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Dance

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Take a Spin at The DiscOasis with The Belle Sounds

Austin quintet The Belle Sounds capture lightning in a bottle with their latest single, “All About Love.”

Within the first few seconds, they lay down a groove that reels you in, hypnotically enticing you to start tapping your feet and bobbing your head. A disco-esque rhythm dances underneath upbeat synths, a funky guitar riff, and vibrant vocals. Perfectly paired with the music is a dazzling music video that keeps viewers’ entranced for the entire four and half minutes, a towering achievement and a testament to the group's bright vision and brighter future.

Flowing with the beat  are an array of talented roller-skaters wearing scintillating outfits and surrounded by flashing neon lights. The disco-themed production meshes flawlessly with the track's ebullient atmosphere, and the skaters' he constant movement parallels the endless dancing triggered by this track. “All About Love” is one of those rare instances where the music video is as epic as the song itself. 

The Belle Sounds are reminiscent of a variety of acts, including Moon Boots, Tame Impala, and Fleetwood Mac. Yet, despite a wide range of influences, their sound is unmistakably modern and fresh, as they rejuvenate past ideas to concoct a rich, delicious sound they can claim as their own. Much of contemporary pop music is (fairly or unfairly) criticized as one-dimensional, lacking the substance and depth needed to create something timeless. However, The Belle Sounds aren't afraid push the boundaries of what pop music can be.

Though one could be forgiven for believing the group, led by husband-and-wife power duo Noëlle Hampton and André Moran, hit their stride years ago, they are continuing to manufacture tunes that are groundbreaking and continue to set trends, rather than follow them. With releases of this caliber, The Belle Sounds—always ahead of the curve—continue raising the bar for not just Austin's pop music, but pop music entirely. Check out their new EP below, and keep an eye out for shows soon.

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Xeno & Oaklander: Touching from a distance on "Afar"

“Afar” is the third advance single off from Xeno & Oaklander’s upcoming seventh album called Vi/deo which is slated to be released on 10/22/21 and if you’ve got all the math figured out on that then you can move ahead to the music video below and attempt to keep tally of how many identical-twin Liz Wendelbo’s appear in quick succession (meanwhile bandmate Sean McBride is inexplicably absent, unless perhaps he’s been assimilated into the collective by the Borg) or who knows maybe it’s just my brain glitching again. 

And once you’ve mastered the math then it’s time to brush up on your French proficiency skills because that’s the language the lyrics are in tho’ lucky for us the duo have shared a full translation free of charge on their Instagram page. Plus there’s some cognates in there which should help in cases like where “encens insencé” is translated to “senseless incense” which sounds quite lovely and poetic in either language. And did I mention Ms. Wendelbo does a convincing Vanessa-Paradis-meets-Jane-Birkin impersonation both sonically and kinesthetically (how do French people sound both bored and aroused at the same time? this must to be studied…) which must come naturally to a person of French-Norwegian extraction such as herself. 

What’s more “Afar” provides further evidence there’s just something about electronic music with sensual French vocals (especially on the more dark ’n’ trancey side of things like Coldwave, Minimal Wave, and EBM-Wave (Electronic Body Music)) that works in a big way when it’s done right—which may have something to do with the language itself having such a natural sense of flow and élégance—and it’s done right by X&O on this track with a musical backing that likewise captures the so-cold-it’s-sizzling-hot Gallic vibe that very few English-language artists pull off convincingly with Boy Harsher being one exception that comes to mind.

“But nevermind all that,” you may say, “what was the inspiration behind the song and the upcoming album?” Well I don’t know how or why you’d expect me to know but fortunately for all involved Xeno & Oaklander have revealed the answer on their Bandcamp page: “Inspired by ideas of synesthesia, scent, star worship, and obsolescent technologies…Liz Wendelbo and Sean McBride began conceiving the blueprint of Vi/deo while sequestered at their Southern Connecticut home studio during the pandemic. The context of isolation, streaming, and remote dreaming seeped into their chemistry, manifesting as both homage to and meditation on a certain cinematic strain of technicolor fantasy: the screen as stage, distance disguised as intimacy, where tragedy and glamour crossfade into one,” and I gotta hand it to these two because this artfully constructed statement-of-purpose makes me think maybe they should be the ones writing this blog.

