[16 To End 2016] Ninja McNulty’s Best Of The Year

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Music is subjective and it is not. “What?” Well, we all have our own conception of what taste, treasure, and trifle are in music. The following list comprises my favorite musical treasures from 2016. They may appear as trifles to other ears tuned for different frequencies than my own are. Yet I’m confident that each cut presented here in one way or another makes a contribution to an overall upward trajectory, a positive progression for music which aims at an objective high-quality. Many songs harp on or exemplify trends in popular or underground music which I consider valuable. Some introduce new, well-turned phrases into the eternally in-flux dialogue. Others repackage old wisdom in a shiny new bow. Many simply evince the extremely high production value which I worship, idolator that I may be. If my rhetoric already seems innane, skip it, but do yourself a favor and enjoy a few of these sixteen songs.

Sunflower Bean
Easier Said

Sunflower Bean is a rock trio from Brooklyn. “Easier Said”, the first single from their debut album, is a near perfect pop song with it’s simple but emotive guitar licks and frontwoman Julia Cummings’ serene voice and poetic lyrics – “Should have just stayed home, but I’d rather be alone instead.”

Tom Misch
I Wish

Tom Misch can do no wrong. This one-man-band – vocalist, guitarist, pianist, producer – released his Reverie EP in July, featuring this softly aching song about looking back on one’s past.

Open Ocean
Hurry

According to the producer’s Soundcloud, Open Ocean is about “depth”. 2016 saw the rise in “Wave” music, a strange concept when one considers all music is one intricate arrangement of waves. Open Ocean offers my favorite conceptualization of “Wave”.

Miguel
Waves (Remix) Feat. Travi$ Scott

This tune came early in 2016 and captivated me for employing production techniques atypical in R&B, even its contemporary strains. “Waves” has an uncompromising energy that hit the sweet spot. Travis Scott’s verse precurses his massive success and innovation through the rest of the year.

Jade Cicada
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Jade Cicada from western Massachusetts makes me almost incredulous with his profound production capabilities. What was first a 30-second clip on Soundcloud was then debuted in full when Jade Cicada opened for Dave Tipper at the latter’s Full Moon Gathering in April in Florida. It’s been a standard in the underground glitch hop scene since.

COPYCATT
Survive (ft. Maksim)

COPYCATT is a 19-year-old producer from Brisbane who released this track with the MC Maksim on Inspected 2, a compilation from the boundary-pushing music/fashion collective Inspected which dropped in November. The British bars over the nutty sound design evokes Grime, but the sound design is far more sophisticated. I desperately hope to be caught by surprise and flattened by this song on a dance floor in 2017.

Wax Future
A Love That Lasts Forever (Tsimba Remix)

Wax Future, a producer/guitarist duo from Philadelphia, have been upping the ante on the sample-collage, electro soul sound popularized by Pretty Lights. Budding Connecticut-based bass music producer Tsimba brought his “future roots” sound to bear on this WF original. The subterranean bass and esoteric thematic material made it an easy pick for me.

Shivaji
Take It

I was introduced to this too-fire track by Bassnectar who dropped it one Halloween weekend. We expect great things from one of Kannibalen Record’s most promising young talents, who has the touch. To end the song the producer samples Doors frontman Jim Morrison who presciently describes the future of music. I see you, Shivaji.

Bombino
Akhar Zaman (This Moment)’

The singer, songwriter and axe-wielding phenom from Agadez, Niger named Bombino stole my ears mid-2016 with his album Azel. With it’s simple popish formula and striking riff, “Akhar Zaman (This Moment)” is my favorite song from this vital North African rock-and-roll masterpiece.

Bassnectar & G. Jones
Mind Tricks Ft. Lafa Taylor

Bassnectar’s 2016 album was more subdued than most of his work from the past five years, but “Mind Tricks” featuring Lafa Taylor on vocals and G Jones on production is an unequivocal banger. The syncopation between the bassline and the drums is a hallmark of both Greg Jones and Lorin Ashton, native Santa Cruzans from different generations who apparently have an EP in the works for 2017. Lord help us.

