Issue #126: Our Generation by Tokio Myers

August 13, 2018

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Our Generation by Tokio Myers
Released On November 17, 2017
Released By Syco Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Chelsea Kostrey

The first time Tokio Myers caught my attention, I was watching Britain’s Got Talent with my flatmates in London. We were all having a bit of an off day, and we were just watching the auditions hoping for some light distraction. His audition was anything but light. It was one of the most unforgettable, talented, creative performances I had ever seen, and I was left in tears afterwards. Not only by how brilliant the performance was, but the story behind how he got there was so uplifting.

As a child, he was given a piano to keep him out of trouble in his neighbourhood, and he spoke about how having that piano and that outlet really gave him a space to channel his energy and emotions. I know many people view talent shows as cop-outs or view the artists that come from them not as “real” as an artist that didn’t have that exposure. That view needs to change. How else do people get discovered these days? YouTube, American Idol, The Voice, Britain/America’s Got Talent, et cetera. I could go on! All of these are perfect platforms for people to be seen, be heard, and get themselves out there, where they maybe wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Many artists in this day and age have been winners or runner-ups in many of these competitions and I think it is amazing that their talent has been shared with the world in that way. If it weren’t for Britain’s Got Talent, I would have never discovered Tokio Myers and that would have been a real shame.

With that in mind, the title of the album could not have been more perfect. This music speaks to a generation, one that cares about music, that cares about people. A generation that wants to be accepted for whoever they are.
The music on this album is so powerful and, if I’m being honest, has moved me to tears a few more times than I’d like to admit. What he does with mixing tracks together, layering the beats, finding the right lyrics — it’s all mind blowing. “Bloodstream,” one of my very favourite tracks, pulls this off in spades. The underlying emotions and the musicality all builds to a crescendo and when the beat hits — wow! Over and over and over again I’ve listened to it… and still, it gives me chills each time.

Album number two from Tokio can’t come soon enough for me!

Chelsea Kostrey (@chelseakostrey)
Retrophile & Festival Enthusiast

Reality show winner blending two pious musical genres into a unified sonic dogma.

Rarely have I come across an album that has so firmly planted one foot in the past and one in the present. It’s what caught (and held) my attention when I explored Our Generation this week. More specifically, it’s true on both macrocosmic and microcosmic levels: the record as a whole exists in both worlds, as does its individual songs. You’ve got gorgeous piano ballads next to electronic music, and you’ve even got tracks that either oscillate between the two or combine them. As a result, I found the album jarring and confused on my first listen. It wasn’t until I gave the album a second and third try that I started to understand what Tokio Myers was trying to do. (I hope, anyway. It is, after all, a bit presumptuous to suggest that.) Of course, Myers’ cover — “update” seems like a more appropriate term, actually — of “Children” makes perfect sense in the context of this record, and it’s probably why it’s one of my two favorites (the other is the delicate and stunningly beautiful “Limitless“). Its arena-esque piano motif has been carefully augmented with some new production to fit modern times without simply following trends. It certainly would’ve been easy, and maybe even tempting, to add a few dubstep drops and call it a day. It might’ve been a big hit by going that route. But that doesn’t seem like the point of Our Generation. I get the sense that Myers wants to bring his classical training to an audience that wouldn’t otherwise hear it, or even care. In that context, the album’s title comes off as a bit defensive – like he’s saying, “Yeah, us millennials like Marshmello, but we also like Chopin”. I like both of those, too. That’s probably why I enjoyed this.

Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That

Sometimes when our daughters laugh my husband looks at me, finger pointed, eyes creased with the knowing of human nature. He tells me these beautiful creatures who I made before I knew him carry the weight of my expressions on their faces, the clumsiness of my DNA in the way they drop their Hatchimals before they sit down on the couch. Part of the beauty for him in being a stepfather is reading me, I think, in our daughters and seeing how they take that and morph it into something completely and utterly their own. If the name itself didn’t pull me into that thinking, the incredible collaboration of sound on Our Generation would have pulled me into that mindset. Presented here with deft finesse is a merger of two opposing sounds, classical piano overlaid with synthy pop and circumstance. Myers takes these two ends of the spectrum and, rather than highlighting the distance between, uses the two to pull up the best in each, never shirking away from what he’s doing, but tossing it up in the air like it’s the most natural marriage ever displayed on an album. The gravity associated with classical pieces, demure ones at that, anchors the effervescent synth sounds, giving the synth musical credibility while pulling the classical pieces squarely into the 21st century. From the swelling tides that piano and chorus singing can give a song, triumph and beauty underwrite the album, so the familiar becomes a touchstone upon which the listener can identify with Myers and follow when he makes these elements totally his own.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

