Category Archives: Indie

SPEAK

SPEAK

Courtesy of Traffic Records and Loophole Entertainment

SPEAK MySpace

When it comes to electronic indie pop, I tend to want to keep my distance. In my experience, electronic music — with its spacey, repetitive sounds played out over an interminable length — seems to be the last refuge of the drugged-out hippie seeking a modern-day alternative to the Grateful Dead.

Call me a traditionalist, but I like my meat-and-potatoes music. When I listen to rock, I picture a group of passionate young rebels strutting around on stage, pounding their instruments into submission and howling out their (often incomprehensible) lyrics like they are commencing a political rally. When I listen to electronic, I picture two black-clad men pressing buttons while hordes of strung-out, pale youths all bob their heads in synchronization; all the while, a group of Pitchfork Media critics sit at the sidelines and stroke their goatees in contemplation. Guess which band I wish I was in?

As such, it’s always refreshing when I hear an electronic band that doesn’t sound as though they’re trying to subliminally convince me to kill myself. My current exception is the Austin-based band SPEAK. Formed from the remains of Troupe Gammage’s previous project Jupiter 4-, SPEAK consists of Gammage, guitarist Nick Hurt, drummer Jake Stewart and bassist Joey Delahoussaye. Boasting a range of influence from Led Zeppelin to the B-52s, the band delivers a hearty mix of playful electronica and Beach Boy-inspired harmony pop.

Currently available on iTunes, their debut EP Hear Here is a wonderful introduction to their sound and style. “Stand by Us” is a pitch-perfect summer hit waiting to happen. “Louder,” meanwhile, begins with a U2-inspired riff and only gets weirder from there — in a good way. The EP concludes with the up-tempo “I’d Rather Lie,” a song that somehow manages to be both exuberant and haunting at the same time.

Having recently been awarded the 2010 Best New Band Award from the Austin Music Awards, the band’s future certainly looks promising. My suggestion: check out their MySpace, download their EP and say you knew them when.

— By Staff Writer
Mark Rozeman

Rubik

Rubik

Courtesy of Stunt Company

Rubik Myspace

Finnish electro-indie band Rubik describes their music as “nice little pop songs” on their MySpace page. That thought flew from my head as soon as I hit the play button for the song “Goji Berries” off of the band’s album Dada Bandits.

Rubik’s self-proclaimed “nice little pop song” all but assaulted my ears — what with the distorted screams, staccato drum-pounding, synthesized keyboards and stuttering piano chords. Those dirty, Finnish liars.

But dirty lying aside, Rubik’s absolute control over its wild amalgamation of harsh instruments and abrupt tone changes is nothing short of masterful. Even as “Goji Berries” switches frantically between psychedelic keyboards, stark piano interludes and jaunty, light-hearted instrumentals, Rubik weaves the melodies together seamlessly and makes the song an auditory delight rather than a case of musical ADHD.

As a strange but wonderful mix of the sounds of Animal Collective, Of Montreal and Radiohead, indie music fans could dismiss Rubik as a band of mimicry rather than originality. However, the sheer intensity of Rubik’s inspirations in Dada Bandits allows it to transcend this definition.

Much like the band’s name implies, the progression of songs on Dada Bandits comes across as a complex puzzle. While all the songs are tightly contained within their respective layers of electronic synths and ranging vocals, the album holds no common theme. Instead, it offers listeners a glimpse into the band’s diverse love for music.

By Entertainment Editor
Ginny Chae

Plushgun

plushgun

Plushgun’s Myspace

The only things April showers seem to be bringing to Atlanta right now are gray clouds and cold winds. Although the Weather Channel appears to think this depressing gloom won’t be moving on anytime soon, you can go ahead and kick off the rubber boots right now. That’s because rising indie pop trio Plushgun has enough musical Vitamin D to make summer vacation seem only seconds away.

With sunny, synthesized beats and sweet keyboard melodies, Plushgun rose to fame out of frontman Dan Ingala’s pint-sized Brooklyn apartment. Originally a solo project, Plushgun, which Paste recently dubbed a “lush, bedroom dance pop wunderkind,” released its debut album Pins & Panzers in mid-February to rave reviews.

The album’s hit single, “Just Impolite,” showcases the band’s haunting knack for bringing together the wildly opposite emotions that often characterize real-life relationships. Barely surpassing a whisper, Ingala sings, “Are you frightened by perfection? / Is this who you are, not who you want to be?” to the beat of a sugary keyboard composition. The song is a desperate and — although lyrically denied — obsessive attempt to hold onto love, masked by a bouncy electronic sound.

