Tag Archives: Indie electro-pop

Margot Polo’s Fun New Synth Dance Pop Is First Indie Summer Single of 2017

7 Jun

If you’ve ever visited the San Luis Obispo coast, you know it’s pretty much a slice of heaven on earth. Miles of sandy beaches, drenched in Central California’s abundant sunshine. Waves lapping lazily on the shore. The Avila Beach pier, extending out into the shimmering azure water. Morro Rock standing like a sentinel at the entrance to the bay. Rolling golden hills rising in the distance.

This idyllic environment can shape a person’s worldview — and that certainly seems to be the case with local band, Fialta, and now a new solo project by Fialta guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, David Provenzano.

Recording as Margot Polo, Provenzano has captured the essence of the upcoming summer of 2017 on the West Coast on his digital single, “Sweet California,” the first release from an album planned for sometime in 2018.

The catchy indie synth dance pop tune features swirling synths, a buoyant bass line, sweet harmonies, and even wistful whistling that seeks to convey the magic of this special place. The tune was written by Provenzano, with help on some of the lyrics from his wife, Sarah Shotwell, who plays keyboards, glockenspiel and sings in Fialta. While Sarah will contribute vocals on upcoming Margot Polo tracks, backing vocals on “Sweet California” were done by Becky Filip of the Honey Trees.

Margot Polo is a side project for Provenzano, who will continue to write, record and perform with Fialta going forward. But it will be interesting to see where his path takes him as Margot Polo as well. Stay tuned for more in the coming months.

If you’re interested in previewing or purchasing a digital copy of “Sweet California,” you can go to Margot Polo’s Bandcamp page.

 

Seattle’s Headwaves Releases Its Debut Album

23 Feb

Seattle has long been a hotbed for indie music. One of the latest Seattle-area bands to release its debut album is Headwaves.

Headwaves is a quartet led by singer-songwriter, Ryan Barber, and guitarist, Larson Haakenstad. Their debut album, which has largely flown under the radar since its release in the fall, mixes bright synths with Haakenstad’s accomplished guitar work to deliver a set of seven accessible pop-rock tunes. All of the songs are built on strong rhythm tracks, giving the melodies structure and substance. Headwaves isn’t an easy band to categorize, but you’ll probably enjoy their music if you like MGMT, Broken Bells, or Portugal. The Man.

Track highlights: The self-titled Headwaves album opens with a very strong 80s anthem called “Mama.” The song features swirling, glittery synths set over pounding drums.

My second favorite song on the album demonstrates the incredible range the band has. “Western Life” is set to a stately, march-like rhythm with a pulsing synth bass, fuzz guitars and hazy keys blended together in this anthem to endless youth.

“Left Right” shows off some fancy steppin’ within a synth-rock landscape. One final standout to note is “Working Overtime.” With its laid-back groove and conversational vocals, this track really reminds me of Broken Bells.

Overall, Headwaves is a very strong first effort by a band with a lot of potential.

 

Broods’ “Conscious” Shows Duo’s Steady Growth

8 Sep

New Zealand’s Broods exploded onto the music scene worldwide in 2014 with the release of their debut album, Evergreen. The brother-sister duo of Georgia and Caleb Nott turned quite a few heads with their fresh, uplifting electro-pop. Produced by Lorde’s Joel Little, the album debuted at #1 in New Zealand and was recognized as one of the top CDs of the year, along with Lorde’s Pure Heroine and The Naked and Famous’ In Rolling Waves.

So needless to say, expectations were quite high for the duo’s follow-up, Conscious. And while the consensus of critical reviews is that little new ground has necessarily been broken, the album offers another strong collection of memorable electro-pop standouts with lyrics that examine the pressures of building and nourishing relationships today.

Like Scotland’s Chvrches, Broods doesn’t use its synths to paint gauzy portraits or ethereal visions. Rather, the album features mesmerizing beats and big anthemic arrangements that would play well in club or stadium. Georgia Nott’s vocals are remarkably powerful without the angst or edginess common with many female vocalists in this genre.

Conscious starts with “Free,” a song that does represent a major step forward for the duo with its stunning declaration of feminist freedom. “I’d lose everything so I can sing/Hallelujah, I’m free, I’m free, I’m free, I’m free, I’m free.” The pumping, growling synths and rhythms slap the listener into consciousness — setting the stage for the album’s theme of self-awareness and self-actualization.

The next song, “We Had Everything,” is an upbeat finger-snapping pop track that has a very catchy chorus celebrating the optimism of youth. “We were young, we were proud, we were promising/We were hiding our innocence/We had time, we had love, we had everything/We had everything.”

No review of the album could omit the first track on which Broods and Lorde have actually collaborated. According to an article in Rolling Stone Australia, “Heartlines” was jointly written and demoed while the band and Lorde were in Auckland at the same time for a day.

