Posts tagged: electro pop

Bibio – Silver Wilkinson

By , May 28, 2013 12:00 pm


Bibio – Silver Wilkinson

Warp 2013

Rating: 9/10

The best time of my life was a summer in my teens. The house built for a family was for now just my dog and I and for a few weeks the only thing to worry about was getting to work and getting a tan. The heat was a furnace where the colors seemed at once sharper and more muted by a stillborn haze as thick as a blanket. Florida weather in the summertime is a wonderfully schizophrenic cycle that is nevertheless as predictable as mosquito bites: the mornings lurid and sweltering and the afternoons speckled by thunderstorms that would move in slowly and deceptively, then piss everything away for an hour or two and slouch out with the furtive backwards glance of a few squalls here and there as the sun set. I was in love, whether with the girl or the idea of it I never really figured out until much later, after it spoiled, but that summer was something special and deathless. I can remember the days by the few records I played over and over again, and that effortless recall is something I miss now, when I’m checking release schedules and streams and promotional singles and consuming, consuming, consuming. It’s the music that drags me back into nostalgia that stays with me the longest now, and either that’s just me getting old or getting cynical or both, but what I think it really is is just wanting to go back to a time when that old saw “soundtrack to your life” actually meant something. This is me diving into the pool every morning; that’s all stars and after-work cleanup; there’s the one from the backyard party, never again with the green apple Smirnoff. I’d like there to be a better reason for why I love Silver Wilkinson so much, but that’s really all there is to it – this is a record that doesn’t invite me back but pulls me along with it. It reminds me why I love summer (life).

Where 2011’s Mind Bokeh tried out its dancing shoes in a dozen different genres but never found one to go home with, Silver Wilkinson is a more streamlined yet enjoyably disparate record. It’s still difficult to classify Stephen Wilkinson’s work, but Silver Wilkinson and Bibio in general is less about genre spotting and more about the vibe, a corny way of saying listen to the goddamn tunes. That blurry mix of acoustic folk melodies and vaporous, analog synth work is still the trademark here, dreamy opener “The First Daffodils” as obvious an opening statement as you’ll see Bibio make. It’s a little bit Simon & Garfunkel and a little bit Boards of Canada, that eclecticism apparent in his influences and the song structures, which meander about on tendrils of glitchy keyboards and pastoral guitar, usually before returning to the sparse ambient beauty at the heart of all his work. There’s hints of the hip-hop lover in the choppy, thrusting “You” and it’s mood-perfect Commodores sample; of the pop culture curator on single “A Tout A L’Heure,” where retro synths rustle up against a psych-folk acoustic melody; of the experimentalist, on the shape-shifting “Look At Orion!,” which harkens back to Bibio’s earlier work before unleashing a far murkier electro beast. Even “Business Park,” the black sheep of the bunch, turns a ‘80s horror movie theme into something almost comforting by the end of its herky-jerky loops.

Mostly, though, I keep coming back to the moments, times when the space-age bedroom folk and clipped funk is just a vehicle to take me back where I want to go, when the somnolent beauty of “Dye the Water Green” decides to linger around the synths pooling around its melody or “Sycamore Silhouetting” kindly stretches out on the grass before getting up to groove to “You.” The ellipsis in “You Won’t Remember…” is almost superfluous on a track so beautifully, delicately pensive, the kind of faded photograph that is impossible to look at without bringing back a whole wealth of memories. “You won’t remember, but he wanted you,” Wilkinson sings on a track that is bare-bones Bibio, a lonely acoustic garnished with a faint brushstroke of a synth and an atmosphere that hangs heavy, foggy, enveloping without being oppressive. Like the rest of Silver Wilkinson, it reminds me of the past, the good and the bad, but that latter is strangely muted and the loss is not so much a dull ache but a familiar lesson: “This is you, more than you could know.” Whatever else I forget, at least Bibio was wrong on one point – the music I’ll always remember.

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Release date May 14, 2013.

