What’s up, everyone? RobBarracuda here. Let’s talk about music. Free music, to be exact!
The yearly tradition that is the Adult Swim Singles program graces once again for the sixth year in a row. Ever since 2010, the singles program has been giving Adult Swim fans (and music fans in general) new music from a wide range of artists for free. I’ll admit I didn’t start really paying attention to these annual compilations until last year, and I’m still kicking myself for having not started keeping up with them sooner. What’s not to love about this idea? It’s great to get several weeks of free music from artists spanning a wide variety of genres and varying fame levels, from big names we all know to lesser-known acts that might not be attracting a lot of mainstream buzz. In addition to that, it also provides a great avenue for artists both big and small to flex their creative muscles, releasing songs that might go outside the norm of their established sound and career.
Given that this is the second year in a row I’m paying attention to the releases, I decided to write this piece to get everyone up to speed on the compilation’s offerings. This article is part review and part artist bio, as I spent a lot of time researching and sampling the catalogs of all the artists involved so I could give the songs some proper context within the artists’ discography and pass all this knowledge on to you, in case you’re new to these people. Without further ado, here’s my catch-up piece on the 2015 Adult Swim Singles Program. Hope you enjoy! And of course, you can find all these songs for free right here.
Week 1: D∆WN – “Running From Sane”
The first single out of the gate is “Running From Sane” by R&B vocalist D∆WN (the current stage name of singer Dawn Richard). Dawn is perhaps best known for her role as one of the key members of pop R&B group Danity Kane, who released 2 successful albums in 2006 and 2008, and spawned a handful of hit songs, most notably “Show Stopper” and “Damaged”. After the group disbanded following their second album, Dawn began a solo career, releasing three studio albums to date, with the most recent being in January of 2015. Her solo career sets itself apart from Danity Kane’s work by relying on more emotionally powerful and eclectically produced songs than the more straightforward work of DK. “Running From Sane” follows in this experimental suit, predominantly occupied by a rather complex beat that sounds like if a producer like Aphex Twin or Luke Vibert worked on R&B music. It’s memorable, well produced, and definitely has quite a bit going on, and it perfectly complements D∆WN’s excellent-as-always vocal performance. Overall, a solid way to start the program.
Week 2: Cherry Glazerr – “Sip ‘O Poison”
Cherry Glazerr are a relatively new band with only 2 albums to their name (well, one and a half since Haxel Princess is just Papa Cremp with some new songs thrown in). They usually exhibit a laid-back ambient indie rock vibe on their songs, but they do something rather different with “Sip ‘O Poison”, leaning on a more upbeat in-your-face punk-like vibe and some occasionally shouted vocals. It’s very much driven by a catchy bass line, with no guitar work to be found, unless you want to count the feedback ramping up to the song’s beginning. The lyrics, as is common with Cherry Glazerr, are a mix of absurd and oddly poetic. If I had to guess, it sounds like the speaker’s at a party that might be getting a little crazy and weird (“The horny boys are out. You better watch that eye. A single sip ‘o poison killed a kid who wasn’t shy”). It’s a short and sweet track, definitely worth downloading and listening to repeatedly.
Week 3: Kitty – “Drink Tickets”
Kitty’s a rapper based out of Daytona Beach, Florida. She gained some degree of popularity after the music video for her track “Okay Cupid” became a viral hit on Youtube, in addition to collaborating on a song with Houston rapper Riff Raff. Her style relied on a very relaxed, ambient style of rap music, which grew to include some more dance-oriented beats on her more recent release Frostbite. She’s also no stranger to the Singles program, having contributed a song to the 2013 compilation (the only song whose download link seems to be missing on that year’s page). Her music tends to be somewhat hit or miss for me, but I do think she’s a talented artist. “Drink Tickets” is probably the most I’ve enjoyed any of her songs. It’s got a pretty infectious dance beat that’ll have you grooving in place the minute you hear it, and while the lyrics are fairly standard material about how Kitty’s offering to show you a good night out, it’s elevated by an unusually sensual vocal performance. I really hope she ends up releasing more material like this in the future; this type of song works phenomenally well and utilizes her talents to their fullest.
