Tag Archives: Indie Pop

Owen Pallet: In Conflict


Owen Pallet: In Conflict- Owen Pallett’s new album In Conflict is true to its title. This is the second release for Pallett under his birth name after Square Enix rights holders objected to his previous project title, Final Fantasy. Whereas 2010’s Heartland composed a fantastic battle between the fictional character Lewis and the God of his universe, named Owen Pallett, In Conflict relays a different kind of struggle. In his most personal venture to date, Pallett deals with themes of mental illness, addiction, sexuality, and other aspects intrinsic to the human condition. The album is extremely relatable due to its subject matter but what is even more successful is the choice Pallett makes as the creator of In Conflict’s universe which, unlike Heartland, is set in the everyday, real world. Like most good writers, Pallett understands that people are made of contradictions and he makes the smart move in creating voices who do in fact contradict themselves in the album. Likewise, by delving into his inner psyche, he was able to form a cast of characters struggling with universally troubling factors of life as well as holding true to his statement that In Conflict seeks to assume a positive outlook on inner battles and take them as they are. By splitting his psyche into a league of voices, Pallett spreads his experiences across a board of nameless characters and demonstrates the achievement of this desire.

The theme of the album may be conflict but the sound seems to build upon Pallett’s prior work instead of clashing with it. His voice is still both powerful and fragile and classical arrangements are as prominent as ever. The arrangements here are far simpler but one can assume it is meant to highlight the capacity held within the lyrics. Pallett’s violin is still the pulse behind the music but he doesn’t let it overpower the layered arrangements that produce songs with seven arms of sound direction. In Conflict conflates Pallett’s orchestral talents, electronic quirkiness, and rock sensibilities in one album but it seems he was less concerned with producing a different sound than with producing songs with colliding melodies that don’t seem to belong, but always end up working.

The album’s opener ‘I Am Not Afraid’ displays this duality in both lyrics and sound. Pallett introduces his most invoking vocals when he sings the seeming confession “Ill never have any children” and while one may assume Pallett is uninterested in parenthood, he subverts the thought with the following “I’d bear them and confuse them,” repeating a mournful “my children” at the end. The track begins as a string led piece with a violin rocking h on one note while Pallett sings but then electronic warbles wobble in before the track becomes grounded in piano. The repetitive, monomaniacal quality of the sawing violin here can also be heard in ‘On a Path’, where the insistence of the string melody lends a playful yet nefarious air to the song, inspired by Pallett’s 15 years spent in Toronto and the dysphoria that consumed him after he saw the music scene he loved dissolve there. This crazed consistency is also heard in the repeated E-flat and B-flat chords making up ‘The Riverbed’ where a fuzzed out guitar alongside Pallett’s pained tone and violin make way for it’s orchestral ending.

Pallett collaborated with Brian Eno on the album, knowing Eno’s passion for backing vocals and having his baritone further deepen the diverging sounds of ‘On a Path’ and ‘The Riverbed’ but it’s possible Eno’s passion for synthesizers played a role in the production of tracks like ‘Song for Five & Six’ where arpeggiated synths shake and skip alongside plucks of Pallett’s violin. Likewise, the title track begins with bubbles of synth before a reverberating sound and orchestral passages curl up towards a distraught Pallett singing, “You let yourself believe that there is nothing to lose.” The same blatant anxiety pierces his demand that “we all need to lose control” in the robotic ballad ‘The Sky Behind the Flag’ and the pain in his plea wafts and circles the mechanical beats pulsating around it. The album’s climax ‘Infernal Fantasy’ keeps up the techno while Pallett’s relaxed down-tempo falsetto set against the up-tempo beat continues the duality of album’s sound and theme.

Pallett confronts the LGBTQ consoling operation “The It Gets Better Project” in ‘The Secret Seven’ where he invites tortured youths tempted by suicide to call his number for strength because, he says, “It don’t get better.” Pallett plucks at his violin before aggressively sawing away and floating the melody heavenwards for hopefulness. In ‘The Passions,’ Pallett sings so closely about an awkward sexual encounter, it feels like we’re in the room. The pain in the song is increased with every “compassion” Pallett moans out and when he sings about how the boy who hooked his pinkies on his jeans put on the Smith’s album The Queen is Dead, groaning “I just want to talk instead,” the song’s sadness burns in slowly before every bit of desperation for touch drips out of his voice.

In Conflict is both a stunning example of the baroque-pop quality Pallett possesses and of an artist incredibly adept at creating lyrical complexity. Pallett has been able to construct whole worlds in his past albums but In Conflict seems his most impressive feat to date because this time, he was able to construct the real chaotic, wonderfully terrible world, an achievement worth high praise.