Kursa
KURO 黒

Clearly, my ears are mostly keenly tuned to dirty, heavy neuro bass music. Few sauce it better than the mercurial producer Kursa who released this absolute flamethrower in October. I was fortunate enough to hear a top notch selecta spin it live before year’s end.

Tipper
Sleeper

I’m not being punny or cute when I say this was a sleeper on my list. Dave Tipper released this song for his stepfather PJ the day he passed away. For someone like me who also lost a close loved one in 2016, the existential beauty of this song stimulates self-reflection and an appreciation for life’s fleeting treasures.

Chance The Rapper
Same Drugs

It would be convenient and almost accurate to substitute my list here for Chance’s entire Coloring Book. Same Drugs soars above the rest because of how sensitive and relatable it is. “Same Drugs” highlights the artist’s versatility as a singer and songwriter, while humanizing someone whose star was soaring so high all year.

Pretty Lights
Only Yesterday’

“Only Yesterday” was an early song-of-the-year pick when it dropped in April as the first new music in almost two years from Derek Vincent Smith aka Pretty Lights. Words can’t describe the catharsis this man creates through sound. He takes the most endearing elements of America’s musical past, and synthesizes them to pioneer its future. Anyone who’s felt lonely or lovelorn could probably bump this tune ad infinitum.

Uyama Hiroto
Minano Pride

I’ve saved the best for last. Perhaps this is unwise in an age of ever-decreasing attention spans. Regardless, if you’ve made it this far then enjoy this acoustic masterpiece furnished by Uyama Hiroto. This favored collaborator of Japanese beat legend Nujabes is a master. His 2016 drop Freeform Jazz takes the Japanese hip-hop/soul sound to new, emotive heights. Minano is a town in central Japan, but whether or not Hiroto is referencing this place is unknown to me. Nonetheless “Minano Pride” is my favorite cut from my favorite record in 2016. Thanks for reading and listening.

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[Album Review] James Lanning – Another Day Wasted

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James Lanning, the man fam Maryland who merges urban exploration and hip-hop in New York City, releases a deep, dark and extremely relevant EP Another Day Wasted on Onamazu. The rapper’s debut EP is laced with the dark and depressed vibe of the broken buildings he loves to photograph, as well as the high-strung tension which likely pushes him to risk his life climbing skyscrapers.

The topic of mental health among musicians has breached the mainstream recently after Kid Cudi and later Kanye West both admitted struggling mightily with their selves. In a brief interview with Mass Appeal, Lanning states he wants to “alter the discourse” about mental health and the way mentally unstable people are treated when they come forth for help. Making music helps Lanning to channel his own frustrations, and that creative process lead to the cathartic tracks on Another Day Wasted.

The first cut, “Spring” features voicemail messages from the artist’s life set with a backdrop of tense string and music-box notes, culminating in a deep wave of bass. The abrupt finish leads into the chill-inducing title track on which Lanning bears his soul over a paradox of a beat produced by Kace. “People say that I’m crazy, but I say that I’m patient / what’s today but another day wasted?” Depression, the invisible illness, afflicts millions of people. Lanning exposes his own affliction to the world with no frills or filler, and for this, he’s to be commended.

“Run Away” and “Regina” find Lanning walking the thin line between sanity and success over more unique, wavy Kace beats. “Until 27”, featuring a hot verse from Michael Christmas, finally finds Lanning radiating a positive vibe and finding his step.

Another Day Wasted is a raw musical expression that blends hip-hop with more avant-garde ambient and electronica styles. The subject matter and the music can strike a chord deep within anyone who’s struggled with their own motivation and mental health. You can purchase EP from iTunes.

’JAMES LANNING – Spring’
’JAMES LANNING – Another Day Wasted’
’Run Away (Feat. Inas)’
’JAMES LANNING ~ Regina’
’Until 27 (Feat. Michael Christmas)’
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[Event Preview] BUKU Music & Arts Project March 10-11

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Every city in America has its own music scene, but in New Orleans, music is a way of life – a cultural infrastructure as essential to the city as its freeways and French Quarter. Jazzfest attracts the best in rock, folk and jazz to NOLA each year, but for those of us who want more youthful, visceral music and a more colorful, fluid experience, BUKU Music and Arts Project goes down on March 10-11, 2016 for the sixth year straight.

