Daft Punk – ‘Access’ Another Level

Daft Punk

How can music that sounds so dated feel so fresh? That is the astonishing thing about Daft Punk’s new masterpiece, Random Access Memories.  It drops the cut-up French-house disco snippets from their previous records, and instead embrace the whole disco aesthetic.  Live instruments marry synth symphonies and electronic beats.  Grooves laid down by Nile Rodgers himself litter the record, and the vocoder voices of Punk pop in between the instrumental disco tracks.

RAM isn’t just a dance record, but includes some real musicality, much like the under-appreciated songwriting ability of disco deities like the Gibb brothers.  “Within” is a slow-burn midtempo scorcher.  “Touch” is a sweeping, cinematic cry for love.  Michael McDonald could sue for the groove of “Beyond.”  “Doing It Right” featuring Panda Bear is the real highlight, a mix of vintage “Harder, FasterDaft Punk hooks mixed with this slower soul simmering under the LP.  And “Contact” closes the record with a grand finale approach, mixing digital arpeggios, organic instruments, building chords and grabbing their past sound mixed with the vibe of RAM, and it comes to an explosive ending, leaving us gasping for more… only to make us wait for the next record.  Well played, Daft Punk. Well played.

Tycho – Ascension

One of the absolute best indie electronic artists out there, Tycho, has collaborated with the visual artist Charles Bergquist to create a fantastic video for his song “Ascension.”  Featuring images that tie in Tycho’s record artwork for his LP “Dive” and its subsequent singles, as well as a beautiful woman walking in warm, worn western landscapes, the video marries the digital and the analog with the same passion as Tycho’s music.  This is one great way to welcome the weekend. And weekend, you’re welcome.

Slow Magic – ‘Triangle’ Takes The Square

Somewhere buried in label-land, a new subgenre of Electronic music is invented with each slight shift of subtle variation and divergence. These labels don’t offend me, but they also have become so minute and marginalized that a movement like “post-rock”, “chillwave” or even “dubstep” is deemed dead, practically stillborn. A style that is seen as new and inventive is often quickly rejected and then reviled, as if a listener should be embarrassed that they ever enjoyed something so… square. So welcome the new subgenre to be hip to be square and soon to be listed in the obituaries (probably by the time I finish this sentence) – Glow-fi.

Like Chillwave, Dream-pop, Nu gaze or any other myriad of names you give this electronic music, Slow Magic is another digital band which embraces elements from the ‘80s and ‘90s electronic music scene and adds distinctly millennial flavors. The production is really polished and crisp, and unlike a lot of other acts right now, keeps the fuzz and distortion down. It is essentially an instrumental album, with vocals and samples so deep in the mix, lyrics are not the focus here, the sounds, rhythms and melodies are the heart of ‘▲’.

‘Triangle’ or ‘▲’ is a short album, which is actually a re-release of Slow Magic’s EP, fleshed out with five additional tracks. The tracks do not feel tacked-on, though, it flows from piece to piece like a wholly-conceived concept. Like all great instrumental music, the pieces use sonics to place images in the mind of a listener, and while every image plays differently in the mind’s eye, some sounds conjure shared planes. ‘▲’ feels like its front cover, summer washed out in warm sunshine. Its protagonists, celestial versions of you and me. A feel-good album that never feels forced, ‘▲’ is a sunshine record that ignores the fact that it may be square, keeps its atmosphere light, and spins around my turntable and hard drive like an endless circle.

Villa Vals – Vals, Switzerland

Off the grid. Escaping the compliant, complacent, commercial lifestyle of everyday Western living has long been a fantasy of mine. In a hill. Living inside a hill, or under one, or under a waterfall, or over a stream – that has been another life long dream to build a unique home, completely enveloped in natural surroundings.  Today I came across Villa Vals, a beautiful postmodern home, built into a large hill in Vals, Switzerland.  There,  the home is located near the famous thermal springs of Therme Vals – a hotel/spa complex that is built directly over the natural hot springs.

Completed after two years, in 2009, the home is a a joint-venture between Christian Müller Architects and SeARCH, Amsterdam.  Built as a holiday getaway for a very lucky private client, the home slices into the mountain in a way to draw no attention away from the beautiful mountain surroundings and breathtaking vistas.  The unusual cut into the hill, a rounded slice into a large living yard, is stunning and unique. The building itself may seem a bit bunker-like with its cement walls and linear flow, but the earthy elements of rough rock, warm woods and many large windows opening to that amazing view of the mountains all tie the design back to the natural theme of the conceptual design.

The concept question posed by its architects, SeARCH, was: “Shouldn’t it be possible to conceal a house in an Alpine slope while still exploiting the wonderful views and allowing light to enter the building?

Surprised that it was permissible to construct a pair of dwellings so close to the world famous thermal bath of Vals, the client seized the opportunity to develop the site, without disturbing the bath’s expansive views. The introduction of a central patio into the steep incline creates a large facade with considerable potential for window openings. The viewing angle from the building is slightly inclined, giving an even more dramatic view of the strikingly beautiful mountains on the opposite side of the narrow valley.

