Eluvium

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Eluvium is prolific ambient artist Matthew Cooper, based out of Portland since 2003. What I enjoy most about Eluvium is his versatility of instrumentation, style and emotional overtones without sacrificing quality. With blankets of texture, drone, and white noise he gently washes over you, carrying you out to sea. Using piano, guitar, and occasional guest vocal accentuations, Eluvium provides tangible melody and pattern for the listener to clasp onto in this electronic soundscape.

Cooper works under many monikers including Miniatures, Window Exchange, Concert Silence, Martin Edin and his own name, often as collaborations or one-off projects. As Eluvium, he has released a whopping 6 EPs and 7 LPs, with my two favourites “Lambent Material” and “Talk Amongst The Trees” pictured above. His track “Under The Water It Glowed” is the first ambient song I ever liked, so if you’re not yet a belieber perhaps it could likewise act as your gateway into the abyss. Update: Eluvium has teamed up with Explosions In The Sky guitarist Mark Smith in a new project entitled “Inventions” – their killer self-titled album dropped this week and is a fantastic match up of heavy-hitting ambience, sampling and pop (try “Peaceable Child“). Update II: I really should make a second article for these guys buuut I’m not going to… Regardless, Inventions have a sophomore LP entitled “Maze of Woods” featuring some gorgeous whirlwind, submersing tracks and remixes from The Field, The Caretaker and AWVFTS (try bite-sized opener “Escapers“).

Favourite track: New Animals From The Air… Total immersion.

Seiho

Seiho is an electro artist from Osaka, Japan. There’s precious little known about him, but I think the music is more than enough to keep one occupied. Seiho is a master of dancey tunes laced with rapid fire, unintelligible pop snippets and throttling beats. Peppered gingerly among his solid sonic base are a flurry of organic samples like fluttering avian wings, songbird calls, bubble-pops, cash register dings, and water droplet echoes. He’s also not afraid to add orchestral and wind-instrument accentuation if so inclined. All in, Seiho makes for an intriguing listen that, most importantly, is catchy as a pop fly.

Some of Seiho’s best work includes “Gold”, “I Feel Rave”, “Plastic” and his rework of Les Sins’ “Why feat. Nate Salman” – most of these and a bunch more are available on his Soundcloud.

Favourite track: Gold… 24k by the sounds of it.

 

Beach House

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Beach house are a dream pop duo hailing from Baltimore, and comprise what I consider to be likely the most important act in indie music today. These two are the masters of unprecedented refrain, compulsive attention to detail, and straight up all-around musicianship. Featuring the airy, ghost-like, memorizing voice of Victoria Legrand with her living, breathing keyboard tones, accompanied by devastating open-chord guitar lines by Alex Scally, and marching, downgrade drum programming of touring member Daniel Franz, you won’t find an equal. Beach House really is the full package – an ever-improving catalog, entrancing stage presence, first class aesthetic, and uncompromising drive to write, play, and release their music the way they want to. I love these guys.

Since 2006, Beach House have released 4 LPs, all unique, and each better than the last. Pictured above is their pop break-through “Teen Dream”, and its sonic giant of a successor “Bloom”. Update: Round 5 LP “Depression Cherry” is a delicate, reverb-soaked study in simplicity and silently breaking hearts (try “Beyond Love“). Update II: “Thank Your Lucky Stars” indeed; insanely, Beach House have debuted yet another long play a mere 50 days after the former (try woozy opener “Majorette“)

Favourite track: Norway (https://youtu.be/ciHpW0rlKcM)… Still taken aback by this one.

Chad Valley

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Chad Valley is the moniker for UK-based producer Hugo Manuel, a synth-pop miracle worker and wish-granter since 2010. Listening to his tunes is like bathing in a glowing golden pool of nostalgic summer love. There’s an automatic familiarity and comfort to his sound not matched by many. He lets his music do most of the talking, so I don’t know much about him… but I do know this: the play counts are rising at a incredible rate. Chad Valley is one of the unique few who has the artistic awareness to grab the listeners attention at first pass, while concurrently providing ample creative substance to sustain interest over and over again. With crooning falsetto melodies, heartrendingly vulnerable lyrics, smooth and fluid low-tempo beats, and wish-washing synth lines, you’ll quickly find yourself mentally drifting into the distant sunset on a pillow made of ice cream and rainbows.

