Experimental and Left Field Music

voxel records experimental and left field music

We’re here again to share with you some of the best experimental and left-field music we discovered this month. It has been a difficult year with the loss of so many influential musicians, but they leave us a positive and enduring legacy as we move into 2017.

First on the play list this month is Sakana by Japanese outfit Macaroom. This is the first track on the album Home Phone TE, which is available for download on Bandcamp. A chip-tune organ intro soon gives way to light, sugary vocals which soar above cascading waves of acoustic percussion and jazz horn. The rest of the album is well worth exploring, as it applies this mellow and organic texture to a sweet combination of glitch, chip and jazz.

Next up is Polyamorhythm by performers JPTR. This uncomplicated arrangement of vocals and percussion develops a marching band into a vintage disco funk vibe, as the vocals are layered across harmonies, registers and lyrics to create their own poly-amorous finale. This track, like other recent work by JPTR, is soulful, provocative and simple in its construction.

Team Dream by High Five Spaceship is a track that illustrates the creativity and diversity of Christopher Bingham‘s London collective, whilst still being immediately accessible. The long string intro segues into a throbbing bass and stumbling trip-hop percussion, where each sound is meticulously selected and sculpted with an immaculately captured vocal duet. The track is almost obsessively laid-back and is definitely one for followers of Massive Attack.

The last track on our Soundcloud playlist is Troll Stomper by Aytch. This is a track we discovered recently on Orfium, although it is actually from the EP Assuming Ultimate Form dating from way back in 2014. We’re not sure how we survived without Aytch – this glitch hop spits spiky, shuffling beats and raw bass which messes with your brain and body to glorious effect. Twist, turn and twitch through the rhythms and check out some of the more recent stuff on the Aytch stream.

Finally, we found Chewing Gum by 1Voct. This simply, electronic adventure begins with a slow analogue sweep that bristles with a shade of distortion before the hard-knock drums and bass line develop. The purity of the sound is addictive, and the almost melancholy improvisation of modulated leads is crammed full of taste. We were unable to track down anything else by this producer, but you can show your love by downloading this track for free. More please!


Formula Techno

Techno Music Mind

 

Here at Voxel Records, we spend a lot of time listening to new and interesting music, and we fill the pages of our blog with words trying to describe the experience. Transforming music into words is something that one could argue is pointless, because music refreshes the parts of the soul that words cannot reach – or at least it does so in a different way. Does anyone know what dark neurofunk cinematic dnb actually is …?

Words are still useful, though. You can probably scan a blog like this for a flavour of sound, without needing to gorge on the hours of tunes that we did in order to write it.

In the first of a series of adventures, we aim to explore the music behind the label of techno that is applied to music by journalists and record stores. What attributes music to this category, where did the genre originated and what it has become …?

Techno Origins

The general consensus is that techno was born in the clubs of Detroit in the early 1990s, where early synth sounds peddled by the likes of Kraftwerk and Moroder were melded with Afro-American funk and jazz. On the face of it, detecting traces of funk and jazz in today’s techno tracks is pretty hard – so perhaps our investigations will shed a bit more light on that aspect.

The term techno is most likely coined because the music was constructed from regimented and synthetic sounds, generated by nightclub warhorses like the Roland TR-808 drum machine. Even in the 90s though, this technology was retro enough to be picked up cheap at a yard sale – probably because it was totally shit at sounding like an acoustic drum and couldn’t replace a good drummer. But as history has taught us, one man’s shit drum is another’s percussive demigod. Nowadays, these wee beasts change hands for astronomical sums.

Whichever way you look at it, techno was something that people could dance to in a club without the need to bring in a large disco entourage. The tempo and key of two tracks could be synchronized easily, allowing DJs to play a crowd non-stop, and all night long.

New Originals

The early days of techno produced classic tracks that may sound rather puny today, but at the time made bold statements and got people moving to a new arrangement of sounds and rhythms. Richie Hawtin’s Plastikman guise brought us Spastik: This is little more than a weedy drum workout to some ears, but at its conception it was ground-breaking, and from this stem much did grow.

Within the simple burbling staccato of Carl Craig’s Sandstorms, rhythms play with each other and develop organically. This is where a jazz influence can be detected, albeit in a regimented and computerized form. Taking a simple one or two bar lick, repeating it, and developing layers and undertones over a constant groove is a hallmark of techno.

