Wednesday, 11 April 2018

🐣 ANOMALIE — CANAL

From literally the first few seconds of 'Canal' we're dropped into an ultrachill atmosphere, one that begins smooth and viscous, hefty on the sub-bass and the lounge-flavoured piano that meanders throughout—and which turns cinematic, with flashes of freewheeling strings that zing on beds of wide warm synth; this morphs into a tract of hard-boiled electronica, with wibbly synths and brash columns of synth-bass buzzing beneath. Canadian musicmaker Anomalie sets us floating down this chilled flow, actual water noises and waves washing on sand interspersed throughout.

And besides the obvious chill of this track there's the dynamism of it all – very much helped by the rattle and thump of the prodigious drums ; the way it sways between different atmospheres and different textures, being neon bubbling contemporary synth jam one moment before reverting to peals of kinetic piano the next: the corollary being this contemporary nocturne, a highly polished, ornately sculptured piece of noir that remains light instead of weighed down by the world. The six seconds between 2:24 and 2:30, with the piano's motif at the end before those synth chords again, sums up the playful virtuoso and expansive subdued nature of 'Canal', sitting somewhere at the juncture between gorgeous inactivity and exciting hyperactivity.


  • πŸ”” This wonderful slice of classy piano is taken from Anomalie's upcoming second EP, MΓ©tropole Part II (out 13th April), the follow-up to last year's MΓ©tropole EP, which featured tracks like the well balanced jazz of 'New Space' and the elastic 'No Way'.
  • πŸ”” You can download and stream 'Canal' variously here.
  • πŸ”” The artwork was created by fellow Montreal resident Ali Hassanein.


πŸ“ 
Anomalie Internet Presence ☟
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Wednesday, 28 March 2018

🐣 NAKURY — NECESARIO (BARZO REMIX)

Last time we heard for this Costa Rican MC it was from her incredibly breezy and bustling 'Aunque Quieras' (that's "whatever you want" in English), but this time around Nakury has offered up something quite different. Although the original 'Necesario' is a bass heavy brute of a track, ticking along with a nearly dubstep rhythm with minimal decoration save for the trilling rapid-fire flow of Nakury herself. However, this flip by fellow Costa Rican musicmaker Barzo adds a thick wall of metal guitars for an entirely different take on the track.

At first this reminded me of 'Dog', a crunchy SebastiAn song from Ed Rec Vol. III - the guitars are richly distorted, and the beat below thuds hard, with the snares grippingly abrasive and the hefty robust kicks entangled with just a touch of sidechain. Barzo's version sees the original vocal now skipping over the distorted riffs, the hook now anthemic with three pulsating chords giving the track a new smouldering rock atmosphere. A mix of not only hard beats and hard guitars, but also of Latin rap – ostensibly disparate styles (nu-metal, anyone?) – this is a sultry, genre-bridging track.




πŸ“ 
Nakury Internet Presence ☟
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Barzo Internet Presence ☟
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🐣 JAPOR — OH HEART OF GOLD

This is an enigma of a track, a home recording with choppy ambient noise both warming this morsel of music and making it feel exposed, a simultaneous lonely feeling sinking behind the superficial fuzzy texture of it. With that in mind, 'Oh Heart Of Gold' by the equally enigmatic Japor seeps into your consciousness not like most lo-fi tracks with their hearts set on triggering your nostalgia, but more anti-nostalgia: a true representation of lo-fi. Live, very raw, and unedited.

It pulls no punches in this regard. Listening to 'Oh Heart Of Gold' is like listening to a slice of reality - a lingering twinkle of guitar plays throughout, unconcerned for tempo or a steady rhythm, becoming more agitated as the song continues until the rattling keyboard drum preset kicks in, when the guitar morphs into a sparse offhand groove, something that morphs into something more legible by around the 5-minute mark. Throughout there is a percussive thump - the unheeded sound of a hand or foot setting off the drumbeat.

Unimpeded by pretence, Japor has created their own unconventional type of music, and with its looping feel and the stream-of-consciousness guitar - sort of 'automatic' playing: a surrealist approach - it feels hypnotic as much as incidental.


  • πŸ”” Classification seems to play a big part in the music of Japor. For example, description for this track on YouTube is:

    "This is my instrumental live single "Oh Heart Of Gold (Guitar Drum Instrumental)". It has an early eighties modernised rock guitar melody. (It is best listened on headphones)."

    Similarly, the description for another track reads as follows:

    "This is my live single "It Is A Dark Time". It has a hard rock guitar based tone. It has a hard lyrics addition. It is a blended contrast. (It is best listened on headphones)."

    His Twitter, in likewise fashion, seems to follow a pattern of four or five tweets that vary in subject matter but are structurally identical. It's a mystery.



πŸ“ 
Japor Internet Presence ☟
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🐣 TSUKI — LAPSE

As if it wasn't enough to treat us to such a stunning display of textured beat - as if those gorgeous handclaps, delicious organic flesh-and-boiled-sweets sort of texture to it, the streaming liquid sounds on loop gently swaying from left to right, the treble of it rising and falling like that warm state on the cusp of sleep and waking life, the shuffling grit of the let's-dance shakers, the delicate clockwork toy hi-hats, the tambourine's sparkling shiver; as if all that weren't enough, TSUKI had to go and make 'Lapse' even more beautiful, a vessel of delicate decay. (In fact, there is a feel to it that's reminiscent of the percussion in the Gerudo Valley theme from Zelda: Ocarina of Time).

