Tasty synth-pop from London’s Empathy Test

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One of the better offerings from the synth-pop world is coming from the duo of Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf, collectively known as Empathy Test.  In their latest offering Throwing Stones, the title track from their forthcoming EP due in November, Howlett’s haunting voice floats through Reif’s beautiful electronic landscapes for a satisfying electronic pop slice not heard since the genre’s golden age of the 1980s.

Taking their name from the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, producer Relf seem to disprove the movie’s premise that advanced machines lack empathy.  His deft use of electronic media demonstrates a mastery of warm melodies that envelop you like a warm down comforter on a chilly country evening.

Empathy Test will throw their EP release party on November 28 at the Hoxton Square Kitchen and Bar in London.  We look forward to hearing more from these two.

Seattle’s Straight Red Worth Your Time

We comb through countless bands on Twitter looking for new music we like, and we found it in spades with Straight Red, an indie band hailing from Seattle.

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Travis Crowell – Lead Vocals
Arthur Peach – Bass
Rich Todd – Guitar/Vocals
Evan Peterson – Drums

This Pacific Northwest band caught our attention with their unique blend of high-energy straightforward garage rock and psychobilly (without the horror) with a touch of post-punk somewhere in between The Cramps and Joy Division.

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Although we can’t find videos of shows, their danceable tunes appear to be perfect for live performances, and we hope to see them live someday.  Straight Red is definitely worth your time.

Ten questions with Che-Val

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Che-Val, an up-and-coming pop duo from Norwalk, Connecticut, comprised of husband and wife team Kenny and Laura Cash, has caught our attention with its upbeat tempo, catchy lyrics, and a clever video that showcases the Cashes’ charisma and swagger usually seen with long-established acts.  While the duo is hard at work on their forthcoming debut EP due early next year, Kenny also owns and operates a music studio while Laura teaches high school chemistry.

(Wanna listen to the MP3 instead?  Click My Beat)

Despite juggling two careers, marriage, and exceptional taste in Mardi Gras masks, Laura took time to answer our Ten Questions:

1. While Che-Val is a new band, your sound is exceptionally polished.  What previous bands/experience did you and Kenny have prior to your current project?

Thank you! Kenny is definitely the man behind the curtains when it comes to how polished we sound. He graduated from Berklee College of Music and plays the bass, guitar, keys, drums, and some clarinet (he even does the dishes too! Lol what a guy!). So he always incorporates a lot of live elements into the music, which really bring it to life. Kenny also learned a lot from being the leader of his funk band Decifunk during college and from playing in the Green Pasture Baptist Church band in the Bronx. Owning his own music studio (the Factory Underground studio), he has worked as the producer/composer of several projects that helped him to develop his own sound. One project close to his heart was the album his created with his young rap protégé, Lighta, who died in a car accident. Lighta really helped to shape Kenny’s sound, and we actually plan to feature his vocals on one of our tracks on our EP.

I was mostly a song-writer before this project. I had recorded a country album in Nashville that I loved! I was on the country route when I met Kenny and got back into pop music. Then we started to incorporate more of the alternative side more recently.

We also have great mixing engineers on board: Grammy-nominated John Shyloski mixed “My Beat” and actually directed the video too, and Nic Hard, who is mixing a couple of other tracks on the EP. Both have been vital and influential to our sound and to Kenny, who has also mixed a couple of tracks.

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2. How long have you two been married to each other?  How did you meet?

We have been married for three years this past July, but we’ve been together for seven years.

I met Kenny while accompanying a friend to record a hip hop hook in Kenny’s studio. Though I was recording a country album at the time, Kenny was impressed by my writing and wanted to start working together. Best pick up line ever (laughs) Just kidding! We actually started on the music first and the love came second. My friend whom I met Kenny through actually told me that Kenny was “off-limits” because he didn’t want me to mess up his business! But hey, now I get him discounts… so who’s laughing now?

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3. How did “My Beat” came about?

My Beat was meant to bring back that nostalgic vibe of going into a record shop or CD store and picking out the new album that you’ve been waiting for. You could be having the worst day, but somehow that experience and that excitement made it so much better. And once you have that album, it’s now a part of who you are. And that’s the meaning behind My Beat! Because it was a vibe we felt was lacking in the digital market. We even work into the lyrics artists that we did go shopping for or claimed as our beat (TLC, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, James Brown, etc)!  When doing the video for My Beat, we did retro stop motion animation with vinyl records to play with that concept too.

4. Can you tell us a little more about the upcoming EP?

The upcoming EP is titled Gone Mad and it’s now set for release in January 2015. It really plays with the dark and the light… the upbeat and the downtempo. It’s a little bipolar in an awesome alternative way. We have songs that lean more toward Lorde, Banks, and the Neighborhood… and then we have other songs that lean more toward Ellie Goulding, Icona Pop, and Madonna.  We felt it was more like putting together a favorite playlist.

