Posts tagged: dance

Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob

By , February 4, 2013 12:00 pm


Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob

Warner Bros. 2013

Rating: 7/10

At the heart of it all – the cheesy, shimmery synths, dolled up with a glorious major-label sheen, the dance-floor bass wallops, the nostalgic grooves that call to mind bad movies and worse outfits – Heartthrob is still the same old Tegan and Sara fans have always known. The touchstones are now more Breakfast Club and Madonna than power chords and Metric, the production slicker, shinier, the cover a colorful, stylized wallpaper than an ominous tome or a blood-red rose, yet there they are on opener “Closer,” still dreaming of “how to get you underneath me.” There’s no way around it: Heartthrob finds Tegan and Sara finally bowing down at the altar of pop that they had been paying occasional respects to ever since So Jealous, yet those hooky melodies and incandescent synths only serve to cleverly disguise those exposed emotions, sharp lyrics and distinct, powerful voices. Heartthrob still bites as incisively, forgives as breathlessly as the Tegan and Sara of old, and that’s a wonderful realization after the culture shock of hearing the twins translated through producer Greg Kurstin’s (the Bird and the Bee) arena-geared sound. The drums here punch along fearlessly, robotically, while the synths paint things in day-glo colors and with fluorescent clarity, and signposts generally not associated with the sisters’ punk reputation – Pink, Robyn, Cyndi Lauper, et. al. – show up with increasing regularity. Yet where this carefully manicured sound can sometimes come off as prepackaged, Tegan and Sara present an interesting dichotomy between the glossy production Kurstin serves up and the strong emotional content the duo’s lyrics and vocal performances reveal. It makes Heartthrob a fine example of what pop music can accomplish when one doesn’t lose sight of the feelings that led to it.

Not to say that Kurstin’s work here is mere window dressing for Tegan and Sara’s typically adroit observations. “Drove Me Wild” is a vintage new-wave hit that very well may be the finest pop song of 2013, the kind of unassuming hook that burrows around and refuses to leave your head, “Back In Your Head” with those fantastically sleazy synths replacing that insistent keyboard line. “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend” pairs a herky-jerky rhythm with a straightforward chorus as plain and simple in its pop ambitions as the venomous lyrics that propel it angrily forward. The best songs are those that combine Kurstin’s direct, anthemic style with Tegan and Sara’s unhinged emotion and insistent vocal melodies, be in it the manic, thrilling chorus of “Closer” or the defiant, bleak synth-pop kiss-off “Shock to Your System,” which closes out Heartthrob in suitably dramatic fashion. Even when the album crosses the line from glamorous to tawdry, as on the big-hair-and-leg-warmers nightmare of “I Was A Fool,” Tegan and Sara never sound like they are running through the motions. Heartthrob doesn’t intend to shack up with the electro-pop fad for a quick cash-in, but instead transforms their sound wholesale into something that sounds like a natural evolution.

Occasionally, the bright lights and mammoth, sparkling sounds detract from the flow of the record, a ceaseless dance party broken up only by tempo shifts. It’s a blueprint that comes off as more than a little uniform, especially in regards to some of the band’s loopier records (2007’s The Con comes to mind). Indeed, Heartthrob nears exhaustion by the time the one-two depressive punch of “Now I’m All Messed Up” and “Shock to Your System” close things up, a regretful hangover to a torrid night of affairs. Yet songs as pristinely produced and playfully constructed as “Now I’m All Messed Up” and “I’m Not A Hero” are not usually this immediate, this visceral; painfully detailed recreations of romantic entanglements gone right and wrong, often as quick one way as the other. For all its narrow musical sensibilities, Heartthrob never marginalizes its heart. “I’ve never walked a party line / doesn’t mean that I was never afraid / I’m not your hero / but that doesn’t mean we’re not one in the same,” the sisters sing, and it’s as telling a line about their musical ethos as it is a satisfying statement about their own identities. As crushing as some of these songs are, Heartthrob never lets you feel the weight, but prefers to revel in emotions good or bad, most often while sweating everything out under a crystalline disco ball. You can’t ask much more from pop music than that.

Heartthrob, the highly anticipated follow-up to Sainthood, gives us Tegan and Sara in their superhero tights and capes, ready to conquer the pop universe, and the new outfits suit them just as well as their old-school jeans and T-shirts.
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Dragonette – Run Run Run

By , September 24, 2012 10:00 am

Canadian electro-pop group Dragonette just released their third album, Bodyparts, on Universal Music last week. It’s the same hi-octane pop (heavy on the synths and breakbeats, with some fine electro house production here and there to boot) that people have come to expect from the lovely Martina Sorbara and bandmates Dan Kurtz and Joel Stouffer, but I do think the songwriting has become much more consistent over the course of an album-length here. “Run Run Run” is the opener here, starting slowly out of the gate with a synth line extremely indebted to the ’80s before launching into a sky-high bridge that Sorbara unsurprisingly kills.

