Author Archives: nickstropko

Review: Tycho @ Union Transfer (April 19, 2014)

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A good majority of the WKDU staff could be found at the Union Transfer last Saturday. The much anticipated return of Tycho, both in Philadelphia and in recording, led to a sold out show. Their latest album, Awake, has been a station favorite here, and for good reason. Mainman Scott Hansen’s project has evolved from solo to trio, whose recent live performances include a backing band. Beyond that, the synth-heavy music of Tycho is both tranquil and engaging. Each song will take you on a ride, changing vibes at every turn.

If we weren’t already excited for Tycho, a few weeks before the show it was announced that California natives Gardens and Villa would be the opener. I’ve been told by many that their live show is incredible, and after avidly listening to their two albums (Dunes, was most recently released in February) I was already interested in seeing them live.

We were able to get right to the front with no problem during Gardens and Villa’s set which was awesome because we were right in the midst of the band’s high energy set. The lead singer Chris Lynch’s numerous flute solos combined the poppy sounds of the synths with tribal influences.

            Black Hills and Orange Blossom form their first release were personal favorites of mine. They also played a lot of songs from their latest, Dunes. The moody purple lighting on the stage was an excellent touch as well. They ended their set with lots of applause, and they expressed their gratitude to the crowd.

            Tycho came on soon after, in which time the audience was chanting in excitement. Hansen got on the mic to explain that they were fixing some technical difficulties on stage. After fixing the problems, the show started with a bang. If you are not familiar, Scott Hansen is also a very well known graphic artist and it would be no surprise if he had something to do with the projected visuals. Serene settings of beaches and minimalist designs coincided with each song. The title track from Awake kicked things off. They also played a lot of songs from 2011’s Dive release as well. What I found most appealing was the live drums, which gave each song a different feel, something not heard in their recorded works. The entire set was mesmerizing and I don’t think anyone wanted it to end. Being right there by the band was also an amazing experience.

            For the encore, they played the two songs everyone was waiting to hear: A Walk and Montana before giving a hearty thanks to Philadelphia for being such a great audience.

Be sure to check out Gardens and Villa’s Dunes as well as Tycho’s Awake, both out now!

http://www.gardensandvilla.com/

http://tychomusic.com/awake/

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Back to the Retro-Future: How the Sounds of Last Century Are Making the Music of a New Millennium

By: Jonathan Plotkin

You slowly drive your Pontiac Grand Am along the darkened alleys of the underbelly of a diseased city, where neon signs shine permanently half lit through the neverending rain. Or maybe you’re cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway in your Ferrari Testarossa Spider, roof down, wind in your hair, shades on even though it’s midnight. Or perhaps you just broke into the mainframe of MegaCORP’s servers and now are currently whizzing your way down the electronic super highway with their top secret files in your grasp. Whatever you find yourself doing right now, the soundtrack to your various exploits all sounds surprisingly familiar and yet new at the same time.

Retro-futuristic music, as I like to call it, is music that sounds like it was written in the 80s but somehow reaches into the future with its sound. It conjures a similar aesthetic to cyperpunk fiction, envisioning a neon-soaked synthesizer-addled future that in some alternate timeline is occurring at this very moment. My first experience with the sound was probably the movie Tron: Legacy, but it wasn’t until a few years later when I saw Drive did I really understand there was more than one artist making music like this. Who would have thought that there was a whole subgenre of people making purely electronic music that emphasized synthesizers as their main body of work, instead of using them just for effects?

What makes retro-future music so unique in my mind is how well it inspires various emotions without any lyrics or even standard song structure. While of course those are never required to make a great track, I find it rather impressive how tracks like “Retrogenesis” by Perturbator or “Hydrogen” by M|O|O|N never fail to make me think I’ve been transported to a decaying city to perform horribly violent crime of some form or another. The pulsing basslines and dark, moody synths conjure up entire cityscapes in my mind that could easily have acted as backgrounds for Blade Runner. Conversely, artists like Kavinsky and Starcadian have a lighter mood in their work. The former’s “Nightcall” (i.e. that song from Drive) and the latter’s album Sunset Blood have a slower beat and generally feel less claustrophobic. They make me want to slow down and take in the sights around me, instead of speeding through the grime to get out of town. Meanwhile, other artists strive for expansive sound. Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner could be argued to have kick-started this entire genre, while Pilotpriest’s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack instantly transports the listener to a world light years away from ours, with wide open galaxies where starships zip across the skies and attacks ship burn off the shoulder of Orion.

