California Sounds: Skrillex with Ty Dolla Sign and Devendra Banhart’s ode to Venezuela
Skrillex, Ty Dolla Sign and Boys Noize, “The Midnight Hour” (OWSLA)
The artist born Sonny Moore returns with his first single in two years, and once again he’s bucking expectations with a minor-key house banger starring the city’s most prominent R&B singer. Sharing production with Boys Noize (who collaborates on harsh beat tracks with Skrillex as Dog Blood), Skrillex has been gradually deleting his wobbling bass-drops in favor of more nuanced hooks and breaks, and his evolution has been on full display during his two years away from solo work.
To wit, he’s produced Ed Sheeran, Incubus, Camila Cabello, Mariah Carey, Zac Brown Band (!) and Fifth Harmony. Earlier this year, Swedish avant pop singer Lykki Li released her collaboration with Skrillex and Ty Dolla Sign, called “two nights part ii.”
The only wobbles in “The Midnight Hour” arrive via Ty Dolla Sign’s voice, which the producers have filtered with a shimmering tremolo. Set inside a bumping 126-beats-per-minute dance track, the collaboration draws on a lineage that whisks the techno and house sounds of Detroit, Chicago and Berlin with a dollop of London grime to create a particularly potent Skrillex confection.
Devendra Banhart, “Abre Los Manos” (Nonesuch)
The longtime Los Angeles songwriter and artist has kept a relatively low profile for the past half decade, living in Echo Park and occasionally dropping in to announce the release of a book or record. His current emergence is in service of the latter: “Ma,” his first new album since “Ape in Pink Marble” in 2016.
It’s his third album for the storied imprint Nonesuch, and a continuation of his sublimely understated, border-blurring folk rock. So far, the coy Venezuelan American has moved through Spanish-, English- and Japanese-language verses and choruses on the trio of teaser songs issued in advance of “Ma.”
The shuffle-step bossa nova rhythm that drives “Abre Los Manos” suggests freewheeling joy, but the video and lyrics tell a different story, one that arrives with images of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, in quieter times, before the country’s economy collapsed. He sings of a country “covered with blood,” a destroyed museum, a relative waiting in line for bread. “Ayer mi vecina fue secuestrada,” Banhart sings, bemoaning the kidnapping of his neighbor the day prior.
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