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.
1. LCD Soundsystem
Years active: 2001-2011
Number of albums: 9 (including three EPs)
While I try to keep an open mind to all genres, I’m not a fan of what is generally known as “dance music.” It might be because it seems like there isn’t much of a creative process in making it. It might be because the lyrics to most dance songs seem vapid at best. Or it might be because I have no coordination and can’t dance my way out of an open burlap sack with all the sides removed. Regardless, it’s just not for me…unless that dance music is coming from LCD Soundsystem.
I’ll admit that I haven’t been a long-time fan. I can’t go into the nuances of their music or tell you the different stages of their decade-long career. I came to the LCD Soundsystem game late, perhaps two or three years before the breakup. I became hooked to their clever, humorous approach to dance, which made it more appealing. What’s more fun than moving your hips to “Losing My Edge” while watching frontman James Murphy getting his face slapped repeatedly to the beat for four minutes and 27 seconds? Or the thought of “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” where you can “Dance Yrself Clean (with Kermit and the Muppets)” with lots of “Drunk Girls“?
Yep, that was one dance party I wish never ended.
2. The Smiths
Years active: 1982-1987
Number of albums: 16 (including 10 compilations and one EP)
For some reason, Morrissey recently declared in a Billboard magazine interview that “I don’t know a single person who wants a Smiths reunion.”
I’m here to declare I’m that single person who really wants a Smiths reunion. I’ll sit in the audience by myself if I have to.
I first heard the Smiths during my DJ days at the University of Denver’s student-run radio station, KAOS, from 1983-86. It was a far cry from what I was used to during my high school days in central Michigan, where we were fed a regular diet of Bob Seger, Journey, and Billy Joel. The most alternative thing we listened to at the time was maybe Cheap Trick (Patti Smith didn’t count because the only tune we heard her sing was actually a Bruce Springsteen song).
There was something off about the Smiths, but I loved it. Morrissey’s velvety smooth voice interlaced with Johnny Marr’s dirty guitar work created an incredibly complex and gorgeous tapestry of juxtaposing sounds. Couple that with the irony of Morrissey’s lyrics dripping with sadness, depression, and defeat against a wall of Marr’s joyously upbeat chords and you had something offbeat, fun, and as addictive as heroin-laced Dove chocolates. I didn’t really know what to make of the Smiths at the time, but I knew I could never go home again. And I was very good with that proposition.
3. Das Racist
Years active: 2008-2011
Number of albums: One studio album, two mixtapes
Remember when hip hop was clever and fun? Yeah, I barely remember that either. The likes of Sugar Hill Gang, Beastie Boys, and NWA are long gone and have been replaced by rappers slurring lazy rhymes with no irony, sense of humor, or any purpose.
Then along came Das Racist, three apparent slackers from Brooklyn with degrees from Wesleyan University who employed humor, academic references, foreign allusions, and unconventional style of rap that hasn’t been heard in years. Taking their name from the short-lived MTV show Wonder Showzen in which a character constantly yelled “That’s Racist!” between skits, the trio intentionally or unintentionally set out to make rap fun again, which included songs about trying to find your buddy at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, a tribunal led by Michael Jackson, and the finer points of stalking. Some saw them as a joke, others saw them as an important milestone in modern hip hop.
Incidentally, while the name was meant to be a clever homage to Wonder Showzen and how a serious accusation had become little more than a quip, it backfired as some thought the group was comprised of white supremacists, which is not the case. All three are men of color who are definately not racists.
4. Sonic Youth
Years active: 1981-2011
Number of albums: 30 (including four compilations and eight EPs)
I pretty much grew up with Sonic Youth, so I took the news rather hard when I found out they disbanded following the separation and subsequent divorce of guitarist Thurston Moore and his wife/bandmate, bassist Kim Gordon. It was like losing someone you love who was also taking all her cool stuff with her. It was devastating.
Sonic Youth is arguably most influential band of the modern rock era. They did things with guitars that had never been thought of before, such as alternative tuning and playing the instruments with screwdrivers and drum sticks to create vast walls of dissonant sound. They championed other indie bands, such as Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney, and Cell, after signing with Geffen’s DCG label. They came out with 30 great albums in 30 years (not counting singles and bootlegs), nary a clunker among them. They are the greatest band of all time.
Their fifth album Daydream Nation was enshrined in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2005 for being “…culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.” The Registry describes the album:
“Pioneer members of New York City’s clangorous early 1980s No Wave scene, Sonic Youth are renowned for a glorious form of noise-based chaos. Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo had previously performed with Glenn Branca’s large guitar ensembles, and their alternative guitar tunings and ringing harmonies attest to this apprenticeship. On Daydream Nation, their breakthrough album, the group’s forays into outright noise always return to melodic songs that employ hypnotic arpeggios, driving punk rock rhythmic figures and furious gales of guitar-based noise. Bassist Kim Gordon’s haunting vocals and edgy lyrics add additional depth to the numbers she sings.”
And now they’re no more. Given three decades of unfettered brilliance, we’re fortunate to have such an in-depth collection of incredible avante-garde musical art from which to draw because they’re gone for good. The world is worse for it. One more show wouldn’t deaden the pain, but it might alleviate it a bit.
Years active: 1990-1995
Number of albums: 2
Cell had so much potential, but was a victim of being in the right place at the wrong time. I first heard them when they opened up for Sonic Youth at Tuxedo Junction in Danbury, Conn., on July 2, 1992, to promote their first album, Slo-Blo. That was about a year into the grunge era which, unfortunately, would only last a few more years as Kurt Cobain’s suicide on April 5, 1994, marked the decline of the genre. As grunge went, so did Cell. By 1994 they released their second and final album, Living Room, then they faded into oblivion. During their short career, they produced some powerful guitar rock that was just as much on their albums as it was live.
Monday morning…I have a big cup of Costa Rica French Roast and this eye-opener from Zeds Dead to get me going. It’s a good double-shot so far…
I don’t know much about Tei Shi, which I found on Gorilla vs. Bear while randomly listening to posted songs, but I know I really like what she’s doing. There’s very little about Brooklyn singer on the Web other than her rich, trippy electonica pop songs such as “Nevermind the End,” which puts me in mind of a tranquilizing moonlight ride through the snowy woods. Nice way to spend a Friday night…
I was instantly struck by “Fall in Love” by New York’s Phantogram, which I heard on Pandora tonight while ironing my shirts (the excitement never stops). Its warm, sensuous beat seduces you from the moment it starts. Filed with lush, dreamy vocals and a vibrating low-end, Sarah Barthel’s sultry voice flirts flawlessly with Josh Carter’s pulsating keyboard work. They truly have a knack for ethereal psychedelia and swooning, stabbing synths.
Pitchfork announced today Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li will release her new album I Never Learn on May 5. The new album follows up 2011′s Wounded Rhymes, and is the last in a trilogy began with her 2008 release Youth Novels.
Helping fuel anticipation, Lykke released this trailer for the forthcoming album:
And here’s a little more if you can’t get enough Lykke:
Nothing to say about it.
Just enjoy. You’re welcome.
Check out CHVRCHES website for more tasty Scottish synthpop.