Thus far he has released two solid LPs “Equatorial Ultravox” and the equally amazing “Young Hunger”, the latter which features a host of indie artists such as Active Child’s Pat Grossi, Fixer’s Jack Goldstein, Glasser, and many more. When you wish upon a star, Chad Valley will serenade from afar. Update: Chad’s gone and done it again, dropping a 9-track collection of passionate croon-infused feelgoodery entitled “Entirely New Blue” (try standout “True“).

Favourite track: My Girl (feat. Jack Goldstein)… but honestly this is more or less arbitrary because he has so many hip-shaking hits.

Giraffage

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Giraffage is San Francisco-based electro artist Charlie Yin, currently signed to heavy-hitting Fool’s Gold Records. Now soundtracking iPhone commercials, Yin began in 2011 independently releasing his music to a small but respectable acclaim. His brightly coloured, down-tempo jams are are infested with minute, meticulous tidbits, R&B-leaning vocals and occasionally a mildly dysthymic feel. Like the song of the lonely lovebird, his movements flutter and float with a beauty delivered at apathetic cadence.

When a friend first showed me Giraffage, I essentially went on a rampage acquiring everything of his I could get my filthy hands on. Across the 3 hours of material, I’ve enjoyed just about every song. Highlights pictured above are his 2 excellent long plays “Comfort” and “Needs”. EPs “No Reason” and “Pretty Things” also feature some banging tracks. Last year this guy even remixed and compressed The-Dream’s 2007 “Love/Hate” album into a half-hour of sexy power entitled “Giraffage Remixes The-Dream“. Yeah Yin!

Favourite track: Before… Celebrating in melancholy.

Lee

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Lee, well, technically “lee (asano+ryuhei)”, is Japanese electronic and visual artist Ryuhei Asano, originally from Fukuoka and now based out of Bangkok. He’s total Kyushu danji – a Japanese phrase describing and celebrating the unique style of those from Kyushu, the Southern island of Japan and home to some of the most culturally unique aspects that incredible nation has to offer. Lee is a tough act to describe, but one thing is for sure: he’s nutso.

In a phrase, Asano is an eclectic barrage of sounds – a flash-storm collage of old classic-style vocals, drunken string and piano ensembles, sideways drum beats, Japanese infomercials, and field samples of cultural events and strange characters surely known solely to Lee alone. He’s the sound of someone coursing rapidly between tv channels, while another retunes their transistor radio, while their infant child bonks and bangs onto an array of percussion instruments. But somehow the resultant sonic array is a blissed-out, controlled chaos that I find myself drawn to over and over again. It’s pleasant lounging music that can just as easily sustain full attention, where I sing along right up until the realization that I can neither speak Japanese nor hold a note.

Since around 2012, Lee has been releasing a steady stream of music and equally-bizarre album cover art, much of it available for free on his Bandcamp (http://leeeeee.bandcamp.com/) & Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/leeeeeeee). Pictured above are my 2 favourites of his 4 LPs so far this year (!), “TANH” (with frequent collaborator and like-minded space kidet Arμ-2 – http://aru-2.bandcamp.com/) and the brand-new “( u _ u )” (try “ryotaro”: ). Featuring song titles such as “三”, “⌘v” and “●●●●-“, you know you’re in for a fresh experience. And with a unique visual accompaniment for every single song, he’s the devil in the details. Update: just in case 4 releases in one year wasn’t enough, Lee’s gone ahead and dropped a name-your-price hip hop-featuring EP, aptly entitled “55555” (find it at http://leeeeee.bandcamp.com/album/55555; “05. 50g” is a standout). Update II: Leeeeee’s at it again with new EP “めもの” – don’t know what that means, don’t care, too busy listening to it to find out (listen/buy for cheap at https://leeeeee.bandcamp.com/album/–2; try track 8 “わい “).

