Category Archives: Synth Pop

White Sea: In Cold Blood

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White Sea: In Cold Blood – One of the more popular discourses in indie music that I’m most passionate about is the vocalist as a musician.  Think about some of the more virtuosic female singers in pop music – Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, and a a slew of other dynamic voices negatively characterized by “oversinging.” Even as a fan of melismatic voices, I’ll be the first to admit that too many riffs, runs, and unnecessary high notes can be toxic. However, I’ll also admit that I’m completely infatuated by the power of the human voice both technically and emotionally.

When I was first introduced to White Sea‘s Morgan Kibby from her background work with M83, I was moved by her ability to make Anthony Gonzalez’s already lush compositions soar into the stratosphere with her beautifully airy tone. Her latest solo record, In Cold Blood, is a completely different ballgame though. This album ambitiously bulldozes its way in and out of various genres, all the while being propelled by Kibby’s honestly impressive vocal range. She makes a solid case that you can have your cake and eat it too – really dynamic voices aren’t only restricted to pure pop music. Kibby has the talent to sit amongst some of the more famous vocal divas. But, the way that In Cold Blood bends genres keeps the music interesting enough that Kibby won’t be labeled just another great voice.

Kibby gets things started off right away with the album opener and lead-off single, “They Don’t Know” – an 80′s inspired, operatic synth track that doesn’t shy away from being dramatic.  It’s a great track whose theme pretty much defines the rest of the album’s sound.  However, one of the more noteworthy songs,  Prague, keeps the drama and adds a quite surprising element of angst. The fuzzed out guitar riff during the chorus takes White Sea from dreamy synth pop to glam rock stomp in a matter of seconds.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how well Kibby has a handle on crafting melody too. On Prague especially, the chorus is so unbelievably catchy that you’ll without a doubt walk away with it lodged in your brain. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone considering that she had a hand in co-writing ‘Midnight City,’ M83′s dance rager that completely swept 2011.  As lovely and ambitious as her songwriting is, there are a few instances where it came but just a bit too much.

‘Warsaw’ fails to find that balance that the rest of the album lives in and ends up sounding a bit contrived. As Kibby belts out about “seducing your wives, fucking you blind, and gutting your fish” the intensity is lost somewhere with her sweet voice which leaves a little bit to be desired. Even at it’s weaker moments though, In Cold Blood, has plenty of great ones to make up for them. ‘Future Husbands Past Lives’ sounds like it was written by Prince and then put through the musical meat grinder, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s a mini rock opera that has Kibby reaching the absolute limits of her vocal reach, and it’s quite impressive. Sure, this melismastic singing isn’t for everyone. But, there’s no denying that Kibby has great chops in both singing and songwriting…7.1/10

TV Girl: French Exit

TV Girl: French Exit -Have you ever experienced the appeal that one might have had while watching static on a television? You are irritated that the TV isn’t working, yet you find the static to be kind of intriguing as it slowly draws you in, leaving you in a daze. This feeling could also be used to describe the album French Exit by TV Girl. The Los Angeles-based band includes current members Brad Petering, Jason Wyman and Wyatt Harmon. TV Girl was formed in 2010 by Petering and former band member Trung Ngo, who left the band in 2013. Despite Ngo’s amicable departure, TV Girl is still able to create beauty with their 12-track album French Exit.

The song ‘Pantyhose’ kicks off the album in an interesting way. The track has a nice melody along with some “ lalala’s” and a tambourine makes for a weird swirl of amazingness. This however seems to contrast the vocals, which contain a pinch of melancholy. The vocals combined with the melody makes for dazed kind of happy.

On the song, ‘Birds Don’t Sing’, the melody seems kind of muffled at first, but is soon joined with fun beats and sounds throughout the song.  Listening to this song reminds me of that feeling of delirium that sets in after you’ve pulled an all-nighter studying for an exam.  The caffeine you’ve drank hasn’t completely worn off and your mind is still going, while the rest of your body is trying to catch up.

Not all of the songs on the album have that kind of effect. The song, ‘Louise’, is a nice song about a not-so nice person which features lyrics such as, “Louise, you can’t be anybody’s friend”. The track has a dreamy ‘60s pop vibe that is delightful and somewhat sunnier than the other tracks on the album.

Another song on the album that I found interesting was, ‘Talk to Strangers’, a word-to-the-wise kind of song that features the type of lessons that you would learn by watching an After School Special. For example, the song contains lyrics such as, “Don’t take candy/Don’t get in someone’s car/Don’t let anybody touch you, no matter who they are”. The eerie whistling heard throughout the song makes it quite foreboding. If anything, this song is a reminder that is important to be cautious around people you don’t really know.

On a lighter note, the song, ‘The Blonde’, is a psychedelic song that gives the idea that being blonde is both a blessing and a curse. It alludes to the idea that by having blonde hair, you get a lot of attention, but sometimes it can be unwanted attention. Listening to this song makes me want to talk to people with blonde hair and ask for their opinion on that the matter.

