Best albums of December 2015

The holiday season is usually a graveyard for new music, unless you like the same seven Christmas songs lazily rehashed by 100 different artists. I personally don’t. I didn’t even plan on making a list of December, but here we are. Check out these great albums released last month.

Steve Sobs – Open Spaces

This is a cool record. Open Spaces shifts masterfully between mesmerizing and upbeat bedroom pop like “The Undergound” and “Nights Out” to songs like the borderline sinister “Empty Streets”, which is what I imagine plays in the waiting room of Satan’s dentist office. Bottom line, Open Spaces is all about blending expansive sounds to create the sensation of open spaces (reverb helps) and, like most bedroom bandcamp projects, it’s about doing a lot with a little. In this it succeeds tremendously.

You’ll like this if you like: Fog Lake and Alex G
Best song: “The Underground”


Blah Blah Blah – This is for the Time

These veterans of ballroom-rock hailing from Chicago dropped this 12 track treat on New Year’s Eve. This is for the Time is 29 minutes of romantic, soulful  guitar rock fit to make a NME columnist change his pants.

You’ll like this is if you like: The Smiths, Ski Lodge, and Cut Off Your Hands
Best song: “I’ve Been So Down”


Holy Wave – The Evil has Landed pt II

Holy Wave’s third effort is equal parts psychedelic, lo-fi, and noisy pop goodness. It’s also 100% worth a listen.

You’ll like this if you like: Chastity Belt and Cloud Nothings
Best song: “Hood Dreams”


Plastic Flowers – Summer of 1992

A pretty straightforward dream pop EP. It’s five songs, all of which are solid. You can tell they’ve really cleaned up their sound from their 2014 debut LP Evergreen, for better or for worse, and laid off the synth a bit in favor of jangle-y slacker guitar riffs.

You’ll like this if you like: Ducktails, Keep Shelly in Athens, and Widowspeak
Best song: “Cloudy Wastelands”


The Walters – Young Men

I’m going to keep this short because I’ve been preaching about The Walters since before I had this blog and even I’m getting tired of it, but these guys are going to be huge. This follow-up EP just further proves my point. Their self-styled cardigan rock is universal in its charm and if their motivated enough, they’ll break through to the inner circle of beloved,  indie starlets by the end of 2016.

You’ll like this if you like:  Good Morning and Alex Bleeker & The Freaks (first album only)
Best song: “City Blues”


Other great albums from December

Emily Yacina – Soft Stuff

Florist – Holdly

Olivier Heim – A Different Life

Archy Marshall – A New Place to Drown



15 most overlooked albums of 2015

I was going to make a top 50 albums of the year list, but then decided that you don’t need yet another blog telling you how great Poison Season and To Pimp a Butterfly are. So, I decided to do something a bit different and more in the vein of this blog. Here are the best, most overlooked albums of the year. Enjoy!


15. Charlie Brand – Monsoons

Monsoons is nothing like the over the top saccharine melodies Charlie Brand helped create with Miniature Tigers. It’s sweet, gentle songwriting with the occasional spaceship noise thrown in for good measure.



14. Macross 82-99 – CHAM!

Die-hard future funk and vaporwave fans might not like where Macross, future funk’s most talented and prolific producer, has gone with his newest effort. There will be those that are sad that he’s drifting away from funking up old Japanese disco deep cuts. But they’re wrong. With CHAM! he manages to strike the perfect balance between delivering atypical, future funk bangers for his old fans, and branching into exciting, fresher hip hop-influenced sounds.

[future funk]


13. PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries

A wonderful debut from PWR BTTM. Ugly Cherries is full of genuinely catchy pop punk anthems that will have you singing along.

[pop punk]


12. Gengahr – A Dream Outside

A top five debut that was fairly lauded when it came out. Maybe everyone forgot about it because they took the album off of Spotify. Take a hint, guys.

[psychedelic rock]


11. Dråpe – Relax/Relapse

One of the best, most accessible pop albums of the year. Only one listen required to see the hype.



10. The Districts – A Flourish and a Spoil

If rock & roll is dead than The Districts reanimated the corpse and walked it around in 2015 like a zombie marionette.

[indie rock]

9. Chastity Belt – Time To Go Home

Sleater-Kinney released an album this year and this still the best record by an all girl band. I said it. Fight me.

[noise pop]


8. Marco Vella – Shadow Mountain

Seven of the most perfect electronic and ambient music tracks out right now, and from a complete specter. This debut will blow your hair back and lead to frantic googling of ‘who the hell is this guy?’.

[electronic / ambient]


7. Sui Zhen – Secretly Susan 

Even if this album didn’t have great jams like ‘Take It All Back’ and ‘Walk Without Me’, it would still be on this list for the album cover alone.

[electronic / singer songwriter]

6. Title Fight – Hyperview

Ian Cohen agrees with me, this was a top 10 album of 2015.

[melodic hardcore]

5. Empress Of – Me

I suppose it’s not overlooked so much as not placed high enough on the end-of-they-year lists. I mean c’mon, this is just a better version of what Grimes tried to do, and there are twice as many bangers.

[dream pop / str8 bangers]

4. Astronauts Etc. – Mind Out Wandering

The only notable source that reviewed this album was Paste, who gave it an 85. Really? Paste? That’s it. What’s the state of music journalism when fucking Paste are the ones with their finger on the pulse. Their office is in Georgia for Pete’s sake.

