Category Archives: New Wave

Cold Cave: Full Cold Moon

Cold Cave: Full Cold Moon - As Cold Cave, Wesley Eisold’s sophomore effort, Cherish the Light Years, was a surprising direction for the coldwave standout–the synth-driven noise experimentations seemed to be completely left behind in favor of a straight 80′s synthpop/dance aesthetic. The debut Love Comes Close certainly had that strain of pop within it, but mingled between tracks full of love-hate tensions, muttered violences like “I will pity you til you’re pretty / What’s a love without some struggle / You’re a slut / I’ll stitch your knuckles up.” Not that Cherish the Light Years is unlikeable–it’s got an insane pop to it, a Franz Ferdinand kind of freneticism, but it seemed to spurn all my favorite characteristics of Cold Cave. Well, Eisold apparently agreed, calling it the “Cold Cave I can’t even stand to hear.” After being dropped by his then-label Matador, he went on to release a string of singles throughout 2013, tracks that solidified his stake on trademark territories, but also saw him adding new districts to his sound.

That Full Cold Moon is a collection of singles rarely detracts from its efficacy. In fact, I came to like the demo roughness, and the uneven production values just add to the album’s status as a reflection of  Eisold’s vagrant year, like we’re looking at a snapshot of his growth. The slight haphazardness also heightens the impact of his more experimental, ambient pieces, which really comprise some of the record’s best tracks.

“Tristan Corbiere,” for example, shocks even more than Cherish the Light Years did, and for entirely different (and undeniably more intriguing) reasons. It’s a three-minute instrumental piece full of slight, wet, tapping beats, overlaid with a flute-like melody and touches of keyboard, altogether like being in the foggy upper-strata of a rainforest. While the sophomore album can incite parties and dance floors on its own, it also leaves you thinking about Cold Cave’s limitations, with the unshakeable feeling that the more digestible direction might signal a dearth of ideas. ‘Tristan Corbiere’ instead explodes your conception of what Cold Cave might be capable of.

Similarly, ‘Meaningful Life’ is a slow, organ-driven piece unlike much of what Eisold’s attempted before. Tenderly and solemnly, he muses on what precisely makes for a meaningful life while interjecting with tangential thoughts about a lover’s memory, the simple image of a tree in her yard. It reminds me a lot of my favorite Brian Eno track, “Golden Hours,” in the lovely agony of sluggish time and the richness of expression. If there’s one time I disliked Full Cold Moon‘s haphazard selection, it’s the placement of skittish dancer ‘God Made the World’ right after ‘Meaningful Life’–excuse me, but you’re dancing all over my brooding space.

Even the throwbacks to straight 80′s pop feel more lively than the somewhat forced drama of Cherish, as in the 90-second taste we get in ‘Young Prisoner Dreams of Romance’, that encapsulates everything great about groups like New Order, from the pounding drum machine, to the intoxicatingly fuzzy synth, to anthemic lyrics like “I could change / Break the Chains / and I will / at night I will think of you still.” ‘Nausea, the Earth and Me’ is a more ambitious take on Cold Cave’s poppier moments, as a six-and-a-half minute epic through seas of choppy percussion and staccato synths that harrow the listener a bit more than it inspires dance moves.

If there is a lull in the album’s energy, it’d be the tracks that feel closer to Cold Cave’s oeuvre, like opener ‘A Little Death to Laugh’, ‘People are Poison’, and ‘Oceans with No End’, but only because they lack the strangeness of the standouts–they’re still incredibly strong, synthy headbangers in their own right, and it bodes very well for the record if these muscular cuts are the weak underbelly. Full Cold Moon might lack the cohesive punch of an album recorded as an album, but it’s still packed with hits, though not in a cheesy best-of kind of way. It covers a very good breadth of textures and moods, and repositions Cold Cave as an act without clear-cut limits… 8.0/10

‘Meaningful Life’

Pompeya: Night EP

Pompeya: Night EP — How often do you come across a Russian indie pop band? My guess is not very often at all! Today I present to you Moscow-based pop-fueled four-piece Pompeya, and their latest EP Night: Four tracks of 70′s disco/80′s new wave pop. Consisting of members Daniil Brod, Denis Agafonov, Sasha Lipskiy, and Nairi Simonian, Pompeya broke out of Russia with surprising force, infiltrating the realm of American indie pop with breezy and sunny beats. One listen to Night and you can see why – the music they create exists somewhere in between a dance pop disco and a soundtrack to a summer drive down the coast. It’s easy to see how quickly their well-executed pop spread around the world.

Night starts off with ‘Satellite’, an extremely catchy love song that stays light and airy – the funky bass jumps around multiple guitar riffs and various synth accompaniments. The song displays a cacophony of influences on the band (as does their Facebook page which you can find here) identified to the virgin ear as similar to M83, that foreign pop that harkens back to past generations of funk, disco and new wave. Pompeya, (unlike M83) provides a more organic sound, stripped of the overbearing electronics that sometimes dominate current pop music. The single off Night, ‘Satellite’ is a perfect example of this sound.