“But wait,” you may say, “this is an electronic group so don’t they stare at screens all day long whether there’s a pandemic going on or not.” To which an omniscient voice from the sky may reply: “Au contraire, mon pear, because X&O are all about using self-contained vintage analog sound modules that have lots of buttons and knobs and spaghetti-like piles of patch cables threading in and out of assorted orifices in their various electronic doo-dads (sorry for all the technical language!) all of which is designed to be played live—for proof check out their set above from Vox Sinistra’s weekly Strict Tempo broadcast on Twitch which opens with an electrifying performance of “Afar”—so instead of starting at screens they're constantly in motion with all kinds of button-pushing, knob-twisting, and cable-switching much like an old-school telephone switchboard operator which means there’s a real sense of physicality to their live sets, plus a palpable sense of liveness on their recordings" and boy is that omniscient voice long-winded!

Speaking of recordings, namely the upcoming release of Vi/deo, you’d be smart to go ahead and pre-order that puppy because special-edition colored vinyl goes fast even when it’s a recording of Sherpa sheep herders (cool stuff, actually) and don’t be a tightwad either because for an extra couple dollars you can get the record album with a special scented paper insert (read above: “synesthesia and scent”) which I’m guessing should be at least as fragrant as John Water’s Polyester scratch-and-sniff cards with exotic olfactory sensations matching the groovy moody synth-pop reverberations within. (Jason Lee)

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VIDEO: ‘Right Out The Window’ | Sunshine Boysclub

photo credit: Daniel Yoon

 

Sunshine Boysclub, the new solo project by Sam Martin (lead singer and songwriter of local indie-pop veterans Youngblood Hawke), has released “Right Out The Window,” the latest single from his self-produced solo debut Hut on The Hill, out independently on all major streaming services.  

The “hut” referred to in the title of the album is an abandoned shack on the side of a hill behind Martin’s suburban L.A. house, which he cleaned out and renovated, making it into a small studio which witnessed the creation of the Sunshine Boysclub debut. Consider it a more temperate West Coast version of Bon Iver’s legendary cabin in the Wisconsin woods. The music’s also much more energetic and uplifting, if the lyrics are less so, according to Martin: “…The one theme that runs through this album is failure, as dark as that may seem. These songs are me working through the past, trying to close that door and move into a new space with new thoughts. I spent years struggling with depression, I stopped making music and was ready to quit. Writing these songs helped me work through those years of struggle and taught me valuable lessons about creativity and happiness, and how connected those two things are for me.”

 

It sounds like Martin connected creativity and happiness almost perfectly. Take the new single “Right Out The Window,” for instance. It’s a thick, syrupy cut that recalls 70s Eurodisco through a 21st Century set of ears. The bass is nimble and insistent, the compressed “four-on-the-floor” drums are locked-in and ooze with vintage squash. and Martin’s vocals recall the falsetto acrobatics of the Bee Gees with a hint of distortion tucked into the mix for some added edge. The little whistling synth touches scattered throughout the track also add a wee bit of late-70s ABBA flavor to the proceedings.

 

Meanwhile, the music video (directed by Kate Hollowell) is a nifty one-shot production that finds Martin lip-syncing the song while coasting down the sunny hills of Mount Washington on a mountain bike, outfitted in retro blue baseball cap and jersey, living out some sort of second childhood. According to the artist, "I wanted to capture the ease and energy of the song and felt like one long, continuous ride would help display that. The giant hill I rode down in this video is the hill I looked up at everyday while writing this album."

 

Hut On The Hill is out now. Gabe Hernandez

 

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Jamythyst asserts control on "Pastel Colors"

“Pastel Colors” is the name of a single released this past weekend by self-described “90s girl” Jamythyst, self-described creator of “DIY electromotional pop jams,” and it’s an interesting choice of title because this ‘90s girl is clearly drawn to day-glo tones and darker hues elsewhere—both visually and musically—just as the Nineties itself is known for its fluorescent pop and abrasively dark rock and goth and hip hop. (Mariah meet Metallica! Hanson say howdy to Hole! N*SYNC nuzzle up to NWA! Etc. Etc.) And while Jamythyst’s music falls squarely under the pop column, tracks like “Witches in the Woods,” “Scary Movies,” and “Masochist” show that she’s also into exploring her darker side. 

