Influenced by the likes of The Neighbourhood, LANY, The 1975 and John Mayer, the emerging Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada alt pop artist BENJII has an effortlessly cool take on pop that features moody electronics, shimmering guitars, atmospheric synths and ethereal vocals.
The Vancouver-based pop artist’s latest single, the slickly produced “I Won’t Die For You” is centered around layers of arpeggiated synths, thumping beats, a soaring hook and BENJII’s plaintive and ethereal vocals recalls St. Lucia, Stevie Nicks‘ “Stand Back,” and others, complete with a rousing hook — and while being a hook-driven banger, the track comes a rather dark place. “I Won’t Die For You” takes place in the clouded mind of someone going through the heartbreaking motions of addition and depression,” BENJII explains in press notes. “Though I’ve never found myself enveloped in this sort of darkness, I’ve witnessed so many beautiful people I love struggle in silence. It’s left me feeling broken and burning.”
“This song began as an outlet for me to cope with my feelings surrounding the existence of these things in my life, but now it’s yours to relate to whether you personally face these struggles or have someone you love who does,” the up-and-coming Canadian artist adds.
Crash Adams is a rather mysterious, up-and-coming indie electro pop act and their forthcoming album is inspired by the sounds that spoke to the bandmembers while growing up — but sonically speaking, they want their sound to be more of a feeling than a genre. Interestingly, their latest single “Astronauts” is a shimmering bit of pop that recalls Tears for Fears, M83 and St. Lucia, as the track reveals an ambitious band that can craft an enormous, rousingly anthemic hook paired with arpeggiated synths and plaintive vocals.
“There are so many ‘astronauts’ in the world, they may know it or not, but eventually they will achieve everything they’ve wanted out of their town on earth,” the band says in press notes. “It will be hard, and they will be considered different from those who aren’t astronauts. But in the end, the view of earth is greatest from outer space.”
Interview: A Q&A with VALLEY’s Michael Brandolino
Last year, the members of VALLEY released the Maybe Side A EP, which featured “There’s Still A Light In The House,” a track that amassed over 1 million Spotify streams and received airplay on US College Radio. Building upon a growing profile, the up-and-coming Toronto-based indie quartet will be releasing their full-length debut Maybe through Universal Music Group later this year, and the album’s Andy Seltzer co-written and co-produced first single “Closer To The Picture” thematically deals with the vacillating and inherent cycle of anxiety and self-reflection in the deafening digital noise of 21st century living.
VALLEY’s latest single, “A Phone Call In Amsterdam is a slickly produced bit of anthemic, radio friendly pop featuring shimmering synths, a rousing hook and a tight groove that sonically reminds me Plain White T‘s “Hey There, Delilah” and St. Lucia — while thematically focusing on an experience that should be familiar to most of us — that moment when you realize that you have feelings for a dear friend, who you desperately want to tell; but you’re afraid of rejection and ruining a good relationship.
The up-and-coming Canadian band is currently touring with up and coming singer/songwriter and fellow Canadian Lennon Stella to support their most recent EP and new single, and the tour includes a stop tomorrow night at Irving Plaza, arguably their biggest area show to date. I recently spoke with the band’s Michael Brandolino via email about their new single, their tour, their influences and more. Check out the tour dates below, and the interview below the jump.
WRH: As the story goes, the members of the band met when a recording studio accidentally double- booked sessions and encouraged y’all to play together. Curiously, how does your previous project(s) differ from Valley? And when did you recognize that you had a musical and creative chemistry that couldn’t and shouldn’t be denied?
Michael Brandolino: The projects we worked on before Valley were kind of the stepping stones we needed to find our sound I’d say. We spent the years before Valley covering our favourite bands in high school and collecting our favourite sounds for the future.
WRH: How would you describe your sound?
MB: I’d say it’s very much a combination of our parents records and records that we discovered in the most formative years of our life. We’re always thinking about the overall story and how to tell it in the most honest way. We believe a lot in honesty and a freeing dynamic, while blending a lot of different sonic textures. For example, on this record we did a lot of acoustic guitar panning that sit quiet and create pads that sit under blanket under the song, which is something we learned from Coldplay but then we contrast that with a ton of drum machine samples from the 80s and 90s that glue these two different worlds together. We’re always thinking about bringing stuff like that into one headspace. It’s really important to us when shaping a record.
