Dent May is a character and solo act from Mississippi who has been releasing his tunes on Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label since 2008. I came across Dent May whilst listening to a radio show guest-hosted by Noah Lennox of Animal Collective, showcasing some of his new Panda Bear material and a few other songs he’s pumped on. As the story goes, Animal Collective was busy recording for their amazing pop break-out LP “Merriweather Post Pavilion” in a Mississippi-based studio. One evening they all went out for night on the town and stumbled across a concert featuring Dent May at some unlikely location, became instantly infatuated with his take on things, and subsequently signed him to their label. Anyways, most of Lennox’s selections on this radio show were avant-garde electro/noise bands of a similar vein, until the left field grand finale – Dent May’s “Eastover Wives” (free download here: http://www.gorillavsbear.net/2010/08/12/mp3-dent-may-eastover-wives/). I found myself in a fit of laughter, amusement, and genuine awe of how the song was all at once ridiculous, humorous, entertaining and most of all catchy as hell. It blended electro-pop with 70s-quality falsetto harmonization, Fisher Price drum programming, elementary rhyme schemes and guileless lyrical content. Think of one of the Beach Boys writing a song around age 10, wearing Batman undies, cowboy boots and a neon headband.
Perusing live videos online, you’ll find Dent May performing in doughnut shops, tinsel-covered basements, and in his self-proclaimed “infotainment cult” hub the “Cats Purring Dude Ranch” (a former Boys & Girls club venue). Donning curious outfits and a rather serious look on his face, Dent May unabashedly tackles songwriting and performing, discussing comically-menial topics like struggling to find rent money, the fear of growing up to be like your parents, falling in love at an academic conference, throwing in the towel of sobriety, and a wide range of other esoteric issues he proclaims to face in his ever-interesting life.
In 6 years, Dent May has release 3 entertaining LPs and a handful of EPs that have only appreciated with time. 2008’s “The Good Feeling Music Of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele” is precisely as the title suggests and therefore likely doesn’t warrant any further explanation. Follow-up LPs “Do Things” and “Warm Blanket” are a slightly more polished, but still altogether goofy extension of his talents and are also great listens.
Favourite track: [It’s “Eastover Wives” but I’ll post another goodie] Girls On The Square (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hVIfjNPCM8)… oh that’s what a ukelele sounds like.
Breakbot is French electro funkmaster fresh disco dude Thibaut Berland. Signed to the coveted Ed Banger records (home to the likes of Justice, Mr. Oizo, and, you guessed it, Uffie) since 2009, Berland has been a busy bee, cross-pollinating hip-shaking bass and synth lines with the talents of a wide range of collaborative musicians creating a honeycomb of originals, re-works, and remixes. His music is equal parts love, honesty, truth, light and happiness. Picture a disco ball made of pure gold hovering above a porcelain dance floor with purple fog machines and soft lighting, then cue Breakbot.
When it comes to remixing, Breakbot has the proverbial Hand of Midas, crafting some of the catchiest and all-around enjoyable reinterpretations of songs that were often superb to begin with. Some highlights include his renditions of Pnau’s “Baby” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhuGMK18Bss), Aeroplane’s “Without Lies” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa68xGmNoTY), Pacific!’s “Hold Me” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpDjEfOi-cc), Van She’s “Kelly” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGIxL4r2Q5I), and like 20 others. Impressively, his original work is equally punchy and driving, making for a guaranteed good time no matter what Breakbot song blasts through my speakers. Between his 6 EPs, 2012 LP “By Your Side” and the aforementioned amassing remixes, there’s plenty to go around.
Favourite track: Baby I’m Yours (feat. Irfane) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahdH8eTydWY)… Bass lick-induced hip thrust dance moves.
…Ok one more: One Out Of Two (feat. Irfane) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=razjJva66F4)
Crystal Castles were an electro-punk duo hailing from Toronto active 2003-2014. As the story goes, the project started around 2004 as a platform for producer Ethan Kath to release his harsh, 8-bit leaning remixes and originals. Discovering singer Alice Glass in an all-girl punk band at the tender age of 17, Kath invited her to perform vocals over some of his instrumentals in studio. Unbeknownst to Kath and Glass, the engineer recorded and mixed this trial session, giving rise to their first single “Alice Practice” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2FOnrFlEJY), a highlight of their killer debut album and the reason for their original record deal.
