Tag Archives: Synth-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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High Gloss: Fee Lion’s Dark Synthpop Aesthetics

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“Latex fits. It just fits.”

Justina Kairyte is explaining the role of fashion in her dark synth-pop project Fee Lion over coffee at La Catrina Cafe in Chicago, and her love of latex keeps coming up. While the material has long been associated with fetish culture, those implications were not what Kairyte had in mind when she started crafting her look. “When I started introducing glossy vinyl and latex in Fee Lion,” she says, “it was hard to separate the connotation from the material. But I never wanted to hypersexualize Fee Lion. Those materials exist in the fetish world so heavily that it’s hard to separate them from that.” It’s also hard to separate the material from the culture of industrial music—just glance around the room at your next Skinny Puppy concert. And while Fee Lion has never created explicitly “industrial music,” her new EP Blood Sisters fits that descriptor nonetheless. Gone are the guitars that carried early songs like “Circles” or “Ad/Just”—Fee Lion has settled on heavy drum machines, throbbing bass, and synth arpeggios.

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Boy Harsher’s Deeply Personal Darkwave

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Photography by Angela Owens

“I can no longer run away from things the way I used to be able to.”

That’s Jae Matthews, vocalist of Western Massachusetts darkwave duo Boy Harsher, talking about the role of escapism in the group’s oeuvre at large. She and Gus Muller, who handles most of the synths and programming, have been making dark, soulful, synth-based music since 2013. The idea of movement, of leaving, of dropping everything, is a consistent theme throughout their catalog, especially on 2017’s Country Girl EP and their new LP, Careful. Careful is released on their own imprint, Nude Club Records, and it is a triumph; they’ve been through the fire, and have used those experiences to forge a testament to vulnerability and honesty.

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Album of the Day: SRSQ,“Unreality”

We were first introduced to Kennedy Ashlyn as half of Them Are Us Too, the Bay Area dream-pop duo who built stunning and luxurious soundscapes that garnered more than a few comparisons to Cocteau Twins. (These comparisons were, at surface, fair, but failed to capture the pair’s uniqueness—the range of Ashlyn’s voice, the way she worked harmoniously with Cash Askew’s luminous guitar work, and so forth.) In the great tragedy of the Ghost Ship fire, Askew was lost to the world. There was a posthumous release, the lovely Amends, which offered a glimpse at how Them Are Us Too were growing before their time was cut short; they’d been a group with so much life in them. Ashlyn took time to mourn, and struck out on her own when she was ready with her solo project, SRSQ. Continue reading

Big Ups: Film Director Terence Nance Picks His Bandcamp Favorites

Terence Nance

In early October, film director Terence Nance uploaded a song he’d recorded to Bandcamp. There wasn’t much fanfare—at least, not enough, given the creative hot streak he’s on. Nance is the creator of HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness, the psychedelic late-night series that delves into the profound beauty and existential conflict of black existence in America. Not long after the show was picked up for a second season, it was announced that Nance—a Dallas, Texas native now living in Brooklyn, New York—would direct the long-awaited Warner Bros. sequel Space Jam 2, starring basketball superstar LeBron James and produced by Black Panther director Ryan Coogler.

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Half Waif’s “Lavender”-Infused Pop Resilience

Half Waif

Photos by Tonje Thilesen

When Nandi Rose Plunkett moved from Brooklyn to Chatham, New York, one of the first things she noticed was the density of natural sounds around the summer house in which she planned to record her third album. The singer, songwriter, and producer, who releases music as Half Waif, started taking walks twice a day to the pond near her temporary home, once in the morning and once in the evening. A chorus of frogs, insects, and birds eased Plunkett out of her own head—she’d been intently focused on assembling songs. “No matter what was going on in my mind, all of the turmoil I was working out through the music, there was this whole other world going on in my backyard that had nothing to do with me,” Plunkett says over the phone. “It was comforting in its indifference.”

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Album of the Day: Porches, “The House”

Aaron Maine doesn’t seem to miss his guitars. Since 2016’s beloved breakout Pool, Maine, the man behind Porches, has been making his brooding dance-pop using only pristinely-produced bass, synth, and drums. Partnering up for another round with producer Chris Coady, who also produced Pool, Maine adds another coat of sheen to his songs while also stripping away the heady layers and effects of Pool. The result is a leaner, sleeker body of work. Though the album is satisfyingly varied—moving from brittle ballads like the spectacular “Country” to the left-field “Åkeren,” which is sung in Norwegian—it’s the dance tracks that get the most attention, finessed to flaunt a deep low-end punch framed by elegantly syncopated bass runs.
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The Paris Punk Family Tree

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Gomme. Photos by Harald Hutter.

“Do you know about the six degrees of separation theory?” says Victoria Arfi, a member of two Parisian punk bands, P.M.S. and Mary Bell. “In Paris, especially in the punk scene, it’s more like one degree.” If you spend any length of time talking to Parisian punk bands, soon enough, you may find yourself reaching for a bar napkin so you can start sketching out the complicated connections within the scene’s sprawling family tree.

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