If you’re a child of the 80s like me, you’d likely remember Kate Bush collaborating with Peter Gabriel on “Don’t Give Up,” as well as her solo career — in particular her smash-hit “Running Up That Hill.” Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site since it’s inception 6 years ago, you’d likely know that I’m frequently multi-multi-multitasking while working on blog posts so it’s not uncommon for me to be watching a ballgame, listening to tracks and writing emails. And as a result, I’ve stumbled upon a number of singles that caught my attention — including Vancouver, BC-based electro pop duo Mu’s gorgeous and fair faithful cover of “Running Up That Hill.”
If you’ve been frequenting this site for the better part of the past year, you may recall that I’ve written about London-based indie duo Ten Fe. With the release of their critically praised single “Make Me Better,” the duo comprised of Ben Moorhouse and Leo Duncan took the blogosphere by storm for a sound that my fellow critics internationally have described as darkly Romantic and anthemic electronic-based rock. Moorhouse and Duncan closed out 2015 with “In The Air,” a single that paired the duo’s earnest harmonies with a driving, motorik-like groove, layers of shimmering and atmospheric synths and soaring, anthemic hooks.
The duo’s latest single “Turn” is a slow-burning song that gently nods towards R&B and soul as swirling, ambient electronics are paired with shimmering guitar chords and plaintive vocals that express vulnerability within a turn of a phrase, and stuttering drum programming in what may arguably be one of the duo’s most restrained single they’ve released to date. And while being a taste of what the duo’s forthcoming and highly-anticipated full-length debut, which was recorded during a year-long exile in Berlin, the song lyrically speaks about a relationship fraught with bitterness, uncertainties, miscommunications and perceived deceit. Throughout the song, the song’s narrator isn’t quite sure if there’s someone else that has taken his lover’s heart or if his lover is hiding something altogether much worse.
Crush Club is an up-and-coming New York-based indie electro pop act and their debut single “Get Me Off” manages to channel Nu Shooz‘s “I Can’t Wait” and Tom Tom Club‘s “Genius of Love” as the act pairs a sinuous disco funk bass line, Nile Rodgers-like guitar, shimmering and tumbling cascades of synths, sultry, come hither vocals and an infectious, anthemic hook in a sexy, club-friendly track.
Comprised of Lalin St. Juste (vocals), Akiyoshi Ehara (bass, production), Kasha Rockland (vocals), Mirza Kopelman (percussion), Chris Thalmann (drums), Mahesh Rao (keys, synths), Mirza Kopelman (percussion) and Kumar Butler (sampler), the San Francisco Bay Area electro pop/R&B act The Seshen can trace their origins to when its founding duo St. Juste and Ehara met in Ghana during a study abroad program and instantly bonded over their shared love of music. After returning home and completing college, the duo lived in Los Angeles before relocating to Ehara’s hometown of Richmond CA, where they started to collaborate together on music and gradually built the band through jam sessions with their closest friends.
The San Francisco Bay Area-based act have received attention across the Bay Area and elsewhere for an aestehtic that draws from a diverse array of influences including Erykah Badu, Jai Paul, James Blake, Radiohead, Broadcast, hip-hop, indie rock, electronica and 70s dub to craft a sound that uncompromisingly defies easy categorization while carefully and gently walking the tightrope between sounding remarkably contemporary and retro-futuristic; in fact, to my ears, their sound sometimes sounds as though it were influenced by slick and sleek 80s synth-baesd R&B and pop. And that sound is paired with St. Juste’s soul-baring lyrics drawing from both her own personal experiences and her imagination as the material typically explores femininity, power, illusion and loss. With the release of their 2012 self-titled debut, which was released through Bandcamp, the Bay Area-based octet quickly built a devoted local fanbase. And by 2014, they signed to renowned indie label Tru Thoughts Records, who releaed their critically applauded 2014 EP Unravel, an effort that quickly became a favorite of well-known and highly-regarded DJs and tastemaker media outlets and personalities including BBC Radio 6‘s Tom Ravenscroft, OkayPlayer, Earmilk and The Line of Best Fit. Building on the growing internationally received buzz, the Bay Area based act released the Unravel Remixes EP, which featured remixes from AK/DK, Astronauts, etc., Uhuru Peak, Tru Thoughts Records’ Jonny Faith and Lost Midas; in fact, the Unravel Remixes EP received airplay from BBC Radio 6’s Lauren Laverne, Nemone, Steve Lacmaq and several others.
The band’s highly-anticipated sophomore, full-length sophomore effort is slated for an October 14, 2016 release through Tru Thoughts Records and the album’s material reportedly reflects a band expanding upon their sound and lyrical content; St. Juste sings lyrics in a stream of consciousness fashion and as you’ll hear on the album’s first single “Distant Heart,” the group pair cascading layers of ambient, squiggling and shimmering synths with stuttering and off-kilter percussion with St. Juste’s plaintive and ethereal vocals to craft a sultry, sensual song that possesses an underlying heartache at it’s core – and in some way the song manages to gently nod at 70s and 80s synth funk and R&B.
