Tag Archives: Pop

The Transcendent Sound of Dustin Wong and Takako Minekawa

Dustin Wong Takako Minekawa

Photo by Hiromi Shinada.

To speak with Dustin Wong and Takako Minekawa is to speak with one person. Part of this is because Wong does most of Minekawa’s Japanese-to-English translations—aside from the occasional interjection or giggle—but there also seems to be a high level of psychic understanding between them, a characteristic that permeates Are Euphoria, their third record as a duo.

While their first two albums—2013’s Toropical Circle and 2014’s Savage Imagination—are both strong, Are Euphoria takes the duo a step above. Perhaps it’s the three-year gap that led them to this enlightened place, or maybe there’s a new level of comfortability that didn’t exist as strongly prior to Euphoria. Either way, Wong and Minekawa have created one of the year’s best experimental albums, mixing pop sensibilities with rhythmic loops and kinetic percussion.

Soon, they’ll be bringing their tour to the U.S., showcasing these songs for an entirely new audience. Not surprisingly, there are broad cultural gaps between the DIY scenes in Japan and the U.S., yet Wong and Minekawa find merits in both. In Japan, Wong says, “they’re more respectful. But in America, they can show their feelings to you. You quickly understand whether they like you or not.” It’s hard to imagine too many American audiences disliking Wong and Minekawa, though. From their home in Tokyo, the duo spoke about their creative evolution, why performing in their home country can be lonely, and how collaboration begets sonic transformations.

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The Stubborn Independence of Born Bad Records

Francis Bebey

Francis Bebey

There is no shortage of French labels boasting quirky and revolutionary rosters (La Souterraine, Almost Musique), but Born Bad Records take eclecticism, aesthetic stubbornness, and independence to new heights. Jean-Baptiste Guillot, a former art director who spent at least a decade working for major labels in France, founded Born Bad in 2006, smack dab in the middle of the illegal downloading boom that weakened the stronghold that majors like Universal, EMI, and Sony had on the market. Starting a label while the industry was essentially falling apart was a gutsy move, but Guillot combined the lessons he’d learned over the course of a decade with his life-long knowledge of the Parisian underground—along with some hard-earned street cred—to launch Born Bad as a home to artists and musicians who shared his vision.

In an interview with the Lyon magazine Le Petit Bulletin, Guillot explained that the label’s success and cultural resonance was in part due to his own staunch policies for selecting records to release. The key, he explained, was to avoid becoming a prisoner of your own niche. In that sense, Born Bad Records may be recognized for its excellent garage rock releases and reissues, but it’s also known for putting out a host of soundtracks and compilations from genres as disparate as zouk, pop, French boogie, and Saharan pop, as well as unearthing the hidden histories of French synthwave, exploitation punk, and African electronic music. It’s also recently diversified its business into book publishing, collecting the works of Belgian poster artist Elzo Durt, who has also designed many of Born Bad’s album covers.

On the occasion of the label’s 10th anniversary, we took a deep dive into their catalogue and created a not-at-all exhaustive guide to some of the label’s must-hear artists and compilations.

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Casey Dienel Retires White Hinterland and Discovers Herself

Casey Dienel

Photos by Brad Ogbonna

Casey Dienel likes having rules. For more than a decade, the singer-songwriter has been recording lush, gauzy art-pop as White Hinterland. Each time she started writing an album, she would give herself a set of restraints. “No proper nouns on these songs,” she offers as an example, between bites of pizza at Saraghina, an eatery near her Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn apartment. “Or, ‘No acoustic instruments on these songs,’ or ‘No reverb.’”

She readily admits to having a “Type A” personality. But when she set out to write the songs that would make up Imitation of a Woman to Love, the first album she has released under her own name in 11 years, she decided she had to change things up. She wanted music that was livelier than anything she had made before, lustier and more fun. And, most of all, truer to herself. So that meant she had to forswear her reliance on rules.

Well, except for one. Old habits, etc.

Listen to Imitation of a Woman to Love in full exclusively on Bandcamp Daily: 

“The only thing I really wanted to stay away from was a sense of wonder. A lot of times when there are songs about people’s sexuality, they’re caught up in spirituality, and almost the saintly-ness of the woman’s body,” she says. “I don’t feel that way about my sexuality. I feel a more earthly situation with it. I didn’t want to have anything where I was talking about Gaia.”

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Nite Jewel on the Highs and Lows of Being a Woman in the Music Industry

Nite Jewel

Nite Jewel. Photos by Patrick Gookin.

Ramona Gonzalez’s third album as Nite Jewel plays like a chilled-out tribute to ‘90s Top 40 R&B artists like Janet Jackson and Aaliyah. Gonzalez freely admits there are elements of both artists in the mix, even if their inclusion was more subconscious, but Real High is not a deliberate attempt to emulate her teenage heroes.

After consciously uncoupling with her label (the process kept her from releasing music for four years) and rediscovering the creative freedom of releasing an album on her own label Gloriette, Gonzalez found herself using music to channel frustration and sensuality in equal parts. The two ultimately end up complementing one another—from hip-shaking single “2 Good 2 Be True” to the meandering title track where Gonzalez transforms a slow-motion ballad into a meditation on the kind of love so all-encompassing there’s a temptation to throw it all away.

We talked with the Los Angeles-based musician/producer about why she opted to release her own music, holding her own in a male-driven industry, and why she’s happy to let her alter ego do the emotional heavy lifting.

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Album of the Day: FIN, “Ice Pix”

Chicago’s Hausu Mountain label specializes in experimental electronic improvisational oddities, so compared to much of what they release, the pop-oriented Ice Pix sounds almost like an album of silly love songs. “Chickenshit” quotes the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” of all things; its smooth R&B hook isn’t exactly the usual Hausu Mountain experience.

But that’s not to say that Ice Pix is likely to score radio airplay anytime soon. Rebecca “FIN” Simonetti is a New York multimedia artist—in one disturbing installation she hung a replica of a lamb from the ceiling with harnesses; blobby, pink, flower-shaped objects sprung from its carcass. Her music has a bit of that same horror-film ruthlessness. She approaches pop from a clinical distance, slicing it up then smiling as it staggers forward.

On “In Silver,” she whispers “Tik tik tik” at the beginning of the track, then chops her voice up and adds multitracked layers, creating both calculated bliss and blissful calculation. “Gutshot” heads towards Danielle Dax territory, with spacey, clattering power chords, and a beat that walks onto the dance floor to sway with the vampires.

“Daughters” is built around a tinkling music box motif which turns into a siren-like electronic industrial clamor; it sounds like an infant crawling through a steel mill. The lyric, “Put your hands in the air, I’ll cut them off with a knife,” nicely sums up FIN’s aesthetic. FIN takes similar cues from performers like Björk and FKA twigs, who use arty dissonance and broken beats to heighten emotional intensity and create deeper personal expression. But FIN’s vision owes more to Kraftwerk, ferreting out the alienating, artificial clockwork at modern pop’s heart.

—Noah Berlatsky