 3:00 minute single in history. It’s got emotional turmoil sung in a masculine yet delicate falsetto, and it’s got a heaping spoonful of noodly, six-string bass funk. Two worlds have never collided so beautifully. It’s only fitting that Thundercat’s most notable Brainfeeder cohorts Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington make appearances -albeit in small doses- on his biggest, perhaps even career-defining single. No one wanted to miss out on the fun of “Them Changes” in 2015.
Honorable Mentions:Tame Impala – “Disciples”, “The Less I Know The Better”, “Eventually”, “‘Cause I’m a Man”; Tobias Jesso Jr. – “Hollywood”; Chromatics – “Shadow”; NITE-FUNK (Nite Jewel & Dâm-Funk) – Can U Read Me; Disclosure – “Nocturnal”; Tundran – “Kimono”; Drake – “Know Yourself”, “Hotline Bling”; Grimes – “Flesh Without Blood”; Beach House – “Sparks”; Tanlines – “Pieces”; The Arcs – “Put A Flower In Your Pocket”; Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – “S.O.B.”; U.S. Girls – “Window Shades”; – Best Coast – “Feeling Ok”; YACHT – “I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler”; A Sunny Day In Glasgow – “Days & More Nights”; Motorama – “Heavy Wave”, “Impractical Advice”; Kelela – “Rewind”; Favored Nations – “I Can See You”; Calvin Love – “Automaton”; Viet Cong – “Silhouettes”, “Continental Shelf”; Autre Ne Veut – “Panic Room”; GEMS – “Living As a Ghost”
Autograf’s latest single “Metaphysical” has already seen several remixes over the last few weeks from anointed artists including Daktyl, Kilter, Fehrplay, Exmag, and Vijay & Sofia; but it was this latest revision by DC’s leading lady of saccharine, thumping house and disco, Eau Claire, that nailed us hook, line and sinker. This year alone, Eau Claire’s already issued releases on institutions like Warner Brothers Records and Elektra, while her latest offering sees release on Autograf’s Metaphysical EP through Ninja Tune’s Counter Records, and once again the bubbling artist sprinkles a highly addictive, effervescent dance glow onto a malleable tune and come up with another diamond. Eau Claire largely keeps the original vocal track intact, but added the choice amount of subtle pitch and tweaking, adding: “I like to keep most vocals intact in my work which I did here but additionally added pitched vocal cuts that balanced out the track. ” We’re just lucky she also happened to be one of 2015’s busiest producers, and managed to bless with a plentiful cornucopia’s worth of tasteful disco touch-ups, bootlegs, edits and remixes. With the recent opening of her own curated night, ‘Feed Me Disco’, at one of DC’s most reputable venues, The U Street Music Hall, we hope you won’t take us lightly when we say 2016 will be perhaps a global breakout for one of our favorite new artistic entries into club land. Enjoy Eau Claire’s “Metaphysical” remix above.
To understand the full capacity of all that is Crew Love, one must understand how intertwined and deep it all really runs. What started as an idea between Wolf + Lamb & Soul Clap and their respective backing labels, has steadily blossomed into one of dance music’s hottest and most recognizable collectives featuring 11 acts, totaling 17 members. After a mini-tour this past Summer, which we got to catch a piece of in Denver back in August, Soul Clap and Wolf + Lamb’s Crew Love collective will release their first collaborative album in early 2016: Based On A True Story, and with the accompanying announcement have also dropped the long-player’s first single “Smokers Delight”. The hazy, funkified debut single is perfect foreshadowing for what we hope to hear from Based on a True Story, combining a very addictive fusion of classic house and classic disco sensibilities with the contemporary edge and swag we’ve become accustomed to from every involved act. “Smoker’s Delight” draws together elements of rap, R&B and the crew’s signature good-time funk on top of those aforementioned dance structures, which results in a tune that you’ll be hard-pressed to shake for at least a few days after first consumption.