In fact, lyrics about the loss of love pop up pretty often throughout Plushgun’s instrumentally upbeat songs. In the nostalgic “A Crush to Pass the Time,” Ingala laments being confined to the friend zone. Similarly, “Let Me Kiss You (And I’ll Fade Away)” begs for one last embrace to a background of brief banjo riffs, hand claps and uplifting acoustic guitar. “Dancing in a Minefield,” on the other hand, waltzes between emotional vulnerability and political commentary, themes highlighted by swelling synthesizers.

Plushgun’s variety affords the band a Death Cab meets The Postal Service meets MGMT sound that perfectly captures the conflicting emotions of love and loss. Astronomically, summer doesn’t start until June 21 this year.

Musically, Plushgun makes the season endless.

—By Entertainment Editor Franchesca Winters

The Bird and the Bee

birdbee
Courtesy of The Bird and the Bee

In The Bird and the Bee’s “Polite Dance Song,” the opening track of its 2007 EP, Please Clap Your Hands, Inara George sings “I try to be as coy as I can / But I wanna see your naughty bit / Would you be nasty with me?” Though most of the synth-pop duo’s songs are not quite so risqué, they do share a playful mischievousness that is invigorating.

Indeed, the band started as a playful experiment when, as members Inara George and Greg Kurstin describe on their MySpace page, they “met a few years ago, discovered a common love of jazz standards … nerded out for a couple hours playing every song they knew … and then wrote a record together.”

Kurstin brings a tremendous amount of musical nerdiness and skill to the table. Having written or produced tracks for the likes of Sia, Lilly Allen, Beck and even Britney Spears’ recent come-back effort, Circus, he has a wealth of musical experience that he employs in the masterful musical arrangements of The Bird and the Bee.

On “Polite Dance Song” Kurstin drops a funky, laconically sliding hip-hop beat that introduces George who sings with a with a slow rhythmic flow. The soprano’s upper-register rapping feels both ironic and refreshing.

They do this again in the track “F–king Boyfriend,” where Kurstin mixes frenetic electronic beeps and chimes with jaunty dance beats and synths that glissando kaleidoscopically through the song. In this song about an impatient lover, it sounds as if George stifles a laugh as she sings, “Would you ever be my, would you be my f–king boyfriend”

The key to the success of Kurstin and George is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, experimenting with different musical styles while still keeping their music consistently light and lively. They pepper mischievous humor onto every track, creating music that is perfect for celebrating the closing hours of a week dedicated to Dooley, the Lord of Misrule.

—By Blog Editor Alex Blum

Passion Pit

pit
Courtesy of Passion Pit

Michael Angelakos is a lover. He’s the kind of lover who sees romance in terms of techno beats and freakin’ on the dance floo’. He’s the kind of lover who digs on Kanye’s “Love Lockdown” and Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” simultaneously. He’s the kind of lover who professes his desire of a woman by shrieking out brilliantly feminine falsettos. But he is, nevertheless, a lover.

Angelakos, the lead vocalist of electro-pop up-and-comers Passion Pit, presented his then-girlfriend his musical project, Chunk of Change, as a belated Valentine’s Day gift. Chunk of Change, the four-song EP/ode-to-love, eventually leaked into the Emerson College community, developing Passion Pit a viral buzz and following around the Boston area.

Passion Pit slowly developed into a full band, reissuing its EP and touring with artists such as Death Cab For Cutie and Girl Talk. Its sound is boundlessly energetic, tightly focused and hook-filled.

On tracks such as “Cuddle Fuddle” (all in all, the poorest choice of song title on the EP), Passion Pit experiments with odd synth choices and ooey gooey lyrics such as “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair / Things are better when you’re with me.” Many of the keyboard instrumentals sound as if they are being tortured, with overly distorted xylophones and computerized pianos seemingly begging for mercy. Luckily, the band never strays too far from pop goodness, singalong choruses and hooky, Walt Disney-esque lyrics.

“Sleepyhead,” Passion Pit’s love note to dance floors and narcoleptics everywhere, shows the band at their best — and weirdest. The song contains samples of Irish harp playing by Mary O’Hara matched with the perfectionist keyboards of Angelakos and pianist Ian Hultquist. Angelakos’ extremely high-pitched falsettos fit in perfectly alongside MGMT-ish electronics and disco-influenced bass licks.

