Miami Horror – Holidays
Benjamin Plant, the producer behind Miami Horror, has been releasing remixes under this title for years. However in late August, Plant assembled a full band to record and perform the debut Illumination. The album is a mix of disco and house, a wash of synth pads, funk samples, and agitated vocals. Reminiscent of other Australian synth-pop acts (Cut Copy, Van She, The Midnight Juggernauts), Illumination does not defy cultural standards. “Holidays” is the apogee of the album, a combination of recycled funk samples, snappy snare hits, and irresistible lyrics.
Two Door Cinema Club – What You Know
Two Door Cinema Club’s debut release Tourist History became my favorite release of the year. The trio hailing from Ireland, has toured extensively since its release, even opening for other synth-pop acts such as Phoenix. Running at a curt thirty-two minutes, Tourist History is cogent and to the point, a perfect pop album. Perhaps this condensation is why over half of the album became successful singles. “What You Know” is my pick. A memorable guitar melody culminates a frantic dance flurry, as Alex Trimble confesses that he knows all about you: “Cause I can tell just what you want / You don’t want to be alone.” Part of you wants to close your bedroom door and contemplate in recluse, but it seems you can’t help but hit the dance floor.
The Naked and Famous – Young Blood
The next MGMT or Passion Pit? Perhaps. But The Naked and Famous are more organic. The first band from New Zealand to hold a number one single in three years, their debut humorously titled Passive Me, Aggressive You, is a collection of intuitive pop, weathered by distorted drum samples and dirty synth takes. The echoing harpsichord riff in “Young Blood” provides a nice backdrop as a the lead singer’s high pitch vocal soars above, reciting tales from adolescent life.
Rubik – Karhu Junassa
Rubik’s debut Dada Bandits, one of the undiscovered gems of 2010, is an assortment of riveting and poignant song writing. Hushed piano interludes fill the spaces between the erratic drumming and distorted guitars. The band’s real distinction though, is the lead singer’s high falsetto that screams and whispers across the canyons Rubik has carved. “Karhu Junassa” begins with a soft drum tap before swelling into a rambunctious breakdown at 2:38 as the lead singer begs you to, “… recall. You can’t keep an ocean in a bowl.”
Violens – Full Collision
Violens have been around for several years but just released their first album late in 2010. The album is dark and edgy, with few tracks offering any carefree hum-alongs. “Full Collision” happens to be of them. The opening guitar strums, reminiscent of The Kooks, bounce along as symphony of strings quickly crescendos and collapses into a sea of cymbal crashes and guitar feedback. The singer’s voice, a notable timbre, is appropriate for the 60s vibe that emanates from the album’s twelve tracks.
Madison – #1 (RAC Mix)
Andrew Maury and Andre Anjos of the Remix Artist Collective (RAC) have remixed every artist under the sun. Their aesthetic is distinct, and dare I say it, these remixers seem to have the golden touch that puts undiscovered artists on the dance floor, or at least, my Ipod. RAC’s latest remix of upcoming female talent Madison, trumps this year in remixes. The house piano, the skipping hi hat, and the infectious chorus, “I give you all my best / Don’t give you nothing less / I tripped across my heart / I dug your from the start” is a bittersweet reminder of what it is like to have a teenage crush.
Breakbot – Baby I’m Yours (Siriusmo Remix)
Breakbot released his debut single, Baby I’m Yours, on Ed Banger in February of 2010. The original track, a collaboration with singer Irfane, embodies the “French house” sound in which the label is internationally known for. Piano hits, and a funky synth bassline set the pace in the original track. However Siriusmo, a Munich based synthesizer wizard, brings the original too a place of 70s disco with analog horns and vibrating guitar chords, a sound that irrefutably trumps the original.
Kele – Rise
The front man of Bloc Party released his first solo album this year. In an interview, Kele claims the dance release was a personal manifesto: yes, he likes to go clubbing. Entirely electronic and produced by brooklyn-based XXXChange, the majority of The Boxer consists of 4-on-the-floor, generic techno. Despite the predominance of the record being painfully mediocre, “Rise” seems to be the needle in the hay stack, but for reasons unintended by the producer. “Rise” is not a techno instrumental with Kele novel vocal’s on top. Instead it sounds like Kele, or more accurately, it sound likes Bloc Party ditched the guitars and grabbed the keyboards. Thus instead of experimenting with new sounds, Kele is most in his element when he does what he does best.
Conservative Man – The Heist
Ian McCarthy started Conservative Man as a solo project. But now the creative outlet has become full-band, transpiring an eclectic mix of synthesizers, live drums, and gorgeous pop melodies. Little is known about the band, and their material has yet to gain any form of public recognition but “The Heist” is undiscovered perfection and deserves more awareness in the public consciousness. Have a listen.