Of course you can’t classify a huge genre of music like this into 3 groups, despite the vast amount of evidence that supports the validity of the rule of three in writing. Artists like Com Truise make music that sounds more like it belongs in a late 80s or early 90s film about computer hackers where no one really understood how computers worked (like the original Tron or Hackers if the latter didn’t have so much drum and’ bass). Then there’s bands like Kraftwerk, where you wonder if they count as retro-future since it wasn’t retro when they wrote their stuff but they sure sounded like the future. And of course there are composers for indie video game soundtracks, who more and more frequently will post the entire soundtrack on the internet for at home listening. These artists sometimes combine a multitude of genres, from downtempo, to synth, to chiptune to create tracks that in one way, each tell a small part of a larger story.

But now we’re splitting hairs, so who cares? The important thing is that even in this age of easy technology, where everyone who has an internet connection can become a musician, there is still really unique and intriguing stuff out there. Why not pursue sounds of the past to create the music of the future? Retro-futuristic music might inspire you to write the next great cyberpunk novel or just put on a pair of headphones and enjoy the ride. Either way, the sounds are out there, for you to do with them what you will.

Looking to start listening to this genre but are struggling for a good jumping off point? The soundtrack to Drive, though largely an original work composed by Cliff Martinez, has some wonderful tracks by Kavinsky, Chromatics, and more. The Hotline Miami soundtrack is over 90 minutes of pulsing songs by Sun Araw, Jasper Byrne, and many other equally talented artists. Additionally, be sure to tune into Midnight Drive, Tuesdays from midnight to 1 AM with Peter Liu on WKDU 91.7 FM for the best 80s inspired synths, the perfect way to enhance your late-night driving experience.

For a wider range of electronic music, check out Jonathan’s personal show, Dr. Plotkin’s Majikal Love X-Perience, Wednesday nights from 10 PM to midnight on WKDU and be sure to follow him on Twitter @doctorplotkin for more musings about music.

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Crispy Chris’s Top 10 Electronic Chart

By Chris Burrell

Guys, I’ve never done a chart before, so consider this my chart cherry! These are 10 tracks that have frequently found their way into my recent mixes and general listening. Some of these tracks are built squarely for the club, some are more for headphones, some are new, and some have been out there a while, but all are good. No particular order.

Canblaster – I Think About U (Marble)

A flat out just good song – I wish it were longer! Brodinski said it was his favorite song of 2013. The song opens up with a looping, “I don’t know what I was thinking about most of the time…” while a heavenly beat builds. Can you guess what they were thinking about?

Jamie Lidell – You Naked (Crackboy Remix) (Warp)

I picked up this track from a pink 12” of remixes at Princeton Record Exchange and was hype to see that the seldom releasing Crackboy was one of the remixers on it. The elusive French producer tweaks Lidell’s amazing voice around one hook, and builds a monstrous swinging beat for a slamming good time. What’s even cooler is that I can’t find this track anywhere digitally (this video has like 500 views) – viva vinyl.

Moderat – Bad Kingdom (Head High Remix) (50Weapons)

I had no clue who Head High is (later figured out that it’s one of the many aliases of German producer Shed), but I trust Modeselektor & their 50Weapons imprint, so no surprise that this is a damn good remix. The vocals haunt throughout the chugging drum-heavy track: “This is not what you wanted, nor what you had in mind…”

Four Tet – Buchla (Text)

I love the new Four Tet album, and this is definitely a standout track from it for me. The beat is super raw and bumps, but then it gets all soft and melodic before going back in. Four Tet’s always been the king of samples and interesting music; this one makes me dance more than chin scratch.

Paul Johnson – Let Me See You Butterfly (DJ Deeon Remix) (Mr Kim’s Records)

I’ve definitely fallen victim to the recent resurgence in legendary Chicago house label Dance Mania (a retrospective compilation on the label just came out), and that victimization led me to this amazing track. Take everything that’s great about ghetto house: fast paced beating drums and bass, dirty vocals, raw energy, and then add in a super melodic beat flip, and BOOM – you have this track. DJ Deeon definitely shows his depth as a producer on this remix, I play it both faster and slower in mixes – really whenever I can.

Duck Sauce – Party In Me (Fool’s Gold)

Duck Sauce’s funky, fresh, and simple songs tend to come out as the weather gets warm, and give me all kinds of reasons to smile. This track was released for free as part of the duo’s “Duck Droppings” EP, preceding their first album “Quack”, out on April 15th. All of the tracks are great, and lean wonderfully on samples (look them up), but this track is so damn catchy, and I find myself playing it on loop all the time.

Sammy Bananas – Flexin (Fool’s Gold)

Once you listen to this track, the cover for this very solid EP (Mr. Flex: a banana with a mustache, sunglasses, and biceps) makes total sense. Long time label affiliate Sammy Bananas melds dance-y futuristic and vintage sounds for a party starting results. This track hits with just the right amount of horns, blips, and sleaze.

