Tag Archives: Synth-Pop

Album of the Day: Mikey Young, “Your Move Vol. 1”

In focusing on his role as a member of beloved Australian DIY groups like Total Control and Eddy Current Suppression Ring, and his near-ubiquitous production credits in certain punk circles, an essential quality of Mikey Young’s approach gets lost—his ear for pop bliss, including the texture and detail of it, a quality as much a hallmark of DIY confections as it is the summer’s biggest radio bangers. If FIN’s Ice Pix was the sound of the pop machine breaking down, Young’s Your Move Vol. 1 is the sound of modern pop as it reassembles itself.

The “pop” assignation may seem strange for a record that’s entirely wordless, with a 20-minute spacious ambient track called “Enigmatic Cosmic Enforcer” taking up half the LP’s play, but bear with me. Since the ‘70s, pop’s been contending with what it means to not just be electrified but electronic without losing its humanity. Here, Young wrestles with those impulses via analog synthesis. This is particularly evident on “Socks,” where a burbling melody furls playfully around a spare, growing rhythm, accented with glacial chords, and “Cairns,” which has all the rush and movement of water, a sparkling core, and graceful guitar accompaniment. This is pop in its most elemental form; these are pieces that work together to become the simplest, most persistent hooks. On the aforementioned “Enigmatic Cosmic Enforcer,” those hooks are dragged out to their subtlest and most thoughtful (the less rapid the cycle, the more hypnotic), making it easy to fall forward into. It’s natural these days to focus on all the ubiquitous evil humanity can create; Your Move Vol. 1 reminds us that we’re capable of the most primal beauty, too.

—Jes Skolnik

Jakuzi’s Glam Synth-Pop Both Subverts and Honors Tradition

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Jakuzi. Photos by Berk Cakmacki.

If you’re not familiar with mainstream Turkish music, allow us to set the scene: imagine the most overblown and fantastical elements of modern pop enthusiastically paired with a glitzy, ‘80s aesthetic and a generous helping of traditional Middle Eastern folk. You’d expect the result to be over-the-top— too indulgent, perhaps—but, instead, they’re shot through with a special kind of sincerity. When Turkish pop singers step up to the microphone, they mean every single, rhinestone-studded word.

Fantezi Müsik is both the name of this glammed-up genre of Arabesque pop and the title of the debut album by Jakuzi, the Istanbul-based duo of Kutay Soyocak and Taner Yücel. The pair have created their own 21st century take on their home country’s time-honored sound. Fantezi Müsik finds plenty of inspiration in the duo’s local scene, but it also borrows from classic new wave, synthpop, funk, post-punk, and the British sophisti-pop movement of the mid ’80s. It’s a potent mix that seems unlikely to come from a single band, let alone a single album—and, sometimes, a single song. Imagine Duran Duran imbued with Joy Division’s emotional grittiness, but still embracing the odd saxophone solo or Casio keyboard beat.

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GEMS Embrace the Mystical With Their Full Moon Singles Series

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Photos by Edric Chen

Every 28.5 days there’s a new full moon. That’s a fact that Cliff Usher and Lindsay Pitts of GEMS can offer up without consulting Google, having committed to releasing a new single with each lunar event. That tight production and release schedule has provided some unique challenges for the duo. (Usher cringes as he recalls mixing recent offering “Blow Out the Light” while lying sick on the floor thanks to a dodgy Korean sandwich.) But thematically, it was a perfect fit: their twilight pop is an appropriate soundtrack for moon’s waning and waxing. But perhaps even more importantly, the experiment satisfied the musicians on a very practical level.

“The project will probably come together as a collection of songs in some way,” Pitts says, seated at an outdoor café in downtown Los Angeles. “But for now we wanted to get back to the flow and momentum of putting a song out, interacting with people, and then putting another song out.”

But even with their eyes pointed toward the heavens, music has helped both Usher and Pitts overcome some very earthly concerns. As both explain, music has been one of the only things to provide a sense of stability while navigating both romantic snarls and defining their sense of belonging in an unstable world.

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The Dreamy Synth Pop of Puerto Rico’s Los Wálters is Rooted in Themes of Distance and Escape

Los Wálters

Towards the end of Isla Disco, the third full-length album from the Puerto Rican synth pop duo Los Wálters, is the following line, heard in the characteristically harmonious vocals of the band’s members, Luis López and Ángel Emanuel Figueroa, and buried underneath seemingly unending layers of bass and synths: “No hay nada violento en escapar.” There is nothing violent in escaping.

This theme, the need for a mental (if not always physical) respite from reality, is one that has appeared throughout the duo’s discography since they burst onto the Puerto Rican music scene in 2011—whether it be in their relentless layering of harmonies, their dizzying array of synth lines, the understated references to tropicalia, the dreamy quality of their lyrics or the visual dreamscape they create in their videos. It has defined their approach to music and the world that surrounds them while thrusting them into a category of their own in the island’s scene, farther away from the smaller venues, closer to larger stages and dominating festival line-ups in the Caribbean and in Miami. In a scene dominated by punk, hardcore and rock acts, Los Wálters have formed a uniquely tropical brand of synth pop, influenced by everything from Italo-disco to ‘80s pop and new wave to the oft-cited movida madrileña, that aims to provide a different soundtrack to the lives and experiences of Puerto Rican youth today.   

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Allison Crutchfield: The Introspective “Tourist”

Allison Crutchfield

Allison Crutchfield by Jesse Riggins

It’s not uncommon to read that an artist struggled through “major life changes” while crafting a record; If nothing else, it makes for easy press release copy. For Allison Crutchfield, this is far more personal and less cynical—for her first LP, Tourist In This Town, she’s channeled growing up into cathartic, sonic autobiography. During pangs of homesickness on tour, Crutchfield processed a serious breakup and its attendant pain and confusion, figuring out what she wanted her voice to be at this point in time.

Tourist builds on the introspective synth-pop of Crutchfield’s 2014 debut solo EP Lean Into It; while the emotions that shaped it are painful, Tourist is anything but dour. Utilizing an arsenal of analog synths provided by engineer Jeff Ziegler (known for his work with Kurt Vile), Crutchfield embraces open space and an aesthetic sense of promise. Album opener “Broad Daylight” finds Crutchfield going a cappella, a daring choice for the former firebrand behind punk outfits P.S. Eliot and Bad Banana (her bands with her twin sister Katie, of Waxahatchee).

That stripped-naked opening not only pays off, but feels like baptism by choir. At 28, after nearly a decade of emotional tumult, Crutchfield is finally enjoying a moment of rare inner peace.

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