July 12, 2009
So you’re like me, and you have a soft spot for old school electropop with some disco tendencies, but considering how many bands are filling the world’s need for this kind of music, you may think, “Do we really need one more band like that?” Then you find a really good one and you might as well have asked, “Does the world really need one more flower?” After a most unpromising opener, “Orange Shirt,” New York City based Discovery, featuring members of Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend, won me over with tracks like “Osaka Loop Line” and especially “Carby,” easily the highlight of the album. There’s also an inventive electronic cover of the Jacksons’ “I Want You Back,” which will probably draw a number of listeners to LP by itself. The record’s sound, which sometimes recalls the Tom Tom Club, is nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it’s just creative and fun enough to merit a listen. Plus, can there be too many summer pop soundtracks to your life, particularly one that doesn’t stick around long enough to wear out its welcome, clocking in at just under half an hour? Well, okay, maybe, but this is pretty good just the same. Standout cuts: “Osaka Loop Line,” “Swing Tree,” “Carby” and “I Want You Back.”
May 24, 2009
Last year, I referred to Beach House’s album Devotion as “David Lynch movie music,” which I defined as being “beautiful, dreamily paced, sometimes eerie sounding…” Brooklyn based trio Au Revoir Simone’s first couple of albums certainly fell into that category, and unsurprisingly, they accompanied Lynch on a few of his readings for his last book tour. (Lynch has referred to their band and their music as “Innocent, hip and new.”) To some degree, Still Night, Still Life is more of the same, waif-like vocals, dream pop and folk melded with sometimes lushly produced, sometimes minimalist electropop. There are some subtle changes, however, as the band has added some hard edges to their music here and there, and lyrically, the songs are decidedly more sophisticated than innocent, concerned as they are with the hard reality of relationships, the consequences of some personal choices, and the resistance of some to face the future, owing to the past: “I’m moving on / I hope you’re coming with me…” The best material may be featured in the first half of the album, but in general, Still Night, Still Light is filled with lovely, often captivating music, and is a solid follow up to their breakthrough album, The Bird Of Music. Standout cuts: “Another Likely Story,” “Shadows,” “Knight Of Wands” and “Trace A Line.”
May 20, 2009
The debut LP from Boston based band Passion Pit arrives with a lot of “album of the year” hype, the sort of hype that can work for or against artists. I was very much looking forward to hearing this album, at any rate, and while I liked a lot of it, I’m pretty sure this isn’t an album of the year, at least for me. That said, I did like a good portion of the album a lot. Passion Pit melds together 80’s synthpop, modern electropop, indie guitar rock and a healthy dollop of disco with falsetto vocals and the occasional children’s chorus to create often densely layered songs. When it works, it really works, resulting in exuberant pop like “Moth’s Wings,” my favorite track on the album, or tracks like “The Reeling,” “Sleepyhead” or “Swimming In The Flood.” Other tracks on Manners aren’t necessarily bad, but they frequently lack the sort of invigorating kick that the music on Cut Copy’s In Ghost Colours or Ladyhawke’s self-titled debut has, or the soaring starry-eyed brainy delirium found on Kelley Polar’s I Need You to Hold on While the Sky Is Falling. All that said, I recommend that synthpop and electropop fans give Manners a listen just the same, as this album may just be right up your alley.
May 6, 2009
I have nothing against Lady Gaga, but frankly, after listening to I Feel Cream, the new album from Berlin based American electroclash musician Peaches, it’s a little hard to take her seriously. Though I Feel Cream takes a while to really catch fire, despite the early appearance of the first single, “Talk To Me” (on which Peaches shows she can really sing), once the album does get started four tracks in with “More”, it makes Lady Gaga’s songs sound like the slickly made top 40 throwaways they mostly are. Peaches’s songs, by comparison, feel raw, effortlessly sexy and most of all, positively adult in their wit and sophistication. She works with a number of different collaborators this time out, primarily with Simian Mobile Disco, and the result is a bit more poppy than her past efforts, but still as entertaining and as playfully edgy as electroclash gets. I Feel Cream is by no means her masterwork, but it’s great fun to listen to for the most part. Standout cuts: “Talk To Me,” “More,” “I Feel Cream” and “Mommy Complex.”
April 15, 2009
With her striking second album, Two Suns, Bat For Lashes (Natasha Khan) puts her own gloss on musical territory mined by the likes of Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel, Bjork and P.J. Harvey. The result is eclectic, high gloss electropop, with some world music flourishes as well as nods to 80’s synthpop and 90’s trip hop. While most of Two Suns is alluring and often quite arresting and beautiful, there are a couple of tracks that could have used some fleshing out, “Peace Of Mind” and “The Big Sleep” in particular, which start out in promising ways but end too soon. In general, however, the commitment to relative brevity (none of the songs crack the five minute mark, and most of them hover around four minutes) works in the album’s favor, as Khan has crafted the best of the material here into densely packed, shimmering little gems. Standout cuts: “Glass,” “Daniel,” “Siren Song” and “Two Planets.”