Jessie Rose – Love the Feeling High (feat. Ed Weathers) (Play It Down)

A great recent example of using speeches/dialogue/spoken word over a house beat. The beat is funky and simple, and then a male storyteller is added over top, hilariously recounting a crazy trip at a warehouse party with “kids that are way more turnt up than me.” Play It Down, the label Jessie Rose runs, has had a string of great releases, and his new album “The Whole Twelve Inches” (which this track is a part of) and all of its remixes, definitely should continue the label’s strong momentum well into 2014.

Aden – Whip (Jimmy Edgar Remix) (Ultramajic)

I was in a hotel room in India listening to Claude VonStroke’s Essential Mix, and he started his mix off with this track. I had only heard the original up until that point (which is a bomb), and I could have picked almost any of the tracks from the young Ultramajic label for this list, but this remix from label boss Jimmy Edgar is particularly doing it for me and has a poignant memory attached to it. Edgar has been on fire lately, turning everything he touches into drummed out techno bliss; I definitely look forward to more from him and his label this year.

Jeremih – F U All The Time (Akito’s Clap Trap Ice Rink Bootleg) (Bootleg)

I love the original of this song, but was looking for just the right remix of it to use in mixes. A little SoundCloud digging later, I came across this free download, whose genre is listed as “Porn Groove”. The original of this is super hypnotic and weird, and this bootleg cleverly blends the instrumental of UK Grime artist Wiley’s “Ice Rink”, making it more of a DJ tool, and still keeping the weird of the original.

 

Peep some of these tracks on the Halfway House, Thursdays 10pm-12, and tweet @ me, bro @CrispyChrisX

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Preview: Jack Deezl and Aaron Ruxbin Live @ WKDU (2/20/14)

Jack Deezl &Aaron Ruxbin

Jack Deezl & Aaron Ruxbin

By Chris Burrell

Drexel Alumni Jack Deezl and Aaron Ruxbin approach the craft of DJing from two extremely different angles, but both coalesce at the intersection of passion and obstinacy. Refusing to succumb to the pressures of conformity both within the stigma and equipment typically associated with being a popular disc jockey, these men find themselves on the polar opposite spectrum of what defines DJing: one playing only vinyl records, the other [mostly] originals. One pure analog preservation, the other digitally manipulated live. The unifying factor being an emphasis on challenging the listeners expectations, advancing an amalgamation of sounds new and old, and digging for the deepest cuts; whether unearthed from years ago or synthesized earlier today. You won’t hear any top 40 in these sets, but you will hear something brand new, every time, guaranteed. Two special live in-studio sets from across the sonic spectrum. Put on your thinking caps and lay out your disco pants, Jack Deezl and Aaron Ruxbin are going VAHN DEEEEPEEERRRR!

Jack Deezl and Aaron Ruxbin will be performing with RJD2 at Union Transfer on February 21. Tune in to The Halfway House on February 20th to catch their Live @ WKDU session.

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Review: Neutral Milk Hotel @ The Tower Theater (1/29/14)

Photo courtesy of peterhutchins.tumblr.com

Photo courtesy of peterhutchins.tumblr.com

By Nick Stropko

So, it has happened. Years of anticipation, speculation, and blind hope have culminated, and the day has gone and passed. I have seen Neutral Milk Hotel.

Naturally, I have rapturous praise for the concert. Of course Jeff Magnum’s voice has retained it’s power, its winding intensity, its ability to reach just a little higher than it probably should and sell it regardless (he did have the slightest of problems during “Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 1,” but it really just served to humanize what has become a deified figure). Of course it was gratifying in a way Jeff’s solo shows were not to see the whole band together–Julian Koster rotating in place with his bass and playing the singing saw, Scott Spillane working an array of brass instruments, and Jeremy Barnes frantically keeping everything together. They really nailed the eclectic instrumentation present in NMH records, with the singing saw, zanzithophone, and electronic bagpipe, among many more, making appearances. Of course standing in a room full of people singing along to “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” with Jeff Magnum is going to send chills down your spine. Of course, of course, of course.

However, rapturous praise is kind of boring. Pretty much every account of the show I have gotten has been overwhelmingly positive. Instead, I’d like to offer an array of stray thoughts I had during the show.