[dream pop]


3. Roman à clef – Abandonware

Abandonware is 29 minutes of 80’s pop hits that you and your mom can enjoy together. Best debut album of the year award goes to… Roman à clef! Ryan and Jen from Sunny Day in Glasgow, please come to my living room to accept your award.



2. Evans the Death – Expect Delays

There is a song on Expect Delays called ‘Bad Year’ where Katherine Whitaker cries out, “I’ve had a bad yeaaaarrrr.’ Well, if having a bad time caused these guys to make such a great album, I hope the rest of their lives are terrible. 🙂

[indie rock / noise pop]

1. Vundabar – Gawk

Vundabar are the Drake of indie rock. I’ve never heard an album with so many effortless hooks. Gawk is so incredibly lean that it gives the impression of having been forged over and over in the studio like hot steel, hammering away anything that wasn’t an absolute banger until they were finally satisfied – there’s no fluff here, folks. Every song could have been the single.

[Drake rock]



The best albums of October & November 2015

So, if we’re being honest, I didn’t do a best-of list for October not because there weren’t any good albums (October was bonkers), but because I plum forgot. Luckily, since November was disappointing album-wise, as the end of the year often is, I decided to combine the two months into one post. Enjoy.

Dråpe – Relax/Relapse

One of the best, most accessible pop albums of the year. Only one listen required to see the hype.

Favorite song: “Replica”


Alex G – Beach Songs 

Alex G does it again, nuff said.

Favorite song – “Brite Boy”


Neon Indian – Vega Intl. Night School

I’ll admit I was skeptic. My first listen through, all I could think was how much the album sounded like Toro Y Moi’s disappointing third LP, which was just a rehashing of disco but with more reverb. Now this sounds like Neon Indian rehashing and Chazwick’s rehash. But it’s not. It’s soulful, terribly charming, and can stand in its own right as a banger of a record if you ignore its complete lack of innovation.

Favorite songs: News from a Sun (live bootleg)


Macross 82-99 – CHAM!

Die-hard futurefunk and vaporwave fans might not like where Macross, futurefunk’s most talented and prolific producer, has gone with his newest effort. There will be those that are sad he’s drifting away from funking up old japanese disco deep cuts. But they’re wrong. With CHAM! he manages to strike the perfect balance between delivering atypical, futurefunk bangers for his old fans, and branching into exciting, newer hip hop-influenced sounds.

Favorite song: “I Miss You (feat. Roman)”


Krts – Close Eyes to Exit

A thumping fever dream of gorgeous beeps and bloops with the odd hip hop feature. It’s quiet and loud and goes 100mph. You’ll fall asleep listening to it and then wake up with your shirt soaked with sweat and gasping, “what the hell is this music?”

Favorite song: “Come to this”


Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect

“Man, I really liked ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ from Ought’s new album, but I sure wish the album as the whole was better. If only there were another, similar post-punk band that rock even harder.”

Favorite Song: “The Devil in his Youth”


Honorable Mentions

Sea Ghost – SG
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Style
Violent Mae – Kid
Blessed Feather – There Will Be No Sad Tomorrow
U.S. Girls – Half Free
Kyle – Smyle
Deerhunter – Fading Frontier



The best albums of September 2015

Empress Of – Me

Straight bangers. Track 1? Banger. Track 2? Banger. Track 3-9? Bangers. Track 10? Banger. Every track banger.

Favourite song: ‘Standard’

PWR BTTM – Ugly Cherries

A wonderful debut from PWR BTTMUgly Cherries is full of genuinely catchy pop punk anthems that will have you singing along.

Favourite song: ‘House in Virginia’

Astronauts, etc. – Mind Out wandering

“Thawed-out ’70s tones with sentiments of soul and echoes of modern indie guitar rock, Ferraro’s piano and Rhodes provide nearly as much a presence on each track as his own falsetto.” – from their bandcamp.  A pretty good description of a really good album, the majority of which was recorded live. Another amazing debut.

Favourite song: ‘Up for Grabs’

Skylar Spence – Prom King

I  T ‘  S      N  O  T     V  A  P  O  R  –  W  A  V  E    B  U  T    I  T ‘  S    S  T  I  L  L     R  E  A  L  L  Y    F U N.

Favorite song: ‘Can’t You See’

George Clanton – 100% Electronica

This album is a 100% synth-y chillwave goodness and 100% worth your time.

Favourite song: ‘Keep a Secret’

More Albums!!

Honorable mentions because this was a fantastic month for music and there are a ton of albums that I didn’t get to touch on:
Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness
Ought – Sun Coming Down
Helios – Yume
Carroll – Carroll

Best Albums of August 2015

This month’s list is a mix of virtually unknown newcomers and established veterans. This month I also try making jokes.
  1. Destroyer – Poison Season                                                        

AOTY probably.

Genre: rogue saxophone-wave/Time Square-core

You may like this if you like: music

2.  Marco Vella – Shadow Mountain                  

A gorgeous, lean seven track debut from this random dude named Marco. Shadow Mountain is easily the biggest surprise of the month, if not the entire summer. It’s just as suited for ambient, night driving as it is a soundtrack to a How’s It Made episode about desk chair factories.

Genre: Electronic/ambient/post-adderall

You may like this if you like: that song from the movie Drive

3. Beach House – Depression Cherry

More of the same from our favourite dream pop team, but is that such bad thing?

