REVIEW: Rhode & Brown – Joyride EP (2013)

The Joyride EP is a 2013 release by Munich based duo Rhode & Brown. Released on the prolific Toy Tonics label out of Berlin, it seems as if Joyride may rely more on its geographic association than sonic connection.

Under Your Spell is a cool and controlled 5 minute bop of near-sterile Deep House. It’s repetitive as one would expect and acts as a decent warm up to what could be a tight electric joint. But Under Your Spell’s following Kyodai Remix is noisier, clunkier. It’s a nice textural change, but does little in engaging the listener in the song’s chord progression. The choice to switch to a heavy-handed piano sound brings more attention to its repetitive nature, and contributes to a more disjointed element across the album.

Titular track Joyride starts off with a chopped and wailing vocal hook and massive kicks. It’s not bad, but this new found energy comes across a bit awkward after the Under Your Spell set.

Closing track Floating Figures shows the album’s return to its initial Deep House sterility: emotionally repressed, cool and collected.

The album itself is a half-mellow excursion into noncommittal electronic music. Joyride EP is Greatly lacking in Electronic’s rhythmic power over the body, a demand for the music to take control, an unconscious connection to groove.

For fans of: St. Germain, DJ Boring, Ross From Friends

Like Rhode & Brown? Give these a listen: Peggy Guo, Camomile Dawn, e•motion

REVIEW: Nonnie and The Onnies – I’m in Love With A Rent Boy EP (1985)

Nonnie and The Onnies is far from a household name. The group’s singular 12″ release isn’t much more than a relic of an industry in an era, but perhaps we can find new respect for such an album.

I’m in Love With A Rent Boy‘s sound is what’s to be expected from an American pop group only 2 years after the release of Madonna’s self-titled debut, albeit lacking Madonna’s synthetic-disco sound for something straddling the Bangles.

The mix is delightfully punchy, the album’s cover art amusing, and its absurdity somewhat intriguing. Rent Boy may be brief, but that only makes it more consumable.

Titular a-side opening track Rent Boy comes with all the trappings of new wave overindulgence and electronic trend following, much to the anguish of any current listener. The absurdity of I’m in Love With A Rent Boy may be the only thing not somewhat forgettable about this track, unfortunately.

Under all of Rent Boy’s commercial cheese is an extravaganza of American generica. Flavorless, plugged in, and devoid of self-reflective or interpersonal emotion. An overproduced musical jingle reminiscent of over-the-top TV ads.

A swing and a miss perhaps, as following track My Hearts in Bondage (Dance Mix) is so satisfyingly engaging. Hearts inches towards EBM with pounding drum machine rhythms driving under dark synth pads. Choppy self-sampling punches up the song’s pop vocal delivery. Its lyrics may not be particularly inspired, but Nonnie’s performance sells me on the emotions at play.

A shame, really, that a track so good would be hidden behind a pop single so bad. Hearts in Bondage may have been overlooked by a loving audience due to the EP’s titular track, but perhaps our current state of retromania will help unearth previously overlooked gems.

Rent Boy‘s A-side closes out with the instrumental …And The Car Was Stolen. It explores a further industrial element over it’s 42 second runtime before disappearing into the void. Far from a substantial song, Car Was Stolen functions as the perfect cinematic mood-setter for a would-be album of Hearts in Bondage.

The album’s b-side should at least be mentioned as a formality; a radio edit of Hearts in Bondage with an instrumental remix of Rent Boy to close out the EP. Unforgivably 80s in an unlovable way.

There is good work to be found on Rent Boy, if only the right crowd were to find it.

L to R: Gary Pozner, Nonnie Thompson, Ariel Powers.

If you’re curious what Nonnie Thompson has been up to since, this article from 2006 will have to suffice. Ariel Powers wracked up some more credits to her name throughout the 90s, and is still playing to this day. Gary Pozner, last I heard, is playing music around the south-west US.

For fans of: Madonna, Bananarama, Ministry (With Sympathy-era)

Like Nonnie and The Onnies? Give these a listen: Nocera, Front 242, Glass Candy

REVIEW: The Popular People’s Front – Klepto-Currency (2020)

Described in their Bandcamp bio as “a cut-n-paste endeavour chewing up the last 50 years of outsider club music,” Popular People’s Front are a UK DJ collective consisting of Bill Brewster, Leo Elstob and Christ Duckenfield.