  • While Magnum’s voice has certainly not lessened in intensity, it seems like his range has become ever so slightly more limited. I think a few of the songs were played a few steps down, and he reaalllyyy had to strain to hit that note in “Two Headed Boy, Pt. 1.”
  • I can’t really tell if I like Jeremy Barnes’s drumming or not. Maybe I’m just being silly, but it seems like he has trouble maintaining the beat during fills. Is it possible that Jeremy Barnes is actually not a very good drummer at all? Is this just a weird stylistic thing that I’m not grasping? THIS IS OF GRAVE CONCERN.
  • I really enjoy the stage dynamic of Neutral Milk Hotel. Jeff was pretty much unrecognizable–he received no applause when he walked onstage, his mess of hair making him look like a roadie in a fantastic sweater. He spoke little but seemed gracious, maintaining his weird indie god aura while not coming off as too stuck-up.
  • Isn’t this whole tour kind of remarkable? Maybe this is well-tread ground, but I think it’s worth restating every now and again that a band can sell out major venues across the country largely based on the strength of a record they put out on an indie label in 1998.
  • The “Ghost”–>”[untitled]“–>”Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2″ combo during the encore was phenomenal. Phenomenal. When I saw them break out the electronic bagpipe, I kind of freaked out and definitely sang along to a bagpipe part. No shame.
  • Fuck it, I can’t think of anything else that’s negative. It was a really great show, and I’m thankful I got to see it.

If you missed out on Jeff and co. last week, fear not! They’re playing at The Mann on July 21st. I highly recommend you attend.

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Top 50 Albums of 2013 (according to Liquid Courage Media)

Our lovely Assistant Editor-in-Chief, Shannen Gaffney, also writes for Liquid Courage Media. This is their list of the top albums of 2013, co-written with Isabel Imperatore (in alphabetical order).

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Allison Weiss - Say What You Mean
Allison Weiss’ No Sleep Records release, Say What You Mean, was an uplifting take on the more depressing moments of being a teenager-to-twenty-something. The first track, “Making It Up,” outlined the uncertainties of defining a relationship. Our favorite is the breakup pop tune “How to Be Alone”.

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Beyoncé - BEYONCÉ
BEYONCE released a self-titled “exclusive visual album” on iTunes in the middle of the night without any previous announcement or promotion. Do I need to say anything else? Videos/tracks to check out: ”XO” and “Blue” (and the entire album).

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Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe
If we can use the word ‘groovy,’ Blood Orange released one of the grooviest records this year. “You’re Not Good Enough” encompasses everything you’ve ever wanted to say to your ex, and has been stuck in our heads ever since its recent release.

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Brick + Mortar – Bangs
It’s hard to categorize and describe Brick + Mortar, which is a duo comprised of Brandon Asraf and John Tacon. They combine elements of alternative, electronic, indie, drum and bass, noise-pop, hip-hop, and punk. It’s aggressive, anthemic and catchy. The intense drum and bass parts are overlapped with Brandon’s distinct vocals and instrumentation like synths and guitar.  Listen to “Bangs” and “Locked In A Cage” and you’ll understand.

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Charli XCX - True Romance
Charli XCX was definitely a breakout artist of 2013, and True Romance was one of the best dance pop albums of the year. Her obvious best track was “You – Ha Ha Ha,” but “Take My Hand” and “What I Like” were also equally addictive pop gems.

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Claude VonStroke talks Dirtybird, Diplo, and Playing Shows Sans Bass

Courtesy of Sumi Management

Courtesy of Sumi Management

By Chris Burrell

Amidst a crazy tour schedule, I was able to get some time on the phone with one of my DJ / producer idols: Dirtybird label boss, Barclay Crenshaw, better known as Claude VonStroke.

CB: Mr. Crenshaw, I’m a huge fan, spin your stuff all the time on air, and I know you’re busy – thanks for you taking the time out to do this call.

CVS: Thank you, no problem.

CB: So you’re on tour now, but you have the night off tonight, is that correct?

CVS: I do, yes, kind of (chuckles).

CB: So you have the night off doing phone interviews and stuff like that, are you on a tour bus in the middle of nowhere?

CVS: No, I’m at home.

CB: Oh okay, and where is home for you these days? LA or San Francisco?

CVS: I’m in LA right now.

CB: OK cool, well how’s the tour been so far?

CVS: It’s been really great.

CB: I follow you on Twitter, and I’ve seen that perhaps you and J Phlip are doing T 25 to stay active on the tour bus?

CVS: (laughs) I am, she’s not!

CB: She’s a sick DJ, how’s she been received as the opening act?

CVS: Great, I think she’s done really well on this tour. Trying to get her on the Europe tour.

CB: I read somewhere that you don’t have a tour manager per se.

CVS: No we don’t, we don’t have a tour manager. I haven’t had one for 10 years.

CB: Have you had any interesting situations on this tour so far?

CVS: Yeah, there was like no bass for like 30 minutes in Denver.

CB: Oh shit! How does the Dirtybird sound go without the bass?

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