Genre – No shirt, no shoes, no problem

You may like this if you like: if you hoped the album was nothing like  ‘Sparks’

4. LUWUM – Places Worn                                 

I haven’t heard a DIY, bedroom pop bandcamp artist with this much potential since Alex G, and that’s the highest of praise. This debut gets extra pointst for putting the bedroom back in bedroom pop since it was literally recorded in his living quarters.

Genre – lo-fi/DIY pop

You may like this if you like – songs recorded with old laptops

Test tube genre

By Gianluca Pezzuti

Five years ago a genre of music called vaporwave was born on the internet. During its existence it has been criticized, killed, subsequently reborn and, through it all, struggled for validation. This is what vaporwave tells us about the future of music in the internet age.

Digital Voyager, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate sits in the darkness of his childhood bedroom in Ohio rooting around in a cardboard box before pulling out an old VHS tape.

“Sometimes the entire tape has nothing worth using on it, the only thing worth using was the logo at the beginning that had a cool little geometric animation,” says Digital Voyager, pointing at the forlorn-looking VHS. He proudly holds up the box which he says he found at a nearby flea market and shows me the antiquated Pansonic Omnisvision TV set he uses to play the tapes. Though his bedroom may seem straight out of 1990, the year is 2015 – and Digital Voyager is part of a very important movement.

All the most significant movements in the history of music have at least two things in common: they were all started by young people and they all began somewhere. Jazz started in New Orleans, hip hop in New York City and punk in the United Kingdom. A person can point to these places on a map. Vaporwave, however, while created by kids, was born entirely on the internet.

Vaporwave, a micro-culture which gets its name from vaporware (a term for a product that was announced but never released) is celebrating its five year anniversary this August. It’s more of a culture than genre because it is made up of equal parts art and music. You can’t have one without the other.

While it’s impossible to say exactly how big vaporwave is, or roughly how many listeners it has, the largest known forum of vaporwave enthusiasts is on social networking site Reddit, which at the moment boasts roughly 15,000 subscribers; hence the prefix micro.

To properly understand the importance of vaporwave and how its evolution defines what it means to make music in 2015, you first have to understand what Vaporwave is, which is a bit like explaining colour to a blind man.

Making vaporwave

While hard to understand, vaporwave is easy to make.

“It has a really low barrier to entry, pretty much anyone can learn how to make it if they want to,” explains VHSテープリワインダー, a vaporwave artist whose name translates from Japanese as VHS Tape Rewinder.

At its most banal, the fundamental principles of creating vaporwave involve chopping up samples of old music, looping them and slowing them down. That’s it. The formula is so simple that it’s democratic – anyone equipped with the right software can be a vaporwave artist.

The artist’s ability doesn’t depend so much on sample manipulation as choosing the right sample – which can be anything from obscure corporate lounge music to 80’s Japanese pop hits. The only requirement for acclaim by the genre’s fan base is that it sounds good, so it’s not much different from anything else in that regard. The nature of heavy sampling has lead most of the genre’s artists to keep their music free and their identities a secret.

VHS, as is typical of vaporwave artists, prefers to remain anonymous. They even requested to keep their age and location a secret, stating only that they live in the United States and that they are between 18 and 21 years old.

“[Anonymity] is a big part of [vaporwave]. Everybody likes to not put a face on this kind of music,” says VHS. “I think it’s a good thing because the music maybe exists in kind of a legal grey area, because of all the sampling involved. But overall, I think the artists want to maintain a mystique and an anonymity that makes it more about the music and what you are presenting than about the person behind it.”

Wolfenstein OSX, a vaporwave artist and documentarian who also wanted to keep his identity a secret, believes that discretion in vaporwave is more musically driven than legally.

“I think it’s just because of how glorified artists are in music today,” says Wolfenstein. “The sense of anonymity helps the listener pay more attention to the music and less so to who is actually making it. It’s a good counter against top 40 radio and these superstars that are forced upon us as icons.”

Legal precedent aside, anonymity is an important part of the whole confusing ensemble that makes up vaporwave’s aesthetic.

“Vaporwave is at least 50 per cent visual in my eyes,” says VHS. “It is really more of an umbrella term that covers a whole bunch of different sounds that people are making right now, and what ties it all together are the visuals and the aesthetic and the presentation.

While the music is easy to describe, the art and rules that accompany the scene’s community are as impenetrable as the websites that spawned it. Vaporwave is not meant to be accessible. It was made by young people for young people, and it was created on their turf – the internet.

Where precisely the first instance of vaporart started is still a contentious point, but the general consensus is that it first cropped up on sites like 4chan, Bandcamp, Reddit and Tumblr around 2011. And much like anything spawned by impenetrable internet forums and image boards, the rules behind what makes something vaporwave are intentionally convoluted.

Take the following video for instance.

This is one of the most iconic vaporwave songs from arguably the most famous album in the genre’s canon. All seven minutes and 21 seconds of the track are simply Diana Ross’s “It’s your move” slowed down and looped continuously.

But beyond being a sterling example of vaporwave music, it’s also a good illustration of the genre’s aesthetic. The image has bright neon pink colours, an ancient Greek bust, a futuristic feel, the artist incorporates technology in his name and the song title has Japanese characters (translates from Japanese to “Lisa Frank 420 / Modern Computing”). These are all key elements that make something vaporwave.

Other aesthetic elements included in typical vaporwave album covers but not pictured in the image are: Japanese anime, glitch art, tropical scenery, the fetishization of retro-futuristic technology and pop culture nostalgia from the 80’s and 90’s.