‘Does’ is a slightly slower-paced track that maintains the standard set by its predecessor ‘Satellite’. Like ‘Satellite’, ‘Does,’ seems to exist in a vacuum – it is nearly impossible to pin the song down to a specific time and place. Instead, the music that Pompeya creates is simple bliss, easy listening pop tracks that do not adhere to the current Americanized notion of ‘pop’ but instead create a space for themselves in the diversity of their influences. 70s, 80s and 90s sounds all come through within the music.

‘Night’ is a weekend party ballad, as the vocalist sings “Night will keep you in her eyes/ Night will catch you through her stars,” a testament to summer nights spent under the open sky. ‘Night’ is a track that appeals to the masses for the ambiguity of its genre, and the infinite possibilities for listening. The EP closes with ‘Lookout’ a track that breaks down frequently with simple drums and flighty synth. The new wave influence is particularly strong in ‘Lookout’ and it is a sound that Pompeya emanates well.

Pompeya – I am impressed! As a typically anti-pop listener, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed listening to Night, and will be looking for their releases in the future. There is no doubt these four Russian-born musicians will find success in the indie pop market here in America…8.4/10

Astronomique: Burning Stars Fade EP

Astromonique_BSF

Astronomique: Burning Stars Fade EP — From the name down, Astronomique is lost in space. The sounds, the vibe, the metaphors all have the feel of floating. The band fills every space with sound and the harmony spins and swirls around the listener in a futuristic yet impassioned onslaught.

The album begins with ‘Shaded Gray’. The style is set early on. The first sound you hear is a keyboard sounding somewhat reminiscent of a laser gun and we’re in outer space. The vocals are passionate and the lyrics are laced with metaphors such as “you are the moon” and “I’m the blushing sky.” ‘Push Rewind’s baseline has the feel of a typical 80′s new wave pop song however the ever-present keyboards and constant guitar lift the song to the spacey atmosphere that the band has claimed as there aesthetic. As far as lyrical content goes this song, like the one that preceded it, appears to lament a love that is no longer and does do somewhat drastically with the last line, “as you go I know your heart was meant for me.”

‘Pretend We’re Stars’ is an invitation, a plan of something to do while “wrapped in each other’s arms” you could be “watching stars collide” and while you’re their why not do as the title suggests and trade places with the stars. It’s a fun and flirty song that reflects the band’s theme as well as entices affection and companionship. While the first two songs were more about the loss of love, this one was firmly in the mid-love camp.

The angriest song on the album is almost certainly ‘Painting Silhouettes’. In it Logan Andra Fongemie decries her ex’s relationship with the very pointed line, “she is stick figures of insecurity led easily, you will find that subordination just leads to boredom.” Apparently, her ex chose the easier and less fulfilling route and this song is her to them them now how horribly they went wrong.

Like the rest of the album, ‘The Rawest Nerve’ is emotionally charged. If their destination is beyond our atmosphere, the passion generated in relationships is the fuel. While ‘Painting Silhouettes’ is perhaps the most lyrically pointed song on the album, this song is more vague, but is perhaps capable of cutting deeper. The line, “flirting with a needle” suggests that this song is somehow about addiction. Like the majority of the album it is about a relationship that cannot work any longer because the song’s antagonist is “lost in your mind chasing a feeling your trying to hide”. While spacey, Burning Stars Fade is never lost. It’s honesty and passion allows it to soar…8.7/10

Painting Silhouettes

Say Hi: Endless Wonder

SayHi_EndlessWonder

Say Hi: Endless Wonder- The 80′s were a time of transition in the music scene.  With the developments of new technologies, sounds, beats and musical landscapes were being forged that were never before possible.  But yet, even with the technological progressions, many musicians, it seemed, weren’t able to always get the desired effect they were looking for.  Now, though, with the state of technology and surge of funding going into electronics made specifically for music, a new wave of eighties inspired tunes are beginning to seep into records once again. Say Hi is by no means strictly an eighties-style band, but the influences are programmed into most aspects of the band’s eighth record, Endless Wonder.

With all the synth, fuzz, and precise beats, Endless Wonder is surprisingly minimalist.  Say Hi is a one-man band, comprised of Mr. Eric Elbogen.  Mr. Elbogen records most of the instruments and tracks himself and appears to have a touring band.  Many may think it’s not so surprising a solo project is minimalist; but with the sounds, beats and layers Elbogen produces, he could have stacked sounds a mile high.  Now, minimalist is not synonymous with reserved or quiet.  There are many instances of blaring synths, pulsing beats, fuzzed out guitars, its just he doesn’t layer five guitar parts over electronic beats, a drum kit and two pipe organs.  Instead, he achieves a more dramatic effect by making each instrument purposeful and work cohesively with others to create the desired effect.

Almost more than the synths, electronic sounds and beats, Mr. Elbogen’s vocals are what bring to mind 80′s New Wave and the darker side of alternative rock/pop.  He has a baritone that is reminiscent of the late Ian Curtis of Joy Division.  His voice is deeper than most popular rock singers, which is a breath of fresh air.  He also doesn’t try to strain his voice to hit notes that are out of his range, he keeps it simple in the best possible way, making the most out of his smooth, baritone vocals.

