Genres are bending like Beckham (we even have a docuseries that explore this) and these artists were at the forefront this year and pushing, pulling and making sure things were slightly off center.
The Arcs, Yours Dreamily
Over eight full-length albums, the Black Keys have cemented a place in the global rock firmament by focusing on the irreducible elements of the blues, pairing them with garage-rock’s paint-thinner air, and shellacking it with the tuneful, gravelly throat of Dan Auerbach. Those dudes come from Ohio and they sound like it, all cold-weather rust and working-class lament.
With his side-project the Arcs, Auerbach stepped out of the Midwestern blues-rock box and into a more cosmopolitan blues-rock arena of sorts, sourcing the organ-and-horn soul of Stax Records’ glory days, cloaked in wisps of spectral psychedelia and the fat backbeat swagger of contemporary hip-hop. Yours, Dreamily wades in deep waters, with a source flowing from the Mississippi Delta and tributaries touching nearly every decade of American music along the way. The band’s called the Arcs; their genre blend, on a genetic level, is archetypal.—Amrit Singh
Big Grams, Big Grams
Too many collaborative projects these days are defined by surprise live appearances and social media validation. When really, it’s should be more about brand synergy and artistic inspiration. Leave it to the mashed-up sounds of Big Grams, to deliver the south’s version of synth-pop dripped tunes.
Comprised of one part rap, by Big Boi of legendary Atlanta rap duo Outkast, and two parts electro-rock, from upstate New York outfit Phantogram, Big Grams scratches the genre surface for an attempt at landing between two worlds of music. Residing as a new-wave of overexciting horns and languid melodies, the group’s debut self-titled album is more than enough to host an underground party or score a scene at a swanky rooftop hideout.—Shanté Merida
Hiatus Kaiyote, Choose Your Weapon
What do you get when you cross the sounds of R&B, jazz, and borrowed rock tradition? The Australian four-piece known as Hiatus Kaiyote. Following their Grammy-nominated, ever-shifting project Tawk Tomahawk, the band redirect their central sense of groove in a still-shot project full of colorful rhythms and scatting riffs with Choose Your Weapon.
Capitalizing on a progressive penchant of rock ‘n’ jazz, Hiatus Kaiyote diversify their song structure and layering tones in a very transparent and simply put, beautiful way. It’s an exploration of melodic speakeasy performances, which can easily translate to a drift of jostling gritty beats at a breakneck rate. With an old-school swing of vintage jazz and cultural sonic endurances, Choose Your Weapon is a lush ride through snares, hi-hats, and electronic riff caps that is strong and here to stay.—S.M.
Jack Ü, “Where Are Ü Now” feat. Justin Bieber
Like many currents hits, “Where Are Ü Now” is an electronic confection facilitated by an alliance from today’s biggest musicians. The million-selling single produced by Skrillex and Diplo, better known as Jack Ü, and featuring Justin Bieber, is a four-minute blast of high-tech bliss and sweet-voiced tones for the ideal virtual dance beat. But behind it, it’s a matrix of inspirations and marketing luck, that without reasoning made its way to the top of pop music.
For starters, “Where Are Ü Now” is certifiably catchy. Unlike the standard hit song, the track crosses genres of bass-heavy styles from the electronic dance world and stuttered serenades of pop, for an infused sound with all the right radio requirements. It’s the perfect hand-off for progressing Jack Ü’s reach and Justin Bieber’s multi-dimensional range.—S.M.
Major Lazer, Peace Is The Mission
It was nice of Major Lazer to define their mission in their 2015 album title, because if you’ve been following along from the jump — 2009’s excellent, animated banger-mash Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do — it’s been difficult to specifically characterize what Major Lazer is all about, other than mining world-beats for the contemporary club-goer.
That, of course, is a great mission, but so is peace. And with Peace Is The Mission, it officially stopped mattering what Major Lazer was, or was trying to be, or even who is in it (other than Diplo), because “Lean On” is a true hit, the tracklist brandishes hip-hop bona fides and pop impulses, and the underlying mesh of EDM, dancehall, and sundry balmy beat-brews can only be characterized in this genre tag I’m making up right now: Catch-hall. (You get it.) Peace is the mission, catch-hall is the sound, albums like these help tear genre-gaps down. It was a big year for Diplo; this LP is one reason.—A.S.