BUKU stands out in a saturated music festival market both for its timing (arguably the first big event of “festival season”) and it’s consistently nuanced lineup. No one is reinventing the wheel by stacking their lineup with hip-hop, indie, and dance music, but whom are you booking specifically? It takes balls and creativity to craft a card of eclectic, forward-thinking and often experimental artists like what BUKU has assembled. Where else can you see Deadmau5 and Travis Scott? Clams Casino and Troyboi? Shiba San and Thundercat? If you’ve answered, “I can see them at Festival XYZ,” it doesn’t matter, because that’s not in New Orleans.

BUKU is set just outside the city’s French Quarter on a sprawling riverside esplanade. The Power Plant stage is adjacent to the river and sits in the shadow of an abandoned industrial colossus. Two indoor stages diversify the vibe with The Ballroom offering an intimate aesthetic, and the Float Den serving as a massive gathering spot lined with Mardi Gras floats and craft vendors. A fourth stage, the Back Alley, is tucked beneath the Crescent City Connection bridge and offers an unbroken stream of dance music all day and into the night.
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Quinn XCII Speaks On New Track Straightjacket [TMN Interview]

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Quinn XCII
Straightjacket

You wouldn’t think the temperature is starting to drop when listening to Quinn XCII’s music, including his recent single “Straightjacket.” This vocalist/songwriter has seamlessly melded electronic, hip-hop, soul, and pop and brought heat to everything he’s touched this year. His singles and EP’s have landed him a tour with Louis the Child, #1 spots on HypeMachine, over 40 million plays on Spotify, and regular spins at Top 40 radios around the country.

The single, produced by The Wiild, is a buoyant tune that floats just in between hip-hop and electronic, a skill that Quinn has mastered. The simplified melody keeps focus on the lyrics and the story behind them telling a relatable story that some, if not all, of us may have experienced when dealing with love. We were excited to catch up with Quinn and ask him more about his year and the single.

TMN: What got you into music? Have you always been a singer?

Q: I can remember being a fan of music since I could walk and hearing my parents play it around the house. That, and I was always into creative writing. It wasn’t until my freshmen year of college, though, that I really put the two together and started writing my own content and sharing it with friends. At the time it was actually more indie-rap stuff, but then I started focusing on singing and things started to evolve into my current sound.

TMN: Detroit is a huge hub for music and art in general, has growing up in Michigan influenced your music in any way?

Q: Definitely. The older Detroit music I feel has strongly shaped my writing in terms of melodies. Motown, du-wop style melodies that have that ear-candy quality about them has always attracted me, and I think have definitely crossed over into my own music.

TMN: A lot of your work is in collaboration with ayokay, did he help with “Straightjacket” or did you work with someone new?

Straightjacket was actually produced by The Wiild, a very talented producer from Australia who works with a lot of the pop acts out there. ayokay and I are still working very closely on my new music though, he’ll be producing majority of my next project again. We live together and have a studio in our house so we’re constantly writing new things together – it’s a really creative environment.

TMN: Almost a year ago you released the Bloom EP – Is “Straightjacket” just a single or can we expect something more after this? Another EP or LP?

Q: Straightjacket is the first song from my upcoming debut album. We’ll be releasing a few more singles from the project in the coming months and then we’re expecting to have the full album out by Spring/Summer of 2017!

TMN: Any specific inspiration behind Straightjacket?

Q: The idea behind Straightjacket was really about shedding light on the girl that has secrets, more bad ones than good. She acts a certain way in public and in front of your friends, but behind closed doors is a bit of psycho and can’t be contained. The two-faced mentality was very appealing to me to try to put into words and narrate.

TMN: You were on tour with Louis The Child, what was that like? What would you say was your favorite stop?

Touring with LTC was amazing. They’re both super talented guys and it’s really inspiring to see them at such a young age connect with people the way they have been. I’d say my favorite stop on the tour was in Minneapolis.. All the stops were amazing but that show has stuck out to me since getting off the road.

TMN: How would you sum up your 2016? Any specific moments stick out in particular?

