Category: Indie Synth Pop

New Video: JOVM Mainstay Neon Indian Releases an Absurdist and Politically- Charged Single and Visual

Alan Palomo is a Mexican-born, Denton, TX-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, electronic music artist, producer and film maker, who’s best known as the creative mastermind behind the acclaimed recording project Neon Indian. I’ve written quite a bit about Palomo and Neon Indian over the years, and as you may recall, with the release of four albums and an EP, 2009’s Psychic Chasms, 2013’s Era Extraña and  Errata Anex EP and 2015’s Vega Intl. Night School, Palomo firmly established a slickly produced synth pop sound indebted to Prince, Michael Jackson and others. 

Last year, Palomo released his first narrative short, 86’d, “a love letter to New York cinema and in a way, a final recapitulation of the Night School universe,” the JOVM mainstay explained in press notes at the time. “Shot on 16mm over the course of three nights, it was an ambitious undertaking for all parties involved but honestly making it was such a blast that at times felt like just that, a party. I’m eternally grateful to all the wonderful people that came together to realize this kooky project and proud to finally be able to share it with music and movie goers alike.”

Directed by Palomo, written by Palomo and Kai Flanders, edited by Pete Ohs and Dustin Reid, the film stars Buddy Duress (Good Time, Heaven Knows What), Lindsay Burdge (Easy, Thirst Street, The Midnight Swim), Seaton Smith (Top Five, Mulaney), Chase Williamson (John Dies at The End), Mitzi Akaha (Lowlives, Dark Side of The Moon) and musician Alex Frankel (Holy Ghost) as well as Palomo. Set in Ed Koch-era NYC, Max takes a mouthful of mescaline and desperately tries to make it home before it kicks in. On his way, he decided to stop at an all-night deli for a quick, late night meal. After numerous order delays and full-on trip stampeding into his psyche, he is made to pay witness to the colorful cast of Lower East Side weirdos, visualizing their stories through his newly altered lens: A Times Square dominatrix meets up with one of her regulars to reveal an answering message left by his wife. Two punks discuss an ultimatum as one reveals his connection to a pistol found in a drug bust. A recording engineer convinces an aspiring singer to re-record a destroyed vocal take from a canonic 80s group and attempts to pass it off as the original. Visually speaking, the short would remind a lot of viewers of Martin Scorcese’s After Hours as its centered round a New York and peculiarly New York characters that are sadly long gone — and situations that can’t possibly happen in a sanitized, suburban mall version of New York. 

Along with the film, Palomo wrote and recorded the short’s theme song “Heaven’s Basement,” an 80s inspired, synth pop, club banger centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, a sinuous bass line, scorching, distorted guitar solo and Palomo’s dreamy falsetto. And while continuing on the slickly produced club friendly sound of his previously released work, the song managed to possesses a lysergic buzz. 

Interestingly, Palomo’s first single of 2019 “Toyota Man” is a decided left turn for him and for Neon Indian, as the song is the first song written and sung in his native Spanish — and perhaps more important, finds the project leaning towards a seamless mesh of synth pop and psychedelic cumbia. Interestingly, “Toyota Man” may arguably be the most politically charged song, Palomo has even written and released, as he sings in Spanish “We came here to study, we want to work” as a protest, which is followed by mischievously dueling riffs of “La Cucaracha” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” In some way, it points out that the experience of the Mexican, Central American and South American migrants and immigrants are equally as American and as valid as yours or mine. 

Directed by Alan Palomo and starring Palomo Brian DeRan, Chris Silcox and Veronica Sanders, the recently released video is part a proud and defiant view of the border culture that Palomo grew up in and an absurdist comedy inspired by a wild melange of things that features a proud and defiant view of the culture of his people and a possessed Trump piñata that gets its deserved comeuppance. 

