Hot Chip

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Hot Chip are a 5-piece electro pop band from London, England. Alongside acts like Wolf Parade and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, Hot Chip were at the outset immediately recognizable from their unconventional writing style, bizarre vocal work, and strangely honest lyrical content. Nevertheless, Hot Chip know exactly who they are and present themselves as is – no frills and bare naked for all to see. With their iconic 2004 debut LP “Coming on Strong”, Hot Chip are an undeniable keystone in the modern popularization of indie music. They keep it real, touching on topics like Kraft Dinner, yearning to own a shining Escalade, half and full nelson head locks, wanting to be looked after, and fearing the dangers of the outside world. Synth-heavy at their foundation, Hot Chip combine quirky, at at times straight-up goofy sounds that form the basis of their strangely endearing, relatable and endlessly replayable sound. At the helm is singer Alexis Taylor, a short and nerdy-looking whiz, holding down their style with his frail, thin voice that quivers and flows like a whispered confessions passing through a keyhole. As a whole, this is a rare story of a few suburban white dudes who tried their luck at soul-inspired tunes, tinkering with cheap keyboard presets and wannabe upstart convictions until they somehow pulled it off.

Over the last decade, Hot Chip have released an astonishing 5 LPs and a hoard of EPs, mixes and remixes. Their first two albums, “Coming on Strong” and 2006’s “The Warning” feature some of their most classic songs and I believe represent the best of their writing.  Following LPs “Made in the Dark”, “One Life Stand” and “In Our Heads” are also worth a listen, each featuring a number of standouts.

Favourite track: Take Care (http://youtu.be/xVT-YBReXCI)… Baby, what you got?

James Holden

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James Holden is a British experimental electro artists and DJ who releases through his own Border Community label. An Oxford mathematician by study, Holden is at the forefront of the movement that has given rise to the esthetically-brilliant UK electronic music of the last decade. As with contemporaries Four Tet, Jon Hopkins, Lone, and Burial, Holden is truly in a stratosphere of his own, with some of the most organic, hypnotic, immersive and truly perplexing sonic palates out there. Listening to his music is like watching a stop-motion fast-forward video of the evolution of species; his creations arise as an ill-defined swamp teeming with a thousand erratic movements, every second the sonic order gaining direction and purpose, organizing thoughts into coordinated movements, until the beast emerges fiery eyed and brawny, intellectualizing and experimenting until it becomes something wholly unique, an apex predator.

Since his 1999 debut, Holden has amassed an astonishing collection of mixes, remixes, full lengths and EPs. Being partial to original works, I find his 2 LPs “The Idiots Are Winning” and 2013’s “The Inheritors” to be crucial elements of the rapidly expanding repertoire of the British electro scene. He’s also crafted dozens of remixes for artists like Radiohead, Luke Abbott, Mogwai and even Brittney Spears and Madonna (try his version of Nathan Fake’s “The Sky Was Pink”: http://youtu.be/_voht-3HKvA).

Favourite track: The Inheritors (http://youtu.be/EdL_xPt7Mt0)… cower-inducing.

Bear in Heaven

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Bear in Heaven are an electro-rock group based out of Brooklyn, fronted by keyboardist/singer Jon Philpot since 2003. Along the same vein as acts like Animal Collective and Panda Bear, these guys are both uncanny and catchy. You find yourself not really understanding fully what’s going on, but liking it all the same. A friend introduced me to Bear in Heaven in 2007, after the release of their critical breakthrough “Beast Rest Forth Mouth” (don’t ask… because I don’t know). After half-listening to a part of the opening track, I gave it the ol’ “meh” and tossed it aside like a thoughtless kill-joy. It wasn’t until I heard their single of 2012’s LP “I Love You, It’s Cool” (posted below) that my tympanic membrane did double take, giving the attention their distinct, unabashed style deserved. Boasting  mishmashed, mesmerizing chants of dependent clauses, marching beats, noisy electronics, and about a million keyboard mods I’ve never heard otherwise, Bear in Heaven demand to be experienced.

Notable releases include 3 LPs, the two mentioned above being solid collections of idiosyncrasy (if I had to pick, I’d recommend starting with “I Love You, It’s Cool”). Update: Their latest LP “Time Is Over One Day Old” came out earlier this year, and now that I’ve taken the 43 minutes to actually sit down and give it a dedicated listen, I can vouch for it as a pleasant and peculiar listen, as per usual for Bear in Heaven (try their live rendition of “They Dream”: http://youtu.be/Jm1xMKq__dI).

Favourite track: Reflection of You (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYis9zpGyH8)… A real banger of a tune.

Copeland

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Copeland is a 4-piece indie rock band fronted by transcendental singer/pianist Aaron Marsh and a host of semi-temporary backing members. Formed in Florida circa 2000, Copeland had a career fraught with financial struggle and record company mishaps, ultimately leading to them throwing in the towel a decade later. I considered their disbanding a true shame, as their 2008 LP “You Are My Sunshine” is one of the most emotionally raw, unadulterated, devastating pieces of art I’ve experienced. With a muse’s voice, refreshing song structures comprised of a host of analog keyboards like rhodes/organ/mellotron, string arrangements, intricately weaved bass lines, perfectly accentuated guitar, and warm, full, non-intrusive drumming, they were definitely at their artistic best. Fast forward 6 years, Copeland decided to reunite, forgo the music industry, record their gorgeous new album “Ixora” in Marsh’s The Vanguard Room studio, and self-release the physical media. Turned my frown upside-down.

