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Electronic

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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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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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VIDEO: “You Lose" | Magdalena Bay

photo credit: Lissyelle Laricchia 

 

L.A.-based electro indie pop duo Magdalena Bay (Mika Tenenbaum & Matthew Lewin) have released a frenetic music video for “You Lose,” the latest single from their debut album, Mercurial World.  

The band describes the track as being about “trying to be a musician and feeling like time for success is always running out. It’s definitely melodramatic, describing ourselves as aging and nearing death, but sometimes it really feels that way.”

Fully written, produced, performed, mixed and mastered by the duo, The track begins with a short loungy section, complete with VHS-detuned vaporwave synth pads that sound like the background music for some retro afterlife suburban mall, before it’s taken over by a hyper-digital soundscape of buzzy synth bass, jagged sawtooth lead lines, and sampled late 20th century video game sounds. Tenenbaum’s beyond breathy vocal manages to sound weightless, jaded and in-your-face at the same time during the verse, while during the pre-chorus, the edginess gives way to a highly melodic, more angelic tone that adds good contrast to the rest of the track. By the time the chorus comes crashing in, the musical release, with shouted vocals and full-on synth and grunge sounds, is exhilarating. 

The quickly-edited, colorful music video, meanwhile, takes on the premise of the duo looking for their lost “dog” (in reality a Pokemon-like creature), in between their binges of video gaming and performing music in front of a wall of old-school TV screens that resemble a Nam June Paik video art piece, if it were commissioned by Atari or Nintendo. It’s a subtle but biting commentary on both the retromania that much of the music scene finds itself trapped in, as well the state of near-perpetual digital adolescence that social media seems to foster, to the detriment of society at large. 

Mercurial World is scheduled to be released on October 8 via Luminelle. Gabe Hernandez

 

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FRESH CUTS: “It’s Like A Dream” For Neil Frances On Latest Single

photo credit: Victoria Smith

 

Los Angeles-based indie electronic pop duo Neil Frances (consisting of Jordan Feller and Marc Gilfry) return with the effervescent late-summer dance floor confection “It’s Like A Dream,” first new track since their Stay Strong Play Long EP was dropped earlier in 2021.

The track starts up with airy synth keyboard chord stabs, finger snapping and a tumble of bongo drums, before gooey but nimble synth bass and crisp, slapping drums crash land, setting off the eminently danceable “daytime disco” groove of the kind that Neil Frances have become known for. With Gilfry’s effortlessly chill, soulful vocals floating above everything, the track simultaneously feels feather-light and as “in the pocket” as one can hope for. Neil Frances themselves describe the track as: "...about the feeling of yearning for the club. We want our music to soundtrack people's weekends, and this one was made for that purpose. Like when you get in your car and you need that one song to set it off, we want ‘It's Like A Dream’ to be that.”

Up next for Neil Frances is a performance slot at Outside Lands festival in San Francisco this October. Gabe Hernandez

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FRESH CUT: ORNAMENT AND CRIME, "You're A Mess"

photo credit: Lecomoura

 

Just in time for the unofficial end of summer, Poolside producer Alex Kemp and Grizfolk drummer Bill Delia combine as LA-based duo ORNAMENT AND CRIME, and we’ve got the first single from their debut EP, Another Night on The Astral Plane, the laid-back, semi-tropical groove workout “You’re a Mess,” featuring the vocal talents of Virginia Palms.

“You’re a Mess” tumbles from the speakers in a cascade of effortlessly chill bass and drum work, delicate keyboards that seem to evoke the sway of an accordion player at a bistro on the French Riviera, and even the vaguely mystical vibes of a pan flute. All of it combines into a lush, buoyant track, which is only elevated by the mixed male/female unison vocals that sing above it all. As for the lyrics, Bill Delia explains, “Everyone falls for the wrong person once or twice, right? It’s an enjoyable fail, really. This song honors the toxic lovers we all encounter at some point in our lives, the ones we have a blind eye of love for.”

The new EP by ORNAMENT AND CRIME is scheduled for release on October 15th. If the new single is any indication, we could be looking at a belated end to the summer so that this tune has a proper chance to sizzle out of earbuds and speakers across the city. Gabe Hernandez

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