Evan Caminiti’s main gig is Barn Owl, a duo in which he helps concoct desert-scorched drones that are pierced by twangy guitar flourishes. His last two solo records (Dreamless Sleep and Night Dust, both released in 2012) were minimalist endeavors, but they still managed to explore the outer edges of what a guitar could sound like. On Meridian, guitars don’t figure much into the equation. This time around, he’s gone full-on electronic, crafting synthscapes that are a lot less earthbound than his previous work.
What elevates Meridian above the throngs of similar abstract, mod-synth ambient records are the same sensibilities that carried albums like Dreamless Sleep, even if the tools are different this time around. Tracks that, for the most part, sound formless—never careless. And those electronic washes are performed—not just programmed—so while the sound is cleaner than usual, it’s also loose and limber.
With the promise of several new Major Lazer albums immediately following this, Peace Is The Mission is an opening salvo of sorts: DJ/producer Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire’s seductive, weird soul take on multicultural trap muzik circa 2015. Or, it could all just be a commercial for the Major’s FX Network cartoon series with Aziz Ansari. It’s hard to tell.
Either way, Diplo makes it so that his crew fits comfortably within the framework of a delectable Bollywood wind that glides as easily as a trombone (“Lean On”), a jittery house-music ballad with Mariah Carey manqué Ariana Grande (“All My Love”) and Caribbean spiced-nut hip hop with added salt (“Night Riders” with 2 Chainz, Pusha T and Mad Cobra). The best cuts here (“Too Original” and “Light It Up”) happen to be those hewing closer to Major Lazer’s wake-and-bake dancehall origins. Then again, whatever stays as it once was on Diplo’s dance floor?
The Welsh quintet’s second release goes down as easy as a mixtape on a ’90s spring day. Clocking in at just more than 20 minutes, there’s no crap on tap. Opening track “Last Year” (which appears to be about either an occult tragedy in a water park or just an affair gone wrong) goes from Huggy Bear to Velocity Girl in just minutes, thanks to the versatile vocals of Alanna McArdle, buoyed by frequent singing partner and guitarist Owen Williams.
The two are either layering their vocals over each other dream-pop-style while uttering kiss-offs (“There Is No Function Stacy”) or trading off tense call-and-responses (“Honestly Do Yr Worst”). “Jamie (Luvver)” is a ramshackle come-on à la the Vaselines. Williams and co-guitarist George Nicholls give great noise on “I Can’t Relax” and pure bliss on closer “Hey! I Wanna Be Your Best Friend!”
Better known to his mother as Jamie Smith, Jamie xx is essentially the one-man backline for London beat alchemists and modern Portishead inheritors the xx, a crate-digging omnivore and increasingly among the most in-demand remixers of his generation (Adele, Alicia Keys, plus the list essayed in the sidebar, among others).
In parallel with that of his South London band—the school they all attended is featured in rom-com Love, Actually—is a career that has blossomed over the course of various tracks Jamie has not only repurposed for others, but has now fashioned as an emerging solo artist. In Colour finds him joined by xx mates Romy Madley Croft (the unsurprisingly xx-like and sealegs-inducing “Seesaw” and “Loud Places”) and Oliver Sim (“Stranger In A Room,” with circular synth programs that find the pair stretching their signature sound into trance-meets-Doors terrain), as well as artists such as Young Thug (“I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times”) and Four Tet.
But underneath it all is a specificity of sound that threads all of the album’s tracks together like beads on a string, a Caribbean steel-drums-informed throughline that marks the entire affair as the creation of a single artist—someone making a lot out of a little, turning seemingly random squiggles and samples (as heard on the shivery “Girl” and spasmodic “The Rest Is Noise”) into something far more than the sum of their very contemporary-sounding parts. Look out for a Madonna white-label on a dance floor near you, stat.
In Our Heads, Hot Chip’s last album, was a masterpiece: an ecstatic, heart-surging testament to the intertwined power of music, positivity and love, and a clear career culmination. Why Make Sense? plucks essentially the same emotional and musical chords; its best tracks—at least half the record—continue Heads’ potent, playful synthesis of R&B, house and electronic pop, full of surprises and multiple moving (in every sense) parts.
That’s more than enough to make this probably the finest dance-party record this summer will have to offer, even if it features two (lovely, if relatively undistinguished) ballads and lacks its predecessor’s decisive spiritual coherence. The clearest throughline here is the band’s fondness for dance music’s long, illustrious history, which is on full display: There are samples of Philly soul and boogie classics, luscious disco strings and Planet Rockin’ electro, a sharp hip-house turn (courtesy of De La Soul’s Posdnuos), and nods to acid, deep house and jacking swing.
—K. Ross Hoffman