Week 4: Owen Pallett – “The Phone Call”
If there is any word that can be used to properly describe the works and career of Toronto’s Owen Pallett, “prolific” would probably be the right one. A multi-talented instrumentalist best known for his vocal and violin work, Pallett’s highly sought after for collaborations and his own compositional work. He’s worked with a wide variety of musicians, mainly contributing violin work and string compositions for artists such as Duran Duran, Arcade Fire, Snow Patrol, Linkin Park, Fucked Up, Franz Ferdinand, and even Taylor Swift. He’s also worked on a few film scores, most recently collaborating with Arcade Fire’s William Butler on the soundtrack for Spike Jonze’s 2014 film Her.
Pallett has also released four solo studio albums, his first two being released under the pseudonym Final Fantasy. His first album had a predominantly indie folk style, which grew into a more classical-oriented baroque pop style for his second and third releases, and then started incorporating electronic ambient influences for his fourth and most recent album released last year. The track titled “The Phone Call” is a logical successor to the stylistic evolution evident on his recent music, which mainly consists of ambient keyboard synths, frequent bleeps and blips, somber piano in the last minute or so, and the beautiful operatic vocals of Pallett himself. It’s the type of song that’s really easy to zone out to, and to just get lost in its fantastic spacey vibes. A gorgeous-sounding song that’s absolutely worth checking out.
Week 5: Yung Lean (prod. Yung Sherman) – “Crystal Clear Ice”
There’s not much to say about rapper Yung Lean. He’s a teenager from Sweden who started his rap career in the past few years, working with producers/friends Yung Gud and Yung Sherman, releasing a mixtape and EP in 2013, and his first album in 2014. His music relies on a very laid-back drowsy-sounding style of rap, combined with equally chilly beats and production. I’m not a huge fan myself, but I can see the appeal. “Crystal Clear Ice” is a perfect embodiment of his general style, and can make for a decent jumping off point to see if you like him. It’s got a solid beat that, as the song name implies, conveys a very glacial icy feel to it, almost kind of like the snow levels in the old Donkey Kong Country games. The lyrics, while not great (the chorus does that whole “rhyming words with themselves” thing which kind of bugs me), are kind of interesting in certain respects, describing the sensation of what it’s like to be high by using lyrical imagery all related to crystal, ice, and snow. “Crystal Clear Ice” is a pleasant listen, though your mileage will vary based on your tolerance for this style of music.
Week 6: Swervedriver – “Winter Depths”
Swervedriver were an acclaimed staple of the shoegaze genre during the 90s, releasing four albums and some EPs before disbanding in 1998. They reunited in 2008 for a series of tours, and their recent activities even included a new album released in March of this year, their first new album in at least 17 years. Swervedriver’s recent output, while still leaning on all-encompassing soundscapes driving by great effects-driven guitar work, leans on a more relaxed indie rock vibe than the more energetic alternative rock written on their first couple of albums, and that goes for their AS single release “Winter Depths”. The song is all about enveloping the listener in a winter-like soundscape, which is achieved thanks to some rather complex multi-layered guitar work, constantly echoing outward and generating the kind of wintery vibes promised by the title. It feels as though you’re taking a soothing drive through the hypnotic snowy climate of a small town somewhere. If you need something to chill out to, this song will absolutely do the trick.
Week 7: Peaches (feat. Nick Zinner) – “Bodyline”
Peaches has quite a reputation surrounding her as an artist. For the past 15 years (not including her first album released under her real name in 1995), Peaches has gained attention for her unique mix of electronic, dance, and punk music combined with extraordinarily lewd sexual lyrics. This has led to some really cool and interesting songs like “Rock Show”, “Shake Yer Dix”, “Stick It To The Pimp”, and perhaps most famous of all, “Fuck The Pain Away”, which you might have heard from its inclusion in various TV shows and movies like Jackass Number Two, Lost In Translation, True Blood, and the “Butters’ Bottom Bitch” episode of South Park. “Bodyline” was originally meant to appear on her upcoming album RUB, but was chosen not to since it did not fit the sound she wanted to go for. This type of song is not entirely out-of-style for Peaches, as it definitely has a dance-punk vibe with its pounding drum beat and fist-pumping awesome guitar work, courtesy of The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner. The lyrics are quite sexual as usual, sounding like the speaker’s about to engage in a sexual encounter with a person that seems intimidated by the situation. My only problem with the song is that when the verse repeats one last time near the end, the song just stops there. It feels like it’s building up to a climax that just doesn’t happen. Other than that, it’s upbeat, catchy as hell, and a fine part of this year’s singles collection.
