Editor’s Den: Killer Bee – Otaku

By Sam Tornow, Editorial Director

Beat tapes have been made more popular than ever with the blow-up of streaming website Bandcamp several years ago. And while there seems to be an abundance of overly chill, nu-jazz beat tapes throwing down the same old 2-and-4 beat patterns, after some searching, an entirely new, colorful world of tapes with hours upon of hours of work put into them emerge. One such gem exists in the form of an entire summer’s effort, Otaku by Killer Bee.

Otaku, attempts to explore the meaning behind it’s name, the mania the genre has over anime culture and the judgements spit by others at it’s utterance. The expression of these ideas is not as easy as listening for lyrics and putting two and two together, only through multiple listens does the message become clear: serenity.

There’s a comforting feeling on this release. Samples are taken from no one source or time period, rather from a plethora of completely different artists from around the globe, but still all the sounds feel familiar and surprise the listener at the same time. And yet, this is a release that demands a full stream. Tracks don’t bleed into each other, they enhance each other’s presence.

It takes courage to rip samples from rap’s most lyrical minds, but Killer Bee takes workings from Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt and Easy E and speeds them up, slows them down, and modulates them all around, perfectly fitting them over clever beats which borrow from many electronic styles, from future-funk to footwork.

What separates Killer Bee from other artists though, is their ability to produce constant momentum. Otaku continually pushes forward and never looks back. Rarely are beats repeated for extended periods of time or are clever samples manipulated and strung out for the sake of novelty. Every track is a treasure with countless, unique characteristics to it’s title.

On Killer Bee’s Bandcamp, the artist credits a large number of sources as inspiration: ‘80s acid house, jazz, Zen Buddhism, reel to reel machines, cassette culture, Rihanna and of course anime (just to name a few). It sounds like a who’s who of trends in lo-fi hip hop and related genres; a mess of ideas that should add up to an easily calculable ERROR message. Yet, Otaku exists in it’s own box, never exceeding its boundaries, jamming every corner with a conglomerate of textures and patterns.

 

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Nana Grizol

By Devon Hannan, Features Editor

I’ve never really been the kind of person to go out and search for music on the internet. The deepest I typically go is my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify. I never rake through bands on Bandcamp or lurk between the crevices of technology to find my new muse.

However, luckily for me, there are always plenty of musically superior individuals who constantly invalidate my music taste and play something I’ve never hear of before. I’ve had a lot of, “Oh this is alright, but have you listened to THIS?”

Nine times out of ten I have not, but you know what else is nine times out of ten? The ratio of bands they force me to listen to that I just don’t particularly like. But every once in a while there’s one or two gems that by the end of the song I nonchalantly ask, “Okay, who were they again?”

To which on one occasion they responded, “Nana Grizol.”

I vividly remember when I first listened to this band. I’m not sure if it was the environment or the emotional state of being, but Nana Grizol clung to me harder than anything before. I was driving home in a steady rain when I was stopped at railroad tracks. My phone screen lit up with a link to the song, “Cynicism.” I had never experienced such an immediate love for a band, and I haven’t ever since.

The song started out with a twinkly, hollowed out guitar – something that I am always down for. Quickly thereafter, nasal vocals stretched out over the simple guitar pattern – something that I am almost never down for, however the lyrics in this tune made me ignore it. The song was very short, running just over the two-minute mark and after about two thirds was over, a robust trumpet blares out of my speakers. In just those two minutes, the track hits upon everything that is truly important in your average life: friends and love, doubt and the universe, songwriting and coming to terms with the unknown. I was sold.

Even though this is a band I’ve been crying over for quite some time, I never dove head first into their full discography until very recently. Nana Grizol calls themselves an indie folk band. However, they bleed into other alternative genres such as pop punk and shoegaze. To most people they sound like less funded version of Andrew Jackson Jihad (now simply AJJ). I can’t really argue with that either. Mix AJJ with Foxing, and a dash of Neutral Milk Hotel and there you have it- Nana Grizol. Considering the fact that two members of Neutral Milk Hotel are in this band, this doesn’t come off as a surprise.

Nana Grizol only has two full-length studio albums, and the latest album, Ruth, was released back in 2010. Despite being very inactive in the studio, the band has been on multiple tours since then, even playing a few shows in 2016.

