Experimental Artist of the Week: Sweet Valley


Sweet Valley is a totally off-the-rails instrumental beat project created by Kynan Williams and his brother Nathan (known for fronting the surf punk band Wavves). The duo create densely layered collages comprised almost entirely of samples. From video game sound effects to dialogue from movies to just about any style of music imaginable, there’s nothing they won’t sample. Due to the overwhelming amount of sampling in their music, legally clearing all of them would be impossible so all Sweet Valley mix tapes are available for free listening through their Bandcamp website.

The brothers started the project in 2012 with a trio of mix tapes. Stay Calm is a fun and energetic debut establishing the only trademark of the Sweet Valley sound: complete insanity. The one thing you can always be sure of with a Sweet Valley tape is that what you’re hearing will change constantly and keep surprising you.


Their second mix tape, Eternal Champ, remains their most enduring and impressive. With its impeccable flow, hypnotic rhythms, and ingenious sampling, Eternal Champ is a chill-out classic. They rounded out the year with Jenova, proving that the previous mix tapes would not define their sound. Jenova is less hooky and immediate than its predecessors, but repeated listenings reveal hidden layers. While it was originally my least favorite of their projects, I’ve grown to like it almost as much as Eternal Champ.

Their rate of output has slowed a little since that first year, but they’ve still put out at least one project every year. In 2013, it was SV, their longest mix tape to date at 41 minutes. Featuring a more electronic and upbeat sound, this marked a departure for Sweet Valley from making beats best for sitting around and hanging out to making beats ready for the dance floor. This trend has continued since.


2014 saw the release of two more mix tapes, So Serene and F.A.N.G. The first and better of the two, So Serene is a single track running approximately 28 minutes in length. Featuring arguably their best production to date, this ranks with their best and trippiest work. F.A.N.G. doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but is still extremely enjoyable in its own right. With its brief runtime and seemingly unplanned creation/release, it feels more like a bonus than a proper mix tape. However, it’s another one that has grown on me more and more and a reminder that any new Sweet Valley project will be an interesting experience of some sort.

I will be looking forward to their next release whenever it arrives. The duo are still very little-known due to it being a side project and not being able to sell most of their music due to the sampling. So if you have somewhat eclectic taste in music, check out their website and throw on a mix tape. And no matter which one you choose, let yourself go and make sure to enjoy your stay in Sweet Valley.

Experimental Artist of the Week: Washed Out


A few years ago, the term “chill-wave” was invented to describe the crop of new musicians churning out mellow, sun-drenched synth music perfect for a day of relaxation at the beach. This label was applied to artists such as Toro y Moi, Neon Indian, and Tycho. As much as I enjoy all of these artists, one stands out far above the rest for me in the so-called “chill-wave” movement: Ernest Greene, better known by his stage name of Washed Out. 

Greene is still in the beginning stages of his career, with just 2 albums and an EP to his name since first emerging in 2009. Despite the relative brevity of his discography, he has already established himself as one of my favorite current artists and is 3 for 3 in terms of quality releases so far.

2009’s Life of Leisure EP, his debut, established his trademark sound of danceable synth patterns, heavenly layered vocals, and a heavy sense of atmosphere. Songs like Feel It All Around and You’ll See It make you want to abandon everything you’re doing, drive to the beach, and just bask in the warmth of the sun. “Feel It All Around” also gained some popularity as the theme song for the television show Portlandia.


Greene released his first full-length album in 2011 and it expands greatly on the potential he showed on his first EP. Within and Without is a late-night chill-out classic, the perfect album to unwind to after a long day just before going to bed. More mellow and less catchy than Life of Leisure, this album separated Washed Out from the other “chill-wave” musicians and showed he has the ability to stand alongside today’s best artists.

He realized this ability and then some on his second album, 2013’s Paracosm. Even as someone who loved his first album, this one came as a shock to me. Greene really took his sound to a new level here, crafting an otherworldly sonic experience best enjoyed blissfully uninterrupted with a pair of good headphones on a gorgeous day. A paracosm is a detailed imaginary world inside one’s head that can be populated with all sorts of fantastic delights. I can’t imagine a better description for listening to this album.


Featuring strong visual imagery of paradise and escapism, lush synth tones, and densely layered angelic vocal melodies, Paracosm is one of my favorite albums of the decade so far. With his mellow and pleasantly melodic sound, I have a feeling that Washed Out could become a far bigger name in the next few years. He strikes the perfect balance of being accessible enough to not alienate the majority of listeners while also sounding layered and complex enough to satisfy people like me. There’s no word yet on Greene’s next album, but whenever it’s announced, I will prepare myself for another immersive work of art.

Experimental Artist of the Week: The Underachievers


Rap is extremely popular these days, with artists like Drake and Kanye West dominating the charts in recent years. Given my strong dislike for mainstream rappers such as them, most people assume that I’m not a fan of the genre. This couldn’t be further from the truth as I think that rap music at its best can be an extremely passionate and unique form of poetry. However, I find most current rap music to be lazy and unoriginal, dragged down by ignorant lyrics and extremely simple production.

There are a few popular rappers right now that I respect (Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt both just dropped excellent albums), but in my opinion, you have to look outside the mainstream to find most rap music that’s worthwhile. There’s no hip-hop act that has me more excited right now than The Underachievers. A duo comprised of rappers AK and Issa Gold, The Underachievers have rapidly developed a cult fan base since exploding onto the scene with their debut mixtape Indigoism in 2013.

