Tag: indie synth pop

With the release of their debut single, 2021’s “Colder,” Los Angeles-based synth duo Sacred Skin — Brian DaMert and Brian Tarney — quickly stole the hearts of coldwavers and goths globally with melancholic undertones and pitch perfect songwriting.

A subsequent series of singles starting with “Eyes Closed” and “Far Away” earned them live shows at Substance Festival, the Hollywood Palladium and elsewhere. Building upon a growing profile, last year’s full-length debut The Decline of Pleasure saw the rising synth duo quickly establishing their sound and approach: dreamy New Wave-inspired arrangements made from the use of early digital outboard gear and samplers paired with DaMert’s vocal delivery, expressing lust and longing throughout.

The rising Los Angeles-based synth duo recently signed to Artifact Records. And to celebrate the occasion, Sacred Skin share a cover of Seona Dancing‘s “Bitter Heart.”

Seona Dancing was a short lived synth duo featuring Ricky Gervais (yes, that Ricky Gervais) and Bill Macrae. They released a two Phil Thornalley-produced singles back in 1983, which were released through London Records before they were dropped and never heard from again. Sacred Skin’s Brain Tarney has had a copy of the “Bitter Heart” 12-inch single in his DJ bag for about a decade. And when reflecting upon covering the song, he said that people always ask him about it, without fail, and that they’ve never been able to track down a single cover of the song — until now!

While the original was an icy, New Order-like take on post punk and synth pop, Sacred Skin manages to craft a fairly straightforward cover that subtly soften the song’s edges and gently pushes the tempo up a bit while retaining the brooding nature of the original.

“We are thrilled to announce that we have signed with Artoffact Records amongst so many of our peers and heroes. Our second LP (and first for Artoffact) will be released in Spring of 2024,” the band excitedly says. “In the meantime we are dropping a cover of a little known new wave anthem from Ricky Gervais and his short lived career as a recording artist before finding his second calling as one the world’s biggest comedians.”

Sat, Oct. 14 – San Diego, CA @ The Casbah w/ Forever Grey
Sun, Oct. 22 – Reno, NV @ Holland Project w/ Fearing
Mon, Oct. 23 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Liquid Joe’s w/ Fearing
Tue, Oct. 24 – Denver, CO @ The Crypt Bar w/ Fearing
Thu, Oct. 26 – Austin, TX @ LEVITATION – Elysium 
Fri, Oct. 27 – San Antonio, TX @ Vice Versa 
Sun, Oct. 29 – El Paso, TX @ Modern Art Bar w/ Fearing
Tue, Oct. 31 – Mesa, AZ @ Nile Underground w/ Fearing
Wed, Nov. 1 – Las Vegas, NV @ Backstage Bar w/ Fearing
Fri, Nov. 10 – Los Angeles @ Substance Festival

New Audio: Kirsten Ludwig Shares Glistening “Less”

Initially staring her career in Calgary and currently based in Toronto, acclaimed Canadian singer/songwriter, musician and producer Kirsten Ludwig has spent the past decade writing, developing and recording a sound that transcends city boundaries and exists in perpetual transition while supporting her work touring.

Ludwig’s full-length debut, 2018’s We Get It Now, created with Colin Stewart is a haunt-folk album that touched upon ethos of loss, grief, anger and fleeting optimism received critical praise and reached #19 on national college charts. The album’s critical and commercial success led to a headlining European tour.

Ludwig’s sophomore album Sunbeam is slated for a November 10, 2023 release through Oscar St. Records, the Victoria, BC-based artist-run indie label founded by The New Pornographers‘ and Frontperson‘s Kathryn Calder. Created with Layten Kramer and Colin Stewart, the nine-song album is a decided change of sonic and aesthetic direction with the Canadian artist embracing an 80s-inspired synth rock/synth pop sound.

As the material from Sunbeam began to materialize in mid-2020, Ludwig relocated cross-country. Wrestling with incessant chronic pain and homesickness, the album and its creative process came to a grinding halt. At the time, it was unknown if she would ever return to it. But moments before defeat, Ludwig summoned the determination to revive and finish the album.