The synths in this track, soft like silky smoke, like tea diffusing in boiling water, croon out a gentle repeating melody, this worn-down moderately decayed texture combining with the unexpected high notes in the pattern to give it a sense of tired-eyed drama. A feeling of watching the world from a window. Slow chords join in, warm and fuzzy, as a new lead melody wiggles in, crooning its spectral heartache, a friendly ghost seeped through your door leaning on your wall sighing beyond belief trembling from the cold; there's love in the warbling melody here, lost love, found love, a feeling of seeing someone passed just once more. But fleeting: in the ceaseless handclaps of the beat there is a sense of motion, or continuation—time rolls on in spite of what your heart has lost.


  • πŸ”” This lovely morsel of music appears on this year's WINTER WINDS vol. 5, an annual compilation by collective SVNSET WAVES meant for the chilly weather of winter. It can be purchased and streamed over at their Bandcamp.


πŸ“ 
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🐣 GHASPER — LUVN U

Future bass is the sort of genre that tends to produce many copies; similar beat sounds are used by different artists, the same fizzy synths flutter in the drops, accompanied by the same pitch-shifted vox. It becomes a paint-by-numbers: the same overall outline, which might be pleasant and interesting, but is ultimately reused in varying colours. This track, 'Luvn U' by US musicmaker Ghaspr however, is something different. Though structurally it follows the build-and-drop foundation, its heart feels in a different place, its noises scream with intrigue, even in the drop which, whilst somewhat typical, uses it to present a gorgeous and delicate antithesis to the more glowering elements of the track.

Yes: the first thing to note here is by and large future bass is pastel-toned, bright, summery, positive. Ghaspr instead conjures a brooding, nocturnal atmosphere, one that's feels quite garage-flavoured - mainly in the rainy-night vocal sample, the shuffling two-step rhythm of the beat, the rumbling modulated bass bulging beneath. It's somewhat sinister, the beat rattling with bristling textures, little insectoid noises wheeling in the background, a spooky music box plink, too. So the drop, with its sudden plasma beam of synth and sense of space, feels like coming up for air; the javelins of sunlight piercing through tracts of overcast sky.




πŸ“ 
Ghasper Internet Presence ☟
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Monday, 19 March 2018

🐣 EUGENE CAM — THE GATE

A fantastic shining example of how music can move seamlessly between genres, between styles, and moreover an example of how unlimited a musicmaker should be by how they think they should be making music versus how it occurs naturally, this is ‘The Gate’ by Eugene Cam. Ostensibly beat-led, this track’s hefty thuds and clacking snares belie the nuanced orchestrated soundtrack nature of it, and more specifically how world-conjuring it is, how it seems to sit in the realm of videogame music more than anywhere else. The arpeggio running all the way through the track begins life as this bobbly percussive synth, a wonky music box plink that summons a sense of warped cuteness, and it sets a wonderful precedent in terms of being a hypnotic loop - the sort that keeps you locked into exploratory free-roaming gameplay.

But it grows into something more akin to some tainted rustic feel. It’s the sort of sound that you would hear upon entering a game location that was once green and fertile and is now something of a shadow of itself, having gone through the worst, the mysterious tones of this track help to effuse the feeling of down-but-not-out; a somewhat Final Fantasy VII-feeling in that vibe, and in its progressive composition. That rustic feel comes from the synth cello sounds that robustly richly texturise the track alongside reverbing expanse-building kicks. And then the beat proper crash-lands in its midst: glittering gallop hi-hats, deep cutting bass kicks, thin sideswiping snares.

Hearty chimes and owl-like synths play out a spookier melody – this and the synthetic, and little vocal chops, and the modern beat besides – helping to paint this veil of otherness, mild pestilence, that has shrouded the land and its more sleepy, pastoral sounds. The cottages and homes, the mild still-in-memory ruin, the stoic NPCs, the pestilential enemies: it lends itself to this environment. And how skilful Eugene Cam has been in that, behind it all, you imagine what OST track may precede or come after this one – you can’t help but be captivated by this, imagining something epic and wholly playable.


  • πŸ”” This track is taken from Eugene Cam's recent Boolin EP (b>c replacement = boolin > coolin > chilling). Released via SoundCloud-based label Mekaplex. You can listen to it by clicking this hyperlink and you should because it's rainbow kinetic beats crossed with VGM-type sounds and cute organic delicacy.

    You can see from the artwork that there seems to be some sort of videogame influence here, these cute illustrations representing characters and monsters who could live in the sort of world that 'The Gate' seems to be conjuring, for instance. The rest of the album perhaps follows more of a beat-led narrative, but still Eugene Cam's got a real leaning towards this sort of instrumental, scene-setting tracks. This is, for instance, what was written in the description for Boolin:

    "sorry this took too long, and if this isn't what you wanted I really don't care! this is a project i've been wanting to release for a while but was held back by the fact that I simply didn't think people would like it, but that doesn't matter."

    Yeah, we say: YEAH! Go for it~



πŸ“ 
Eugene Cam Internet Presence ☟
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🐣 CLARA LA SAN — STRANGERS

Though not the best example of UK producer and singer Clara La San's incredible debut mixtape Good Mourning, its penultimate track 'Strangers' is the one that's got a video treatment. Why is it not a good representation of the mixtape as a whole? Because 'Strangers' is possibly the track that stands out the most; mainly the 2/4 timing, the marching swing rhythm of the beat and the juddering electro pulsing below everything give it a sense of jaunty electronica, a sense of dum-de-dum which is not found anywhere else on Good Mourning.

The track does however showcase the vocals of Clara La San, curling low-key R&B lines as singalongable as any '90s R&B act you can think of; it also shows off the atmosphere that she creates, being an adept as she is at tones and textures, piercing the target in its middle at the confluence of warmth and ice, lo-fi and precision. In particular, the intro and outro send out soft synths like twisting clouds, javelins of sound that siren and scathe: a downtrodden though upward-looking exposition. For listeners less concerned with the leftfield, 'Strangers' is a fair and digestible establishing shot of Good Mourning. Simultaneously, the innate humdrum feel of the beat could be a purposeful illustration of the inexorable depression that, for some, comes with going through the motions and the cyclical nature of the everyday.

