I was a total bummer last week, and I apologise for that. But it’s September. The sun’s shining (for the most part), the birds are chirping, that shitbag dog next door still keeps me up at night, and we should all be keen as archer’s darts to get familiar with some next-level new music. But we’re not just taking “next-level” at face value here. For this week’s Bars, I wanted to celebrate the diversity and volatility of music in 2016. I want to celebrate the underachievers and the boundary-pushers. We could scroll through hip-hop blogs until our fingers start to blister. But with an insatiable appetite for music you’ll often find yourself tip-toeing outside the proverbial comfort zone. This week Bars showcases the very best in global sounds, virtuosic electronic artists, musicians with multiple identities, and some all-out batshit experimentation. This week also features a Frank Ocean remix. You’re welcome.
Be inspired to experiment with PLUM, Captain Murphy, DizTroy, Kevin Abstract, Juicy J, and dvsn
01. Captain Murphy - 'Crowned'
Steven Ellison (AKA Captain Murphy, AKA Flying Lotus) is hard to pinpoint. I could sit here yapping all day about how he’s the best electronic producer since Four Tet (which isn’t all that far from the truth), but I’d have to face facts that Ellison also leads a double-life as a rapper. His rap alias goes by the name of Captain Murphy and has a penchant for crafting intensely brooding numbers around the baritone growl of Ellison’s rapping. ‘Crowned’ is Captain Murphy’s contribution to the weekly Adult Swim Singles 2016 series. If you hadn’t realised it’s Ellison behind the mic, you wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking it was Tyler the Creator. Captain Murphy uses a similar heavy combination of distorted vocals and electronics to helm nightmarish hip-hop numbers that would make MC Ride cower beneath his sheets. If you look at the background art for long enough while listening to ‘Crowned’ you’ll know what I’m talking about.
02. DizTroy - 'Mystic Strings' feat. Mystic Davis
Sometimes we forget there’s a wealth of excellent music outside the self-obsessed realms of Australia, the UK, or the States. DizTroy may be just the thing to stop you going musically, and geographically, stir crazy. DizTroy is a beat duo made up of Jamaican Troy Baker and UK native Dale ‘Dizzle’ Virgo and on ‘Mystic Strings’ the duo team up with fellow Jamaican MC and dancer, Mystic Davis. ‘Mystic Strings’ is reggae-dance fusion at its warmest and most celebratory. The song mightn’t push musical boundaries (so much as it does geographical) but the acoustic guitars grouped with carefree dance production and Mystic Davis’s impressive lyricism makes it the perfect wind down. What’s even better is the music video. A sunny, Jamaican village is the perfect backdrop for Mystic Davis and her freakish dance skills. Separately, they’re enjoyable enough. But together, ‘Mystic Strings’ and its accompanying video will make you pray for summer.
03. Frank Ocean - 'Godspeed' [dvsn remix]
I’m hoping I don’t have to explain this one too much to you… Fuck it. So there’s this guy called Frank Ocean, right? Ok, good. So Frank Ocean made this really great album in 2012, called Channel Orange. Keeping up? Good. So everyone’s going batshit crazy about this album, even three years after it’s released! All of a sudden, people realise it’s been nearly four years since that record came out. So they’re all like “Ay bruh, when you gonna drop that new jam?” So Frank – the same Frank from before, or something – milks this anticipation for as long as he can.
Then one day in August 2016, Frank – again, the same Frank from before – finally drops his new record, Blonde and everyone is (once again) going batshit crazy about it. Ok, so while everyone was expecting another awesome record full of ridiculously catchy R&B songs – like that Channel Orange I mentioned before – what they got was an equally awesome record full of skeletal, inner-monologue-type ballads. One track, named ‘Godspeed’, even sounded like Frank was singing in a Baptist church over the top of a church organ. You get all that?
Ok, so there’s also this other Canadian R&B duo called Dvsn who sometimes like to remix songs, or whatever. Anyway, they catch wind of this song, ‘Godspeed’ and decide to remix it with rolling trap beats. But some butthurt elitists cast down a thousand fiery curses on this thing and damn the thing to an eternity in hell. Anyway, I bump it. I don’t know, decide for yourself.
04. Juicy J - 'Ballin' [feat. Kanye West]
It’s a question as old as time itself; do I fuck with Juicy J? Admittedly, some of us became familiar with the Southern MC after his feature on the Katy Perry single, ‘Dark Horse’, so obviously this doesn’t help ease personal bias. ‘Ballin’ is J’s latest single release for his forthcoming record, Rubba Band Business: The Album, which is slated for release in the next few weeks. ‘Ballin’ is a standard trap number, showcasing the extent of J’s braggadocio which is thus interwoven over Ye’s chorus; “And I’m ballin’, and I’m ballin!” Really, I don’t blame you for yawning. A song called ‘Ballin’, written by Juicy J, and featuring Kanye West would surely send a swathe of the population recoiling in abhorrence. But if I’m to be honest, this thing actually bangs. The bass rubbles over the top of some GZA-style piano samples and J’s (quite impressive) bars. You may try to ignore the intuition telling you to enjoy a genuine banger by that same guy who was on a Katy Perry song, but then you realise J was a founding member of Three 6 Mafia and now you just feel fucking stupid.
05. Kevin Abstract - 'Empty'
Kevin Abstract is a low-key MC from LA, barely out of his teens and still making a point of it in his music. His catchy, languid numbers often focus on feelings of teenage angst and not fitting in with the cool kids; a sort of upright Tyler-Frank Ocean hybrid. ‘Empty’ is a hugely enjoyable one-off from the young MC who – ironically – languishes in feelings of isolated animosity. “I hate my yearbook photo/ I hate my passport/ I hate my last name/ I hate everything it stands for/ I should probably fucking transfer/ Blue and brown JanSport,” he spits in the first verse. His bars are tight and executed with precision. While there’s an air of lurching, inner-monologue on ‘Empty’, Kevin Abstract certainly doesn’t fall into the same category as a Chief Keef or Lil Yachty (with whom “mumble rap” has become attributed). The accompanying piano eases the tension in a song where Abstract’s sounds like he’s emoting from a point of frustration in both his life and career. Quarter-life crises are rarely so engaging.
06. PLUM - 'New Globe'
What’s up with the pseudonyms these days? Like fame in the underground music scene is such a ballbreaker… Don’t even get me started on Kool Keith. Toro Y Moi (real name Chaz Bundick) is clearly too cool for school when it comes to sticking with one name. The Tory Y Moi character dabbles predominantly in the hit-and-miss genre of indie pop. However, his latest incarnation PLUM is part of a new ambient direction for the South Carolina singer-songwriter. ‘New Globe’ is worlds away from the bubbly synth pop Bundick was previously known for as Tory Y Moi. It contradicts itself by pushing a quite analogue atmosphere while still humming with a sense of nervous tension.
Some parts even sound like a distorted guitar being looped through layers of feedback. ‘New Globe’ isn’t just a name. It actually sounds like the sonic representation of person’s cognizant process coming to terms with a new place, time, experience etc. You don’t have to like Tory Y Moi’s music or even appreciate ambient music for that matter. “New Globe” is the blissfully pure state that comes of rewarded curiosity, pounded down and released in a seven-minute stream of atmosphere. By far the best track of the week.