The recipe for vaporart is deliberately confusing and its ingredients arbitrary. The intentional obfuscation of the foundation of vaporwave is akin to an invented language or code shared between teenage siblings to keep their parents out of the loop. If you have to ask what vaporwave is, you’re probably missing the joke.

Everything about vaporwave’s nature is meant to fight the principles of mainstream music: the faceless artists who change names, the mix of Japanese and English words that make it difficult to share and the endless criteria for what makes something vaporwave.

More importantly, vaporwave is a reflection of the internet. Or at least, the corner of internet that belongs to bored, rebellious millennials who understand the web better than their parents ever will.

Its’ hard not to draw parallels between vaporwave and punk, both are DIY movements started by kids fed up with their parents’ music. In his mini-documentary, Wolfenstein OSX points out the same comparison.

“Looking on the vaporwave genre tag [on Bancamp] you’ll find stolen music made mostly by young adolescents in the basements of their suburban homes all across the world. It’s been described by some as a digital punk movement with ideals that counter most national concept of ownership by making vaporwave an anonymous art for anonymous people.”

Wolfenstein isn’t the first person to draw comparisons between the two wildly different sounding genres. Co-founder of the online underground music collective SPF420, who goes only by Liz, was quoted saying in the documentary SPF420:

“Vaporwave, in my opinion, is our current punk scene, the digital rebels, those who steal others’ music just to manipulate it and chop it up a bit.”

The rise and fall of vaporwave

In August 2010, producer Daniel Lopatin released an album called Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1 under the moniker Chuck Person. The release was comprised of chopped up 1980’s pop hits such as Toto’s “Africa” stretched, slowed down and looped.

“[Eccojams] is considered the very first vaporwave album. The first time I heard it I thought it was too slow, I thought the quality was terrible and I couldn’t understand why the quality was so bad until I realised it was supposed to be bad,” says Digital Voyager.

Five years on, the album is credited with inspiring the sound of the entire internet-based genre.

While stylistically unique, vaporwave is not alone in its status as a net-born micro-scene. The early 2010’s were rife with similar phony sounding web-cultures stealing headlines everywhere from Vice to the New York Times such as witch house, chillwave and, most notably, seapunk.
It is impossible to talk about vaporwave without mentioning seapunk, the nautical grandfather of vaporwave.

In 2011 a Brooklyn DJ under the Twitter handle Lil Internet posted this.

Taken from Noisey Vice

This tweet spawned more similar tweets and Tumblr posts which inevitably developed into an aquatic rave-themed micro-scene that the New York Times described as a “web joke with music”.

Once mainstream media and celebrities like Rhianna got their hands on it in 2012, seapunk promptly died. Like with any meme, the minute it becomes too popular, it implodes. Much in the same way an eye-rolling teenager doesn’t want to be seen liking the same thing as her parents.
Some qualities of seapunk did leave a lasting impression on people however, namely the vibrant colour scheme and obsession with 90’s cyber culture. Sound familiar? The remains of what was left of seapunk would eventually morph into vaporwave’s aesthetic.

Later in 2011, riding the waves of seapunk’s success, came an album called Floral Shoppe by then unknown artist Macintosh Plus. Floral Shoppe was credited by music sites and magazines like Wire, Tiny Mixtapes and Sputnik Music as being the defining sound vaporwave.

While it undoubtedly lit a fire under the genre and spurred on the creation of numerous similar sounding albums, Floral Shoppe also nearly killed vaporwave by creating a torrent of memes that almost caused the genre to collapse in on itself.

In 2012, Dummy Mag’s Adam Harper wrote an article claiming the genre to be an anti-capitalist music movement, citing vaporwave artists like Internet Club and James Ferraro as challenging conceptions of global capitalism by recycling corporate muzak to send a message.

Adam Harper’s article became the de facto say on vaporwave. Overnight, the genre became synonymous with anti-capitalism and corporate culture, despite the fact that that sentiment wasn’t universal within the community.

“That thought had honestly never crossed my mind [when making music],” says 21-year-old Dallas Cotton, better known by his pseudonym Yung Bae.

The article divided the fan base into those who agreed with the criticism and those thought it missed the mark entirely.

“You have two sides of the fence. You have this side of the fence, the people that make [vaporwave] for nostalgia or for the corporate thing. They care about everything but the music itself almost. They just care about the concept,” says Digital Voyager. “To me a lot of that is nonsense. Then you have this side of it. People that just want to make cool music to listen to. Music for the sake of music. At the end of the day, the music has to stand for itself.”
Whether or not Adam Harper’s article was accurate, it caused a media domino effect. Vaporwave began to find itself in the headlines. Between increased popularity and the recycling of exhausted memes within the genre’s community, it began to suffer.

In the same way that online popularity invites fans it also attracts the scorn of internet bullies, and the genre soon fell victim to the rapid saturation of satirical music that cheapened the genre. That spoof music was dubbed broperwave, a portmanteau of ‘bro’ and ‘vaporwave’. Broperwave flooded bandcamp, youtube and soundcloud with faux-vaporwave that expounded on the worst tropes of the genre (example below).

If for some reason you want to listen to the music:

Please click on the screenshot to be able to see what it says.