Favourite track: dukkha (http://leeeeee.bandcamp.com/track/dukkha-2)… Like I said, Kyushu danji.

Patrick Watson

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Patrick Watson is a Montreal-based 4-piece band fronted by the singer/pianist of the same name. He insists they are a “band” and not a solo artist + backing accompaniment, which would I guess be called Patrick and the Watson’s or something. Regardless, these guys are a shining beacon of artistic excellence in the Canadian indie scene – an archetype of when raw talent, ingenuity, and dedicated practice collide. With instrumentation collages not unlike that of Beirut, Andrew Bird and Owen Pallett, Patrick Watson are masters of both composition and execution. Featuring refreshing piano and string/wind arrangement intricacies,  unconventional song structures, striking melodies and pop hooks, steadfast guitar/bass/drum foundations, and Watson’s immediately-recognizable, silky-smooth falsetto voice, I’d be hard pressed to find many rivals. Not that music necessarily needs to be a popularity contest.

Over the last decade, Patrick Watson have kept a steady pace at 1 album per 3 years. All their releases are delicious, but my two favourites are the 2007 Polaris Music Prize winning “Closer to Paradise” and this year’s “Adventures in Your Own Backyard”. Watson (the individual) was also co-wrote a number of stand outs from The Cinematic Orchestra’s “Ma Fleur” album, as well as provided an excellent remake of Champion’s “Guy Doune” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3wxP-Fmlfg).  If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend seeing them live – they really are a sight to behold… especially Watson, who is eccentric, sporadic, and altogether fascinating to watch. Update: Watson took on past-collaborator Joe Grass as full-time guitarist and delivered another gorgeous, 50-minute journey through his haunted funhouse of a mind (try title track opener “Love Songs for Robots“).

Favourite track: Slip Into Your Skin (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sI8l8qWiEk)… I feel it too.

Owen Pallett

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Owen Pallett (previously Final Fantasy) is a composer, collaborator and multi-instrumentalist originally from Toronto, now hailing from Montreal. A brilliant violinist, Pallett reportedly began his training at the tender age of 3, with original composition beginning in his teens (for video games, of all things). Pallett could be equated to Canada’s answer to Andrew Bird and is comfortably nestled amongst the most technically proficient performers in all indie music.

I recently had the opportunity to see Pallett play live – probably the greatest display of talent one can find in indie. He is an open book with honest convictions on just about any topic – from critiques of modern music to sexual orientation to food preferences, he makes his unabridged opinions known. When asked about the reasoning for his name change, Pallett reminded the interviewer that a full written explanation was posted on his website, and that it’s also a “boring answer to a boring question”. This cheeky jesting is part of what separates Pallett from the herd, permeating his music in the form of witty experimentation.

Joining much of the world’s music listeners as having the equivalent of a preschool knowledge of music theory, I doubt I’m alone in considering some of Pallett’s music challenging, unconventional, and in moments borderline cacophonous. Nevertheless, his more pop-friendly and immediately relatable music has pulled me in and guided by hand a few steps outside the immediate comfort zone of 4-4 time, pentatonic scales and break-up-make-up lyrical themes, into the music world crafted only by the truly exceptional.

Pallett was one of the first to heavily integrate looping into a live set. Collaborating with software developers, they created novel recording software controllable on the fly with minimal adulteration the original constructions. He does this to intentionally give an “off-balance” feel that sounds more organic and human, sending separate arrangements to strategically placed speakers around the stage, admirably approximating the sonics of an ensemble. While most bands opt for click-tracks and pre-recorded samples, Pallett maintains an element of imperfection, humility and vulnerability. This leads to a high flying trapeze-type performance where the audience is in jaw-dropped awe while simultaneously cringing in hopes that all turns out well for the artist. Indeed, Pallet confesses to what he considers at least 1 major blunder in each performance, but that challenge is something that has guided him to excellence.

