New synthpop instrumental; completed demo.
Roland Juno 6
Guitar – Delay
Acoustic Guitar – Chorus
New synthpop instrumental; completed demo.
Roland Juno 6
Guitar – Delay
Acoustic Guitar – Chorus
Bombay Bicycle Club – How Much Sleep Can You Shallow
With the rise of “clubs” in the names of up-and-coming bands (Two Door Cinema Club, Bombay Bicycle Club, 2 AM Club) it’s easy to be confused. But UK Rockers, Bombay Bicycle Club, have been kicking up the dust in the indie rock scene since 2006. The band’s third release, A Different Kind Of Fix, migrated back to the electronic and wired-up rock music of their first album. Grungy guitars, insistent drums, and mournful lyrics are also found on the third album’s 12 tracks. Though there are many songs that stand on their own, the album opener, “How Much Sleep Can You Swallow,” is pop music at its peak. Energetic and vibrant, these youngsters are showing no sign of growing up anytime soon.
Siriusmo – Red Knob
Berlin based producer, Siriusmo, released an extensive collection of EPs over the first decade of the 2000s. To the whimsical The Uninvited Guest EP, an electronic realization of the childhood fairytale The Three Little Pigs, to the Diskoding EP, a transformation of the noun “disco” into verb “diskoding,” I’m not the only one to recognize his uncanny charm of production (his list of collaborators includes Thom Yorke & Modeselektor). Yet, despite his decade career, the studio wizard just released his first LP this year, dusting off selections from his old EPs with a few new productions sprinkled in. “Red Knob” is the final cut off the Mosaik — an agitated furry of unpredictable electronic music.
Foster The People – Houdini (RAC Mix)
Mike Foster, founder of 2011’s indie posterboy band claimed, “I wasn’t shy about taking my guitar out at a party. I wanted to be the center of attention.” After a successful debut and months of chart placing on Spotify, I guess Foster rubbed the magic lamp. After all, what other bands can attribute their plummet into stardom to a song about “pumped up kicks” aside from DC-rapper W.A.L.E? Though I would write off their debut, Torches, as mediocre, the RAC Mix manages to patch the holes in the sinking ship. The remix begins with an arpeggiated synthesizer melody that is harmonized by distant minor piano chords. Mysterious! But soon punchy toms come rolling in, and the kick and snare remind you that you are not watching Blade Runner, but are engulfed by the dance floor — an imaginary landscape that RAC seamlessly weaves.
AM & Shawn Lee – Promises Are Never Far From Lies
Arising as a collaboration between AM (Los Angeles) and Shawn Lee (London), the duo released Celestial Electric as documentation to their new music relationship. Much of the album borrows an aesthetic from decades past, often mingling between soul and disco from the 70s and 80s. Analog synthesizers, and funky grooves are the foundations to the instrumental melodies. “Promises Are Never Far From Lies” is pure synth-pop bliss, beginning with an infectious synthesizer melody that slinks into warm Hammond organ harmony.
ymusic – Beautiful Mechanical
Ever heard of Vitamin String Quartet? If you heard your favorite Coldplay single re-arranged for a string quartet, it was probably them. Or how about your favorite Muse single, you know the one about super-massive black holes? Try listening to it scored for super-massive cellos. Many classical ensembles are blurring the lines between the “classical” and “popular” music world. At first glance, the track listing of ymusic’s latest album, Beautiful Mechanical, seems similar: chamber music arrangements of standard indie rock songs. However, it’s not a surprise most of songs were arranged and composed by indie rock musicians affiliated with ymusic after reading about their impressive creditials. From My Brightest Diamond and Bon Iver, ymusic are the untold story behind many arrangements on successful indie rock albums. The album’s title track, composed by Ryan Lott (Son Lux), is perhaps a minimalistic homage to these classically trained musician’s love for popular music. As the work unfolds, flurries of brief melodic and repetitive structures transpire into an exciting, holistic composition. Robotic at times, but it is indeed the effect that is soundly described by the composition’s title — “beautifully mechanical.”
The Hood Internet – Lump Sum Of Paris
The development of remix culture continues to correlate with the development digital technology. Now digital audio workstations and computers enable amateur remixers to craft their own mixers with no left-over tape scraps and in half the time. What defines a good “mash-up,” a combination of one or more popular songs, is how the all the parts gel together — perceiving the forest from the trees. How does the vocal stem stand against the sampled instrumental parts? The Hood Internet, an online mash-up collective, demonstrate this paradox of easily creating mash-ups but the difficulty of making harmonious mixes. “Lump Sum of Paris” combines Bon Iver Vs. Friendly Fires Vs. Aeroplane, a collection of artists one would think could never mesh together. But as Justin Vernon’s crooning vocals shamelessly glide over electronic blips and bops of Friendly Fires, it’s easy for one to foresee how such a unique combination could inspire future music collaborations. Perhaps this folk monster might purchase a few synthesizers for an upcoming release.
