Certain musicians are blessed with the ability to hear, see, feel, or taste music, a variant of the neurological condition known as synesthesia.

While you don't need to have synesthesia in order to be a great musician, there seems to be a significant correlation between musicians capable of creating exceptionally impactful tunes and those who perceive sound in color. Here are some of the most noteworthy musicians with synesthesia:

Frank Ocean

Anyone who's heard Frank Ocean's Blonde knows that the album exists in more than one dimension, and this isn't an accident. Ocean sees colors associated with his music, and his album Channel Orange was inspired by the color he saw when he first fell in love (which was, obviously, orange).

Pink Matter www.youtube.com


Extra Minutes | How Lorde sees sound as colour www.youtube.com

Lorde has described synesthesia as a driving force behind all her music, and like Ocean, she has sound-to-color synesthesia, which means all music has a color in her mind. "If a song's colors are too oppressive or ugly, sometimes I won't want to work on it," she once told MTV. "When we first started 'Tennis Court' we just had that pad playing the chords, and it was the worst textured tan colour, like really dated, and it made me feel sick, and then we figured out that prechorus and I started the lyric, and the song changed to all these incredible greens overnight!"

Lorde - Green Light www.youtube.com

Stevie Wonder

Even though he's blind, the musical legend and innovator Stevie Wonder can see the colors of his music in his head, which might explain why his music sounds so vast and rich.

Stevie Wonder - Moon Blue www.youtube.com

Billy Joel

The "Piano Man" singer can see the colors of the music that he plays, and it sounds like his perception is influenced by tempo and mood. "When I think of different types of melodies which are slower or softer, I think in terms of blues or greens," he said. "When I [see] a particularly vivid color, it is usually a strong melodic, strong rhythmic pattern which emerges at the same time," he said. "When I think of these songs, I think of vivid reds, oranges, and golds."

Billy Joel - Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (Official Audio) www.youtube.com

Kanye West

The brilliant musician and recently born-again Christian once said that all his music has a visual component. "Everything I sonically make is a painting," he said. "I see it. I see the importance and the value of everyone being able to experience a more beautiful life."

Kanye West - All Of The Lights ft. Rihanna, Kid Cudi www.youtube.com

For West, visuals need to be compatible with the colors he hears in his head. "I see music in color and shapes and all and it's very important for me when I'm performing or doing a video that the visuals match up with the music – the colors, y'know," he said. "A lot of times it's a lonely piano [that] can look like a black and white visual to fit that emotion, even though pianos are blue to me and bass and snares are white; bass lines are like dark brown, dark purple."

No Church In The Wild www.youtube.com

Pharrell Williams

The "Happy" singer (a yellow song if there ever was one) has been open about his synesthesia, and he has a very in-depth way of perceiving musical color. "There are seven basic colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet," he said. And those also correspond with musical notes…White, believe it or not, which gives you an octave is the blending of all the colors…" So that means chords would be blends of different shades, and harmonies would likely involve the blending of compatible colors. For Pharrell, synesthesia is instrumental to his creative process and to his worldview at large. "It's my only reference for understanding," he said. "I don't think I would have what some people would call talent and what I would call a gift. The ability to see and feel [this way] was a gift given to me that I did not have to have. And if it was taken from me suddenly I'm not sure that I could make music. I wouldn't be able to keep up with it. I wouldn't have a measure to understand."

Pharrell Williams - Happy (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

Duke Ellington

For the jazz great, individual notes also have different colors—but their exact shades depend on who's playing them, not the note itself. "I hear a note by one of the fellows in the band and it's one color. I hear the same note played by someone else and it's a different color," he said. In addition to associating music with colors, he also sees sound as texture. "When I hear sustained musical tones, I see just about the same colors that you do, but I see them in textures," he added. "If Harry Carney is playing, D is dark blue burlap. If Johnny Hodges is playing, G becomes light blue satin."