For the Canadian artist, Sunbeam is aptly named — fully formed and a return to self. Thematically, the album touch upon themes of solitude, self-discovery, and the search for connection in a seemingly disconnected world. While sonically, the album sees Ludwig shapeshifting genres including indie rock, psych pop and synth pop throughout, the album is rooted in the same vulnerability and inner workings that she has always drawn from.

Built around shimmering synths, a motorik groove punctuated with relentless, driving drums, Ludwig’s ethereal delivery and chanted vocal-driven hook and chorus, “Less,” is an anthemic and decidedly Kate Bush-like track that seemingly evokes ice slowly cracking.

“It’s an exploration of rewriting patterns, changing directions, and choosing softness,” Ludwig says. ” As cheesy as it sounds, ‘Less’ is my way of acknowledging that it’s possible to let the goodness of others melt away your ice-queen tendencies,” she continues. “I spent over half of my twenties feeling numb to the world and, one day, a warm wave of tenderness engulfed me. It’s a head-nod to those who keep showing up for me. ‘Less’ started out as a quaint indie song with just me and my guitar. Layten Kramer (co-producer) and I knew we wanted something different from the song and we both decided to just have fun with it. My last record was this heavy, cathartic release I had been carrying around for years, so allowing myself to be playful was a new experience.”

The visualizer features gorgeous, dreamlike watercolored animation by Amélie Haeck.  

New Audio: The Serfs Share an Icy, Club Banger

Cincinnati-based synth punks The Serfs — founding members Dylan McCartney (vocals, percussion, guitar, bass, electronics) and Dakota Carlyle (electronics, bass, guitar, vocals) along with Andie Luman (vocals, synths) — can trace their origins back to when McCartney and Carlyle were working the fryers at a local pub and generally wallowing in puddles of despair.

The duo decided to express their grim outlook through the self-hypnosis of drums and synthesizers. After a couple of bungled attempts to play live shows, Luman joined the project, finalizing their lineup.

The Cincinnati-based trio’s third album Half Eaten By Dogs is slated for an October 27, 2023 release through their new label home, Trouble in Mind. The album reportedly sees the trio putting a decidedly Midwestern spin on the modernist twitch of future-forward acts like Total Control, Cold Beat, Skinny Puppy, Dark Day, This Heat, and Factrix while being informed by the existential doom of our current moment — with the album’s material at points featuring doomed proclamations of natural and supernatural disasters.

Half Eaten By Dogs‘ latest single “Club Deuce” is an icy, industrial-inspired club banger built around glistening and shimmering synth arpeggios, burnt out, tweeter and woofer rattling 808s paired with Lumen’s sultry cooing. Channeling early Depeche Mode and mid-80s New Order among others, “Club Deuce” is specifically designed to make you head to the dance floor and move — right now.

“I thought of the idea for this song at first like a movie in my mind,” says Luman. “It was the story of a fated man and a modern day Venus with complete and unrelenting control. The set was a quiet corner in a thunderstruck city with endless commotion in the distance. The whole thing glowing like a neon sign. ‘Club Deuce’ churns unhurried until it billows all around you and you’re caught like a fly in the jaws of a venus fly trap.”

Lyric Video: Jenn Champion Shares Meditative “Famous”

Born Jennifer Hays, the Tucson, AZ-born, Seattle, WA-based multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and producer Jenn Champion can trace the origins of her music career to when she met her then-future Carissa’s Wierd bandmates Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke at the local pizza shop, where they all worked at the time. In 1997, the trio moved to Olympia, WA for about a year, before settling in Seattle, where the trio formed Carissa’s Wierd.

The trio released three albums before splitting up in 2003 — but interestingly, the trio cultivated a rabid cult following, which has resulted in the release of three compilation albums of their work, including 2010’s They’ll Only Miss You When You’re Gone: Songs 1996-2003, which was released through Hardly Art Records.

Since Carissa’s Wierd’s breakup, Champion has moved forward with several acclaimed solo projects including the guitar and vocal-based pop project S, with which she has released four albums, including 2010’s I’m Not As Good At It As You and 2014’s Chris Walla-produced Cool Choices. While critics and fans have raved over her open-hearted and willingness to eschew conventions while crating sad songs meant to be cried to and with.