Violens – When To Let Go
After release of their 2010 debut, Violens took a different approach to song releases during the follow year. Over the course of 9 months in 2011, the band released a new single on a monthly schedule packaged with weird and tantalizing square images. Currently spread across Europe and the US, band members independently recorded parts for new songs and compiled them. It’s a digital Postal Service, and yet despite the miles of distance, Violens managed to release some of the most interesting music of 2011. My pick is from one of the early months, during that ephemeral period between winter and spring. “When To Let Go” is a showcase of brilliant song-smithery: bittersweet and hopeful, the song reminds me of, dare I admit, a Coldplay B-Side.
Chairlift – Sidewalk Safari
Aaron Pfenning, a founding member of Chairlift, said farewell to fellow bandmembers in 2010. Currently, just a duo, Chairlift is ready to release their up and coming album, Something, in January 2012. The band shows no sign of slowing down (sorry Aaron), as is evident by several prereleases in 2011. To tease out some hype, three songs selected from upcoming LP where released during the closing months of 2011. “Sidewalk Safari” is my favorite pre-release. Intricately orchestrated (hopefully showcasing the production aesthetics for the upcoming LP) and cleverly narrated, the song is a deadly threat, analogous to Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game: “All of the bones in your body / are in way to few pieces for me / time to do something about it / (if you know what I mean).” Watch out street goers, because Caroline Polachek is on a sidewalk safari.
(for a jaw-dropping collaboration between Violens, Chairlift and… Justin Bieber? click here.)
Bonecold – Rekka
Arguably one of the most influential electronic musicians of the 21st century, Burial has set the stage for contemporary producers. His earmarks are readily identifiable: pitch-tweaked a cappella tracks, field recordings of rain and burning fire, slinky drums, and ambient synthesizers. Many producers have since adopted these techniques in attempts to replicate Burial’s novelty. However, no producer has pulled it off with such integrity as UK’s own, Bonecold. The British producer released his first album online through the Broken Bubble label. Somnipath is short and cogent, with many tracks beginning and ending within several minutes. Despite the dubious adaption of Burial’s previous work, both artists are able to maintain their own novelty. I would argue this novelty lies in the degree of abstraction — while Burial’s music maintains a groove and periodicity, Bonecold’s tracks seem to meander aimlessly, never cultivating into a rhythmic or predictable pattern. Recommended for those affluent with electronica.
Rubik – World Around You
One of the most exciting bands in the world right now, Rubik, released Solar in early 2011. Though the album feels short, many songs are arranged thoroughly, with ideas strung together like cinema. The album opens with a brief horn fugue, quickly escalating into “World Around You.” Cymbals crash into pizzicato plucks, as Artturi Taira‘s honey-glazed vocals drip over the instrumentation. The production on this album is unmarred, with hints of Radiohead and TV On The Radio filling the gaps between the lead instruments. Though the album seems to come and go with the snap of a finger, it is not without dynamics. Solar is certainly an album that will continue to shine.
Buck 65 – Paper Airplane (Feat. Jenn Grant)
I’ll admit it, I have a soft spot for Buck 65. What drew me to the Canadian MC / producer, was his unhip-hop sounding “hip-hop.” Most of my friends immediately write off the lo-fi, country influence of his productions as adolescent meddling. Instead of the expected sampled funk breaks or jazzy interludes, commonly comprising independent hip-hop music, slide guitars and clunking banjos serenade the lost cowboy while he reminiscences about the “old” days. His latest release, 20 Odd Years, is an homage to Buck’s two decade career, exploring collaborations with a variety of Canadian acts (Islands & Jenn Grant) in a series of small EP releases. “Paper airplanes” is a gem, as Buck’s signature “the lumberjack next door” character swoons over lost love: “How we miss this love,” collaborator Jenn Grant confesses. And Buck agrees, “eventually the Shepard must slaughter his sheep.” Perhaps that’s why, despite the poor and sparse production of his music, Buck has been able to sustain 20 odd years of music. There is no glam, there is no front — it’s painfully honest.
TV On The Radio – Will Do
2011 brought butterflied and dragons for TV On The Radio. The band returned from a year long-hiatus, released its 4th studio album, and completed a decade of music making. 2011, however, was not just celebrations — bassist Gerard Smith lost his life to lung cancer in late April, shortly after the fourth album’s release. The first single off of Nine Types Of Light, “Will Do,” is an exemplar of contemporary music production and perhaps the rich musical exploration of TV On The Radio. The fundamentals of pop music are there: great melodies, great harmony, and great lyrics — certainly qualities that would elicit envy from most songwriters. But if you listen closer, ambient shrieks and environmental recordings are interpolated into the void behind these fundamentals. No space is left behind the curtain, and despite the single being a relatively “simple” pop love song, the creative design resides in these haunting, textural additions.
Leif & The Future – Walked Away
Leif & The Future topped last year’s best songs of 2010. With just a few singles up their sleeve, the Norway band released their debut album in September 2010 on Brilliance records. Appropriately titled “Songs Of Youth,” its easy to sympathize to the bandleader’s, Leif Haaland’s, fascination with the 80s. Though the album resonates with a neon aura of analog synthesizers, 808 claps, and chorus-processed guitar work — this is an album refined for listeners of contemporary popular music. Like a good wine, we appreciate it more with age. Most will feel as if the album’s 10 tracks were ripped from its decade of purported origin — an elaborate feat and surely this was Leif and the gang’s intention. Give a listen to the second single off the album, “Walked Away,” and let your ears be convinced.
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.