music, review

Ambient & R&B

Time for the second round-up! The first Sharing The Goodness focused on indie and folk — this time we’re touching on some atmospheric ambient and R&B. Since art is malleable and not always easily categorized, a few of these are going to have some soul and electronica flavorings.

These songs have been kicking around on my playlists for months, so it feels good to take a look at why they’ve affected me so much.

1. “Message” by Kelela

You can’t go wrong with Kelela. It took me a little thinking as to which song to choose for the list and I ended up picking the one I keep coming back to. ‘Message’ is a piece that invokes the subconscious and steady nature of breathing, incredibly minimalist and slow with its swaying backbeats and emphasis on a strong vocal presence. Coupled with a deceptively simple music video that later transforms into a lush animated experiment, Kelela is an artist that really doesn’t mind playing around with your expectations.

The lyrics are brutally honest. I’m 100% down with a woman who’s fed the hell up with a significant others’ callous behavior, creating a foundation for a song that can either act as smooth catharsis or a pretty warning sign depending on where you stand. Personally? It helped mete out a few of my frustrated feelings during a break-up. Thanks, Kelela!

When you look at me, you’re somewhere else

And all we know is all we got

2. “Plays” by Ty Dolla $ign ft. HWLS

Let’s get one thing very clear here — I hate how obscure this song is. I first heard it while listening to Soundcloud shuffle during an MMO stint with a friend and I still remember how taken aback I was. While I don’t listen to this artist frequently (indeed, I’ve only heard one other song by them), the surreal and haunting melody of ‘Plays’ is hard to forget. Smooth production and a distinctively eerie vocal sample sifts through relatively basic lyrics about a man cheating on his wife to smoke weed with another woman. While I won’t pretend I’m a fan of the concept, boy howdy does it sound fantastic.

When the violins kick in during the outro you’ll be seeing the dreamlike in the everyday before you know it. I think I’ve listened to this five hundred times. What’s a few more?

Making plays, plays

Till she pay my light I’ll be onto it

3. “Party Favors” by Tinashe ft. Young Thug 

Sure, this is probably the most club-y of examples on here, but its more ponderous pace and synthesized approach make it a prime contender for the list. Delightfully weird, Tinashe only continues to impress me with every new song I hear by her. This piece is characterized by a distinctly trippy warble, punctuating the steady build-up of an off-kilter number just slow enough to fit into the R&B slot while making you want to get up and move.

Just like our #2 pick, its lyrics run the gamut of ‘partying’ and ‘getting high’ with an artistic approach that makes this mundane subject matter seem much grander in scope. If you’re a fan of dance routines I highly recommend you check out Tricia Miranda’s choreography of ‘Party Favors’ — I’m amazed with how succinctly they captured the song’s mood through movement.

I feel like I’m the highest in the room

I feel like I could fucking kiss the moon

4. “Fruit” by ABRA

Easily my favorite by her, ‘Fruit’ starts out a little on the slow side and only begins showing its personality in the hook. It’s well worth the wait, however. An initial simplistic backbeat and quirky keyboard eventually paves the way for low-key piano and breathy choruses — when the song all but screeches to a halt to curry ABRA’s sleepy, disaffected crooning your finger is already itching to hit the replay button. The song layers and layers over itself, eventually washing out in a way that would’ve been almost chaotic if not for the dreamy execution. I love it.

The lyrics hearken to the concept of forbidden fruit, the lead singer distantly recalling a potential relationship that always seemed too hesitant to go anywhere. An acquired taste for some, she’ll be exactly what the doctor ordered if you like your ambient trip-pop a touch more on the hypnotic side.

Don’t listen to a word they say, I’m in your head like everyday

You deny yourself and you scream my name and I can’t take it

5. “You Like Me” by Paris Jones

Yes, ‘You Like Me’. I like you very much. This is probably the most interesting melody on the list and one that caught my immediate attention while browsing the quieter parts of Youtube. Halting and meditative, the composition wavers between ‘unsettling’ and ‘curious’. Paris Jones is an artist who embraces a wide variety of genres — a little bit of experimental electronica here, a little bit of soul there. ‘You Like Me’ and, by extent, the entirety of the man’s musical repertoire is resistant to easy categorization. He’s basically the opposite of Nickleback — just one song isn’t enough to get a full impression of what he’s capable of.

While his work is still pretty obscure, the sheer amount of remixes this song has gotten alone is a testament to its impact. Check out the Grimecraft remix, my personal favorite — it maintains the same unique composition while going for a slightly faster, sweeping execution. It’s also on my iPod for the rest of eternity. You can trust Paris Jones will be showing up on future lists.

Smoke the pain away

But only on Opposite Day

Any songs you liked? Artists you want to recommend? Join me next week where I’ll toss together some of my favorite disco and funk tracks!

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