This record blew me away. I can say with complete certainty that Our Generation is in my top five favorite records that we’ve ever covered on OYR. I say this all the time, but usually when you’re listening to something where the genre is indefinable, you’re probably listening to something great, and that’s what Tokio Myers delivers here. The entire album is incredibly dynamic, often changing tempo and rhythm at a moment’s notice (see “Mercy” and “To Be Loved“). “Angel” is what R&B music should be — real instruments and melodies, as opposed to the muffled OVO sound that tricks you into thinking that the artist can actually sing. I have no idea about Myers’ background, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find some sort of classical training in that background. The string arrangements throughout the record are stunning, and many of the tracks move like classical pieces. For example, “Pursuit Of Happiness” has all the trappings of a modern day mini-concerto. Our Generation is flat-out impressive from start to finish, and Myers should be incredibly proud of the work.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

The list of albums that make me ugly cry used to be limited to the entire Dido discography, but now I’m adding Our Generation by Tokio Myers into the mix. The music itself is so moving that I find myself almost disregarding the lyrics altogether, unlike Dido where the lyrics mean everything. So… I’m left wondering exactly which element is making me Dido level cry? If I had to bet on it, I’d say it’s the sheer exhilaration of modern music elements blending seamlessly with classically trained unyielding musical talent. We get so much disposable music nowadays that whenever you do hear something extraordinary, it becomes all the more powerful but that’s not to say that this album is opportunistic and therefore undeserving of my praise. On the contrary, Our Generation by Tokio Myers is without a doubt the best classical meets contemporary album I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. Featuring various cameos by well-respected musicians, Myers’ delivers something entirely unique and dynamic to the mainstream, which I’m sure we can all agree is a breath of fresh air. As fluttering classical piano transforms, itself into huge sweeping electric synth lines with larger than life accompaniments, Our Generation is without a doubt in my mind a modern masterpiece. We can only hope that Myers has changed the tides of popular music and raised the bar for other deserving talent to follow.

Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making

Click here to watch the lustrous video for “Angel.”

With Tokio finding the answer to his lyrical query within the instruments around him.

When you carry a stage name like Tokio Myers, it wouldn’t be absurd for future audiences to potentially assume a more commonplace birth name hidden beneath. That said, Myers wasn’t exactly born John Doe but rather, one, Torville Jones. While Jones is no one-of-a-kind last name, it’s almost a shame Torville didn’t stick or wasn’t used for Myers’ stage presence in some way. I guess it didn’t give off enough trendy potential to match Myers’ classical and electronic fusion style. In any case, whether Torville or Tokio, Myers is hardly a lost face in the musical crowd, thanks to his breakout win on the 2017 run of Britain’s Got Talent. Normally, the kind of genre mixing and cover vs. original composition approach taken by artists comes with higher risk, as the mental and emotional bond that forms with original bands takes a lesser priority. People will likely first think of whomever initially performed or recorded a song and then need to connect with the new iteration at hand. However, the way Our Generation plays out, Myers makes it clear the music he covered wasn’t simply going to be recorded using the piano and be done with it. There’s careful thought and much more than a single instrument swap that goes into Myers’ interpretations of songs like The Weeknd’s “Angel” and “Children,” the 1995 song by late techno/electronica artist, Robert Miles. For the former in particular, while Myers retains the 1980s-esque reverb and delay dressed, slow pulsing drum hits among his higher octave flourishes on the piano, the introduction of a children’s choir to sing the refrain at the climax (“I hope you find somebody to love”) gives the song a more innocently optimistic feel, as opposed to one of resignation coated in despondence, as so many of The Weeknd’s songs are. There are moments, like the lead single, “Bloodstream,” that leave Our Generation looking like the television show piece is somewhat is, since despite its fluid execution and classical to modern pop transition (Debussy mashes up with Ed Sheeran quite nicely), there’s that inevitable aspect of deliberate commercial appeal. And while I can appreciate Myers’ performative skill on this and similar cuts, it’s the originals like “Baltimore” and the sheer piano driven pieces like “Polaroid” that pack more of a punch — at least in terms of thinking, “this is what he can do and who he is.” “Polaroid” is hardly the busiest or flashiest of the tracks but there’s a contemplative nature to its longer periods of rest and gently unfurled notes. As an aside to that, kudos to the engineer who mic’ed and mixed the piano across the record. There is a real symphonic color to the end tone heard the album and when there isn’t much else going on around it, the tone of a piano can immensely affect the way a pianist’s style comes across to a new listener, even if all the notes are played flawlessly. (Just think of a dry toned and closed lid upright piano, only mic’ed from the front, versus an open lid grand piano with a mic placed right above the strings and one placed as an overhead.) Regardless of whether the world would have ever seen this work with or without the help of Britain’s Got Talent, the quality in all of Our Generation‘s elements — artistic performance, sound recording, composition, and arrangement — are extremely well done and make for an applaudable listening experience. It is unobtrusive enough to be calming background music but also stylistically diverse enough to prompt further exploration of artists that mix the likes of classical composition, dub, synth pop, and hip-hop. And in the UK, seeing these styles together in one list of influences is less unexpected than one might think.

Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time lately with soundtracks to films I haven’t seen. This habit is new enough that it still feels a little strange to be listening without (or before) watching, but there’s also something thrilling about it. You’re flying blind, in a way. There’s a peculiar sense of freedom there — to react and feel things that could be way off-base but are still true to you. Jonny Greenwood’s Bodysong soundtrack was recently reissued on vinyl, and I picked up a copy. I haven’t seen the BAFTA-winning documentary of the same name, but the soundtrack has been on my radar for a few years thanks to a 45 I was gifted. I’ve also gotten heavy into Greenwood’s Phantom Thread score; I think I heard it four or five times before I finally saw the film. The 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack is the latest, and while I’m ashamed to say I’ve never sat down and watched, listening is good fun all the same. Our Generation may not be a soundtrack, but it scans like one. The sequencing feels episodic, like distinct worlds are beginning and ending with each track. And the scope certainly feels cinematic. Tokio Myers and Greenwood have that in common — an expansive toolkit that allows them to weave together more (and more diverse) elements than many composers would be able pull off. You could hand them an 8.5×11 sheet of paper and they’d paint you something very pretty, but give them the space to stretch out and they’ll truly take your breath away. There are so many wonderfully huge moments on Our Generation, and they land squarely with or without consideration of an accompanying narrative. It’s got me thinking my new habit might not be so strange.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

If you look in the file of things I prefer to ignore, you wouldn’t have to dig far to find TV talent shows like American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent. Look a little further and you might spot that ginger-haired purveyor of pap, Ed Sheeran. The fact that both are in the background of Tokio Myers debut album from last year may be why I paid it little mind, even though Spotify served it to me in more than one Discover Weekly playlist. Its presence there was likely brought on my love of Process by Sampha, which mines some similar veins and was my #8 record of 2017. Like Sampha, Myers has both instrumental and production skills, and in fact had classical training at the Royal College of Music. Unlike Sampha, who has a beautiful voice, Myers doesn’t sing at all, lending Our Generation a bit of grab-bag feel as there are vocal tracks featuring a variety of singers mixed with instrumental pieces focusing on his florid piano. Several of the songs are covers as well, making Myers a throwback to pianists of another era (like Oscar Levant), taking popular melodies and transforming them with techniques from the Romantic composers. In some cases, like with the tragically bad Children by Robert Miles, he improves them infinitely; in others, like The Weeknd’s Angel, he doesn’t add much, but it makes for a pleasant listen with a bit of an emotional tug. Some of that push toward “all the feels” seems manipulative, with a children’s choir appearing more than once. But Myers, along with his main collaborators, Craigie Dodds and Guy Farley, carve out a distinctive niche of cinematic sound that is in a way a commentary on the state of other genres, like EDM, pop, and R&B. The man’s talent is huge and it’s anybody’s guess where he goes next — and you can be sure that I won’t ignore it then the next time Spotify points him in my direction!