Unknown-1With its tripped-out production incorporating psychedelic and jazz influences in addition to philosophical lyrics about consciousness-expansion, Indigoism is one of the most original and assured debut albums in rap history. AK and Issa establish themselves as prophets for the new generation, questioning the nature of the world around them to find the truth in things. Their anti-establishment views and rebellious nature tend to get crowds riled up, but they’re not an angry or violent act in any way. Rather than discussing the typical crime and sex that most rappers do, most of their lyrics allude to a unique spirituality and seeking a higher purpose beyond our mundane daily lives.

They followed up with a short EP, The Lords of Flatbush, later in the year. As Issa explained when it was released, this was mostly just a collection of “bangers” to hold fans over until the next album. It features simpler production and lyrics compared to Indigoism but is still very enjoyable in its own right. Even stripped of their more experimental elements, AK and Issa are incredible rappers whose rapid-fire flows complement one another perfectly.


The duo’s first official studio release, Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium, dropped late last year. As the otherworldly cover art suggests, the album returns to the more experimental production and lyrics of their first mixtape. Although the new album is faster-paced and features some of their strongest rhymes yet, I still think Indigoism is their best work. However, Cellar Door comes close and doesn’t contain a single weak track.

AK and Issa each released short solo mix tapes in 2014 as well. AK’s Blessings in the Gray is very smooth and relaxing, while Issa’s Conversations With a Butterfly has a more upbeat and jazzy vibe. Both are excellent and make it more clear what influences each member brings to the group beyond their individual verses.

The Underachievers are currently touring and working on their next studio album, The Evermore Project, expected to be released later this year. The duo has tweeted that this is the first album where they have worked in a professional studio environment with engineering and stems, so the sound quality will be a vast improvement. Considering how awesome their first few projects have sounded, I can only imagine what they have in store for us next.

Experimental Artist of the Week: Death Grips


For decades, each generation has come up with new forms of rebellious music to terrify their parents. First there was rock and roll. This led to even more angry and intense sub genres like punk and metal. In the 1990s, hip hop emerged as the new face of angry youth with artists like Public Enemy whipping crowds into a frenzy. But all of this music has only paved the way for the ultimate sound of aggression: the experimental hip-hop trio Death Grips. 

The three members of Death Grips each make invaluable and distinct contributions to the group; MC Ride (real name Stefan Burnett) provides vocals and lyrics, Zach Hill brings perfect percussion (in both live and electronic forms) to every song, and Flatlander (real name Andy Morin) handles the production. Their sound is an unprecedented mix of rap, rock, and electronic influences rolled into the most abrasively loud package imaginable.


Their 2011 mixtape, Exmilitary, is one of the most attention-grabbing debut albums in music history. Love it or hate it (and most people will undoubtedly hate it), you cannot deny that this album attacks your ear canals unlike anything you’ve heard before. Showcasing MC Ride’s unique rapper-meets-punk singer vocal delivery and the group’s knack for creative sampling, Exmilitary received a surprisingly positive critical response for such a challenging listen.

They followed this success with a pair of albums in 2012, The Money Store and No Love Deep Web. Both were very well-received by fans and critics, but this was also the year that Death Grips became known for their rude and often immature antics. After canceling a string of tour dates to complete No Love Deep Web, the group released the album digitally for free without their record label’s permission and ended up being released from their record contract (likely exactly what they wanted).


Death Grips have gained a reputation for canceling tour dates at the last minute or even just not showing up without notice. They also like to toy with their fans, often withholding information from them to stir up anticipation and drive them into a frenzy. As frustrating as their behavior often is, it’s all part of the Death Grips attitude and they wouldn’t be Death Grips if they didn’t act the way they do. Their relationship with their fans is love/hate to the extreme.

As hard as it is to catch the group live, those who have say it’s quite an experience. The thunderous rage that MC Ride brings to his stage presence is awe-inspiring, as is the manic energy of Zach Hill’s drumming. They have yet to play any of their post-2012 material live, but that will change soon as they are about to tour for the first time in 2 years (assuming they don’t cancel it again, a possibility that you can never rule out with Death Grips).

After self-releasing the short and glitchy Government Plates in 2013 as a free download, showcasing a more psychedelic sound from the group, they signed a deal with Harvest records and set to work on their magnum opus, The Powers That B. A double album running 80 minutes in length and featuring the culmination of every sound the trio had been working toward, this was the album that every Death Grips fan couldn’t wait for. After  the first half dropped online in June 2014, the full album was promised to be released by the end of the year.


Then fans had to suffer through a seemingly endless period of no news and no explanation why the album didn’t come out as promised. The complete double album was finally released two weeks ago, nearly a year after the first half came out. Thankfully, the album truly is their ultimate work as promised and finds them evolving their sound in new directions. There’s more live drumming on the album than ever before and even some distorted guitars, making the album sound more like really tripped out punk music than hip-hop at times. However, it really doesn’t sound like anything other than Death Grips. No one else could’ve made it, and it’s hard to imagine anyone will ever make something like it again.

So the next time you’ve got a lot of energy and you’re in the mood for something really out there, give Death Grips a try. Their music definitely only appeals to a limited number of people, but for those who feel what it’s going for, it’s truly an incomparable experience. Beyond perfectly capturing the feelings of darkness and aggression that plague us all at times, the music of Death Grips feels empowering. The small kid who everyone picks on suddenly feels like he can leap over buildings and knock out his opponents in a single swoop when listening to one of their albums. If you can get past MC Ride’s unorthodox vocal style and all of the group’s shady behavior, you’ll find that there’s much more artistic value to Death Grips than just starting mosh pits and scaring parents.