10/10

The Passions

OK Go: Upside Out

ok go - upside out art

OK Go: Upside Out- Though the band Ok Go is often remembered for their elaborate and creative music videos, the masses seem to glaze over the talent that lies beneath the attention-grabbing videos. Hopefully that won’t be the case for Upside Out, a 4-song EP that is fun, lyrical, and genuine from beginning to end. The first song ‘Turn Up The Radio’ begins the party that is Upside Out. The song is edgy but still with that happy, pop vibe OK Go fans know and love.

The second song on the EP, ‘The Writing’s on The Wall’, is the lucky one chosen for the honor of an OK Go original music video. While it’s certainly not dancing on treadmills, it’s still pretty great. The band members trip you out while blending in with the walls and messing up your perception with camera angles and mirrors- and a not so secret message that says “I Think I understand you but I don’t.” The song itself is simple and sweet. The chorus sings, “I just wanna get you high tonight/ I just wanna see some pleasure in your eyes.” The lyrics fit the beat since both are calming and pleasant but with an underlying desire that sets it apart from other songs like it.

‘I Won’t Let You Down’ somehow reminds me of The Jackson 5 without being cheesy or outdated. Maybe it’s the keys, the high-pitched vocals, clap tracks or a mixture of all three but the band pulls it off well. It’s hard not to move while listening to it and for the cherry on top the lyrics are sweet and caring. And if that’s the cherry than that must make the 80’s dance breakdown at the end the whipped cream (which on a side note really should be the name of a cheesy dance move).

The EP finishes with ‘That One Moment’. It’s an inspirational and empowering song about the weight that can be put on a singular moment. The song lifts you up with it. The chorus bursts energy singing, “This will be the one thing we remember/ This will be the reason to battle/ this will be the one moment that will matter at all” It’s like he’s fighting for a love he already has but knows she’s so special he better not let anyone else ever have her.

Upside Out is a great album that showcases once again OK Go’s talents in pop music. They are a band like no other who display their creativity in more ways than one. Not to mention the album name solves a problem my childhood mind always wondered, “What is the opposite of inside out?”…8/10

‘The One Moment’

The Notwist: Run Run Run

 

The Notwist: Run Run RunThe Notwist are having a good year, musically speaking. On the heels of Close to the Glass comes their 12”, released on Record Store Day this year and offering more of their deftly crafted indie pop plus two remixes of two excellent tracks from their most recent LP.

The 12” starts off with the single ‘Run Run Run’, also on Close to the Glass. This track is remarkable both for the tone The Notwist cultivate – sinister and sad, yet never listless – but also for how they cultivate it. The music box-esque intro, seamlessly woven into straightforward vocals and percussion and swept into a gradual crescendoing build, starts everything off with a sort of energetic melancholy. The bursts of static, the brief but interesting synth strings riffs, that weird, offbeat pseudo-horn bit in the middle of the track – they all work to create the vaguely broken-down feel of ‘Run Run Run’.

I said this in a review of Close to the Glass earlier this year, and I’m repeating myself because it holds true for this 12” – what you put into listening to The Notwist, you get back tenfold. It’s worth your time to sit down and listen to a track a few times to really figure it out. ‘Run Run Run’ isn’t lushly orchestrated or even particularly complexly arranged, but it doesn’t sound anemic. There’s a lot to unpack in this track, and some of its best moments are delivered without pretense or fanfare, so they can be easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.

‘Run Run Run (Ada Remix)’ ditches the music box vibe in favor of straightforward piano, which pairs neatly with a heavier emphasis on percussion and dystopian snatches of vocals that preface the first sort-of chorus: “Silence is on/Since you’ve been gone”. The smartest part of this remix is the carefully engineered contrast between relatively-unaltered vocals (e.g. the chorus), which sound near and intimate, and the much more effects-heavy vocals that are pulled in primarily to complement the percussion on this remix. The remix teases out some of the darker elements of ‘Run Run Run’ to create something dreamy and dystopian.

‘Magnificent Fall’ is new to this 12”. It’s sparser than ‘Run Run Run’, relying primarily on percussion, uncomplicated synth lines and a touch of silence here and there. Rather than coming to a long stop at any one point, though, everything in ‘Magnificent Fall’ is spaced out in sometimes unexpected ways. It’s the aural equivalent of that feeling you get when you’re falling asleep and are abruptly jolted awake, just on a much smaller scale, and The Notwist employ this use of silence and spacing to create the tension that pulls this song off.

