Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Sundrugs – Hidden Scenes

There’s ambient music that embellishes the background, and then there’s ambient music that consumes the atmosphere whole.

Sundrugs’ Hidden Scenes is an album that belongs in the latter category. In fact, I’d go as far as to call it a poster child for dizzy-minded poetry masquerading as music journalism (you know, that thing I do from time to time where I don’t make any sense). Here is music as a personal journey – ambiguous and malleable to the imagination, a free soundscape drifting in zero gravity. You don’t have to be feeling anything when entering the void of Hidden Scenes – it’ll ensure you’ll be feeling something else by the end anyway.

Sundrugs – Hidden Scenes

Built up from rich textures of dreamy, ethereal drone, Hidden Scenes poises mystique shyly from the vacant streets it hides within. It is both darkness and light, the process of wading through memories and striking oil in warm nostalgia. Pure, uninhibited murk floods the air: dark, breezy and constantly in gradual motion. Yet the time spent in the darkness isn’t a fearful one; though there is uncertainty pervading throughout the album, there’s equivocal peace of mind – this is the sound to a wandering mind, a traverse through the unknown and the hopefulness that tours you through it.

Every place visited in the sonic realm remains fluid, never settling or becoming truly defined. Revisiting the world feels like returning to the same place, only some details are missing or have been changed, and though the path is the same you still tread with caution, making every excursion feel brand new. Though the album is indeed made up of eleven “songs”, the perpetual state of motion more closely resembles one single, swirling piece, as individual tracks can barely be characterized from one another.  The exact nature of the music itself is also very vague (in the best way, mind you), and if “non-linear music” is indeed a thing this would be very close to fitting that descriptor – it spreads off into several unprecedented directions at once, and listening to it feels more like moving around freely in a given area than moving from start to finish. As such Hidden Scenes makes for an incredibly easy ambient piece to indulge yourself in, and rarely feels as long as it actually is. There’s atmospheric music – and then there’s atmosphere.

 

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Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: The 4th – Auditory Bliss Maker & Social Club

“Experience a place, beyond time + space, where art and music unites us all.”

Do you find that your idea of sweet electronic tunes is a little different than most clubs’ idea of sweet electronic tunes?  In-one-ear-and-out-the-other-variety club staples not a part of your aural diet? Allergic to staying logged into SL while at prim-heavy venues thanks to a sadistically unreliable connection (not unlike yours truly)? Well, look no further than/make yourself home at/walk on over to (really, pick your idiom) the abstract intergalactic haven known as The 4th. Stationed somewhere between the ripples of interdimensional fabric and within a nova’s distance of the galaxy’s busiest interstellar transit wormhole, the venue fueled by characteristic “auditory bliss” never fails to deliver exactly that. On one’s journey through the universe (read: SL), finding a place that suits your unique taste and comforts can sometimes be a fruitless endeavor, but if you’re anything like me and the words “trip-hop”, “downtempo”, “uk garage” or any other decidedly uncommon music tags collect dust in your search history, it’s probably about time you took a look at this rather tasteful social club.

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Perhaps the most impressive thing about The 4th is it’s ambition. We’re not just looking at a space-themed club for the sake of filling in the space-themed club population in SL. Aw hell nah. A little late night brain picking with one of the owners has revealed some interesting scheme taking place. She says “the 4th was born of a deep desire to find a music based hangout on the grid that catered to an artistic community, which wasn’t steeped in medieval, gothic, or some other kind of old world culture”, and true to the aesthetic, she imparts “from all my readings about 4th dimensional experiences or the astral plane, it’s a place (in theory?) that is whatever the dreamer/projector conjures up for the most part, and SL is that too”. Simply put, there’s a clear artistic vision in place, a true labor of love. Even better, this artistic passion paves the way for a particular goal she wishes to accomplish. “When I have some time I want to pursue relationships with artists on the grid (who create in either life), ideally invite those whose work centers on themes around exploring human consciousness, alternate realities, out of body expeirences, multi universes etc – to exhibit here on a rotational basis, as well as incorporate interactive exhibits that allow ppl to read up on these concepts or even share their own ideas”, she shares with genuine earnest. There’s a lot to look forward to, and various artists throughout SL would not only fit in great with the venue’s unifying motif, but would benefit from an art club-esque community set to take off in the future.

When you walk in the doors (big gaping hole in the wall) you’ll likely be warmly welcomed by the venue’s considerate staff, hosts or the excellent DJs, if not then by the good shit playing on the radio. Regulars at The 4th share a genuine passion for music, and the music on display is often of a respectable pedigree. You’ll hear everything from milky silky deep house, feel-good electronic soul tunes, indie delights, old-school hip-hop, and the kind of high-energy bangers that even snobs jaded by the typical trance fodder (me again) can get a dose of adrenaline from.  Good vibes pervade through your computer speakers, with relaxing beats making home wherever you are situated in real life, and the music is varied and consistently of a solid quality.