Dragonette – “Run Run Run”

Spencer & Hill – Dance

By , August 11, 2011 10:00 am

New Spencer & Hill track, which means a tasty new electro/house jam from one of the masters. This one has a particularly fat bass drop to it that helps it stand out from the rest of your blog house. Grab it and make sure to see them live if they ever come around near you – their set at HARD Haunted Mansion  Atlantis last year was epic. Speaking of, Haunted Mansion 2011 just released their lineup, check it out:

Spencer & Hill – “Dance”

Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital

By , July 5, 2011 10:00 am

Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital

Sub Pop 2011

Rating: 8/10

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Wolf Parade put itself on an innocently innocuous “indefinite hiatus” just as half of its songwriting core prepared to release an album that firmly situated himself as an individual talent separate from that seminal Canadian group. It’s probably just as well; Wolf Parade were beginning to look like the new Broken Social Scene, a musical tree from which other acts and talents could grow and develop under its critically acclaimed shadow. The problem was that those side projects were well on their way to eclipsing Wolf Parade itself. Spencer Krug’s Sunset Rubdown and Swan Lake “supergroup” have each gained a considerable amount of steam, with the former’s 2009 effort Dragonslayer bringing up the awkward question of what happens when one member of a band releases an album arguably superior to anything that band had released as a whole. Dan Boeckner’s collaboration with his wife Alexei Perry never received that kind of hyperbolic acclaim, but with Sound Kapital Handsome Furs finally have found the niche that has excluded them for so long, the chance to be their own band and not just a guitarist’s vanity project.

Paradoxically, Sound Kapital steps out from Wolf Parade’s shadow not with Boeckner’s trademark riffs but with his keyboards. On the surface the record is a shackling of creative energies, the pair’s idea to write an entire album using just synths and unironic dance beats pushing the guitar back to the occasional accent rather than the driving force. If you think this would sound forced, it does, but not in a way that sabotages the record’s aim. Sound Kapital wants to sound industrial, calling to mind dark ‘80s clubs and merciless backbeats while maintaining a fine pop sheen. The space between the clattering drum machine and buzz saw synths in “Damages” combined with Boeckner’s anguished yelps make for a vaguely threatening aura, and it’s in this limbo between Eastern European machinery and Depeche Mode darkness that Sound Kapital comfortably makes its nest. It’s a tense arrangement, one that makes a straightforward hook like the one in “Bury Me Standing” or the caustic guitar riff (the only prominent one on Sound Kapital and all the more ferocious for it) from “Cheap Music” never boring, never repetitive like too much electro pop.

Much of the credit goes to Boeckner’s rebellious lyrics, which stem from his time traveling in third world countries like Burma and the Philippines and color otherwise harmless fare like “When I Get Back.” Boeckner has never been the most subtle of lyricists (“Little Golden Age,” his best effort from Wolf Parade’s last album, was a guileless paean to nostalgia), so when Boeckner barks “diamonds and gold for the idiot sons / all the privileged thieves come and make things run” on album centerpiece “Serve The People,” it sounds much less clichéd with the throbbing synths and booming drums than it would with a typically Boecknerian guitar anthem. Hell, if the Soviet “K” in the title wasn’t a tip-off, one listen to self-evident titles in “Repatriated” or “Damages” or “Memories of the Future” will have you reading Marx and Brockway. What makes Sound Kapital not mere proselytizing is Boeckner’s earnest howl and the way Perry’s synths and drumbeats create a faint atmosphere of oppression in a downtrodden, decaying dance club.

It’s the perfect fit for Handsome Furs, a tack that would have seemed grandstanding with the group’s earlier guitar-oriented sound but now seems like the band’s logical direction. Boeckner has always seemed more at ease singing just what he feels without any of Spencer Krug’s veiled metaphors and storytelling, and Sound Kapital’s anti-establishment bent is as heartfelt and pointed as any punk screed. What makes it special is how those lyrics merge so seamlessly with the rigid drums and retro keyboards and create a product that is as authentic and real as the ideal of the ‘80s is cheesy and fake. A punk record using sounds straight out of the neon lights of underground European clubs, a style reminiscent of bad haircuts and worse clothes? If this is what we’re going to be getting from Boeckner and company, perhaps Wolf Parade can stand to take a break for as many years as it needs to.

Handsome Furs – “Repatriated”

The Rapture – How Deep Is Your Love

By , June 15, 2011 11:00 am

About a month late, but the Rapture is finally here: with a new track, “How Deep Is Your Love” off their upcoming new album In The Grace of Your Love (love, obviously, being a theme). Vocalist Luke Jenner and his howling falsettos are still the centerpieces, but “How Deep Is Your Love” throws shades of funk, disco, saxophones, and some good old-fashioned vocal harmonies in this extra long track.