The sprawling, nearly nine-minute ‘Into Another Tune (Nuel Remix)’ is the odd man out on this 12” when it comes to composition, but it actually fits into the tracklist nicely. If you’ve heard the original, this remix might surprise you, because the two songs don’t sound exceptionally connected. A little after five minutes is when the first snatch of the running synth line comprising the backbone of the original comes in, and that element is really the focus of the Nuel remix. It’s a neat premise but disappointing, partly because that one element is so repetitive but also because there’s so much more to pull from in ‘Into Another Tune’. And honestly, 8:45 is a little long for what this track is.

If we conveniently ignore that ‘Run Run Run’ is on both this 12” and Close to the Glass, then the LP is definitively the better release. That said, ‘Run Run Run’ is a great single, and ‘Magnificent Fall’ makes a strong impression for how comparatively minimal it is. The remixes are both interesting, one for capitalizing on a track’s moodiness and the other for highlighting a prominent if repetitive component. This 12” isn’t anything particularly new or different, just another strong release from a band with a unique and compelling sound…7.0/10

 

‘Run Run Run’

Kishi Bashi: Lighght

KishiBashi_Lighght

Kishi Bashi: Lighght- Sailing in on a gust of psych pop glory, Kishi Bashi brings an album that is at times danceable and other times contemplative, awash in lush orchestration. Kishi Bashi is the solo project of K Ishibashi, who adopted the moniker while forming his new solo outfit. Lighght is Kishi Bashi’s sophomore album and the confidence in songwriting and composition shows. This is also a man who is no stranger to the music scene, having been a former touring violinist for both Regina Spektor and Of Montreal. Kishi Bahi’s prowess with string orchestration is more than apparrent on Lighght and he is able to seamlessly thread it through tunes that make you want to dance to ones that get more experimental and urge you to just sit and listen for a while.

One element that immediately stands out in Lighght is the fact there are two short instrumental pieces. The first track, ‘Debut- Impromptu’ and later on, ‘Impromptu No 1′ both serve as a set up and an intermission, respectively. They focus on string orchestrations, while also throwing in some electronic based sounds, some keys, some instruments that are still a mystery to me. What is immediately apparent  from ‘Debut- Impromptu’ is the non-traditional use of strings, much of which sounds like it is put through some sort of filter that gives it a playful tone, but one that should not be taken lightly.

Two of the more danceable tracks on Lighght appear early on the album and grab listeners attention. ‘Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!’ starts off with with a violin and quickly layers in other instruments and a chorus of harmonized “Ohs” before braking into full rhythm with loose, tribal drums, quirky sounds and just great modern psych pop with possible influences from Animal Collective and MGMT. And while this song uses what sound like live drums, ‘The Ballad of Mr. Steak’ uses beats to get a more synth-poppy, dance-floor groove going through your veins. Kishi Bashi is able to blend together elements from more standard pop with the somewhat experimental elements of psych pop for a fun, quirky song telling the story of a bachelor named, Mr. Steak who loved to dance. I’m a sucker for puns and using lines like, “Mr. Steak, you were grade A” just add to the vibe of the album.

And while there are more standard dance tunes, there are also songs, that while still holding a great beat, delve more into psychedelic elements rather than the pop. With ‘Hahaha Pt. 1′ and Hahaha Pt. 2′, Kishi Bashi proves strings are an element that should be used more on modern music. Both songs are awash in strings, beats, and synths. The vocals have a slight echo to them giving the songs a very dream-like quality. They also provide an element normally only seen in “rock opera” albums, movements. In what is given the overarching term “classical music”, movements can be like tracks on an album or like sub-tracks layered in single songs, but all while using similar musical themes or melodies.  In the two ‘Hahaha’ tracks, the idea of movements is employed and used to tie two songs together that while are different, use intelligent threads to tie together the musical themes.

And while all the tracks mentioned are outstanding, on ‘Q&A’, Kishi Bashi strips things down and has a nice light, acoustic-folk love song. It is a nice touch to an album with full orchestration and shows Mr. Ishibashi understands the need for contrasts and dynamics in an album. It is a sweet song that makes you bob your head back and forth and think about that special someone.

All in all, Kishi Bashi’s, Lighght is a fantastic psych pop album. It shows that excellent violin playing and string orchestrations set this album apart from others in it genre. It is smartly crafted, both catchy with the pop elements and holds your attention and opens the mind with the more experimental side. It is a well-composed sophomore album, which is difficult to do. Kishi Bashi was able to keep his best elements strong, appeasing older fans and attracting new ones…  9.5/10

‘Q&A’

 

 

 

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