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

Few artists are able to bridge the gap successfully between classical music and arrangement and more modern, urban, styles. Yet when you listen to a track like “Bloodstream” by Tokio Myers, what you hear is a patient and meandering emotional intro by a classically trained musician which leads into a hard-hitting and uncompromising section featuring basslines and percussion which suggests that minimalist melancholy isn’t enough. You could argue that the vocal guest spots which feature notable musicians such as Ed Sheehan are wholly unnecessary and indeed take away something from the record’s strong points. “Limitless,” for example, is a simple and heartfelt melody which doesn’t rely on the drama of layer upon layer of instrumentation. A simple piano increasing in complexity over time builds to a quiet and reflective moment before once again descending into emotional complexity. Like most classical music experiences, it benefits from incredible arrangement and emotional sincerity. With some musicians, there are times when you’d just like to drag them aside and encourage them to acknowledge the aspects of their music that they do best. One doesn’t need to necessarily indulge all desires simultaneously and tracks like “Mercy” and “To Be Loved” explore everything from R&B to dubstep, completely ignoring the delicate mastery of tracks like “Children (Interlude).” I would never be one to fault someone for being innovative but throughout listening to Our Generation, I was struck by the sense that its strongest points were the least mainstream-focused. If the addition of urban music styles was added to ensure a certain cross-over appeal, it certainly works. But I can’t wait to hear what he does when he feels he no longer needs that.

Darryl Wright (@punksteez)
Lovechild Of The Music & Technology Marriage

Myers is hardly the first to mix classical & electronica, but his approach is utterly unique & unbelievably sublime.

Britain’s Got Talent winner Tokio Myers is probably famous in certain circles, but he’s certainly off my radar, as I pay pretty much zero attention to musical reality shows — other than Kelly Clarkson, One Direction, and Adam Lambert’s time as the singer for Queen, I’m pretty much clueless about every artist that’s come out of the TV genre’s two-decade history. Therefore, when I put Our Generation on, I had no idea what to expect. I was surprised to discover a brief instrumental opening track focused on piano, which straddled the line between smooth jazz and almost sonata-like classical playing. That opener, “Red,” is slightly overproduced, but its pleasant qualities are more than enough to make it an enjoyable listen. I found this to be the case for Myers’ music at every point on the album in which the production was smart enough to get out of the way of Myers’ piano. The man can really play, and it’s obvious from the less flashy numbers, like “Limitless” and “Polaroid.” At other times, it seems that the flashier elements of Myers’ music, which surely appealed to the reality show crowd, sorta get in the way. The cover of The Weeknd’s “Angel” worked for me at first, but got too overwrought at the end. There’s obvious creativity in his big reality-TV hit, “Bloodstream,” which mixes Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” with an Ed Sheeran song, but I’m not entirely stoked about the electro-symphonic crescendo at the end of the song — I think I just appreciate slightly more understated versions of this style of music. I will definitely give Myers credit for “Mercy,” a song I found enjoyable in a Play-era Moby-ish fashion. Then I checked the liner notes and realized that prewar blues singer Vera Hall, who was extensively sampled for Moby’s “Natural Blues,” was also the source of the vocal sample on “Mercy.” Clearly, the mental connection was no coincidence, but Myers’ take on the Moby style here works well, so more power to him. “Children” is another in a similar vein; this is apparently a cover of an Italian trance song, and Myers’ approach works well with it. The album’s title track might be my favorite; its ambient atmosphere is made up mostly of humming synths, swelling strings, and wordless vocals. The end result is a beautiful listening experience which has obvious life-soundtracking qualities but can sit at the forefront of your attention with equally pleasant results. The same can be said for the vast majority of this pleasant soundtrack for a relaxing evening.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

