Category Archives: featured music

High Scores: Danny Baranowsky

Super Meat Boy

A still from the game “Super Meat Boy.”

Danny Baranowsky’s game soundtracks are intense, bombastic, and most importantly—fun. He’s become of the most dependably enjoyable game composers of his generation, something that anyone who has had the pleasure of playing Crypt of the Necrodancer—which is built around Baranowsky’s compositions—knows well. The Seattle-based composer and musician, who is perhaps best known for scoring Super Meat Boy, has worked on a diverse set of games, including a number of mobile hits like Canabalt and Tapinator’s recent Rocky game. He has also collaborated with his friend, game music legend Grant Kirkhope (Banjo-Kazooie, Star Fox Adventures, Civilization: Beyond Earth), who he lovingly trolls at the end of this interview. Here Baranowsky discusses Cakewalk, the subtleties of loving film and game music, and the thin line between exhaustion and procrastination.

What came first for you as a passion: video games or music?

Video games. My first memory is watching my brother play Super Mario Bros. on a black and white TV.

Where did you grow up, and what effect did that have on your musical tastes?

I grew up in Mesa, Arizona, which was kind of a cultural black hole. All of my influences really came from video games and the internet.

What was your introduction to playing and recording music? Did you know you wanted to work on game music early on?

I messed around with Cakewalk on my mom’s computer in fifth grade, and transcribed ‘Good King Wenceslas’ from glockenspiel sheet music. I made a little techno remix version with terrible gunshot sounds and helicopter noises, and that was technically my first electronic music song. I didn’t really realize you could even work on game music for a living until about three months before I got my first paid gig.

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Album of the Day: Cloud Nothings, “Life Without Sound”

Like fellow fuzz-pop contemporary Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest, Cloud Nothings’ Dylan Baldi shares a fondness for the contemplative solitude of an automobile. “A thing I like to do with all my records is drive around with them,” says the 25-year-old Cleveland native in the album notes for his new record. It’s fitting because Baldi has always traded in propulsive, pound-the-steering wheel aggression. His early basement efforts were lo-fi and abrasive, the sound of an 18-year-old bursting with creativity, with no other way to channel his pent-up frustrations. Those impulses led to records (particularly 2012’s breakout Attack on Memory) that announced Baldi’s raw talent and his natural feel for punk-inspired power pop, but that were ultimately buried under too much chaotic noise and dissonance. There was the feeling that eventually, as he matured he would harness that energy into something more cohesive and his anarchic tendencies would fade into an embracement of pop.

Life Without Sound, Baldi’s fourth full-length, is his best yet; A lean, major chord rave-up for those who grew up on Archers of Loaf, Superchunk and Ted Leo. Baldi has completely abandoned any interest in feedback squall, opting for nine tight songs that never wander off the sonic path. Vocally, Baldi pushes himself, his punk rasp exploring different registers and harmonies. There’s a true band dynamic at work, as drummer Jayson Gerycz and bassist TJ Duke give standout tracks “Modern Act” and “Internal World” a groove and pounding backbeat. The record’s secret ingredient may be producer John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Death Cab for Cutie), who’s polished off some of Baldi’s rough edges—but not all—for a sonically crisp effort. The entire record is big, loud and immediate, the sound of a young man growing up without growing old.

Drew Fortune

How Death Records is Helping Preserve the Bay Area Underground

Death Records

In the late 2000s, a band called Girls went from playing tiny shows at now defunct DIY spaces in San Francisco to headlining festivals in what felt like the blink of an eye, spearheading the meteoric rise of a scene that was home to likeminded artists like Holy Shit, Cass McCombs and LA’s Ariel Pink. Their particular style of music—tightly-written pop songs with twisted edges, shoegaze textures, a Pet Sounds interpretation of psychedelia and the youth-driven urgency of classic punk—became as synonymous with the Bay Area as the psych rock of the ‘60s and Oakland’s hyphy movement in the ’90s/early ’00s. But just like every tidal wave inevitably crashes on the shore and folds back into the sea, this scene that had become so quintessentially San Francisco began to dissipate, giving way to the strain of garage rock revivalism led by Bay Area breakouts Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall (both of whom have relocated to Los Angeles in recent years).

The Bay Area has been recognized for decades as a sort of ground zero for underground music scenes that swell and spill over, leading the way for genre revolutions and evolutions within the music industry. It’s been a particularly special place for the highly-personal oddball world of bedroom pop. Back when San Francisco was still a land of possibility for people other than tech speculators, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the sounds of jangling guitars from the street, or the sounds of nearly-broken synths through crackling amplifiers, or shaky falsetto voices struggling to find the right harmony, and tinny snare drums bleeding through a wall or two. Maybe you were that weirdo, trying your best to quietly record a masterpiece alone in a bedroom.

Determined to not be displaced by the skyrocketing rent prices and cultural homogenization that has swept over the Bay Area in recent years, many practitioners of bedroom pop have stuck around, though they might seem less visible than they did in decades past. Some of them are banding together, fighting to preserve the San Francisco that has sheltered and nurtured artists for decades. They’ve created a new home for themselves in the oddball audio collective that is Death Records.

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Meet the Other Duo Behind Run the Jewels

little_shalimar-600

Little Shalimar

At its core, Run The Jewels is a tag-team hip-hop duo comprised of the Brooklyn-raised rapper and producer EL-P and Atlanta’s firebrand spitter Killer Mike. But as each album release has been rolled out, the Run The Jewels phenomenon has blossomed into something of an ensemble movement, with a deep cast of guests and supporting artists adding to the texture of each project. (2014’s sophomore outing even featured a salacious trombonist perking up the mix on “Jeopardy.”)

Chief among the Run The Jewels cohorts are Little Shalimar and Wilder Zoby, two multi-instrumentalist brothers who’ve contributed to every RTJ album to date, and have been promoted to co-producer status for the entirety of the recently-released Run The Jewels 3. We spoke to them about their long-running relationship and friendship with EL-P, what goes down during a Run The Jewels studio session, and revisit some of their solo projects.

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Glasgow’s Poisonous Relationship is an Unlikely Dance Music Genius

Jamie Crewe

Photos by Matthew Arthur Williams

Redefining the perceptions of house music is just one of the many goals of the genre-bending new Poisonous Relationship record, A FAGGOT IN A TEMPEST. Poisonous Relationship is just one identity of Jamie Crewe, a Glasgow-based musician, artist and filmmaker who explores themes of gender, sexuality, mental health, and politics through surprisingly personal and poetic dance music. Tracks like the first single “Give Me My Heaven!” express the joyous nature of house music, with familiar piano stabs, hi-hats, and soulful, feminine vocals, while also giving way to something sparser and almost desolate in its minimalism. The album begs for multiple listens, each plaintive note bringing the songs just short of an emotional resolution that never fully arrives.

While deconstructing the essence of “dance,” track by track and sound by sound, Crewe seeks to build their own sanctuary, invite their friends, and create a space where the music they always wanted to hear plays forever, like the endless nights in the big cities they didn’t grow up in. When we spoke to Crewe, it was after a long year of unrest and turmoil for the queer community worldwide, and our conversation veered from the personal, to the political, and back again—much like the music of Poisonous Relationship itself.

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