Modern popular music has never had a mold that wasn’t broken. One popular way to innovate is to utilize unconventional instruments, band line-ups and/or use instruments in unconventional ways. An early example of this would be Jethro Tull’s use of flute in their heavy rock music. This list has some even more interesting concepts in mind.
1. Anamanaguchi – “Dawn Metropolis”
An interesting note about the way old video game consoles produce sound: they use on board solid-state sound processors. So, essentially, the sounds coming out of your Game Boy and NES growing up came from an on-board synthesizer. With a little bit of hardware and software modification, hobbyists have managed to turn the toys of yesterday into the synthesizers of today. Artists who use these instruments are typically cast under the “Chiptune” genre and no artist is more popular in the world of 8-bit music than Anamanaguchi. “Dawn Metropolis” is a killer track that shows not just what a great chiptune song can be, but also the variation in styles that exist within the genre. Between its soaring guitars and warm bath of Nintendo-produced square-wave chords, it’s easy to see how this nostalgia-baiting genre has found success recently.
2. Andrew Bird – “Tenuousness”
Perhaps the most interesting part of listening to the often verbose Bird is that you can hardly tell that he’s doing anything unusual. That is, until you realize the majority of the sounds in the song created in real time and masterfully looped and mixed live to create the illusion that he’s playing with a big band. Not only is he an intensely-accomplished songwriter and composer, but his technical ability is spectacular even in the world of looping musicians. For an example of this, check out this footage from the acclaimed Internet video series “From the Basement.”
3. Reggie Watts – “Fuck Shit Stack”
While this song may seem like some sort of bizarre ode to George Carlin’s famous “Seven Things You Can’t Say on Television” skit, the backing track is altogether more interesting. Like Andrew Bird, Reggie Watts uses looping and live sampling heavily. What separates him from Bird is that the only instrument he’s using is his voice. Watts builds a track up in front of audiences and once finished takes to performing the tracks vocals to complete the illusion that he’s merely singing over a beat. Add to the mix his quirky humor and you have one of the most interesting performers out there today.
4. Dan Deacon – “Build Voice”
Baltimore-based composer and performer Dan Deacon is influenced by everything from bubblegum pop, to Aphex Twin, to John Cage, to your childhood. His maximalist brand of over-the-top arrangements require months of recording and a 14-piece ensemble to perform and have elevated him to becoming one of the most forward-thinking artists in music today. Deacon produces the sort of music that leaves you dizzy trying to fathom how on earth he created the sounds coming out of your speaker and so dense that even what you do make out could very well be deceiving your ears. In this track, “Build Voice”, the first song off of his 2009 masterpiece Bromst, Deacon takes a player piano (an electronically controlled upright piano that can play things humans never could) to it’s absolute limits, requiring several tracks in order to get the effect he desires. Check out the video below to see some insight of the recording of this beautiful track.
5. Animal Collective – “Daily Routine”
The critically-hailed Animal Collective have cemented their status as purveyors weird and beautiful indie pop, straddling the line between hyper experimental (see album Centipede Hz) and catchy (nobody could forget the chorus to “My Girls”), achieving an unusual eclecticism in less than two albums. At the center of this sound is a complex array of strange and common musical equipment. Between a bizarre mix of traditional rock instruments (guitar, synth, floor tom and cymbals) and a penchant for utilizing new musical equipment (samplers, effects units, and even the aptly-named Kaoss pad) lies the ability to turn all these sounds into compelling modern music that can’t really be traced to any sort of tradition. In “Daily Routine,” Animal Collective displays the sheer breadth of the textures and atmosphere they’re capable of creating. While it’s not the most catchy song, it’s the sort of track that leaves you feeling weightless, especially when listening with headphones or a high-end stereo.