However, there are tracks on the mixtape that convey this feeling more effectively, and without the relative clutter and jolly bounce which feels somewhat alien to the experience as a whole, tracks like the modern lovesong of 'Gravity', the brooding pop homage that is 'Feel Good'¹ and the scene-setting futurist explosion of opening track 'Rivers', to name just a few where rhythm takes on a different, dynamic guise to what is standard and where synths clang and shudder and where minimalism matters.


¹ The chorus of 'Feel Good' ≈ the chorus in Shalamar's 1982 classic 'I Can Make You Feel Good'


  • πŸ”” Good Mourning can be variously streamed and downloaded via your favourite online service.
  • πŸ”” The video for 'Strangers' was conceived by Parisien director Kevin Elamrani-Lince, and features Clara herself on monochrome urban-industrial backdrops, the sort of grit and overcast skies that feel suitable for the sound conjured in the mournful yet upbeat sound of this track.
  • πŸ”” Previously Clara La San has been known for a few feature-spots, for instance lending her vocals to Manchester musicmaker TD Nasty's 'Where U Wanna Be', among others.


πŸ“ 
Clara La San Internet Presence ☟
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Friday, 16 March 2018

🐣 MURLO & CONDUCTA — TOGETHER

The cutting abrasion of this garage beat has that divine angularity that impels you to some semblance of rhythmic movement, a tight swing between the subtle shuffling thud of the kick and that cracking snare, with the hi-hat pattern effusing a boneless energy, the fairy zing of triangle ornamenting in the midst of those furioso metallics – yes, and here we have ourselves a staunch conveyance of UKG from the minds of Manchester musicmaker Murlo and Bristol-via-London producer Conducta. But it’s not just the sharp and shiffling scrappy beat that makes ‘Together’ a wonderful vessel of vibrant music.

No, it’s also the wonky synth chords that crown this song in tracts of gemlike glossiness and refraction, combined at some points with occasional crystalline clonks; and it’s also the soft scampering synth leads – like an urgent team of spirits working to lift this track off the ground and into some indescribable ether. These sounds shroud the track in otherworldliness, but it remains gloriously grounded with clean bulges of bass that give it a wide, bouncy flavour. And here we have the rhythm, and the atmosphere, but the soul of the song is in its pitch-shifted vocal, the nightcorey low-quality lifting of vocals from somewhere, their reverb, their high frequency, give it this quality of decayed siren-song that, alongside the punchy beat, the mystique of the synth, animate ‘Together’ with splendid heartache and melancholy.


  • πŸ”” This sparkling space jewel of a collaborative track is actually the first ever release on Murlo's newborn label Coil Records. You may stream and purchase 'Together' by clicking this little hyperlink here.

    "I’ve wanted to start my own label for ages, but I feel like now is the perfect time," says Murlo. "I’m really looking forward to having the freedom to drop music whenever I feel like it, and getting more of my visual work into the world too."

  • πŸ”” The artwork that came with the announcement of the label (below) is very lovely, super atmospheric, and is drawn by label progenitor Murlo himself. You can watch the trailer for the inauguration of Coil Records on Instagram, amongst other places.



πŸ“ 
Conducta Internet Presence ☟
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Murlo Internet Presence ☟
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Wednesday, 14 March 2018

🐣 MALENA ZAVALA — COULD YOU STAY

When this song first eased into its beachside doo-wop flavours, oh how much like an island paradise it seemed, how with the slow sweep of chords it paints this lightly clouded atmosphere of warm sky and swaying palms. Yes, there is this total tropicalia sound that is undeniably smooth and sleepy, sounding not exactly like but certainly recalling with its lovely Hawaiian-guitar-esque guitar refrain the nighttime soundtrack for the island on Animal Crossing: New Leaf—chill and languid, melting into the landscape itself, that lazy feeling that overcomes people when they are transplanted from temperate climates to subtropical coral islands. And that ticking bongo percussion, somehow the glow of tiki lights, flashes of paradise.

But in Argentinian London-based Malena Zavala’s gently undulating song ‘Could You Stay’ – an oscillating rhythm that feels like the slow collapse of beach-bound waves and their ambient wash across the sand – there is also this filmic doo-wop pattern to the bass, something that takes us from the expanse and carefree enclave of island life to a more intimate nocturnal setting; this is especially highlighted by the pining vocal refrain, “Could you stay for a while…? Even just for tonight…” And a closeness radiates from the warmth of the track, the embrace of its soft synth chords, the hopeful chorus of layered harmonising vocals. It’s a lovesong before it becomes a lovesong, the tingling outstretched hand question before the reciprocal answer, the searching sashay of desire.




πŸ“ 
Malena Zavala Internet Presence ☟
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🐣 CABU — TRY FEAT. LILI N

The fluid sound of this track gives such a feeling of weightlessness, of floating on the gently swaying surface of the sea, or some turquoise pool under some powder blue sky and the sun tzzzang white light in it. Those keys, so luscious, start proceedings, liquid in their glossy clocking tones - or are they like boiled sweets, or are they like shellac? But it’s the kicks, those booming muffled robust thuds that reverberate deep in your ribcage, like pebble drops on a still pond surface and the ripples from that: the water droplet, evolved. The dust physicality of the snare, like palm fronds clacking together, leaves sheafing and scratching each other, as well as those gorgeous organic hi-hats, splendid in their minutely imperfect timing, tick tick like the living ambience of tropical shorelines and lakesides.