Finally, in 2013, Ramona Andra Xavier, a young female producer and graphic designer who had been moonlighting as prolific vaporwave pioneer Vektroid, said she was retiring from the genre. Vektroid claims on her website to have released over 40 unique works since 2005 (most vaporwave), all under different pseudonyms like Macintosh Plus, Laserdisc Visions, 情報デスクVIRTUAL, New Dreams Ltd. and PrismCorp – essentially making up the lion’s share of vaporwave’s most loved artist. Imagine if The Who, The Rolling Stones and David Bowie had all abandoned rock music at the same time. It was as if half of the genre disappeared over night.

“Vaporwave is dead” became the new motto of the web.


Surviving the big squeeze

In today’s social media climate, where everything is digested and dismissed in the blink of an eye, it’s almost not worth caring about anything on more than a dispassionate, ironic level.

Neil McCormick, music critic at the Telegraph, believes that in the internet age things aren’t given a chance to grow.

He says: “How can a scene germinate when you’re last week’s news as soon as you’re this week’s news? Those are all the problems that new scenes in music have.”

The new test, which vaporwave may be the first to pass, is surviving the big squeeze – the moment when an idea has its day in the digital sun. If an idea has the legs to stand under the weight of trending on Twitter, people will eventually grow bored and leave it alone. Only then can it truly grow and evolve, nurtured by a genuine fan base that think of it as more than a passing fad. This is a reality that all movements may have to deal with in the future.


Please click on this screenshot to actually read what it says.

This graph of Google search trends tells the story of two similar genres. How they both experienced a spike in popularity, with only one coming out alive. And vaporwave, for being an allegedly dead genre, is still very much thriving. If this graph is any indication, its heart is beating stronger than ever. The question is whether or not this is because the media dogpiled seapunk more so than vaporwave or because vaporwave had more substance and a stronger community to support it.

“I think the reason why vaporwave is still around is because it’s become more than it was initially created to be,” says Wolfenstein. “Floral Shoppe was created to be slowed down 80’s elevator music, and that’s where vaporwave started. But now over the years it’s incorporated other forms of music. It doesn’t have to be about the 80’s and 90’s. It could just be experimental ambient music with a weird conceptual theme.”

Vaporwave has undergone an evolution that normally takes a music scene decades to achieve. It’s gone from Daniel Lopatin’s joke to an anonymous micro-culture of kids stealing music, to becoming the punchline of the internet. And now finally out of the limelight, vaporwave has developed into a healthy community with multiple subgenres of its own and a handful of legitimate music labels. It owes the acceleration of its lifespan entirely to living under the microscope  of the internet.

Even the aesthetic has changed, for better or for worse.

“I think for the music to grow the aesthetic needs to develop as well,” says Wolfenstein. “If you look at all the different album artworks now, It’s mostly becoming more about trying to make something look like it’s found somewhere random, like an archived image that you stumble upon, which is kind of something that’s a relatively new phenomenon, especially with the internet because there is so much information you can find anything you want.”

Not everyone is pleased with the changes to the genre. Artist Yung Bae said that he believed vaporwave to be “on the decline”.

Whether or not the genre has strayed too far from its roots, its journey through the gauntlet of dismissive cyber culture is unfortunately indicative of what the next generation of dreamers and creatives have to look forward to. But not everyone is so pessimistic.

“I think it can only go up from here. People keep saying vaporwave is dead, I don’t think it’s ever been more alive,” says Wolfenstein.

The best albums of July 2015

Vundabar – Gawk  

Album of the month, easy. Just go buy it.

Tame Impala – Currents

Thirteen tracks of pop-y goodness. Had the second side of the album been as good as the first, we’d be talking AOTY status.

Ducktails – St. Catherine

Matt Mondanile’s umpteenth LP as his solo act is much more clear and polished than anything he did on the Wish Hotel EP, which is equal parts disappointing and encouraging.

Steelism – The Drawing Room, Volume 1

This instrumental EP packs more styles of music into five songs than most bands do in the entire evolution of their discography.

If you can’t beat em, leak em

by Gianluca Pezzuti

Four months ago I sent an email inquiring about a writing job at a music review website. The editor, who also happens to run a small indie label, wrote me back in a fury:

“Hi Gianluca, I must admit that as someone who runs a record label and whose ability to pay writers is completely destroyed by illegal file sharing as without record sales labels cannot afford to advertise with us, it’d be difficult to work with someone who contributes to a site a lot of artists and labels would like to see closed down.”

The site I contributed to that he is referencing is, a place where overly enthusiastic music fans post updates reporting whether or not an album has been leaked and where it can be found (though providing direct links is prohibited, which is how the site remains legal).

Leaks are all over the news at the moment. This doesn’t mean that there have been more leaks than usual this year, but that the musicians are more high profile. Artists like Madonna and Bjork had their respective LPs leaked months before the set release date. Both were featured on Has It Leaked and both handled the adversity in wildly different ways to different ends.

Living with Leaks

Hasitleaked’s existence is a testament to just how widespread of an epidemic music leaks have become. Since Napster’s baby steps and subsequent battle with Lars Ulrich over the premature distribution of a Metallica song, leaks have become less a disease crippling the music industry and more a natural disaster. And much like a natural disaster, let’s say hurricane, you don’t have much choice but to board the windows, bear down and wait out the storm. It’s the difference between actively fighting to cure something and learning to accept the inevitable. Bjork and Madonna’s reactions to their respective leaks are a good example.

When her album leaked months early, Madonna began by posting on twitter: “This is artistic rape… This is a form of terrorism. Wtf!!!! Why do people want to destroy artistic process??? Why steal? Why not give me the opportunity to finish and give you my very best?”