 As Final Fantasy, Pallett released 3 EPs and 2 LPs, his most recognizable being the sophomore full-length “He Poos Clouds” (yes, that’s what it’s called) which won the 2006 Polaris Music Prize. I’ll admit I’ve dug retrospectively to approximately the asthenosphere of his work, but I do vouch for that album as an intriguing, often perplexing and occasionally brilliant listen; difficult but ultimately rewarding. However, it was when he assumed his own name that I believe Pallett found his best. LPs “Heartland” and “In Conflict” pictured above, as well as interim EP “A Swedish Love Story” provide truly masterful songwriting, both long plays being deservingly short-listed again for Polaris. You can also find Pallett’s arrangements on albums by Caribou, Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Foxes in Fiction and many more.

Favourite track: Lewis Takes Off His Shirt… despite a chaotic frenzy of stage crew and rainfall, the guy charms, delivers and basically lights his bowstrings on fire.

Tame Impala

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Tame Impala is the bedroom project of Australian musical polymath Kevin Parker, who basically appears to be the textbook definition of a care-free beach bum. With his live presence featuring long flowing locks, bare feet, and a well-worn straw hat billowing in the gentle breeze, he’s about as smooth as one can get. I was first introduced to this group when looking up various lesser-known bands prior to my arrival at Sasquatch Music Festival 2010. They had just released their excellent debut LP “Innerspeaker”, and despite my limited exposure, I thought they were interesting enough to justify waking up in decent time to see their 9:00 am set. I remember being absolutely taken aback by their performance – extended head-banging jam sessions, effortlessly tight dynamics, a broad range of tempos and moods, Beatles-esque LSD melodies, and arguably the best psychedelic sonics to come out in recent memory.

Since then, Tame Impala has released the even-more-excellent LP “Lonerism” with some of the catchiest and punchy tracks of 2012.  Nothing tame about this impala. Update: If there was any doubt, Parker has secured his stature as one of the best indie songwriters worldwide with brand-new killer LP “Currents” featuring a heaping portion of incredibly catchy, kaleidoscopic and often downright sexy tunes (try the unstoppable “Let It Happen” & “Eventually” & “Cause I’m A Man”).

Favourite track: Elephant (https://youtu.be/uCo3CQw6wp8)… pure shredding, rude style.

Active Child

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Active Child is the stage name of LA-based Pat Grossi, an angelic, svelte, male-equivalent of a siren. He has quickly become one of my very favourite artists since first encounter in 2010. The unique blend of harp and falsetto singing with minimal yet calculated electro beats and power-synths makes for a soothing and emotionally-driving listen. He sings with absolute sincerity and conviction with every lyric, and I have yet to hear a song I don’t like. When I saw them play in 2012, I literally just stood there staring, basking in his radiant glory.

So far, Active Child has released the unstoppable “Curtis Lane” EP, and “You Are All I See” LP. Update: His tantilizing new EP “Rapor” is now up; the holy legacy burns strong. Update II: quite unexpectedly, follow-up LP “Mercy” is now upon us – a stunning study in gentle, heart-felt lullabies (caress your ears with “These Arms”).

Favourite track: Hanging On (https://youtu.be/pCB6D61LSCs)… one of the best songs I’ve heard in years.

Broken Social Scene

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Broken Social Scene, an indie rock army based out of Toronto, are in my opinion the greatest Canadian indie band of all time. Formed around core members Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning in 1999, they have set the gold standard of quality musicianship, live performance, and independent music advocacy. With up to 19 touring members, many notable Canadian musicians have have joined ranks as collaborators in studio and on stage, including the likes of Emily Hanes of Stars, Leslie Feist, Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, members of Do Make Say Think, and many more.

I had the fortune of seeing them play prior to their indefinite hiatus announced earlier this year. It was a comically crowded hubbub of 12 or so musician crammed onto the stage, bumping into each other, switching instruments, and tripping over cords… but it’s obvious they wouldn’t have it any other way. Everyone was smiling ear to ear, joining in for vocal sections, and delivering one of the most amusing and entertaining shows I’ve ever seen. Contagious excitement emanates from their energetic performances, with tangible mutual respect for each musician’s contributions, and an overwhelming sense of connectedness and appreciation with the audience. Surely much of the crowd joined me in my desire to push to the front, jump on stage and grab the nearest tambourine. I’m sure Broken Social Scene wouldn’t mind. With impromptu guitar solos, extended jam sessions, massive percussion, string and horn orchestrations, and fist pumping gang vocals, they really are the genre-defining monument of indie rock.