WRH: Who are you influenced by?
MB: We definitely have a very diverse list of influences ranging anywhere from John Mayer to Coldplay to Bon Iver and Ariana Grande. All those artists have put out records that have marked really important periods of growth for us as a band and personally. Super thankful to be living in an age where they exist.
WRH: Who are you listening to now?
MB: Currently really into Lorde’s latest record, love Bon Iver, Still Woozy, Lennon Stella of course, The Japanese House record, Fleetwood Mac, Ariana Grande! We’re all over right now. So many great albums have been put out this year.
WRH: Is there anyone in the Toronto scene, who we haven’t heard about in the States that we all should be hearing about?
MB: Hands down this band called Babygirl. They’re good friends of ours and we look up to them so much. Incredible story tellers and songwriters. We have a feeling you’ll be hearing about them soon…
Recommended first listens: “Overbored,” “Soft,” “Wish I Never Met You.”
WRH: You’re currently on tour with Lennon Stella. How has the tour gone so far?
MB: This tour has been absolutely incredible. We feel so lucky and fortunate to be on this run with Lennon. It’s our first major U.S run and we’ve been learning a ton. Watching Lennon every night and seriously has one of the most beautiful voices out there right now. Her songwriting is way beyond her years in so many ways and cannot wait to see her career unfold. So lucky to be a part of her humble beginnings.
WRH: Speaking of your tour, it includes a March 26 stop at Irving Plaza. Is it your first-time playing NYC? And what should NYC music fans expect from your set and from the show?
MB: We’ve played Rough Trade in Brooklyn before, but this is definitely our first time playing the Plaza right in the heart of the city. New York is so damn special to us. We wrote a lot of Maybein the city and lots of lyrical and production soundscapes take place throughout the album. It’s gonna be a special night, we can feel it.
WRH: Your self-produced, acclaimed EP, 2016’s This Room Is White amassed over 10 million streams – perhaps a result of “Swim,” receiving placements on radio and TV. Building upon rapidly growing buzz around you, your full-length debut is slated for release later this year. So far, the album’s first single “Closer to the Picture,” which was co-written and co-produced by the band and Andy Seltzer has received over a million streams and US College radio airplay. How does it feel to attain that kind of attention in such a relatively short period of time?
MB: It’s a pretty cool feeling, although we always feel like we could do better. We’ve been pleasantly surprised that every release does better than the last. Closer to the picture now one of the smaller songs on MAYBE according to Spotify analytics. Our most recent single “A Phone Call In Amsterdam” has performed the best, and we’re brainstorming ideas on how to exceed that number with our next single titled “Park Bench.” We feel blessed with any success we’ve had but always are looking to do better. There’s always room to grow!!
WRH: Your latest single “A Phone Call in Amsterdam” reminds me a bit of Plain White T’s and St. Lucia. What influenced the song? And what’s the song about?
MB: “A Phone Call in Amsterdam” was one of the earliest songs that we wrote for Maybe. I remember the initial idea was conceived around July/August of 2017 around the same time we also wrote “There’s Still A Light In The House.”
“A Phone Call in Amsterdam” in terms of concept came later. This one we really wanted words and feelings to flow freely in its early conception. Subconsciously the meaning came out of nowhere which kinda made me go “oh that’s what I’m writing about I know exactly where this is coming from in my life.”
It’s very much a love story set in a time and place from the perspective of a dear friend of ours. Though it’s wrapped up in distance, both physically and emotionally. The paradox of wanting someone in your life and being scared to tell them how you really feel but also not wanting to ruin something that is already good the way it is, by saying the wrong thing.
Your most current tour has you on the road for the better part of the next month, before a big festival date. After you’ve completed the tour, what’s next?
