Throughout the past summer, I’ve written quite a bit about the Glasgow, Scotland-based synth pop act Free Love, and since their formation back in 2014 under the name Happy Meals, the act which is comprised of Suzanne Rodden and Lewis Cook quickly established themselves as one of Scotland’s most acclaimed, contemporary electronic music acts; in fact, their 2015 full-length debut Apero received a Scottish Album of the Year nod. And adding to a growing profile. the duo has opened for Liars and The Flaming Lips, and played sets at festivals in Austin, TX, Moscow, and Bangalore.
With the release of “Synchronicity,” a track that may remind some listeners of Nu Shooz‘s “I Can’t Wait,” and New Order‘s “Blue Monday” and “Bizarre Love Triangle, the duo further cemented their reputation for crafting utopian-leaning and brainy dance pop centered around shimmering analog synths. As the duo explained in press notes, the song is breaking free from the binds of culturally dictated self-limitation, coupled with the vertigo of complete freedom. The Scottish synth pop duo released two more singles, the ecstatic Giorgio Moroder and New Wave-like “Pushing Too Hard,” and the acid-house-like “July,” which brought Come With Us-era Chemical Brothers and Tweekend-era Crystal Method to mind. The duo’s forthcoming EP Luxury Hits is slated for a November 9, 2018 release and the EP’s latest single “Playing As Punks” will further cement the Scottish duo’s reputation for crafting 80s inspired synth-based New Wave — in this case, much like “Synchronicity,” taking its cues directly from early New Order and early house music as the track sonically is centered around arpeggiated synths, industrial clang-like drum programming and an soaring yet infectious hook; but underneath the dance floor friendly vibes, the song focuses on being here in this very brief moment with the understanding and acceptance of the fact that it won’t last.
Comprised of brothers Tim (guitar, vocals) and Cory Race (drums) with Wallace May (bass, vocals), the Brooklyn-based post-punk trio Big Bliss formed back in 2015 when the Race Brothers began collaborating together on a project with the aim of drawing from shared influences between the two — namely 70s punk and 80s post-punk. The Race Brothers recruited Brooklyn-based songwriter Wallace May to flesh out the band’s sound, and since their formation they’ve developed a reputation for crafting shimmering, jangling and energetic post-punk.
The band’s Jeff Berner-produced full-length album At Middle Distance is slated for an October 19, 2018 through Exit Stencil Recordings, and the album, which was recorded at mixed at Studio G and Thump Recordings in Brooklyn, is reportedly a major step forward for the band as the material find the band further refining and perfecting their sound with a deeply emotive quality. Interestingly, At Middle Distance‘s latest single, The Alarm and Starfish-era The Church-like “Duplicate” is centered around thumping and propulsive drumming, shimmering and jangling guitar lines, an angular bass line, a shout along worthy hook and Tim Race’s earnest vocals but while managing to evoke the sensation of being hemmed in, of being deeply frustrated and uncertain over the things they can’t have/aren’t allowed to have and can never really be — and as a result, the song has an emotional heft. As the band’s Tim Race explains, “‘Duplicate’ is the record’s thesis. It informed many of the other songs’ thematic content, as well as Ana Becker’s album art (reflection, duality.) The song centers on conflicting and frustrated identities. It’s so easy to value yourself based on self identity, like social constructs and occupation, but that’s a slippery slope. That will inevitably lead to comparing yourself to your peers to measure self-worth, that can be a painful, distorted way of dealing with life. One will only see what they can’t control or don’t have, leaving little space for basic gratitude and contentment.”
10/20 – Brooklyn, NY @ Alphaville (At Middle Distance LP Release Show)
11/03 – Brooklyn, NY @ Union Hall
11/27 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Rock Room
11/28 – Detroit, MI @ Kelly’s Bar
11/29 Grand – Rapids, MI @ Pyramid Scheme
11/30 – Chicago, IL @ Burlington Bar
12/01 – Bloomington, IN @ Blockhouse Bar
12/02 – Cincinnati, OH @ MOTR
12/03 – Muncie, IN @ BHN
12/04 – Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups
12/05 – Cleveland, OH @ Mahall’s
12/06 – Boston, MA @ O’Brien’s
A few years ago, I wrote a handful of posts on the Los Angeles-based indie rock trio Psychic Love, and because it’s been a while I think I should refresh your collective memories a bit: fronted by Laura Peters and featuring Max Harrison (guitar) and Liam McCormick (bass), the trio have described their sound as “dream grunge” and “as if Nancy Sinatra had a love child with Frank Black.”
Now, it’s been some time since I’ve personally written about the Los Angeles-based indie rock trio but interestingly, their latest single “Go Away Green” derives its name and is somewhat influenced by a very odd yet very true fact — at Disney theme parks, the things they don’t want patrons noticing is painted in a shade of green that they’ve dubbed “Go Away Green.” Naturally, Peters was fascinated by that fact, and began to observe that people frequently try to cover up unpleasant aspects of their personalities and character in as similar fashion. As the band’s Laura Peters says in press notes. “This is a song about the things and people hiding in plain sight. I often feel like I’m looking out from inside a body – a body, a face, a look, that is telling the world one thing, but inside I’m just you and you are me.” Interestingly, the song features novelist’s attention to psychological detail, as it captures a relationship in which both people aren’t being as honest as they say they’d like to — and they both know it.
