Something to Listen To: “Ghostly Swim”

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Last week, Wired reported that indie record label Ghostly International and comedy network Adult Swim would once again team-up to release Ghostly Swim 2 on December 23rd. I figured this would be a great time to talk about the 2009 original, Ghostly Swim.

Ghostly Swim‘s lineup consists of some of the key artists from Ghostly’s catalog of artists. In the video above, you’ll hear Michna’s ambient yet bouncy beat, “Triple Chrome Dipped” followed by Mux Mool’s electric trip, “Night Court”. Through the rest of the album, you can hear label co-founder Matthew Dear perform a bone-chilling yet prideful tune in “R + S”, while School of Seven Bells provides a suitably melancholy song in “Chain”. The Chap is represented with their wonderfully quirky track “Carlos Walter Wendy Stanley”, while Deastro takes us on a simultaneously intense and cheerful ride in “Light Powered”.

But, if I have to pick a favorite out of the album, I’d go with Tycho’s “Cascade”. It’s a beautifully composed piece that brings to my mind a fallout from an emotionally traumatic event. It makes me think of watching the sunrise, but with a feeling in my heart that I’ve just said goodbye and have to figure out how to move on. Well… that’s my take, anyway.

This compilation album is what introduced me to Ghostly International and ultimately pushed me into exploring the world of underground music. Best of all, it’s free to download. So if you haven’t had the chance to listen to this one, I highly recommend that you do.

You can download Ghostly Swim for free at Adult Swim’s official site, here.

Something to Play: “Cloud Chamber”

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First of all, I’ve gotta give a shout-out to the folks at Extra Credits, a YouTube show that discusses the evolution of video games from a developer’s point-of-view. It’s because of their recent episode “Interactive Video” (which you can watch here,) that I even heard of today’s game. It’s a very well thought-out out show and if you’re really into indie games, they have a spin-off, James Recommends, that’s all about that.

Anyhow, the game I’m talking about this week is called Cloud Chamber, and I honestly haven’t played any other game that’s anything like it. Here’s the concept: A filmmaker has been developing a documentary about a secret laboratory that’s on the verge of a scientific breakthrough to end all breakthroughs. However, after a strange and disastrous happening, he decides to upload everything he has gathered to an online database, represented here as a 3D landscape, with the height of the landscape signifying the importance of the information. Your job as the player is to investigate all of this information and work with all of the other players to determine what happened and in what order.

Still with me? Great. It’s best summarized as a massively-multiplayer mystery game. Every node of information, be it audio, video, or article, has a comment section built into it. By participating in the community and adding things to the discussion that people find worthwhile, you unlock more information to further discuss.

If you ever had an in-depth discussion with your friends after watching a deeply thought-provoking movie, you know what this is like. Cloud Chamber takes that kind of conversation and implements it into every part of the story it’s trying to tell. It’s very detailed, too, with subtle clues sometimes being the only indicator of a clip being before another clip, or after it.

This is not a game for everyone. If you prefer games with more direct interactivity, or if you’re not one to converse through message boards, you should probably look elsewhere. It’s not perfect, either. There’s some overacting in the clips and I still can’t tell if one of the main character’s accent is supposed to be American or British.

But Cloud Chamber is definitely one of the most unique and creative concepts for a game I’ve seen in quite some time. At a $20 price tag, it might be a little pricey for those not sure if this new kind of game is something they’d enjoy. But if you’re looking for a game that’s nothing like what you’ve played before, it might just be worth the price of admission.

You can pick up Cloud Chamber on Steam here.

Something to Listen To: “You’re Dead!” by Flying Lotus

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One of the more prominent names in the indie music landscape at the moment is Steven Ellison, better known by his stage name: Flying Lotus. His experimental, genre-blending style has attracted a large number of fans since he first hit the scene back in 2006. So, of course, I had to check out his most recent studio album: You’re Dead!.

(Note: I’ve embedded the trailer below, but be aware that it contains some very violent, NSFW, imagery.)

As you can probably deduce from the title, You’re Dead! explores a number of dark ideas. Chief among them, the concept of death and the discovery of what comes next. These ideas are most apparent in songs such as “Decent Into Madness” or “The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep”. And while the album ventures into a broad range of emotions, feelings of confusion, uncertainty, or dread can be sensed throughout.

You’re Dead! collects and mixes together the sounds of electronic, industrial hip-hop and jazz, among others. But the focus shifts from track to track. One moment, you’re listening to a multi-layered rap, the next, an intricately executed jazz session. But the shift between styles is so seamless and subtle, you might not notice the change until after it happens.