We’re planned to release another single, two music videos, and then the second half of our record MAYBE. We’ll be doing another hometown album release show in Toronto, date to be announced! We have some festivals lined up but we are also very eager to start writing and demoing again so will probably run away for a month in the summer and write.
Micha de Jonge is a Dutch-born and-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, electronic music artist and producer, who has received attention both nationally and internationally with his pastel colored, 80s inspired, indie electro pop recording project Kita Menari. de Jonge’s debut single “Young Lovers” was included on Apple Music’s “Best of the Week,” as well as Spotify’s New Music Friday playlists in both the UK and Holland, where it would go on to appear in the top 5 of both country’s Spotify Viral Charts. Building upon a growing profile, de Jonge quickly set about assembling a backing band, comprised of Jonne Venmans, Job Fisser, Daniel Zoutni and Samuel Veerhuis, and with that backing band played live sessions on Radio 2FM and Radio 3FM — all before they played their first live show. Speaking of the act’s first live show: it was a live session on popular Dutch TV show De Wereld Draait Door that was seen by over a million people.
Interestingly, the project’s name can trace its origins to a trip the Dutch singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, electronic music artist and producer took to Malaysia. While scuba diving, de Jonge’s tank got jammed underwater, and as a result, he was forced to race to the surface on his final breath of air. Once on land, his adrenaline-fueled recounting of the story eventually blurred into an entire night’s worth of partying. And as the story goes, when he woke up he noticed the words “Kita Menari” scribbled on a piece of pace found in his pocket. “I don’t know how it got there and I didn’t know that the words meant ‘we dance’ in Malay. As soon as I found out I thought ‘that’s it’! From now on that is going to be the motto of my song writing,” de Jonge recalls.
When he returned to Holland, de Jonge set about songwriting with a more reflective angle while drawing from Passion Pit, MGMT, and Phoenix among others. Additionally, de Jonge’s work is largely inspired by his unique living arrangement — he resides on a 40 hectare estate called Doorn Huis, famously known as the final home and resting place of Germany’s last Kaiser, Wilhelm II. “In the Netherlands the government has a program where you can apply to live in some weird and wonderful places to deter squatters and burglars” de Jonge explains. “I won’t bore you with the history but it means I’m surrounded by gardens, fields, even a palace, it’s a really incredible environment which helps to inspire the music I write.”
His latest single “Pretty Sure” will further cement his reputation for crafting infectious and rousingly anthemic synth pop as the track features a slick production centered around shimmering synths, thumping beats and a soaring hook — and while sonically bearing a resemblance to St. Lucia, the song finds its narrator expressing crippling self doubt and uncertainty, giving the song’s overwhelming sunny, dance floor friendly vibes, a murky and ironic quality. “The song revolves about a common conversation I have with myself: whether or not what I’m doing creatively is good enough, and the fear of letting that feeling go,” de Jonge explains. “Having big ambitions and dreams can sometimes have a negative effect on the process of achieving them. It’s like having an angel on one shoulder telling you to go for it while a demon sits on the other telling you it’s not good enough. I wanted there to be a sonic build throughout the song that would erupt after the second chorus, as a sign of letting that fear go and having creativity burst free.”
Splitting their time between Stockholm, Sweden and Olso, Norway, the acclaimed dream pop trio Postiljonen, featuring Norwegian-born Mia Brox Bøe and Swedish-born Daniel Sjörs and Joel Nostrum Holm quickly received national and international with the release of 2013’s full-length debut Skyer; in fact, the album was nominated for Best Pop album in the prestigious Swedish Award P3 Guld — and as a result, of the growing buzz surrounding the band, they wound up going on several tours across Sweden, the European Union, Asia and the US with stops on the festival circuit. 2016’s sophomore album Reverie, which was influneced by California winds, Chinese gardens, late Lost in Translation-like nights in Tokyo and Swedish forests received raputous praise with Cocteau Twins‘ and Bella Union Records‘ label head Simon Raymonde nominating “The Open Road” as one of the best songs of that year.