Klepto-Currency is the avant disco beat tape you didn’t know you needed. The Popular People’s Front bring electronic dance music back to the days of Cold Cut and Bentley Rhythm Ace’s ambitious use of sampling.

This 5 song album lays on jam after jam, always lively enough to keep the party going while never stopping to question ‘should we be grooving this hard?’ Each track is packed to the brim with funk from its percussive layering to its thumping bass lines. Things stay just surreal enough to not quite sound like a live band, yet the album’s warmth and the organic nature to it’s structuring feel completely at home in a DJ set with Sly & The Family Stone and Trouble Funk.

Closing track Yard Werk breaks this faux live band feel with the digital sonic palette of Kraftwerk and Bentley Rhythm Ace. This electro send off of Klepto-Currency seems appropriate for an album so weird yet sonically consistent as to almost undermine it’s surrealist tendencies, just in case we get too comfortable with the preceding 20 minutes of tape.

Throw this on your wishlist, your playlist, your headphones or your PA. It’s time to get grooving.

For fans of: Dee-Lite, Cold Cut, Bentley Rhythm Ace

Like The Popular People’s Front? Give these a listen: Kinky, Strange U, Grassy Knoll

REVIEW: Riki – Riki (2020)

Riki is an electro pop album just shy of Italo disco. Long moody vocals and synth layering may remind you of Hounds of Love era Kate Bush, while heavy use of counter point melodies make Riki’s opening tracks shine with emotion (even if bordering on busy at times).

Lead single Napoleon sounds straight out of Italo disco icons Glass Candy’s playbook. Swelling pads and blippy high melodies complement upbeat drums and driving bass synth. Nearly everyone has a playlist this is a must for. But we begin see more artistic risks being taken with Know, an ethereal psychedelic track full of reversed snares and notable panning. Slow throbbing momentum is built up slowly, leaving a trail of fading reverb in its path.

Unfortunately, the second half of Riki is very true to most 80s pop albums: forgettable.

Earth Song’s excessively processed (auto tune?) vocal layering not only feels out of place with the song’s production, but also with the album’s overarching pastiche. There is something about Earth Song that doesn’t feel as thought out as much as the other songs. Neither fun or well crafted, the listener is left unable to escape from Earth Song’s cheesy lackluster lyrics (okay, what’s more 80s than that?).

Second to closing track Come Inside redeems some interest in the album. Wobbling synth kicks things off before a steady disco beat comes driving in. Riki’s short Ladytron-esque vocals are a rewarding departure from previous tracks. In a way, Come Inside would make a better Gorillaz track than any of the songs on Gorillaz – Humanz (2017). What can be learned from this? I’m uncertain.

Even when rolling on the rear wheels, Closing track Monumental is able to get us across the finish line. An ethereal vocal intro brings us to one of the album’s greatest dance-floor potential tracks. A processed break beat fill and its choice of synths divert from the album’s rigid 80s retro A-side but, at this point, that was long abandoned.

B-side filler or a lack in care of crafting each song have stained the album’s high marks. A shame, as there is great work on this album. The craft behind songs Napoleon, Böse Lügen (Body Mix), and Come Inside just aren’t shown on most other tracks. Aside from its lead single hit potential, Riki is a lukewarm electro pop album unable to reap the seeds it has sown.

But “don’t panic” if you like Riki. We have some recommendations we really believe in.

For fans of: Kate Bush, Glass Candy, David Borden

Like Riki? Give these a listen: e•motion, Knitted Abyss, Peter Zimmermann

REVIEW: Peter Zimmermann – VAPORDISCO (2019)

Playing with the same 80s synth aesthetics nearly dragged to death by Stranger Things and the synthwave craze, Peter Zimmermann’s budget disco sound and cover art aesthetics are still exciting for Italo disco fans both dedicated and casual (such as myself).

VAPORDISCO gives itself to its namesake. Smooth sample chopping weaves behind the scenes of slow grinding rhythms complemented by arpeggio synth lines while 80s pop samples are pitched down to create the muddied effect of vaporwave classics.

Warm low kicks and reverb-hazy snares teeter back and forth, complemented by nearly inconsequential hi-hat patterns. Only on the 4th track E X H A L E does VAPORDISCO’s rigid 1s and 3s drum machine pattern face any kind of shake-up (which even then is minimal). Unfortunately, tracks like I NEED YOU fail to enhance or create anew from its sample usage. While the songs aren’t bad by any means, it can leave someone familiar with the source material feeling fairly underwhelmed.