Week 8: Thou – “Eyehatethou”
METAL! It’s always great to see what kind of metal bands will show up in the singles program. The first of this year’s heavy offerings comes to us courtesy of Louisiana-based sludge/doom metal group Thou, a band that’s release four full-length albums and several EPs since forming in 2005, with their most recent being released last year. For this release, they give us the appropriately sinister-sounding “Eyehatethou” (the song title is an obvious reference to Eyehategod, one of the most famous bands in the sludge metal subgenre, who also hail from the state of Louisiana). This song is just pure evil from start to finish, with a slow heavy beat, filthy guitars and fuzzy bass, vocals that sound like they were recorded in a cave, and the kind of cryptic ominous lyrics that sound like the musings of a satanic cult engaging in any manner of depraved obscene rituals. It even somehow manages to get slower and sludgier within the last two minutes, never letting up on the doom factor. As you can probably guess, this is my favorite track from the singles program so far, and if you like music that’s just dark and awesomely vile, you need to hear this one and add it to your music collection.
Week 9: Danny Brown and Clams Casino – “Worth It”
Danny Brown’s been a pretty big name in rap music in the past several years, and it’s easy to see why. The guy has a unique voice combined with a consistently high-energy flow, and part of what makes his work so enjoyable is that he always chooses great producers to work with, as is evident on “Worth It’, which features production work courtesy of Clams Casino. Clams has been active as a producer for several years now, producing tracks for various artists, predominantly contemporary rappers like A$AP Rocky, Mac Miller, and even Lil B The Based God (swag). The production work here relies on an atonal beat that often verges on a glitch style, and it serves as a solid base for Danny Brown to spit some great rhymes, bragging about his own skill while lamenting rappers who feel the need to compromise their style and skill for heightened degrees of fame (“Is it really worth it? For fast cars and ice. Do you wanna live that life?”). Danny Brown makes sure to justify his bragging with his signature on-point vocal delivery, making for a fine rap song that’s worth adding to your music library.
Week 10: Shabazz Palaces – “The Mystery of Lonnie the Døn”
This is one of those singles whose artwork perfectly sells the kind of song that you’re in for. Shabazz Palaces, an experimental hip hop duo from Seattle, often tend to write songs that are, for lack of a better term, mysterious and unnerving. “The Mystery of Lonnie the Døn” is indeed quite mysterious in its sound, like you’re standing in a dark hallway and see a path forward, but have no clue what’s lurking in the shadows. Low-key percussion, ghostly whistle-like sounds, odd buzzing noises, and of course the quiet echoing voice of Ishmael Butler all come together to create an absolutely haunting soundscape that’ll leave the listener enjoyable frightened and afraid, and overall it’s another great addition to this year’s compilation.
Week 11: Sia – Eye of the Needle (Bounce Remix feat. Big Freedia)
Sia’s had an interesting career path over the years. Starting off writing emotionally powerful indie ballads on her first couple of albums, she eventually started crafting music that was much more pop-oriented. After releasing We Are Born in 2010, she took a break from her own career to work as a songwriter and collaborator for pop artists like Flo Rida, Rihanna, and perhaps most famously David Guetta with the hit single “Titanium”, before returning to writing and recording her own solo material.
“Eye of the Needle” comes from her most recent and most successful studio release to date, 1000 Forms of Fear. It’s a solid and emotionally powerful song, going back to the more ballad-style vocals on Sia’s early work, but relying on more contemporary pop production for the music, and it works terrifically. The version of the song presented this week is a remix done by Big Freedia, a rapper from New Orleans best known for popularizing a regional genre known as bounce music. The remix… I’ll admit, I don’t really enjoy it much. Sia doesn’t tend to write music that lends itself well to being remixed, and it kind of shows here, with the bounce beat and rap verse feeling awkwardly tacked on. It almost sounds like the DJ-crafted filler you hear late at night on a pop music radio station. I will give credit to Big Freedia for writing a rap verse that at least sounds thematically coherent with Sia’s original song, but other than that, I can’t really recommend this remix all that much.
That should get you all up to speed with the singles released so far and the artists behind them. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and stay tuned for further pieces on the upcoming singles! Feel free to follow me on Twitter if you wanna hear me ramble more about music stuff.