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Long before his music was made public in Egypt, Neobyrd was slated for stardom. At the age of fifteen, his music was playing on British radio. A careful listen to his debut album Transbyrd tells us that it wasn’t just luck that got him on international airwaves at such a young age.
The album’s line-up is a stirring introduction to the world of electronic music: a mood lifter that journeys the listener up and down, only subtly resembling the true tendencies of Neobyrd’s Wael Alaa.
'This album is an introduction for Egyptians to this type of music, not to Neobyrd specifically,' said the 24-year old about his choice of ten tracks featured in Transbyrd.
The short opening track 'Ooh Oh' is a whirlwind of accelerated beats. It’s a lively tune that will take the listener on a buoyant ride; it will feel like you’re on a road trip with the windows down and fresh air splashing into your face.
'A journey of a bird that started many years ago/ Leaving its nest and flying away to reach its place,' strikes Neobyrd toward the end of this tune, as if telling the tale of how he started out.
While 'Spill Your Sunshine' is a crunchy yet mellow arrangement featuring vocals by Yass, and reminiscent of the French electronic duo Air, 'Stranger in Love' is a fizzing track with a sneaky undertone and a layer of what sounds like slight squeaking.
In 'My Sweet Heartless', Neobyrd sings through a voice encoder, a device through which his voice is synthesized, but it still manages to carry the same mellow, catchy recipe.
'The most difficult part was choosing a homogenous set of tracks that are somewhat varied and as a whole give an introduction to the kind of music I will be producing in the future,' said Neobyrd about the collection.
While electronic newbies are guaranteed to cling to at least a couple of songs in the early line-up on Transbyrd, a shift in mood is evident toward the end.
'Lick my Tiesto' and 'Twisted' both have a relish of Depeche Mode with a slightly more aggressive and distorted sound-scape; a strain that Neobyrd hopes to build up on in future projects.'Future stuff will be more layered, more aggressive, with more distortions but will definitely keep the groove,' he said.
It took Neobyrd about four months to put together Transbyrd, and with such a dynamic and innovative flair, we are fairly certain that his next album will be out on the shelves soon.
One of the shortest tracks on the album is ‘DMT Song’. Created with the help of bassist/vocalist, Thundercat, it is the most vocally dense song on the record. Slow and dreamy, with high-pitched, slightly dissonant, vocals, it's a good intro to the next track, ‘The Nightcaller’. Aptly titled, this song features a groovy dance bass underneath a synthesizer melody that sounds ideal for waving your arms around on the dance floor.
‘Getting There’, with vocals by Niki Randa, is reminiscent of Massive Attack. Not only because of the elongated vocals, but the muffled bass beat and dreamy bell sounds could certainly also have spawned from the brains of 3D and Daddy G. The same goes for ‘Hunger’; a song that sounds like it was recorded underwater and also features Randa. Its spacious melody is broken up by a bridge with echoing vocals and harpsichord-like keyboards.
Erykah Badu is the only vocalist to appear on the album that Flying Lotus hasn’t worked with previously. Her vocals work really well on the African sounding track ‘See Thru To U’ - hopefully, Badu will become incorporated into Ellison’s fixed team of vocalists.
‘Putty Boy Strut’ sounds like a broken toy gone mental, with a catchy musical theme that returns in the deeper layers of ‘Me Yesterday/Corded’.
‘Electric Candyman’ features vocals by Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, and is a slow track with male and female vocal melodies mixed together in a way that almost sounds disorienting. Yorke’s voice is hardly recognisable, which seems like a waste considering his great, and highly distinguishable, vocal abilities.
Canadian artist, Grimes – real name Claire Boucher – has made a name for herself with her eclectic, haunting production style and unique ethereal vocals. With one of 2012’s best albums, Visions, Grimes firmly placed herself on the art-pop landscape as an incredible producer, placing on several album of the year lists. Now it’s 2015, and she’s back with what is her fourth overall studio album, but is it the second coming everyone expected?
The album opens with the straight-forwardly titled ‘laughing and not being normal’. As a testament to the breadth of the work that she takes inspiration, the track sounds like something from an anime or Japanese video game. The vocals are as haunting and ethereal as ever and as if the production style wasn’t enough to warrant a comparison to Japanese and anime culture, the song ends with the line “When the leaves fall/ I try to catch ‘em all.” Coincidence?
The second track, ‘California’, is where Grimes goes all-out with her mainstream pop influences. Sounding like something released in the early 2000s, the song almost borders on bubblegum, bursting at the seams with sticky satirical bile aimed squarely at a certain music website who’s name may or may not rhyme with Shmitchfork. Grimes puts all her vocal emotions into the repeated verse, ending “Oh lord cause I don't wanna know what they say/ Cause I get carried away, Commodifying all the pain.”
Ouch. But there is more to this track than just satire. The light synth buzz in the background brings the song back down to earth a little bit, and the layered vocals make this a great synthesis between her personal style and a more mainstream aesthetic.
This play between art-pop and more mainstream stylings is an ongoing theme throughout the album. ‘Flesh without Blood’, for example, sounds like a song that you might see Rihanna performing – and funnily enough, Grimes’ last non-album single, ’Go’, produced in collaboration with Blood Diamonds was originally written for RiRi, but was turned down. This is seen once again on ‘Realiti’, which manages to combine elements of house and liquid dubstep, with only a light smattering of pop-iness.
That doesn’t mean that Boucher has lost her touch for experimentation. ‘SCREAM’ combines vocals performed entirely in Mandarin by female Taiwanese rapper, Aristophanes, with guitar and drums that would not be out of place on a Nine Inch Nails album. The minimalist verse periods are full on With Teeth/Year Zero style production, with the chorus section seemingly being pulled straight from Trent Reznor and co’s 1992 EP, Broken.
‘Kill V. Maim’ is further evidence of this, although the experimentation is more lyrically-based. Potentially, the best pop song of the year, the lyrics deal with, in Grimes’ own words, “the perspective of Al Pacino in The Godfather Pt II. Except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space.” Beyond the strange subject matter, the lyrics steer dangerously yet subtly close to philosophical concepts, as seen much more commonly on previous releases. At the end of the bridge, she screams “You gave up being good when you declared a state of war”. This appears to be a reference to John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government where he defines a state of war as being a situation where one can kill in defence of their freedom, in contrast to the state of nature where this is not the case. Pretty deep for a bubblegum pop tune, but that’s just how Grimes rolls.
The most absurd thing about this album –forgetting for one brief second the vampire Al Pacino, the Pokemon references and the Mandarin rapping – is that it is all entirely self-produced and engineered, flying right in the face of critics of DIY styles who will tell you that it’s sloppy and poor quality. This is one of the best produced albums of the year and, despite a couple of stumbles, Grimes shows a maturity beyond her 27 years, bringing all of her influences together into a well-made, danceable and, above all, long-awaited package.