“’Toyota Man’ was filmed along the road map of what essentially was my path to American citizenship: Monterrey, the Nuevo Laredo border, San Antonio, and finally Austin. The process is a multiple decade commute known by many Latinos and other Americans,” Palomo says of the video. “Though my music has always been generally apolitical, I realized when recording this song that it was impossible to write biographically (in the rhetorical context of the Trump administration) without being entirely that: political. The story of my family, which before felt commonly American, was suddenly politicized. Recognizing the absurdity of it all, I thought it would be refreshing to address the social narrative around immigration through comedy – nods to Benny Hill, misremembered San Antonio car commercials, and School House Rock. My family and I had a ton of fun making this and I hope it’s equally as fun to watch. Enjoy!”

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New Audio: Introducing the Sleek Dance Floor Friendly Sounds of Chicago’s DRAMA

Na’el Shehade is a Chicago-born and-based, Palestinian-American producer and DJ, who inherited an entrepreneurial drive from his late father, who immigrated from Palestine to the States in the 70s to build a better life. Shehade fell in love with DJ culture as a kid and as an adult took up music production and engineering. The Chicago-born and-based producer and DJ’s interest and passion led to a diverse and eclectic array of professional opportunities, including early studio work with Chance the Rapper and Kanye West and music projects for MTV and Bravo. 

Shehade’s collaborator Via Rosa grew up in a rather musical household: her parents played in a reggae band and toured as a family, homeschooling Rosa into her early teens. Although her music listening was limited primarily to oldies, Sade, Brazilian music and Afrobeat, a teenaged Rosa kept poetry journals — and by high school, she started writing songs and making beats. After relocating to Chicago in 2010, Via Roa connected with THEMPeople, a collective at the center of her adopted hometown’s sprawling hip-hop scene. 

Interestingly, the Chicago-based duo’s collaboration together, DRAMA can trace its origins to a chance meeting between them back in 2014. And since its formation, the duo have bootstrapped a subtle yet rapid rise on their own terms, centered around a sound that meshes Shehade’s Chicago house-infused production and Rosa’s soulful delivery, inspired by jazz, hip-hop and Bossa nova while managing to blur the lines between R&B, dance pop, heartbreak and bliss. Along with that, the duo have had a long-held history of a proud and bold DIY ethos, self-releasing several EPs and making multiple tours — on their own terms. 

DRAMA’s highly-anticipated full-length debut Dance Without Me is slated for a February 14, 2020 release through Ghostly International. Thematically, the album’s material reportedly finds the duo recasting romantic tragedy as moonlit self-acceptance while the material pairs  Rosa’s candid lyrics focused on expressionistic narratives about the intricacies of interpersonal relationships with sleek, dance floor friendly production. Instead of wallowing alone in their blues and heartache, the material features characters who sashay and strut, knowing their self-worth while being vulnerable. This album is dedicated to the people watching their friend’s love-lives grow and happen around them, and not having anyone,” Rosa says in press notes. 

“Gimme Gimme,” Dance Without Me’s second and latest single is a sleek and slickly produced club banger, centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, thumping beats, Via Rosa’s effortlessly soulful vocals, twinkling hi-hats and a euphoric hook. And while seemingly being a sultry synthesis of Between Two Selves-era Octo Octa and classic, Larry Levan-era house, the track finds its love-sick narrator wobbling between aching vulnerability and proud, self-reliance, as she searches for a sign that it’s okay to love again. 

“The idea was to have a conversation with my myself about what kind of man I’m looking for,” Rosa explains in press notes. “In the chorus I repeat the line ‘I need you to stand and deliver. Cause I need a man that’s not gonna give me any any…’ The end I purposely left blank so listeners could insert what they don’t want from their next lover. Oddly enough the song was inspired by the closing scene in the movie Grease where Sandy sings to Danny ‘You better shape up cause I need a man.’ Only in my world, I’m Sandy, my heart is Danny and I’m telling my heart to shape up and give me what I want.”

New Video: French 79’s Intimate and Contemplative Visual for “Code Zero”

Last month, I wrote about Simon Henner, a Marseille, France-based electro pop producer and artist, best known for his solo recording project French 79. And with the release of his first two releases — his debut EP Angel and his full-length debut Olympic — Henner quickly and boldly emerged into the French and international electro pop scenes. 