Duke Ellington - Blue Feeling www.youtube.com

Tori Amos

From the sound of things, Tori Amos experiences music in a very dreamlike and psychedelic way. The singer-songwriter and piano prodigy has said that songwriting feels like chasing after light. "The song appears as light filament once I've cracked it. As long as I've been doing this, which is more than 35 years, I've never seen a duplicated song structure. I've never seen the same light creature in my life. Obviously, similar chord progressions follow similar light patterns…try to imagine the best kaleidoscope ever."

16 Shades of Blue www.youtube.com

Dev Hynes

After hearing Blood Orange's saturated, vivid sonic craftsmanship, it's not hard to believe that its creator is synesthetic. However, for Dev Hynes, synesthesia isn't a walk in the park. "Imagine color streamers just bouncing around," he explained. "It's hard for me to focus at times because there's a lot of things floating around, pulling me away. Situations can become very overbearing and overwhelming."

Blood Orange - Dark & Handsome | A COLORS SHOW www.youtube.com

Charli XCX

Synesthesia helps Charli XCX curate and shape her songs, and apparently, the pop queen favors sweeter, brighter colors. "I see music in colors. I love music that's black, pink, purple or red - but I hate music that's green, yellow or brown," she said.

Charli XCX - Silver Cross [Official Audio] www.youtube.com

Mary J. Blige

"I have that condition, synesthesia. I see music in colors. That's how my synesthesia plays out," singer, rapper, actress, and legend Mary J. Blige explained succinctly.

Mary J. Blige - Be Without You (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

Marina Diamandis

The former star of Marina and the Diamonds (who now goes by only Marina) apparently can see sound as color, but she also associates certain colors with days of the week. Her synesthesia also sometimes causes her to associate music with scents. "Mine usually only expresses itself in color association but I do smell strange scents out of the blue for no reason," she's said.

MARINA - Orange Trees [Official Music Video] www.youtube.com

Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell

In Billie Eilish's technicolor universe, every sense bleeds into everything else, and things like numbers and days of the week have their own color palettes. "I think visually first with everything I do, and also I have synesthesia, so everything that I make I'm already thinking of what color it is, and what texture it is, and what day of the week it is, and what number it is, and what shape," she said in a YouTube Music video. "We both have it [she and brother, Finneas O'Connell], so we think about everything this way."

Billie Eilish - Ocean Eyes (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

Alessia Cara

Alessia Cara thought that synesthesia was just something everybody had, until she realized not everyone could see sounds. "I didn't know that synesthesia was something that was, I guess, only a thing for some people," she said. "I thought that everybody kind of experienced it. So for me, it was just a natural pairing to my music. Everything audible was visual to me, and it still is. And so I think when I write, it's kind of cool to listen back and say, 'Well, this song feels kind of purple' — if a certain drum sound sounds purple and the song feels purple, then I know that they kind of match. It just really helps me figure out the whole package of a song." And like Kanye West, her synesthesia influences her visual content. "Even with videos — it helps me figure out what I want to do music video-wise," she added. "So it's definitely a strong aspect of my writing."

Alessia Cara - Ready (Lyric Video) www.youtube.com

Franz Liszt

Synesthesia isn't reserved for 20th and 21st century legends. Many classical musicians possessed synesthetic abilities, such as the composer Franz Liszt, who apparently used to ask orchestra members to make their tone qualities "bluer" and would say things like, "That is a deep violet, please, depend on it! Not so rose!" While orchestra members thought he was joking, they soon realized that the musician could actually see colors in the music he created.

Franz Liszt - Liebestraum - Love Dream www.youtube.com


Danny Brown Has Room To Stretch On "uknowhatimsayin¿"

Brown's fifth studio album, executive-produced by Q-Tip, keeps his oddball persona intact set against a new and challenging sonic foundation.

Xavi Torrent/WireImage

It's dizzying enough to watch Danny Brown come down from the lunacy of Atrocity Exhibition. But its starling to watch him land on the deeply different uknowhatimsayin¿.

Three years have passed since the Detroit rapper's 2016 spastic opus, an engaging and enticingly spiky summation of Brown as an artist, from his choice of producers and collaborators down to his own oddball inventiveness. The genre-crushing punk-rap that Danny Brown aligns himself with is aesthetically exhausting, but his raw power as a performer makes it an enthralling show.