Bonobo – 1009
In the spring of 2010 Simon Green returned with Black Sands, a collection of down-tempo meditations. While the predominance of the album features Green’s signature style of hip-hop grooves and world music instrumentation (as well as several stunning collaborations with singer Andreya Triana), “1009″ places Green in a sonic territory he has yet to explore. With a scaling synthesizer glissando and distant vocal shrills reminiscent of Burial, “1009″ is a departure from Green’s usual earmarks of making acoustic music with digital technology. The result is stunning, as the mix between acoustic and electronic timbre creates a lush sonic pallet.
The National – Conversation 16
Matt Berninger seems to make even the happy sad. His gloomy vocals drape over the bustling tom patterns and wintry guitar riffs on The National’s latest release High Violet. For the audience who is accoustumed to the band’s back catolog, “Conversation 16″ will seem like it belongs on Boxer: a busy drum beat, a melancholic guitar melody, and of course, Berninger’s baritone are the quintessential sound of the Brooklyn-based indie rock band. “Conversation 16″ begs to be called “Conversation Mid-20s” as the lyrics stress the weight of feeling trapped in the mundane of city life: “Live on coffee and flowers / Try not to wonder what the weather will be.”
Ra Ra Riot – Boy
Ra Ra Riot’s sophomore release, The Orchard, came as a no surprise as a solid second release after the band signed to Barsuk records. Aesthetically, these Syracuse rockers tapped into their roots: Mathieu Santos‘ basslines walk and talk like McCartney’s, and the album has the gloss of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “Boy” was the first and currently only single to be promoted. The song, shrouded by cello and synthesizer flutes, appears as a soft confession as Wes Miles whispers, “I was a cold, cold boy / Oh when I lie with you.” You will find the lyrics as satisfying as the cadence in the chorus.
Bombay Bicycle Club – Ivy & Gold
The sophomore release from London’s Bombay Bicycle Club might have surprised fans. Their 2009 debut, I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose, carried a youthful edge caricature of the England’s abundant dance-rock scene that, although was an adamant start of their career, easily got lost in the sea of similar acts. In place of gritty off-beat guitar jaunts, their second release, Flaws, contains finger plucks from banjos and acoustic guitars. The entire album is acoustic, with the exception of a synthesizer melody on one of the final tracks, which lends to a warm contrast in comparison to the aggressive debut. “Ivy & Gold” is the album’s finest song: a catchy melody in which one can not help but whistle along and begin a journey through autumn pastels, barrels of hail, and tote bags filled with mackintoshes.
Twin Shadow – Slow
Twin Shadow, George Lewis JR., released his first album, Forget, on September 28th. Produced by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, the addition of the indie-rock star shines on the debut. Lewis’ silky voice floats on top of the album’s sparkling production, a dark and hazy mix of midnight conversation and 80s glamor: glossy vocal harmonies, chorus-laced guitars, analog strings, jittery arpeggios that climb up and down, and of course that booming snare reverb, are the familiar sounds from the decade of lava lamps and leg warmers. “Slow” is an eighties gem, illuminated by twinkling synthesizers and a ricocheting guitar lead.
Leif & The Future – Let You Go
Fronted by Leif Haaland, Leif & The Future might have seemed futuristic in the 80s. But in a modern context, “Let You Go” is a tribute to acts like Duran Duran, Joy Division, and The Cure. The Norwary band has yet to release a full album, but have generated a small following with this pop gem. Chorus twined guitars ring as Haaland’s boxy baritone voice grounds the of fidelity of the snappy synthesizer work. The combination is magical, a sound of decades past that is fit for decades future.
Squarepusher – Cryptic Motion
Drum & Bass and bass guitar virtuoso Tom Jenkins returns with this latest release under the moniker “Shobaleader One” on Ed Banger records. Filled with double stops, and a simple drum machine rhythm, “Cryptic Motion” is a technical etude of funk. The groove shifts while eerie strings saturate the track’s background. However the real climax comes when swelling synth leads intersect Jenkin’s vocoded voice. A surprising combination that blurs the line, as Jenkins usually does, between experimental electronic and hip-moving funk.
Deadmau5 – Right This Second
The Toronto DJ is back with his third studio release entitled 4×4=12. Criticized for his recent change in aesthetics to dubstep, the majority of 4×4=12 is wobbly, fierce, and annoying. Yet for audiences who remember Joel Zimmerman as the minimalistic master, “Right This Second” adheres to the austere ABAB structure. Yet, however predictable, Zimmerman is adept at making the repeated interesting. A mix between the popular hits “Strobe” and “FML,” “Right This Second” relishes in what the mau5 initially became known for: moody electronica that you can move too.
Four Tet – Angel Echoes (Jon Hopkins Remix)
Released with the angel echoes single, Jon Hopkin‘s interpretation of Four Tet highlights the contemplative elements of the original. Much like the original mix, we witness a slow, minimalistic progression that pulses to the familiar “angel echoes.” The percussion is more relaxed, often barely puncturing the delicate surface of somber piano triplets that cycle endlessly. The ending slowly evaporates, trickling away like an ocean’s soft tide.