Tag Archives: Experimental Pop

Olivia Neutron-John’s Playful, Pointed Experimental Pop

Olivia Neutron John

Photo by Jen Dissinger

“When you don’t fit into any specific category, you make your own,” says Anna Nasty, aka Olivia Neutron-John, over the phone. “I use language as it suits.” Nasty describes Olivia Neutron-John’s music as “post-bro,” and if that, or the project name itself, doesn’t give it away, they’re very interested in artistic playfulness. But while wordplay and being clever are important, Nasty’s music and artistry is serious. Olivia Neutron-John combines Nasty’s Casiotone—used for synth melodies and drum patterns—with incisive lyricism, and fuses noise, post-punk, and synth-pop into one singularly delightful sound.

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Album of the Day: Eve Maret, “No More Running”

Nashville-based Eve Maret offers up a vision of electronic music that suggests something that’s often been lost in overly simplified histories of the genre—a sense of the slippery strangeness that the field encompassed in the transition from the 1970s into the 1980s. Whether it’s cryptic prog, murmuring outer space burbles, dancefloor funk, or synth-pop chirpiness, there’s a sense throughout No More Running—initially available last year on cassette, now rereleased with additional tracks and new cover art—that all these derivations and more can be part of one aesthetic.

Maret’s activist work, via her cofounding of Hyasynth House—dedicated to collective creative space and healing for cis female, trans, and non-binary artists—readily frames much of the content of No More Running. Yet the album stands just as easily on its own. Her blurred, treated vocals early into the album help to set stages, often with understated slyness (from the title track: “You can’t help yourself / And neither can I, baby”); it feels like listening in on a strangely inviting conversation as it unfolds, in real time. The instrumentals take over as the listen progresses, ranging from the tripped-out “Cosmonaut” with its arrhythmic tones and electronic sighs, to the free-flowing “Feminine Intuition,” feeling sweetly joyful and warm in its rising and falling melodies. When Maret’s singing fully returns on the sprightly “Pink Ray,” it’s almost like the resolution of a narrative, and the album finishes with multilayered efforts like the shimmering and looped pulses of “My Own Pace.” It’s a song title that underscores No More Running’s communal spirit; with these songs, Maret presents a loving tribute to her community, maintained by a distinct, individual voice that’s impossible to ignore.

Ned Raggett

Hidden Gems: Haco, “Secret Garden”

HG-Haco-1244In our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

In the years following her rise to prominence as the lead vocalist of ’80s art pop band After Dinner, the Japanese artist Haco has maintained a prolific output, releasing a handful of microsound experimental recordings and collaborating with musicians as varied as Terre Thaemlitz, Ikue Mori, and Sachiko M. Though many of Haco’s albums conjure up fantastical soundscapes, 2015’s Secret Garden has a stronger focus on that aesthetic; each track plays a role in making sure listeners feel like they’re in some wondrous, vibrant world. Secret Garden was remastered by Haco earlier this year, and now stands out even more as one of her most meticulously crafted releases.

The immersive quality to Secret Garden is achieved through a combination of elements. Haco employs charming vocal melodies and lyrics reminiscent of fairy tales—consider this line from “Linked in a Dream”: “Even after turning into a star, she just kept on sleeping.” The consciously otherworldly tracks never scan as cheap attempts at emotional manipulation, though. By incorporating hazy, enigmatic electronic atmospheres into the mix, Haco balances euphoria with wistfulness, and fleshes out the escapist feel; from the reverb-laden “Whitening Shadows” to the droning mystique of “Waves and Illusions,” Secret Garden evokes a sense of being on the precipice of a dream world, perpetually stuck in a hypnagogic state. It all culminates with standout track “Never Get Over,” a song that astutely samples Stuart O’Connor’s “A Watchful Eye.” In its final minutes, a compounding wall of clipped noise and breathy vocals brings a sense of completion to the album. “(I Won’t) Leave a Trace” closes Secret Garden on a quieter note, allowing for a moment of reflection. “But they haven’t found me yet […] And I won’t leave a trace,” sings Haco. She’s invited us into her own Eden, and we leave knowing that it’ll be just as enchanting upon our return.

