5-Song Gateways · Artists you should know

5-Song Gateway: Keep Shelly In Athens

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 11.10.33 PM

This column highlights favorite genres, scenes and artists with the intent to make it quick and easy to get into them or decide if they’re ‘for you’. I’ll focus on obscure and/or prolific projects.

The huge (as I would argue, overblown) taboo surrounding the ‘chillwave’ sound left many talented groups like this forgotten. I’m thinking another reason for Keep Shelly was their silly name, and how their vocals and lyrics get cheesy. Still, I wound up endeared by this factor more than annoyed. This is shimmery water-fairy music at heart, and as long as you aren’t pulling an all-out ‘bananis and avocados’ with your voice, I won’t complain. These ‘fairies’ have soothing voices and fabulous scenery is everywhere, so I can’t help but enjoy the ride. Beyond that, they’re one of the most ambitious groups I’ve heard in this decade’s synth-dream pop genre/scene/thing.

Here’s the thing: KSIA never were your average ‘chillwavers’.  Unlike this scene’s generic corners, Keep Shelly aren’t ones to rehash old ideas. It doesn’t boil down to some woozy synths and pale guitar tones from a nerd writing gushy love songs about his GF. Like Royksopp, they stay adventurous at the same time as having a ‘chill-out’ appeal. They vary a lot from the structures and influences you come to expect from this music. Not every experiment works, but I appreciate their ambition.  Their one constant member RΠЯ decorates and transforms the songs as much as he wants (on lesser songs, maybe too much!). If this is chillwave, it’s a bold and shiny update. He has a great taste for expanding on chillwave’s water fixation, so give these songs a good listen if you fawn over aquatic sounds like I do!

1. “Cremona Memories” – In Love With Dusk, 2010

One running trope I love about KSIA is their taste for spontaneous ‘weirder’ or kitschy touches. This song has a throbbing sci-fi synth one moment (1:21), and a Tina Turner sample or vinyl scratch the next. Results will depend on how wild they are, but I love the way it expands songs like this. RΠЯ relies on a fairly simple groove here but throws everything he has over it to keep you engaged. KSIA don’t get too serious, and make things fun when they see fit.

2. “DIY” – Our Own Dream EP, 2011

Film scores aside, this has one of the most epic piano lines I know. A few chords and that’s it, but they play in such enormous and stomping fashion that it doesn’t matter. And those horns! Another great ‘what if’ move from KSIA.

3. “Flyway” – At Home, 2013

Relies on this one fluttery synth, but adds all these subtle riffs to bounce off of it and a weird yet awesome vocoder cameo. Another one where you have to ride the adrenaline rush. The best kind of repetition: purposeful, not too much, addictive, doesn’t take forever to evolve.

4. “Fractals” – Now I’m Ready, 2015

I don’t know, I have a soft spot for well-done wishy washy bittersweet pop songs. That is, if the right people make them, and of course Keep Shelly qualify. Really pleasant melodies, and the hopeful spirit is sweet. I love the way the chorus busts in with that Robin Guthrie guitar (guth-tar?) from the gentler verses. That little chiptune-y solo toward the end makes it even more satisfying.

5. “Hollow Man” – Now I’m Ready, 2015

This is where their ambition shines. The layers, the intensity, the oceanic textures, the twists, the synth soloing, it’s all there. You have break beats, gorgeous synths, windy vocal effects, huge build VS sad, hushed cooldown; vibraphone [!!!] fade-out… An exciting mixture in the end. Thumps like a thunder storm; when it’s music, that’s a good thing.

Artists you should know · Playlist

Artists you should know / Milan Pilar

TXT

Milan Pilar (born 1934 in Czechoslovakia) is a master of fantasy melodrama. Once he came to use synths, his music became the soundtrack for finding a magic necklace in a pastel-colored forest where anything can happen. Milan created these images in gorgeously exaggerated detail that can touch your heart if you let it, no matter outlandish it may seem at a glance. He had a talent to induce the most grandiose emotions with impact and genuine tenderness.

Most songs will have sweeping synths and/or strings as a backbone, with digital bells and flutes playing the melodies. Many are wistful and sensitive as if telling you secrets in it’s hiding place, some carefree and happy, others cinematic and awestruck. No matter the mood, they never lose their Moomin-worthy fantasy charm and romantic expression. It’s a shame Pilar didn’t wind up directly composing for children’s fantasy movies.

He also kept a distinct sound across ten-plus years, something rare for library composers. For instance, his 2003 album Nature In Motion has the virtual same approach as his late-eighties work.

Playlist

I’ve gathered my favorites from across his albums to give a good taster for his style (link above).

1. February  – Pastoral Seasons, Coloursound, 1982

2. Reconciliation – Nature Spoiled and Unspoiled, Coloursound, 1983

3. Above / Extensions – Extensions, Sonoton, 19??

4. Industrial Signature 11 – Industrial, Coloursound, 1986

5. Fountain Idyll – Above And About, Coloursound, 1989

6. Birdlife – Above And About, Coloursound, 1989

7. Digital Structure 2 – Digital Structures, 1990

8. Digital Structure 25 – Digital Structures, 1990

9. Softly As The Summerwind – Nature Study, 1990

10. Wind And Waves – Nature Study, 1990

10. Caravanseral – Nostro Mondo, 1993

12. Irish Autumn – Floating Line, 1993

13. Rainbow – Textures And Fusion, 1994

14. Lost Game Blues – Signs Of Wisdom, 1999

15. Call Of The Mountains – Nature In Motion, 2003

16. Deep Sea Romance – Green Planet, 2004

Artists you should know · Playlist

Artists you should know: Claude Larson

w: txt.png

Claude Larson (AKA Carlos Futura, Klaus Netzle) was a frequent contributor to the German music libraries Sonoton and Selected Sound. Many of his albums focused on cinematic backdrops with a tech slant (plants, space, snow, fantasy) and early experiments with digital synths, being one of the first to make extensive use of the Fairlight CMI. As with a lot of 80s library music, his songs were an earlier example of the polished synth-pop/electronic sounds now popular with modern vaporwave/synthwave producers.