The last half of Champion’s last S album found her moving towards an electronic-based sound with album track “No One”  being a complete embrace of electronics. “I feel like a door got opened in my mind with electronic and digital music. There was a room I hadn’t explored before and I stepped in,” Champion said at the time. And although she intended to follow up Cool Choices with “a rock record — guitar, a lot of pedals, heavy riffs,” her plans had changed. “I couldn’t pull myself away from the synthesizers and I realized the record I really wanted to make was more of a cross between Drake and Billy Joel than Blue Oyster Cult.”

After the release of “No One,” Champion’s music publisher partnered her with Brian Fennell, an electronic music artist, songwriter and producer best known as  SYML and the pair co-wrote “Leave Like That,” which was featured on SYML‘s Hurt For Me EP.

Champion and Fennell hit it off so well that after Champion had written the demos for 2018’s Silent Rider, she enlisted Fennell as a producer. Fennell agreed and then they spent the next five months working on and refining the album’s material. “In the studio with Brian, I was more open than I had ever been,” Champion recalls, and as a result the material evolved into a slickly produced collection of dance floor friendly anthems. But the album saw Champion maintaining the earnestness and vulnerable that has won her critical praise — all while imploring the listener to dance, dance, dance, dance, dance their heartache, outrage and disappointments away for a little bit.

Champion’s long-awaited third album The Last Night of Sadness is slated for an October 13, 2023 release through Gay Forever. The self-produced and self-recorded The Last Night of Sadness will remind the listener of her technical skill as a musician, but more important, it places her production process front and center. “I’ve always been able to be vulnerable in my music but with these songs and what I was feeling I wanted to keep this album pure. I was afraid that if I let it go outside of me, I’d dilute it,” Champion explains. “Sadness is in the title but this is the most confident record I’ve ever made. I took away all the places I could hide.”

When asked what it was she wanted to express with the album as a whole, Champion says “Suffering. And what a miracle it is to be heavy.” So yes, the album is heavy. But it’s also open and vulnerable the way you can only be when grieving. The album’s material sees the Seattle-based artist grappling with morality — of others, of herself and of the world in general. And yet it isn’t hopeless or joyless. There are moments of reprieve, in which you’re reminded that life is ultimately about the small joys and small victories.

The Last Night of Sadness‘ first single “Famous” is an 80s synth pop-inspired mid-tempo ballad built around glistening synth arpeggios, a poppy drum machine-driven groove paired with an incredibly catchy hook and Champion’s earnest, heartbroken delivery. At its core, is a wizened, self-aware narrator, who is coming to terms with their life — and they do so with an unvarnished, vulnerable honesty as she reflects on a rebellious youth and the gradual compromises and adjustments of adulthood. But the song is rooted in an existential dread and uncertainty that comes as you get older.

“I wanted to make a song about coming to terms with fame versus success and what it feels like to realize I have what I want,” the Seattle-based artist says. She continues, “As an artist sometimes it feels like fame and success are used interchangeably and over the course of my career in music I’ve seen how fame can bring with it all this money and opportunity but is also a gilded cage. This song is one that just came to me on a run one morning as I looked out over the city and I had to pull out my phone and start writing. I’ve gone through a reset of my priorities in the last few years and this song and this album are about the journey through existential dread that has me where I am now.”

New Audio: Minneapolis’ speakeazie Shares Lush and Swooning “Love Me Wild, Love Me Crazy”

This weekend has been an extremely busy but very fun one:

  • Friday night, I caught French 79 and JOVM mainstay Brothertiger at Racket NYC.
  • Last night, I was at GlobalFest at Lincoln Center. I specifically wanted to see JOVM mainstay Juana Molina. But was thrilled to see a collection of great artists playing music from all over the place, including Native American rapper Supaman, Congolese outfit Jupiter & Okwess and Haitian rockers Ram. It was a full day and my feet and knees are paying for it.
  • Today, I’m hoping to catch Xylouris White at Union Pool‘s Summer Thunder. Much like yesterday it’s looks to be a glorious day to see live music and to drink a few beers.