Love It, Love It, Nana Grizol’s first album, is simply a feel-good, spirited masterpiece. It never at any point crosses the line into being sad- maybe at most being a little self-reflective. It’s an album that I can see myself sitting on the porch (that I don’t have) and drinking 17 Arnold Palmers to. Ruth is a bit more mature and a lot more twinkly. The difference between the two albums is colossal, but they are both really dang good.

Nana Grizol, without a doubt is going to be making an appearance on several playlists this summer. They radiate the ideals of living in a world that is so vastly diverse, coexisting among people that are just as confused as yourself. Nana Grizol wants you think that living isn’t such a bad thing. They’re a change of pace and absolutely necessary to anyone who needs a good pick-me-up.

The High Llamas

By Eli Schoop, Copy Editor

Lately, I’ve been listening to the High Llamas. I don’t really know why, besides the fact that I glanced at the band through someone whose taste I highly respect. They’re not winter music, per se.

At least, as seasonal as people who are Beach Boys obsessives can get in the very least. Warmness as an entity in music is oddly not as praised, even if you’re earnest. Kitsch and irony get a pass, depending on the value of the release, but it’s certainly less beloved than say, a manic-depressive odyssey. It’s not fair to the High Llamas, because all music should strive to this much craft.

The usual comparisons are Stereolab, Nelson Riddle, Brian Wilson, yada yada melody makers. You get the picture. Experimental pop has a weird place in culture. Usually, you see it sit as this pristine ideal not to be interacted with, lest disturbing the mad geniuses at work.

Sean O’Hagan’s group is not that version of pop perfection. Rather, he lets the music prove itself not just through ingenuity, but sheer determination as well. The arrangements are loveliness incarnate. As I sit here, I’m disassociating from ingesting this sort of lush, vital songwriting.  Is there such a thing as too many harmonies?

Moreso, most other bands of the ilk, the High Llamas want to take you on illustrious journeys. Snowbug, their 1999 LP, gently feels out the atmosphere of every track, with none running out of steam.

The last place you’d think the songs would be produced from is the United Kingdom, as the breezy arrangements are reminiscent of Moroccan shores or French villages. It comes as no surprise that O’Hagan went on to compose for films, as his style lends itself magically to cinema, feelings and emotions vibrant in his music.

It’s extremely hard to imagine actual people creating this in a studio, rather than in some enchanted forest where Phil Spector never got incarcerated. Pristine pop of this magnitude can’t be contained by force, even if the nature of it is mellow and serene.

 

In the past couple of years, I’ve had a mild infatuation with bands and artists that ooze this innovative verve but just couldn’t quite get the acclaim they deserved. Gospel, cLOUDDEAD, Drexciya, and Lilys all fit this bill as sonic pioneers in their respective genres.

The High Llamas exist in this non-acclaimed sphere, quite unfairly. What they devised was unreasonably pushed as derivative and trite, and without proper understanding of their content. Long live the High Llamas, for if they continue to make music, melodic pop will have a bright future.

 

 

Plainclothes

By Eli Shively, Reviews Editor

Being the total punk rock nerd I am, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t mourn the death of every Midwest emo band I’ve ever loved. It seems as though the vast majority of them are now broken up, and the ones managed to out-survive the great “revival” of the genre, a period that now feels like forever ago to most music fans, are moving forward with their sound and overall artistic vision. Empire! Empire! started capitalizing their name, Foxing are now making what can probably best be described as “emotive post-rock”, and The World Is… are signed to the same label as a Ronnie Radke band.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I miss the days when great, fresh sounding emo bands were just a few clicks on Bandcamp away, when seeing Modern Baseball on Pitchfork was actually a big deal, and when “skramz” and “twinkle daddies” weren’t such dirty words. Well, okay, maybe not that last thing, but you get the idea.

So, for this edition of Editor’s Den, I decided to see if I could make happen in 2016 what in 2013 seemed so simple—find a new, largely unknown emo band that I really liked. The obvious first step, aside from logging on to good ol’ Bandcamp.com, was to peruse through everything the “emo” tag had to offer. After skipping through a few pages of names like Sorority Noise, From Indian Lakes, and Marietta (RIP), I finally stumbled upon Plainclothes, a Boston band who exist on the twinklier end of the emo spectrum.