So the idea of the guy who made Atrocity Exhibition making an album with the legendary Q-Tip might come as a bit of a surprise. Q-Tip is the executive producer of uknowhatimsayin¿, credited with producing three songs himself on the album liner notes alongside Jpegmafia, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, experimental jazz outfit Standing on the Corner, and Danny Brown-mainstay Paul White. This new studio line-up would be an excitingly jarring group on their own, but with Danny Brown at the helm, it's a straight-up mystery what this album's going to sound like before you start it.

As it turns out, uknowhatimsayin¿ is both the sparsest and most cerebral Danny Brown project to come out yet. The lyrics circle familiar themes for Brown: violence, drugs, and some of the more bizarre sex stories put to record: the character of Danny Brown—the one he's been building for years—remains consistent from past projects. But his yelping flow and caustic bars are planted in more sanguine soundscapes, resulting in the chamber-pop waltz-iness in "Theme Song" or the muted wind-up punch of "Belly of the Beast."

Danny Brown - Dirty Laundry www.youtube.com

Brown sounds a bit like a bull in a china shop around all this delicacy, and his jagged persona flexes against the constraints: "High Tide, Gain off the Arm and Hammer / Swim towards the current, system try to drown me / stain your record like Clorox 'n' darks," he raps on "Dirty Laundry" a grimy and jokey confessional track over a foreboding, nearly-haunting instrumental. But the extra room gives Brown a chance to experiment. The album's highlights come when Brown's storytelling and wordplay feel comfortable enough to take up space. "Best Life" and album closer "Combat" sound like Brown truly improvising, letting the album taking shape around him rather than melting into the noise-rap he's known for.

Danny Brown is still weird as hell, but he's also an arresting performer willing to take risks. It's the production and his bars that do most of the heavy lifting here, so uknowhatimsayin¿ comes off like Brown's referendum on himself, a chance to turn inward and challenge his own abilities. The manic howl of his past projects has been tamped down in favor of a more laid-back, contemplative sound, probably in no small part due to Q-Tip's presence. It's a slower project, but that deliberate pace lets Brown's rhymes breathe, spotlighting his technical ability rather than just his prodigious energy. Danny Brown is still disarmingly off-kilter, the result of the experiment is uneven, but the experiment is enough on its own.


Blood Orange's "Angel's Pulse" Mixtape Is a Colorful Coda to "Negro Swan"

Pulse is minimalist but carries a message, beckoning listeners to figure themselves out while he's also trying to self-reflect.

Last year Blood Orange (né Dev Hynes) released the acclaimed Negro Swan, a stream of consciousness that served as a treatise on identity politics.

He explored what it meant to be black and depressed in a heteronormative society that seemingly rejects those who are different. On his new release, the Angel's Pulse mixtape, he continues his existential journey with 30+ new minutes that complement his catalogue like a colorful, free-flowing coda.

Like on Swan, Hynes fuses elements of R&B, hip-hop, and alt-pop to create tracks that are chillwave-adjacent. On board lending their talents are Toro y Moi, Kelsey Lu, Ian Isiah, Project Pat, Gangsta Boo, Tinashe, Porches, Arca, Joba of Brockhampton, Justine Skye, and BennY RevivaL, but the production and mixing are all Hynes's unique voice and flow.

"I put as much work and care into it as I do with the albums I've released, but for some reason trained myself into not releasing things the rate at which I make them. I'm older now though, and life is unpredictable and terrifying," said Hynes in a statement.

Pulse is minimalist but carries a message, beckoning listeners to figure themselves out while he's also trying to self-reflect. "What is it you notice all that way down? Our vacant sounds can help you figure it out," he sings on "Baby Florence (Figure)."

His ideas may individually seem like abstracts, but Pulse is an introspective downtempo collection that casts a much wider net, navigating pain, a broken heart, confusion, and the fear of lost connection. On "Tuesday Feeling (Choose to Stay)," he laments choosing "to ignore blues," while feeling scattered and misunderstood. "I want the lifestyle for free, I want the p**sy for free, an arm around me to grieve, a sleep without sweat and me, my self doubts in a tweet, my mood rests on coffee, try to understand me."

