NEW MUSIC: Hip-Hop busts genres for two buzz-heavy releases

This week’s selections feature buzz-heavy artists Theophilus London and Washed Out. London is getting noticed for his multi-influenced rap; while artist Ernest Greene (stage name Washed Out) is also influenced by hip-hop, but has veered radically to effects-driven, heavily processed backing tracks, or “chill wave.”

If you weren’t sure who you were listening to when Brooklyn rapper’s Theophilus London’s new album starts up, he reminds you pretty quick, repeating “last name London / first name Theophilus” throughout the first track (officially called “Last Name London”). The song is one of ten on the newly released (July 19) full-length debut “Timez Are Weird These Days”, which includes four of the five songs from London’s EP that was released in February.

“Last Name London” is a good introduction to the album and London’s sound overall, mixing pure rap with a more urban/hip-hop vibe, and tinged every so slightly with other genres, ranging from soul to modern rock. It’s also the first single off the album. “All Around the World” is another genre-busting track, featuring some rap, but also a well-placed acoustic guitar that wouldn’t sound out of place on any folk rock album, and he sings more than raps during its length.

“Why Even Try” features guest vocalist (and Albertan) Sara Quin from Tegan & Sara. This is more of a traditional rap track, but London’s various influences, even on his vocal stylings, create a slightly different feel, and Quin’s backup vocals make this one of the most beautiful tracks on the album. The two have an obvious chemistry, and Quin’s talent blazes throughout, despite the radical change in genres for her – it’s definitely one of the sexier songs of the year. The collaboration began with London sending Quin a few tracks to see if any piqued her interest. She chose well.

“Stop It” is filled to the brim with soul, while “One Last Time” is hook-laden. “Lighthouse” would sound equally as good on a Prince album, with a heavy dose of soul and a fresh-sounding guitar that wants to pluck flowers and spread their petals around a garden. “I Stand Alone”, the last track on the album, finds London taking traditional elements of rap again, but pushing it right to the edge with his other influences – it might be the best track.

While Theophilus London is considered rap by many, music fans of any other genre shouldn’t let that scare them off by any means. He combines a plethora of influences into his final sound with resounding success, which ends up being a combination of rap, hip-hop, soul, post-punk, electronic, and rhythm and blues – perhaps one could call it “hipster rap”. In fact, others have.

Imagine yourself sitting oceanside on a lounge chair, with your feet up on a table, sipping a martini. That’s what listening to Washed Out is like. You can almost hear the surf in the background cascading gently ashore, a total blissful feeling of relaxation sweeping over your body.

Georgian Ernest Greene, whose stage name is Washed Out, just released his debut full-length album “Within and Without” on July 12, and the buzz in the blogosphere couldn’t be working more overtime in favor of this artist and album. Greene actually moved back home to Georgia in 2009 and started working on songs in his bedroom studio for this and two previous EP’s which were released in 2009. He was signed to one of the pre-eminent alternative labels – Sub Pop – in April of this year.

His music is heavily influenced by hip-hop, but in an ambient kind of way. Like many artists in this and similar genres, the songs wash together in a cavalcade of electronica, but are just different enough for each to have a unique  vibe. Maybe you’d switch up what kind of martinis you’re drinking when the song changes, for example.

The second track “Echoes” is one of the stronger on the album, with twin melodies that complement each other perfectly. “Amor Fati” (a Latin phrase that, loosely translated, means “love of fate” or “love of one’s fate”) is another standout track on the album, with precision keyboards that punch through the song like a clarifying right hook.

It would certainly make for great summer music, assuming Edmonton ever actually got a summer to speak of.

Michael Senchuk also writes for his own music blog, New Music Michael.