Henner’s latest French 79 album Joshua is slated for a Friday release through Alter K Records, and the album reportedly finds Henner drawing from his past — in particular, his love of Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Soft Machine, the soundtracks of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner and Jacques Cousteau. Each of Joshua‘s songs are meant to evoke a lived-in moment, relationship or experience during Henner’s childhood.

Now, as you may recall, album single “By Your Side” was centered around thumping beats, shimmering synth arpeggios and Ocean Springs, MS-born, Paris-based vocalist Sarah Rebecca‘s plaintive vocals to create a nostalgia-inducing track that recalls — to my ears, at least — From Here To Eternity . . . and Back-era Giorgio Moroder, and the Stranger Things soundtrack. And while being remarkably dance floor friendly, the track is a sweet declaration of loyalty that feels delightfully old-school. 

“Code Zero,” Joshua’s latest single is lush, instrumental track featuring twinkling Wurlitzer, shimmering synth arpeggios, thumping beats and a motorik groove. And while subtly recalling Tour de France-era Kraftwerk, Daft Punk and the aforementioned Giorgio Moroder, “Code Zero” the track possesses an intimate quality, as it feels like a contented sigh in a rare moment of peace. In press notes, Henner explains that the track, which also references his passion for sailing is “about how I find a path, how I use my music compass to move forward.” 

Directed by Vincent Desrousseaux, the recently released video is an intimate look at Henner’s creative process, as he writes the song in a gorgeous, sun-dappled apartment with with vintage gear — and it includes a brief moment in which Henner pauses to watch the 1983 motion picture War Games on his laptop. 

Deriving their name from a playful, Anglophile nod towards the famed physicist Issac Newton, the Paris-based electro pop act Isaac Delusion was formed back in 2010 by its core duo, longtime friends Loïc Fleury (vocals, guitar) and Jules Paco (keys). Shortly after their formation, the project expanded to incorporate a rotating cast of musicians and collaborators. Interestingly, with the release of 2014’s self-titled debut effort, the Paris-based act began to receive attention for a sound that meshed acoustic instrumentation with electronics — while nodding a bit at dream pop.

Building upon the growing buzz surrounding them in the French electro pop scene, the act toured extensively across France and Europe to support their full-length debut. The band’s sophomore effort  2017’s Rust & Gold found the duo shifting away from ethereal and atmospheric dream pop and leaning heavily towards more soulful rhythms, tangible emotions and insightful observations on love and the human condition.

Since the release of the French electro pop act’s first two albums, they’ve amassed over 500,000 Spotify streams a month, played Pitchfork Paris, as well as sold-out headlining shows at venues like  L’Olympia and Elysee Montmarte. Now, as you may recall, the duo’s third album uplifters is slated for release this Friday through Microqlima Records, and the album reportedly is centered around a misplaced nostalgia for a long-passed youth (which is fitting for the act’s core duo, as they’ve inched into their 30s). As a result, the material is imbued with a longing for the freedom and unguarded honesty of their younger selves — and reset for the missed opportunities you can never get back. And much like its predecessors, the material off uplifters is primarily written and sung in English with a handful of songs written and sung in their native French.

Last month, I wrote about “pas habitude,” a breezy synth pop song centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, plaintive and dreamy vocals, a sinuous bass line and an infectious, razor sharp hook  — and yet, the song’s breeziness is at best superficial, as the song possesses a bittersweet heartache and nostalgia for a seemingly simpler past. Coincidentally, “pas habitude” is one of the few album tracks written and sung in the duo’s native French. Interestingly, the album’s latest track “disorder” is a taut yet breezy track centered around a disco-like bass line, shimmering synth arpeggios, four-on-the-floor drumming and plaintive falsetto vocals that finds the duo recalling Random Access Memories-era Daft Punk.

“Like natural laws, order can rise from chaos,” the duo says in press notes. “We sometimes need to follow our intuitions and desires, even when they seem to lead towards dangerous ground.”

The duo will be playing a handful of European dates in 2020. Check out the tour dates below.