Born of the brain belonging to Australian beatmaker Cabu, ‘Try’ bumps along, a chill anthem of fluidity and glittering delicacy, joined by the voice of Rome-based singer LILI N, whose crisp tone - augmented by satisfying subtle layers of low pitch-shifts - seems to crackle amongst the clouded softness of the song. That tender heart of ‘Try’ is founded on fleshy sub-bass that engines along, an echo of the vocal melody and a whole gloop of sound that reflects the chill bubbly atmosphere below the surface of water as much as the trickling greenery above the glassy surface - the opposite, practically, to the higher pitched musicbox-esque plucked string sounds that zip tumbling in the hook.

It's very simple: just a few elements make up this incredibly beautiful track. Together they merge into a veil of soothing sound that has this indomitable relaxing atmosphere, helped by the satin synth chords that follow the bass. Yet it's not all about being this straight-up "chill" track; the hook melody isn't exactly all brimming with upbeatness - in fact, in its descending melody, and crossed with the root bass, it feels despondent and, especially in the last two bars of that synth refrain, somewhat conflicted, somewhere between cheery and despairing.

Ah~~ The rhythm of it, the laid-back swing, the crooning clarity of the vocals, the luscious opulence of the gemstone keys that light up this track, how it is all like a paradisical garden: the dual worlds of outer beauty and inner intensity.




πŸ“ 
Cabu Internet Presence ☟
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LILI N Internet Presence ☟
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Friday, 9 March 2018

🐣 OLIVIA BELLI — IN THESE SILENCES YOU SEE

The piano comes alive in Italian pianist and composer Olivia Belli’s shuffling ambient piece, ‘In These Silences You See’. The pace and pattern of this music is meandering, organic and evershifting, with harmonious tracts like wide peaceful stretches of river juxtaposed with atonal divergences, rivulets that jar jaggedly in the soft vessel of this track. Belli charts this course to summon an atmosphere of blankness, of window-watching, the glacial pace of grey skies, ending with an expression of clarity, as if a decision has been reached after mindful musing that swirled almost drone-like between steadiness and spontaneity, the coda steadfast and melancholy: but legible.

All along it is not just what Olivia Belli is playing in this slice of contemporary classical, but the tone of it, the recording, the fragments of ambience that fuzz and resonate together in organic overdrive, the sounds of the physical body of the piano itself, the dust and wooden flavours imbued in this track, even the gentle wheezing percussion of the hammer striking the strings themselves, sometimes a chime, but mostly a dull clatter, as if a droplet of rain were falling with each key pressed; even down to the creak of the pedals, ‘In These Silences You See’ is more than its musicality—it is wholly the bristlingly detailed environment in which it exists, and to which it contributes.


  • πŸ”” This lovely thoughtful piece of piano music is taken from Olivia Belli’s Other Lines EP, a collection of four piano pieces from the composer. You can listen to and purchase it on Bandcamp if you like.


πŸ“ 
Olivia Belli Internet Presence ☟
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🐣 MOON TALK — JACARANDA

A crazy overwhelming burst of vibrant flavour in ‘Jacaranda’ by moon talk, a morsel of music that ushers you into a bright world, harmonious and harsh simultaneously, a veil of dynamic electricity scorching the threads hat tumble their melodies in the upper reaches of the track. With these far-off crackling effects and close-knit distorted delay, the crunchy ambience here is metallic and glittering, shreds of regularity pierced by incessant sunlight, or it’s a descriptor for a not-too-distant future, the cracked utopia of tomorrow; the simple humming bass carves a humble and homely foundation, and is simple and human, is birdsong, is cup of coffee, slow traffic, carrying shopping, comfort, love.

moon talk tells us that he wrote the track after moving to LA, and is titled after the jacaranda tree . “They bloom for a couple weeks and that's it,” he says via email. “Most of the time they just look like insignificant normal trees but when they bloom they turn this surreal shade of purple.” The blooming, bursting-into-flower sound of ‘Jacaranda’ suits and echoes its namesake – honestly if you haven’t seen these trees at their fullest and most indigo, you should really Google them. Ticking abrasive hi-hats and clattering beats in the track sound out the triumphal rhythmic march in celebration of the jacaranda's beauty; later a vocal sample pitch-shifted and swimming in the crackle of the track seems to sing joyfully.

Talking about LA, moon talk explains further: “It’s a garden in the desert, a perpetual post-apocalyptic paradise,” he writes. “I wanted to try and capture that exciting contradiction at the core of the city.”


  • πŸ”” 'Jacaranda' is out now and it's taken from moon talk's upcoming a piece of the sky EP, set for release on 22nd March.


πŸ“ 
Moon Talk Internet Presence ☟
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Thursday, 8 March 2018

🐣 SHAWN KINGSBERRY — INTO TOMORROW

The smoothness of this track lies not only in its late-night jazz style, the softer dimensions of noir, the aching limbs at the end of the day feeling, the starless sky and the angular buildings of a nameless city – ‘Into Tomorrow’ is undeniably smooth, carved into its twinkling lounge shape by musician Shawn Kingsberry. The saxophone plays a languid melody; the long drawn-out notes are the motif of the track, like a lone voice chanting a wordless song. Piano trickles in, adding structure and opulence to the satin soul of the sax, its keys rich and robust yet light and chiming. But all that soothing sound would be for nothing if it weren’t for the beat and bass, a sparse rhythm like a slow walk upstairs, or the empty feeling of watching blurred city lights from the rainy window of a taxi: space, and room to think.