But in the meantime, there’s still work to do, right? So let’s get to it.

Emerging Minneapolis-based electro pop artist speakeazie with an obsession for noir aesthetics from the 1920s. Sonically, she pairs effortlessly soulful vocals with a dreamy synth pop-driven sound.

Although the project started back in 2021, she released her full-length debut Prohibition Hippie last year. The album featured “Disintegrate,” which amassed over 70,000 streams in its first five months. Building upon a growing profile with the dream pop and synth pop scenes, the Minneapolis closed out the year with the Bootlegger’s Blood EP.

The rising Minneapolis-based artist’s latest single “Love Me Wild, Love Me Crazy” is a swooning track built around a relentless motorik pulse, strummed reverb-soaked guitar and skittering beats serving as a lush bed for speakeazie’s effortlessly soulful and yearning delivery. It’s the perfect song for dancing by yourself in your room — or for an intense makeout session.

New Video: Ohio’s SUMMORE Shares Eerie and Brooding “Magic Pill”

Central Ohio-based synth pop duo SUMMORE — Julie (vocals, lyrics) and Justin (synths, production) specialize in a a brooding and hypnotic sound: Their brighter sounds are often laced with hidden meanings and darker interpretations just beneath the surface. Their darkest and most bleak material often have brief moments of optimism that help to create an emotional balance that opens them up to a state of meditation, self-reflection and healing.

Last September, after playing a packed house at an intimate venue in Columbus, the duo stopped for a late night bite. As they sat parked, a drunk driver lost control, became airborne and hit them like a missile. The impact blasted the drop from one side of the parking lot to the other within a second and changed their lives — except for one constant: their love and dedication for creating music.

They boldly continued. In spite of everything, including long-term injuries both physical and emotional, they found enough strength through their recovery to chronicle their harrowing personal experience on their sophomore album New Pain.

New Pain‘s latest single is the brooding and atmospheric “Magic Pill.” Featuring glistening synth oscillations, atmospheric electronics, skittering trap triplets, “Magic Pill” is an eerie soundscape built for Julie’s plaintive and ethereal vocal. The result is a song that brings Soft Metals‘ 2013 effort Lenses to mind but full of palpable unease.

Directed by the duo, the accompanying video features the duo brooding and longing for a magic pill that would take their pain — both physically and mentally — away forever.

New Audio: Sweden’s Split Vision Shares Decidedly 8os Inspired “The Fire Within”

Swedish synth pop outfit Split Vision — currently Dan Hansson and Henric Palmqvist — formed back in 1985, when four Kristianstad-based high schoolers, who were influenced by Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure and Pet Shop Boys started the band.

The quartet quickly developed a sound that they described as melodic, dance floor friendly synth pop, which they began playing live: They played several live shows in Northeastern Skåne, radio shows and talent shows. And by 1988, they signed to Platina Records, who released their single “How Will I Ever.”

After some intense and difficult years, the band split up. But in the spring of 2019, the band’s Hansson and Palmqvist decided to revive the band, with the goal of writing new material with a clear and deep connection to their 80s roots.

2020’s Among The Stars, their first full-length album in 30 years, saw the Swedish synth pop outfit actively giving listeners a decidedly retro experience — and to recreate the sound that they’ve strived for back in the 80s.

The duo’s latest effort, Elements EP was released earlier this year. The EP’s latest single “The Fire Within” is a decidedly 80s-inspired synth pop song built around glistening synth arpeggios, thumping boom bap-like beats paired with a yearning vocal. But underneath the slick production is earnest lyricism paired with deliberate attention to craft and some razor sharp, catchy hooks.

Lyric Video: JOVM Mainstays L’Impératice Teams Up with Cuco on a Woozy Bop

Rising Paris-based electro pop sextet L’Impératice — founder Charles de Boisseguin (keys), Hagni Gown (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), Tom Daveau (drums) and Flore Benguigui (vocals) — formed back in 2012. And in a relatively short period of time, they quickly developed a reputation for being extremely prolific: Within their first three years together, they released 2012’s self-titled debut EP, 2014’s Sonate Pacifique EP and 2015’s Odyssée EP. 