In addition to his musical creativity, Kevin Drew is also co-owner of “Arts & Crafts”, regarded as one of the most important of all Canadian record labels. With a keen ear for talent, Drew has signed artists such as Feist and Stars, whom along with Broken Social Scene have garnished massive critical acclaim and commercial success, winning a whole whack of Juno Awards, a Polaris Music Prize, and platinum album certification many times over. With this grassroots role, Drew continues to have a profoundly positive impact on the popularization and financial backing of what remains a thriving subculture of Canadian music. No doubt, without the works of Drew, Canning, Feist, Hanes, and the throng of other proficient collaborators, Canadian art culture would not be what it is today.

To date, Broken Social Scene have released 4 LPs, 4 EPs, A B-Side album, and 5 original film scores. Soooo a lot. I love all their tunes, but pictured above are two of the best indie albums of all time, their iconic 2001 debut “Feel Good Lost”, a largely instrumental / post-rock movement, and their amazing rock explosion, 2002’s “You Forgot It In People”. Although on hiatus, Broken Social Scene members continue to create in other avenues, with side projects, solo works, and contributions to film scores and sound tracks. I suspect we haven’t seen the end of them just yet. Update: It’s taken me this long to clue in to the fact that Kevin Drew’s newest solo album “Darlings” is a kick-ass rock record well-worth your 43 minutes (features members of BSS, Do Make Say Think and Feist – try “You In Your Were”).

Favourite track: Cause = Time (https://youtu.be/igRo7CvttTs)… Just a small sample of the herd.

Ben Khan

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Ben Khan is a budding electro R&B artist based out of London, England. With more than a knack for production, Khan creates expansive, shimmering vignettes flourished with cryptic samples, tight blues-leaning guitar overdrive and a voice like sweet honey. A man of vision, he certainly sticks to his guns, juxtaposing the gorgeous and bizarre, injecting a degree of free form and fluidity that’s not often attained in electronic-based music. He’s a barbequed peach of sound, with crisp, caramelized exterior, blackened audio clip flecks and a delicious gooey core of pop.

Thus far, Khan has graced us with 2 catchy EPs, “1992” and this year’s “1000”. Each offers 4 songs with a couple bangers that’ll nestle comfortably within any Jai Paul-containing summer mix. In fact, you’ve likely heard his break-out anthemic “Youth” on some patios already (https://youtu.be/-Jou5TY7Vp8).

Favourite track: 1000 (https://youtu.be/sgcQHfoxoag)… if pastels could sing.

Nosaj Thing

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Nosaj Thing is American producer and electro whiz Jason Chung. People who have experienced near-death hypothermia describe slowing cognition, drowsiness, and an ominous surge of warmth through the extremities as the body begins to decompensate. I imagine this state as the playground in which Nosaj Thing crafts his music. With chilled, sedated, down-tempo beats, hallucinogenic hints at melody, and weighted layering of ambience, you’ll still find a strange comfort among the unease. He seamlessly weaves shape-shifting vocal utterances, pulsing urgency esthetic, and haunting synth works that keep you looking over your shoulder.

Since his 2006 debut EP “Views/Octopus”, Nosaj Thing has kept an even pace, releasing two excellent LPs: 2009’s “Drift” and 2012’s “Home”. In addition, 8 tracks from “Drift” were reinterpreted as “Drift Remixed” by heavy-hitting electro artists such as Jon Hopkins, Jamie xx, Teebs, Dorian Concept, and Dntel from The Postal Service, among others. This all-star lineup, and the important decision to have each song remixed only once, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and endlessly playable feature. Besides putting out killer albums, Nosaj Thing produces for the likes of Kid Cudi and Kendrick Lamar, runs his own label Timetable, destroys live (watched this about 20 times: https://youtu.be/31AFfyPXUKQ), and does a fantastic job of remixing tracks for acts like Radiohead, Drake, Flying Lotus, and most recently Jon Hopkins (https://youtu.be/VK1vfD1O98k). Update: Just finished giving brand-new LP “Fated” the ol’ once through – it’s a pleasant batch of deep-cutting diddlies well worth a gander (get lost in “Let You”).