“Chasing Stars,” is the first bit of new material from the acclimed Scandinavian trio — and it’s the first taste from their highly-anticipated third, full-length album, which is currently slated for release sometime next year through Hybris Records. Much like their preceeding efforts, the members of Postilijonen holed themselves in an isolated cabin in the remote Swedish woods. As the members of the band explain in press notes, “When making music for Postiljonen, it has always just been us three locked away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, really. The whole world of Postiljonen is so personal to us and it is a world that we created between the three of us.” The new single will further cement the Scandinavian trio’s growing reptuation for crafting a swooning and achingly nostalgic take on dream pop while expanding upon the sound that has won them national and international attention. Centered around a breezy yet cinematic, 80s-inspired production featuring arpeggiated and shimmering synths, a motorik-like groove, a jazzy but power chord-based guitar solo, soaring hooks and Brox Bøe’s soaring vocals, the song sonically manages to recall John Parr‘s “St. Elmo’s Fire,” as well as Yumi Zouma‘s and St. Lucia’s euphoric synth pop, complete with a lush studio sheen.
But underneath the studio sheen, the song is a buoyant and feverish day dream. As the band explains in press notes, “‘Chasing Stars’ is about the longing for that someone who you used to be very close to. While the lyrics might come across very heartbreaking – there’s still a sense of underlying hope that someday somewhere you’ll be together again, chasing stars. It’s nostalgic as always. It’s the chasing that is the magic and essence, forget about the reaching. We actually started writing this song three years ago but it couldn’t come at a better time for us.”
Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about Liam Brown, an up-and-coming Liverpool, UK-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and electro pop artist, best known as Pizzagirl. Now, as you may recall, with the release of his debut EP An Extended Play earlier this year, Brown was quickly championed by Huw Stephens, Annie Mac and Lauren Laverne, and received praise from DIY, Highsnobiety, Wonderland, The Line of Best Fit and others for an 80s synth pop inspired sound. And adding to a growing profile, Brown opened for acclaimed British act Her’s during their most recent UK tour.
Building upon a growing profile and growing buzz, Brown’s sophomore Pizzagirl EP season 2 is slated for a November 2 release, and from the EP’s first two singles “highschool” and “gymnasium,” Brown will further cement a reputation for crafting swooningly heartfelt, shimmering synth pop that draws from several decades simultaneously; in fact, both singles brought the likes of Washed Out, St. Lucia and Tears for Fears to mind. “body part,” the EP’s latest single while clearly bearing an uncanny resemblance to its predecessor, the song finds Brown successfully walking a difficult tightrope of an oversized, larger-than-life cinematic feel with an emotional intimacy that continues to evoke the very urgent emotions and thoughts of being a teenager in love.
With a handful of singles and their full-length debut Vaporwave, the Washington, DC-based indie electro rock and synth pop sextet Color Palette, comprised of Jay Nemeyer (vocals, guitar), Josh Hunter (guitar, keys, bass), Matt Hartenau (drums), Rogerio Naressi (keys) and Maryjo Mattea (vocals) received attention both locally and internationally from the likes of NME Magazine, USA Today, NPR and Impose Magazine— and adding to a growing profile, the band has shared bills with Charli XCX, The Naked and Famous, Mother Mother, Day Wave, Yumi Zouma, Mr. Little Jeans, The Kickback, Spirit Animal, VanLadyLove and others.
Up until late last month, some time had passed since I had come across the DC-based sextet but as you may recall, the band had been busy working on their sophomore album, which is currently slated for release sometime next year — and the album’s first single “Sunburn,” was a breezy and anthemic track centered around shimmering and jangling guitar lines, ethereal electronics and a soaring hook paired with a wistful vocal that evokes the passing of summer, and the impending end of another year. Interestingly, the album’s latest single “Chelsea” is a synth-based track that some have compared favorably to Depeche Mode, although to my my ears, the song recalls St. Lucia as the members of Color Palette layer of arpeggiated synths are paired with angular and hanging guitar chords, an a propulsive rhythm section — and while much like its predecessor, the song reveals a band that can craft a razor sharp and infectious hook, “Chelsea” may arguably be the most ambitious, arena rock friendly track they’ve written and released to date.