You can expect your aural fixation to be satisfied indefinitely, but there’s more to the atmosphere than what meets the ears. Taking on a minimal approach to interior design, The 4th looks and feels like a legitimate piece of the greater abstract beyond, with walls bearing no semblance of traditional symmetry and geometrical subtleties going hand-in-hand with the simple color scheme. Despite the unique look, furniture and textures are an exercise in minimalism, and it procures totally stylish results. The building isn’t particularly large, but it’s this modest approach that allows even pitiful SL users like myself to stay connected for hours on end – even on busy days –without worrying about getting nipped in the butt with a cheeky viewer freeze and connection drop.

Of course, technical convenience isn’t the only thing keeping me glued to The 4th – it’s the unfailingly kind and entertaining bunch that hang out and work here that grant this venue a genuine homey feeling, abstract though it may be. Visitors and regulars are also of an appropriately stylish and mellow nature, while also keeping public chat lively without turning it into a scrollbar-diminishing word dump – it could be called the perfect size for some. Though still fairly new, you’ll find it to be a blossoming venue, and a day hasn’t gone by (that wasn’t at ungodly hours of the night) where I walked in and cool people weren’t partying their asses off to cool music. That said, The 4th is a cool place, and it makes a pretty cool case for why auditory bliss should be at the top of your downtime priorities.

Visit if you like: electronic, trip-hop, hip-hop, dance, house, deep house, indie, downtempo, chillout, artsy things.

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Qypthone – Montuno No. 5

Qypthone has been on hiatus for quite a while now, but we’re getting to about that time of year where zesty, energetic summer jams are due for recognition.

Originally playing with groups like Pizzicato Five and Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, this little band enlists their bossanova-tinged take on the Japanese genre “shibuya-kei” to the scene, replete with all the vivaciousness and eccentricities that make such artists stand out. Their last full-length album, Montuno No. 5, will most likely be remembered as their most substantial work, even if it is a little on the short side.

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aoba ichiko - utabiko

Kevin’ Music Reviews: The heart unplugged

Japan’s Ichiko Aoba is decidedly a straight shooter when it comes to her choice of songwriting tools and album artwork. Armed only with her guitar and her voice – and solid colors – she hits her target dead-on while eschewing anything more than the bare essentials, and she gets the job done quite well.
Her 2012 full-length, Utabiko, makes a valid case for simplicity. Covered in the thin, ambiguous veil of minimalism, Aoba delivers subtle brilliance in spades from the humble spaces in her heart in as direct a manner as the singer-songwriter ensemble can muster. Stylistically Aoba’s sound is minimal contemporary folk, with an occasional lean toward Nara Leao bossanova. Her voice is soft and breezy, breathing whimsy and bliss into the music at nearly all times, as delicately but as genuinely as foreseeable. Resulting from this is a sound that is occasionally haunting in its semi-presence, yet you undoubtedly feel engaged with the artist, even when her voice descends to a flickering, frail whisper. Equally soothing, her guitar strums are constantly in a state of motion. Her music glides from wonderful hook to wonderful hook like she has a million things to say in a very short amount of time, and never does the standard verse-chorus-verse structure come into effect. This is the soundtrack to stopping and taking a look around yourself in the middle of the day, both up in the sky and along the ground, yet it is also music to sit still to, as the music is so subtle and delicate it’s easy to overlook the minute graces that are interweaved in the fabric. An ideal setting is taking a wandering drive through the prairie on a dry spring noon. There is much to observe in these ever-changing environments, with a little serenity and patience.

Her choice of color to represent the music on display for Utabiko couldn’t be more concise. Representing the album in a fittingly dreary tone is nothing more than a solid canvas of faded green, nearly-beige; a humble picture painted in a single humble color. Though it can be perceived as bland, to do so would also mean missing the point of the music contained inside as well. This particular shade of green-beige is befitting of the atmosphere the music projects; sun-bleached sands mixed with salt water, where you dip your toes in and run your fingers through softly; birch wood trees tinged with the vignette of blurry green leaves in the distance; hibernating greenery quietly recoloring in the midst of early spring. Notice the green isn’t very thick at all; it’s only just discernible as green – the grass is dry but you can see its true color. Likewise, the music is soft and scarce but the life and warmth remains undeniable present. Aoba plays to the listener, her emotion is tangible and glides straight toward you. Those craving a song from the heart to accompany their upcoming morning spring strolls need wander no further than the prairies of Utabiko for that excellent, non-demanding chicken soup for the ears.

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews – 8-in-a-row quickies

This week is a bit different. Instead of one review, Kevin brings you 8 quick reviews in a row!