 

LIVE DATES
25 February LONDON Omeara
28 February KÖLN Artheater
29 February BERLIN Bi Nuu
 2 March HAMBURG Nichtspeicher
 4 March AMSTERDAM Paradiso Upstairs
 6 March BRUSSELS Botanique
 7 March LAUSANNE Les Docks

New Audio: Omar Souleyman Releases a Mesmerizing, Club Banging, Love Song

Omar Souleyman is a Tell Tamer, Syria-born, Istanbul, Turkey-based Sunni Arab vocalist, whose music career started in earnest back in 1994 when began as a part-time wedding singer. His overall sound has largely been influenced by  the incredibly diverse milieu of Northeastern Syria — and as a result, Souleyman and a rotating cast of musicians and producers he has worked with since his early days have found a way to draw from and mesh the sounds and themes of the Kurdish, the Ashuris, the Turks, the Iraqis and the larger Arabic world in a way that’s both familiar and novel. Since then, Souleyman has become the region’s pioneer of dance floor friendly wedding music. 

Amazingly since 1994, Souleyman has managed to be wildly prolific, releasing well over 500 studio and live albums with about 80% of those releases made at weddings. Most of those recordings were first presented to the newlywed couple, and then later copied and sold at local kiosks. Now, as you may recall Souleyman has released four compilation albums and three full-length albums of original material: 2006’s Highway to Hassake, 2009’s Dabke 2020, 2010’s Jazeera Nights, 2011’s Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts and 2011’s Leh Jani,  2013’s Wenu Wenu, 2015’s Bahdeni Nami and 2017’s To Syria, with Love — and all of those albums have not only brought the sounds and grooves of the Middle East to the West, his recorded output has helped to expand the Tell Tamer-born, Istanbul-based vocalist’s profile internationally. 

Adding to a rapidly rising international profile, Souleyman has played sets at some of the world’s biggest festivals, including Paredes de Coura, a Caribou co-curated ATP Festival, ATP Nightmare Before Christmas, Bonnaroo, Roskilde Festival, Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival, Pukkelpop Festival, Electric Picnic,  Treefort Music Festival — and oddly enough, one of the strangest House of Vans bills I’ve ever seen, in which he opened for Future Islands. And before I forget, he’s also collaborated with Bjork, contributing vocals for three remixes, which appear on an Biophilia.

Deriving its title for the Arabic word “how” or more literally “which color,” Shlon, which is slated for a November 22, 2019 release through Mad Decent/Because Music is the first batch of new material from Souleyman in a couple of years. The forthcoming album featres double keyboard work from Hasan Alo, a fellow native of the Hasaka region of Northeastern Syria, who has recently been active in Dubai’s vibrant nightlife scene, a well as saz work from Azad Salih, a fellow Syrian, who currently resides in Mardin, Turkey. The album also finds the Tell Tamer-born, Istanbul-based vocalist continuing his longtime collaboration with Syrian-born, Turkish-based lyricst Moussa Al Mardood, who the wrote most of the album’s lyrics spontaneously during the recording sessions.

Unsurprisingly, his fourth album is vintage Omar Souleyman — 6 songs which mesh the dabke and baladi music of music beloved by the Lebanese, Jordanians, Syrians, the Kurdish and Iraqis with thumping, synth-led techno — but at its core, the material is comprised of swooning tales of devotion, adoration and love. Now, as you may recall Shlon’s first single was the propulsive, club banging “Layle,” which was centered around Alo’s dexterous and dense layers of synth arpeggios, tweeter and woofer rocking polyrhythmic beats and Souleyman’s imitable vocals. But at its core, the song is a slick synthesis of classically-inspired poetry and modern production.  The album’s second and latest single “Shi Tirdin,” which translates into English as “What Do You Wish For?” is a high energy, club banger featuring mesmerizing layers of synth arpeggios and thumping beats and fluttering synths. And while continuing the album’s overall vibe of meshing techno and dabke music, the track is a swooning declaration of devotion, in which the song’s narrator readily offers his love anything she wishes for. 

