Gus Dapperton – “Prune, You Talk Funny”

NY based artist Gus Dapperton has easily been one of our absolute favorite musical discoveries of the year, due to both his exuberant, yet surreal take on electronic pop as well as his seemingly poised and unperturbed personality that obviously bleeds into his work. His Yellow and Such EP, released this past summer, is also one of our favorite releases of the year, blending both color and texture seamlessly using synth, classic instrumentals, and various effects to achieve a cinematic, almost otherworldly sound. His latest release “Prune, You Talk Funny,” is definitely more guitar heavy, with a dreamy distortion that pairs incredibly well with his signature raspy croon. His lyrics, as usual, are on the poetic side, telling “Prune” that he likes “the way words come out” their mouth, how it takes him “many miles to make them out,” later in the chorus “treading on flower beds” among glittering synth and backing vocals of oohs and ahhs. The accompanying video is as whimsical and charming as the music itself, showing an underwear-clad Dapperton running from a girl’s father, guitar in hand, dancing at pools, parks, and school hallways dressed in 80’s friendly turtlenecks, sweaters, and blazers, and hanging out with his “bowl cut army,” all while possessing an inexplicable confidence that seems to burst through the screen.

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photo courtesy of artist
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Baths – “Human Bog”

Baths is the experimental electronic project of Los Angeles based singer and multi-instrumentalist Will Wiesenfeld. Whether his work was tinged with childlike whimsy and nostalgia, as in debut album Cerulean, or steeped in darkness, illness, and strife as in sophomore album Obsidian, his focus and intent to remain true to his own identity, including his internal frustrations and outward struggles, never faltered, leading to some incredibly unique, incredibly textured, and incredibly beautiful tracks, all taken from a different place of his subconscious.

However, Wiesenfeld’s most recent album, Romaplasm, may be his most gorgeous, emotional, and honest album yet, honest in the way he expounds on his “at-home obsessions” with an added emphasis on the fantastical mediums in which he draws the most emotion – things like anime, books, and comics, but portrayed an brilliantly indirect manner where only the emotion derived is placed on display. Described on the album’s bandcamp profile as a “post-modern take on Romanticism,” each track from the album is a deeper step inside a new glitchy, colorful, and otherworldly environment, attempting to take both the immense pain and beauty of life and place them on nearly equal pedestals, where one does not exist without the other. “Human Bog,” one of the more dense, emotional tracks, is the perfect amalgamation of these two ideas, and among the most stunning tracks Baths has ever released dealing with personal identity, clear when paying close attention to its poetic lyrical narrative. Wiesenfeld admits in an increasingly fraying, porous voice, between puddles of murky, treacherous synth, that he’s “queer in a way that works” for whoever he’s with, and “queer in a way that’s failed [him], and ultimately laments on “the lengths [he ] goes to get held onto,” the instrumentals afterwards introducing soft orchestral flourishes that again allows the track to be both sad and beautiful, self-indulgent but honest. It’s no secret that being honest with yourself, no matter how difficult or frustrating that may be, makes for more genuine art, and with Romaplasm, Baths has realized that tenfold.

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photo by Mario Luna

Basenji – “Don’t Let Go” (ft. Mereki)

Basenji, also known as Sydney producer Sebastian Muecke, is finally back with a brand new single – his first since 2015’s Trackpad, his stunning debut EPand as well as following last year’s ambient stand alone single “Chroma.” Basenji’s unique aesthetic is one that can easily be picked out of a barrel of other electronic sounds; his tracks are tonally bright, stylistically clean, and flawlessly house a multitude of techniques and inspirations without sounding heavy in production, and his newest is no exception. “Don’t Let Go” is just a touch softer than his past work, partly due to the jaunty, bouncy synth beats as well as the saccharine sweet vocals of Aussie artist Mereki – the gauzy vocal effects lurking in the background swell and deflate, resulting in the feelings of innocence and peaceful naivety. There’s a fantastical feeling to the track over all, almost s if you were sitting cross-legged in the forest, with water sprites and tree nymphs catering to your every whim. Here’s hoping this leads to a larger release from the producer; it’s clear he has multiple soundscapes under his belt just as expansive as this one.