Back in 2016, the Parsian sextet released a re-edited, remixed and slowed down version of OdysséeL’Empreruer, inspired by a fan mistakenly playing a vinyl copy of Odyssée at the wrong speed. L’Impératice followed that up with a version of Odysseé featuring arrangements centered around violin, cello and acoustic guitar. During the summer of 2017, the Parisian electro pop act signed to microqlima records, who released that year’s Séquences EP

Their full-length debut, 2018’s Matahari  featured “Erreur 404,” which they performed on the French TV show Quotidien. They followed that up with an English language version of Matahari and 2021’s Renaud Letang co-produced sophomore album Taku Tsubo.

Deriving its name from the medical term for broken heart/takutsubo syndrome ((蛸 壺, from Japanese “octopus trap”). The condition usually manifests itself as deformation of the heart’s left ventricle caused by severe emotional or physical stress — i.e., the death of a loved one, an intense argument with someone you care about, a breakup, a sudden illness or the like. An untreated broken heart can actually kill you.

Cuco is a Hawthorne, CA-based electronic music producer and artist, whose early stage, earnest bedroom pop aesthetic seemed to immediately connect with audiences online. Home-recorded and then shared through Bandcamp and SoundCloud, his self-released efforts 2016’s Wannabewithu and 2018’s Chiquito EP featured relatable and catchy material in both English and Spanish that openly defied genre restraints with elements of mariachi, R&B and psychedelia helped him win over first generation Latin Americans and young fans of indie singer/songwriters.

As the play counts and stream counts increased, there was a greater demand for him to play live shows in front of increasingly larger crowds on tour and at festivals. “It’ll always be surreal to me,” he says. I never take it for granted if I see so many people at one show, you know, I don’t know the next day that I’m gonna see that again; it’s always appreciated.”

With massive buzz surrounding him, Cuco wound up signing with Interscope, who released his full-length debut, 2019’s Para Mi. His sophomore album, last year’s Fantasy Gateway sees him pushing the envelope of his sound, presenting a new chapter of the young producer/artist’s career in which he takes risks to great results.

The Parisian JOVM mainstays recently teamed up with the rapidly rising producer and artist on “Heartquake,” a collaboration that can be traced back to when they all met during last year’s Coachella. “Heartquake” is a woozy yet breezy bop built around an expansive, mind-melting arrangement that begins with glistening and wobbling synth oscillations, twinkling keys and trap-like beats before briefly morphing into a slinky bit of disco funk before closing out with glistening and wobbling synth oscillations and trap beats . Throughout the song L’Impératice’s Flore Benguigui sings English lyrics with a bemused yet sultry sense of longing and desire.

“It’s the story of someone completely disconnected from their emotions who is on their usual peaceful bus ride one morning. And then, someone sits across from them, and suddenly, their brain freezes, and they fall to their knees, struck by a thunderbolt, a kind of Tako tsubo,” the members of L’Impératice explain. “It’s a sensation that shakes them to the core, and they’re not sure if they can survive it, but they desire it.” Cuco adds: “It’s a pleasure and honor to be working with my friends in L’Impératrice.” 

New Audio: Stefan Certic Shares Atmospheric “Human”

Stefan Certic is a Serbian multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composer and producer. His latest single “Human” featuring Steve Sims is a brooding and atmospheric bit of 80s-inspired synth pop featuring glistening synths melodies paired with shimmering strummed guitar, deep bass lines and sparse yet propulsive beats. While nodding at OMD and Eurythmics, “Human” is a remarkably cinematic track with melancholy and reflective lyrics discussing the human condition in a deeply lived-in fashion.

New Video: Mike Rogers Shares Anthemic and Urgent “Live Out Loud”

Amsterdam-based indie dance trio Mike Rogers features three of the country’s rising electronic music artists: Mike MagoTWR72, and Kita Menari mastermind Micha de Jonge. The project can trace its origins two decades ago, back to the early 2000s: Mago and TWR72 met while DJ’ing Dutch underground electro parties. That raw and energetic scene saw the pair playing a mix of electro pop, French touch and French house, fidget and techno.

