J. Cole and Dreamville Records - Revenge of the Dreamers (Mixtape)

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What a few days Cole has had. His Dreamville imprint (featuring Bas and Omen, both OTU alumni) has been picked up by Interscope, an announcement made on his 29th birthday. With a relatively solid track record with rapper’s imprint labels, it’s a great home for him to develop the brand, and to cap it all off, Jay-Z was kind enough to gift young Cole with an original Rocafella chain at a recent NYC show.

And amidst it all, this new mixtape was released to celebrate the Dreamville signing. It’s a mixture of tracks from Cole and the two aforementioned signees, with previously-unheard music from Cole including an alternate version of Born Sinner single Crooked Smile. It’ll be interesting to hear Bas and Omen hold up their end of the deal here – whilst they’ve proven their talents on occassion in the past, this is about as lofty a pedestal as they’ve been put on thus far, and to avoid wilting under Cole’s shadow, you’d hope the material they’ve selected is amongst the best they’ve offered to date. Nonetheless, I’d expect to see plenty of development from both in their new partnership, and keep your eyes peeled for any more additions to the roster – not to do anyone’s job for them, but someone like ANTHM has always seemed a great fit for a team such as Dreamville, and it’ll be interesting to see if they pick up anyone of his ilk. For now, grab the 3-man, 11-track tape below.

Banks - Brain

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It’s been almost a year since we first brought you coverage of Banks, and it’s fair to say that in the last 3 months, her stock has risen considerably. If you’re keeping score, that’s about the 50th act we’ve broken with a promise of wider recognition. We’re that good.

Her first release of the year is more important than it would be for most acts, purely because of the lavish praise and coverage she recieved from many outlets, as part of endless end of year lists and 2014 predictions. Thankfully, she does not disappoint, coming through with her unique spin on the dark R&B/electro soul style once more. The production is helmed by the gifted Shlomo, who engulfs a blend of gentle electronic melodies and synths in a thick bass coating, giving the track’s atmosphere plenty of depth and gravitas. The development of the beat for the track’s second half is excellent too, throwing forth more percussive elements for a climactic finish, and it’s a strong showing from the upcoming producer.

Banks’ vocals are as seductive and sultry as ever, winding through the first half of the track at a slow, reflective pace, before exploding into life for the second half with an empassioned, powerful delivery that showcases a range we’ve not seen a great deal of thus far. It’s a very strong show of variety, and certainly demonstrates that she has far more in her arsenal than some may believe. Another excellent release, and the buzz for her debut LP will stand to increase even further as a result.

Audio Push - Turn Down (Video)

Despite Come As You Are being a release I was looking forward to, listening to it seems to have inadvertently slipped down my queue, and hence it still remains untouched. One listen to this track, and the foolishness of my ignorance will impact you as much as it did me.

Who knew that the duo were capable of laidback, easygoing hip-hop of this ilk? They both surprise and impress with this effort: the mellow production is instantly captivating, with feathery guitar plucks accompanied by a combination of delicate synths for a smooth upper layer, and a strong (but thankfully, not dominating) percussion holding things together in the background.

It’s a fantastic production that many would associate with the likes of Wiz Khalifa’s weed raps, and credit goes to the pair for taking it far beyond that, with two verses geared around the relaxation of a female subject, or her “turning down”, whilst the third verse is a little smarter and reworks the turn down notion into one of people living beyond their means. It’s an enjoyable set of verses, backed up by a chilled out and catchy hook, and hence comes out as a strong all-rounder.

The video is a simple one, featuring the duo rapping behind grainy, retro filters, interspersed with story footage of the aforementioned female, capping off a great release from one of the best new duos in the hip-hop game today. Get the mixtape now.

YG - Who Do You Love? ft. Drake

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How does DJ Mustard do it? I can’t claim to have completed his entire production discography, but I’ve certainly caught a big chunk of it, and I’m always impressed. After breaking through with Tyga’s Rack City, he’s steadily delivered a mixture of mainstream favourites and slept-on speaker rattlers, and here he serves YG with what’s sure to be another big hit for him.

The common factor in Mustard’s production is sheer simplicity (and clean mastering), and that trait continues here. Those clean layers work their independent magic here, with those trademark dark synths accompanied by ominous keys, catchy claps and a healthy dose of bass; each layer is very distinct from the others, and not only does that contrast allow for appreciation of each element, but it’s the track’s pacing and rhythm that ties them all together into a bouncy, head-nodding affair. At heart, it’s quite a sombre, moody production but the sum of the parts ends up being a much funkier listen than it has any right to be, though of course that’s helped by the contributions of YG and Drake, who both ride along this beat smoothly. YG’s rougher delivery works with the grittier elements of the production well, whilst Drake’s quicker flow is a great compliment to the percussion work, and arguably steals the show.