Bear with me here this week, Tokio Myers’ Our Generation is a great listen but it’s going to take me a minute before I get to it. The other week I made a mention of a playlist I’d made to put on at work. I didn’t dive too deeply into the specifics of which artists made the cut, but it probably goes without saying that, as a part of my never-ending quest to spread the gospel of artists that I personally believe don’t get the recognition they deserve, I try to include as many little name artists as possible. I’m sure you’ve done the exact same thing yourself. However, when you work with a staff of over 100 people, sometimes you have to keep the masses happy by including… well, the stuff listened to by the masses. This is by no means a way for me to throw shade in the direction of modern popular artists, but at the same time how will anyone ever discover new music if you’re stuck listening to the same company-approved Pandora or Spotify stations? So my approach to making a work-friendly playlist has sort of become one big “recommended if you like” project. The premise is simple enough: play a hit song that everybody knows, and follow it up with a similar sounding song that may not have the same Billboard Chart presence. This isn’t always the easiest task because there’s no guarantee that it’ll work for everyone, but it’s better than the alternatives of either playing solely stuff that no one has ever heard of and everyone complaining about it, or playing radio edits of Invasion Of Privacy non-stop and… everyone complaining about it. Which finally brings me to Tokio Myers. Our Generation is a gem, bouncing between classically-driven piano suites and fuzzy pop bangers. A song like “Angel” with its repeated motif of “I hope you find somebody to love” could easily slide between Charli XCX (who, as many think-pieces have pointed out, in spite of a fairly successful string of pop singles still seems to be just out of reach of actual pop star status) and Fall Out Boy (my punk credibility be damned, those guys know how to write an arena-ready anthem) on my aforementioned playlist. I know this because I’ve already added “Angel,” and “Baltimore” to it. Much to his credit, Myers is more than just a collaborative happy pianist. He’s still an accomplished musician on his own and the next calming/nighttime playlist I create will likely include “Polaroid” among its tracks. For the time being though, I’ll fully admit I am more drawn to the dance floor ready beats of Our Generation‘s louder moments if only because they’re exactly what I’ve been looking for in pop music.

Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie

I want to express how much I enjoyed the album Our Generation by discussing the songs “Children (Interlude)” and the song that comes after it on the album, “Children.” The interlude, which serves as an introduction to the song itself, presents the main riff in an all-piano-and-only-piano setting, which is absolutely gorgeous. And then it goes into the song itself and I can literally feel it kick into high gear when the rhythm comes in on the drums. It goes from “Ah, what a soothing melody” to “Whoa, the beat underneath that soothing melody is making me want to dance.” These are the two emotions I found myself bouncing between: awe at how gorgeous a single piano can sound by itself, and inspired into motion by that same melody played over a beat. And I truly loved both feelings, so it was a pleasure to move between them so much. To have all of this on your debut album is amazing and inspiring. I will look forward to many more great things by this incredibly talented musician.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

I find myself thinking about the concept of coloring outside the lines while listening to Our Generation. I don’t mean in the super vague, but complimentary way that goes hand-in-hand with “thinking outside the box.” No, it’s bigger than that. It’s almost as if Tokio Myers has two distinct coloring books in front of him, one for classical, one for electronica, and each has their own unique colors and tools. I don’t believe he would disregard the pre-designed pictures to fill in, nor would I think he would just haphazardly draw in and around them. No, this music is way to meticulous — not one organic note or sound manipulation sounds of out of place throughout the entire record. There’s structure in his approach, but structure that’s hard to imagine in this sense. My best guess for his process would be that he has both coloring books open at once, and is filling out one on top of the other. As he looks at the shapes and outlines of the classical book, he copies it and fills it in over-top of the electronica blueprint with both tools, leading to something completely unique. Sure, at times the sections will overlap and we’ll get something either vaguely memorable or distinctly familiar, but for the most part, we’re left with a hodge-podge concoction that looks like divergent without context, and innovative when taking a step back. Songs like “Children” soar in this sense, feeling like different songs throughout even though clearly connected by a pliant melody. It’s just as home in the opening of a Bond movie as it is in a late night club, an ornate concert hall, or a simple piano bar, and it should considering he used colors from all worlds to paint the song. Somber at times, thematic at others, Myers is able to stretch the limits of acceptable electronica and classical in a way that evokes pioneers in each field, from Moby to Roger Redgate, and the end result is simply breathtaking, an aural adventure everyone needs to embark on, maybe even while coloring something yourself. Don’t worry if you get outside the lines at times — perhaps your brain is just imposing its own image onto the blueprint just like Tokio Myers.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
…To Reduce The Choir To One Soloist by Acme
Chosen By Drew Necci

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Hannah Angst, Laura Burroughs, Erin Calvert, Catherine Dempsey, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Dustin Gates, Kira Grunenberg, Davy Jones, Chelsea Kostrey, Steve Lampiris, David Munro, Drew Necci, Jeremy Shatan, & Darryl Wright

Logo By Matt Klimas


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