Category Archives: Pop

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

fun.: Point and Light

fun.: Point and Light- So, what’s a band to do once they’ve become a fixture in the pop music scene?  What does a band do once they win awards, such as a Grammy?  After traveling around the world on a successful tour, being consistently recognized by fans out in the general public, what is the next step a band is supposed to take?  How is a band supposed to keep moving forward, successfully making music and creating something new?  Well, for fun., the best thing to do is take a step back and visit your band’s roots.

On their new EP, Point and Light, fun. decided to have a little throwback to five of their earliest tunes.  The songs on this EP already appeared on their debut album, Aim and Ignite.  But these aren’t the polished studio versions with all the sheen and glossy coatings.  Point and Light is stripped down and allows listeners to appreciate the musical chops of the band.  The album has the feeling of being recorded in a small beer hall or loft party with a group of friends.  It is a rambunctious and raw set of songs that highlights the quirks and talents of a band that is best known for alt/pop-rock songs with slick productions.  But there is no slick production here.  In fact, it sounds like live recordings: live instrumentation, no auto-tune and at times the balance of vocals and instruments can be off.  But that’s what makes this EP more enjoyable; it feels like you’re hanging out with the band in an intimate setting, singing along with them.

With Point and Light, it is easy to hear what bands influenced and shaped fun. in their early years.  Although the three lads have previously been in established bands, I am talking about influences from bands they probably listened to growing up.  It is easier to determine this now than on their more produced works because this album has no electronic noises or beat making machines, it is all live instrumentation.  The primary instruments are piano, drums and acoustic guitar; then comes the flares of electric guitar, trumpets, maybe an accordion, some kazoos, and other odds and ends in place of flourishes that would otherwise be made with electronics.

The harmonies and vocals on the record have a Beatles-esque quality at times with songs like the piano ballad, ‘Light A Roman Candle With Me’.  Then there are songs like, ‘Benson Hedges’.  It is all 70′s piano rock with likely influences from the likes of Sir Elton John.  And there is the opening track, ‘At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)’.  This song is all quirky, indie pop, complete with raucous instrumentation and layered vocals as if the whole bar is joining in on the song.  But what also is notable about this song, are the lyrics.  The lead singer, Nate Ruess, is having a back and forth conversation with old friends about how he’s been over the years, giving the impression he’s had success and left some people behind and how his life is compared to, “back then”.

And that’s why, even though these songs on Point and Light are from 2009, there is a sense that these could have been written and recorded while back from a recent worldwide tour, trying to get in touch with their previous selves.  This sort of nostalgia is needed for bands put in the lime light.  Because although they are best known and loved for their high production quality, award-winning pop songs, these tracks keep fun. grounded to why they made music to begin with…  9/10

‘Benson Hedges’

 

 

The Donkeys: Ride the Black Wave

The-Donkeys

The Donkeys: Ride the Black Wave — It’s been quite a while since I’ve liked an album like this — acoustic beach balladry, wanderlust, Americana worship. I usually steer completely clear because it’s so easy to reek of ham while doing it, which is one reason I prefer noise — ideas like genuine emotion and effort kinda melt away in the visceral impact. Hence, I was mistrustful at first, like a battlefield survivor who wanders into a dead calm field. But lo and behold, not only do The Donkeys construct an engaging, mid-tempo romp about the country and beyond, Ride the Black Wave doesn’t really move like the acoustic-heavy road tripper’s album it appears to be.

About half of the album is made up of brisk tracks that are a mixture of interlude and standalone instrumental numbers, each one seemingly with a different romantic locale in mind: the midwest heartland of ‘I Heart Alabama’, the Hawaiian sailors’ croon of ‘Brown Eyed Lady’, even the Ganges riverside in ‘Imperial Beach’, all sitars, twang and temple-space reverb. Not to say these are filler — they’ve got way too much scintillating detail for that. ‘Blues in the Afternoon’, for example, just floats off the speaker and settles like a tiny fog-bank in the room, all hushed choral vocals on a levitating bed of flute and plucky strings, and ‘The Manx’ is a psychedelic desert drive, under expansive violet mountains like undulating scar tissue.

