The weather forecast’s getting perilously close to 100 degrees here; all our summer jams are working so hard they’re about to get heatsick. Why not take a break, listen to a few tracks that are a bit chillier? Specifically, we’ve got a former Flo Rida collaborator, a perpetual indie standout and an Irish act that’s outperforming its global peers.
If you told me a few months ago that Wynter Gordon would do anything remotely interesting this year (or, on more cynical days, ever again in her career), I’d be skeptical. To this point, that career consisted mainly of Flo Rida and David Guetta collaborations, as brilliant as Flo Rida and Guetta collaborations usually aren’t, and uninspired solo singles like “Buy My Love,” working title “Outdated-Material Girl.” Given that discography, you’d expect her to be singing on a Far*East Movement track or doing backup for Redfoo.
“Stimela” involves neither of those acts. It doesn’t involve anyone, in fact, but Gordon and her ideas; it’s the lead track from a series of free, self-released EPs she’ll release this year called The Human Condition. As Gordon told Billboard:
The music I’m making now is music I’ve always made, I’ve just never been able to release it on a label. I was growing into this person I am now, and I had to make the music that felt right and was passionate about. I didn’t feel like I was singing everything I wanted to sing, doing dance music and pop music. I wanted to make something that felt real to me. These EPs include every genre of music I like. I really just felt like I had to by myself.
It’s deceptively easy to spin this quote into something it’s not, praising Gordon’s new music simply for not being dance-pop. And moody, sedated synth&B tracks like “Stimela” aren’t all that outre–look at “Climax,” or JoJo’s “Marvin’s Room,” or anything else by or inspired by Noah “40″ Shebib. That said, it’s hard not to see this as Gordon taking control of her career and making the music she’d prefer to, especially when she’s so forthcoming with explanation (primarily, the inspiration she took from Hugh Masekela’s anti-apartheid “track of the same name,” from which “Stimela” borrows the Zulu-language chorus.)
One writer’s compared it to Dawn Richard’s recent work, and it’s apt; they’re both gorgeous and reward further listening. There’s no guarantee Gordon’s work will continue to be this dark, mind you–the EPs are themed by emotion, and this one, Dolor, is about pain; you imagine the forthcoming “love and lust” installment won’t be a plaintive lament. What it will probably be: interesting.
It’s a lot less surprising for Little Dragon to release an interesting new track; for years, they’ve been one of the more consistent synth-pop acts that leans R&B thanks to the twitchy attitude in vocalist Yukimi Nagano’s voice. The creation of “Sunshine” doesn’t merit as much backstory as “Stimela”‘s (summary, if you must: commissioned by a vodka company to soundtrack the ad for a new, very pink confection). So we’ll invent our own backstory that we like better: this is a recently-unearthed bonus track from last year’s standout Ritual Union. If you’ve heard that album, or even just its standout title single, you’ve heard enough of Little Dragon’s synth groove and cool vocals to know you’ll like “Sunshine,” as it’s more of the same. Fortunately, Ritual Union had a sound good enough that “more of the same” is a compliment.
You’d never use “more of the same” to describe anything Irish group Sleep Thieves (not to be confused with Sleepthief, though they’re electronic too) has released this year. Their first album, last spring’s Heart Waves, was upbeat, often perky and more than ingratiating, but when the group was described as “up-and-coming,” you suspected it’s because they could use a bit more time coming up.
Islands, their follow-up, isn’t perky at all–it’s gorgeous. On “Oceans,” a steely sequencer trudges along the bottom and Sorcha Brennan’s vocals float light as seafoam atop it; when they meet in the middle, the mix is moody and gorgeous. Those few stretches alone are worth five Class Actress songs and a drawerful of Purity Rings, and it’s a shame we even have to put those acts into this blurb. The comparison, at this point, deserves to be the other way around.
…And actually, upon re-listening, Heart Waves was pretty great too. Everybody, take note.