Sonically, the song is a decided expansion of the sound and songwriting approach that first caught my attention — the song is a bit of a shape shifter, that begins with a cacophony of noise that recalls Pearl Jam’s Vs. before quickly morphing into a slow-burning and atmospheric section with a rousingly anthemic hook that recalls Concrete Blonde and JOVM mainstays Oddnesse, but while hinting at Phil Spector’s famous Wall of Sound of production and an increasingly ambitious songwriting approach.
Earlier this year, I wrote about Pink Skies, the solo recording project of Arieh Berl, an Oakland, CA-born and raised singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, and as you may recall, Berl has a lengthy history playing in a number of Bay Area-based indie rock and punk bands. While in one of those bands, it became clear to the Oakland-born and-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer that the material he had been writing was meant for a completely different project, as the songs drew from psych rock, pop, R&B, 70s AM rock and chillwave in what Berl described in press notes, as “Escapism Pop.” Interestingly, Berl didn’t intend on releasing those initial home recordings — recorded during stints living in Oakland, Boston and Los Angeles — but, as the story goes he was encouraged to release them, after attending a creative retreat near Berkeley.
Last year was something of a breakthrough year for the Oakland-based artist: he released his first Pink Skies single “Start.End,” played guitar on BOSCO‘s b and released a re-interpreation of 6LACK‘s “Gettin’ Old.” Berl also signed to Huh What & Where Recordings, the label home of KAYTRANADA, Fwdslxsh, Pomo and others; however, Berl has spent the past year building upon a growing direction — first with the Tame Impala-like “Just To Get By,” a song that he wrote while he was living in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles, and feeling lost and alone. Bert’s latest Pink Skies single, the mid-tempo and hook-driven “Portland” reveals a subtle expansion upon his sound but without seemingly like a wild departure — while still sounding like it were influenced by Tame Impala, there’s a hint of Quiet Storm-era R&B and synth funk that manages to be familiar as it’s a winning and beloved formula after all; but with a contemporary take.
Planit Hank is a mysterious but up-and-coming, underground producer whose latest effort, the Night Before Purgatory EP is slated for release next month — and the EP finds Planit Hank collaborating with a who’s who of gritty, New York street shit hip hop, including M.O.P., AZ, Canibus, Chris Rivers, Styles P, Kool G. Rap, DJ Evil Dee and a few others. “Life in Crooklyn,” the EP’s latest single is centered by a production that’s equally soulful and mournful as it features an atmospheric and looped horn sample, tweeter and woofer rock boom bap beats and scratching by the incredible DJ Evil Dee. Jeru The Damaja, Buckshot and AZ all wax both nostalgically and heartbreakingly about their rough and tumble childhoods — Jeru The Damaja talks about all the people he knew and loved, who were tragically murdered, with the recognition that without music, he may have ended up much like those he remembered; AZ proudly rhymes about repping Brooklyn all day; Buckshot, arguably one of the best emcees ever manages to pay tribute to BIG, make a brief point about gentrification but while pointing out that gangster shit is still there — and always will be there. But along with that the song focuses on the lack of older heads giving guidance to young cats in the way that happened for these legendary emcees. What makes the track intriguing to me is that it manages to view things from an older perspective but without sounding like crotchety old men, screaming at the clouds and the young cats about how everything fucking sucks, and how the music the kids listen to these days is awful; nor is the nostalgia within the song maudlin. If anything, it speaks to how powerful music can be — that it save the lives of people in desperate circumstances.
Now, over the past few years, I’ve written quite a bit about Copenhagen, Denmark-based electro pop duo and JOVM mainstays Palace Winter, and the act, which features Australian-born, Copenhagen-based singer/songwriter Carl Coleman and Caspar Hesselager can trace its origins to Coleman and Hesselager’s mutual familiarity and appreciation for each other’s work in a number of different projects — and naturally, the duo were encouraged to collaborate together. 2015 saw the release of their debut single, but 2016 the duo saw critical praise from The Guardian, NME, The Line of Best Fit, and airplay from KCRW, KEXP, Norway’s P3, Denmark’s P6, as well as by BBC Radio personalities Guy Garvey, Lauren Laverne and Tom Ravenscroft with the release of the Medication EP and their full-length debut Waiting for the World to Turn. Adding to a growing international profile, Coleman and Hesselager have a Hype Machine #1 single under their belts, have opened for Noel Gallagher, and have made appearances across the European festival circuit, including sets at Guy Garvey’s curated Meltdown Festival, Roskilde Festival, Green Man Festival, Sziget Festival, Latitude Festival and Secret Garden Party among others.
