This was the summer of trap. Over the past 4-5 months, this slight off-shoot of hip-hop production fired itself into blogs, iPods, and festival stages with a ferocity unseen since, well, come to think of it, just months before when a similar frenzy surrounded the booming moombahton. And, to go back much further, dubstep saw this same peak of intense popularity a few years ago. (Ah, remember that? When dubstep was still a genre lingering in the computers of just a few? Those were the days.) Although the latter of those has had an immense impact on EDM and, frankly, music as a whole, the three share something in common: A formula. Notice how no other genre of music — rock, pop, hip-hop, etc. — is able to cultivate such extraordinarily influential sub-genres like EDM can. In these other types of music, any specialization within the all-encompassing genre is the result of an artist or band who experiments and creates “their sound”. Electronic music, however, works a little differently.
A producer develops a new sound — maybe by accident, maybe not — and then imitators plug straight into the formula and generate slight variations of it. Consequentially, we get movements and trends focused on a style and not so much the artist themselves. (Obviously, there are exceptions.) Don’t let my phrasing imply this is bad thing, though. Trap and moombahton are wonderfully entertaining, but in this backwards way the sound creates the artist, the artist does not create the sound. That’s how so many producers are able to rocket into relevancy in the blink of an eye.
There are a few acts, however, who take a different approach. Their music is unique and maybe unconventional; they let a highly specified weaving of influences construct it instead of following a well-worn path. By definition, the attention comes at a more relaxed pace — they don’t have a proven market to piggy-back off of — but in most cases, the deserved praise comes, and comes in big, big ways. (Skrillex is the the ultimate example of this scenario.)
Curt Heiny and Justin Aubuchon caught my ears about a year and a half ago for this reason. Their inspirations were all there right in front of me, bursting out of their music plain as day (they owe a big thank you to Pretty Lights), but it was an exciting and fresh strand of electronic music, an addictive one that I’ve seen evolve to near perfection over the course of an EP and 2 full length albums, the latest of which, a brilliant 7-track LP titled Every Man For Himself, drop this past Tuesday.
On EMFH, Heiny and Aubuchon, better known as Archnemesis, don’t necessarily improve upon the sound cultivated in their past two releases as much as extend it; they guide it down the path it was already heading with supreme grace and talent. In a odd, nearly indescribably way, this album lacks consistency. It’s a fully formed, yet constantly evolving collection of sounds. That last word is especially important. There’s no formula, it almost surpasses genres. It’s a sound. A flow. A feeling. Uniformity is only present in its energy. It doesn’t sacrifice its musicality under any circumstances. “Mohawk” has an upbeat swing, jazz flutes, and a hell of a lot of soul. “Right On” wobbles and samples its way through 5 minutes of infectious fierceness. “Waiting For Tomorrow” begs for Pretty Lights Music comparisons but distinguishes itself with a patient flow. And the already released title track is ominous and warm with a wobbly breakdown that would usually function as the peak for another artist, but Archnemesis simply sandwiches it in between two spells of jazzy electro. I could go on and on. It’s as if every track brings something new to the table.
If there was such a thing as The University of Electronic Music, Every Man For Himself would be a senior thesis. Heiny and Aubuchon have taken a class on dubstep, passed “Hip-Hop Sampling 101,” aced their tutorial on song structure and layering, and might as well have been TAs for “How To Make Lyric-less Music Have Soul,” while sneaking in night classes at the Jazz Academy down the road the whole time.
I imagine these guys start by making a very simple track. Maybe just some bass or a sample. They let it sit for a few days, marinating, and then return to it, adding just one more layer. They patiently repeat this time and time again until the song is so stretched with electronic sounds of all sorts that there’s simply no more room for anything else. And then they know the track is done.
So, it might take two or three listens to fully comprehend the completeness of Every Man For Himself –hell, it might take ten — but whether you’re a critic or a casual listener, there’s no way these seven tracks, nearly void of classification, won’t get you grooving.
Download Every Man For Himself for free at ArchnemesisMusic.com.