But as with much that effuses noir sentiment, there is a darker side. ‘Into Tomorrow’, even in its name, suggests that wherever this gentle soundscape is located in time, it is night, pathetic fallacy creeping in with the danger and ignorance of the dark and nocturnal activities – but at least it seems to be signifying a transitory moment, as the melody reaches gradually upwards, as uplifting as it is the sound of sinking into exhaustion and despair. Where there is hope, there is a reason to hope.

Kingsberry himself describes the track’s origin: “2017 was a year of reflection on where we are today,” he writes. “As we wake up every day watching the news, listening to the radio, or reading the news feeds, we cannot escape the sadness, negativity, and violence surrounding us.” Though hopeful, though relaxing, these truths leave their mark on the worn soul, the warm emptiness, of this music.

~

  • πŸ”” ‘Into Tomorrow’ is taken from Shawn Kingsberry’s current album, Peace Love and Happiness, which you can purchase here. “Peace Love & Happiness is my attempt to escape the world by creating a place of music, soul, and happiness to bring joy to my listeners.”
  • πŸ”” Interestingly, Shawn Kingsberry is actually VP, Digital Government and Citizen Services, at global IT company Unisys, where he “[guides] public sector consumers to adopt cloud computing, data analytics and other digital government platforms​.”


πŸ“ 
Shawn Kingsberry Internet Presence ☟
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Wednesday, 7 March 2018

🌏 VISITS — ASAHIKAWA

The chilly city of Asahikawa was a warm surprise amidst the snowy romance of its winter festival.

The final stop on our two week tour of Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido, Asahikawa - we'll be honest - was not our first choice of destination. It was February and ice festival season in Japan, thousands of tourists were flocking to the major city of Sapporo to see the spectacle of ice carved into miraculous shapes.

The popularity of Sapporo's globally recognised Ice Festival meant that as meagre little travellers we were priced out of the city; most accommodation had been booked and we couldn't stretch to coughing up for a hotel. A bit of research led us to learn that Sapporo's smaller, sweeter sister city Asahikawa was hosting its own annual ice sculpture festival - Asahikawa Winter Festival - and so we decided, Asakhikawa would be were we saw ice sculpted into shapes.

Asahikawa, it turns out, holds the record for Japan's coldest temperature: in 1902 the weather station there recorded -41°C! We arrived at night and it was cold but beautiful; illuminated ice sculptures lined the boulevard running through the centre of the city from the train station to the Ishikari River. We appeared like gangly, misshaped aliens walking through the shopping streets as people admired the sculptures, our rucksacks on back and google maps open to find our hotel. We had booked in to a business hotel and it turned out to be a business hotel in more than one sense - a working girl stood outside the front door, freezing in a short dress and knee high boots. She was picked up by a blacked out car as we entered. The lobby was just a window into an office but the man working behind the desk was friendly and our room was basic but clean. The best part of staying at this hotel would turn out to be the breakfast; two options: 1) Japanese beef curry or 2) a raw egg, rice and natto.

Unaware of how extensive this smaller ice festival might be we went out into the night to find dinner and see the sights. The streets were busy with bustling guests to the city, artists were chipping and carving out finishing touches on the elegant and delicate shapes of the sculptures.

We grabbed some food at a vending machine restaurant called Matsuya. This place was a godsend. Cheap and fresh dishes in a restaurant full of Japanese locals, the kind of everyday eating we liked. We also discovered that they sold draught beer for 150 yen a glass which therefore made it our new favourite place to eat. A portion of katsu curry later we were refuelled and ready to take a walk through the city.

The festival turned out to be a compact version of the one Sapporo puts on, but heartfelt and genuine. Local school children had made small snowmen who sat lining walls from the city centre down to the main site of the festival, each snowman with a different comedic expression or emotion made by the child who created it. We spent longer than two grown adults should cooing over the cuteness and taking pictures. The lines of snowmen ushered through a tunnel of tiny lights and to the entrance of the city park where pathways lit by tiny candles had been carved out thick snow for visitors to wind their way along.

Through the delights of the snowy park, and past a group of locals having a bonfire and a drink in a clearing of the snow, we found the centre of the festival. Ice had been carved in to a viewing platform so we could look at the stage which was also carved out of snow and a snow slide even ran from the top of it. This was place was mad, but then it was a snow festival after all. Music pumped out into the night and snow sculptures were everywhere.

The local ramen, which is a speciality made with a shoyu (soy sauce) broth, was sold in big steaming bowls which we sipped from under a tent in communal canteen whilst children slurped and snacked on their lunches, played around and stared at us. In the light of day the festival was still buzzing and fun. We discovered a snow maze and quickly ran around its thick walls to find the centre. Other activities went on around the festival site with children having a go at a spot of snowboarding and go-karting. On the stage local musicians sung and strummed away to songs we half-knew, cheered on by friends in the crowd. Considering this was meant to be a small festival, it was surprising how much there was to do and how much thought had been put into the details, but then we were in Japan, the country where delicate details and cuteness are key - along with delicious food.

As night fell on the final night of the festival and after we had just one more go at zipping down the really, really fun snow slide, we gathered with all of the other festival-goers on the viewing platform to watch the closing ceremony take place. This was something we thought would just be a bit of singing and maybe a firework or two but it was actually a full on show with multicoloured lights lighting up the snow in patterns, and green lasers streaming up in to the night sky with booming dance music to accompany it. It was epic and so wonderfully Japanese.

We turned our backs on the snow and ice and - with that bittersweet after-event, end-of-night feeling - walked with the crowd through the delicately lit park, where some people were relaxing and having a drink and others were playing with their children in the snow and dug-out igloos. Japan seems like a happy place to be a child, especially in winter, when it becomes a land of magical ice festivals and snowmen with funny expressions.


