Pantha du Prince

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Pantha du Prince is the moniker of German electro producer Hendrik Weber, extant since the early 2000s. Drawing from house, minimal, techno and ambient, Weber infuses dance-oriented foundations with organic overlays of analog percussion and a host of idiophonic instrumentation. The resultant product is a meditative, solemn journey into blackness. His beats and ambiance form a cavernous void like the mouth of a shaft cave, with field samples providing the tinkering and dripping of salt and mineral-infused water that echoes  amongst hostile, distorted sonic speleothems. As you lower yourself deeper into the chasm, you feel the cold, shimmering brilliance of crystaline lattices conjured into existence from a breadth of bells and chimes resonating in combative harmony.

To date, Pantha du Prince has released 4 LPs, my favourites being 2007’s “This Bliss” and 2010’s “Black Noise” pictured above. After the latter, Weber commissioned 9 artists to remix 4 tracks and collected them as the enjoyable “IX Versions of Black Noise”, a compilation with remarkable flow and cohesiveness. Kicking out all the jams, his most recent work “Elements of Light” is a 45-minute orchestral collaborative effort with Norway’s The Bell Laboratory. For those more inclined to 4-on-the-floor drive, I’d recommend Weber’s debut “Diamond Daze”.

Favourite track: Im Bann (http://youtu.be/dGaW9r-1mII)… buuuuut that one’s kind of scary, so also try Welt Am Draht (http://youtu.be/7CEQLmgZGPQ)

Nick Drake

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Nick Drake was a British folk artist active throughout 1967–1974. I consider him amongst the greatest musicians to have ever graced this Earth. An exceptional writer, Drake found difficulty with conveying his genius in live performance. With a quiet, understated demeanor and prolonged gaps between songs to set up his unconventional tuning structures, his shows were moments of brilliance sprinkled amongst reportedly awkward spans of silence. He had such a profound understanding of the intricate and largely untapped potential of tuning that his impact was largely left unheard amongst the culminating consumerist nature of music that grew with 20th century pop. Drake also struggled with melancholic depression for much of his young adult years, at least some of which was influenced by his frustration with the ongoing dichotomy of niche critical praise without widespread recognition. In the fall of his last year, Drake retreated to his parent’s house in the England countryside in search of respite. On November 25, 1974, Nick was found dead in his bedroom, having taken a fatal dose of his prescription tricyclic antidepressants. It is unknown whether this was intentional suicide, or a last attempt at achieving neurochemical normalcy. And as is such with many who achieved true greatness, his due recognition arrived posthumously.

Despite his desolate tale, Drake’s works are a dark, beautiful menagerie – a nightingale standing bleak on a moonlit horizon. He embodies the purest emotion that can be attained in music, stripping away the superfluous for a raw, expressionist delivery. In his honesty comes a compatibility and suitability with a diverse spectrum ranging pathos to euphoria. From the buddings of romance, the slow grind of loneliness; a flower-adorned bridal procession, a slouched sigh in the cold and the dark, Nick Drake will muse you in solidarity. In humility, he presents his masterful guitar work, unique tuning schemes and chord progressions, compelling lyrical content, and a gentle yet robust voice that speaks so clear you’d swear if you closed your eyes that he was there right beside you. Nick sang openly about his struggles, chasing after what cannot be caught, the curses of smoking too long, the blissful mystery of an unattainable love, the relentless hand of time – but there was no greater subject than the prose of his truest adversary: the black-eyed dog of melancholy.

In his short life, Nick Drake made 3 gorgeous and practically flawless records, “Five Leaves Left”, “Bryter Layter” and “Pink Moon”. As his works became increasingly celebrated, as did the demand. The consequent delving into the archives of his creative output unearthed some of the very best songs I’ve ever heard. From the dust-covered cardboard boxes was lifted what I believe to be one of the single greatest achievements in all music, 1986’s compilation album “Time of No Reply”. Nestled snugly within this volume are a collection of bare naked reinterpretations of previously-released album tracks. These few songs have provided more catharsis and meaning in my life than perhaps any other; evidence of the undefinable, inexplicable power and spirituality of music.

