The new year obviously poses near-infinite possibilities, but you can always count on RIFF to scour the internet for choice cuts, each and every week.
We’re back in full swing for another year of awesome music!
The floodgates have opened with singles and music videos and we saved you the time of deep-diving to find the best of what’s next.
Micropixie, “New Year’s Day” — It’s become a bit of a retread to look forward to the new year thinking, “well, let’s not do that again.” Such sentiments have become a daunting obstacle for San Francisco’s Neshma Friend to overcome with the appropriately titled “New Year’s Day.” The song’s calculated atonality and clanking backbeat provides a compelling foil for Friend’s lyrical melodies. The video’s visual aesthetic reflects a similar combination of rough and refined, as the singer asks, “How could we ever win the game of life/ When all we ever knew was pain and strife?” Even so, the chorus sheds some light on Micropixie’s hopeful urgency within ominous modulations: “But on New Year’s Day, we could be saved/ On holidays, we all must change our ways.”
Ric Wilson, “No Hands” — There’s nothing like a Chicago-style fun-loving auto-croon trap banger to get the blood flowing. “No Hands” might merit some surface-level comparisons to Flobots’ early 2000s classic “Handlebars,” but its lyrics and production give it its own feel. Ric Wilson manages to balance melodic hooks with exhilarating flows in a light-hearted send-up of all the people who didn’t believe in him, working some clever bars into the quirky production of Madeon and Lido. It’s made for the topping the hip-hop charts, but there’s enough to unpack for it to transcend the mumble rap riff-raff.
Peter Mulvey, “The Fox” — Milwaukee’s veteran folk poet returns with the fruit of his tribulations. After abruptly relocating to a vacant house in Fort Atkinson (halfway between Milwaukee and Madison) in early 2017, Peter Mulvey dealt with his loss of direction with walks through the Midwestern wilderness. “The Fox,” and evidently the rest of his upcoming album, There Is Another World, stemmed from his observations and ruminations of his wintery surroundings—a sort of therapy for Mulvey as he tried to reorient himself in the middle of nowhere.
The result is equal parts sound collage, minimalist folk and stream-of-consiousness lyricism. Meticulously layered woodwinds and acoustic guitar plucking remain in line with his template, while high-pitched noise stabs and lingering dissonance make it distinctively unnerving. Combined with the nonchalant lyrical imagery, the song essentially becomes a more stripped-back, rustic take on Tom Waits’ most out-there work.
EMM, “11” — I’m almost dissuaded from trying to classify what EMM’s “11” actually sounds like. From a cross-section of Janis Joplin and Beyoncé, this Michigan artist expands her sensual melodies into synthetic psychedelia. Rattling hi-hats and a mid-tempo beat support a dynamic, emotive song complete with a dazzling chorus and a somber descending synth line. EMM’s vocal chops are on full display throughout the song. Whether it’s her seductive low-key melodies or her empowered, gospel-influenced harmonies, her emotional depth never loses its memorable impact. Her believable execution and imaginative production separate “11” from most contemporary R&B numbers.
King Shelter, “Elixir” — The brainchild of south-Florida-born Taylor Hecocks, King Shelter has come a long way from lo-fi Ableton tracks. The band’s newest single, “Elixir,” doesn’t exactly clarify what “salad rock” is, but it’s a precocious step forward for the band. Hecocks has his songwriting approach down to a science, staying outside the tropes of alt-rock with admirable tact and palpable wit. The difference this time around is the eerie darkness creeping within the muted guitar chugs, syncopated drums and morose, Radiohead-esque melodies.
King Shelter isn’t exactly known for happy-go-lucky lyrics, but “Elixir” reaches some potently morbid pessimism: “‘Cause it’s one step forward and two steps back/ Until the sun burns out and the sky turns black.” The brooding melancholy reaches critical mass as a chorus explodes with despondent ecstasy, ushering in the rhythm section’s crushing heaviness and David Noble’s passionate leads. The down chorus inexplicably brings an almost Korn-like guitar line, but all the elements remain true to a well-organized vision. Spacious and expansive, yet road-weary and gritty, “Elixir” earns its place as King Shelter’s most hard-hitting and haunting song.
Bamboo Star, “It’s Just Business” — Yeah, I’ll admit it—I included these Hong Kong hard rockers mostly for this amazing music video. The stop-motion animation of what looks like Playdough sculptures might bring Robot Chicken to mind on the first viewing, but the narrative is a disturbing take on how greed and corruption can lead to devastating chaos and unrelenting persecution. T
The music is no-frills, barrel-chested classic heavy metal. There are a few great instrumental breaks in which the drums and bass take center stage, but the soaring vocal and guitar melodies give it a sense of power akin to the legends of The New Wave of British Heavy Metal. With that kind of volume backing such awesome visuals, “It’s Just Business” is a home run for creative, spunky art with a strong message.
Max’s Pick: King Shelter was a newer addition to this week’s roaster, but the band’s newest song immediately became my favorite of the bunch. “Elixir” is tight, catchy and chilling, the perfect combo for an alt-rock banger. By introducing trained musicality to what has made Seattle grunge so timeless, these guys have struck gold with essentially everything rock music seems to be missing in 2018.
Each musician does exactly what the song needs, introducing and reintroducing parts like a professional gambler dealing his hand. King Shelter keeps rock vital and creative without forsaking crunchy riffs, evolving grooves and electrifying payoff.