REBECCA ALICE SAUNDERS
@yesnotravel



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YES/NO VISITS HOKKAIDO
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Abashiri

🐣 RYAN HEMSWORTH — FOUR SEASONS FEAT. NEWAGEMUZIK

Honestly it was a surprise to hear about this. It’s a very UK sound that internet music progeny Ryan Hemsworth has created here, a fusion of pop softness and afrobeats rhythm. Gently clanging icy digital chords summon songs of yesteryear, while columns of sub-bass give it that deeply rumbling contemporary sound; more of that chilly atmosphere comes from that twinkling intricate refrain that Hemsworth casts over the top, like a layer of frost sparkling in the sun. That icy delicacy belies the warmth here, helped not only by the full-bodied nature of the track, but by the smooth vocals of featuring artists, NewAgeMuzik.

The North London duo bring rich vocals, turned lightly plasma with subtle autotune, to the bumping afrofusion beat, a clatter of percussion that clicks and ticks which give an extra dimension to the familiar swung beat that we hear in African-flavoured music. The vocals, full of raw laid-back soul, giving human heart and character to the technical splendour of the instrumental. But the beat has that cute touch, rounded and miniature in places, and its warm-chilly contrast is a combination that makes this track light and upbeat despite its bass heaviness; the skitter and brightness of ornamentation right next to the sweat and heat of intimate close-quarters rhythms.


  • πŸ”” 'Four Seasons' is out already, and it's from Ryan Hemsworth's upcoming new Elsewhere.
  • πŸ”” The video was directed by London-based Sammy Shoots, and stars Kamo and Prince of NewAgeMuzik, matching the chill vibes of the track itself.


πŸ“ 
NewAgeMuzik Internet Presence ☟
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🐣 NELYLAND — SUNRISE

It’s an added bonus when a piece of music sounds like its title, or more correctly evokes its title with sound, and that is the case with Nigerian artist Nelyland. His track ‘Sunrise’ is a nod to the subtle feeling of pre-dawn, the muted sky washed in a gradual brightening and lightening of colour, dark clouds becoming white, purple skies becoming blue – the soft synth rising up in the subtle afrobeat rhythm of the track represent that tone, those dark pastel shades when day still cannot yet shake the night, nor take the sleep from its eyes.

Speaking of that afrobeat rhythm, it’s a sparse semblance of a beat that propels this track forward, with robust thudding kicks like a gradual step towards the proverbial light, and softer percussion popping alongside in an angular, fragmented cluster of beats that gets smooth shaker and hi-hat accents. Nelyland’s soulful vocal itself calls out fringed with autotuned brightness, telling his story: “I been through the storm and the hurricane / Searching for love but it never came.” These lamenting yet determined verses are contrasted with the gradual hope that rises up in the hook: “Sunrise, sunrise, they pray for my downfall but I’m praying for my sunrise…”

It represents that dark side of hope, when you realise that by the very act of living in hope you are without something, struggling, and could be on a long journey to realise your dreams. And yet the slow, steady pace of ‘Sunrise’ feels like a march, a tenacious beeline set for what Nelyland wants to achieve: tell his story to the world.


  • πŸ”” The description for 'Sunrise', a track written by Nelyland following the loss of his mother, reads as follows:

    "I'm sure there are a couple of people out there still trying to find the light. I want to help you realize that your light is already within you and that you should just let it shine! RISE UP LIKE THE SUN !"

    The track is out now courtesy of Afrocentric independent label Sufferings & Offerings and you can listen to it on SoundCloud as above, or via Spotify if you like.



πŸ“ 
Nelyland Internet Presence ☟
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Friday, 2 March 2018

🐣 GEO — MÁGICA FEAT. CARO PIEROTTO

Last time we heard from GEO it was a glittering trail of intricate percussion and chimes in the form of lovely sound-sonnet ‘For You’. This time around the LA-based musicmaker gives us an insight into what makes him tick musically with a slice of sound that celebrates the rhythms of latin music.

“I sat down and wrote this one in an attempt to pay tribute to my love for the way latin makes me feel,” he tells us via email. And what a homage it is. Rather than pursuing one genre or another, and attempting to make something that is bossa nova, or samba, or whatever, ‘MΓ‘gica’ really does feel like a celebration: a rhythm that winds and sashays, more of that texturising percussion we’re used to that gives it some lush depth, and breezy chords that conjure cool scapes by the sea, instantly capitvating satin Ipenema vocals.

“To help pay homage to my roots,” GEO explains, “ Caro Pierotto graced this song with a beautiful Portuguese verse about finding magic in a new love.” Graced is definitely the right word, with this vocal and its pitch-shifted iterations adding beauty to the track.

This is not a typical bossa nova track, or a song that is typically anything. It’s a creation inspired by latin music, and as such it has taken interesting tangents from elsewhere, encompassing flavours like future funk – with that thudding groove and upbeat atmosphere – and even the somewhat-disco feel reminiscent of Japanese city pop. The lead synth-brass melody that refrained throughout reminded me of the 2 player version of the Casino Night level on Sonic 2. ‘MΓ‘gica’ is a versatile track that defies expectations in a modern cosmopolitan retelling of traditional sounds.


  • πŸ”” Have a look-see at 'Mágica' on HypeM.


πŸ“ 
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🐣 THE EARFLOWER EXPERIMENT — PASS(H)ERBY

Something steeped in humidity here actually turns out to be the perfect soundtrack to watching the snow fall (the UK is currently wrapped in a frosty Siberian weather front). The blissful soft snowflake sounds of the hank drum employed in this track by Indian artist Astaaq Ahmed aka The Earflower Experiment – tuned in the cheerful key of C, he tells us via email – ping and pong with a soothing pace and texture. ‘Pass(h)erby’ is like a panacea, a gorgeous weave of textures, the cradle of bristling rich percussion that arrives, the warm waves of synth that waft in resolutely, the sparkling deep-breath lead synths.