Andras Fox
Embassy Café
~[Sounds from the marble dancefloor]~
One part minimal R&B, one part chic deep house. Mid-paced rhythms screwed by syncopated beats. Intelligently layered to keep things busy but clean. A slice of vanilla cake to down your dinner party.
“What They Say”

“Running Late”

Move D – Kunststoff
~[Welcome to the Neon Nights Casino]~
Beat variety pack. Includes ambient bliss, IDM, Detroit-style goodies, sub-aquatic exploration kit, and post-blackout melodrama. Soundtrack to the penthouse dweller’s late night game of Windows solitaire. Sleek and sexy.
“Amazing Discoveries”

“Eastman”
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Obsessive over music

Kevin’s Music: An Obsessive’s Guide to Obsessing

Listening to music can sometimes be a needlessly complicated process. It’s not hard to see why; for some people, listening to music is an incredibly substantial part of their lives, tuning in day-in, day-out, as often as they humanly can, consuming just about as much auditory stimuli as they do water. Last.fm and Spotify accounts resemble empires built out of years worth of plays and a diverse spectrum of genres, proudly flaunting one’s most-listened to albums like symbols reflective of one’s personality. Music is more than an embellishment for one’s surroundings or mood-lifting, mood-altering landfill for silence, it’s a genuine passion, and like any other form of art, savviness in it is rewarded with a feeling of self-expression and self-discovery that is unrivaled. Even when it’s not pushing one’s own boundaries, the simple pleasures of uncovering a piece of music that moves you, either physically or otherwise, is enough a reward in and of itself. The hobby is fundamentally very simple: you like what you like, and you dislike what you dislike. Despite what others may tell you, opinions are not objective, but shrewdly rejecting the idea of understanding another person’s thoughts doesn’t get you very far if discovery is on your list of objectives. Hell, some of my favorite music I hated at first, but a modest advocate imparting a fresh perspective can flip you a full one-eighty.

The science behind what makes music “good” or “bad” is relative but again very simple at its core. Sometimes one spares but fleeting attention as to what’s making the pretty noise around them, while other times each listen is a more intimate experience, preferring perfect conditions in one’s state of mind as opposed to constant exposure. This simply boils down to how your mind works; does constant exposure ruin a song for you or make it more pleasurable? Is it a waste of time to deny yourself the need to listen to the music you’d rather save for a more apt climate, or a rewarding endeavor? Do your online play counts even mean a goddamn thing at the end of the day? Thirty-thousand plays is a proud lifetime stride for some people but a mere season’s work for others. Likewise, does the person who has chronicled 50 plays of a track over a period of time have any deeper a connection with the song than someone who has played it double the amount in half the time?

Recorded listens obviously aren’t everything, since they don’t account for anything you listen to away from the computer, among other things, but some of us (myself included) borderline on obsessing that everything you hear, everyone else should know about it. A huge amount of plays on any given piece of music says something about who you are as a person and your taste, who wouldn’t wish to share that with fellow music enthusiasts? After all, some friendships begin over a humble mutual interest in an artist, and fuck, spotting someone with the same band t-shirt on as you at a show gives you a feeling like you are already friends. The thing is recorded plays as a representation of your listening habits and your taste yield varying degrees of accuracy. For one thing, and as mentioned above, Continue reading

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Kevin’s Music Reviews: Coyote Clean Up – 2 Hot 2 Wait

Deep house music is a very potent genre when it has wings. The agenda isn’t just to massage your tired body with a softer vibe after slowly burning away on the dance floor, but rather to lift you up and take you up into the atmosphere. As opposed to commanding your energy, it asks you to take a breather, to set your eyes on something else, but not at the price of your momentum. It fairly serves as an embodiment of the nighttime: free-flowing, breezy, and uncluttered. At this time the party’s mass may have dissipated, but damned if the beats have.

Coyote Clean Up can vouch for this.  Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Ice Cold Chrissy, as he’s called, is thoroughly under the influence of these deep, breezy vibes. Coated in ice-cold ambiance and soothing vocals, 2 Hot 2 Wait throws you into a layered dance experience with a decidedly dream pop edge. Not a high-energy album by any means, though hardly a passive listen, the music on display here is interesting because it’s crystalline, though not crystal-clear either. If 2 Hot 2 Wait were a room, it would be filled with fog and mirrors; late-night aerobics DVD infomercials looping infinitely on the tv, the vaguely dim light of the DVR seen blinking just a few feet above. Though assorted vocal samples are used as part of the instrumentation, they are hardly ever the focus, and neither are the beats for that matter. Rather, the focus is on the deep, hazy melodies, crafting a sound that resembles a more ethereal and hazy Crystal Castles. Synthesizers help set up a sort of faded light show amidst all this haze, which lends the album a particular penchant for getting you pumped up without being a high-octane affair.

