Tag Archives: Synth-Pop

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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A Ten-Album Guide to the Canadian North

Over the course of the last several years, Canada’s three Territories in the North—Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut—have become home to a community of musicians dedicated to pushing creative boundaries, sharing stories with the world that are as unique as the places in which they were made.

Thousands of years before Europeans arrived, Indigenous peoples sustained themselves in the North, but it wasn’t until the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 19th Century that Europeans started to settle in large numbers above the 60th parallel. Today, the rich natural resources continue to be a primary reason why people move to the North, settling in modernized cities like Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, Whitehorse and Dawson City in the Yukon, and Iqaluit in Nunavut. Within these culturally diverse cities, and beyond, are vibrant arts communities that celebrate fellowship and foster unique artistic expression. Ranging from synth-pop, to folk, to electronic, to rock, the 10 records in this list are just a small sample of the diverse music being produced in the Canadian North.

Tanya Tagaq—Auk/Blood

Tanya Tagaq
Tanya Tagaq

With her blend of improvised Inuit throat singing and electronic and classical elements, Tanya Tagaq has become one of the most important creative voices in Canada. Her music is so richly detailed and direct: in 2004, Tagaq’s unique sound caught Björk’s attention, which resulted in the pair collaborating on Björk’s record Medulla. Tagaq’s 2014 record Animism was her most successful to date, garnering raves from around the world and winning the prestigious Polaris Music Prize. On her 2008 Auk/Blood, Tagaq’s work is enhanced by a range of sonic filigree, from delicate strings to beat-boxing, but it never loses its visceral feeling. The pain and beauty are on full display on “Growth,” and the tense standoff of “Blood-Auk.”

Willie Thrasher—Spirit Child

Willie Thrasher
Willie Thrasher

At the age of five, Aklavik, Nunavut-born Willie Thrasher was taken from his home and forced to attend residential school—an initiative by the Government of Canada to assimilate Indigenous peoples into European culture. As a way to heal from this trauma and reconnect with his culture, Thrasher began playing music with his brother and friends in the 1960s. He embarked on a solo career in the latter half of the decade, and travelled throughout North America playing music in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In partnership with CBC’s Northern Service initiative, Thrasher recorded his album Spirit Child in 1981 which, 35 years later, Light in the Attic Records have re-released. Spirit Child is a beautiful blend of western folk-rock (think Neil Young and Creedence Clearwater Revival) and the music of Thrasher’s Inuvialuit culture. In “Silent Inuit,” you hear quiet translations of Thrasher’s verses, while “Intuit Chant” mixes steady folk-rock instrumentation with a traditional chant. In all, the album is a powerful celebration of the Inuvialuit culture in the North.

Indio Saravanja—Indio Saravanja

Indio Saravanja
Indio Saravanja

“There’s nothing in the world like my Northern town,” sings Indio Saravanja in the anthemic “Northern Town,” from his self-titled debut record. Saravanja’s “Northern Town” is an endearing love letter to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories—the biggest city in the North, known for their close-knit community and hospitality. The song is cherished by its residents, and expresses the steadfast love they have for their city. Throughout the record, this Northern troubadour tells imaginative stories influenced by both his travels and his Northern home, adeptly capturing simple emotions that, in less-deft hands, would seem maudlin.

SODA PONY—Soda Pony

Whitehorse, Yukon’s SODA PONY explode with energy on their self-titled debut and, given the fact that this Yukon garage band are just a duo, their power is that much more impressive. Throughout this sparkling, punchy, power-pop record, Aiden Tentrees and Patrick Hamilton trade off on vocal duties while Hamilton plays percussion and a bass synthesizer (usually at the same time) and Tentrees mans keyboard and guitar. SODA PONY leave their home in Whitehorse on the shores of the Yukon River to dive into imaginary landscapes—they take listeners back in time to witness a “Stagecoach Robbery,” and to space in “Astronaut.” But they’re also not above everyday sincerity: One of the album’s highlights, “Friendship,” has the simplest message of all—give love back to those who love you.

Grey Gritt—Live at the NACC

Grey Gritt
Grey Gritt

Self-described as a “sub-arctic blues player,” Grey Gritt’s music has, well, grit. In this collection of live tracks recorded at the Northern Arts and Culture Centre in Yellowknife, Gritt takes the stage alone, but the combination of bluesy guitar playing and Gritt’s commanding voice is a big enough sound that it doesn’t need any accompaniment. Gritt’s lighthearted stage banter balances out the emotional weight of the music; on this album Gritt shifts between feeling sentimental (“Choking Out The Sun”), lustful (“Local Smoke”), and downright angry (“Ace & Queen”). Live at the NACC is full of heart and attitude, a live record that marks the beginning of a long career for this promising young talent.

Old Cabin—Old Cabin

Old Cabin
Old Cabin

Whitehorse-based musician Jona Barr (Old Cabin) makes music as warm and welcoming as his band name suggests. His self-titled record is a timeless Americana mix of folk, country, and rock, telling classic stories of hope, love, and loss. The smoky country sounds of “Borrowed Secrets” feel like they were born in a a dive bar full of people wearing cowboy hats; the playful rhythm of “Lighthouse” blissfully contrasts with the anxieties in the lyrics; and sorrow piles high as a snowbank in the sprawling “Winter Summer.”

Nava Luvu—Transport

The music of Yellowknife duo Nava Luvu (Ashley Daw and Sami Blanco) dances like the Northern Lights—meditative, but always in motion. The melody throughout “Imperial Loft” is like a warped carnival game; the muffled beat of “Liquid Halo” sounds like it’s spilling from a club; and the hazy, skittering keyboard of “Make Love” is as blissful as a late-night car ride with the windows down.

Erebus & Terror—Erebus & Terror

Erebus & Terror
Erebus & Terror

Erebus & Terror might be the most charming rockers in the North. Their self-titled release is steeped in wry observations about love (“You must be happy to feel angry,” they sing in “Going Home”) and driven by roughed-up pop-rock hooks. These solid rock songs are written to linger in listeners’ heads for longer than a Yellowknife winter.

Miraj—Dalhousie

The artist Miraj is a mystery. They’ve revealed nothing about their personal identities, preferring to let the music speak for itself. Their album Dalhousie is a dazzling addition to the North’s burgeoning drone scene—a collection of ghostly beats, toy-like blips and bloops, and a flurry of other unrecognizable noises that create stark sonic pictures. Miraj take inspiration from other worlds (“Interstellar”), their home (“Snowstorm”), and the light (“Canoe”) and the dark (“Absolute”) to craft an engrossing experimental record.

Scary Bear Soundtrack—Ovayok Road

Willie Thrasher
Willie Thrasher. Jess Deeks

Gloria Guns and Christine Aye now reside in Ottawa, but they haven’t lost their sense of allegiance to their original homes in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut—the inspiration for Ovayok Road. On this sweet and joyful lo-fi synth-pop record, they celebrate simple joys: personal strength (“Fault Lines”), the beauty of the Arctic (“My First Northern Light”), the beginning of summer (“Victoria Island”), and even the arrival of a water truck (“Water Truck”).

—Laura Stanley