Another key piece of technology in the early days was the sampler. However, these digital recorders could hold little more than a drum loop or a vocal hook, so hardware synthesizers still provided most elements of the music, as can be heard in KGB’s Stark.

A dark minor key was also an ally to many early tracks – Joey Beltram’s Energy Flash shows how sinister monotonic prods control the mood. It is safe to say that melody and chord progressions were not a priority for early techno producers.

A generation of producers like Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson are now considered techno pioneers, all of whom are now international superstar DJs.

Techno Production

Let’s get our hands a bit dirtier now. There are some tell-tale attributes that define a techno track, and these prevent it from slipping into other nearby classifications like house or trance.

In terms of tempo, techno tracks tend to tick between 120 bpm and 140 bpm, although hard techno gets a rave up towards 150 bpm. This kind of speed means that even the slower tracks are sufficient to get the blood pumping.

Tracks are usually longer than 5 minutes and will sometimes run to 10, which lets the clubber soak up the development of a track. A novice listener may easily be fooled into thinking that the tracks eke out the minutes by monotonous repetition, but good techno producers will always keep some aspect of the music changing and developing throughout.

Melody is not a feature of techno music. This may be because it is easier to mix tracks with little variation in pitch and tempo when there is minimal adjustment available on the decks; but it also allows the producers to manipulate the listener through other musical dimensions. Some tracks may have long chord progressions, but these would be verging on the trance – techno tries to stick to extremely simple, monotonic rhythms. Those productions that venture into the melody will either exploit automated arpeggios, or ham-fisted three-note stabs.

Rhythms are usually anchored around the ubiquitous 4-to-the-floor bass drum pattern. This is keeps the pace, and allows other percussive motifs to be developed as the track progresses; usually with hi-hats. It is rare to hear a snare drum in techno. The tones of the bass drum and hats are split evenly across the frequency spectrum, but a snare drum just takes up too much bandwidth. As a result, the snare drum can distract the listener from other more subtle variations within the music.

The weapons of choice for drums are the tinny 808 and 909 drum boxes, but these offer quite a wide variation in sound. A techno bass drum often defines the character of the track, ranging from hollow, open acoustic emulations to tight, clicking pulses.

The final ingredient is timbre, and here it is common to hear synthetic bells, pulses and pads. There is quite a lot of sonic breadth, though, ranging from organic, tribal instruments through to hollering analog Junos and whistling digital Korg M1s. Modern tracks also exploit all manner of effects in the form of filters, delays and distortion to twist and turn the flavour of simple base sounds. The aim is to find textures that can be intertwined, generating subliminal undertones that mysteriously ebb and flow within the mind. The techno producer will identify these hidden pathways, and exploit them as the track develops. This explains why a good production becomes mesmerizing whilst still being minimal.

The technique also influences the arrangement of the track. Long periods will be spent building the mood from layers of synths and percussion, and whilst not much has really changed, the listener has been taken on an epic journey. Lengthy ambient drops reset the mood so it can be taken in other directions. Such intermissions are drawn out and not predictably placed by drum fills, crescendos and risers like they are in dub-step and trance.

Modern Techno

The base form of techno has moved on much in the last twenty-five years. Cutting-edge producers experiment and cross over with other styles. A quick quasi-scientific, pseudo-random cross-section of on-line record boxes provides a good state of the nation report.

The rumbling, rolling drums and bass of Artefakt build up into a simple melody that drifts like a cool breeze on a warm summer night, and this ticks all the techno boxes. Conversely, the sticky, vinylized drums, speech synthesis and clanky acidic bells of Bjarki are abstract and eccentric.

Somewhere in between the subliminal and the computerized fits Dr. Double Face, where 8-bit monotony is also present, but somehow these non-musical tones overlap and collide into some happy accident. Some offerings from Gemini offer funkier shuffles with boxy drums and cheesy riffs, showing that modern techno loves to ride the technical limits of sound processing.

Ever present, though, is the technique of building percussive patterns and minimal melodic content, as is demonstrated by recent Illektrolab releases which border on the abstract with fizz and bubble.