A probable mainstream hit, and a definite addition to any car playlist worth its salt.

Odesza - If You Don't ft. Cumulus

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This is about as an extreme a late pass as I’ll ever hand in, given the song is over a year old. However, having stumbled upon it by pure chance (it played automatically after something else I was listening to), my life is much better for having done so, and yours will be too.

Occasionally, a track arrives that seem to perfectly fit both a summer day and a winter night. Usually, they sit in some deliciously rare grey area between being chillout and upbeat, and that’s a zone Odesza have almost perfected with this effort. The percussion really commands this song, keeping things at a deceptively high pace throughout, but disguising that by muting many of the percussive elements in the “verses” (do instrumentals technically adhere to the verse/hook structure?), and bringing the sharper pieces back in where required to boost the song once more. Underpinning that further is a bright, summery synth that bounces through the track with vivacity and combines well with the percussion, whilst the drifty vocal samples add both calm and atmosphere, holding up the pillars for the track’s more mellow aspects.

It’s really a sublime piece of production, and one that I don’t see leaving my playlists any time soon. You can get the entire Summer’s Gone album for free at Odesza’s site, along with some newer material.

Actress - Rap

There’s nothing worse than finding a good artist just as they’re beginning to wind down or pursue other endeavours. UK producer Actress falls firmly into that category: already four albums in, it seems there’s some disillusion with music in general, and hence his upcoming Ghettoville album is said to be the “black tinted conclusion of the Actress image.

For a new listener like myself, pressing play on a song called Rap from an album called Ghettoville comes with certain expectations. They couldn’t have been more off the mark, and I couldn’t be happier: this is a slow-winding, unhurried track that moves with a pace that belies it’s listed time of just under 3 minutes, and with no raps in sight. Instead, it’s an R&B-esque production, combining chunks of bass with gentle electronic touches and a dash of additional percussion into a style that lands somewhere between 90′s R&B and modern-day electro soul. Throw those distorted, groany vocals on top, and the song starts to ooze suffocating levels of sleaze, but given the short length of the piece, and that’s not a problem at all. In fact, the sheer thickness with which it’s all laid on combines into a pretty engaging few minutes, and most certainly a bedroom-ready bit of music.

Fans of XXYYXX, Ta-Ku and the like will definitely enjoy this. Be sure to support the Ghettoville album release tomorrow, and who knows- maybe we’ll get more of them.

Pandr Eyez - Heartbreaker

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Technically, this is a Mariah Carey remix/cover, but the first time I heard this, that didn’t occur to me at all. Call me stupid if you like, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s more of a testament to the original spin that Translatlantic duo Pandr Eyez have put on the old school classic.

Every element of the bubbly original is thrown out (besides the lyrics, of course) in favour of a spaced-out, mellow style that gives the track a dark wintery vibe, and hence opens it up to a whole new audience. That’s courtesy of luxuriously airy synths, winding through the track at will and intertwining effortlessly with the smooth vocals on offer, whilst the occasional flashes of background vocals and additional melodies pads out the soundscape rather well. The vocals deserve plenty of credit for showing versatility throughout- with a sombre production of this ilk, a consistent delivery would end up nullifying any attractiveness the track’s modernism has by boring everyone to death, and hence the mixture of subtle and not-so-subtle delivery changes is a wise play here.

Worth a go for sure, and look out for more from the upcoming duo. Their Present EP lands on 4th February.

White Sea - Prague

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Circumstances (including a lack of good music) have resulted in a month-long silence over here, but allow me to return tonight covered in all of my former glory. And blood.

Membership of M83 is always a weird thing to figure out, especially as most of the coverage seems to go to Anthony Gonzalez, but as both a tour and studio contributor to M83′s work since Saturdays = Youth, it’s fair to consider Morgan Kibby a member of the band. Here, as White Sea, she branches out on her own with a light, laidback effort that’s not a million miles away from some of her work with M83. An easy thing to say given the enormous spectrum of styles they’ve worked within, but whatever. Deal with it.

Those familiar elements come via the reasonably loose structure of the song, with pulsating industrial-esque hooks broken up by verses that jump in where and how they can. Morgan’s drifty, high-pitched vocals combine well with the soft synths and samples in the verse for an atmosphere that’s gentle, whilst their delicateness is contrasted superbly in the hook by an industrial, sharp-edged production, built on crunching percussion, jagged synths and even a dash of distorted guitar work. It’s a strong listen from start to end, and sign that M83′s individual parts may be just as good as their collective presence.