Over the course of this past year, I’ve written a bit about the Asheville, NC-based goth/post-punk act Secret Shame. And as you may recall, the act — Lena (vocals), Nathan (drums), Nikki (guitar), Matthew (bass) and Billie (guitar) — formed back in 2016 and can trace their origins to the desperate need that all of its members felt to create. “If I couldn’t sing or play music, I would tear my skin off.” the band’s front person Lena explains in press notes. Shortly after their formation, the band released their self-titled debut EP, which quickly established the band’s dark and atmospheric sound paired with lyrics that thematically touch upon issues of domestic abuse, mental health, political and social dissatisfaction and frustration. 

Secret Shame’s highly-anticipated full-length debut Dark Synthetics was released earlier this year to critical acclaim — while further establishing an enormous, reverb-heavy sound that seemed to be influenced by  Siouxsie and the Banshees and 4AD Records. Interestingly, album single “Calm” was a perfect example of that sound, while featuring driving rhythms, razor sharp hooks and Lean’s vocals slashing through and cutting through the moody and hazy mix. And underpinning the song was an emotional urgency that came from lived-in, personal experience. “There’s not a single word I didn’t write from the pit of my stomach,” Lena says in press notes. “The entire record- even though the song dynamics change- has one solid emotion, which is the struggle of inner turmoil and being trapped inside yourself. It’s the feeling of holding a scream in the back of your throat.” She adds, “Some people avoid writing music that puts them in a vulnerable place, but that’s the place I’m trying to get into, That’s where you’re your most raw and hopefully people will be able to experience it through you. There’s nothing else like it.”

Building upon the growing momentum the band has received since the release of their full-length debut, the members of Secret Shame have toured to support the new album, which included an apt Friday the 13th stop at The Broadway and a Halloween set that featured Joy Division covers.  Along with that, Secret Shame recently announced a series of remixes of Dark Synthetic material that they’ll be releasing over the next few months, as they return to the studio to record new music slated for release next year. The first remix finds XOR turning the guitar-led “Calm” into an icy and industrial synth banger, centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, stuttering beats while retaining the song’s intensity, vulnerability and ache, and Lena’s powerhouse vocals.

Ferrari Garden is a mysterious yet emerging synth pop act. The act’s second single “Bridge” is swaggering and self-assured track, centered around layers of arpeggiated synths, thumping beats, wobbling low and alluring vocals  — and while being simultaneously slickly produced and soulful, the track which manages to subtly recall 80s synth pop like Nu Shooz‘ “I Can’t Wait” was written around some deeply personal, lived-in, existential experience.

“I think about fate, acceptance and inner struggle a lot. ‘Bridge’ is about the inner struggle to accept one’s face,” Ferrari Garden explains via email. “I first began writing the lyrics for ‘Bridge’ while getting ready for bed in the winter of 2018. I was in my thesis year at OCAD at the time and was feeling very isolated and overworked. I guess that subconsciously, I was looking for distractions.

“Art school is a strange world – one which I never felt I quite fit into – and I was beginning to question my place there and as an artist.” Ferrari Garden adds. “Writing this song allowed for respite from the world around me, and showed me a brand new world I could build inside myself. That kind of power is both liberating and intimidating.”

 

 

Back in 2014, keyboardist Ryan Neighbors left his full-time gig with acclaimed indie act Portugal. The Man to pursue his on creative pursuits — namely, his latest electro pop project Hustle and Drone with collaborator Andy Black. With the release of that year’s debut Holyland, the duo built up a profile across the Pacific Northwest, eventually playing the region’s major venues and selling them out. Building upon a growing profile, the band toured across Europe.

Once the dust settled, the duo returned to woodshedding material, confident that they’d craft a competent and worthy follow-up. As the story goes, Neighbors and Black wrote material and flew out their producer Sonny DiPerri to Portland to dig into what they had just finished. DiPerri’s response wasn’t what the duo was prepared to hear. “He asked, If you didn’t write this, would you listen to it?” Neighbors recalls in press notes. “We thought he was flying out to Portland for us to put the finishing touches on our record, but then he told us we needed to start from the beginning. I was pissed.”

As it turned out, DiPerri felt that the material the duo had worked on was inauthentic and that it didn’t mirror the pain and the dark places he saw in Neighbors’ and Black’s life. So he pushed them to identity and dig deeper into something much more representative of where the duo actually was at the time. “He knows me well, so he was also well aware that I wasn’t really in a happy place and had been struggling with depression,” explains Neighbors. “He wanted those feelings to bleed out through the songs; we aren’t trying to be a fun dance band.”