This led to obvious backlash from ornery fans and easily upset twitter trolls everywhere.

Bjork handled things much better. When her album Vulnicura was leaked in January she called her agent and arranged to have the album released within the next 24 hours and provided a free stream. These armchair pirates pursue leaks not because they revel in the thrill of committing a crime but because there isn’t an easier option.

Staffan Ulmert, artist and founder of Has It Leaked, sees what Bjork did as the best course of action: “Few music fans actually like piracy, they just want to listen to their favorite artists and sometimes they get the opportunity to listen to it early, and it’s difficult to say no to that. It’s not about not wanting to pay for their music, but getting their hands on it in advance.”

By releasing the album immediately after the leak, Bjork beats the leakers by playing their game.

This is difference between treating the problem like an epidemic as opposed to a hurricane. Better to live with the wind than spit in it. In 2000 it was possible to plug a leak. MP3s were still mind-boggling futuristic and Napster copycats like Ares and Limewire hadn’t quite taken off. It was easier to point a finger. Not exactly a whodunit. Now the internet is saturated with torrents, direct download links and pockets of terrifyingly tech-savvy music nerds covertly sharing files. And that’s just what we can see on the clear web. God knows what piracy looks like in the seedy underbelly of the web where Google’s reach doesn’t extend. The point is that now, once something is leaked, it stays leaked.

How leaks affect the artist

The editor who rejected me followed up his initial email with a more comprehensive argument against leaks:

“Leaking is such a massive problem for artists (I’ve known of people who’ve suddenly flipped into massive depression because their album has leaked, records where any chance of it reaching more people has been ruined). And where the leaks can be found are on websites where some really unpleasant people make a huge amount of money from all the traffic.”

He raises some valuable points. Leakers may not all be ski-masked hackers but they aren’t necessarily paragons of virtue either. It’s not all done in some misguided crusade for the greater good of music. Someone somewhere is making dollars and cents out of it and it’s not the artist.

The source of most leaks are attributed to sloppy music journalists or staff within the label. The motivation behind the leak, especially in the case of major artists, is often bribery. The best example being the infamous leaker Koolo who would purchase leaks (via Paypal, as easy as that) of high profile acts like Eminem and then leak them to forums. While leaks may be here to stay, they’re rarely beneficial. In this Staffan Ulmert and my anonymous editor friend agree:

“They hurt sales, no question about it. There are exceptions; artists and labels who are good at turning a leak into a news story and spin it into something positive. But often those exceptions are rare, and are labels with bigger budgets to play with.”

Leaks can be emotionally devastating as well. Louise Hammar, who co-runs one of Sweden’s biggest indie labels Telegram Studios, thinks that while leaks are a fixed structure in the music industry, that doesn’t mean they aren’t poisonous for the musician: “The artist will be affected. They will feel, most likely… they will feel like shit.”

Caribou, a Canadian electro-pop artist, has actually never experienced releasing an album on its intended date. He told Gawker:

“To put it in perspective, all of the records I have released have leaked months in advance… My initial reaction was disappointment that there wasn’t going to be that moment that I’ve never had, where everybody’s waiting until the very day it’s released to hear it at the same time. It’s a bit of a shame in that it’s not a shared experience on the release date, but apart from that, I’m glad that people are listening to it.”

Caribou’s view is arguably progressive. Perhaps it’s older artists like Madonna that still react poorly and pitch a fit like Lars Ulrich did so many years ago. Maybe this new generation of creatives, because they’ve grown up with Napster, are more inclined to see leaks as just another of the evils released from this millennium’s Pandora’s box that opened with the advent of the internet.

The ACBs // Interview

by Gianluca Pezzuti

It’s been two years since indie power-popacbs2 band The ACBs released Little Leaves, the criminally underrated follow-up to the promising Stona Rosa. The Overdub got a chance to chat with members of the band about what they’re cooking up for 2015, the inspiration behind Little Leaves, and taking mushrooms in Pennsylvania. They were even kind enough of to let us hear a demo from their new album!

It’s been over two years since Little Leaves was released, what have you been up to?

Konnor: I’ve been playing in a band called Shy Boys.  We’ve been touring and putting music out for the last year or so.

We (ACBs) haven’t played a ton of shows since touring for Little Leaves, but we’ve been getting together pretty often to work on new songs.

What’s your song writing process like?

Konnor: I record ideas I have on my phone or recorder.  It’s usually just a melody.  When I’m actually at home and in the mood to work on stuff, I’ll listen to some of the voice memos, and if something stands out, I’ll tinker with it.  I demo lots of stuff on my laptop and send them to the band.  If they like something, we’ll work on it together from there.

I read that the album title “Little Leaves” was inspired by solitude and Konnor’s job as a landscaper. Can you give me some more insight on the inspiration behind the songwriting on Little Leaves?

Konnor: Yes, I work as a landscaper, and I mostly work alone.  In the fall, work slows down and the only thing left to do is clean up leaves.

My method is to blow/rake the leaves into big piles, then run over the leaf pile multiple times with a big mower, in a circular pattern, to mulch them up into a smaller pile of shredded leaves to be loaded onto my truck or trailer.  As far as I know, this is a pretty standard method for leaf removal.

At a certain point of the fall season, it starts to feel a little extra lonely out there.  It gets colder and more quite outside.  Work slows down too, so this is when I’m usually working on songs the most.