The local authority’s well intentioned caution, that unusual modern proposals were generally not favoured, proved unfounded. The planners were pleased that the proposal did not appear ‘residential’ or impose on the adjacent bath building. The scheme was not perceived as a typical structure but rather an example of pragmatic unobtrusive development in a sensitive location. The placing of the entrance via an old Graubunder barn and an underground tunnel further convinced them that the concept, while slightly absurd, could still be permitted.

Switzerland’s planning laws dictate that it is only possible to grant a definitive planning permission after a timber model of the building’s volume has first been constructed on site. This can then be accurately appraised by the local community and objected to if considered unsuitable. For this proposal, logic prevailed and this part of the process was deemed to be unnecessary.”

For more information on Villa Vals, for more photos, information on the design and construction, or if you would like to arrange a stay there, you can access more information on their amazing website here.

ROA

An artist painting mainly in black and white, and mostly urban street art, ROA has created some truly amazing pieces. Most of his work is of animals, and the locations and compositions so starkly contrast the urban canvas that the works create a surreal sensation.  ROA is a graffiti artist from Ghent, Belgium but his work can be seen around the world.  One of his most striking pieces is on a building he painted in Johannesburg, South Africa. (below)

For more works by ROA, click here and check out ROA’s Dominant Species short film made with MOCA TV.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Tempers flare, ice caps melt, but is it more than ‘gator flashing in the pan?  One of the most divisive films of the year, Beasts of the Southern Wild, creates a hero’s odyssey for a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy.  Portrayed by an amazing-find local actress, Quvenzhané Wallis, Hushpuppy lives alone next to her single-dad, Wink. Her mother is nothing more than an imaginary friend in a Michael Jordan Bulls jersey or a blinking light in the horizon.  When a giant storm hits their levee-leveled Louisiana community, a glacier sends prehistoric beasts their way, the residents are forcibly relocated, the levees must be destroyed and Hushpuppy must find a cure for her ailing father before the beasts come or he before Wink dies.

Sound a little confusing and convoluted? It is.  Sound daring and original? It is that too.  The film, championed through development via various film festivals and a huge grant by nonprofit Cinereach, is a labor of love by a group of filmmakers calling themselves Court 13.  Based on a one-act play, Juicy and Delicious, the film is really a love letter to Louisiana and the free-wheeling, free-living and free-loving spirit of that community. The film’s visuals and performances are the strongest points, with non-actors playing most parts and the film being shot by artists on grainy, saturated 16mm film.  The narrative is where the film suffers, feeling fairly cobbled, crude and confusing. As an experimental film, it works. As an emotional narrative, it’s a bit harder to really connect with the story, as it bounces and bobs like a buoy blasted by the storm.  A visually-stunning, non-traditional film can still connect with a narrative a little more easily, as shown in this year’s Life of Pi, by Ang Lee. But Beasts of the Southern Wild is still most definitely worth watching. It shows a people, place, population and culture rarely featured in a feature film. And it has one of the most commanding young actresses in film staring down the beasts of the wild and a beast of a film.

One Track Pony – Waiting For A Star To Fail

One Track

Ever wonder why all those songs on the radio these days sound the same? It’s because they are the same. Rihanna, Katy Perry, P!nk, Justin Beiber, Usher, Kelly Clarkson, Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj, Adam Lambert, Taio Cruz, One Direction, Britney Spears, Flo Rida, insert name here. If it’s pop, it’s pooped out of a one-stop pop shop – a top-line writer who creates the hook, lyrics and melodies, and a producer who puts together the beats, chords, synths and sounds.  The demo’s for the songs they create are sent out to A&R, labels, managers and artists.  The majority of those songs snatched up by labels and stars all come from the same handful of top-line writers and producers.  This sometimes leads to artists recording different songs off the same demo, like Beyoncé’s “Halo” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone,” that were created from the same track, by Ryan Tedder. Or Lil Jon’s demo that led to the interchangeable songs of Usher’s hit “Yeah” and Petey Pablo’s less-famous “Freek-A-Leek“.

The producers are almost always male: Max Martin, Dr. Luke, David Guetta, Tricky Stewart, the Matrix, Timbaland, the Neptunes, or Stargate (pictured below). The top-liners are often, although not always, women: Makeba Riddick, Bonnie McKee, Ester Dean and Skylar Grey.  The people who create the songs are often in different places, sending each other files, demos, recording and mixes. The artists, who spend much of the year touring, don’t have time to come into the studio; they generally record new material in between shows, in mobile recording studios and hotel rooms, on iPads and laptops, working with demos that producers and top-line writers make for them to use as a kind of vocal stencil pattern. (The production notes for Rihanna’s single “Talk That Talk” say that her vocal was recorded on “the Bus” in Birmingham, Alabama, in Room 538 of the Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg, and in Room 526 of the Savoy, in London.