We will be releasing another single in November 2014 before the album drops. The single is called “Don’t Give Up On Me” and it’s an acoustic ballad that we will be using to raise awareness for Parkinson’s disease, and we will be donating the profits to the cause. It’s a cause close to our hearts because Kenny’s mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about 10 years ago.

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5. What are your inspiration(s) for your music?

The inspirations for our music really can change daily.  One week it could be a real personal event that has happened in our lives the next it could be a tv show, something that happened in pop culture, or something more global. So being a chemistry teacher, I want to say… it could be microscopic or macroscopic!

6. Who are your influences?

While Kenny’s influences root pretty heavily in soul, rock, and hip hop mine are a little more pop and country based.  While you may find names like Prince, Led Zeppelin, Snoop Dogg and Charles Mingus on his top list, you’ll find Madonna, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, and Shania Twain at the top of mine! I am unashamed to say that Debbie Gibson and the Spice Girls have influenced me as well!

7. You both have impressive careers outside of Che-Val.  Can you tell us about those?

They couldn’t be more different lol.  I teach high school chemistry so it’s very schedule oriented and my day starts at 6 a.m.  Kenny owns a recording studio (The Factory Underground) so he may not get home until 6 a.m.  Because it’s his business you never know what duty he may be called to do so he has to be more improvisational about how he approaches day to day.

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8. How do you juggle both careers?

It’s definitely a challenge! (laughs) When I’m teaching, I give 100 percent to that and put all of my effort and energy into it because that’s what my students deserve (Sometimes I really feel like I have 120 children… that’s about how many students I teach!) And I really do love giving them an appreciation for science, because I have a Master’s degree in chemical engineering, and that is something that I am proud of! But after the long day, it is difficult to make sure I also give 100 percent to my music and practice my vocal exercises, promote our music, work on songwriting, record, and/or whatever is lined up for that evening. The couch can look very tempting after that point! But ultimately it’s a passion and I make time for both. It’s also super difficult to sing well after talking/teaching for like 7-8 hours, because it does take a toll on your voice. But I guess I am trying to invoke some superwoman powers here… either that or just hope for some snow days! Just kidding.

9. What do your fellow teachers/students think of your musical pursuits?

They don’t really know much about it! I try to keep the two separate so that during school I’m promoting the fact that right now, we’re in a learning space and it’s time to focus.  Though other teachers and students keep asking me to do the talent show!

10. What do you hope to achieve musically?

We are pretty invested in the community that surrounds the Factory Underground, which is Norwalk, Connecticut. When a lot of people think of Connecticut, they think super rich, but there’s actually a large income disparity.  Having successful music come out of this area can help break down barriers that are set up by the financial disparity and help bring other people to the area to work on music and arts.Che-Val banner with logo

Premium pop in a post-pop world: Che-Val’s “My Beat”

People are likely to think I’m making this up, but there was a time when pop music was actually fun.  It was still mostly put together by studio wonks who were more interested in song writing by committee to reach key target demographics than it was about laboring over song and lyrics to create something as memorable as it was danceable, but they were less obvious about it.  We didn’t have to endure hackneyed shows like American Idol and The Voice where pop stars are stamped out like license plates on a prison press.  We were at least left with the illusion that some talented people got together on their own and crafted an upbeat track to our life’s soundtrack.

This may be the illusion created by Connecticut husband/wife pop duo Che-Val.  There is little about them on the Internet…no names, no bio…not much other than a few pictures and one complete and infectious song, “My Beat.”  Based on this song, the two appear to be fans of ’80s dance pop, complete with a campy video dripping with appears to be intentional irony that looks like it might have seen some rotation time on early MTV.  Regardless, it’s raucous fun that will stick with you like Aquanet to a magnificent mane of ’80s hair.  I hope we hear more from them.

You can find their Website here, Twitter here, and Soundcloud here.

 

Back for the attack…

After a six-month hiatus, I’m back! Even though I haven’t been posting to the blog, I have been listening to lots of new music, hitting live shows when I can, networking with bands, and keeping an ear out for great stuff (like Lia Ices, Interpol, Merchandise, Che-val and others).

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ll post as often as I can given I do have a full-time job.  Plans are to continue the Friday Five Across the Lips, SirusXM U’s Download 15, and random articles where I’ll opine such things as why rock is dead, Gene Simmons is full of crap, and that the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame either admit Sonic Youth to the next class or admit that it’s really not a hall of anything more than overpriced souvenirs.

Stay tuned…