The sixth track on the album is “Freak of Nature.” Featuring vocals by Tove Lo, the song focuses on the issue of mental illness and how people afflicted with it are often viewed by others as being weak or unwilling to change.

One of the most “up” tracks on the album is “Couldn’t Believe.” In the same article in Rolling Stone Australia, Georgia Nott explains that she wrote the song about the night she got engaged and how she felt at that moment. Once you know the subject matter, the pounding drums, angelic chorus and skittering electronic beat will send chills down your spine.

All in all, Conscious is a very good sophomore release from a duo that shows the promise of still having much room for future growth.

 

Steve Mason Invites You to “Meet the Humans”

27 Jul

For much of his musical career, Steve Mason (the Scottish singer-songwriter, not the hockey player), has created music in relative obscurity.

In the early 2000s, he was most closely associated with the Beta Band. I know. You’re trying to think if you’ve ever heard of the Beta Band. And you probably haven’t.

Then, around 2008 or 2009, the band folded. And for a while, it looked as if that might be the end of Mason’s musical career. But luckily for him — and especially for us — it wasn’t.

In 2010, Mason released a solo album called Boys Outside. And it had a number of exquisite indie-rock and electro-pop compositions that caught the ears and turned the heads of indie music critics and fans alike.

Mason followed Boys Outside with another full-length album in 2013. And now, in 2016, he’s back again with Meet the Humans, far and away his best collection yet.

Meet the Humans is invigorating, uplifting and inspiring. It’s bouncy, bold and big at times — projecting a confidence that’s somewhat reminiscent of bands such as Shearwater or Bastille.

The album opens with “Water Bored,” catchy electro-pop with a shuffling beat and a serious message.

Another standout is the urgent and intense “Planet Sizes,” the first single from the album. Beginning with rapidly played keyboards and strummed guitar, the song soars into an anthem.

Halfway through the 11-song set, you’ll encounter “To a Door” that’s remarkably similar to Toto’s “Africa” — with an affecting rhythm and somewhat breathy, easy-going vocals like Toto’s or the Moody Blues. Careful — this one will get stuck in your head.

Finally, as often is the case with great albums, the closing track is worth your attention as well. “Words in my Head” has a trip-hop-infused beat under a swirling, somewhat atmospheric arrangement featuring piano and synth strings.

Critics have been very impressed with Meet the Human, and there’s a good chance you will be too. Don’t miss it!

“Open the Book” a New Chapter for My Robot Friend

31 May

The story of My Robot Friend begins in New York City in the 1990s. Howard Robot — no, I don’t know whether that’s a stage name or a real one! — was a guitarist, bass player and vocalist in the band, Princess. Just before the band signed with a well-known indie label (which represented P.J. Harvey and Stereolab, among others), Princess broke up.

Robot retreated to his studio, where he began experimenting with his computer and a bunch of electronic equipment. As his website explains, “The more time he spent in his studio…the more he personified the gear he worked with. After a while, all of the machines began to feel like…friends.” And My Robot Friend was born.

A little less than seven years after My Robot Friend’s most recent release, Soft-Core, Robot and his friendly machines are back with the latest chapter for the musical and performance art project, Open the Book.

With a name like My Robot Friend, one would expect an automated, robotic sound. And there’s certainly a thread of that throughout. But Open the Book can best be described as a compelling collection of electro-pop melodies featuring some great guest vocalists including newcomer, Andre Williams, and well-established indie artist Dean Wareham of Dean & Britta. The lyrics are mostly about love and losing friends, which makes “Goodbye” a particularly apt opener. The electro-pop song was actually released in a brilliant animated video almost four years ago. Smooth, flowing synths and airy vocals float over a lively synth bass and drum track.

“909” — a common code for a type of software error — is short, simple dance-y electronica — all jumpy beats and synthesized handclaps. “When the sequencers start/I lose my self control,” Robot sings, “Oscillator circuit kick it right on time.”

The title track, “Open the Book,” is a standout — with cool typewriter effects interwoven with complex, catchy beats and pulsing and fuzzy synths. This is one of several tracks that feature Williams’ outstanding vocals, and it’s one of the best songs on the album.

“Shipwrecked” is an ominous-sounding synth-pop arrangement. Robot-like automated beats underlie an almost 80s-like pop song with Robot’s quiet gentle, vocals.

The collection concludes with “Gone,” a tune that features the soft, reassuring vocals of Dean Wareham from the duo, Dean & Britta (and before that, Luna). A simple beat and twinkly bells make this an exceptionally catchy number.

Whether electronic music is your thing or not, My Robot Friend’s Open the Book is really good read.

A note: I believe the album is only available — and at a very reasonable price too — through My Robot Friend’s website.