Wild4Ever

Double Dip Dub

Fall Layers Focused

DZA Five Finger Discount

Kevin’s Music Reviews: DZA – Five Finger Discount

From the livingroom carpet mixtapes of Samiyam to the smoky jive of Knxwledge, the wonky instrumental hip-hop scene has proven by several artists to be great music to just hang out to. It doesn’t demand your attention the way lyrically-driven raps would, but it’s not a sound prone to dissolve into the background like straight-up ambient music, either. The beats are the heartbeat that keeps the vibe alive, and the soulful, jazzy instrumentals lay you out and spread you smoothly like jelly on toast. Some artists have achieved incredible things in pursuit of this ideology (look no further than Cosmogramma by Flying Lotus), and it’s incredibly fun to watch players on the scene in hopes that they’ll someday accomplish equally impressive things. In particular, I’m looking at you, DZA.
Situated in Moscow, Sasha Dza in a nutshell crafts your garden variety hybrid of wonky electronics and sexy hip-hop beats, ideally music that someone should rap over in the future. Though experts of this sound (like the aforementioned Flying Lotus) have succeeded in making their music interesting and vibrant enough to rarely need to be littered with verbal language, Five Finger Discount still somewhat aches to be rapped over. Not that the music isn’t pretty occupied here; tattered and distorted synths writhe between scratchy beats on “Eskimo”, just before a smoother, warmer piece massages your mind down in the form of “Shifty” only to have “Uproar in Heaven” pick things up with a calming, slightly unnerving oriental beat. The mood is consistently dank and mellow, and each song has a new idea to show off, some of which do so with a subtle elegance (“Softgram”).  In general, not enough of these ideas really come off as super memorable, nor is the album’s flow terribly exciting despite a charming vinyl crackle weaving each song together (and an occasionally annoying ringing noise that sounds like tinnitus). In spite of this, however, I can’t help but see potential in the whirring, effervescent electronics of “Homeparty,” the dramatic Rap Supervillain theatrics of “Out of Time,” or Atari’s night out in Vegas in “Hey Rake!”  Even every now and then I’m reminded of jewels like Los Angeles through some cavorting beats and jovial energy, evident on “Downtown Honeymoon.” Continue reading

Julianna_Barwick_-_The_Magic_Place

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place

As I sit in the midst of The Magic Place trying to assemble words that describe the ethereal world I’ve been transported to, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to remain professional and avoid falling off the tightrope into effervescent poetry and word vomit, losing my credibility to recommend this subtly beautiful piece of music at the price of self-indulgent imagery. As much as I’d love to give you a tour of my mediocre poetry skills, I’ll try not to lose my readers as I escort you through the pathways of a sound that is, in fact, very easy to get lost in.
This album’s substantiality is less a sound to describe and more so a world to explore. Barwick embellishes the album from top to bottom with lush, dreamy vocals and serve as sort of the force field that makes up a drifting, formless realm as if there to remind you that there’s a soul to this otherwise bleak, ethereal dreamscape. Her voice provides a calming ambiance and angelic nature on top of being the core of the music, utilizing choir-like chants and Enya-isms in the mix as well. The atmosphere created by her voice is incredibly lush, and much like the album artwork accurately defines, is very forest-like, and occasionally chimes in a rather Celtic fashion.

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spazzkid - Desire 願う - spazzkidbandcamp

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Spazzkid – Desire

Bandcamp is a wonderful place. All it takes is a teeny weeny spark of interest and a less-than-busy afternoon to dive into a vast mound of albums and artists and cherry pick some humble, hidden gems to add to your music library. How much of it will be soaked in mediocrity at the end of the day is irrelevant; the ambition to find something you enjoy is a quest that rarely ceases to tickle the avid music lover pink. Not that there’s any shortage of underdeveloped, forgettable recycle bin fodder, but there are lavish rewards to be found given a good enough search and an open mind. I sure do love me some bandcamp.
This little piece I’ve found, Spazzkid’s little album Desire 願, doesn’t really perch on either extreme end of the quality spectrum in terms of good finds, but it’s definitely good. One part Shlohmo, one part Friendzone, the hazy, beat-driven chillwave on display here possesses a solid deal of variety and points of interest, for accessibility’s sake. Though the album starts up a little slowly, with “Getting to Know You” carried by a warm beat cushioned between blurry vocals and Friendzone-style chopped-up j-pop samples hampered by a simple case of being too long for its own good (at 5 minutes, the track doesn’t really go anywhere), there are several moments where the album showcases a confident, complete sound and has fun with it accordingly.  When it’s not doing that, the album is instead honing its assorted influences, with a jovial piano samples skittering in a Machinedrum fashion on “Loving Free” and “If Not You then Who,”while elsewhere there’s a subdued, echoing dream pop vibe unfolding on “Candy Flavored Lips,” as well as traces of chiptune and 8-bit shenanigans every here and there.

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