March 31, 2009
For a band whose lead singer, Emily Haines, was ready to stop writing when she sojourned to Argentina last year, Toronto based Metric (Haines, Jimmy Shaw, Joshua Winstead, and Joules Scott-Key) has never sounded better, and with Fantasies, they make yet another huge leap forward. Whereas previous albums had their highs and lows, Fantasies is one continuous, feverish high. The songs are anxious, troubled, troubling and possessed of a quiet (and sometimes not so quiet, as on tracks like “Sick Muse,” “Twilight Galaxy,” “Gold Guns Girls” and the closer “Stadium Love”) ferocity not seen in this measure or with this level of intensity previously in their work. Is this their masterwork? I certainly hope not, as I fully expect they’ll just continue to get better, but for now, Fantasies is a stunningly good, absolutely satisfying mix of electropop with some hard edged rock. The experience of listening to the album from end to end is fairly exhilarating, and when it’s all over, there’s a genuine feeling of having been transported somewhere unique and compelling. The very best material is weighted towards the first half, but this is a pretty great record all around, and without a doubt Metric’s finest album yet. Standout cuts: “Help I’m Alive,” “Sick Muse,” “Twilight Galaxy” and “Gimme Sympathy.”
February 9, 2009
“…I am a weapon of massive consumption / And it’s not my fault, it’s how I’m programmed to function…”
UK based singer/songwriter Lily Allen’s followup to her starmaking debut, Alright Still, is more lush electropop than ska this time out, but her profane, cynical and frequently very funny worldview, delivered via her Cockney accented singing voice, is fully intact. The subject matter here is pretty much what it was on her first record, the ins and out of urban life in England (“Everyone’s At It,” “22”) and relationships, both romantic and familial, both bad and good, with a special emphasis on the bad (“Not Fair,” “Never Gonna Happen”). For such an autobiographical writer, it’s somewhat surprising, but also refreshing, that only one song, the current single “The Fear,” references Allen’s newfound fame. And it’s a good song, bitterly funny, but also catchy as all get out. It’s also indicative of the heavy emphasis on electropop this time out, though Allen changes things up from track to track, throwing in some banjo on “Not Fair,” ragtime style piano on “22” and even some accordion on “Never Gonna Happen.” Allen’s version of pop music is rousing, cheery sounding, danceable and laced with acid: She manages to sound sunny even as she berates a homophobe in “Fuck You.” There’s only one real dud, “Him,” about God, which is amusing but doesn’t really go anywhere. Whether or not Lily Allen will turn into a British version of Dorothy Parker still remains to be seen, but for the most part, It’s Not Me, It’s You is a charming, entertaining ride.
January 29, 2009
Little Boots (Victoria Hesketh) makes her American debut with her EP, Arecibo, which includes her first two UK singles, “Stuck On Repeat” and “Meddle,” along with some dynamic remixes of both tracks. “Stuck On Repeat” is firmly in Ladytron and Clinic territory, while “Meddle” is a bouncy electropop number, wherein Hesketh shows off a voice with some soul to it, not unlike Alison Moyet or Annie Lennox. They’re both solid singles, but “Meddle” leaped into favorite song territory as soon as I heard it. A full length release is due in the very near future, and if Arecibo is any indication, it should be very good stuff.
November 20, 2008
The self titled debut from New Zealand singer/songwriter Ladyhawke (Pip Brown) is charming, ingratiating synthesizer driven rock that immediately hits all the pop pleasure centers. Her music evokes such 70’s and 80’s acts as Kim Wilde, Gary Numan, Devo, Sheila E, Missing Persons and Depeche Mode, and has a decidedly retro feel, but she’s so good at finding new hooks in music from a bygone era that most listeners will be happy to party like it’s 1985. It drifts a bit too far into Belinda Carlisle solo territory towards the end of the album for my taste, but in general, Ladyhawke is a lot of good, uncomplicated fun. Fans of bands like Cut Copy, Freezepop, Ladytron and Santogold will want to take note of Ladyhawke’s unabashedly entertaining music. Standout cuts: “Magic,” “My Delirium,” “Paris Is Burning” and “Dusk Til Dawn.”
July 15, 2008
Released on eMusic Selects, the debut album from Detroit based musician Deastro (aka Randolph Chabot) is filled with music that will be veritable ear candy to electropop and New Wave enthusiasts. The songs on Keeper’s have a soaring, high spirited quality to them, though there are a couple of lower key tracks as well, including “Leah’s Daughter the Giraffe,” where Deastro adds some acoustic guitars and a banjo to the mix, and the concluding “Child Of Man, Son Of God,” which is a whispery ballad that brings the album to a lovely close. My only complaint about Keeper’s is that even at 10 tracks and just under 39 minutes, it feels more like an EP than an LP, but then maybe that’s more the result of a virtue than a flaw: I wanted to hear more. Standout cuts: “Michael, The Lone Archer of the North Shore,” “The Shaded Forest,” “Light Powered” and “The Green Harbor.”