Based On A True Story will see release via freshly minted label counterpart Crew Love Records along with the backing support of legendary dance institution !K7, and we’re having a hard time containing our collective excitement towards what will no doubt be one of the hottest dance properties in 2016. Check out the entire track list for Crew Love’s impending debut LP which features 11 track contributions from all 17 members of the US outfit including PillowTalk, Life on Planets, Tanner Ross, No Regular Play, Slow Hands and Nick Monaco; spanning between a mix of solo efforts and collaborative entries. The love-gang has also confirmed they’ll be hitting the road again in summer 2016, though no tour dates have been announced as of yet. But, you can bet we’ll be on top of every single leading up to Based On A True Story‘s anticipated release. Until then, listen to “Smoker’s Delight” above.
Crew Love – Based On A True Story Tracklist:
01. Crew Love – Smokers Delight feat. PillowTalk & Soul Clap
02. Wolf + Lamb – The Brazilion feat. Crew Love
03. Soul Clap & Navid Izadi feat. Kidhead – Unprotected Ex
04. Crew Love – Hella Rigorous feat. Navid Izadi & Tanner Ross
05. PillowTalk & Soul Clap – Love Train feat. Greg Paulus & Crew Love
06. Nick Monaco – Yo Soy Un Pusher
07. Slow Hands & Tanner Ross – Memories of Mallorca
08. No Regular Play – Psycho Villian
09. Lonely C – Hypnogogic Light
10. Life on Planets feat. N’Dinga Gaba – Goblet In Hand
11. Slow Hands – Neverwood (It’s Okay)
Let’s face it, for a lot of you ninjas out there, Fridays are designed for dancing out whatever stresses may have built up over the week at work or school. So, it is indubitably our duty to help supply the perfect tracks to help shift out of your Mr. Anderson persona and into your inner Neo (if you don’t understand The Matrix reference, I’m getting too old).
Pacing off today’ selection is just a gorgeously tuned, gliding slice of club-house from mysterious Sydney based production collective KOA. With only one tune released under the KOA moniker thus far; an original record, “All of My Love”, which was featured on the excellent label sampler Teen Idols: A Future Classic Compilation, the enigmatic troupe make their first foray into the world of remixes with a lushly crafted and understated house-y take on Cosmo’s Midnight single “Walk With Me”. On their revision of “Walk With Me”, KOA delightfully represents their take on that globe-sweeping Australian indie-dance sound made so popular by the same imprint championing them, Future Classic, through a groove-first synth line and the subtle sweeping roll of deep sub bass. Which, set against those flitty vocal chops, plays like the perfect pairing. We can’t get enough of this one today, so start loosening up and get into the Friday spirit with KOA’s “Walk With Me” remix above.
It’s pretty safe to say that whenever independent dance label PRMD Music signs an artist, they’ll be pretty special. Of course with their track record of being home to the likes of Avicii, Cazzette and iSHi, as well as the recently established sub-label ICONS, it’s clear to see why we’ve put so much stock in them. While much of their roster operate within the larger sounds of dance music, their newest act, Tundran, falls into an entirely different mold. Tundran is the indie-dance, disco and pop infused musical pairing of fellow Swedes Felix & Jakob who have professed their sound “…as a stepson of Fleetwood Mac, or maybe that weird cousin to the early Daft Punk… Definitely related to Earth, Wind and Fire too.” With a sonic aesthetic so tightly wound and only one single (which caught on like wild-fire) released under the Tundran moniker, the duo’s musical prowess plays lightyears beyond what their modest catalog would suggest. Tundran’s latest release “Kimono” is yet another polished piece of their expanding production puzzle, blending delicate vocals with warm and nostalgic instrumentation that already has us conjuring up comparisons to the subdued reverby shades of Day Wave with the kind of technical indie precision of Holy Ghost! “Kimono” is a consummate example of pop structuring; rolling itself out upon a delicate backdrop of airy pads before rolling guitar licks and a simplistically sticky kick-clap drumline opens up the perfect amount of room for those airy vocals to permeate and round out the entire movement.
We’ll surely be keeping our eyes, and ears for that matter, towards Tundran as we wind down 2015, and we have a strong bet that 2016 will be a year with the name ‘Tundran’ emanating from countless music critics’ tongues. Enjoy “Kimono” above as a shiny new ‘TMN Premiere’ and try not to get lost in a hazy sea of electronic-indie-pop bliss. Forgive us while we swoon for a moment.