Already an established and highly praised festival in Portland, Project Pabst is set to touch down for its first ever stop in Denver, and we’re chomping at the bit for their all-day lineup featuring the likes of TMN Favorites Best Coast, Small Black (who headlined one of our TMN Showcase parties back on Halloween), K. Flay, and local Denverites turned national darlings Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats; along with classic staples including the Violent Femmes, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires and loads more across seven stages on Saturday, May 21st in Denver’s booming and eclectic RiNo Arts District. We’ve been watching Project Pabst pick up steam as it nears closer and closer, and with the announcement yesterday that all tickets have now been sold out, it’s shaping up to be a beast of a day for music in the Mile High City.
In anticipation of this weekend’s Denver debut of Project Pabst, check out our playlist below featuring some of our favorite tunes from each headliner, start hydrating, and put aside your beer snobbery before loading your system with cheap domestic beer in the greatest craft-brew city in the U.S. We’ll be out in full force all day tomorrow, so keep your eyes peeled for our post-event review, and get in the spirit a little early with our official Project Pabst Preview Playlist (say that five times fast) below.
If you’ve been following our dance related posts over the years, we’re certain that you’ve come across house & disco benders, The Golden Pony, more than a few times. One of the most consistent production teams in dance music, TGP’s rise in the past year has been nothing short of meteoric, and after we’ve gotten the chance to get to know them over the past three years, it was high time we got to sit down with our favorite couple of Afro-Thunders and shoot the proverbial… well you know. Read our entire transcript below, and be sure to check out The Golden Pony’s latest original “Don’t Make Me Wait” out now on Enormous Tunes sub-label Enormous Chills on the player above.
The Music Ninja (TMN): First off, thanks so much Tim & Tom for taking the time out of your busy schedules to answer a few questions for The Music Ninja! We’ve been following you guys for YEARS since one of your first remixes, the Daft Punk “Doin’ It Right’ remix to be exact, first careened through our monitors. In the roughly three years since, The Golden Pony has evolved its sound constantly with every passing release including a handful of addictive originals. I know it’s a bit cliché, but could you guys give us theabbreviated story of how you went from a couple of lone-wolf afro-wielders to the formidable and nationally touring duo that you are today? Did you both have a background in music and have solo projects before TGP? Was there a serendipitous event that led to you guys deciding to go forward as a team?
TGP (Tom): Honestly by banging our head against every wall and wrong direction possible until something clicked! I have a background in classical music and was playing piano and writing (somewhat) intellectually interesting but unlistenable electronic music when I started going out to see acts like Gigamesh and Goldroom, and just got totally sucked into the culture and sound of the dance music world.
(TMN): How about we get into the actual music side of things. Clearly, The Golden Pony has come light years in terms of sonic nuance and building heavy grooves. What have been some of your tunes or remixes that you could mark as a step in the direction of you guys becoming one of the most sought after acts in the U.S. underground scene?Do you both ever go back and listen to some of your older stuff and maybe laugh or say, “what the hell were we doing there?”
TGP (Tom): I think that our remix for the Chainsmokers was a real turning point for us. It was the first time that I felt our sound really crystalized both in terms of being dancefloor-ready and musically interesting. That said, there’s absolutely some moments in our older tracks that I have no idea where we were coming from!
What are the three TGP tunes that you would play to someone who had never before heard you guys to try and capture your essence the best?
David Bowie’s passing at the beginning of this year prompted an outpouring of genuine appreciation from artists across genres. The legendary English musician traversed the ever-changing landscape of rock / pop effortlessly for half a century helping shape the trajectory of musical history along the way. His various musical and narrative experimentations directly inspired countless artists but his fearlessness in creativity has had an even broader impact. In the world of electronic dance music, Bowie’s legacy paved the way for new sounds in the mainstream and his constant reinvention mirrors the genre’s need to continually push the boundaries.
Today, we’re excited to bring you the premiere of a particularly fun Bowie tribute courtesy of SoCal’s Crush Effect. The production duo have proved versatile with a style that incorporates elements of future funk, dubstep, house and disco. Their rendition of “Let’s Dance” is a proper Nu-Disco jam accompanying the iconic vocals with plucking synths, funky guitar riffs and a healthy horn section. Get your groove on above and check out what Crush Effect had to say about Bowie’s influence below. The duo have an EP due this year so also make sure to keep an eye out.
Musically David Bowie was always on the cutting edge and was such a big influence throughout the years. Around the same time that he passed away, we were preparing our set for the Gem & Jam Festival and wanted to write a couple new dance tracks. ‘Let’s Dance’ is just such a great song and worked perfectly into the Nu Disco context. It seemed like the right time to pay homage to Bowie.
Born Gabe Acheson, Goldwash is a 21-year old composer, singer-songwriter, and producer out of Baltimore. A classical and jazz-trained pianist, he brings his own unique concoction of existential funk. Having already caught the eye of Jamz Supernova (“Malady” was premiered on BBCR1 on her show) and Roche Musique, he is now poised to introduce his dynamic and cohesive sound to a worldwide audience in 2016.
“Need To Hear” is already his third single this year. Drawing from a multitude of influences, and premiered on BBCR1 by Australia’s finest tastemaker Anna Lunoe, the record is strong and will definitely receive heavy rotation in my playlists. Don’t sleep and enjoy his latest offering.
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”