Perhaps best known as a member of the internationally renowned indie electro pop act Miami Horror, Aaron Shanahan’s solo side project Sunday, much like his primary project’s most recent album All Possible Futures possesses a sound that draws from the time they spent writing and recording the album in California. And his latest single “Only,” pairs his tender and plaintive vocals with a breezy production consisting of gentle layers of shimmering and chiming synths, thumping dance-floor friendly drum programming, angular Nile Rodgers-like funk guitar to craft a song that evokes the last precious warm blast of summer, while (gently) nodding at the Cascine Records roster and Random Access Memories-era Daft Punk, as the song possesses a subtle bittersweetness at its core.
As Shanahan explains in press notes “In the aftermath of relationships with other people we can be challenged in reflection to what they meant and what we are. Through these deep interactions and opening of the hearts, we hope that we can learn from lessons given and heal by connecting to something deeper. This song is about process.”
Warp Records released Pritchard’s latest effort Under the Sun earlier this year, and from all accounts the album has Pritchard maintaining the lush and accessible production style that has won him international attention — but while crafting material that may arguably be the least club and dance-floor ready he’s released to date. Interestingly, one of the album’s singles is”Beautiful People,” a lush and ethereal collaboration with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke that pairs Yorke’s plaintive and aching vocals with a slow-burning production that possesses an almost painterly quality as it consists of an airy and gorgeous, looped flute sample, steady yet tribal-like drum programming and cascading layers of shimmering and undulating synths. In some way sonically speaking, the song meshes the ancient and tribal with the contemporary in a way that’s spectral –and in fact, in some way the song reminds the listener that ghosts linger and have a way of haunting your life in unexpected ways. That shouldn’t be surprising because as Pritchard explained in press notes “The original instrumental to ‘Beautiful People’ is a personal song about loss, hopelessness and chaos, but ultimately the message is love and hope. Thom’s contribution to this collaboration captured perfectly what the piece is about. . .”
The recently released video is a stunningly gorgeous video that follows its hooded, central character as it hikes and explores scenery that possess an otherworldly beauty before revealing that the character is a sort of Thom Yorke avatar. As the camera pans out in a cinematic fashion, it manages to reveal how small and insignificant its central character is the proceedings at hand — that is before some amazing gravity defying action at the end. Much like the song that inspired it, the video possesses a patient yet intense quality.
Heath and Sanborn return with the first bit of new material in two years with their latest single “Radio,” being the A side of the forthcoming “Radio”/”Jump Kick Start,” which is slated for an November 18 release. “Radio” has quickly become a staple of their live shows and a fan favorite — and interestingly enough, the song is arguably the most brash song they’ve released; but, it also manages to be both a refinement and expansion of the sound that first caught them attention. Heath’s sultry vocals are paired with a slickly propulsive and dance floor-friendly production consisting of layers of cascading synths, wobbling low end, stuttering drum programming, and as a result the song sounds as though it were nodding at Soft Metals’ swooning and sensual Lenses and Giorgio Moroder.
Currently based in New Orleans, Kate Fagan is a ska, punk and new wave musician, who first emerged to local and regional attention as the founding member and frontwoman of Chicago-based ska act Heavy Manners, an act that once opened for the The Clash and The English Beat; but interestingly enough before that Fagan released a cult-favorited New Wave single “I Don’t Wanna Be Too Cool” through local imprint Disturbing Records that was immediately embraced by local club DJs, radio stations and taste-making record stores like Chicago’s Wax Trax, where it became the best-selling release by a local artist ever. The B-side single “Waiting for the Crisis” also received attention for its politically charged, Reagan-era lyrics, which manage to still resonate today.
As the story goes, Fagan wrote the title track after moving from New York to Chicago in the late 70s. “I pretty much came to visit Chicago and fell in love with the scene and never left,” Fagan recalled in press notes. “At the time I’d been working at New York magazine and was getting dismayed watching the CBGB scene give way to the whole Studio 54/velvet rope thing. So I spontaneously moved to Chicago, which was much more inclusive and everyone wasn’t standing around peering at each other from behind their shades. But eventually I saw that same kind of divisive hipster culture start to creep in. ‘Too Cool’ was my reaction to that.” Along with “Too Cool,” Fagan wrote many of her earliest songs as a solo artist and with Heavy Manners in an intuitive fashion, recording them at Chicago’s Acme Studios, where she’d meet the fellow artists with whom she’d form Disturbing Records.
Although the “Too Cool” single was a cult favorite back in the early 80s, sadly it was thought to be long lost, as the second printing of the album was lost in a house fire that destroyed almost everything Fagan had owned at the time — that is until Manufactured Recordings stumbled upon the original single, along with two unreleased bonus tracks that Fagan recorded with members of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and Scarlet Architect. Interestingly, when you listen to the four tracks off the re-issued 7 inch, the songs manage to sound both of its time and incredibly contemporary — in some way you can imagine acts like Colleen Green, Courtney Barnett, Karen O. and several others citing Fagan as an influence, as Fagan’s lyrics possess a wry irony at at their core, as you’ll hear on the aforementioned “Too Cool,” a song that’s reminiscent of both The B52s and Go-Gos. “Waiting for the Crisis” sounds as though it were influenced by Sandinista! and Combat Rock-era The Clash. However, “Master of Passion” and “Come Over” are the most dance floor-friendly, New Order-like songs of the re-issue, featuring shimmering undulating synths, propulsive drum programming paired with Fagan’s sultry and coquettish delivery.
Of course, each track reveals a songwriter, who had an uncanny knack at writing an infectiously catchy hook that you could imagine kids bouncing up and down to in a sweaty club — and does so with a cool, swaggering self-assuredness.