The album’s energy does pick-up midway through with THE NIGHT; a pumping ethereal rollerskating jam sounding like Depeche Mode producing Michael Jackson’s Thriller. From here the album is more artistically ambitious, energized and ready to roll. It’s-, well, thrilling. The overarching theme of the album proceeds to pay off almost entirely from the midway point.

Now energized, VAPORDISCO’s hedonic approach lends itself to the fun and levity one needs to appreciate the non-political escapism that vaporwave has to offer. Once sold on the album’s fun side, VAPORDISCO allows itself to go slightly moodier with VAPORBOI before setting like the sun with hazy closing track YOUR BODY.

Time to hit the rink.

For fans of: Glass Candy, Night Tempo, Naked Eyes

Like Peter Zimmermann? Give these a listen: e•motion, Jaguardini, Niveum

REVIEW: Amon Tobin – Foley Room (2007)

Released in 2007, Montreal-based composer Amon Tobin’s Foley Room offers itself to oddity while never acting as a novelty. Opening track Bloodstone is a psychedelic trip of unnerving melancholia heaving and swaying like a choppy sea. A sort of ‘could be’ scoring style for a would be Edward Gorey film.

The album proceeds into a musique concrète / rock hybrid with proceeding track Esther’s. Motorcycle engines rev up and pull out in time to a sample of Dick Dale’s rapid tremolo picking, each source material processed and warped perfectly over a thudding rhythm section.

Every piece of Foley Room is mixed and processed in such a way as to keep things from sounding choppy or jagged. It’s a justified use of post-production polish that leaves things sounding smooth, atmospheric and at times quite cinematic.

“The idea was to get source material that was pretty basic. I got drones mostly from the Kronos Quartet. Patrick Watson gave me little piano melodies that I then cut up and re-arranged, and even mixed them with some vinyl piano to make different melodies from. It was all treating everything in the same way: a rock falling, a musician, a vinyl sample. All these were treated as an objective source, and then applying the arrangements and the creation of the music afterwards,” said Amon Tobin in a phone interview with Radio Free Canuckistan, a Canadian music blog dedicated to “musical musings from the frozen north.”

As we get further into the album, more and more commonly ‘electronic’ elements work their way further into center frame. Big Furry Head slams and twists with all the industrial bravado of Author & Punisher, its groove reminiscent of industrial dub mastermind The Bug.

Near closing tracks Ever Falling and Always give the listener a relative moment of levity on an otherwise dark and unnerving album. Choir vocals lift us over a field of twisting and crackling rhythmic sounds on Ever Falling, while fun bass lines and childlike vocals come through a fog of bombastic reverb-drenched drum breaks on track Always.

Originally developed in the 1930s in France, the techniques and theory behind musique concrète have expanded greatly due to technological development and the accessibility of equipment. We see the proliferation of reel to reel recording equipment post-WW2, followed by cassette tapes in ’63, and later the first digital sampler in ’69. This whole time music studio equipment is becoming better and better, granting more facilities and allowing artists more control with post-production manipulation.

Enter the digital audio workstation, or DAW. With computers, the facilities granted to the artist are greater than ever, yet the momentum behind musique concrète’s development and experimentation has fallen by the wayside. Musique concrète is a term most often relegated to analog-based ambient music strewn carelessly across the internet. On the other hand, with Foley Room, Amon Tobin pushes musique concrète forward, never sacrificing the music for the clear-cut regulations imposed upon the genre.

“Basically, I want the music to come first, the satisfaction I get from making music. Whatever idea I have to begin with, I don’t want it to restrict where the song could go or how good it could be. I don’t want to be saying, ‘Well, I’d like to do that, but it doesn’t fit into my concept.’ It’s not going to happen. I want the music to be king, and everything else just facilitates that.”

For fans of: Igorrr, Meat Beat Manifesto, The Bug

Like Amon Tobin? Give these a listen: Brian J Davis, Barbed, skintape

REVIEW: Knitted Abyss – Bad Lassies (2019)

Bad Lassies is the 2019 debut album by Australian experimental pop duo Knitted Abyss. Members Lucy Phelan and Anna John bring an ambitious level of creativity to darkwave and post-punk that their ‘nu goth’ contemporaries (I won’t call them peers) fail to deliver. Bad Lassies‘s quirky eccentricities distance the band from their contemporaries’ dismal artistic stagnation, yet these quirks never feel gimmicky. No, Bad Lassies’s emotional delivery is only ever enhanced by the artistic choices made.

