Super Dank III

“My last three tapes I put out were made for smoking […] filled with bong sounds and things. The tracks are all 10-15 minutes long and made to be extra blunted.” While looking out for herbal connoisseurs with his last few productions, JOTA ESE’s Super Dank III isn’t strictly for the smokers. “Despite the name,” he says, “the videos and samples don’t have that much to do with smoking.”

As JOTA explains, most of the project “was done very late at night after I get off work, so it reflects a late night vibe.” The resulting mix drifts in and out of frictionless samples and instrumentals, all of which serves as a relaxed soundtrack for the accompanying Super Dank III video (which repurposes arctic exploration footage documenting Jacques Cousteau and the crew of The Calypso).

“This is a more classic style tape,” JOTA continues, which isn’t to say that the music stands on its own, separate from the series’ first two mixes. “I had help from the same people who helped with the beats and videos for parts one and two.” “One of the big differences,” he says, “is that the new release was produced as a continuous recording before being broken down into the album’s 14 tracks.” “Super Dank III was one track but I cut it up,” says JOTA. “So some echoes and things carry over to the next track, which I really really like.”

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Shake and Bake

“I know this is somewhat cliché, but I still enjoy smoking to a lot of original dub reggae and original ska records. Those records have always had an impact on me musically.” KDSML’s five-track Nug Life EP is hardly a throwback to the days of King Tubby and Super Ape, but it does reflect the same stripped-down aesthetic of those early influences. “I tried not to over complicate, he continues, giving the sounds and the tracks more room to breathe.

Released via Future Everything, Nug Life bears little smokiness to its sound despite the EPs obvious theme: “Bong Hit” opens to an “energetic but still laid back feel” that characterizes the entire recording; “High Flier” is a washed out daydream of ethereal samples; “Now-A-Daze” is boosted by crisp pitched-down horn stomps; “The Reefer” warps woodwinds over a deep wobble; and “Gangsta” provides a bass-heavy close to the set.

KDSML promises more music later this year including “a couple of 100BPM joints,” but don’t expect him to trail off too far into the woods. “I am planning on putting out a lot more of my productions,” he says. “But all of the new material stays true to the general style I started developing on Nug Life.”

Turtles All The Way Down

Much has been made of the unorthodox lyrical themes that run throughout Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds of Country Music. “It’s a very psychedelic country record about the human experience and love,” explained the singer to WFPK recently. While “love” hardly seems like absurd subject matter, we are talking about country music here, where women being “accepted” somehow counts as an application of progressive ideals. Then again, in the album’s lead single, “Turtles All the Way Down,” the pursuit of love does include the discovery of “reptile aliens made of light” who “cut you open” and “pull out all your pain,” so maybe there’s something to the unconventional label, after all.

Not unlike how the word “god” has been co-opted by religion though, using the word “love” as a placeholder for fleeting human emotion merely stands as a pornographic reduction of its limitless dynamic. Strip the word of its superficial associations and you’ll begin to understand what the music is about: that “love” is all there really is.

Utilizing psychedelics in the pursuit of understanding, “Turtles” follows the singer as he’s faced with Jesus, The Devil, and Buddha, who shows him “a glowing light within.” “There’s a gateway in our minds that leads somewhere out there, far beyond this place,” he sings. Musically, the track is about as traditional country-sounding a song as you’ll ever hear, which makes it all the more enchanting when Simpson recalls seeing the spirit of the universe in the eyes of his best friend or questions why dimethyltryptamine is a Schedule I drug (despite literally being present in each and every one of us… and our lawns).

“Honestly,” continued Simpson to WFPK, “I just kinda woke up and felt like I couldn’t write any more songs about broken hearts and drinking […] People are going to make a lot more out of it than it is.” Despite the astronomical divide between honky tonk clichés and infinite recursion, this modest sincerity rings true through to the end of the song, where a heartwarming glaze of cosmic echo bleeds over a lyrical resolve to abandon fear in favor of love’s everlasting nature. “Don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes, fairy tales, blood and wine, it’s turtles all the way down the line.”