It’s no surprise that pop has become so mechanical and robotic.  It’s the dichotomy of technology, the ease in which music can now be created makes it more communal, but somehow less personal.  Collaboration isn’t as much between band members blocking it out in balmy basements, now teeny-boppers crop pop licks in single studios or home recording rooms, send a file in Dropbox and create a duet without even meeting face-to-face.  While I love electronic music, love the individuality of an indie composer, producer or artist, the cookie-cutter taste of so many listeners is fairly disturbing. Whether the industry or the listener is to blame is up for debate. Personally, like a tobacco industry, the music industry is about the bottom line. They don’t care how you get hooked, as long as you keep buying the product, they will throw in whatever gimmick people are buying.  And like a smoker who decides to live a different way and quit the hand-to-mouth product feeding of the tobacco industry, that’s how a discerning audience can change the musical landscape. Quit the digital nicotine of mainstream Top 40 pop, and require something more. Something different. Something unique. Something derivative rather than merely a duplication. Originality and organic music is out there, you just have to look beyond the industrial manufacturing and pre-manufactured productions which predominate the popular landscape.

For more information, visit the original article written for the New Yorker here.

Kaweah Falls – Three Rivers, California US

A river runs through it. Through the home, under the dining room’s glass-bottom floor, to be exact.  Designed originally in the 1940’s by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students, Frank Robert, the second owners of the home built the addition which bridged the home over the Kaweah river.  Kaweah Falls is an amazing home, true to Wright’s idea of natural settings and nurturing home being fluid as a property. And at Kaweah, the ‘fluid’ is literally part of the home.  According to the promotional video on Youtube, the home is now being offered as a vacation rental.

With California’s Sequoia forest as your backyard, you have access to miles and miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, mountain climbing, cross-country skiing, horseback riding and the world renowned Sequoia trees. The fork of the Kaweah River that runs alongside the home offers seasonal white water rafting and kayaking, fishing, swimming, and bird watching.  In the home, there are four private living spaces for a total of 3,000+ sq/ft with 4 bedrooms, 4 full baths, 2 kitchens plus several private decks and porches all with amazing river views.  There is a detached 2 car garage with an office, deck, and a view of the river.

Not only available as a rental, but could be yours for just under $2 million.  While not exactly a small chunk of change, the home definitely seems for every penny. Brilliant modern design married with beautiful landscaping and breathtaking natural forest surroundings, Kaweah Falls is a property where Adam & Eve would have rolled out a Welcome mat.

For more information on the home, or to book this home away from home for vacation, visit the official website here.

Solipsist – Short Film

Solipsism, a philosophical idea that the only reliable reality of existence is within one’s own mind, is both fascinating and frightening.  The potential scare of the sole psyche being soul itself raises so many amazing possibilities, filmmaker Andrew Huang explores some of those themes of reality, connection, evolution and separation in his amazing short film, “Solipsist”.  Visually stunning and audibly perfect, the experimental short features images that will leave you breathless and have you thinking about it for days.

The film premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival and won the “Best Experimental” prize. The remarkable effects and compositions were done largely using practical effects, and the looks created are even further appreciated when you see how they were made behind the scenes.  According to Huang, ““We shot the film in a tiny stage in Burbank, CA.  Everything was shot against greenscreen so the entire film required an immense amount of compositing, especially since much of the film involves practical effects.  The only real CG in the film are the tendrils and tentacles that cover the girls’ faces in the first scene.  We used a lot of footage reversal effects to create the effect of the girls’ wardrobe growing out over them.  The underwater scenes were shot in a 100 gal fishtank.  We puppeted the underwater creatures with rods.  They were made from a combo of fish bait/tackle, feathers and sculpey.  By the end of the shoot they were completely mangled.”

Check out this amazing film below, and share, share, share it with everyone… Or just appreciate it in your own solipsistic reality.

Deadmau5 – >The ‘Album’ Progression<

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Sporting a giant, digitally morphing, electronic sphere mouse head, Canadian EDM artist Deadmau5 has been rocking audiences, MTV award shows and packed venues for the past few years.  Joel Zimmerman, as Deadmau5, has helped dance music explode into the pop scene recently, producing several albums, being featured in movies, television programming and video game scores.  His style of progressive house mixed with elements of dubstep and electro house has helped shape the landscape of popular Electronic Dance Music.

Already producing some straight-ahead EDM, I was excited to hear that Deadmau5 was trying his hand at hip hop with Cyprus Hill, downtempo with Imogen Heap and rap-rock with My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way.  I was hoping he would branch out to bring his creative, slick stroke to other styles.  Unfortunately for me, those collabo’s all fall short.  The hip hop sounds like a generic late ‘90s b-side, the Heap track wholly uninspired and the Way track is just plain annoying.  And it is really too bad, because what Deadmau5 does, he does WELL.

The standout track, ‘Closer’, borrows the alien’s musical theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and turns it in to a rousing club banger. ‘Superliminal’ is crunchy, funky hard house dubbed deep in dark club corners and just feels sublimely filthy. ‘The Veldt’ is smooth house, less for clubbing and more for the after-party or lounging by the pool.  The other tracks are great too, but those ones are some standouts.  In fact, it’s too bad the branch-outs fall so flat, because if Deadmau5 brought the same level of polish and creativity on those tracks, >album title goes here< could be a clubber’s classic. I hope Deadmau5 keeps pushing his style in to new territories, but brings the electric excitement from his “mau5head” to his new tunes.

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