Here we have another duo, but that’s about all “Safe and Sound” has in common with “Hung Out.” Instead of sculpted noise and a simple verse-chorus-verse structure we here get a carefully conceived instrumental palette, a sweet-voiced singer, and a three-sectioned song linked by a chorus we hear only twice. This song sounds at once very relaxed and very precise, which is an engaging combination; every sound carries the weight of purpose, from the reverberant tom-tom of the intro to the acoustic rhythm guitar that is given a quiet 10 seconds of playing by itself in the middle of the song, to the gentle, clap-driven gospel swing that drives the song but below the level of conscious awareness until the keyboard joins it halfway through. While electronica is at the root of the band’s approach, this song replaces overt glitchiness with something that seems very much like organic warmth and is no worse for the wear.
Jacksonville is home base for Ben Cooper and Alex Kane, who have been doing business as Electric President since 2003. (Their first album, released in 2006, was called S/T: “Self-Titled.”) They do most of what they do jointly and electronically, while Ben is the aforementioned sweet-voiced singer. Their third full-length, The Violent Blue, was released this week on the small New Haven, Conn.-based label Fake Four Inc.
“Remember” – Lali Puna
Lustrous electro-pop from the veteran German quartet Lali Puna, but the first new song heard from them since 2004. Centered on a recurring sound that has the aspect of a wordless question, the introductory beat is oddly poignant-sounding, and nicely launches this smartly orchestrated mix of rubbery aluminum synth lines and understated percussion. Everything’s electronic but not too blippy or scratchy; there’s instead something palpably formed about the sound, something that gives this the feel of musicians actually playing instruments rather than twiddling knobs. There are even sounds mixed in–am I making this up? I don’t think so–that resemble the sound of fingers changing chords on guitar strings.
Meanwhile, Valerie Trebeljahr’s wistful vocals find their whispery place in the hypnotic mix, neither too forward nor too restrained; and listen too to the shadow of male harmony accompaniment all the way through, most clearly heard on the recurrent refrain, “Will you remember me?” Oh and don’t miss what happens at 1:29 when for seven seconds or so the smooth electro stylings are stripped away and we’re left with a most idiosyncratic aural skeleton, as if beneath the limpid facade is a deviant alien core.
“Remember” will be found on Our Inventions, Lali Puna’s fourth album, scheduled for an April release on Berlin-based Morr Music.
MP3 via Morr Music.
Arriving on the indie scene in 2006 as a precocious, Nellie McKay-ish singer/songwriter/pianist, Casey Dienel has since taken on a band name (White Hinterland), a band mate (Shawn Creeden), and a new musical setting. I for one am happy to hear it, as I believe the world can use propulsive, mysterious-sounding, beat-driven but melodic electro-pop a bit more than it needs a second Nellie McKay.
Underscored by swooshing wind-like white noise, “Icarus” has a slinky sound that gains traction via the interplay between Dienel’s airy, plaintive singing style and the clattering rhythm sticks that are placed front and center in the mix. They are unavoidable there, and are thus transformed from percussive accent into full-fledged musical statement, particularly when Dienel sings the wordless refrain of “oo-oo-oohs” that functions as a chorus-like link between verses. Check out how the clacking rhythm stutters and syncopates along the way, just enough to keep your head in the game, to keep the song from fading into over-smoothness. Time passes much more quickly because the ears aren’t being lulled to sleep; every time I get to the end–at 3:47, the song is not notably short–I feel a little startled.
Born and raised in the Boston area, Dienel studied classical voice and composition at the New England Conservatory of Music before leaving to have a go as a pop musician. She is now located in Portland, Oregon. “Icarus” will be found on White Hinterland’s second album, Kairos, which is due out in March on Dead Oceans. MP3 via Dead Oceans.
Rather than float above with requisite frosty archness, a match for the cold equipment around her, Harper pretty much purrs her way through this one. Whether down in the rich tone of her lower register for the verse or in the airier range of the chorus, Harper sings as if maintaining a wry, secret smile throughout, regardless of the emotional wreckage traced by the lyrics.
Given the synthesizer’s inherently goofy sound–the rubbery beeps and boops, the cartoonish echoes, and so forth–it’s a bit surprising, now that I think about it, that the instrument isn’t more jovially presented as a rule. Indeed, the synthesizer is offered up rather humorlessly in rock music by and large, far more often used with austerity or gravity than with a sense of humor, even when–or maybe especially when–propelling dance music of one kind or another.
Not so with “Careful What You Say.” From the opening noodles, the synthesizer tones are charged with something resembling mirth, if not flippancy. After the song settles into a seductive electro-groove–no organic instruments in sight–something else now goes against the electro-pop guidebook, which is front woman Elizabeth Harper’s singing. Rather than float above with requisite frosty archness, a match for the cold equipment around her, Harper pretty much purrs her way through this one. Whether down in the rich tone of her lower register for the verse or in the airier range of the chorus, Harper sings as if maintaining a wry, secret smile throughout, regardless of the emotional wreckage traced by the lyrics. As for that exquisitely breezy chorus, I like it all the more for how it is fitted into a song that refuses simply to be about its groove–and refuses, in the process, to take itself too seriously. (If you have any doubts about that latter point, check out the instrumental break that begins at 3:17; and just wait for it.)
Class Actress began as a solo project for Harper, but has become a full-fledged band. On the MySpace page, Harper is listed as “Songwriter,” Mark Richardson as “Beatmaker,” and Scott Rosenthal as “Heartbreaker.” “Careful What You Say” is a song from the trio’s debut EP, Journal of Ardency, slated for a February release on Terrible Records. MP3 via Pitchfork.
Appealing electro-dance-rock with a sweeping ambiance and a more difficult-than-it-first-seems-to-pin-down sound. As much as one may initially want to hear this as harmless retro-y fun, one problem is that it’s unclear exactly what era/genre this song is most reflective of, as it seems to gather everything from new wave and post-punk to disco and electro and then some under its sonic umbrella. Which maybe has the net effect of not seeming quite so retro after all. Certainly there’s something in not only the sharp production but in the sheer urgent musical delight here that lends “Cascade” a sparkling currency—you’ve heard it before, except maybe not exactly. More to the point, you’re likely to keep hearing this in your head moving forward. And surely this goes immediately to the top of the list of definitive summer songs for the summer of ’09, at least here in Fingertips land. At least for now. The summer is yet young.
Named after Laura San Giacomo’s character in the movie Pretty Woman, Deluka is from Birmingham (UK) but has taken up in Brooklyn after being signed by the Brooklyn-based VEL Records-. “Cascade” is the band’s first recorded song. A digital EP will be released this summer, with a full-length CD expected in the fall. MP3 via VEL.