“While conceptualising this song, I was mostly concerned with trying to capture the essence of a constantly moving, fast-paced world,” says Astaaq. “There are things happening in our lives on a regular basis, but our stories, in the larger scheme of things, don’t have any impact on anyone but us. The world is blissfully ignorant of your happiness, anger, pains and sorrows, and it just keeps spinning.” And this track has that motion, the gently unrelenting beat that fades into a lullaby on a patchwork of chirruping night insects: the heartbeat of your panic and pain as ignored by the natural world. And how fine that is, how ok the world is even after tragedy, how this track comforts you.


  • πŸ”” This comes from The Earflower Experiment's An Anecdote EP, which Astaaq tells us "tries to convey the life cycle of a rather unfortunate relationship."


πŸ“ 
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Tuesday, 27 February 2018

🐣 RIP SWIRL — LONG ISLAND MEDIUM

Extending the legacy of fairly new style lo-fi house, Berlin-based producer RIP Swirl (it’s like rip curl, you see) not only gives us a satisfying overdrive crunch-gloop in the kicks that bump and propel this track along, but also transports us into a retro realm of beige computers and fax machines: sharp metallic orchestra hits squeak out of the hazy crackle in ‘Long Island Medium’, with laser gun zips and turntable scratches cutting in for good measure. Synth chords bulge softly below with dance sensibilities in their refraining nature.

The old-school keyboard sounds, like the lo-fi veil draped over this track, aren’t all about nostalgia but instead add to the subtle abrasions of the track—it isn’t necessarily the sound itself that is the focus of our attention, but the quality of that sound and how it fits into the vessel of sonic imperfection that RIP Swirl has carved out. The hi-hats trickle-tick distortedly, the snare is crushed; both are jagged, whilst the synths are nebulous cushions that these harsher sounds strike against and pierce; the soft yet shattered atmosphere of new becoming old, old becoming obsolete.


  • πŸ”” The artwork for the cover was created by Conrad HΓΌbbe, a photograph of something new and pretty—and yet it's a grainy photo; like RIP Swirl's track, it is a skewed representation of novelty, a new feeling or concept as much as a physical thing, by which we encounter newness through an old medium.
  • πŸ”” RIP Swirl's 'Long Island Medium' is out now on PARADISE HOUSE.


πŸ“ 
RIP Swirl Internet Presence ☟
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Wednesday, 21 February 2018

🐣 CLOZEE — HARMONY (AXEL THESLEFF REMIX)

As gentle and ostensibly ‘world music’ as this track appears to be, there is something darker within; it lulls you into a state of exotic pastoral bliss, with textures that swirl around like the spirit of a rainforest, percussive ticks and clicks amidst an organic drumbeat sailing through all the sights and sounds of typically beautiful Earth. But soon we are sucked into a swamp of mystery, clanging metallics in the thin air and mists crawling across the once green vista, the vision of cave mouths yawning craggy monstrous, the untameable force at the heart of everything.

These two universes inhabit the original ‘Harmony’ by globally minded French musicmaker CloZee - a sort of slow sashaying to some globular heartbeat mixed with a distorted synth drop - which is echoed in Axel Thesleff ’s treatment of the track, a minimal reworking that pits the languor of leafy slo-house against bare bubbling beats and stark synths, a contrast that retains a sense of exoticism but dilutes it out into something more generally beautiful, whilst creating tons of space in the existential thump of the drop, a wholly unnatural counterpart to the soft omnipresence of natural, forest-conjuring sounds.




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CloZee Internet Presence ☟
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Saturday, 17 February 2018

🌏 VISITS — ABASHIRI

The one-carriage train pulled into Abashiri as night fell. We stepped off of the train pulling our backpacks on and bent forward into the driving snow. Abashiri is a port town on the northern east coast of Hokkaido, Japan, and is well known for two things: drift ice and a prison. We were there to see the ice, but on arrival couldn’t help think about how this hardy frozen town was the perfect place for dangerous criminals.

Abashiri gave off an uneasy feeling. Maybe it was the bleak cold, our closeness to Russia, or just that we were hungry and tired, but this was far from the popularly perceived notions of Japan - this was definitely no Kyoto. We found our hotel opposite the station, next to the warmly lit-up, shiny Toyoko Inn hotel which busy with families from China celebrating their Chinese New Year holidays. We pushed open the creaky door of our corroded concrete old hotel

The lobby was reminiscent of the black lodge in David Lynch's Twin Peaks; red velvet sofas and parlour palms appeared hazy through the smoke of a lit cigarette in an ashtray. We rang the bell at reception and an short old round lady appeared. She was rough and gravely like some old character from an anime—not the sweet kind, but one who would try and trick you out of a magical power. The lady was actually kind enough; she spoke a little English and we spoke a little (very little) Japanese but she chatted to us just the same – happy, we supposed, to see a different type of clientele. As we chatted square shapes of older men came and went in leather jackets, their rough hands clutching cans of beer and 7-11 noodles for dinner as they clambered up to their rooms. I presumed they were truckers and remembered about the protagonist in Mari Akasaka's novel Vibrator, steely and strange.

The men were quite intimidating and the thought went through my head that this is the kind of under-the -adar hotel that they might invite prostitutes back to. This thought made me uneasy. That wasn’t the end of it though: the red lift took us to our room on the third floor, and it was the only time we used the lift, it creaked and croaked as it hauled our weight against gravity and flecks of paint peeled off.