Naturally, as the years passed by, the pair individually developed their own unique sound and approaches — but they realized that they had long held a similar dream: to start a live act inspired by the bands they grew up with, as well as Miike SnowFoalsEditorsVan She, and Goose among others. Mago and TWR72 started Mike Rogers as a way to challenge themselves creative and professionally, while further developing as producers and DJs. The duo then recruited Kita Menari’s Micha de Jonge, who contributes his big, plaintive vocals to their hook-driven, rousingly anthemic, crowd-pleasing sound.

The trio’s full-debut Live Out Loud is slated for release this year. The album reportedly sees the Dutch trio crafting material that’s a slick mix of analog, digital and retro sounds with a decidedly modern feel. During the album’s creative process, they all agreed that it felt like second nature for them to be bold and make big musical gestures without sensationalism. Interestingly, that creative approach wound up informing the album’s central thematic concern. “Why do people always have to choose between black and white?” The Dutch electro pop trio asks. “You don’t have to choose between extremes. You can be modest in your opinions but still live out loud!”

“Go out there and live in the moment. You don’t always have to choose sides. The music represents this throughout,” the trio add. “All styles from opposite sides are mixed to create a perfect balance in the middle or leave the listener with an ambiguous feeling. 

Last year, I wrote about album single “Can’t Stop,” an anthemic bit of post punk/dance punk built around angular guitar tack, de Jonge’s achingly plaintive delivery and a motorik groove paired with euphoria-inducing hooks. While sounding a bit like Radio 4, Interpol, and Editors, “Can’t Stop” as the trio explains is about a lonely man, who looks back at his life: As a young man, he tries to do everything right, but always feels as though he is failing since people don’t seem to understand him. Battling a personal struggle with his past, the lonely man protests against this feeling, with the hopes that he can get rid of those negative thoughts. 

Written in 2021, the trio explain, “In our minds that year was a year where we had a lot of questions. Like, what is freedom, what should one fight for, how should one fight for something, how do we move forward as a society and also, how do we judge our past behaviour. We believe questions are the biggest inspirator. We’re trying to ask questions more than to send a message, although that’s also a bit of a vision we want to share.” 

Live Out Loud‘s latest single, album title track “Live Out Loud” is a rousingly anthemic bop built around glistening synths, shimmering guitar lines that bring A Flock of Seagulls to mind and de Jonge’s earnest delivery paired with the Dutch trio’s unerring knack for enormous, rousingly anthemic, shout-along worthy choruses.

“The song was written during a period where, we felt, far sides of the political spectrum were very present,” Mike Rogers explains. “We wanted to motivate the group known as the silent middle to stand up for their (slightly more nuanced) thoughts/visions/ideas. We also wanted to seek overlap in standing up for your idea and being outgoing whilst losing oneself in the moment. We all have to live out loud more. If you don’t live life fully, you don’t live life at all. You have to live it out loud to make sense of it, because otherwise ‘you’ll never know what it’s all about.’ And if you know what it’s all about, you have to fight for it.” 

The trio adds “We encourage to ask questions out loud. To share your uncertainties out loud. To say, I don’t know, yet I care. To forgive out loud. To live out loud.”

Directed by Rens Polman, the accompanying video for “Live Out Loud” is a slick and trippy mix of A.I. that follows a series of characters escaping reality for a digitally processed world. “If you don’t live life fully you don’t live it,” the Dutch trio say. “You have to live it loud to make sense of it, because else ‘you’ll never know what it’s all about’. And if you know what it’s all about you have to fight for it. “‘Live Out Loud’ is about the current situation where social media and A.I. are increasingly taking over our lives. Reality is slowly being lost and we mainly experience happiness in the digital world. As a result of A.I. and social media, reality is becoming increasingly fused. However, we are experiencing it more and more as reality and getting further immersed in it. We are losing control over what it truly means to ‘really’ experience something. The digital world acts as a shot of dopamine. With the music video, we are demonstrating how people are literally being swallowed up by a fantasy world. A world that makes our brains happy. A world where we can experience everything we could possibly want. It is limitless. However, this is contrasted with the fact that we often forget about our own real lives. The life where we can truly experience things.”