Nowadays, the Australian-Danish duo’s sophomore album was released earlier this year and from album singles “Empire,” “Come Back (Left Behind),” “Baltimore,” and “Take Shelter,” their sophomore album reveals an act that has managed to expand upon their sound and songwriting approach in a subtle yet decided fashion as the material is centered around Coleman and Hasselager’s penchant for pairing at times breezy, melodic and downright radio friendly pop with dark and sobering thematic concerns — with Nowadays, their material focuses on the inevitable loss of innocence as one truly becomes an adult; the recognition of the fear, freedom and power that comes as one takes control of their life and destiny; the tough and sometimes embittering life lessons that get thrown in your way; as well as the inconsolable grief and confusion of loss. Interestingly, the Australian-Danish duo’s latest single “Acting Like Lovers” may arguably be one of the upbeat songs on the album as its centered by a production that manages to be simultaneously cinematic and intimate as it features strummed acoustic guitar, shimmering and arpeggiated synths, a motorik-like groove and their uncanny ability to craft breezy, 70s AM rock-like melodies. The song hints at a sense of closure — but with the subtle recognition that in life there is no such thing as closure, that life inevitably shoves you forward while you make every attempt to pick up the pieces and have some semblance of normalcy.
The single features two covers — the duo’s breezy, Junip-like take on Elliott Smith’s “Christian Brothers,” that feels like a subtle departure from the original, and one of my favorite songs by The Cars, “Drive,'” which manages to maintain the song’s moody and contemplative air. As the duo’s Caspar Hesselager explains, “Elliott is someone who has influenced both me and Carl profoundly, and for me personally (growing up mostly with classical music and jazz) he became the guy that got me into listening to songwriters. We’ve often jammed his songs in the studio for fun and our cover of his song ‘Christian Brothers’ has been a favourite encore of ours on many shows. It’s from his second album ‘Elliott Smith’ which along with the debut album is him at his most lo-fi and raw. It’s almost ‘anti-produced’ but as always you can’t keep those songs from burning right through all of that.” The duo’s Carl Coleman elaborates on their cover of The Cars’ “Drive,” “This was a song that always followed me around growing up in the 80s and 90s. I’m a sucker for sad pop songs. I’ve just always been attracted to melancholy stuff and this song has it all. All that drama and mystery plus a beautiful simple melody. Hell, we couldn’t help but have a crack at it.”
Last year, I had written quite a bit about Holy Wars, led by Connecticut-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter Kat Leon, and as you may recall, Leon initially developed a reputation for writing material that focused largely on her obsessions with death and the occult as one-half the of the Los Angeles-based electro pop act Sad Robot. Leon’s critically applauded Holy Wars debut Mother Father was influenced by some of the darkest days of her life — when she was reeling from the sudden losses of her mother and father, who both died within months of each other. Building upon the attention she received here and elsewhere with Mother Father, Leon’s latest Holy Wars single “Born Dark” was produced by AFI’s Hunter Burgan, and while arguably being among the slickest produced singles she’s released, the arena rock friendly, hook-driven track is centered by propulsive tribal drumming, buzzing power chords and Leon’s pop star-like powerhouse vocals — and sonically the song manages to nod at Nine Inch Nails, Garbage and Siouxsie and the Banshees in a self-assured and ambitious fashion.
Interestingly, the track reportedly finds Leon going back to her roots — literally — as she explores the very moment of her birth, with the possibility that she may have been a bit of a bad seed, if not devilish, complete with a “don’t give a single fuck” swagger.
Comprised of founding and primary duo Ann Courtney and Lizzie Carena, along with Chris Foley and Gunnar Olsen, the New York-based rock act Mother Feather formed back in 2010 and since their formation they’ve developed a reputation for swaggering and epic songs that some have said invoke Marc Bolan, David Bowie and To Bring To You My Love-era PJ Harvey. And while that can debated, the band’s sophomore album Constellation Baby is slated for a November 11, 2018 release through Metal Blade Records/Blacklight Media, and the album’s second and latest single “Snakebite” will further the act’s growing reputation for crafting anthemic, arena rock centered around enormous power chords, thundering drumming and Ann Courtney’s powerhouse vocals. Interestingly, the track manages to simultaneously nod at 80s hair metal and classic rock, complete with a coked-up, balls to the wall swagger.
As the band’s Ann Courtney explains of the song, “‘An homage to the evil impulse and the speed of its ambush, I wrote ‘Snakebite’ in a hot 20 minutes. With its production setting it in the cinematic imagination of an 80s punk cult-film, this is the riotous theme song for your psycho ex-girlfriend with an axe to grind.”
With the release of last year’s debut EP Playing Dead, the somewhat mysterious Bristol, UK-based quartet The Desert quickly received attention for a sound that some have described as being a mix between Little Dragon and Portishead. Building upon a growing profile, the act’s highly-anticipated sophomore EP is slated for release sometime early next year, and from the EP’s first single “Gone,” the act has revealed a decided evolution of their sound and approach — while possessing a cinematic quality, the track is centered around a urgent and desperate air, with a hint of uneasy hope at the end ; in fact, as the band explains, “’Gone’ is about losing something or someone abruptly and how that can make you go a bit crazy. Gina’s voice is quite hoarse in the recording, which helps convey the desperation& frustration. There’s also a kind of excitement in that ‘fuck it’ feeling. The track is overall more positive than negative with each chorus ending ‘but I’ll find somewhere to put it.'”