Category Archives: Pop

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

Seabird

seabird
Courtesy of Seabird

Seabird’s Myspace

The Fray might think they know how to save a life and Jack’s Mannequin may make one helluva mix tape, but neither band brings together passionate piano arrangements, rock riffs and intelligent lyrics like rising Cincinnati-based trio Seabird.

With its captivating 2008 debut ‘Til We See the Shore, the band, which is currently on tour with Jars of Clay, blends these three instrumental and lyrical elements like a group of seasoned veterans. Rather than relying too heavily on the ivories, Seabird crafts songs that are a charming mix of musical influences.

This varied instrumentalism is only complemented by lead singer and pianist Aaron Morgan’s crooning, which traverses the line between raw and refined. The result is a sound driven by both classical chords and heavy bass.

Seabird’s first single “Rescue” is a lush and infectious track in which Morgan sings, “I’m pushing up daisies / I wish they were roses / I feel like I’m drowning / But nobody knows it.” Fittingly, ABC used the song to promote its recently cancelled show “Pushing Daisies.”

But the band’s standout tracks are “Falling For You” and “Maggie Mahoney.” While “Falling For You” successfully captures the eternally-relatable experience of longing, the latter features rapid, spoken lyrics and a retro piano waltz delightfully reminiscent of the 2006 radio reign of Panic at the Disco.

With a sound that is both distinctive and emotionally engaging, Seabird is undoubtedly ready to take flight in the world of popular piano rock.

—By Entertainment Editor Franchesca Winters

Coeur de Pirate

pirate
Courtesy John Londono

Coeur de Pirate – “Comme des Enfants”

Studies show only seven percent of what we say is communicated through actual words. If that statistic was something like 77 percent, many of Coeur de Pirate’s listeners might have absolutely no idea what she’s singing about.

That’s because Coeur de Pirate, the stage name of 19-year-old Canadian singer and pianist Beatrice Martin, sings entirely in French. The Montreal-based songstress catapulted to MySpace fame in January when Quebec photographer Francois Vachon posted an adorable YouTube video of his baby playing to the bouncy piano-pop of Coeur de Pirate’s “Ensemble.” Now, the singer’s self-titled debut is fighting for the honor of Francophone Album of the Year at this year’s Juno Awards (Canada’s version of the Grammys), and the album’s mesmerizing single, “Comme des Enfants,” recently shot to the top of one of the country’s premiere radio charts, becoming the second entirely French song ever to reach No. 1.

“Comme des Enfants,” a charming composition that sounds a little like falling in love for the first time, showcases Martin’s extensive piano skill — honed from 16 years of practice — as well as her captivating, sweet voice. She softly coos, “Et il m’aime encore, et moi je t’aime un peu plus fort” (“And he loves me still, and I love you a little stronger”), but like the Hopelandic jibberish of Sigur Ros, Coeur de Pirate’s lyrics are best understood as emotive sounds supported by exquisite instrumentals.

“C’etait Salement Romantique” is similarly stunning, with Martin’s swelling choruses accompanied by strings and acoustic guitar. On “Francis,” the singer’s performance flirts with the line separating Regina Spektor and The Dresden Dolls, and her nearly spoken lyrics give the song a whimsical appeal.

Some experiences — the snap and crack of a broken heart, the weightlessness of a first kiss — know no language barrier. Lucky for us, neither does Coeur de Pirate.

—By Entertainment Editor Franchesca Winters

Róisín Murphy

roisin
Courtesy of Jose Goulao

Róisín Murphy’s Myspace

When Róisín Murphy, formerly of the popular European electronic duo Moloko, produced her first solo album, Ruby Blue, it was a titanic flop. It unraveled into an ugly mess of glitches, beeps and strange noises. Her misguided attempt to create an “experimental” album produced one that was serious, cerebral and drab — not exactly the qualities that you look for in a electro-pop album.

But Murphy rebounded on a grand scale in her most recent release, Overpowered, by adding the most essential element of electro-pop : fun. While Ruby Blue evoked a sense of suffering in robot purgatory, the bright synths and funk-inspired beats of Overpowered are sure to invoke uncontrolled bouts of excited dancing.

On the track “Checkin’ on Me,” Murphy departs from the uniform four-to-the-floor beat, a standard of dance music, favoring a doo-wop swung beat that sets the lively tone of the song. Above the beat, she layers bright, brassy horns, sweetly swelling violins and frenetically oscillating guitars. Despite the number of diverse instruments doing drastically different things, her expert musical arrangement makes the song sound textured and full rather than cluttered. In fact, the song is mixed so well that Murphy is easily heard as she delivers her lyrics softly, coolly and with a pinch of attitude.