As with past releases, he's anxious about merely existing, yet confronts those feelings of unrest head on. On "Happiness," he asks, "How do you know when life will choose to fade away? How do you know if you've been wrong?" Fifteen years and five releases later, Hynes is still searching for meaning and answers in these tumultuous times.

Blood Orange records have always been about stepping out and owning one's differences. Musically, his mellow, moody beats and macro concepts make him a standout, yet thematically Hynes appears uncertain and wavering...and it's a relief to hear someone cop to that. On the mixtape's closer, "Today," he sings, "Loose touch and confidence never seems the same, eyesight stays clearer when selfishness became number one and chewing gum you were afraid, big mistake in stepping out...Nothing good today."

Hynes has always boldly represented himself with his originality, lush melodies, and poignant creative direction, never failing to unravel new layers of himself, both sonically and spiritually. On Pulse, Hynes proves to be the genre-spanning auteur we always knew he was. By continuing to focus on his insecurities and anxieties, he shows us that everyone—everything—is a work in progress and that recognizing imperfection is our greatest strength.

Angel's Pulse


7 artists you can’t miss at FYF 2017

MUSIC | We spent some time looking at the lineup so you don't have to

"... I was blown away by the music I heard, and wished I had put some more thought into the experience."

At age 15 in I went to my first music festival - First City Festival in Monterey, CA. It took place days before I started my sophomore year of high school, in August of 2013. I was going with my dad and my twin brother as a summer send off. I still think that the lineup is one of the best in the last decade - the only problem being that I wasn't ready for it.

I knew some of the bigger names at the festival - like Modest Mouse, MGMT, and Washed Out - but I didn't really know any of the other names, many of which are some of my favorite artists today. I didn't spend much time looking at the lineup beforehand, and when I got to the festival I was blown away by the music I heard, and wished I had put some more thought into the experience. The lineup, with names like Beach House, Devendra Banhart, Avey Tare, and Father John Misty is a lineup I would kill for now. I spent some time on the FYF 2017 lineup to tell you some bands to look out for, to save you the time.

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Listen to Blondie’s collaboration with Blood Orange “Long Time”

The newest single from the New Yorkers upcoming album Pollinator

"Long Time", a four-minute long pop dream, is the latest taste of Blondie's upcoming release Pollinator. The track is penned by none other than Blood Orange's Devonte Hynes and is, no doubt, a partial homage to "Heart of Glass." It is a modern take that still pays tribute to the enduring icon status of Blondie.

Pollinator is set to be host for some pretty exciting guests, including Laurie Anderson, Joan Jett, the Smiths' Johnny Marr, Charli XCX, Sia, TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, and the Strokes' Nick Valensi. The previous singles include "My Monster" featuring Marr and Sitek collaboration "Fun."

For a band's 11th addition to their already extensive discography, these songs are just as jam-packed with classic riffs as any Blondie song ever. Last year, Chris Stein told Consequence of Sound about their old-school approach to Pollinator: "The last two records before this were a little more electronic and computer-based, but this one is more organic and very much band-based, a little more old-school."

Blondie are set to tour with Garbage this year – catch tickets to their NYC show on August 1 at Beacon Theatre here.

Pollinator is out May 5. You can pre-order it here.


Popdust's Top 20 Albums of 2016

On their final end-of-year list, our music writers highlight the year's best albums.

Popdust's E.R. Pulgar and Jason Scott wrap their Best of 2016 series with the release of their final scorecard: albums.

Despite streaming biting into digital downloads and sales figures, the album remains a stalwart reminder of the throbbing beat of creativity and storytelling. This year alone, major releases from Beyoncé to Miranda Lambert left indelible marks on the industry, further proving that full-length records are still viable and necessary placements of our cultural heritage. Read on for our picks for the 20 Best Albums of 2016, and we welcome personal attacks and shoulder shrugs in the comments.

Also, check out Popdust's reads of Best Songs of 2016 and Best EPs & Mixtapes of 2016.

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