Album opener Attention is a minimal post-punk track reveling in its loneliness. Squelchy synth bass and light drum machine work give the band an almost early-80s Bananarama rhythm section, blanketed in the more morose qualities of gothic post-punk classics. From here things get darker, less pop oriented, but never losing a distinct sound established from the start.

Inspiration and stylistic elements are lifted and fitted together well without ever falling victim to pastiche. Elements of darkwave, post-punk, shoegaze and Ladytron-esque electronic pop are prevalent and well mixed together to create something new. Knitted Abyss dismisses the queue of bands lining up for ‘cool factor’ authenticity by creating something distinctly their own. Lucy Phelan and Anna John created a well-crafted album, and therefor don’t need to mold to any perceived idea of ‘how things should be’ within a genre.

For fans of: Crack Cloud, Waitresses, Crash Course in Science

Enjoy Knitted Abyss? Give these a listen: Casket Girls, Cold Choir, Tropic of Cancer

REVIEW: DJ Seinfeld – Season 1 EP (2016)

DJ Seinfeld is a Swedish acid house DJ, sometimes working under other names such as Rimbaudian or Birds of Sweden. Part of the lo-fi house craze, Season 1 EP is built of squelching, grooving bass lines and smooth synth swells that sound like a dusty PS1 starting up. Even digitally, the whole record hisses with the warmth of a well-loved vinyl record. Perhaps the digital release is in fact a direct rip recording from the original pressing.

“It’s a bit strange innit tho?… ….The story of [Season 1 EP] is that I made all of these in one day, somewhere around early spring [2016] when my first love left me. These tracks were pressed and then the original files were destroyed, and like my relationship I had to move on, even though it’s hard u know? I still don’t know how, but I’m trying,” wrote DJ Seinfeld on the album’s Bandcamp listing.

Being part of the lo-fi house craze, Season 1 EP gained both popularity and scrutiny for its pop-art (or meme culture) and vaporwave aesthetics, seen as some kind of joke amongst the old guard of electronic music. Was it novelty? No. But on the heels of ‘norm core’ fashion trends and the disingenuous leftover behaviors of hipster culture still floating around, feelings of authenticity and sincerity dispersed through irony were hard to come by. What is now understood is when privatized entities act as society’s public institutions by way of communities (fandoms) and mythologies (story arches engrained within popular culture), individuals and communities will appropriate from private entities’ iconography to use as culturally understood symbolism.

“All I do know is that I want to live life as uncompromisingly as Kramer does, the way he throws himself without fear into the next adventure.”

While its cover art may be right up the alley of vaporwave and nostalgia enthusiasts, Season 1 EP is an enticing acid house work with lush lo-fi production.

DJ Seinfeld – Season 1 EP was mentioned on Bandcamp’s Starter Guide to the Lo-Fi House Scene.

For fans of: Mall Grab, DJ Boring, COMPUTER DATA

Like DJ Seinfeld? Give these a listen: Ross From Friends, No_4mat, Acetantina

REVIEW: Yeongrak – ASCII GIRLS (2014)

ASCII Girls is an album completely directed by Yeongrak’s use of reverb. To build ground up starting with such density can be quite limiting, and it’s a decision that we’ve seen fall flat time and time again. That said, all the tracks on ASCII Girls are incredibly well tailored. This album simply wouldn’t work otherwise.

Released on illustrious vaporwave label Business Casual in 2014, Yeongrak’s association with vaporwave has more to do with what vaporwave took from earlier artists. Notably, one can see similarities between Yeongrak ASCII Girls and established WARP Records artists such as Autechre and Boards of Canada, although drenched in reverb. Ambient, glitch-hop, and beat maker culture are blended into something new; a record that accomplishes so much more than its ‘lo-fi beats and chill’ contemporaries. Listeners are presented with fully fleshed out tracks, and after a satisfying 18 minutes Yeongrak knows when to fold them.