Favourite track: Try (featuring Toro y Moi): (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7w2Zc1h7pw)… Like a giant icicle plummeting straight through you heart.

Chaz Bundick (Toro y Moi, Les Sins)

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Chaz Bundick is an artist and producer based out of South Caroline with a split musical personality, featuring acts Toro y Moi and Les Sins since the late 2000s. As when donning a pair of pants, let’s just take these one leg at a time.

Toro y Moi started as a DIY bedroom project, featuring blissed-out, soft-edge, guitar-laced, sample-heavy jams with lo-fi production quality and 4-on-the-floor bass kicks that cross-activated a compressor, giving rise to the wave-like repetitive attack-and-decay sound that became known as “chillwave”. Alongside friend and collaborator Ernest Greene of Washed Out, Toro y Moi is indeed another poster child of chillwave, delivering his genre-defining 2010 debut LP “Causers of This” and a handful of remixes that permeated the internet like the smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. When “Causers of This” was released, I simply couldn’t get enough of it – with endless playability, layed-back vibes, medium tempo beats, and Bundick’s endearing falsetto sincerity, it makes a perfect summertime jam. Since then, Toro y Moi has expanded to a 4-piece group leaning more towards funk-infused indie rock and released 2 other notable LPs “Underneath the Pine” and “Anything in Return”. Update: New Toro y Moi album “What For?” out now – good ol’ fashioned indie rock done right (try fresh jam “Buffalo”).

Les Sins is his secret weapon side kick moniker that focuses more on beat-driven dance music. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that these 2 projects were of the same mastermind – Les Sins originally being a faceless and elusive entity found solely by a link on Bundick’s Toro y Moi Myspace page in 2009. Since “Causers of This”, Bundick’s work as Les Sins has become a favourite, with some of his very best beats and hooks to date. With a little digging around, one can find a batch of killer early Les Sins tracks, such as his remix of Cubic Zirconia (http://youtu.be/YIZiGOZs8lk). EPs “Lina”, “Fetch / Taken”, “Grind / Prelims” and this year’s brand-new debut LP “Michael” all are packed with head-bobbing, hip shaking gold. As if that wasn’t enough, you can also find Bundick as a featured vocalist and/or producer on a number of indie and electronic tracks, my favourite being Nosaj Thing’s “Try” (http://youtu.be/l7w2Zc1h7pw).

Favourite Toro y Moi track: Thanks Vision (http://youtu.be/3wYbYWHBkOY)… Classic chillwave.
Favourite Les Sins track: Bother (http://youtu.be/8bfELN6NskE)… but really most of them are amazing.

SOHN

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SOHN is British indie R&B producer Christopher Taylor, releasing music under label 4AD since 2012. Previously known as Trouble Over Tokyo, Taylor abandoned his upbeat electro-pop leanings, stripping away the stylistic candy coating to reveal a smooth, inky core. Combining dark, gritty synths with minimalistic, shape-shifting beats and voice delivered both pure and doctered, SOHN exists in a laboratory where post-dub production meets falsetto-propelled, lovelorn vocal melody. WIth a simple creative palate, SOHN wrings out every shimmering drop, brilliantly weaving notions into an enveloping blanket of emotion and drive. Over the last few years, he’s nestled nicely into the sonic arena shared with aspects of Active Child, How To Dress Well, James Blake, Mount Kimbie, Rhye and Movement, to name a few.

SOHN has thus far generated one gorgeous LP “Tremors”, and a handful of other originals collected mainly as B-sides. In addition, he’s produced tracks for various acts such as Kwabs, Lana Del Rey and BANKS, remixed Disclosure and Wild Beasts, and hosted the prestigious Residency show on BBC Radio 1 for much of 2014 (lots to hear at https://soundcloud.com/sohn).

Favourite track: Lessons (https://youtu.be/slQJq1OUXyo)… Lessons learned, bridges burned.