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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Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love

By , January 26, 2013 12:00 pm


Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love

Arts & Crafts 2013

Rating: 4/10

Clichés suck, but damn if Beta Love doesn’t qualify for the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage. Beta Love itself is sort of a cliché as it is, its music resembling the same kind of rote, brain-dead saying that is force-fed you throughout life at moments that might make you think the dystopian world of Office Space isn’t too far away. The drudgery here isn’t so much a case-of-the-Mondays as a pungent whiff of desperation, a band turning to a genre long since strip-mined to recover some intangible sense of relevance. 2010’s underrated The Orchard was largely ignored by critics and the same fickle public that had made them a buzzworthy group in 2008 and slapped them with a label as crafty and complex as “Vampire Weekend with strings,” yet at least it had soul and feeling, two things that are largely lacking from the mechanical Beta Love. Perhaps the departure of both cellist Alexandra Lawn and drummer Gabe Duquette (the secret ingredient to The Orchard’s success) and various touring struggles necessitated a change, but for much of its running length Beta Love sounds like a half-baked experiment, all knob-fiddling and jagged programming, candied indie-disco hooks that sound tinny and tapped out. It’s not for lack of commitment – Beta Love doubles down hard on an electro-pop sound that comes off as a strong advocate of cheesy ‘80s pop tropes and beating an innocent drum machine to death. Rather, it’s such an abrupt left turn for the band that, for all of its relentlessly chipper four-on-the-floor ecstasy and an ADD ethos that is almost Euro in its manic intensity, it sounds like a fake-out, a grinning rictus for the cameras and the blogs.

The songwriting is still there, thankfully. Hooks like that on “Binary Mind” and the jittery “Angel Please” bounce out of the speakers and seem to embed themselves in your spine, closely approximating certain party favors these restless tunes seem determined to emulate. The guitar solo that stutters through the feedback and rips itself up before resounding into something resembling a pleasant surprise on “That Much” is just the kind of 8-bit titty-twisting that would have been nice to see the band develop further. Instead, however, the hooks tend to come in one of two flavors, be it the propulsive, ready-made dance-floor hit (the aforementioned “Binary Mind” and the skittish “I Shut Off” are probably the best of these, hectic and unhinged energy that is fun in the moment) or relatively midtempo synth-pop (presumably standing in for what would be ballads on another record). Wes Miles, possessor of one of the finer voices in indie rock, races from one end of the scale to another, alternating campy, fun performances like “Angel Please” with octave-stretching reaches like “Beta Love,” with his voice occasionally approaching an absurd, almost pixie-ish quality. Violinist Rebecca Zeller soldiers on with Lawn gone, yet the splicing in of her parts sound like the hurried addition of a frantic producer or the kind of chintzy effect a regular four-piece might cook up, because, you know, strings and shit. It’s a far cry from the organic textures of the band’s past work, where Zeller and Lawn were no less an essential part of the mix than the guitar and drums. The lyrics, reportedly drawing inspiration from “the works of cyberpunk novelist William Gibson and futurist Ray Kurzweil’s musings on technological singularity and transhumanism,” are just as freshman English as you’d expect, groping for a message while everything else on Beta Love is merely content to just shake its ass.

It’s a disconcerting tonal shift, one that gets lost in its own medium as much as it garbles the message it’s ostensibly trying to make. The songs are still there, those hooks hard to resist, a strong pop foundation that is hard to crack despite the trashy synths reaching critical mass here. Yet it lacks the heart that made The Orchard such a rewarding listen, and with its tacky electro-pop sound may lead them to becoming more indistinguishable than they might have been accused of being before. The result is an unfortunately hollow album, recycled in its sound and empty in its emotion.

Beta Love marks Ra Ra Riot's first outing as a four-piece. Inspired by their lean new lineup (with Wes Miles on vocals, Milo Bonacci on guitar, Mathieu Santos on bass and Rebecca Zeller on violin), the recording process found the band members expanding and re-defining their roles within the new makeup of the group. They built upon demos created mostly by Miles and producer Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello, Wavves) at Sweet Tea Studios in Oxford, MS. Joined by session drummer Josh Freese (Devo, Nine Inch Nails, Weezer) the band enjoyed exploring its potential, experimenting with new influences and exciting sounds.
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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”

The Presets – Promises

By , September 13, 2012 10:00 am

The Presets are relatively huge in Australia; on these shores, not so much. That’s a shame, because their Cut Copy-esque electro-pop delves far deeper into the electronic side of things than many of their peers (think Underworld). It’s led to massive acclaim in Australia, which third album Pacifica hopes to translate to America with a stunningly well-produced collection of ten tunes. Check it out if you like house, dance, post-punk, etc. etc. The beats are huge.

The Presets – “Promises”

Two Door Cinema Club – Next Year

By , August 14, 2012 10:00 am

Irish heroes Two Door Cinema Club blew up in a big way with 2010′s Tourist History, a charmingly lightweight collection of up tempo indie rock and post-punk chops, high in energy and infectious hooks. Despite the enormous singles, it was a bit of a one-note trick for me, something that blended together by the end of its runtime. Their second album, Beacon, makes a good attempt at changing up the formula without reducing the impact of their admirable melodies. Opener “Next Year” is my early favorite, an emotive hook cresting a more fluid, less in-your-face rhythm than I’m used to from them. Beacon arrives September 4 on Glassnote Records.