Passion Pit’s debut album, Manners, is due out May 18, promising to deliver more love to the world. The part of the world that grooves on eccentric techno, that is.

by Entertainment Editor Geoff Schorkopf

Company of Thieves

forest
Courtesy of Company of Thieves

Company of Thieves – “Oscar Wilde”

Sometimes when musicians try to look intelligent by making literary references, the attempt has the exact opposite effect. The first song that comes to mind is Taylor Swift’s crossover mega-hit “Love Story.” Somewhere along the line, it seems as if Swift failed to learn that Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed lovers, meaning their lives are a string of tragedies, not happy endings. Unlike the uplifting tale told by the poppy country tune, the play ends with a lot of blood and tears. And for the record, Miss Swift, your line “You were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter” makes no sense. Hester Prynne – who, last I checked, was absent from Shakespeare’s classic – was an adulterous woman with a slightly demonic child, and that has very little to do with the message you’re trying to convey.

Enter Company of Thieves, a trio from Chicago that has a better grip on the literary world. “Oscar Wilde,” the single from the group’s debut album, Ordinary Riches, makes muted references to some of the same themes – including the inescapability of time and shallowness – as the author’s works. But lines about “porcelain teacups” and waltzing on front porches, especially when paired with singer Genevieve Schatz’s breathy, emotive voice, balance out the heavy tones and brighten the repeated line, “We are all our own devil and we make this world our hell.”

But this darkness doesn’t pervade everything by the group. “New Letters” gives a heart-wrenching account of someone who refuses to give up on a relationship, relishing its most simplistic elements. “I fell in love when you were brushing your teeth / Over my kitchen sink,” Schatz nearly whispers as the song opens. The track crescendos until its final note, when Schatz sounds as if her own determination might break her.

It’s the backing from guitarist Marc Walloch and drummer Mike Ortiz that really adds dimension to what could otherwise be classified as simple ditties. Just when you think you’ve figured out Company of Thieves, the band refuses to concede to your expectations. After a long pause in “Under the Umbrella” that seems to signal the end of the song, a rock riff on the guitar starts the whole thing up again and takes it in a brand new direction. The album includes three acoustic versions of songs, on which the group successfully experiments with soulful piano chords and violins instead of the traditionally rock-friendly guitar and drums.

Although Schatz usually sounds like a sweeter, less guttural Regina Spektor, she boasts a wide variety of vocal talent, nearly wailing over the drum fills and minor chords of “Old Letters.” Company of Thieves isn’t afraid to ignore the unwritten rule that the folk-pop-rock set should start out with short-and-sweet tunes. These shifts in vocals, instrumentation and tempo work to make each song an expansive landscape, and nearly half of the album’s tracks run past the five-minute mark.

The Windy City has become a sort of mecca for outstanding, intelligent people. Actor/director/producer/wonderman Zach Braff graduated from the city’s Northwestern University; Oprah Winfrey and President Obama call the place home. Schatz and co. may not be as well-known as any of these folks, but they certainly have the talent and intellect to someday join these prestigious ranks.

–By Entertainment Editor Ani Vrabel

Air France

air france
Courtesy of Air France

Air France’s Myspace

Air France is not a band. Not really. Air France is a bird singing happily to its friend while constructing its nest in a palm tree. Air France is a couple on their honeymoon, sipping adult beverages out of coconuts and watching the sunset.

Air France is sex on a beach.

By combining influences from the Balearic Islands with the warmth and beauty of the shoe-glaze genre, Air France creates breathtaking, sublime music, transporting listeners to an exotic and incredible new world. Like DJ Shadow or RJD2, the group merges older recorded material, such as animal noises and personal conversations, with catalog instrumentation and some of their own digital electrobeats. Truly, the Swedish duo, who chose to ironically share a moniker with the Paris-based airline, knows how to spin.

Air France’s latest EP, No Way Down, borders on aleatoric — meaning “random” — music, by carefully piecing together conversations, oohs and ahhs, tropical birds, children laughing, ocean waves and instruments like horns, strings and synths. Most of the tracks lack vocals completely, sounding something like the background music you would find at a travel boutique night club.

The track “June Evenings” opens with a far-off woman’s voice bemoaning the changing of seasons: “Spring has arrived early here, a time for lovers / And it is as if the season mocks my sadness.” These melodramatic words launch the song into trumpets, indecipherable vocals and even a verse of whistles.

On a standout track, “Collapsing at Your Doorstep,” Air France combines marimbas, exotic drums and a hypnotic vocal pattern to create the most danceable and accessible tune on the EP. The song gives off a worldbeat vibe, as if the entire universe of Air France takes place under a canopy dance party on some distant beach.

Luckily for the listener, Air France will fly you there, free of charge.

by Asst. Entertainment Editor Geoff Schorkopf