In fact, one of the best things about this album is FlyLo’s sense of continuance. While each of the 19 tracks are distinctive and stand on their own quite nicely, they all flow in and out of each other in such a way that the album works as one engaging 40-mintue ride. This is one album you’ll want to listen to from begging to end in one go.

All in all, this is an incredible album. It’s the work of a master of his craft, at the top of his game. And by year’s end, it will probably remain my favorite album of 2014.

You’re Dead! by Flying Lotus is available at Bleep, iTunes, Google Play and Amazon.

 

You know, I thought about talking about talking about this as part of my “Spooky Things” series. But I think I’ve got planned for this Friday is a bit more appropriate for Halloween… Stay tuned!

Discovery: Ghostly International

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One of the things I set forward to do with this blog is to give newcomers an entry point into the world of independent art. Not necessarily the end-all-be-all guide (I’m certainly not enough of an expert to qualify for that), but simply a place where one can learn just enough to be sent on a trail that will show them more. The trick is knocking over that first domino, then watch the rest fall. And so, I write the first entry in what I call “Discovery”, a periodic spotlight on an artist or distributor.

Inaugurating this new category is an independent record label, a champion of the underground music culture: Ghostly International.

A Brief Introduction:

Founded in 1998 by Samuel Valenti IV and Matthew Dear, Ghostly International has become widely know for it’s unified aesthetic and it’s eccentric tastes. The company wears many hats, from clothing to decorative art, but is most prominent as a music publisher and record label. It designates it’s catalog of music into two different categories: avant-pop, experimental music with pop sensibilities, and SMM, an intentionally meaningless acronym signifying the calmer, more ambient instrumentals.

Some Key Artists:

Matthew DearCo-founder of the label, and the musician behind Ghostly’s first single: “Hands Up For Detroit”, Matthew Dear has had no shortage of fans over the years. This avant-pop producer is definitely one of the most distinctive artists on the label. When one of his songs come up, you’ll know it. Take a listen.

Tycho– No one describes Tycho’s work better than Ghostly themselves, quoting his profile on the label’s site: “As Tycho, Scott Hansen blends swirling melodies into vaguely triumphant arcs that crisscross between stuttering beats and vocal samples, creating rolling sonic landscapes that extend into the horizon.” His work is ambient, calm and melodic, painting idealistic images of tranquility with each track.

School of Seven Bells This one’s pretty hard for me to write about, for reasons that will soon become apparent. But this is one of my absolute favorites from the label, and there was no way I could do a post about Ghostly without mentioning this act. School of Seven Bells was a trio (later duo,) consisting of guitarist/producer Benjamin Curtis and sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza. Quoting the profile on the label’s site: “School of Seven Bells’ music is full of tensions—Curtis’ gentle guitars wrap around jagged beats; silky vocals hide behind grumpy, alien synthesizers—but the resulting songs are effortlessly cohesive, and insidiously catchy.” Claudia would later leave the band in 2010, making Seven Bells a duo act until, tragically, Benjamin Curtis lost his fight with T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma at the end of 2013.

Still, the band doesn’t seem to be done quite yet, as plans have been announced to complete and release a new album already well in progress before Curtis’s untimely passing. In any case, this is strong, passionate stuff that I highly recommend you take a listen to.

Com Truise A persona of producer Seth Haley, Come Truise’s work is, for me, the very definition of neo-retro. 80’s nostalgia is an instant reaction to his heavy use of bass and synthesizers, but it’s all handled with a modern spin. The result is a style of music that’s unique and appealing. As a staple of Ghostly’s lineup, you’ll have no problem picking his work out of the catalog.

Where to Start:

Whenever I’m looking to discover new music, I find it best to look for compilation albums. These can act as great entry points, introducing you to a large number of artists, so you can decide if you want to listen to more of their work. One of the reasons I’m starting with Ghosly is because they provide plenty of these.

In 2009, Ghostly collaborated with long-time licencor, comedy network [adult swim], to release the album Ghostly Swim, which can be downloaded from the channel’s website for free! In fact, Ghostly has made a number of compilation albums free for download, including a “best of” album from 2012 and a couple of unreleased content collections. If you’re willing to pay a bit of money, you can try either of the Idol Tryouts albums. I’ve also found the 2010 primer, We’ll Never Stop Living This Way, to be good purchase. $10 for 30 tracks is a good deal in my book.

Once you find an artist you like, look into them a little more. Find out which other labels they’ve been signed to and what else that label offers. Find out which other acts they may have been associated with. Finally, just keep your ears open. Once you start following the trail, you may be amazed at what you’ll find.