Two Door Cinema Club – “Next Year”

MNDR – Cut Me Out

By , August 2, 2012 10:00 am

MNDR is a electro-pop duo that is the main public image of vocalist Amanda Warner with production work from her friend Peter Wade, with Warner being best known for her stint on Mark Ronson’s superb track “Bang Bang Bang” off his 2010 album Record Collection. The duo is finally gearing up to release their debut album, Feed Me Diamonds, out August 14 on Ultra Records. “Cut Me Out” (which originally came out last year) is a sturdy electro-pop affair, with Warner’s distinctive vocals providing most of the punch here.

MNDR – “Cut Me Out”

Passion Pit – Gossamer

By , July 23, 2012 12:00 pm

Passion Pit – Gossamer

Columbia 2012

Rating: 8/10

For Michael Angelakos, the darkness has always been served cloaked in an overwhelming halo of light, the kind that doesn’t illuminate but blinds with a sort of stabbing beauty. He began Passion Pit as a sort of apology to a girlfriend tired of all his self-defeating bullshit, and hid all of the subversive musings of Manners behind layers of synths and his own falsetto, pitched so high as to obliterate any easy meaning. Manners was a fun, wispy listen, a batch of sugary synth confectionary and tie-dye festival sing-a-longs, but whether “Sleepyhead” was a song about the despair of heartbreak or a colossally bad trip, it remained a pretty dark tune, major chords and that irresistible hook be damned. I find it hard to believe that Gossamer isn’t a tongue-in-cheek reply to all those who dismissed Passion Pit as another MGMT-of-the-month back in 2009, very enjoyable sure but oh so painfully thin. Gossamer is airy like cotton candy from the summer fair and delicate like an overgrown web at a lakeside cabin, but for the first time there’s a substance to all the exceedingly fine, vibrant textures on display here, something that gives but doesn’t break.

That underlying discord that has always been at the heart of everything Passion Pit have done is still here, well drenched in the sunniest pop this side of fun., yet where Manners obfuscated everything, Gossamer navigates a precise path through some seriously shaky emotional terrain. It leaves little open to interpretation even as the layers and tracks pile on and on in glorious Technicolor. Most of the credit has to go to Angelakos, never one to shy away from his own feelings and still situated high and crystalline in the mix but now more assured and more conventional, lending a depth and clarity to his lyrics that had been absent for far too long. His moods are uneasy and unpredictable, as quick to declare that he’s ready to get back on track and quicker still to indulge in therapeutic melodrama.  “Take A Walk” is most likely the catchiest song ever written about fiscal irresponsibility in the current debt crisis, told with a straight face and all the more desperate for it. The best thing here, the white-boy R&B of “Constant Conversations,” is one of several songs that takes an unflinching look at Angelakos’ alcohol problem: “Now you’re standing in the kitchen, and you’re pouring out my drink / well there’s a very obvious difference, and it’s that one of us can think / if there’s a bump in the road yeah you fix it, but for me I’ll just run off the road.” It’s intense, personal stuff, at times waxing dangerously close to self-pity, yet it juxtaposes sharply and effectively with the auditory ebullience that threatens to swallow it up but never does. Given how successful Passion Pit are in making Gossamer sound absolutely massive, this is no small victory.

Passion Pit had already taken the electro-pop craze to its logical conclusion, sounds built to fill an arena and a veritable army of neon-lit effects and endless multi-tracking pushing against the speakers en route to a bigger, better payoff down onto the next chorus. Gossamer, however, will leave you wondering how Manners can now sound so tiny. That trademark Passion Pit sound – the warped vocals, that frenzied stroke of a drum solo, effects dropping in and out like a goddamn musical Whack-a-Mole, fast four-on-the-floor bubbling underneath a Millennium Falcon-sized engine of synths – is in fine form here, no better than on prototypical tune “I’m Alright.” As Gossamer glides on, however, Passion Pit expand on what they’ve mastered – that unique brand of energetic dance-pop combining the best traits of straightforward pop music with the eye-dilating euphoria of rave music – by amping up everything: the choruses, the emotion, the enormous hooks.