 

One of the Most Intriguing Indie Albums of the Year

1 Dec

Half Moon Run is a Montreal-based indie rock quartet that had its debut in 2012 with the release of its Dark Eyes album. That first album was very well received, and the band played many tour dates including prestigious festivals such as South by Southwest.

With all four members being excellent vocalists, the band is known for its rich three-part harmonies. Songs cover a variety of musical styles — from Fleet Foxes-like folk and Americana to edgy guitar-based and synth-based rock.

Half Moon Run’s new album is called Sun Leads Me On. Writing for the album was split between two locales: urban, worldly Montreal and sunny, laid-back Southern California. As a result some of the songs in the generous 13-track set have a bit more of that Cali influence — even extending to Beach Boys-like harmonies.

Album opener, “Warmest Regards,” could be a Beatles song from the White Album era. The song brings together elements such as earnest lead vocals, rich Beatles-era harmonies and piano with standard rock instrumentation and even a flute and trombone.

“I Can’t Figure Out What’s Going On” features a jangly guitar, the band’s trademark three-part harmonies throughout, and orchestral accompaniment.

“Hands in the Garden” is soft, expressive and playful folk-rock. This must have been one of the songs written in Southern California because the harmonies in the choruses really recall the Beach Boys. And for some reason, there’s even a Stevie Wonder-like harmonica solo.

The fifth track shifts toward electro-pop-rock. There’s a timekeeper synth bass running throughout. Layered in are bell-like synth notes, an edgy guitar and emotive lead vocals. The last minute of the four-minute song is a synth-y, psychedelic haze with jazzy piano and snare drum.

The title track, “Sun Leads Me On” is marked by lush, rolling verses and jangly guitars. There’s a very uplifting feeling to the composition.

Track 8, “It Works Itself Out,” may be the best on the album. The melody ebbs and flows over an urgent tom-tom rhythm. Falsetto backing vocals are somewhat eerie and ominous.

The last track on Sun Leads Me On is called “Trust,” and it was the first digital single Half Moon Run released. The song is really intriguing, inventive electro-pop-rock. Pulsing synths are mixed with an intricate rhythm and occasional synth swirls.

As you can tell by the number of songs I’ve mentioned in this write-up, I really like the album, top to bottom. Sun Leads Me On represents continued growth by the band, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Side note: For my San Francisco Bay Area readers (and listeners on KZSU, Stanford University’s radio station), Half Moon Run will perform live at The Independent in San Francisco on Saturday, January 16th at 9 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.

Geographer Takes Us Past Postmodernism to Ghost Modernism

5 Feb

San Francisco indie electro-pop artists, Geographer, will release their 3rd full-length album, Ghost Modern on March 24th. Geographer’s brand of electro-pop is intricate and, according to lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Deni, “past Postmodernism into something darker, something emptier: Ghost Modernism.”

Almost all of the songs have multiple layers of sonic surfaces and textures. Deni truly expresses his artistry in every composition — with sensitive, revealing lyrics and precisely produced arrangements. The tracks can vary from fully orchestrated chamber pop with intermixed effects to catchy melodic pop — and everything in-between.

Other members of the band include cellist/electronics player, Nathan Blaz, and drummer/vocalist, Brian Ostreicher. The band’s two previous full albums include 2008’s Innocent Ghosts and 2012’s Myth, together with an EP called Animal Shapes from 2010. If you’re new to Geographer, my suggestion is to start with “Kites,” “Verona,” or “Original Sin” from Animal Shapes. These are great songs. Then, turn your attention to the more mature Ghost Modern.

After a short intro, the second track of the album, “I’m Ready,” is its first single. It’s dynamic electro-pop with “swelling sonic structures” matched by Deni’s amazing vocal range. He glides effortlessly from his natural voice to soaring falsettos, backed by full string accompaniment. Deni’s lyrics paint a picture of his dilemma as he tries to make sense of life and his presence in the world. “You were staring at the ocean/Like it’s a language you could learn/But the truth is it’s a cruel gift/Turn around and watch it burn.”

“Too Much” is mellow and lighter than air, with a very luxurious feeling. It’s another great example of how Deni glides through his vocal range. The track becomes fully orchestrated — almost to the point of chamber pop.

“Need” has a tribal feel. It’s bigger — closer to power pop than the others, with tumbling timpani drums and amazing vocal gymnastics. “The Fire” is also built on complex, busy drum patterns, with fuzzy synths and ominous vocals that relentlessly climb.

“Patience” is the simplest and most austere song on the album. It features glistening, almost Asian-sounding synth arpeggios and delicate piano, layered with smooth vocals and strings.

And don’t overlook the closer. “Falling Apart” sounds wistful with something of a world beat. The melody swells and builds, together with creatively layered strings and guitar. It’s a very introspective feeling.

Geographer will be appearing as part of Noise Pop 2015 at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Friday, February 27th. I’m sure they’ll do a number of songs from Ghost Modern. Don’t miss them!