Bells & Whistles, Vol. 9: Ends and beginnings

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Welcome to another edition of Bells & Whistles! Got a pretty cool week ahead. Thursday 3/17 at 7PM ET is our second NTS set. Featuring a VERY special guest. We also recently announced No Bells Radio, our new outlet for audio stories. Our first piece should be dropping on all streaming platforms late next week. This week’s column is a look at two artists from the internet depths. I wrote about wido, and H.D. Angel wrote about Ame.Mano Sundaresan

On wido’s Field Day, a day off from the future

Thanks to close to 13 million videos on TikTok, Yung Lean’s 2013 single “Ginseng Strip 2002” has become a global sensation this year. You can cherry pick any data point about this record and it’ll look crazy. The one that’s blowing my mind is that it’s currently Number 4 on the Shazam Charts in India. This probably isn’t how it goes down, but I’ve chuckled to myself thinking about “Bitches come and go, brah!” reverberating through the din of auto rickshaws and car horns.

Some are calling it a Sad Boys revival, but in the U.S., Lean and fellow Swedish rap act Drain Gang have been enjoying a steady, cultish ascent on the internet for close to a decade. (The ongoing Drain Gang tour here seems to be totally sold-out.) It’s a cool full circle moment for these rappers, whose outsized influence on online music had never quite translated to a big hit. Drain Gang’s Bladee and Ecco in particular inspired a wave of American artists in the 2010s to make a form of rap music they called “draincore.” This genre name sparked confusion and ridicule and wouldn’t last. In late 2019, scene tastemaker lonelee coined the term “digicore” to replace draincore. quinn was the first artist to self-associate with digicore, and in 2021, “digicore” was canonized via Billy Bugara’s SoundCloud editorial playlist of the same name.

lonelee was prescient. The digicore artists of 2022 don’t immediately sound like drainers, or even rappers, for that matter. They’re making internet-fried takes on shoegaze, drum’n’bass, pop, rap rock. A brave soul might still make an argument that It’s All. Still. Rap Music. (I’ve tried.) But digicore has splintered and evolved into something entirely different than it was a couple years ago. Internet genres are like paintings in progress; you can only see what they are as they near completion. Is digicore nearing its end? Or do we need to zoom out of the picture?

This was all on my mind as I listened to wido’s new album Field Day. A digicore fixture, wido always passes through my SoundCloud feed. I stumbled upon Field Day via a repost of “Step in the brakes,” a red-hot album cut featuring twikipedia. The song blew me away, so I went and listened to the rest of the record. Really good!

What makes it refreshing to me is that it’s kind of…normal-sounding? Pretty much every digicore release I’ve covered for Pitchfork has, for better or worse, tried to push the boundaries of the genre, introduce new elements to the mix. This makes sense; from the jump, this scene’s entire ethos has been “No rules! No genre! Infinite possibilities!” But this wido tape takes me waaayyy baaaack to 2020. It’s got vocal glitches, massive drainer energy, catchy beats and—get this—rapping that pulls from the cartoonish menace of early quarantine digicore. Artists have said the scene needs to move past this sound and all its David Shawty-isms, but I don’t know, I love hearing wido malfunction as they rap, “I-I-I’m the red dragon / And at face value, you a bandwagon!”

Sometimes, familiar is good. – Mano Sundaresan

And now, a taste of plugg’s future: Ame

Ame is a teenaged SoundCloud rapper from London, Ontario, Canada with a punchline obsession and the voice of a baby angel. Ever since Duwap Kaine put his first warbles through AutoTune, his descendants have tinkered with the magic, figuring out ways to turn his melodic tics into a whole school of rap: think SoFaygo building up tension into each yodel on “Hits on Hits”, or Babyxsosa as the cool-girl-next-door diva on “EVERYWHEREIGO”. But right now, Ame is pushing the style further than anybody. 

For lots of small artists, these vocals have become markers of homemade authenticity – a way for a rapper to say “Hey, I taught myself how to make this in my bedroom!” just like their influences. But with some of SoundCloud’s most cinematic producers, like Elijahdior and Royal ansem, stacking his inbox with beats, Ame never seems quite content to stay down-to-earth. And with a penchant for Smino-esque wordplay, where the fun of playing with the elastics of language matters as much as the words themselves, he’s got writer’s instincts that elevate his vocal takes above algo filler. 

Here are five of Ame’s coolest song ideas.

“Chicken” (prod. Pinkgrillz x Krishnamusic)

On “Chicken”, Ame is “only 17, going through half of y’all!” This song’s wine-drenched guitars could top the pop charts circa 2007 just as easily as the SoundCloud charts circa 2022. (Get T-Pain on the remix!) I don’t know what half of these punchlines mean, but they shine with hope and purpose.

“Cha Cha” (prod. Elijahdior)

“Cha Cha” is one of many great Ame songs that are privated off his SoundCloud, now only available as relics on other DSPs or YouTube. This might be his best vocal performance ever – he takes the Duwap warbles fully abstract and wordlessly croons his heart out over a beat that sounds like Hans Zimmer linked up with Cash Cobain. It’s beautiful.

“Death Star” (prod. polack x sstokess)

How smart is it to sing the Darth Vader “du-du-du-dum” as the hook to your song, and then rhyme it with “gu-gu-gu-gum” like it’s just another bar? How does he come up with this stuff?

“She Just Neva Listen” (prod. Mr. Weaver)

I love how Ame makes a routine out of discovering flows and cadences on the fly. Every time he unlocks one, you can hear it the moment it happens, as if a light bulb pops up over his head. Here, he rattles off as many crazy RAWR-XD bars as he can over an RPG victory screen type beat from Mr. Weaver (who also produced one of the best songs of last year in Veeze’s “Small Fry”). In his heart of hearts, Ame wonders: “What happened to bullying?”

“Hurtzz” (prod. Royal x Pinkgrillz)

Ame has fallen back on Naruto punchlines a couple times, but “we came from the ground like Zetsu” might be the hardest. He just…keeps…going here, urging “Hurtzz” through beat switches and spotlight-stealing vocal runs like he’s kicking off Act I of a one-man SoundCloud stage musical. – H.D. Angel

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