This is a difficult column to write. Not for any sad reason, mind you. I’ve just been trying to name something for a while, and today I want to do it for real.
There’s a new genre of music that I’ve been observing gain more and more artists over the past couple years, and I still have yet to see anyone classify it. Someone could have by now, but I haven’t seen it, and it’s gnawing at me a little bit.
I’m about to toss a bunch of little-known but fantastic new artists at you — better grab a pen. Describing the sound of an unnamed genre is tricky to say the least, but it surely helps if you listen to a few of these to fully get my drift.
This is music that’s clearly born from the capabilities of modern technology, and about 80 percent of it is computer-derived, though it’s all mixed and mastered by computer. The remaining 20 percent is made up of real instruments and über-high-resolution stereo recorded samples, like baby sneezes or realistic drink slurps.
We need to fire up an example track. The one says it all for me is “With You,” by Tennyson. The sound of running water below the synth melody as the song starts is exactly what I’m talking about. It sounds so real that on headphones, it may cause you to look around for a running faucet.
Realistic sound is everywhere in the genre, and so is the use of synth accompaniment. Artists like Max Fry and Summet use similar tones to carry their lead melodies, and Alex Martian and Fry utilize jazzy synth “stabs” and piano breakdowns often, indicating their musical backgrounds.
All of these artists are jazzish, and some go full jazz from time to time. At the end of Tennyson’s “You’re Cute” is an unexpected interlude of straight trio bebop in the middle of an electronic piece. French keyboardist Anomalie is a respected modern jazz artist and, apparently, a production geek since many of his tracks move squarely into this genre. Listen to “New Space” and “Daybreak” to get a feel for Anomalie’s production chops.
Whysp’s track “Revival” shows the slower side of things in the genre and echoes the pace of Tennyson’s “Lay-By.” Busy solos at the end bring life to these slower tracks, while the chord changes keep those thoughts of jazz in my head.
I get the sense that all of these guys are keyboardists or drummers with a leaning toward jazz. I get the sense that there’s a bit of Squarepusher in their music listening histories. There’s also a drumline element to many of the rhythms, and you might think you’re listening to video game music at times.
So what are we going to call this stuff? It’s an evolution of jazz and a marriage of electronic and recorded music, arranged with an 8-bit sensibility but produced with 32-bit sound. How about Gamer Jazz? Cartridge Bop? “Melodic Sampletronica” … not quite. Dang it. Alright, well, I’ll keep trying. Enjoy the new tunes!