Over their existence, Copeland have released 6 LPs, each with its own merit, but none as magnificent as “You Are My Sunshine” and its complimentary EP “The Grey Man”. Also check out this year’s “Ixora”, the natural extension of their sensational sound (try “Ordinary”: http://youtu.be/lTSMQMybo-0).

Favourite track: Chin Up (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcJL5QVfm6I)… Somehow builds and collapses all at once.

Monotonix

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Monotonix were a 3-piece garage rock band from Tel Aviv, Israel active throughout 2005-2011. They stormed the indie music scene, wreaked havoc and mayhem, and then promptly erupted in ball of flaming glory. True rockers to the core, they became infamous for their insanely chaotic live shows that usually included some combination of fire, stripping down to short shorts or less, and/or placing band members inside garbage bins. Theirs weren’t the kind of shows you could stand at the back with your arms folded looking cool, mainly because singer Ami Shalev was likely to steal your high ball and use it to douse your neighbours, all the while smiling and yelling maniacally into his microphone. Clambering amongst literally every corner of the venue, scaling walls and dangling head first from the roof wearing nothing but his red gaunch and sweaty matted torso fur, Shalev was an absolute nutcase worth his weight in pure entertainment. It’s as though each show was a gigantic birthday present, and it was his job to excitedly tear the place apart and discover what’s really hiding behind the facades. As illustrated on their debut EP cover art, Monotonix became known as the ultimate crowd surfers, where even drummers Ran Shimoni and Haggai Fershtman (plus a slew of toms and symbols) would make their way across the audiences’ straining outstretched arms – usually during the middle of a song (http://blogs.suntimes.com/ourtown/monotonix.jpg). Understandably and commendably, the trio were banned from most venues in Israel, many concerts cut short by a manual power outage from the owner or by local police force invasion. So, as a wandering carefree drunkard might, Monotonix sought their fortune elsewhere – the world at large.

Beyond their live antics, Monotonix were fundamentally a solid group of songwriters. With a raw and gritty sound, they kept their convictions clear: shred or die. Using Yonaton Gat’s muddy, gnarled, bass-heavy guitar and a bare-bones drum kit, they focused on driving, explosive riff structures and dynamic patterns that carry with a force much greater than the sum of its parts. Shalev’s curiously catchy vocal work lands somewhere between yelling and singing, with an embodiment of multiple personas and inflections that add an interesting dimension. In short, they deliver some commendable, memorable  tunes.

Montonix’s main discography consists of the aforementioned “Body Language” EP (arguably their best work), and LPs “Where Were You When It Happened?” and “Not Yet”. Keeping to their simple nature, their disbandment message simply read, “The End THANK YOU!”

Favourite track: Summers and Autumns (https://youtu.be/ZQ9qH7D7IfY)… just good ol’ fashioned rock.

Ryan Hemsworth

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Ryan Hemsworth is a Canadian producer and electro artist originally from Halifax. Initially focused on his production work and remixes, Hemsworth recently found a bounding stride in original composition. Like contemporaries Four Tet and Dan Snaith of Manitoba / Caribou, Hemsworth uses a plethora of organic instrumentation, major key signatures, and vocal timbres of a springtime songbird wrapped snugly in a down-filled duvet. Every song is meticulously wrought and gorgeously mixed, giving rise to some of the most pleasant and approachable tunes in the genre.

Of his works to date, I particularly recommend his 2013 EP “Still Awake” and this year’s “Alone For The First Time”, the latter featuring a few noteworthy vocal performances. Debut LP “Guilt Trips” is also worth a gander. As somewhat of a side note, one-off collaborative track “Cream Soda” (free download here: https://soundcloud.com/ryanhemsworth/cream-soda-with-tomggg) with Japan’s Tomggg offers a delicious gateway into his side kick’s polished style (lots of free stuff at https://soundcloud.com/tomggg).

Favourite track: Perfectly (http://youtu.be/dGrX9_4C8j4)… What a nice thought!

PARTYNEXTDOOR

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PARTYNEXTDOOR is Toronto-based indie R&B artist Jahron Brathwaite, signed to Drake’s OVO label since 2013. Brathwaite creates dark, minimalistic R&B that’s at once unassuming and understated, yet forthright and confident. He knows his strengths and presents them in a neat, tightly-wrapped package.  Sampling acts like Disclosure, Gold Panda and Holy Other, it’s apparent Brathwaite believes in independent music, celebrating and accentuating his contemporaries with tasteful melody and silky smooth voice that puts a fresh, sexy twist on things. For fans of The Weeknd’s excellent debut mixtape “House of Balloons”, their only release prior to the rather unfortunate departure of Abel Tesfaye’s magician-producer Zodiac, PARTYNEXTDOOR is the next closest thing since. As though he picked up their pieces and kept running.

Pictured above are his 2 releases to date: last year’s self-titled mixtape and follow-up LP “Two”. Both feature memorable contributions from boss man Drake.

Favourite track: Persian Rugs (free download here: https://soundcloud.com/partyomo/partynextdoor-persian-rugs)… these days the saying should be “Sex, Drugs & R&B”. Actually, it should always have been that way.