Our room was simply incredible in an 'how can someone actually think its ok to let people stay in this place?' sort of way. I put my bag on the desk, not wanting it or anything I own to touch the stained carpet, ingrained with decades of people’s detritus. The walls were damp and the widow was frozen shut from the inside. It was amazing. This whole hotel hadn't been touched since the 1970s, it was like a set from a murder mystery except we were in it and the big bulky beer-drinking men in leather jackets were staying next door.

As quickly as we got in, we got out. The lady at reception had kindly given us a map with a discount voucher for an Indian restaurant attached. Back out in the permeating cold of the Abashiri night we followed the folding map, past the golden warmth of the shiny new hotel next door. We crunched up the road, past a KFC (who would have thought it?), past a group of young Chinese New Year tourists and across an ominously frozen river. We walked though the deserted streets of this northern city and it began to snow. Why were we doing this to ourselves?

We were hunting down the Indian restaurant for a few reasons: primarily because I was vegetarian who was just really hungry and knew that Indian food usually caters well for vegetarians, so there would be no trouble tucking into something tasty, and secondly simply to see Indian food being served in such a strange and hostile place so far away from the Indian restaurants we know and love and have been brought up with in dear old England. Plus we had a coupon. Through the doors of the restaurant and out of the driving snow, an Indian guy greeted us in Japanese and surprised smiles and guided us to a table. Men came out of the kitchen to get a look at the two white people who suddenly rocked up out of the snowy fog of the night. We were as surprised to see these east Asian guys as they were to see us. The restaurant was empty apart from a table of teenagers who were eating together after a college sporting event.

We ordered our curry like seasoned pros – ‘spicy please!’ The Indian guys turned out to be Nepalese and were truly so wonderful. We spoke to them mainly in English, uncertain if they spoke better English or Japanese. The guy who served us was in his 30s and had moved to Abashiri from Nepal as his uncle had started a restaurant here. We began to suspect that most Indian restaurants in Japan were run by Nepalese men. (We are still trying to understand why this is to this day!) We tucked in to a hearty curry and ate our cheesy naan bread like gluttons; the coupon from the lady at the hotel was for cheesy naan. This was the kind of carb-loaded food we needed to keep us warm and all of it for about £10. We didn’t want to leave the kind men with tasty food and their warmth to go back to the shabby shack of a hotel but the Nepalese guys wanted to close and we needed to go to bed. In the morning we were going to be going out onto the chill of the frozen Sea of Okhotsk for one of the colder things to do in Japan.

We walked to our hotel – stopping off for a can of Chu-Hi from a 7-11 which would hopefully knock us out and help us sleep on our stained sheets – back past the happy faces in the shiny hotel, faces almost pressed against their clean glass in envy. We slept fully clothed on top of the sheets that night.

Morning came and we left as soon as we could brush our teeth and get layered up for the outside. We checked out and stashed our heavy backpacks in the big lockers at Abashiri train station; coin lockers are one of those convenient perks of travelling in Japan.

Grabbing some snacks from a bakery we made our way to the ferry terminal and purchased tickets for the 9am morning ice breaker – bad hotels have a way of getting us up and out in the morning. Alarm bells started to ring when we noticed a disclosure sign for the ice breaker cruise: you might not actually see any ice. So yes, we had travelled all this way to Abashiri specifically to see the sea freeze over – one of the more famous things to do in Hokkaido – and it turned out it wasn’t cold enough to be frozen. Well, it felt cold enough, but no, it wasn’t.

We had our boat tickets now and so by this point were duty bound to board this ship. On the ship we found a place on the top deck to take in the scenes of the sea whilst most people sat below deck keeping warm and taking selfies.

This boat trip is actually on some people’s bucket lists as a once-in-a-lifetime thing to do and even though the ice was not there, the boat trip was unforgettable. The ship took us out of the harbour and into the frigid Russian Sea of Okhotsk, the cold blistering through our many layers, almost suffocating in its dryness. The wind blew against our bodies, the expanse of the sea in front of us reminding us of how small and fragile our bodies are against the forces of nature. To put it simply, we have never been so cold in our lives. It was incredible. And we did see some ice – the harbour was a little frozen over – and we did see some sea eagles chilling out on rocks by the sea. Even if there was very little ice, the immense feeling of being so far away from everything we know on the cold of the Okhotsk was worth the trip.

Back on dry land we had a few hours before catching the train to our next destination and took a walk up the Abashiri shopping street. It turned out that Ababsihi wasn't the strange frozen oddball of a town that we first thought. The shopping street gently pumped out sweet music through its public address system. We were on the hunt for a contact lens case and this was when we were reminded that we were still in the kindhearted country of Japan.

We first tried an opticians thinking that they would have all sorts of optical-related items, but after some miming and saying the word ‘contact lens’ in a Japanese way the kind lady behind the counter said they didn't have any. But she got on the phone, went through the phone book and phoned someone up for us. She instructed us to walk up the road and described another shop. We thanked her so much for her help and made our way to the next shop, like a treasure hunt for contact lenses.

The next place was a pharmacy, it was busy with older members of the town sitting waiting for prescriptions. A youngish guy came out from a back room and we told him that a lady had called up for us, telling him that we were looking for a contact lens case, he had understood however he didn't have any. But then, after some rummaging around he produced two pill pots the size of contact lenses and asked if they would work - yes they would! We thanked him and offered up token money and he shook his head. He didn't want payment. Just another example of omotenashi – the sheer kindness of Japanese people when it comes to accommodating strangers.

We returned to our coin locker, slung our bags over our shoulders and bought tickets for the 3 o'clock train to our next destination, Asahikawa, for the ice festival, leaving Abashiri with warm hearts but the rest of us completely frozen.


REBECCA ALICE SAUNDERS
@yesnotravel



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