In his demise brings an uncanny retrospect into life. Listening to Drake’s music now is like standing in a dimension beyond our linear time, with a birds-eye view of all he accomplished. The listener cherishes his victories as sweeter than honey, and mourns over the deep scathing pit of his sorrow. By the end of his life, Drake’s affliction had began to have a profound impact on his physical capacity to perform, to the extent that he could no longer sing and play simultaneously. In a legendary 1974 recording session, Nick put forth his last hurrah: 4 tracks that I believe sum up his genius, crowned with the diamond of his career and one of my very favourite songs of all time, “Hanging on a Star”. I encourage anyone interested in Nick Drake’s story to watch a terrific documentary about his life entitled “A Skin Too Few” (http://youtu.be/nrmR_F5XgwQ). On his epitaph reads a lyric lifted from the closing track of his final album: “Now we rise / And we are everywhere”.

Favourite tracks:
Time of No Reply – Hanging on a Star (http://youtu.be/YIkSmED6dFk)
Time of No Reply – Voice From a Mountain (http://youtu.be/ZRkkEtGxlns)
Pink Moon – Which Will (http://youtu.be/A0NDxRNdQKk)
Pink Moon – From The Morning (http://youtu.be/Q2JjJPDz3EE)
Made to Love Magic – Tow The Line (http://youtu.be/hSMLvpeg9WQ)

Panda Bear

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Panda Bear is the alias of the enigmatically passive Noah Lennox, equally known for his role in indie/electro giant Animal Collective. Similar to his band, the solo project of Panda Bear started as a lo-fi bedroom project comprised mainly of quirky and puzzling instrumental tinkering vignettes. Years later and simultaneous to Animal Collective’s critical breakthrough album “Strawberry Jam”, Lennox was somehow finding time to perfect his gestating dark horse, the untouchable “Person Pitch” – an album that has (in my humble opinion) proved to be one if the quintessential works of the indie music world.

A friend aptly likened “Person Pitch” to experiencing The Beach Boys on hallucinogens, playing fathoms away across an echoey wooden hall. In this way, Lennox has crafted a truly novel sound, combining aspects of IDM, surf rock, and indie electronica, as if Brian Wilson became a computer nerd and connoisseur of effects pedals. Celebrated for this talent, Lennox has been featured on the releases of many like-minded artists, often resulting in the catchiest and most memorable (memorablest?) track of the LP. Notable examples include “Walkabout” with Atlas Sound (http://youtu.be/vcMGACqsg5A), “Stick to My Side” with Pantha du Prince, and most impressively, the standout banger “Doin’ It Right” from Daft Punk’s latest (http://youtu.be/t1M2WeMTRis). When Daft Punk invite you to record with them in Paris, you know you’re doing it right (get it?).

Panda Bear has released 4 solo LPs, starting with his 1998 self-titled debut. If you’re new to Panda Bear, I’d obviously recommend going for gold with his 2007 masterpiece “Person Pitch”, and solid 2011 follow-up “Tomboy”. As mentioned, you can also find him popping up all over the place in the “feat.” section, and in a growing collection of intriguing remixes to top it all off (try his version of The Notwist’s “Boneless”: http://youtu.be/S2h4IrrFIoU). Update: Just arrived is Lennox’s new album entitled “Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper”, a kaleidoscopic head trip of bright, shimmering samples, his iconic melody-harmony vocal wizardry, and by the sounds of it, probably a moderate dosage of acid (try stand-out single “Boys Latin”: http://youtu.be/prBaZzYmQrI).

Favourite track: Take Pills (http://youtu.be/8-43dKcfr38)… at about the halfway point, you’ll find yourself gently dropped head first through the rabbit hole that is Panda Bear.

High Highs

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High Highs are an Australian indie pop duo comprised of Jack Milas and Oli Chang.

When I put on High Highs, more times than not someone in the room asks, “Who is this?”. Considering how often I get hazed for my musical taste and allegedly poor ability to match genre to the intercurrent social atmosphere, I always cringe when posed with this question. However, in these rare occasions it’s the disarming, carefree nature of High Highs’ that’s tantalized genuine curiosity. Between the reverb-drenched guitar lines, nimbus cloud voices, and muted, immersive production style, they are indeed one of the most pleasant and unassuming acts around.

In the last few years, High Highs have released excellent LP “Open Season” and a recent 3-song EP entitled “Ocean to City” in preparation of a follow-up album due sometime in the near future. You can listen to / download much of their stuff for free at their Bandcamp (http://highhighsmusic.bandcamp.com/).

Favourite track: Flowers Bloom (http://youtu.be/8sN_jOa7DRM)… And you thought I had bad taste!