Hardscrabble – The Flashbulb (2012)

The Flashbulb

Album artwork for Hardscrabble

To be perfectly honest, this is probably one of the craziest albums of music I’ve listened to.  And I’ve heard a lot of weird, bizarre music.  Don’t let me scare you away with such a description, though.  It’s crazy in a good way!  Great, now I sound like I’m crazy.  I need to stop saying crazy.  Okay, moving on.

The point here is that in a world where it seems almost impossible to come up with any sort of new, original music, The Flashbulb has succeeded in bring us Hardscrabble, one of the most unique electronic glitch records to date.  I can only imagine how much time and effort must have been put into making this album.  And it’s all the work of a single man: Benn Jordan, a.k.a. The Flashbulb.  As it says on the website of Alphabasic, the record label he founded himself: “The only common quality that Hardscrabble‘s songs share is unorthodox time signatures, microtonal piano melodies, and the most accomplished synthesis that we’ve seen from Jordan, in both analog and computerized website.”

Are you intrigued yet?  Even if you’re not a huge fan of electronica music, I would urge you to check out this guy’s music for the sheer purpose of expanding your mind and hearing something that I can assure you you’ve never heard before.  The music on Hardscrabble isn’t just made up of a bunch of random noises (well technically it is, if we wanted to get esoteric here).  There is a level of familiarity present that helps us connect.  Although everything is digital synthesis, it’s easy to picture a virtual band playing.  There are clear distinctions between drums, bass, keyboard pads, and guitar, plus a large helping of other processed effects.  One track, entitled “The Basement Trio,” brings to mind a strong mental image of an actual trio playing music in – you guessed it – a basement.  In a way, we should actually give The Flashbulb an extra wave of applause.  Despite being limited to nothing but digital sounds, he manages to create music in a form that is absolutely recognizable and relatable to the common ear.

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Miracle – Blackmill (2011)

Album artwork for Miracle

Album artwork for Miracle

The recent wave of modern dubstep artists has become one of the most polarizing movements in today’s music industry.  Love it or hate it, it has had a profound effect on the development of electronic music, and has influenced a variety of derivative styles.  One such pioneer goes by the name of Blackmill, and has been producing music that he christens “melodic dubstep.”  In a genre that is known for its heavy bass lines and fast-paced sampling, Blackmill’s sound is refreshingly calm.  For those of you who find the average dubstep track to be too abrasive (i.e. my last post), I would urge you to continue reading, despite any hesitations you might have, and hopefully be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

His approach to music production is really quite ingenious.  Although you might expect to hear an excess of white noise and heavy, distorted bass content, it is refreshing to feel the much gentler touch of Miracle upon your ears.  The harsh wobble sounds have been crafted into a much warmer and muted tone.  Sharp chord stabs have been replaced with echoing bells and slow-moving synth pads.  The music opens up into a much less cluttered arrangement, allowing for a greater emphasis on chordal harmony and ambient sound textures.

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ISM – Savant (2012)

Album artwork for ISM

Album artwork for ISM

Anyone who has ever attempted to produce electronic music knows that it’s a lot harder than it sounds. To be frank, it’s damn difficult.  With the dramatic rise in popularity of electronic dance music in recent years, producers have been expanding their horizons sonically, leading to the development of several new subgenres.  The new wave of dubstep, brought to the public eye by the (in)famous Skrillex, often referred to as “brostep,” is a perfect example. Love it or hate it, no one can argue against the fact that the compositional attitude of such artists has taken a dramatic turn towards a much more complex mindset.  In my mind, this movement is simply a reflection on how we, as a species, have a continuous desire for innovation in our creative pursuits – one of the most remarkable traits of our intelligence.

Let’s dial our focus in a bit.  Aleksander Vinter, more commonly known by his artist moniker, Savant, is a producer from Norway who has been making increasingly large waves in the electronic music community.  His first album, Outbreak, which was released back in 2009, was nominated for a Norwegian Grammy Award, and two of his most recent albums, Vario and Overworld, reached #1 on Beatport’s list of Top 100 Releases.  Here’s the really interesting part: according to his official Facebook page, Vinter is an actual savant with Asperger’s syndrome, and he has been blessed with the gift of extraordinary creative genius.  To quote directly from his biography, “He thinks out songs in seconds and produces them within few hours.  To this date Aleksander has composed / produced over 10.000 songs in various genres. Most notably metal, orchestral / classical, hip-hop and electronic music.”  Not only that, but Savant released four full-length studio albums just in 2012. In other words, his past four albums were all composed, produced, and released in 2012, with the fourth one being released in December.  If that’s not enough intrigue to get you to check out his music, then you may as well stop reading now.

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The Dead Symphonic EP – Zomboy (2012)

Album artwork for The Dead Symphonic EP

Album artwork for The Dead Symphonic EP

Dubstep.  Or brostep, if you prefer. It seems like it’s the only thing people are talking about nowadays. At least, that’s the case here in Miami.  And of course, there are a million amateur producers that are clogging up the pipes with nothing but cheap emulations of the greats, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still quality music to be found. Joshua Mellody, better known as Zomboy, has been absolutely killing it in dance clubs across the globe.  He’s a natural at heavy dubstep production.  His sophomore release, The Dead Symphonic EP, came out in September of this year, and never before have I seen so much energy and quality packed into a six-track EDM release.  I had the good fortune of seeing this man perform a live set in Tampa a few weeks ago, and I consider it to be one of the best dubstep shows I’ve ever attended, even rivaling such heavyweights (pun intended) as Datsik and Kill the Noise.

Zomboy works within a genre that is defined by fairly universal sound production methods, so the fact that his music is easily distinguishable from the sounds of his peers is certainly commendable.  He does pull heavily from the well-known styles of Skrillex and Knife Party – “Vancouver Beatdown” calls to mind the memorable “Devil’s Den” (Skrillex and Wolfgang Gartner), while “Deadweight” bears a striking similarity to Knife Party’s “Centipede” – but rather than casting the ugly shadow of unoriginality over his work, he uses such resemblance to establish himself as a bold player who can hold his own in the big leagues.

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Immersion – Pendulum (2010)

Album artwork for Immersion

Album artwork for Immersion

As the growth of more advanced music technology has increased exponentially in recent years, so has the creation of electronic music.  Although there is still a large demographic that criticizes such styles for countless reasons (the most prevalent being lack of creativity, talent, and/or that certain “human” element), this is only to be expected.  Historically, every time a new genre of music has thrust its way into the public eye, there have always been just as many naysayers as there have been believers.  Look at rock ‘n’ roll, rap, and jazz.  Even classical composers faced negativity throughout their careers. The fact of the matter is that people are always initially resistant to change.  Music, on the other hand, is constantly transforming, and musicians are always looking for new ways to mold it into new and unique adaptations.  Electronica is simply one of these more recent transformations.  With such a philosophy established, it is easy to sit back and immerse oneself in the subtle nuances and extraordinary sound design of the digital revolution.

That being said, I am excited to present to you the latest album from Australian drum & bass group Pendulum.  Immersion is their third full-length studio album, and in my opinion it is the most cohesive.  Although the majority of the songs are consistent with the fast-paced and frenetic mood of drum & bass, they explore a variety of other styles as well.  This is exemplified by the catchy, electro house vibe of “The Island –  Pt. I (Dawn)” and “The Island – Pt. II (Dusk),” the dubstep tendencies of “Set Me On Fire,” and the electronic/metal fusion “Self vs. Self,” which features Swedish melodic death metal band In Flames.

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