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Super Duper

“There was just a lot of noise to sort through,” says Josh Hawkins, speaking to the time he spent living in New York City. “I think the best thing about Nashville is the country music overload. I’m not a country music fan, but in New York it was hard to meet people who were really doing interesting electronic music because everyone was doing electronic music.” The producer, who records as Super Duper, has an interesting perspective that almost welcomes the artistic whitewashing of his hometown that many others hold in contempt. “When I moved back to Nashville it was so refreshing to find just a handful of electronic acts starting to bubble up, and they all stand out here,” he continues. “The city’s stereotype filters out a lot of the noise and makes it easier to meet and collaborate with other truly talented artists.”

Growing up in Nashville, Hawkins moved to New York to work at a music house after he graduated from MTSU. Returning home a little over a year ago, he says the city now “feels like a perfect fit.” Despite feeling at home, he hasn’t felt entirely secure with his music, especially his new release, Diamonds & Doubt. “I’ve been finished with this album for almost a year, so I was getting worried that the songs wouldn’t be relevant with people anymore.” An unlikely blessing came when Diplo hand-picked a remix of “Diamond” for a recent episode of his BBC Radio 1 show. “It was such a huge boost! Having that kind of support gave me a lot of reassurance that not just fans, but also artists, would really dig these songs.”

Having previously drawn influence from electronic acts the likes of M83 and Air, Hawkins has likened the sound of his last EP to TNGHT, though he says he’s focused his direction since then. “That album was a lot of experimenting and I had no real concepts in mind. With Diamonds & Doubt I tried to simplify my use of sounds [to] give each song more personality to stand on its own.” Simplified doesn’t mean simplistic though, as is evidenced by XLR8R’s description of “Circus Bird,” which transitions “a low-pitched brass loop that resembles baleful laughter” into “wonky, decaying synths.”

“With this new release I’m trying to mold trap foundations with a lot more emphasis on electronic sounds.” Beyond the music, Hawkins is trying something else new in releasing the set physically… on cassette. “It’s been fun to tell people the album will be released on tape because I always get a positive reaction, even if I’m talking to my grandparents. Everyone likes tapes! It’s also really nice to have a tangible piece of music for my songs to live on. Vinyl is great, but cassettes definitely speak more to my generation.”

The Sentimental Ghosts of a Hundred Sketches

As Jensen Sportag, Austin Wilkinson and Elvis Craig have been called an “enigmatic art-pop duo” who, depending on the source, represent “a hipster take on 80s winebar muzak” or “a taste from the romance-filled elevators of the future.” As Wilkinson recently relayed to The Fader though, “The sound of Jensen Sportag is ever-evolving and devolving.” “Our motivations,” he continued, “are still simply the unique and purely joyful emotion we feel when we make a beautiful sound, and then to layer that sound with another.” While they’ve remained true to that focus with the duo’s new single, “One Lane Lovers,” the track also bears an encouraging message of progression.

Accompanying “One Lane Lovers” is a sense of intangible positivity — a feeling that Wilkinson elaborated on via email as the duo returned to Nashville following a performance at the Lapsus Festival in Barcelona. “The music of ‘One Lane Lovers’/‘Let The Queen Bee The Boss’ is symbolic for us because it’s something personal about leaving the sentimental ghosts of a hundred sketches and demos and old unreleased songs to the past and propelling forward toward the ideas and experiences of our future.” “In that analogy,” he continues, “the event of upheaval is the recent release of our album Stealth of Days,” the duo’s 2013 LP, which SPIN’s called “a kaleidoscope dreamscape with an extra-heavy layer of Vaseline smeared across the lens.”

While “One Lane Lovers” is dense in its magnetic pop-funk, Wilkinson speaks to a deeper lyrical thread that runs beneath the track’s surface. “In the same way we can get used to very unhealthy conditions we can adapt rapidly to new realities,” he says. “The song has a sort of propulsion surging out of darkness tone to it and since our music is more reflective than nostalgic, both the difficult and promising are at peace in the same thought.” This emerging paradigm becomes a reality with each new morning and every step forward, and despite appearing to be sonically focused on the rearview the song represents a fresh start that begs repeating, if only to help further escape the phantoms of our past.