In a musical landscape flooded with electro-pop duos releasing undistinguished albums that neither stimulate nor give hope for the future of the genre, there's an occasional diamond in the rough that shines through the mediocrity. With lyrics that color, beats that cut, it's clear that Made In Heights is a rare jewel to behold.
Individually, they are Kelsey Bulkin and Alexei Saba (a.k.a. Sabzi, the producer half of Blue Scholars). They met at the wedding of a mutual friend where Bulkin sang in the ceremony and Saba played DJ in the reception. In an "In Conversation" interview with Anthony Valadez Bulkin recounts a feeling of absurd intrigue toward Saba which was the result of his playing Keith Sweat through the entire dinner reception. She knew that she had to meet him.
Upon finding out that Saba made beats and produced music for other artist/groups, Bulkin asked if he would send her a few tracks so that she could lay some vocals over them. He obliged and they continued to send their edits back and forth over the course of the following year. In December of 2010, they got together in a Seattle studio to record a few tracks. After only 5 days in the studio, they released an EP of "Songs to raise your dead spirits" called Winter Pigeons.
I first heard their music in 2013 while researching artists who have remixed tracks by Sufjan Stevens. That's a playlist I'll have to share with you another day. Saba had sampled the haunting piano line from Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois, the opening track on Sufjan's Illinois album and created Skylark Interabang?!. The rest of the mix only highlights the original track, honoring it's simplicity while creating something altogether beautiful and new.
The name Made In Heights was actually a suggestion from a friend and it just "sparked". They like to think of their music as not having a geographic location and that it was made in the heights; like it's hovering above all places. While that sounds accurate in most of their music, it's easy to see how the warmth and uniqueness of Los Angeles, their current residence, has seeped into much of their latest album.
In May of 2015, Made In Heights released their sophomore album Without My Enemy What Would I Do. Listen to the album using the Spotify player below. You can also download the album on iTunes or Bandcamp.
The album is a beautiful mix of pop, hip-hop and R&B. Saba crafts such perfect beats that are minimal yet full. It takes substantial sophistication to pull that off and when it's done right, you know it. His tracks dance in perfect harmony with Bulkin's thoughtful and evocative lyrics, where one creates space for the other to expand then recede, allowing the choreography to continue playfully and with precision.
It's hard to keep from smiling while listening to this album, especially when it begins with a clip of Bulkin laughing in the studio during a recording. The opening track Death builds nicely and exemplifies the "dance" I mentioned previously. Mantis gives an obvious nod to Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time while Lunette has a familiar sound, as if they had just listened to Janet Jackson's Janet album before putting pen to paper. Another standout track is Murakami with its soft, bouncing melody and drop teases. Wait for it! I've constantly got lyrics from the ever-catchy Pop It In 2 in my head and my cats freak out every time I play Cry because of the guttural, animalistic sounds that bookend the track.
Assuming I'm able to narrow down the list of phenomenal albums that have already dropped in 2015, I'll be posting a best-of list before the end of the year and you can bet Without My Enemy What Would I Do by Made In Heights will be on that list.