-Joshua Minsoo Kim

Yves Jarvis’s Experimental, Folky R&B is Internal and Intentional

Yves Jarvis

Photo by Maya Fuhr

Yves Jarvis’s new album The Same But By Different Means doesn’t so much move from song to song as it pulses in place. As the title implies, Jarvis is committed to consistency; the music flows and swirls and bubbles with the same mellow mood, with melodies and rhythms rising up and sliding back down into the warm eddies. “There it goes, there it goes, there it goes,” he chants over a laid-back blues vamp on “Nothing New.” A dreamy harmonica floats above the folksy strum on “Out of the Blue, Into Both Hands,” multi-tracked vocals croon over gospel-tinged keyboards on “Hard to Say Bye.” Different instruments and genres all mix together to create a gently effervescent bliss.

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Heather Leigh Claims Her Pedal Steel “Throne”

Heather Leigh

Photo by Eleni Avraam

“You’re the last romantic in this world, it’s true / Come on dance with me drunkenly, feel my hips sway,” Heather Leigh incants on her new LP Throne’s final song “Days Without You,” nodding to the dissolution of romanticism, while simultaneously invoking its power. One part is a dirge, the other a quickening. Few artists manage to reckon the ecstatic joy of being alive in the world with the pain it doles out, but Leigh’s a seasoned pro; she’s been releasing music since the early 2000s. She’s taken part in noise, vocal acrobatics, slide guitar improvisation (see her duo with free jazz luminary Peter Brötzmann), and—with Throne‘s release—experimental chamber pop. Her previous solo full-length, I Abused Animal, was a stark, tense musing on survival and damage created entirely from her pedal steel guitar and voice. The difference between that record and Throne is massive. Where I Abused Animal in some ways felt like a warning, Throne is sirenic, enthralling—catchy and orchestral.

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The No-Boundaries Experimental Pop of Let’s Eat Grandma

Lets Eat Grandma

Photos by Charlotte Pattmore

The finale of Let’s Eat Grandma’s intoxicating, expansive second album I’m All Ears is the intricate 11-minute drama “Donnie Darko”—named, of course, for the 2001 film that has become a byword for suburban teenage angst. Director Richard Kelly served that familiar emotion with a hefty side of disturbing magical realism; nothing is quite as it seems, but emotions run high.

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The Beautiful Monsters of Happy Rhodes’s Art-Pop

Happy Rhodes

Happy Rhodes’s music first reached me in 1992 or thereabouts; I’d been on early Internet mailing lists dedicated to Tori Amos and Kate Bush, and contributors there led me to Ecto, the list for fans of Rhodes’s work. I special ordered a couple of her CDs—there was no way to sample any of these songs, after all—and when they arrived in a few weeks, probably hand-mailed from Kevin Bartlett of Aural Gratification in upstate New York, they did not disappoint. Rhodes’s work is transportive art-pop built around elegant fingerpicked guitar and synth layers that shift between gauzy hum and opaque buzz—and, of course, her voice. With a four-octave span, she can easily shift from rich contralto to airy soprano, and she creates dizzying studio harmonies with multiple parts, all performed by herself. Her lyrics are imaginative, drawing from myth and literature as much as they do personal experience, and there’s a vein of strong emotion to them—sometimes strength and hope, sometimes anger, sometimes a wild sort of sadness, sometimes a measured one.

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Album of the Day: Jenny Hval, “The Long Sleep”

At the 2:20 mark of The Long Sleep’s opening track, “Spells,” Jenny Hval’s voice rises from an otherwise calm, steady jazz-pop base. The simple swing of the music recalls Kaputt-era Destroyer or David Bowie’s “Absolute Beginners.” “You will not be awake for long / You won’t have to wait for long,” sings Hval, initiating a subtle yet anthemic refrain that repeats throughout the track, sometimes mutating with respect to pronoun (“you” vs. “we”) and whether her voice is single or multi-tracked. Like “Absolute Beginners,” “Spells” ends up feeling both triumphant and intimate, both timeless and, in its rhythmic consistency, endless. Hval doubles this sense of endlessness, too, by having her refrain pour over into the second song of the EP. There, her now-familiar vocal line serves as a hinge between two distinct compositional segments (a sparse piano ballad and a jittering mass of vocals), facilitating a conversation between them. Continue reading