Several CL songs have resurfaced on Youtube in the past ten years. Aside from a Fiat LX reissue in 2018, though, they haven’t attracted the same attention as most of Youtube’s other revitalized 70s-80s favorites.

Youtube playlist

I’ve gathered my favorite Larson songs on Youtube with this playlist. Of course, the limits of Youtube’s selection means I can’t make aim for something ‘definitive’, but it make be a good sampler for the curious listener.

Note: I focused on his Sonoton history as most of his Selected Sound albums are rare jingle collections or full of 10+min songs that could disrupt the flow.

1. Sand-Dunes / Environment, 1978

2. Industrial Plants / Surroundings, 1979

3. Helicopter / Synthesis, 1980

4. Marshy Ground / Scenic Sequences, 1980

5. Panorama / Panorama, 1980

6. Biopulse 2 / Scenes And Images – Developing Underlays Vol. 1, 1981

7. Machine Language 2 / Industrial Future, 1981

8. Wolga / Rivers, 1981

9. Harpsi 1 / Digital Patterns, 1982

10. Hardware / High Tech, 198?

11. Blossom / Plantlife, 1983

12. Transformation / Digital Landscape, 1983

13. Dramatic Impact / Dramatic Impact, 1984

14. Autumn Mist Drama / Soundscapes Vol. 1, 1984

15. Wings In The Sky / Wings In The Sky, 1986

16. Aurora / Soundscapes Vol. 2, 1986

17. Synchrosonic / Synchrosonic Patterns, 1987

18. Haunted Clockwork / Synchrosonic Patterns, 1987

19. Alpha-Dream / Euphonia, 1988

 

Artists you should know

Artists you should know / Chyi Yu

Chyi Yu [Chinese: 齊豫] is a popular Taiwanese singer. While not far from a celebrity in Taiwan, having many hits and winning awards, she remains an obscurity in Western music circles today.

She found fame through the haunting “Olive Tree“, one of several songs she recorded with the late composer/songwriter Li Tai-Hsiang, known for his scenic orchestral arrangements. She’s considered one of his best proteges and a defining artist of campus folk, a style popular in 70s-80s Taiwan: strings, guitars, piano and flutes became signature sounds. Most of these songs have a mellow backbone, but they present Chyi’s voice in it’s full soaring power.

孀 / Widow

After her work with Tai-Hsiang, Chyi recorded Echo, an album of sung Sanmao poems with a fellow tai-pop singer Michelle Pan. In 1986 she released Stories, the first of many cover albums which took on English-language pop hits to somewhat mixed reception. She wrote the song “Turning” with Suzanne Ciani in 1999 and her last few albums focused on Buddhist mantras. She retired from making music in 2008, but continues to sing at special occasions including recent Sanmao tributes with Michelle. You can read more about her career at the below links.

Must-hears:

I’m yet to hear a good chunk of her albums due to their rarity, but here’s some highlights from what I’ve heard so far.

References + Further reading

 

Artists you should know · Playlist

Artists you should know / Teebs

teebz

Teebs (real name Mtendere Mandowa) may be one of the most exciting producers to emerge from the ‘wonky’ scene. Some critics dismiss him as a mere ‘student of Flying Lotus’, but his music sounds steeped in earth and nature much more than in space, for example. Mere comparisons doesn’t do his unique sound justice.

What I love is the way Teebs approaches a song like one of his own paintings (which make up the cover art for his releases); he blends all kinds of shades together into a coherent result, from harp to piano to windchimes, effects and mallets. There’s this immediate flourish to the end product that’s so hard to pick apart. I’m reminded of fountains, antiques, rain, ponds, arbors, birds, you name it; the imagery is vague, but always blissful and refreshing. Listening to Teebs is like taking a deep breath and dozing off in some secluded garden during the spring. It amazes me just how well he translates his visual style into the music.

For a long time I couldn’t get into Teebs even if I admired his style. What I later learned was that, for all the links to ‘beat music’, his songs aren’t as much about the rhythm as it is with his peers. The appeal lies much more in texture and setting moods. People like him put a whole new spin on the idea of ‘background music’: it’s all warped through this abstract electronic lens that’s very modern-sounding even now. After all, good ‘subconscious’ listening can be such a cleansing experience, and that’s exactly how I’d describe his music.

Youtube playlist

Like with my Reni Jusis playlist, I intend this as an accessible intro to his music. I’ve also included at least one song from every major release.

In chronological order except for the fan favorite “While You Doooo”

1. While You Doooo (Ardour, 2010)

2. Monterey Park Bells (CD 2009, 2009)

3. Comes To Mind w/ Jackhigh (The Tropics, 2010)

4. Anchor Steam (Los Angeles 6/10 EP, 2010)

5. Long Distance w/ Gaby Hernandez (Ardour, 2010)

6. Verbana Tea w/ Rebekah Raf (Collections 01, 2011)

7. LSP w/ Austin Peralta (Collections 01, 2011)

8. Untitled 5 (Cecilia Tapes Collection, 2012)

9. SOTM (E s t a r a, 2014)

10. Holiday w/ Jonti (E s t a r a, 2014)

11. Sachi’s Chords (E S T Outtakes / Remixes, 2015)