Another song, ‘Daughter of a Cop’, is a cautionary tale of being with a cop’s daughter, claiming that she knows how to have fun because she knows “where the cops won’t go”, but at the same time you might want to steer clear of her  because “if you were to get caught/she’ll  get a slap on the wrist and leave you in a cell to rot”. The last track ‘Anjela’ is a nice song that sounds more acoustic than the other songs on the album.

After listening to the album, I believe that it doesn’t really fit into a certain mold, which makes me appreciate it even more. There were times on the album when I was reminded of 60′s French pop music. At the same time, I was also reminded me of present- day artists such as California Wives and Mac DeMarco. The music has a way of being laidback, yet a bit frenzied at the same time.

There are also plenty of fun sound bites(most likely taken  from old films). The sound bites don’t seem to be completely random. In fact, they actually help weave the song s together. Each song tells a story and the sound bites contribute to the song by adding emphasis to the story.

Overall, I enjoyed listening to this album. To be honest, you have to be in a certain type of mood to be able to enjoy this kind of music. Your mind should be free to wander without fear. You might want to play this album when you’re alone in your room, trying to mellow out or collect your thoughts in a journal entry. It might even help spark your creativity… 8.0/10.

‘Talk to Strangers’

 

Barbarossa: Elevator EP

Barbarossa: Elevator EP — It’s a good day for electronic music. At least, that’s what I thought when I was drifting off to ‘Elevator,’ the title track from Barbarossa‘s newest EP. It’s simple and ambient, somewhere between the honest cries of a soulful synth and a deliberate minimalist statement, and while it’s less rigid and in some ways more intentionally worn than his first electronic effort, it’s truly something to enjoy. After all, developing artist James Mathé has been a constant surprise with the reinvention of his sound and his chaotic touring and recording schedule. With Elevator, he slows things down without actually toning anything down, and in the process, he once again makes something just new enough to be noteworthy.

Mathé isn’t exactly a novice musician, though his electronica career is still burgeoning. Before embarking on his current path, he had built up a name for himself as an acoustic expert, complete with soft folk guitar and bleeding singer-songwriter lyrical compositions. It wasn’t until 2013, with the release of Bloodlines, that he took on a more shrilling, electronic slant. With Elevator, high electronica gives way to more complicated compositions, full of popping, static noise that builds upon itself in layers of digital and orchestral composition.

‘No Glue’ and ‘Lupo’s Theme’ take a more experimental route than the title track, letting the decisive layering give way to the more electronically driven, with the latter at one point even letting Mathé’s distinctive, throaty vocals get distorted to the point of being indistinguishable, maintaining its soul but losing its poetics, letting the track become overwhelmed with an electro-ambiance that is both weary and determined. It’s not an unexpected choice from a Barbarossa release, his penchant for changing timbre is at this point no secret, but it is an interesting shift insofar as it sees the stripping down of those last analog features in favor of a fully digitized experience.

Beyond recording, Mathé is continuing his foray into cinematic work, and the release of Elevator is not so surprisingly tied up to the premier of the second film project of which he has been a part. The EP was written in part as a soundtrack for the Montserrat Lombard/Sean Harris short film, which seems to account for some of its sweepingly dramatic styling and transitions. Just how integrated the release is into the film has yet to be established, but if the pictures can work with the same level of distorted emotion and willingness to take chances, it will be worth at least one view.

Elevator might be a bit more sentimental than what we’ve come to expect from Barbarossa‘s new-found electronic chops, but it’s in no way more tame. Heavy with orchestral affectations and oozing synth, it still maintains a simple, streamlined demeanor that evokes a strength intrinsic to the artist, in all his forms. Working with a collection of some things familiar and others entirely new, Barbarossa manages to put out an EP that compliments his other endeavors as much as it stands alone, and he never stops experimenting in the process…7.0/10

Elevator

Lust For Youth: International

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Lust For Youth: International –With dreamy sound bites, exhilarating beats, and an ‘80s vibe, the band Lust For Youth has created something wonderful with their album International. The band, from Copenhagen, Denmark, includes members Hannes Norrvide, Loke Rahbek and Malthe Fischer. With just ten tracks on the album, Lust For Youth is able bring back the sounds of ‘80s bands such as Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys and New Order while featuring their own unique talents.

The track, ‘Epoetin Alfa’ is the kind of song you listen to when you’re driving around with a group of friends at nighttime, trying to find something to do. In fact, the song sounds like it could be on the soundtrack to 2011 film Drive. ‘Illume’ is an upbeat track that definitely brightens up the album. However, there are times when the song sounds like a default ringtone on your cell phone. That being said, I probably wouldn’t want it for a ringtone because I would be so busy enjoying the song, I’d might actually forget to answer my phone, regardless of who was calling me.