Neighbors and Black started over from scratch, learning new synths and software and dug into new sample libraries. The tough love DiPerri gave them began to yield a dark and cathartic collection of songs, which after more refining and polishing would eventually become their forthcoming sophomore album What An Uproar, an effort that was finished in the remote town of Talkeetna, AK. The solitude of the town, contributed heavily to the focus with which the band took on the finishing touches of the record.

With Holyland, Neighbors and a former writing partner “would kind of operate in a ‘well that’s pretty cool’ type of recording process,” Neighbors recalls. “With Uproar we would say ‘well that’s pretty cool, how can we make it better. Okay, we just made it better; how can we make it perfect? It was a huge change in approach.”

Uproar isn’t as accessible to the average listener as Holyland, but it is the record we wanted to make, and it is a true expression of where we are as artists,” Neighbors explains in press notes. “The atmosphere of What An Uproar is a direct result of us freeing ourselves to make the music we truly wanted to make, not necessarily the music that was expected from us,” Black adds. “If we found ourselves wading into waters that felt vulnerable and uncomfortable, then we knew we were being honest and on the right track. The vulnerability in trying to be as authentic as possible is always scary but being honest and upfront was what we wanted to accomplish.”

Sonically and stylistically, What An Uproar is a departure from the duo’s debut effort, which was a dance floor friendly batch of material. The soon-to-be released sophomore album is centered around Neighbors’ introspective lyrics about anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse and broken relationships — while sonically, the material reportedly recalls Joy Division, Nine Inch Nails and The Faint. “I have always hid behind vocal effects and vague lyrics to mask what the songs are really about,” Neighbors explains. “Not this time. A lot of the lyrical content is about anxiety and depression. Too much boozing and a broken relationship. For a long time I wasn’t trying to feel better and just accentuating what I was going through. I wrote all of these songs while I was still sitting in that dark place.”

“Stranger,” What An Uproar‘s latest single is centered around thumping, industrial-like beats, shimmering synth arpeggios, Neighbors plaintive vocals and a dance floor friendly hook — but interestingly, the track recalls Violator-era Depeche Mode and The Postal Service, while being full of slow-burning dread and anxiety.

 

New Audio: Rising Aussie Electro Pop Trio Haiku Hands Release a Thumping, Old School Hip Hop Inspired Banger

Splitting their time between Melbourne and Sydney. the Aussie indie electro pop act Haiku Hands, which features a core trio of Claire Nakazawa, Beatrice Lewis and Mie Nakazawa have received attention both nationally and internationally for a sound that draws from hip-hop, electro pop, dance music and house music. Interestingly, the trio is part of a larger collective that engages with and explores social norms with their lyrical, musical and visual content. 

Now, as you may recall last year was a breakthrough year for the Aussie electro pop trio: their high energy club bangers “Squat,” “Jupiter,” and “Not About You” amassed over 3.5 million streams — and as a result, each single landed spots on iTunes charts across the globe. Adding to an enormous year, “Jupiter” was included on Matt Wilkinson‘s Best Songs of 2018 So Far list, and received airplay on BBC Radio 1 and Radio X. Continuing on  the momentum, the members of Haiku Hands went on a month-long North American tour with CHAI that featured stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and the Market Hotel, an opening date for Cupcake in Chicago, and appearances at a handful of SXSW showcases. 

The Aussie indie electro pop trio’s highly-anticipated full-length debut is slated for release next year through Mad Decent and Spinning Top in Australia and New Zealand. In the meantime, the trio’s latest single, the Mad Zach-produced “Onset” is a brash and infectious banger centered around a glitchy and thumping 808-based, old school hip-hop production reminiscent of Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force’s “Renegades of Funk” and Missy Elliott paired with the trio delivering equally brash and dexterously flows that nod at Khia’s “My Neck, My Back (Lick It),” schoolyard rhymes and chants. As a child of the 80s, this song brings boom boxes, shell toe Adidas and B Boys breaking — but with a modern touch.