So where do pastels fit into this color scheme? When placed next to electro-bangerz like “Flip Me Over’ and “Melt My Face” with their cheeky entreaties to “be your hourglass / if you flip me over” or to “drop the needle, drop the bass / rock my world, melt my face,” “Pastel Colors” is indeed more subdued, something like a mid-80s Howard Jones joint with its mix of airy synths, percolating sequencers, and reflective lyrics.
 
 
Lyrically, the pastel colors in question seem to imply both a childlike sense of wonder (“carousel in the middle of the city / gets me every time the colors go by”) and a spellbinding sense of risk (“I can’t help myself / I jump off the carousel every time / getting dizzy on the pastel colors”) as represented by the faded fiberglass horses of a mesmerizing merry-go-round going around and around in circles (just like the swirling echo effect at the end of each vocal line) or as Jamythyst puts it “it’s an electro-pop bop about being a commitment-phobe who just wants to have fun” which is perhaps another kind of going in circles. 

So we’re talking about losing control and re-asserting control here, being lured by the pastel blur of the carousel but then jumping off when things get too intense. And if this song is in fact at least implicitly about control issues (stick with me here!) then it’s obviously also an homage to Janet’s Jackson’s “Control” because that particular song from 1986 (and the whole Control album!) was a turning point in the history of dance pop, not to mention an assertion of artistic independence by Ms. Jackson (if you’re nasty!) and thus a precursor to artists like Jamythyst.


All of which makes me wonder if our featured artist’s stage name is in fact an homage to the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who helped shape Control and thus strongly impacted much of the dance pop, R&B, and rap that came in its wake (not to mention the whole “New Jack Swing” phenomenon) and certainly Jamythyst reflects all of this “control” both in spirit—as a self-contained singer, songwriter, and producer who makes bedroom dance pop—and in terms of sonics with her proclivity for jacked drum machines beats and phat synth-baselines and angular in-your-face sampling (with the caveat that other influences obviously come into play such as early Madonna, Sylvester, Robyn, Prince, and other single-monikered artistes.




And when we look at the bigger picture, isn’t so much of pop music (and dance pop in particular) fixated on control issues—whether control over one’s own bodily and sexual expression, control over one’s own artistic expression and public image, or control over fate itself in the aspirational pop of the Idol era, not to mention the inverse loss-of-control and sense of transcendence sought on the dance floor—which is probably one big reason why marginalized groups in society are so often at the forefront of pop music’s innovations.

 

Sadly, after an astounding ten-plus year run of hits, control was taken away from Janet Jackson when the reigning queen of self-assertive pop (and a highly LGBTQ+ friendly reigning queen at that) was essentially accused of being a witch and burned at the stake by a raging mob of pigskin fans (and gossip mongers who could care less about the Super Bowl) because they were briefly distracted from Tom Brady’s ass-hugging shiny pants due to the sudden and unwelcome split-second appearance of Janet Jackson’s nipple on national TV courtesy of a former Mouseketeer. Yet, the sound that Janet Jackson and Jam/Lewis continued to refine on albums like Rhythm Nation 1814 and The Velvet Rope has continued on, often in service of “straight” artists ranging from boy bands to gangsta rappers. And so, speaking of control, it’s reassuring to happen upon a local artist, and one who just started producing her own music during the pandemic at that, digging into the roots of dance pop and re-asserting control on behalf of femme- and queer-identifying artists past and present. (Jason Lee)

 

 

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Zvrra "Array of Light"

Techno Queen Zvrra has released the third single, "Array of Light 03", from her forthcoming album, Array of Light, which due out in November via Whited Sepulchre Records.

This album is the follow-up to 2020's "Flow State", and find Zvrra blending house, techno, ambient music and hip hop.

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