I associate a lot of the songs on the album with the fall season.  And when I think about the fall season, I picture those crushed-up leaves.

Can we expect a follow-up album in 2015?

Konnor: Yeah, we’ve been putting together songs and we’re pretty close.  I guess one good thing about our lack of success is we feel no pressure to put something out fast.  I wouldn’t rush things for the sake of staying relevant. The ultimate goal is to make something as good as it can be.

But the short answer is yes, we should have something out in 2015.

What is the inspiration behind the lyrics “glue diet, nobody wants to try it” on the song “Glue Diet?

Konnor: The track is a demo of a song that’s going to be on the next album.  There’s an album worth of demos, and we’re now in the process figuring out how to play and record the songs as a band.

Lyrically, it’s just a silly song about keeping to a light amount of drugs, and not going too far with anything.

How similar is this to what we can expect on your next album, lyrically and musically?

Konnor: There probably won’t be many songs with bongos in them, but this is generally the tone of the next album.  I’m thinking it will be more groovy and less guitar-driven.

It took some digging but I finally found your first self-titled album on your old Myspace, I was pretty amazed by the change in sound between then and Little Leaves. Can we expect a change in direction, as far as sound goes, on your next record?

Konnor: I’m pleased to hear that Myspace is still up and running.

We started off as kind of a power-pop band.  It’s sometimes painful to listen to those old songs, specifically because of the way I sang them on the recordings.  I was really pushing my voice, and trying hard not to sound nasally.  Our second album was a little more relaxed, and Little Leaves was even more relaxed, at least vocally.

The goal for me is to take the “performance” out of things.

I don’t want to make two albums that sound the same, so the next one will probably be pretty different.

Kansas City is the city with the second most fountains in the world. Did you know that?

Konnor: I used to hear that a lot growing up.  I guess it’s true?  It could be that most cities simply aren’t vying for that title.

What’s the deal with this photo885129_10151861314717468_37536026_o

Konnor: That’s Bryan, wearing a Lord of The Beer shirt. The guy in the Gandalf outfit is a friend of ours – not actually in the band.  I don’t know why I made it our Facebook profile pic, but it always brings me joy.

Any interesting or amusing tour stories?

Bryan: (sober account of events): There was one pretty hilarious adventure that happened to us between shows in Louisville and Philadelphia last summer.  We had an afternoon to kill and were looking for a natural spring a little bit southeast of Pittsburgh so we could swim and chill out.  We also had the idea to eat some mushrooms beforehand to make the trip that much better.  I volunteered to drive so I was sober as a mule and really enjoying the scenic drive we took to get to the swimming hole.  After a couple of wrong turns, we eventually figured out the directions via internet message board instruction and found a couple of other cars parked by a railroad track next to a shallow creek bed.

The instructions, again, I think they were from various internet sites purporting to be experts in Pennsylvania’s natural watering hole locations, advised us to follow the train tracks across the creek bed and eventually you would find a nice watering hole.  Now, the train track basically acted as a bridge over the creek bed and I would say it was about three stories high and maybe 200 feet from where we parked our van to the opposite side.  As we started on our way, some kids were coming back towards us having completed the same activity we were attempting.  They were real nice and gave us a vague idea of where we needed to go to find the best place to swim.  I remember one of us asking whether or not any trains ever cross and one of the kids advised, simply, ‘no’.

At this point, I believe the mushrooms had kicked in for everyone so we were all in a great mood and looking forward to the swim.  As we continued on the tracks for about 15 minutes, the only negative was all of the trash we encountered, pointing to the popularity of the spot and a seemingly strong Juggalo vibe. Lots of Faygo lying about. Faygo or no, we would not be deterred in getting our swim on so eventually we found a small fall where the water was about crotch high and the current was strong.  Everyone grabbed a spot so as to not get swept away and we had a nice little hang even though swimming was now out of the question.

About a half hour after we had found our spot, it started raining which added to the experience.  I really enjoy driving through Pennsylvania and encourage anyone to explore the countryside if you have a chance.  It started getting dark because of the cloud cover so we started heading back in what was now just a light drizzle.  Some fog had also set in which made the walk kind of surreal and limited visibility to probably 50 feet or so.  We were having a ball, refreshed, relaxed and feeling good.
Finally we came upon the bridge with our van sitting across the way, which was a relief as all of our gear was inside.  About half way across, we all had to stop just to take in the sheer beauty of our surroundings.  Kyle, our drummer, decided to take a picture and as we huddled together so that he could get us all in the frame, a train whistle sounded.  What I remember first was seeing the reflection of the light hit the rocks as the train was rounding the bend in the tracks.  We were in the absolute worst spot as we had stopped exactly in the middle of the tracks to take in the view.  The next thing I saw was the smoke billowing over the tree cover and seconds later, you could make out the train coming our way.  From the get-go, I had the sense that we had enough time to make it back to the side from which we came so I remember ordering everyone back that way saying only “Go, Go, Go, Go!”.  Again, we’re running across tracks that are a sheer drops down to very shallow water on both sides.  To add to the degree of difficulty, the space in between single wood tracks was such that you couldn’t easily step on one after the other in a regular running motion.  Even still, I thought we could make it without having to jump a la ‘Stand By Me’ and risk a broken leg or pull a ‘Lost Boys’ and hang over the edge while the train passed overhead.