Compulsive Sounds 

From this deconstruction, we have found that a jazz influence still lurks beneath the unadventurous melodies of techno. Instead of virtuoso musicianship, the frequency spectrum itself is where the magic lies. The listener can be wholly enveloped by slowly changing atmospheres over a long period of time, becoming wrapped up in the moment and carried along by friendly forces. The euphoria induced by this combination is somewhat inevitable, because the qualities of techno appeal to ancient, tribal and subliminal receptors deep within our human brains. So, whilst the music may be simple and repetitive in construction, it has the power to affect us much more deeply than we might expect.

The human body responds both physiologically and psychologically to the deeply penetrating frequencies of the bass drum. In the social context of the club, this constant rhythm, the evolving timbres and accompanying light shows explain why many find that the music breaks down boundaries and unifies people.

The genre of pure techno is probably more capable of inducing trance-like symptoms than music that is assigned the modern (commercial) label of “trance”. Where trance tends towards melodic and timbral feelgood factors, techno exploits the rhythmical and the subliminal.

There is a whole bunch of science about all this, but in short, techno affects your brain and body, and this can be as pleasurable as you want it to be. Despite the face-value monotony and slow variation, you may find it helps your mind expand and your body move. Whereas the sub-genre of “hard techno” may be designed for infectious, high energy clubbing, the experimental and pure forms of techno open up many dimensions.

The Red Six Production

To put research into production, we set about playing around in the RedSix studio, enlisting the help of Voxel Records‘ resident producer Maze Car. You can read about how he created the track on his blog – and the result is free to listen and download right here:

 


Hidden Pop Joy

voxel records hidden pop

Welcome to the November news from Voxel Records!

The latest Maze Car single Those Shallow Games is now available in all major online retailers, but it is FREE for you to download right now from Orfium, Bandcamp and SoundCloud, so please play, like and share!

Coming up in December we will also be publishing the first of many investigations into the classification of musical styles. The aim is to analyse some of the labels and categories applied to music, from the very basic through to the unfathomable. We will be deconstructing and reconstructing various genres in the Red Six studio, and sharing a free demo track with every installment. Keep your eyes on the blog for updates – who knows how far this journey will take us …?

Once again this month, our ears have taken us on a journey through the very latest underground releases on Orfium, SoundCloud and Bandcamp. We have stumbled across the next Lady Gaga, found some great but unshareable music and finally managed to collate a few tunes we think are worth a listen – scroll down for the reviews.

Despite the somewhat incongruous presence of the bass drum, Let Me In is a great production from London collective Lyne. The gentle introduction soon builds up the pace, adding shimmering urban trills to the backing synths in place of the more traditional traps. The instrumentation rightly gives way to the excellent vocal performance that is more than tinged with the character of Adele, and this is no bad thing. The music is already fulfilling its potential as it gathers a ton of plays, so check it out now.

Candle Light is an experimental production by Lebanese producer Stephanie Merchak, Here, mellow trap clicks introduce feel-good melodies constructed from gentle chimes and gently distorted vibrato keys. A fluttering of bit-crushed chip-tune motifs precede the thin pad break down, before the tune resumes with a phased signature of accordion. The endearing and stimulating timbres glitch their way through this track, and indeed throughout the parent album From Dusk Til Dawn.

Bitter Brain appears to be the only track available from Texan duo Tripl3ts, so we hope there is more in the pipeline. A deep, dark monastic humming that borders on the satanic opens this track like a chasm, before familiar soulful vocal exercises and provocative effects are married with the powerful undertow of dub step and trap. The addictive pitched-drum bass licks bring extra greatness to this track, as it plays out with twitching trap hats. And it’s a free download!

Pay heed to the capitalisation of TechNo by US collaborators Casio Playa, because this is far from a pounding club track. The simple, clean production enables a heavy down beat hat to anchor a groovy synth-wave jam session, as choppy synths twirl and riffs emerge and subside with light-touch back up from the pads. This pair of artists have posted plenty more of their ruminations on various music styles, so tune in to their stream for fun sounds.


New Releases This November

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Time for a quick word on some great tunes from Voxel friends that flew past us this week …

The latest release </3 by SHI is out today in all major online outlets, and this five-track EP includes Shattered Backbone in addition to four other delights. Beneath the bitter-sweet coating of bright and airy vocals, this atmospheric and soulful confection of electro trap is bursting with the flavour of analog beeps and bells, with a dusting of organic percussion. If you liked what you heard in our playlist back in May this year, then now’s the time to download this new box of treats!