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photo by Jordan Drysdale Photography

Saro – “Eyelids”

Los Angeles based artist Saro has been specializing in dark, jagged electronic R&B for some time now, and his newest single “Eyelids” from his upcoming sophomore EP is no exception. Multi-faceted and exhilarating, the new track features gorgeous, expertly controlled falsetto vocals from Saro, as well as eerie, brooding synth to keep everything grounded. Though the track is about rejection, an essence of romance and intimacy still exists within the chaos and destruction towards the ending, perhaps to remind us that the negative feelings are only temporary.

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photo courtesy of artist

TENDER – “Nadir”

With their addictive new single, London electro-pop duo TENDER have officially initiated my quest to find every half-pure pop, half-brooding track for the upcoming summer months. “Nadir,” the newest addition to their already impressive repertoire, begins with synth resembling plucks of sharp metal, then explodes into a multi-textured soundscape, the vocals provided by James Cullen soaked in reverb. Though it explores the emotions felt during a separation, the melancholy adds to the vibrancy, finding immense power in sadness.

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photo courtesy of artist

Leo Kalyan – “Versailles”

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been immersed in soft, electronic R&B, and thankfully, Leo Kalyan has escorted me back into the haze. The London based singer-songwriter released his debut EP Silver Linings in 2015 and his second Outside In last year, containing the soft, vulnerable track “Fucked Up” as well as the most sparse, yet delicate reimagining of The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” I’ve ever heard. His flinty, reverberated voice shines once again in his newest single “Versailles,” along with more multi-dimensional bursts of synth and and soft twangy effects. He compares his beloved to the Gardens of Versailles – a meticulously designed and maintained botanical entrance to the Chateau de Versailles in France – and, fittingly regards them as absolute perfection. The track pulses and sways so beautifully it’s hard not to nod along, his voice a constant reminder that it’s okay to succumb to aesthetic beauty every now and again.

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photo by Maximillian Hetherington

Cosmo’s Midnight – “History”

The last we heard from Cosmo’s Midnight – also known as twin brother producers Cosmo and Patrick Liney – was their Moments EP, which included the smooth, hypnotizing track “Snare (ft. Wild Eyed Boy)” and the bouncy “Walk With Me (ft. KUČKA), which flawlessly intertwined complex beats with energetic, smooth vocals. Now, the Sydney based duo is back with an absolutely stunning new track to add to their already impressive repertoire. “History” is a gorgeous r&b/pop gem, with bright, punchy, phaser-like synth and an absolutely killer vocal track. We’re hoping this will lead to a full-length album from the twins in the future – we can’t seem to get enough of their addictive persona.

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photo via astral people

Flume – “Heater”

Last week, Flume released the Skin Companion EP, a handful of unreleased tracks from his most recent album released this past summer. Unlike the Aussie producer’s self-titled debut album, which was highly experimental, complex, and introverted in composition, Skin was chock full of tracks more suitable for the dance floor or headlining large festivals, considering their upbeat, pulsating natures as well as the cast of artists in which it included. “Heater,” one of the previously unreleased tracks, seems to find a spot in both Flume’s past and present – his signature inclusion of bright, cooing vocals and thick, thick waves of synth sound as if they were from his very beginnings, and the way in which the track bursts out of its murky, digital introduction points to the more extroverted, unapologetic personality expressed in Skin. It starts off on a high, and, in true Flume fashion, never gives you a chance to lose that sense of wonder.

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photo courtesy of artist

The xx – “On Hold”

After four long years, The xx is finally back with a fantastic new single as well as news of a brand new album out in January. The new LP will be the follow-up to their absolutely stunning sophomore album Coexist, which had the trio waist deep in dark, shimmering synth, moody vocals, and simultaneously minimalist and complex beats. They have always been a band fascinated with the frailty of the human condition, as well as the intimacies and flourishes of love and the lack thereof. Their newest single “On Hold” expresses the evocative aesthetic they have exclusively been known for since 2009, yet also contains more of an emphasis on Jamie xx’s production skills than what was heard in the past. Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim share the absolutely gorgeous vocals, the lyrics conveying the pain of letting someone go for the last time.