I think I was the first to make it and Konnor and Kyle were close behind.  The next closest guy was Ross and I’d say he was 10 feet from the end when he tripped and bought it.  Kyle immediately ran out to help him which earns him the Medal of Honor in this story.  Both guys were back but Andrew was still a ways out due to the fact that he, perhaps wisely, elected to run on the outside of the track in case he needed to jump.  I felt that he still had a good 20 seconds before the train would catch up to him and we all cheered him on saying there was no problem…he was going to make it.  He did make it and once the train passed, we all just started laughing maniacally.

I drove home and once we got to a gas station by the motel we were crashing at that night, I couldn’t stop shaking my hands for about 15 minutes as the adrenaline had finally caught up to me.  My wife was pretty pissed that I told her about it then instead of waiting until after the tour.  I think we watched ‘Grown Ups’ that night.  It was as awful as we imagined it would be.

Konnor: (non-sober account of events): Yeah, we all almost died once on a bridge somewhere in Pennsylvania.

We had an open date coming back from the east coast, so our idea was to take mushrooms and find a place to swim.  We found an online map to a swimming hole somewhere in Pennsylvania and went on kind of an adventure.

It was hard to find, and the only way to get to the creek was to walk across this scary bridge.  It was pretty high up, and it was just train tracks, so there was a wide separation between the railroad ties.  You had to carefully walk across while looking straight down at the rocks below.

We had a great time in the water, and after a while it started getting kind of dark, so we started heading back.  It suddenly started raining pretty hard, and it was actually kind of nice since we were already wet.  The rain finished just as we neared the bridge, and it was a beautiful sight.  It was super foggy and we were feeling fine.

We got about halfway across the bridge and Kyle wanted to get a selfie taken of all of us to capture the moment.  We all got together to take the picture when we suddenly heard a loud horn.  It took a second for the gravity of the situation to sink in.  There was a second horn, and the light of a train cut through the fog.  It was terrifying.

Bryan, the only one that hadn’t eaten mushrooms, made the call and shouted for us all to run the way we came, as the train barreled toward us. We all had to run on this train track bridge, which was kind of hard to do. Ross actually fell down and Kyle or somebody ran back to help him up. Andrew was the last to make it to safety, I think.  He was running on the outside of the tracks preparing to jump I guess.  We all made it safe, but it was pretty close.

I know this sounds exactly like the scene in Stand By Me, but it is actually what happened and it was very scary.

Homegrown garden-variety beats

The Overdub meets up-and-coming rapper Joash Brian at his home in London.

By Gianluca Pezzuti


In the London borough of Harrow, behind an unassuming house, people are making music – and they’re making it in a tool shed. The back garden shack looks like the type of sturdy lean-to where someone might hang their shovels or stash Christmas decorations, but beyond the shabby wooden walls is a laboratory of hip hop beats. This is Joash Brian’s second home. His actual home is five meters away.

“My brother and I built it ourselves about a year ago,” says Joash. He points to a square outline of bricks that surround the studio and says that they had originally built it much bigger but the borough had them it take down because of building regulations.

In the cramped darkness of the studio, Joash pens lyrics to a new song while his brother/producer, Herman, expertly spins and twists knobs on a sound board creating massive beats with deep warbling basslines that drown out the death rattle of the ancient space heater in the corner. They bob their heads in unison as Joash scribbles in a tiny notebook, his black braids hanging like a curtain obscuring his face. The brothers work together fluidly, talking in half-finished thoughts that the other understands.

“Having my brother in the studio, well, that’s someone who really gets me… it’s good to work with him because the feedback between me and him is really good. We don’t hold back anything.”

Soon producers and musicians arrive, filing into the already confined hut. Though hours go by, nobody leaves, and the studio begins to feel like a warm, thumping clown car. These musical creative types seem to gravitate to Joash’s studio. Along with a professional set up, he has the enviable quality of radiating capability and is somewhat of a Swiss Army knife when it comes to production skills.

“When I’m not writing or recording, I’m directing videos or editing video, so it’s pretty much constant, constant production. I’m always around the music, that’s all I do really. I go to sleep at five in the morning and wake up at eleven, back on the scene. It’s music, music, music.”

Joash’s multi-skill set comes from the winding road he’s taken to get to this point. Though he studied to be a cartoon animator, he found himself at the United Nations in Rome editing videos about agriculture. He says he owes his path so far to his multi-nationality.

“Being so multi-national is crazy. I’ve been in radio stations is Kenya. I’ve been in radio stations in Italy. I’ve been in radio stations in the UK. I’ve had different music for each country, something that appealed to that market, but I’ve been in living in the UK for a long time and that’s why my music and expressions are in English. But my Italian side really puts the emotion in the music, and the Kenya side is like finding my roots.

In a world filled with tens of thousands of aspiring wanna-be rappers, Joash maybe be the only Italian speaking British Kenyan. Even his dreams are cross cultural.

“I keep dreaming that I’m in Italy at my aunt’s restaurant,” says Joash. “But every time I dream of this place, it changes. Like, I know that I’m in the same place but the hotel is always different. I kind of find that hilarious.”

It’s reasonable to chalk up his strange dislocated dreams to jet lag, having just returned from Dubai where he shot a video for his newest song. Now he can add music videos on two different continents to his list of what sets him apart. The video is for a single that will appear on his upcoming project.

“Right now we have the Wonderland mixtape coming out. It’s really almost done and I’m finally happy about that… We’ve got a lot of features and collaborations, so you will be seeing a lot of me this year.”

Check out Joash Brian on facebook here.