The first thing I remember thinking upon seeing Plainclothes’s page was ‘…wow. This is exactly what I’m looking for.’ I loved how their record was named Dog Logic, how they tagged their music with “Kinsella”, and song titles like “Burt Reynolds, Burnt Candles” and “Categorical Imperative”. Just looking at it all brought back memories of my early days reviewing tiny emo bands at Funeral Sounds, the first music blog I ever wrote for (shouts out to Mark Garza, by the way). Ah, nostalgia.

While staring wide-eyed at the screen was pretty satisfying in itself, I eventually knew I had to get going and hit the darn play button already. To my immediately surprise and delight, a lo-fi twinkly guitar riff filled my ears. Man, I really hope I never get tired of those. As the opening track, “Poodles and Pool Noodles”, progressed, I found myself mentally checking off everything a nice, upbeat emo song needs. Gang vocals, catchy chord progressions, varying tempos and grooves throughout the track, lyrics like “drive yourself the long way home”— it was all there. Plainclothes was definitely giving me that “new band that I really like and want to listen to over and over again” feeling.

The rest of the album offered more of the same—not like there’s anything wrong with that, though, to quote a certain beloved 90’s sitcom. Plainclothes gave off just the kind of vibe I had in mind when I set out on my Bandcamp journey for good, lesser-known emo. The sound was lo-fi enough to seem warm and endearing without ruining the sound, and they incorporated the right amount of twinkle to stay interesting and catchy but not obnoxious, and wrote songs that felt fleshed-out while still mostly clocking in at under two and a half minutes. A great deal of balance goes into making a solid record in this style, and Plainclothes are without a doubt masters of the concept.

To bring this edition of Editor’s Den to a close, I’m honestly not sure how easy it is to find good emo just anywhere online nowadays. Maybe Evan Weiss’s belief holds true and the music world is going through yet another stage of “not paying attention”. Either way, Plainclothes proved to me that it’s not completely impossible to find a good emo band that you’ve never heard of these days, and if you’re a fan of the genre, you should definitely give them a shot.

Ducktails

By Jonathan Fuchs, Copy Editor

I’ve never really been good at discovering new bands on Bandcamp. Sometimes I stumble upon hidden gems, but I usually depend on friends, Facebook groups, and whatever Facebook event page for a nearby DIY show that has Bandcamp links. At this moment, those sources aren’t really giving me what I want, so instead I’ll leave the weird comfort that is Bandcamp to talk about a band that’s been on my mind for a while now, and that’s Ducktails.

The band’s name always intrigued me, since it plays off “DuckTales,” the popular ’80s retro cartoon that I’ve been watching a lot of since I started college (other retro cartoons I’ve been binge-watching since I graduated high school include “Darkwing Duck,” “Rocko’s Modern Life” and the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Because of “DuckTales,” I’ve always chuckled to myself when I saw their name in a Pitchfork article or saw them in a music venue’s calendar, but I was never interested enough to actually check them out.

After stumbling upon their newest track “Don’t Want To Let You Know,” I was immediately sold. I loved their strange synths, funky bass and singer Matt Mondanile’s voice. After some more research, I learned that Matt Mondanile is actually the guitarist for Real Estate, and that Ducktails is a side project of his. Real Estate has always been a band I enjoy quite a bit, even if I found their last album, Atlas, bland, so I began to question why I never checked Ducktails out earlier.

The next track I checked out was “Headbanging in the Mirror,” which I loved since it sounded like a psychedelic Real Estate song. It didn’t really sound at all like the first song that I listened to, since it was calmer and there were no synths this time, but I still loved it.

When I figured out that this was a single off their newest album St. Catherine, which came out earlier this year, I decided just to check the album out.

I pressed play and immediately burst out laughing when I found out the first track is called “The Disney Afternoon,” which is a string of programming on the Disney Channel where “Ducktales” played on television when it aired.

I was fascinated by this album and loved almost everything about it. Slow songs on calming indie albums like these always bore me to tears (and can even give me minor anxiety), but the slower tracks on this album like “Heaven’s Room” never became bland because of its unique violins and layering of the background vocals.

Listening to St. Catherine was like something I’ve never experienced before; almost every single track was flawless in my eyes and it was everything I think of when I think about the perfect summer album.

Ducktails is very similar to Real Estate, except without the pop sound, and instead more of psychedelic influence, which makes the instrumentation a lot more interesting. This is most definitely going to be a band I’ll spend a lot more of my time and money on.