Consequently, there’s an impressive breadth of texture and mood here, and because of these little vignette tracks, it’s hard not to get into the traveling mood listening to Ride the Black Wave, as you’re in a different locale about every two minutes. It’s the ceaseless rangings of a hungry mind, but not one without some deeper resolutions. The longer tracks, when they appear, are smashing. The sun-blurred melodies of opener ‘Sunny Daze’ presents the album’s main tension: “Should I stay in California?” “Sunny days / stuck in the sunny daze, yeah yeah”. Does he want to leave the comfort and sun, knowing there’s more to be seen in the world, hence the vivid punk-length numbers that feel like idealizations of exotic travels? The undisputed centerpiece of the record has to be ‘Scissor Me Cigs’, which drifts along propelled by a ‘Where is My Mind’-like riff and light dappling percussion, wrapped in a slight sense of oppression and weight. By the time guest vocalist Adrienne Verhoeven of Extra Classic appears on ‘Bahamas’, a piano-driven, Beach Boys-esque track with the gospel pleas of, “walk across the sand with me, and wait with me”, we’re about ready to head homeward and collapse in bed.

Overall, it’s quite a surprising album: short enough to be digested in one long drive, packed with a vault-full of ideas and varied sounds and, most impressively, you finish the record slightly tired, harrowed, and your feet are inexplicably sore…8.3/10

 

‘Scissor Me Cigs’

Michael Jackson: Xscape


Michael Jackson: Xscape — It’s been almost 5 years since the King of Pop left his earthly throne. It’s no secret that Michael Jackson’s entire legacy has been plagued by a myriad of controversies, even posthumously. Still, there’s no denying MJ’s innate ability to turn even a room full of squares into amateur dance revolutionaries. When word got out that Epic would be releasing Xscape, the second album since Jackson’s tragic passing, fans rejoiced and skeptics let out a sigh of “enough already.” I can’t say that I disagree with the naysayers either after revisiting 2010’s Michael and being actually offended by the words “duet with Akon.” It’s almost sacrilegious to be quite honest but we’ll just put it behind us.

CEO of Epic Records, L.A. Reid, went routing through about 4 decades of Jackson material for a handful of unreleased songs to be “contemporized” by a team of A-list producers including Timbaland, Rodney Jenkins, Jerome “JRoc” Harmon, Stargate, and John McClain. I initially started having dubstep/electro nightmares at the thought of current producers trying to give old Michael songs a contemporary revamping. Thankfully, the tracks that made it onto Xscape far exceeded expectation and offered a nostalgic look into Jackson’s legacy with a nod toward unobtrusive modernness.

The title track alone is such a breath of fresh air. Unlike a lot of Michael, it sounds like an actual Michael Jackson song. It has that industrial R&B/rock flair that defined a lot of his work in the late 80s, albeit with about half of the fervor. The “contemporized” element of Xscape really starts to make sense on tracks like ‘Blue Gangster’ and ‘Slave to the Rhythm.’ ‘Slave…’ in particular is a fantastic synth banger and album highlight with riffage that trumps about 90% of what’s been released from camp Jackson in the latter part of his career.

For the most part, Timbaland and company do a commendable job giving these old demos a modern twist that doesn’t feel too contrived. ‘A Place With No Name’ takes a slightly different approach and doesn’t concern itself so much with trying to sound new. As soon as the stomp-clap chorus kicks in you’ll be thrown right back into the days of ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’. Even though it pales in comparison, it’s still a fun ride down memory lane. This is why Xscape more or less works. Though everything is filtered through this modern lense, at least there’s always one foot firmly planted in Michael’s brilliant, beloved past.

The truth is, none of these songs were ever meant to see the light of day, let alone coexist collectively. For that reason alone Xscape is impressive since it doesn’t feel like a bunch of random songs just thrown onto a compilation. There’s actually a sense of cohesion and direction here. Songs like ‘Love Never Felt So Good’ are destined to be your mom’s jam for the next couple of months, and ‘Do You Know Where Your Children Are’ is one that you’ll both love equally. There really is something here for everyone which is a true testament to Michael Jackson’s influence on multiple generations.

Posthumous releases are weird enough to begin with. Had these rare gems been outfitted for the current top 40 market, that weirdness would have increased tenfold. Even though it’s slightly disjointed, Xscape is still a respectable and appropriate tribute to one of popular music’s most important voices… 8.4/10