Also worth checking out is the latest from Brazilian trance producer Insonic as he racks up the plays in Spotify. With Etcraft, the pulsing bass drum anchors a sonic breadth that hones the sheen of psi-fi, biting dub scratches and the melodic adventures of trance into a wicked high-energy form. Dark arpeggios and uplifting chord progressions are peppered with playful fx in this epic trance outing.

Finally, Maze Car has dropped the two tracks for his next single into our own Voxel Records release process, so this will be on its way to the stores next week. This project has seen our resident producer experimenting outside the box with the analog gear that furnishes the Red Six studio, combining retro computer games with flavours ranging from quirky alt-pop to complextro. These tracks will be FREE to download from selected stores until the next project is completed – so watch this space for the release date!

 


The Darker Side of Indietronica

voxel records discover indie electronica october

This month, we have found ourselves drawn to the darker side of indie electronica, as Autumn closes in and Halloween lurks on our doorstep. We have found another formidable clutch of tracks which we recommend you check out, ranging from electro thrash to sci-fi disco.

Out first discovery in Soundcloud this month was 192tentacles by Japanese experimental electronic rock bad Paris death Hilton. The mangled chip-tune synthesizers cast a spine-tingling shadow over what may otherwise be cutesy timbres, and these complement the incredible live drum performance. There are hints of heavy metal in the arrangement, but the musicianship and vibe result in a new take on electro rock, landing somewhere in the vicinity of angry Atari Teenage Riot and shouty Melt Banana. Fresh thrash – best served NOW.

The creepy imagery of Knots by electronic post-punks Ribcrow is well-timed for a Halloween drop, and this represents one of the groovier tracks from their current EP Defective Plexus. The hip-hop drum loop leads into a detached and dreamy mood, with light and airy vocals that belie a darker lyrical theme. With this EP, Ribcrow definitely create a mould of their own, and it is available to download on Bandcamp. Turn it up, and let it envelop you.

Our first trip over to Orfium this month revealed Gott ist Tot by Electrodaimon. Synth sounds sparkle in the mellow shadows of this pure and simple electro groove, where analog bells chime above the thin, shredded synths as they phase together over rhythmic ripples anchored to a sumptuously distorted bass drum. Releases from Electrodaimon are few and far between, but what exists is beautifully polished and sculpted.

Carousel is a free download from Hamburgers Gatwick that tempts us into further listening. The simple side-chained synth moods and minimal percussion underpin a seductive vocal, echoing the melancholia of Beth Gibbons and the soulfulness of Shingai Shoniwa. This track is just a foot in the door for even more, so we recommend you go have a listen to their current 7-track EP Boundless to sample their wares.

Bandcamp brought us to In The Shadows by Sunrom, which features on a current release by French label Place For Us along with various artists. The intro whistles like wind into a slow, dark groove peppered with clicks of glitchy percussion, as deep undertones sway in and out, playing off each other before merging into a muffled, mysterious hip-hop that fills your head with cotton-wool melodies. A beautiful creation.

Your Monster Is Me is the first track on It Came From Beyond Eternal September by mad scientists Ugress. An infectious off-beat side-chained groove, growling synth and cinematic suspense meld into a style that looks to create a great live show. This is strongly recommended for anyone who, like us, loves sci-fi disco laced with a feint touch of Royksopp.

 

 

 


Digging Deeper for Underground Music In September 2016

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Hello once again from the team at Voxel Records! This month we have dug a bit further underground in search of more new and interesting tunes.

The recent changes at Soundcloud have changed how we curate our selections, so we are currently developing different ways to search out original artists. Hopefully the minor changes in format will be good for you too!

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Wild by hip-hop/dubstep producer Exira is a choice cut from a meaty collection of work over the past year. This particular track is dominated by the bend, bubble and buzz of the synth line, but extra lift is provided by the underlying scratches and breaks that you might not expect from your typical dub-step ditty. These subtle differences give extra breadth to this solid, head-stompin joy.

Diskoloser by Rattenjunge (featuring TY GRRR) demonstrates the youthful and sharp style honed by this German outfit. This production combines electro, glitch, punk and rap ethics into one tasty bundle, with poetic delivery cutting through above throbbing synth tubes. Every track is different on this stream, but there is plenty to turn your head upside down and inside out. Glitch-hop heaven.