There’s a sequence of songs here, beginning with “Cry Like A Ghost’s” anguished “Sylvia” refrain all the way through to the soaring, dreamlike chorus of “Love Is Greed,” where you think this is it: here is the peak where the band cannot just go any higher. They are cresting onto some brilliant hill where everything is kaleidoscopes and keyboards and over-saturated colors and oh-my-god crippling neurosis has never sounded this good and it’s almost too damn much. But everything, Angelakos’ fey vocals and that outsized production, all one hundred and twenty tracks of it, sounds so wonderfully pure that it’s hard not to get swept up with them all. And then, of course, they go higher.

Gossamer is huge, bombastic, and all over the place, spraying synths and outsized choruses like confetti over some deranged future-pop festival. Gossamer is also remarkably personal, pockmarked with Angelakos’ unmistakable sentiments, the nasty demons and the sympathetic dreams. It’s an unusual paradox that has become Passion Pit’s singular advantage, finally bringing those ignored lyrics level with their sunburnt melodic instincts and turning all those ugly human qualities into something to be celebrated. It’s pop music in its purest form, totally unhindered and perhaps a bit outrageous, devoid of any self-conscious irony, just simply: listen to my story, and sing along.

2012 release, the sophomore album from the American Electropop band. Gossamer is the highly anticipated follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2009 debut album Manners. The album is comprised of 12 new tracks that showcase Michael Angelakos' ever-expanding lyrical talents and bring to life his trademark irresistible beats. "On Gossamer there is more of a dichotomy between the lyrics and the music. You hear my lyrics more precisely which is something I was ready for. The lyrics on this album have a lot to say about what the last two years of my life have been troubled with," explains Angelakos. Gossamer was made throughout 2011 in Los Angeles and New York City, and again finds Angelakos working with Manners producer Chris Zane.
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Passion Pit – Cry Like A Ghost

By , July 19, 2012 10:00 am

Never thought I’d be drooling over the new Passion Pit album, but something happened in between 2009′s break-out Manners and next week’s follow-up Gossamer – singer Michael Angelakos realized that he didn’t have to hold that falsetto for so damn long to sound halfway decent, and the band grew into and more confident in their indie pop, synth-heavy sound, which has never lacked for hooks. The result is a confident album that is less grating without losing any of the warm accessibility of Manners – choruses like the haunting one in slow jam “Cry Like A Ghost” (“Sylviaaaaa” – shout out to Miike Snow!) are all over the place here. If they keep it up, they have much more than a flash-in-the-pan future ahead of them.

 Passion Pit – “Cry Like A Ghost”

Future of What – Back to the City

By , July 10, 2012 10:00 am

Led by wispy vocalist Blair Gimma (whose had her own share of solo success in the past), Brooklyn buzz band Future of What’s Facebook page defiantly throws aside the “electro-pop” moniker, claiming that they write “songs with a capital S.” I’m not sure when electro-pop became a genre tag to be avoided like the plague, but if “Back to the City” definitely fits within the parameters. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing; Gimma’s voice adds an airy dimension to the stark synths and gentle, space-age chord changes, and it seems like the band environment has worked well for Gimma. The group’s debut EP, Moonstruck, is available for free on their Bandcamp.

Future of What – “Back to the City”

Hot Chip – Look At Where We Are

By , June 20, 2012 10:00 am

I’ve never been the biggest Hot Chip fan, which is why their new record (and 5th overall) came out of left field to surprise me. I found a depth to In Our Heads that I usually found lacking in previous releases, best shown by the epic 7-minute jam “Flutes” and “Look At Where We Are,” a slow, gorgeous ballad that sounds different from most of what they’ve ever done. Relying on a twisting, slow jam of a guitar line rather than any beats, it showcases Alexis Taylor’s soulful vocals and the band’s sharp way with a melody. Given their old cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised at how easily they could pull this sound off.

Hot Chip – “Look At Where We Are”

In Our Heads is the 5th album from English quintet Hot Chip. It's eleven stellar tracks of hyper-infectious pop, fizzing percussion and addictive bass line; there is even a gorgeous ballad or two.
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Passion Pit – Take A Walk

By , May 9, 2012 10:00 am

The first single off Passion Pit’s sophomore album Gossamer finally dropped a couple days ago, and while “Take A Walk” is definitely a distinctly “Passion Pit” type of tune, the ostensible changes the band is working towards since Manners came out seemingly forever ago (2009) make this one of the summer’s more anticipated releases for me. I like that singer Michael Angelakos is moving away from the falsetto he leaned on so heavily (often to their detriment live, I thought) and the band is focusing more on breezy, groovy melodies that speak to the lazy joy of summer, rather than the supercharged electro pop anthems they became famous for. It’s a slight change in sound, but a welcome one, and if it’s any indication of what’s in store, Gossamer could be great.

Passion Pit – “Take A Walk”

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