CE

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I’m not as much of a Bandcamp fan as my fellow lobsters. Instead, I find my obscure music on Soundcloud thanks to following loads of music blogs and former finds of mine. I kind of got lucky on this one, though. Pigeons & Planes posted CE‘s “Mudra,” originally recorded back in 2012, just the other day. It’s a simple, heart-wrenching tune that’s reminiscent of James Blake, Bon Iver and even Kanye West‘s “Only One.”

CE’ s already impressive voice is given new electronic layers to add depth to the already deep song. In the wrong hands, this strategy could lead to an over-saturated mess, but CE proves his ability by doing so. But the most impressive part has to be the end when CE samples his own deceased father to close out the song and the album, Siddha. The feels, doe.

Of course, I wasn’t about to stop my digging at just one song. I quickly googled the name of his debut album, because “CE” is too obscure to search alone. It was then that I found out the dude could spit, too! “Love & Good Dreams” proved to be a good introduction for me into his rapping career. The track starts out with a building electro-soul introduction before CE goes into his rhymes. By the end, the song breaks down into a headphone-shattering, bass-heavy outro with CE chanting “fuck a Julliard n****.”

After “Love & Good Dreams,” it was easier to hear that CE actually does more work with a hip-hop duo by the name of Quincy Vidal than he does as a solo artist. Quincy Vidal is comprised of CE and fellow friend and emcee Le’Asha Julius. CE still keeps his soulful nature in this duo, but he is much more hip-hop oriented than he seemed to be on Siddha. The duo’s last album, Utopia|LDZis a beautifully produced ode to hip-hop’s prime without bailing on their collective modern influences.

“LDZ” is a powerful song that shows CE’s improvement as far as a hip-hop artist. While Siddha featured some lackluster lines, “LDZ,” released in 2014, shows CE leaving as much of himself in the verses as he has done with hooks for years now. Plus, the latter-half of the video also shows just how talented Julius is as an emcee. If you want to listen to more than CE alone, you still have to check out the fantastic collaboration between these two talented individuals.

However, the problem with finding these hidden gems within the Internet’s rough is that it’s like falling in love with someone across the room. Sure, that look you exchanged was something you’ll never forget, but you might never see them again. We might never get a sequel to Siddha and, while Vidal has said they plan to release more music, who’s to say when that will happen. Love is a fickle thing, but internet-music might be even worse.

FANU

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A blind click in the “electronic” section of Bandcamp led me to the interesting sounds of Fanu, a DJ from Helsinki. I’m lying in the sun with my eyes closed as I listen to it.

I’m not going to lie, this first track, “Sleepwalking” is uncomfortable, and feels a little forced. Okay, we’re sleepwalking, we must wake up. It’s pretty spooky on this walk. I am sensing some of this in the near future:

The euro goth drop never comes, and the bass builds in this intricate way that isn’t too fast or too slow. I’m hooked, where is he planning to bring me?

There’s an outer-space element to the album that I’m also starting to dig. He’s using sound effects that seem familiar, from a video game? The X-Files, maybe. About two minutes in, this song turns into a beautiful ambiance, and with that I am completely on Fanu’s side. I haven’t really heard anything like this, but it kind of reminds me of the dance-y, yet relaxed element that Araabmuzic mastered with his first release, Electronic Dream.

The Strange Lights concept is confirmed with “Dreamer’s Union,” weaving a sample of a conversation between two men about an eerie light before them with spacey, laser beam sounds. I’m not super crazy about it. Skip.

“Beetroots and Felt Boots” has my attention immediately, with its inclusion of samples by some gorgeous vocals that sort of sound like Billie Holiday over fast-paced drums. Fanu starts to weave in some hip-hop elements in this track, but brings them in full force on the next track: “Jive,” which is my favorite song on the record. I think he is sampling DOOM, or someone who sounds just like him, again over a creative combination of fast-paced drums and woozy bass.

There are times when Fanu gets a little cheesy. Maybe if I had a better sound system, songs like “Neverending” would sound better, but it’s a little too gritty for my little laptop speaker.

Strange Lights overall is an intriguing combination between jungle house elements and Internet-influenced sounds which is right up my alley as of late. I can’t track down exactly what his samples are or if they’re intentional, but his use of familiar video game sound effects and rap samples make me want to be friends with this guy because he’s probably interested in some cool stuff.

Apparently he is also a producer, a label founder and has worked with Bill Laswell and an accomplished Ethiopian songwriter named Gigi. Neat-o. I’ll probably listen to him again.