Even the more subdued and serious songs are tinged with an air of playfulness absent from Ruby Blue. On “Primitive,” Murphy sings with somber determination over spectral humming synths but brightly dinging electronic bells lighten the gloomy tone of the song. Similarly, the standout track “Dear Miami” lambasts the extreme decadence of Vice City. The guitar distortion, synth blasts, violin string picking and intermittent beeping infuse the song with a strong rhythmic energy.

By pumping even her softer and more solemn songs with a manic energy, Róisín Murphy created an album that is powerful and engaging from the first track to last. Taking herself less seriously and having more fun with her music she has risen from the ashes of her failed debut a funky, dancing electro-pop phoenix.

—By Entertainment Blog Editor Alex Blum

The Little Ones

the lttle ones
Courtesy of Pamela Littky

The Little Ones’ Myspace

A couple weeks ago, as I was sitting in the library, completely engrossed in both my iPod and my studying, the guy next to me tapped me on the shoulder and asked what I was listening to. I began to apologize profusely for having the sound turned up too loud when he cut me off and explained that from the little bit that he could hear, he thought it sounded awesome and needed to know the name of the band immediately.

Yes, The Little Ones are just that infectious. Even when heard secondhand, muffled by someone else’s earphones, their bouncy beats are irresistible.

The quintet’s EP, Sing Song, and debut full-length, Morning Tide, both have a summery, laid-back feel. With hand claps and harmonicas as prevalent as the standard lineup of drums and guitars, the group has a unique sound that is simultaneously peppy and relaxing.

The album’s title track boasts lines like, “The touch of midday sun broke from the sky at once and echoed my own cheer” that showcase the sense of optimism that pervades the album. The bridge of “do-do-do-do-do” certainly doesn’t hurt either.
A few of the band’s other tunes, like “Let Them Ring the Bells” and “Cha Cha Cha,” are still positive, but are far less over-the-top on the happiness front due to more mellow instrumentation.

After I told that guy what I was listening to, he scribbled “The Little Ones” and an album name on a scrap of homework. He thanked me as if I had just surprised him with some kind of wonderful gift. And in a way, I guess I had. We all need a little dose of musical optimism from time to time, especially in the library.

–By Entertainment Editor Ani Vrabel

Shugo Tokumaru

shogu
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Shugo Tokumau – “Parachute”

On the international stage, the state of Japanese entertainment is rather unfortunate. Breaking into the Western limelight is difficult, especially when Americans expect Japanese film and music to possess a certain amount of restraint and conservatism. For example, Japanese films are assumed to be about one of two things: respectful samurai protecting their ways of old or overgrown lizard-robots terrorizing some fleeing pre-pubescent sounding men.

Similarly, Japanese music today consists of either classic Japanese arrangements or assembly line pop aimed at imitating boy bands of 10 years ago. Due to this standard, it is rare that a Japanese artist breaks any musical barriers in their own country, let alone breaking into the American indie music scene.

Yet Shugo Tokumaru has done just that. With an eclectic blend of more than 50 instruments, arranged with a perfectionist’s eye, Tokumaru creates complex compositions that rival American folk artists like Sufjan Stevens and The Magnetic Fields while still retaining elements of his Japanese homeland.

Tokumaru, who has released several albums in Japan, had his latest album, Exit, released internationally. The singer-songwriter combines instruments like guitars, drums, accordions, xylophones and violins, as well as vocals in both Japanese and English. His sound feels euphoric, psychedelic and folksy, contributing a tone that is both uniquely Japanese and universally accessible.

From the start of “Parachute,” the opener and a standout track on Exit, the listener is assaulted with whimsical bells and carefully placed bass guitars. This three-minute song is packed with so many sounds and notes, it is almost overwhelming. Perhaps this is overcompensation to gain attention from the American indie scene, or perhaps it is just Tokumaru showing off all his talent. Yet the all the instruments are tied together with a joyous mood and Japanese lyrics that are so exotic and unique that it is hard to find fault with much of his work.

Other later tracks on Exit, like “Hidamari” and “La La Radio,” serve as interludes that connect the album as a whole, implementing melodies and phrases from songs earlier in the album. Overall, Exit is a beautifully constructed Japanese album for a world audience. The album is as epic as Godzilla, as composed as a samurai, and just as innovative as any other American indie album out today.

by Asst. Entertainment Editor Geoff Schorkopf