With the release of last year’s full-length debut, The Dog And The Future, the Paris-based electro pop duo Agar Agar, which is comprised of Clara Cappagli (vocals) and Armand Bultheel (keys) received national and international attention for a sound and aesthetic centered around vintage synths, unique melodies and a sense of mysticism. Since the release of their attention-grabbing debut, the French electro pop duo were invited to Colors, where they performed the slow-burning Trans Europe Express-era Kraftwerk-like “Sorry About The Carpet,” a track centered by layers of arpeggiated synths — elegantly shimmering synth chords for the melodies, bolstered by supple bass synths and a motorik groove paired with Cappagali’s effortless yet sultry vocals.
Over the years, I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally renowned synth pop act, Yumi Zouma, and as you may recall the band which is comprised of Christchurch, New Zealand-born Christie Simpson, Sam Perry, Charlie Ryder and Josh Burgess has been spread across New York, Paris and Christchurch in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake that devastated their hometown and the region at large. Primarily writing material by email, the band wasn’t initially meant to be a live act — and yet, they’ve received attention for crafting breezy yet bittersweet, 80s-inspired synth pop centered around Christie Simpson’s ethereal crooning. After Turntable Kitchen released their cover of f Oasis’ 1995 full-length effort, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, the synth pop act busily wrote and recorded an EP trilogy — with the last edition of the trilogy been released last fall through their longtime label home Cascine Records.
Centered around reverb drenched arrangement that includes shimmering synths, angular guitar chords, a motorik-like groove, a soaring hook and Simpson’s ethereal vocals, the song sonically nods at A Flock of Seagulls‘ “I Ran (So Far Away).” And while accurately capturing the uncertainty, desperation and swooning urgency of new love, the song is underpinned by a deliberate attention to craft, with the members of the synth pop act revising and bouncing ideas off each other until it’s absolutely perfect.
Directed by Pavel Brenner and starring Charlie Patton, Shawn Denegre-Vaught, Emma Broz, Madisyn Maniff, Cinthia Bouhier, Joannie Ciociola, Alison Williams, Miriam Margolis, and Ainsleigh Douglas, the recently released video is a brilliantly spot-on take on John Hughes movies that’s centered around what seems to be an especially awkward first date that turns into a complex dance routine that includes synchronized swimmers, who miraculously appear out of nowhere.
With the release of their full-length debut, 2017’s Take A Rest, the Bryon Bay, Australia-based electro pop act Tora, comprised of Thorne Davis (drums), Shaun Johnston (bass), Jo Loewenthal (vocals, guitar, samples) and Jai Piccone (vocals, guitar) quickly emerged into both their homeland’s national scene and internationally: the album was named one of triple j’s “Albums of the Week,” and album track “Another Case,” received regular rotation on the station. The legendary Sir Elton John played tracks off the Aussie act’s debut on his Beats 1 Radio show — and Annie Mac did the same on her BBC Radio 1 show. As a result, the act has amassed over 90 million streams globally. Adding to a growing profile, the members of Tora have toured nationally and across the UK and Europe with sold out sets in Melbourne, Paris and London, as well as playing across the international festival circuit with sets at Glastonbury Festival, Splendour in the Grass, Reeperbahn, The Great Escape, Best Kept Secret and others.
Building upon that growing profile, the Bryon Bay-based electro pop act released “Wouldn’t Be The Same,” a collaboration featuring Keelan Mak last year, which they’ve followed up with their first single of this year, the slow-burning and atmospheric, Roy Kerr co-written and co-produced “Deviate.” The song is built around soulful and plaintive vocals, shimmering synths, twinkling piano, stuttering beats, a sinuous bass line and a languorous hook — and while sonically the song reminds me a bit of Lake Jons‘ impressive self-titled debut, the Aussie quartet’s latests single displays a considered and deliberate songwriting approach, while expressing longing for real and significant connection with oneself and with others. It’s written as a bit of a warning about how social media can distort your sense of reality, while making a great deal of your relationships frustratingly superficial and unfulfilling.
“We took the dynamic range in this song to the extreme, with some moments being filled to the brim with sounds and other moments containing merely a single layer,” the Aussie band says in press notes. “In all its simplicity, this is one of the most considered Tora songs to date, a song we feel proud to have completed, with an important message that we hope people can feel a connection with.”
Michelle Blades is a Mexican-Panamanian singer/songwriter and self-taught multi-instrumentalist, who grew up in a family of salsa musicians — and as a result, a young Blades soaked up notions of her heritage, studio life and production. When Blades was seven, her family fled Panama as a result of the vestiges of violence and unrest left by Manuel Noriega, eventually relocating to Miami, where they all learned English and lived in different recording studios and apartments.
Ironically, music was all but forbidden at home and many of Blades’ artistic aspirations were halted by the family patriarch until she moved out when she turned 16. She then spent time juggling a number of different jobs including — being a journalist for the local CBS affiliate, producing a biweekly show, Focus on South Florida, selling smoothes, working for MIA Skatepark, and pursuing a passion for film and video by producing skate videos for her website 2TEN AM Productions. Interestingly, this love of film would wind up being important for her aspirations and her career, as it paved the way for her to direct and produce music videos for several artists.
After buying a ukulele with her first paycheck, Blades relocated to Arizona, where she immersed herself in Phoenix’s and Tempe’s DIY scenes, learning guitar, drums, synths and bass, eventually recording and releases EPs under her own name and with the noise punk trio North Dakota. Along the way, Camaraderie Limited Records, a small Paris-based label invited Blades to go on a month-long tour of house shows and while discovering Europe for the first time, she also made friends, who would change her life. As the story goes, during her third tour of France, Blades befriended the team at Midnight Special Records — and it prompted a move to Paris, where she created the bulk of her work to date, collaborating with the label and artists in a familial sort of collective of like-minded souls.