The xx’s new album I See You will be released January 13th.

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photo by Laura Jane Coulson

EP Review: Von Sell – Von Sell

Brooklyn-based artist David Von Sell creates the kind of unique electronic pop that surely deserves its own genre, considering the complexity of its composition as well as the thoughtful way in which its ideas of love and passion are presented. His aesthetic has slowly revealed itself to be the perfect amalgamation of the addictive nature of the synthetic with a living, beating heart, and the electronic pop phenom has now solidified it in seven breathtaking tracks.

Before settling in Brooklyn, Von Sell began his journey while growing up in Hamburg, Germany, creating bedroom pop at home in his late teens. He has attended the British Academy of New Music and the Humboldt University in Berlin, as well as the Berklee College of Music, which simultaneously portrays Von Sell’s wunderkind-esque nature as well as explains how he’s able to create such complex, memorable sounds. He emerged back in 2014 with the boisterous, elaborate track “Ivan,” which was so stylistically dense that it ended up sounding like a bright menagerie of effects and techniques all rolled into one – glitchy, shimmering synth effortlessly floated in arpeggios above thick, splashy drum beats, and the strong vocals became their unrelenting, binding force, locking the listener in place. Throughout the year, other angles of his persona were revealed through additional tracks, including the softer, more emotional “I Insist” and the experimental, yet oddly delicate “Stay.” Both of these tracks have now seemingly found their direct counterparts within the new EP, being the sugary, infatuated “Miss Me,” and the blatantly human “Names,” respectively. The first pairing both sound beautifully desperate, emulating desire with screeching synth and soul baring lyrics (“come on and hurt me now/ you know I know you want to”), and “Miss Me” even tends to echo the soul and intensity of 90’s R&B. The second pairing both shudder with synth, although in “Names,” it eventually drops out to focus in on an evocative piano interlude where it sounds enraptured and possessed, a rare hollow in the track where it seems like countless epiphanies could take place. There’s a part in John Milton’s L’Allegro where the narrator, in his prayers to the goddess Mirth, wishes to be overwhelmed by a song “with wanton heed and giddy cunning/ the melting voice through mazes running/ untwisting all the chains that ty/ the hidden soul of harmony.” Perhaps it’s merely because my personal studies of Milton and my admiration of Von Sell have both occurred at the same time, but these brief lines have repeatedly come to mind when listening to this little spot within “Names,” possibly our favorite track off the EP.

One of the best parts about Von Sell as a whole is that it’s mixed masterfully. Each layer of sound and every effect can be heard without distortion or risk of them blending together, which really makes a difference in an electronic pop album, where essential aspects like vocals can often become distorted and unrecognizable. Von Sell’s vocals not only ring crystal clear, but also remain one of the most potent and powerful aspects of each track – it rises and falls in “I Insist,” swells and expands in “Names,” enters a bright falsetto in “Miss Me,” and adds to the experimental, cinematic quality of stunning opener “Energystabs.” The EP also includes a reworking of “Ivan,” where a jangly guitar melody is inserted seamlessly after the first chorus and ethereal vocals are added towards the end, making it even more of a multi-faceted masterpiece.

When listening to these songs, it’s easy to forget that they’re the result of a single person, someone delicately orchestrating electronic pop in such a way that it ultimately equates with pure human emotion and passion rather than noise meant to soundtrack a dance floor. Von Sell has changed what it means to operate within the confines of the electronic pop genre, showing that it doesn’t always have to be vapid or blatantly synthetic. Instead, his music remains intrinsically human, and, through these seven tracks, beautifully expresses the importance in letting the heart overpower the mind every now and again.

9.7/10

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photo by Jen Maler