Q: I signed with Columbia Records over the summer, which has definitely been one of the most memorable moments of the year. I’d say 2016 as a whole can be summed up as a big stepping stone for both ayokay and myself. I think we really made a big stride in our careers and are finally beginning to get placed on the platform we’ve been striving for. Now it’s just a matter of how much we want this to continue, and putting in the work is what will dictate that. I’m ready for it.

TMN: What’s 2017 looking like for you?

Q: 2017 will include the release of my debut album, a lot more touring, festivals, some really cool collaborations, and hopefully a lot more.

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[Electronic] Artifakts – Hustler

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Artifakts
Hustler [Free Download via Philos Records]

“Hustler” is the most recent release from the “ever-evolving hip-hop project” known as Artifakts, the musical mantra of Garret Meyer from Milwaukee. This cooler-than-cool, six-minute jam session may be the greatest work yet from this highly-capable producer. A sturdy funk bassline and drum break form the backbone of the song, while piano keys flutter above this foundation whimsically. Resonant samples from what sounds like a string quartet take center stage, followed by a saxophone sample. “Don’t you Know By Now?” a vocal sample repeatedly questions. The mix moves along modestly in this manner until an unexpected drop makes way for a wobbling space-age synthesizer.

Hip-hop was once made by collaging an infinite array of samples, and electronic music by manipulating drum machines and synthesizers often past their breaking point. Both of these once rarified techniques are more accessible to producers today. Those like Artifakts who take advantage of this embarrassment of riches can provide us with sublime soundscapes which simultaneously sound like they’re prepared in the past and flung backward from the future. Meyers is organizing so much musical material on “Hustler”, showcasing his skills for sampling and synthesis and creating a tune with tangible texture and warmth. Pick up a free download from Philos Records here.

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[Hip-Hop] James Lanning – Until 21 (feat. Michael Christmas)

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JAMES LANNING
Until 27 (Feat. Michael Christmas)

James Lanning made his first salvo into the ongoing struggle for notoriety in New York hip-hop with the gutsy single “One” in March, 2016. The music video, filmed by the rapper himself, saw James climbing and teetering on top of Big Apple skyscrapers. Combined with his thick lyricism and daring flow, the audio-visual combination was a feast for the senses. Now the driven and introspective rapper is back in a big way with “Until 27” featuring a witty verse from the talented Michael Christmas. “Until 27” is the first single off Lanning’s upcoming debut album Another Day Wasted out December 16th on Onamazu.

Off the bat, this beat slaps. Producer glocque pairs the lo-fidelity of a classic hip hop beat with low-end bass manipulation from the realms of dubstep or glitch hop. This unique backdrop is well-suited for the unorthodox, rapid-fire lyricism of Lanning. He stays in the pocket, and with this beat there’s some wonderfully spacious room for him to rhyme. “You don’t like me? I don’t like me neither / He might be Eazy or he might be Bieber,” Lanning starts in, alluding to his crossover appeal or perhaps some inner tension. Michael Christmas’s verse is a splendid addition to the track, rounding out the ironic tune with a bit of humor. In a city of almost 9 million people, and probably about 15,000 rappers, Lanning is wisely flexing a fresh and unique sound to distinguish himself.

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[Secret Ninja Pass] This Week at Beta – 12/1 – 12/4

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Winter weather is finally here! Along with snowboarding, sledding, snowball fights, and schnapps-spiked hot cocoa, we can also look forward to a winter stacked with top-notch talent at Beta Nightclub. Per usual, we’re making it incredibly easy for you to get off your couch and head down. Why’s that? Because we’re hooking you up with free entry.

Here’s how:
– Head to the front door and enter the club before 11pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Get there before 9:00 on Sunday
– Show this post to the cashier (Valid for 21+ only).
– The deal is valid for FRIDAY, SATURDAY, SUNDAY this week.

Porter Robinson & Madeon DJ Set - 12/1
’Porter Robinson & Madeon – Shelter’
Dirtyphonics / Dubloadz - 12/2
’Skrillex & Alvin Risk – Try It Out (Dirtyphonics Remix)’
’Ookay – Thief (Dubloadz Remix)’
Ceelo Green - 12/3
’Semi Hendrix feat. CeeLo Green – “Sex Pistol”‘
Sonny Fodera - 12/4
’JAHKOY – Still In Love (Sonny Fodera & Lauren Faith Remix)’
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