Since relocating to Paris, Blades has been rather prolific as she has released 2015’s Ataraxia, 2016’s Polylust EP, and 2017’s Premature Love Songs EP, written music and arrangements for Laure Briard, played bass in Fishbach, put together a Transatlantic band Michelle Blades y Los Machetes, and directed videos for Clea Vincent’s “Retiens mon desir” and “Chateau Perdu” among a list of others.
Slated for a March 29, 2019 release, Blades’ forthcoming album Visitor continues the Mexican-Panamanian multi-disciplinary artist, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s ongoing collaboration with Midnight Special Records. The forthcoming album’s third and latest single “Politic” is a remarkably topical song that to my ears sounds like a seamless synthesis of campy B52s-like garage rock/garage pop, angular and neurotic More Songs About Food and Buildings era Talking Heads-like post punk and Fever to Tell-era Yeah Yeah Yeahs as the song is centered around arpeggiated synths, looping garage rock guitar lines, a propulsive groove, an infectious hook and lyrics delivered in wild yelps, squeals and howls. At its core, the song expresses an anxious, existential frustration — with everything. The recently released video is centered around live footage of Blades and her backing band performing the song shot with trippy filters and colors and strobe lights galore.
Comprised of Armand Penicaut and Ulysee Cottin, the Paris, France-based pop act Papooz can trace their origins to when the duo met during part of boozy gatherings of literary obsessions — and as the story goes, the pair ditched their early and earnest ambitions to creative a political fane zone to play the music they had long been writing. Interestingly, the duo’s early demos were warped, boss nova-informed pop that also drew influence from The Beach Boys, Ella Fitzgerald, The White Stripes and Karen Dalton, among others.
The duo’s full-length debut, 2016’s Green Juice featured “Ann Wants To Dance,” whose SoKo-directed video has amassed more than 12 million streams online. Building upon a growing profile, the Parisian band’s Adrien Durand (of Bon Voyage Organisation) produced sophomore effort is slated for release later this year, the duo’s forthcoming sophomore album Night Sketches will further cement their reputation for crafting warped and skewed exotic-tinged pop — but with surrealist, character-driven lyricism. In fact, Night Sketches’ first single, the moody yet ethereal “You and I” is a lush amalgamation of 70s AM rock with 80s synth-based New Wave, as the song features an arrangement of shimmering synths, a sinuous bass line, glistening guitar lines, an ethereal falsetto and a soaring hook that sonically makes the song remind me of Roxy Music.
Directed by Armand Penicaut’s girlfriend, director and illustrator Victoria Lafaurie, the video was filmed at Le Balajo, one of Paris’ oldest cabaret clubs, currently owned by a renowned French wrestling family — and it stars Ulysee Cottin’s girlfriend, Danish-born actress and model, Klara Kristin. Shot with Super 16mm film, the video draws from old, Looney Tunes cartoons and other sources. As Lafaurie says in press notes, “Like Tex Avery’s animated cartoons, Ulysee and Armand are Klara Kristin’s conscience. Will she fall for the Devil or the Angel?”
Tessa Rose Jackson is an Amsterdam, The Netherlands-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and multi-disciplinary artist, best known among indie circles as Someone. Her debut EP Chain Reaction was an ambitious creative undertaking that involved an accompanying short film. Jackson’s forthcoming EP Orbit finds Jackson exploring the intensity with which art and music can be fused, and how they can fully enhance themselves. And interestingly, the Amsterdam-based multi-instrumentalist, producer and multi-disciplinary artist crated an interactive augmented reality exhibition that combines her music with cutting edge technology and hypnotic art, which use elements reminiscent of space and planets. The exhibition will be presented in gallery spaces in Amsterdam, London, Berlin, and Paris.
When viewed through a tablet or smartphone, the artwork comes to life and the song linked to that particular piece will be played through the viewer’s headphones. The artworks each react differently and react to the music, dynamically building as the songs progress. They will also react to touch from the viewer on their tablet screens, allowing full interaction and immersion. Trippy, huh?
The EP’s material thematically comments on our overstimulated, digital age, suggesting that we spend so much time on our phones and on social media being constantly exposed to external distractions that we’re essentially orbiting around each other and our passions, rarely touching, resting or even focusing long enough to truly connect to anything or anyone.
Orbit‘s first and latest single is the dreamy and ethereal “Get It Together,” a track that’s centered by shimmering and arpeggiated synths, thumping hip hop-like drumming, buzzing power chords and a soaring hook. And while clearly being indebted to Tame Impala and Air, the track also nods at classic, bubblegum pop and 60s psych pop — but with a soaring and infectious hook.
Boy Bamboo is a mysterious, up-and-coming Paris-based singer/songwriter and electro pop artist, and his latest single “Lola” finds the Parisian pop artist pairing his sultry and yearning falsetto with a stark and modern production centered around shimmering guitar chords, thumping beats and arpeggiated synths. It’s sleek and incredibly contemporary — and in a way that recalls Steven A. Clark‘s Fornication Under Consent of the King, Blood Orange and others.
The recently released video for “Lola” is arguably one of the most unique videos I’ve seen this year as it stars the Parisian artist, bending and blurring gender roles as he’s dressed in white and touching his body — but as the video progresses, something is disastrously wrong. It ends suggesting that the video’s protagonist has just had a miscarriage.