 

bandcamp It can be a bit of a minefield over at Bandcamp, but the best approach is to dive in, and forget about musical ability and production finesse. Purity is the seed of what may one day grow into something amazing. As with the other platforms, there are millions of tracks to play with, but after a bit of digging we managed to find these beauties.

Threads by Canadian songwriter Loon stirs up a lot of memories. A minimal backing of pads and bells with unobtrusive trills from the percussion support the quivering and almost maniacal vocals of Tessa Dawn K. The obvious comparisons with Kate Bush in the writing and performance combine with the spectre of late-80s arrangement into something beautifully listenable. What’s in a name?

Lyrically, Grind by MuteR carries the work-to-live theme that we have probably all identified with at some point. A soft staccato of melody is scattered sweetly over dark and stumbling traps; but it is the voice of Adrian Shegstad that stands out in this production, and indeed his other tracks. The performance is immaculate, and echoes a blend of classic pop vocalists like Matt Goss and Nik Kershaw. Great work.

orfiumOrfium is filling up nicely with new artists as the platform slowly games maturity. We had a quick pan through the flow of new tracks here, in the hope of finding another golden nugget …

The Great Magnet is one of a small clutch available on the Ercall Knox feed. A short, grainy guitar loop is soon bombarded with bold, dirty drum chops reminiscent of his highness the DJ Shadow; and this similarity continues with the retro-movie sample monologue. The underlying samples are backed up with a raw off-beat synth, and the whole track drops us down on the ambient side of big-beat. Definitely one for lovers of Shadow or maybe The Orb.

Blaquarium by the Niebelungen Blues Band will assault you with mid-range presence and loudness, but the style quickly becomes familiar. The squeaky synth arpeggios and underlying drum groove clearly nod their headlights towards older Orbital, so this is a feed to follow for anyone with a soft spot for break-beat IDM. There is little else recent to be found from these Swedish producers, but we hope there is more to come soon.

 

 

 


Words About Music

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One of our main reasons for being is to find new and interesting music by contemporary producers doing new and interesting things. When it comes to picking a few tracks for the playlist each month, we set off to write a few words about stuff that inherently cannot be described in words. This is, of course, why we make music … there are emotions to explore that go beyond the dictionary. But whilst the purist musician most likely eschews classification of their music, listeners searching for original sounds may find that classification important.

Everyone has their own interpretation of genres and sub-genres. These are becoming so diverse that they are made up on a daily basis – and we too are guilty of it. Describing contemporary music styles is now something so unstable, any music that can’t be put in a pigeon-hole requires its own tag. At the same time, music that nestles comfortably within a pigeon-hole can be passed over as MOR.

Some music stations don’t venture beyond the “dance” or “rock” labels; but some end up with such tag-noise that all useful meaning from the classification is removed. How many times have you searched for music using emojis? Have a go in Soundcloud and see if it helps.

After ruminating on all this for a while, we thought we’d go back to skool and learn a bit about how music is tagged. For the next wee while, Voxel Records will be studying tags, terms, classifications and genres; trying to work out what makes the music behind the label. Our intention is to stick to remain oriented to the electronic, but don’t be surprised if we wander off into metal, funk, jazz or punk. Watch this category for the first installment, coming soon!


New Electronic Alt Pop from August 2016

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Welcome to our update from the world of indie electronica for the month of August. A spanner flew into the works of Voxel Records recently, as Soundcloud deigned to remove the groups feature from its services. This has a serious impact on the way we discover music that may otherwise pass under the radar, but more importantly it also affects the underground community in general. Unsurprisingly, the forums have been positively buzzing with indignation.

This episode also raises yet more questions about the future of music networks. Like many organisations, Soundcloud will have acquired investment and investors will expect them to make a profit. Consequently, Soundcloud argue that they can’t afford to support certain features. We feel that the loss of groups is a serious blow to the music scene from which innovation and talent grow. As such, we are now looking for other ways to find and share new music.

One new kid on the block is Orfium – there ain’t much on it yet, but hopefully it will gain traction as Soundcloud alienates itself from the community. In the mean time, we hope that we can still keep you up to date with all the great music we discover!