In contrast to ‘Illume’, the song ‘New Boys’ contains a sort of stifled cheeriness which makes it kind of mysterious. ‘Ultras’, an instrumental, slowly fades in, like something majestic from the great depths of the ocean is emerging into view, with a nice touch of chimes heard at the end of the track.

One of the most especially intriguing tracks on International was ‘Lungomare’. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but I liked it. It’s mainly spoken word in a different language that could possibly be Italian (the title of the song is the name of a seafront promenade in Naples, Italy) with subtle music in the background. The nice, soothing voice and the music in the background was cool. With children yelling and playing around in the background, it’s definitely a song that you’d have to hear for yourself. ‘After Touch’’s electronic doo-wop sound easily reminded me of The Flamingos version of ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ from the late 1950s.

‘Basorexia’ is an instrumental that simulates the feeling of lights swirling around above your head at a dance club. Part of you can’t stop looking at them, but another part of you wants to close your eyes and take it all in, getting lost in the moment. It includes various sound bites echoing in the background on a loop, some in different languages, but the ones in English sounded like they were saying “A couple of kisses and we’re there” and “but you have to want it though”. After searching online for the word “basorexia”, I found out that it is an informal term used to describe “a strong craving or hunger for kissing”. Interesting…

Overall, I find it fascinating when a band takes something that has already been created and recycles it in order to create something new. That being said, Lust For Youth has done something spectacular with this album. The various sound bites on the album are in different languages from French to Italian to English. It’s a cool concept for them to be incorporated in this kind of music. Sure you may not understand it all, but then again maybe that’s the point. It’s a way of bringing people from a myriad of cultural backgrounds together through music, and is most likely why the band’s album is called International. Either way, if you’re a fan of music that includes the creative use of dreamy sound bites, then this is an album that you should own…9.5/10

After Touch

Kasabian: 48:13

Kasabian: 48:13 – Over 15 years after first breaking onto the scene, Kasabian isn’t showing any signs of stopping. The Leicester boys are five studio albums deep into a career that has sold out arenas and won them multiple awards, and yet, somehow, they remain rooted in the subculture set, even as their public appeal has exploded. Maybe that’s why they’re making the assumption that, with their new 48:13 album, their music has come to speak for itself. No cover art, no evocative album title, just a list telling you how long the listen is going to take and the assumption that you’ll find it worthy before you ever even start. It’s a bold move, but they’re at a strange and short-lived place in their career where they’re big enough to be recognizable, but not so big as to have made the complete transition from art to commodity. If there were any time for them to take a chance, it would be now. So does the music stand for itself?

Insofar that is sounds just like you would expect a Kasabian album to sound, yes. It’s high-energy, riddled with bombast and does just enough to show that even the most adoring fans have yet to learn everything there is to know about the band’s sound. The album’s three shortest tracks are music-heavy, lyric-weary orchestral-like interludes that bring together a hi-fi edge and classical components in a creative nod to larger if less noticeable conceptual influences. The album’s other 10 tracks are all technically and masterfully produced pieces that strike that hard-to-find balance between heavy rock percussion and screeching pop-style synth. If you’re unfamiliar with the band, that adroit integration of seriously hi-fi synth pop into a high-energy, hard-hitting rock sound makes the album worth the listen on its own.

The strength in meeting expectations is also the album’s low point, though. It might sound like what you expect from Kasabian, but that means that the band has come to do exactly what you’d expect. Part of what fueled that almost unbelievable growth in notoriety between albums two and four is that, while the integrity of the band’s sound is maintained, they were willing to change up their approach. What 48:13 delivers are the kinds of changes anyone would have predicted from any popular band. There are pawing attempts to branch out to other genres, bringing a deeper but less developed house style to what was once some very carefully distilled electronica.

There are tries at being pithy, too, moments that truly make you want to align yourself with what the band is saying as they bleat out hip-hop infused lines like, “To see success the food for thought you digest has to change/we’re stressed and high, get depressed and die but still afraid to question why”, in ‘Glass’. The want for the poetry is there, and in its own right it’s a solid first attempt at saying something more, but coming in the midst of their fifth album, it sounds just as much like they’re trying to do something to make people think they’re divisive as it does them actually experimenting with finding a new voice.

So is 48:13 everything you’d expect out of a Kasabian album? Yes. Is it everything you’d want, though? For this reviewer, not quite. It’s a well-produced LP with tracks that are memorable and a few singles that certainly won’t hurt that ever-growing popular opinion. It bridges genres and breaks molds, just not their own. At best, it’s an attempt to find a new voice in an established sound, but the once strange, charged, rancorous electronic hybrid seems to be a little less strange and a little more low-key. If nothing else, though, they haven’t lost their penitent for making that static, bedlam-filled noise that they do so well, and that’s certainly something worth listening for…6.8/10

 

Glass