In true punk / DIY manner, Crystal Castles did things their way, offering sparse and fruitless contact with media, frequently were in hot water regarding copywrite issues, and put on insanely loud, high-energy shows. At the helm, Glass is a true rocker, badass to the bone, regularly performing with various injuries and ailments, and openly vocal about her disdain for prejudice and inequality. Underneath the strobe lights and hoopla surrounding Crystal Castles, however, is a talented pair of songwriters. Traversing styles from gritty bitrock to dreamy synthpop with vocal overlays from auto-tuned distorted mess to pure, pretty singing, they pack a truly versatile punch. Or dropkick.
In 2008 Crystal Castles released their debut self-titled album (now referred to as “(I)”, as all 3 of their albums are self-titled), a highly-acclaimed 17-track collection of incredible innovation and style. I think it’s one of the best electro albums out there. Follow-up 2010 LP “(II)” demonstrates a similar range and provided their first international hit, a cover of Platinum Blonde’s “Not in Love” featuring Robert Smith of The Cure (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32udqal_lyQ). 2012’s “(III)” was a deviation from the path, with the band intentionally getting rid of all equipment they owned and trying to craft a new sound from the ground up. Although I do admire the notion, the resulting album is a bit of a footnote in comparison to their first 2. They’ve also provided a variety of remixes for the likes of Health, Liars and Bloc Party.
Favourite track: Black Panther (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pd90vlSLtEU)… Untrust Us, Crimewave, and Courtship Dating are also excellent samples from “(I)”.
Pure X is an under-the-radar 3-piece noise-pop/rock band from Austin, Texas fronted by singer/guitarist Nate Grace (and that’s about all I know of them as people). Quite frankly, I’m surprised I grew to like these guys as much as I do, given my first pass through their debut “Pleasure” was thiiiiis close to winding up in the trash bin of eternal damnation. How wrong I was. What seemed on the surface like a mess of murky noise and poor production I quickly realized is actually beautifully-executed, passionate craftsmanship in the context of tasteful lo-fi vulnerability. In true vinyl fashion, Pure X’s albums are an art best experienced in entirety, with overarching ideas divided into cohesive, deep-cutting movements. Featuring vocals belting urgency and desperation, drowned in a sea of distorted guitar haze and blended with hollow stripped-down drums and fuzzy bass, Pure X makes for a perfect dream-fever high. Like hanging weightless and breathless, upside-down. A friend of mine frequents Pure X so often he’s coined the phrase “taking the plunge” for the act of listening to “Pleasure”. He describes it as such because to him it sounds like Pure X submerged their amps and microphones in a 100-foot-deep pool at the end of a concrete tunnel, then cranked the reverb knob to max. I couldn’t agree more.
Since 2011, Pure X have released 2 LPs: the strangely addictive “Pleasure”, and this year’s pop evolution “Crawling Up The Stairs”. Update: Pure X just dropped their new LP “Angel”, a laid-back collection of simple, pretty songs in slo-mo (try “White Rose”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F-aeKp11lE).
Favourite track: Dream Over (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYmQs11ycPU)… take the plunge.
The Tallest Man On Earth, standing at around 5’7″-5’10” tops, is Swedish folk singer/songwriter Kristen Matsson. Finding muse in the old timey American classics of Bob Dylan and the like, Matsson combines dazzling finger-pluck/strumming patterns fed through high-capo birdsong chord structures and towered over by a stentorian voice rich with the raspy growl of of whiskey and cigarettes. Utilizing an astoundingly simple palette rarely deviating from acoustic guitar and voice, he passionately delivers fables rich with imagery and grit, painting characters and stories so vivid you feel you’ve known them all your life. I saw The Tallest Man On Earth play in 2010 for an outdoor festival crowd of thousands, and he fearlessly attacked each song, addressed the audience with honesty, and delivered a set as entertaining and inspiring as any 5+ member band performing that weekend.
With an ever-growing collection of works, Matsson has crafted 3 LPs and 2 EP’s worth of originals and covers. My favourites are his first LPs “Shallow Grave” and especially “The Wild Hunt”. 2012’s EP “Sometime The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird” also houses some of his most gorgeous and memorable songs to date. His most recent LP, “There’s No Leaving Now” features Matsson’s first attempt at full-band arrangements, demonstrating some great potential in more layered songwriting.
Favourite track: Little River (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTK6z5BkYCo)… One time I tried to learn this song. I failed.