First on this month’s playlist is Kingdom by Verna Hark. The blasting synth intro subsides swiftly into sultry vocal harmonies, punctuated only by sporadic synth drum shots. A delicate, wiry riff then opens into a powerful half-tempo synth stack attack, and all elements combine into spiraling echoes and powerful jabs from the drum accents. This recent track demonstrates Verna Hark’s ability to produce potent and infectious alt-pop – grab the free EP now!

Next we have Finding Out by Sarah Denim, which was originally posted a few months back by this Canadian songwriter. The shuffling, pacey and complex rhythmic introduction feels a little bit like Talking Heads, but decoration from the sat-com sample and flicks of the brush from Sarah’s soft vocal lend a new character to the familiar vibe. The lyrics float just beneath the surface of the mix, and contribute much to the individual and groovy production.

Finally we found Mean to be Me by See Ame. Here, bubbling reverse sound effects play into the breathy, distant vocals as they pose their existential questions. The simple, reverberating riffs blend with the lyrical adornments, and the arrangement slowly evolves from these building blocks into a captivating ensemble. This track gives a wonderful insight into See Ame’s fruitful independent songwriting.


Synth-pop-tronic Music From July 2016

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Welcome to our round-up of new electronic music discovered in the month of July! Resident producer Maze Car has been experiencing the joys of trance in a Dutch field – an event perhaps better known as Electronic Family 2016. He has also managed to make progress on the next single – it’s been a long time coming, but watch this space over the next few weeks as the single gets ready to go live!

This month’s play list has a distinctive synth pop theme. First up is Love Came Tumbling Down (ft. Malin Johansson) by Stephan Arnold. The arrangement and chord progression are an immaculate example of pop purity that is destined for the mainstream. It not only showcases the production talent of these two Dutch brothers, but also Malin’s singing prowess. The sweetly compressed tones of the voice give it an edge to rival Katy Perry, and the whole package is gagging for remixes that would be successful across many genres. Get involved!

Next, we found Waiting for the Asteroid by Drinking Bird Experiment. This Glasgow-oriented band (please excuse the bias) nestle in another part of the electronica spectrum, and their music’s spindly, stumbling chip wave smolders with influence from icons like Broadcast, Human League and maybe Ladytron. With a stream that ranges from alt-guitar, through cute bit pop to glitchy ambient, we can’t help but be endeared by the breadth of expression on offer. Five star eclectro!

Finally we have Baby Come Home by Featurette. This Canadian duo produce electronic pop with a glistening, powerful and spiky edge. The synths stab at the intro, before the crystal clear voice carries the rhythm into a chorus trilling with trap-esque hi-hats. From the breathy break-down, the bass swells to play out a track forged from simple, well-engineered components. Check out their current Crave EP now!

 


Trip Hop Talent From June 2016

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Welcome to our round-up of our favourite music discovered this June. As the UK makes its somewhat shambolic and unconvincing way towards exit from Europe, we hope we can still be friends! There is a down-tempo trip- and hip-hop feel to the playlist this month – so check out the reviews below! Maze Car has been fiddling with a remix of Those Shallow Gamesyou can also have a listen to it here.

The Way by Jenny Jumble opens with a dark, modulating synth intro and subtle whistling tones. JJ mixes some soft monotone poetry on top, which builds the track into a trip-hop work tinged lightly with industrial undertones. This is just one example of this songwriter’s often quirky and diverse output – so check out her stream for more intriguing and original sounds, and the FB for some dance vids.

Next up is Assembly Line by Ry-Man (ft. Cristina). Cristina’s sultry vocals introduce what is otherwise a dark trip-hop/rap piece from New York producer Ryan Edwards. The glitchy underlying riffs underpin Ry-Man’s clear and rhythmical diction before a late breakdown re-introduces some layering vocal interplay. This is an uncomplicated and well versed track that showcases Ry-Man’s current capabilities – have a listen to the Bandcamp page for his full discography.

Finally, Hazel by Electronican is a production that is true to the well established trip-hop genre. The retro-movie samples introduce a shuffling drum trill that rides a smooth and smoky wave that undulates throughout the track, and an off-beat mallet drop brightens the groove. The hi-hats pick up the groove before a mellow breakdown and a faint reverberating piano and string sequence mix in for melodic variation in what is otherwise a pretty continuous head-nodding groove.