And with all these elements, Say Hi’s Endless Wonder coalesces into an indie, new wave inspired album that sets you in a dark basement club somewhere in New York City that only your cousin who smokes clove cigarettes and listens to cassette tapes knows about.

The second track and first single, ‘Such a Drag’, begins with simple electronic drum beats and a fuzzy synth line and out of nowhere kicks into high gear with a fuzzed-out guitar and chest pounding drums, especially the bass kick.  And going back to the idea of minimalist, you may first hear this song and think otherwise.  But again, minimalism isn’t about being hush-hush or barren of orchestration, but that with the few instruments you are using, you are able to play them off of each other to fill in gaps that would normally be filled in pointless, doubled or tripled guitars, keys or what-have-you.  This song is minimalist while still achieving a driving heaviness.  That heaviness is also produced through the repeated refrain, “love’s such a drag”.

The song, “When I Think About You”, is a perfect example of using few instruments to play off each other and fill in gaps.  The bass plays straight, pulsing eighth notes while the drum part focuses on snare driven down-beats.  The drums could easily be busy trying to keep up the pace, but instead, Say Hi use the instruments to their full advantage.  This allows more space keys and other electronic sounds to accent the backdrop.  While on the other hand, ‘Like Apples Like Pears’, the drums are in full syncopated force with a bass line that would fit perfectly into a prog-rock song.  But while this is happening, the synth is doing its own little line, allowing breathing room in a song that could easily be too cluttered.

‘Clicks & Bangs’ is synth heaven, the closest to a power ballad Endless Wonder has.  But even with dynamic and layered synths and prominent drums, it still doesn’t feel cluttered.  It is sweeping and quite beautiful because even though the synths get boisterous, everything is still in balance.

I have never been the biggest advocate of things remotely related to the eighties, but it is albums like Say Hi’s, Endless Wonder, that reminds me I have been too quick to judge.  This album takes the most inspired elements of eighties music and Mr. Elbogen makes them into something of his own design.  There are other elements from past decades; 70′s prog-rock, 90′s grunge, and all these influences that are old are made new.  Say Hi manages to create a unique and awesome record for 2014, while giving a nod to those that came before… 9/10

‘When I Think About You’

 

 

 

The Astral Stereo Project – Disco Death Sleaze

The Astral Stereo Project – Disco Death Sleaze - I’m always fascinated by how an artist interprets their influences. There isn’t one specific sound an artist wants to go for; it’s always a handful of influences, some of which aren’t even related to music, that have to be considered and picked through and processed by the mind of the artist. Sometimes it’s a disaster: there are too many influences and the project crumbles beneath that weight. Other times we get an album that sits at an interesting crossroads, a child born of many strange parents, a fusion dish that has hints of every amazing ingredient.

This is how I came to understand Disco Death Sleaze by The Astral Stereo Project. It’s got the strangely pleasing sound of a disco band making the transition to a new decade, new influences and new instruments, while still retaining their dance club roots. The album is somewhere between New Order, Newcleus and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, with a little Italo and horror synth thrown in for good measure.

The album starts off with ‘Discotheque’, punctuated with a piercing shriek and a pulsating horror synth bassline, but it really doesn’t continue with that theme. There are sparse, light vocals and samples waxing philosophic about retro futurism. It’s a bit scattered, and based on this first track I wasn’t sure what to expect.

‘Savage Narcissus’ is a little clearer with its intentions. It’s a moody, string heavy outrun track that’s great for a bit of night driving. ‘DeSelle Intermezzo’ is a similar, if not more complex, track that in my opinion is slightly stronger than its preceding track.

It isn’t until ‘Skin Deep’ that Disco Death Sleaze really hits its stride for me. It’s a laid-back, charming song that strikes me as a cross between Daft Punk’s ‘Something About Us’ and The Bee Gees’ ‘How Deep Is Your Love?’ I kept replaying it because it has a perfect, lovesick, aimless, driving aesthetic to it. Following that is ‘Cruising (2AM)’ and between the two I’m hard pressed to choose a favorite. This sounds like a nod to Newcleus’ ‘Destination Earth’, which is a track I wish more producers would emulate.

‘Death in Bavaria’ is an interesting track driven by strings and piano and reminds me of early house tracks. Danceable, but not overpowering. ‘Lieben Suite’ ends the album with a slow vocal track, again giving off strong Bee Gees vibes.

I will admit that it took me a bit to get into Disco Death Sleaze. But my slowness to understand should not be taken as a strike against The Astral Stereo Project. There are some cool concepts at work that are worthy of attention. This isn’t synthwave in the typical sense, nor is it disco or any of its influences. It’s a movie score, a dance album, an experimental project, a soundtrack to a strange evening that involved fog machines and cough syrup. I hope The Astral Stereo Project continue to throw genres and influences into the meat grinder, because I for one am interested in the result…8.5/10

Skin Deep