Artistic choices have degrees of consequence. They change the state of the piece as we continue to sculpt the parts into a final whole. Delay and (especially in this case) reverb may be the best examples of obvious artistic consequences. Now, a note is a much different material to work with; its consequence being a long tail after each note. Things can quickly spiral into a muddy, cacophonous mess which can weaken the execution of the composition. So, all artistic choices within a work will typically yield to the choice with the greatest consequences.

While its weeaboo cover art is something I neither understand nor care for, Yeongrak’s ASCII Girls is an otherwise relaxing trip of self-transcendence in an age of internet.

For fans of: Boards of Canada, Bowery Electric, Alpha

Like Yeongrak? Give these a listen: Acetantina, Tropic of Cancer, Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza

A Proposal for 80s Worship

This post originally appeared on the 10th Dentist blog on Tuesday, March 4th, 2021. The following version has been lightly edited for clarity.

    As if standing in stark contrast to taco-laser-cat t-shirts and ‘millennial whoop’ overdosing (how noble), the rise of 80s worship in the mid-teens has brought back the worst of bad hair days and their musical counterparts. So if you’re looking to spice up your new-found identity or if you’ve finally realized that Africa by Toto isn’t worth it, than this list is for you!

Soft Cell – The Art of Falling Apart (1983)

    Soft Cell (a band that, yes, has released more than 2 songs) started in 1978 and rose to prominence in the early 80s with their hit cover of Gloria Jone’s 1964 single ‘Tainted Love’. But enough of that. 1983 would see the release of Soft Cell’s second full-length release The Art of Falling Apart and the glory of it’s titular closing track. ‘The Art’ is a song about drugs that isn’t trying to be anything other than a song about drugs. Big synth stabs and an under swelling reverb makes this a ‘no duh’ for anyone looking to dip their toes in the weird and wacky world of the 80s (FOETUS is only a few steps away from here).

Naked Eyes – Promises, Promises (1983)

    There is always something there to remind me that there were much better songs on Naked Eyes’s 1983 album Burning Bridges. The best album to ever be recorded at Abbey Road Studios (Flippant? Maybe. The truth? Definitely), Burning Bridges gave us great songs like its titular track, When The Lights Go Out, Fortune and Fame, and Voices in My Head. But it’s Promises Promises with its minimal production, back and forth melody, and vague funk influences that rounds out this album as one of the best closing tracks on a pop album ever. Naked Eyes is 2 British guys, a Fairlight CMI, and a lot of vague romantic dance tracks. Do I need say more? Well, except to clarify I mean that entirely as a good thing (in this case).

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – So In Love (1985)

     So In Love may not be stupid enough to meme-ify, but it’s an emotionally powerful song with all the melancholic nostalgia seeding you could possibly want. In this dreamlike state, you may feel as if your feet will lose rhythm to it’s smooth dance beat as you float away off the dance floor. Don’t worry, no modern DJ will be playing this any time soon, and your drinking that night will likely leave you face first on the floor. Look, were they a great band? No, not really. But if we’re going to collectively obsess over singular 80s pop tracks, OMD has all the trappings (and just enough good songs) to get a mention here.

Sharon Redd – Can You Handle It (1980)

    While you were busy fetishizing the 80s, disregarding the AIDS epidemic and the CIA starting a racialized drug war, black and/or queer people were out there making some of the best music of the decade. If you’re looking for peak 80s (in a good way), this is it. Just because it’s not Madonna-white doesn’t make it not so. So, can you handle it?

    You may think, ‘why Sharon Redd? Why not something even more 80s like Chaka Khan, Cherrelle, Evelyn King, etc.?’ Those artists are amazing, but they’ve all had second-winds in the age of music streaming and cock and bull ‘I grew up with this’ nostalgia boasts. Either way, if you’re a trend sycophant than you’ve probably stopped reading a while ago. So kick back and enjoy this 6min+ jammer.

General Public – Anxious (1984)

    Why are we culturally pining for the 1980s to begin with? Has sociopolitical pressures made us look for a ‘simpler time’?  Is it 70s babies grasping for a time that they were the forefront of commercial culture? Can we simply blame all of it on vaporwave and Stranger Things? Who knows. Maybe culture is dying. In a press-play world that awards content and volume over quality and craft, why would anyone take the time to enrich their lives culturally? It may be my upbringing that put General Public on this list, but if the 80s are relevant now, than a track like Anxious is more relevant than ever.

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