The Rapture – “How Deep Is Your Love”

The Sounds – Better Off Dead

By , February 8, 2011 8:00 am

What the hell am I listening to? Swedish indie rockers the Sounds seem to have fully embraced drum machines, synths and some phat four-on-the-floor beats with this new track, which is almost unrecognizable as a Sounds track except for Maja Ivarsson’s sexy croon. Not sure if I’m going to like Something To Die For if it’s all like this, but for the moment it’s a nice diversion and quite the stylistic jump for the band. Listen to me; don’t listen to me; Prestige Worldwide!

The Sounds – “Better Off Dead”

Cut Copy – Zonoscope

By , February 7, 2011 8:00 am

Cut Copy – Zonoscope

Modular 2011

Rating: 6/10

It’s never been that hard to make dance music. Be competent with a synthesizer, be able to craft a reasonably bouncy melody, and make sure that four on the floor bump absolutely kicks, and you have a fairly decent chance of being able to make those feet move and the dollars flow in. Music in the second half of the ‘00s could very well said to be overly saturated with acts looking to cash in on the electro war that “D.A.N.C.E.” fired the first shot in, something that makes the cover of Cut Copy’s third album Zonoscope, New York City on the verge of being submerged by a massive waterfall, more than a bit ironic. But Cut Copy always seemed like they were playing electro less because it was in and more because, well, they were the best at it. In Ghost Colours was a classic in the genre because it had that which most of its compatriots scoffed at, namely substance and a depth that rewarded multiple listens. On its surface, Zonoscope is not that much different from what Cut Copy have staked their sound on. There’s a prevalence of synths and various bleeps and bloops that remind you the ‘80s never really died, Dan Whitford’s eternally optimistic, soulful tenor singing day-glo tenets like “all you need is a dream and a lover, too,” and hooks that don’t quit.

For all the similarities, though, Zonoscope nevertheless seems like a simpler record. First single “Where I’m Going” is a wonderful slice of Beach Boys-esque pop, but little else. The dark soundscapes and edgy instrumentals that occasionally broke up In Ghost Colours and made it such a fascinating journey are nixed, while otherwise solid electro pop tunes like “Pharaohs & Pyramids” and “Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat” are cheapened by sound effects and synthesizers that sound like they were recorded on an ancient Casio. Indeed, Zonoscope is at its best where it strips things down to the bare bones of songwriting, something Whitford and company long ago proved masters of. The one-two punch of “Need You Now” and “Take Me Over” is a combo most electro bands would kill for; Cut Copy toss it off effortlessly and then mask those same superb pop sensibilities with weak effects and distracting melodies that take away from the central hooks on a song like “Blink And You’ll Miss The Revolution.” Then they’ll be a song like “This Is All We’ve Got,” all hazy vibes and gorgeous guitar, and you’ll question why they felt the need to add those awful bass squelches to “Corner of the Sky” or why they decided to make “Sun God” essentially a fifteen-minute rave wank fest.

Of course, it’s tough to fault Zonoscope for sounding so dated right out of the box, because Cut Copy’s songwriting is really as strong as ever. Sure, there’s nothing as immediate as “Hearts on Fire” or as simply affecting as “Unforgettable Season,” but “Take Me Over” and “Alisa” are acceptable, if not fully satisfying, substitutes. The effortless transition that the drone of “Strange Nostalgia For The Future” brings to the cheesy bounce of “Blink And You’ll Miss The Revolution” and the post-punkish “This Is All We’ve Got” is the kind of bridge that regularly made In Ghost Colours such a complete album. Zonoscope is no less complete; rather, it seems like a lesser shade of its predecessor, the kind of album Cut Copy could make in their sleep but lacking that transcendent quality that has so many similar bands swinging and missing. Great songs are a dime a dozen, and Cut Copy, frankly, are amassing a wealth of their own with tunes like the eleven here. It’s the great albums that are a little more elusive.

Cut Copy – “This Is All We’ve Got”

Cut Copy – Where I’m Going

By , August 27, 2010 8:00 am

In Ghost Colours is one of my favorite CDs of the past decade – needless to say, I’m pretty excited for Cut Copy’s upcoming release. “Where I’m Going” tones down the group’s trademark electro for a Beach Boys vibe that’s perfect for the dog days of summer.

Cut Copy – “Where I’m Going”

Katy Perry – Teenage Dream (Kaskade Club Mix)

By , August 20, 2010 1:00 am

So Teenage Dream finally leaked and I can finally listen to what I’m sure will be one of the best albums of the year…but first I had to put this on repeat because it’s an epic mix. Makes me wish I had seen Kaskade back at Electric Daisy Carnival.

Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream (Kaskade Club Mix)”

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