SBTRKT, "Runaway" (unreleased)
It opens with a series of harp chords (the first of which sounds uncannily like the single-stroke jingle the New York Times uses in its online videos); swells into heart-full-to-bursting, Timbaland-plus-sinfonietta R&B (pizzicato strings, chimes, jiggy little kick-drums, Jessie Ware and Sampha at their most yearning); and then, just 75 seconds later, it fades unassumingly to nothingness again. That's "Runaway," an unreleased two-year-old song that SBTRKT uploaded to SoundCloud on New Year's Day. Presumably, it's a sign of much more to come, after a year in which the British producer stayed largely out of the public eye.
Mari Kvien Brunvoll, "Everywhere You Go (Villalobos Celestial Voice Resurrection Mix)" (Sei Es Drum)
At first, Ricardo Villalobos' remix of Mari Kvien Brunvoll's "Everywhere You Go" may sound like he's tipping his hat to the way U.K. house producers have been approaching vocals over the past couple of years, pitching them up until they resemble chirping birds. Listen to the original song, however, and you'll realize that the Norwegian singer's voice actually sounds like that; this version's only major manipulation involves speeding up her cadences to fit a 120-BPM groove. (Admittedly, that's where a lot of the warble comes from; her vibrato sounds far more natural in the original recording. Brunvoll, by the way, is the younger sister of Ane Brun, whose "Headphone Silence" Henrik Schwarz turned into an underground house anthem in 2008.) Villalobos is often at his best when he has a distinctive hook to work with, and that's certainly true here: Brunvoll's wordless coos and pinwheeling refrains work as the perfect foil for these pumping/scraping beats, and her melodies give your brain something to focus on while his crinkling timbres go about quietly rearranging your synapses. The A-side's "Celestial Voice Resurrection Mix" is 15 minutes long, but you barely notice the passage of time, thanks to the way he teases out the vocal passages — he might as well have called it the "Celestial Voice Dance of Veils Mix." It's the most seductive thing Villalobos has done in ages, and also the most immediate. It's out now on his own Sei Es Drum label, backed with his "Amnesia Rehabilitation Dub"; Benelux residents can buy it digitally from Zazell.
Hprizm, Kush EP (no label)
Last we heard from Hprizm — a.k.a. Antipop Consortium's High Priest — he was pasting together shuddering footwork rhythms, industrial drones, and lo-fi techno into a 20-minute collage for Switzerland's Svakt label, sounding as much like Demdike Stare (or, for that matter, Coil's "The Anal Staircase") as anything that scanned as hip-hop. "Haunting Ground," the first track off his Kush EP, comes closer to boom-bap convention — the strings, in particular, make me think of RZA's Ghost Dog soundtrack — but the release is, in its own way, as unusual as the one-sided, single-track City of On was. Kush is an experiment in bringing limited editions into the digital realm. As the artist noted on Twitter, after an unspecified number of downloads or amount of time, the release will disappear from his Bandcamp page and be replaced by a new one. Hprizm describes the four-song EP as "a Series of Beat Compositions/Soundscapes Recorded and Mixed with an Analog Signal path, Mastered Digitally, and Performed in Real Time"; now available for pre-order, it's out next Wednesday, and features liner notes from Ytasha Womack, author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture.
Laidback Luke & Peking Duk, "Mufasa" (Mixmash)
Martin Garrix' "Animals" was one of big-room EDM's very biggest tunes in 2013, and its footprint looks even bigger when you factor in the legions of imitations that it inspired. Or, to look at it another way, considering the predecessors "Animals" so closely resembled — as Do Androids Dance pointed out, its woodpecker riffs are awfully similar to Sandro Silva and Quintino's "Epic," Knife Party's "LRAD," and Carnage and Borgore's "Incredible," to name just a few — this tune was less the Song of the Year than the Synecdoche of the Year, the most visible expression of a set of tropes that were almost meme-like in their spread. (You may recall the Swedish duo Daleri lampooning the ubiquitous, mosquito-with-a-bullhorn sound with their "Epic Mashleg," a cheeky supercut of supersaw stabs and overblown bass drums.)
Whatever the case, it's not going away any time soon. Laidback Luke and Peking Duk's Lion King-themed "Mufasa" is the latest song to tweak the template, and what minor tweaks indeed. Its tuned kicks are in the same key as "Animals," and both its title and its jungle-drum melody recall Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike's "Wakanda"; we also get trap-by-way-of-hardstyle triplet rhythms, cod-African chants, and handclaps on the downbeat. The only saving grace is the song's cheeky organ melody, which sounds like it might have come from Todd Terje's cutting-room floor. But that video? Joseph Conrad is rolling over in his grave.