Synthpop

VIDEO PREMIERE

Breathers - 1-800-PAIN

Gerard Marcus

I have a friend who’s a bike messenger. One day while slipping through the streets of downtown Brooklyn, she rode into a car door someone opened without looking, flew off her bike, and hit the ground pretty hard. I went to see her after the accident and found her lying in bed unable to move. I told her she had to go to the doctor, just to make sure everything was ok, and she laughed. She didn’t have health insurance, couldn’t afford it, and the last time she was in a bike accident and went to the doctor she got stuck paying off thousands of dollars in medical fees. Unwilling to deal with that again, this time she decided to just stay home and self medicate until she got better. It took about a month. She’s riding her bike again now. 

Breathers is a band from Atlanta, Georgia, whose latest album ‘Designed To Break’ is full of synth pop gems designed to make you both dance and think. The new video for their single “1-800-PAIN” takes us on a surreal journey with protagonist Tommy Pain, a slightly sketchy lawyer who works in injury claims. Pain seems content within a system that takes advantage of peoples’ suffering for financial gain, until one day a minor work accident traps him in that very system. Pain tries everything he can think of to help himself, but the system does nothing but make his pain worse, leading to a moment of agony in which he destroys his own office. He collapses into a chair, sees his own ad on TV, and picks up the phone to call himself for help. It’s a brilliant critique of American healthcare and how it can drive us to forgo professionals and take care of ourselves by ourselves. Not because it’s a good idea or because we want to, but because, at a certain point, what other option do we have?

Breathers’ ‘Designed To Break’ is out now on Irrelevant Music check out and purchase the whole record HERE

PREMIERE: Millionyoung - What To Do

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Will Shenton

Millionyoung's latest single, "What To Do," is a track that makes itself at home in nearly any context. Opening with a wash of transportive, tropical synths, the song progresses like a dream through Mike Diaz's hazy vocals and shimmering beats, channeling warm sunsets and neon-lit city streets. Punchy enough to stand as a dance track but eminently laid-back, "What To Do" is poised to be an anthem for the summer.

Be sure to catch Millionyoung's new LP, Rare Form, out 4/13 on Mishu Records.

REVIEW: Chiquita Magic - Aventuras

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Phillipe Roberts

Pitched as a lo-fi solo project, Aventuras instead finds singer-songwriter Isis Giraldo roping in a new cast of collaborators for a voyage beyond the constraints of Chiquita Magic’s original choral pop premise. With the Chiquita Magic band, Giraldo composed with as little backing instrumentation as possible; occasionally a sparse, futuristic rhythm would come clunking in to add bounce or a synthesizer for texture, but the spirit of the songs was captured in the meticulously arranged vocals. This latest effort, bristling with tonal color, zooms out and away to give Giraldo's vision a larger canvas. The ideas here feel looser, designed less to bombard you with dense harmonic content than to evoke moods and put your body to work. Isis Giraldo unearths new territory to feed her expanding appetite for atmosphere and rhythm.

Right off the bat, Aventuras plays like a blueprint for what could be the future of Chiquita Magic. The title track is a summation of the album’s experimental nature. Burbling synthesizers roll with the same fluorescent funk energy of Post-era Björk, tamed by the icy stutter of hip hop-inflected drums and cartoonish flutes that recall classic video game soundtracks. Indeed, although the album traverses a range of atmospheres, there’s a lighthearted whimsical energy feeding the whole process. This results in some inclusions that, like the G-Funk throwback synthesizer line in “Primer Mundo,” can feel piped in or jarring. Others, like the cinematic motif at the beginning of “Juego,” elevate a skeletal number to something greater, flagrantly juxtaposing '80s retro horror sounds with the '90s R&B vocal harmonies that have been Giraldo's staple for some time.

These collages might not always be seamless, but Giraldo’s hypnotic harmonies fuse them together in such a way that the intent and emotion behind them is never lost. “Dale,” a personal standout, finds her vibing out in a fog of samples nabbed from the Boards of Canada playbook, and would make a marvelous instrumental on its own; “Echoes,” where she does allow for an instrumental, is a serious flexing of her beat-making ability. With all of the additions Giraldo makes in terms of equipment, it’s a welcome relief when her vocals remain the star of the show. On “Amistad,” a brilliant piece of skittering electronic funk, her earworm sensibilities grip your attention with an iron fist. Her freewheeling melody flies ahead of the beat, threatening to take off at any moment—it’s the album’s most satisfying pop moment.

Without a doubt, part of the appeal of Aventuras is the way it feels incomplete; less a finished structure than a series of experimentations. But the enthusiasm with which Giraldo leaps into their construction is infectious to the point where even the near-misses sound like hits in the making. When the glacial echoes of “No Esperes Mas” coast to a touchdown, this proof of concept sounds a few tweaks away from completion.

REVIEW: Lushloss - Asking/Bearing

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Laura Kerry

Music usually tells simple stories through small lenses. At most, it uses two voices to convey its messages. There are hidden meanings and vignettes that bleed out beyond the edges of a song, of course, but for the most part, the listener can discover the main frames of reference and through lines. Music tends to favor emotion over narrative complexity.

Lushloss’ Asking/Bearing, on the other hand, manages to emphasize both complexity and emotion. Her debut LP is technically a double album, but it sometimes doesn’t feel like an album at all. In the first part, Asking, the Seattle-based artist (also known as Olive Jun) weaves together dialogue, keys, glitchy hip-hop beats, and heavily processed vocals to form something that sounds part radio diary, part audio art piece, and in what remains, deft electronic pop.

The album begins in that last mode. Starting with a soft piano ballad and a gentle vocal melody saturated with effects, the opener “St Marco” builds to a sparse but crisp beat. As the music starts to fade, though, two voices come in, sputtering and speaking over each other. The conversation settles, revealing the Skype call between Jun and her mom that is the foundation of the rest of the album's first half. After each song in Asking, the dialogue returns, often where it left off. Throughout, the two speak from a geographic distance—Seattle to Korea—and a generational distance, but also with the closeness of mother and child. There are moments of discomfort, like that first one, in which Jun’s mom says her trans daughter’s name from before she transitioned; moments of trying to bridge the divide, like when Jun asks her mom, “When did your dad die?”; and moments of mundane logistics, as when her mother starts to plan the next trip.

It’s a complicated story—as much as any cross-section of life could be called a story—that brings up family history, cultural divisions, illness, and coming out as trans to older family members. In the end, though, it circles around the two checking in on each other. After Jun spends much of the conversation asking her mother questions and supporting her through her own mother’s illness (“I just hope you’re okay,” she says at one point), the final piece of dialogue ends with the mother saying, “You have to be okay until we get together.” It’s a jarringly touching moment, heartbreaking because it’s so intimate and raw.

Between the dialogue, Jun’s music complicates the narrative. Sometimes songs intersect with conversation—“St Marco” and “Sisters” each deal with family relationships, and in “Gutter,” the singer asks, “Have you called your mother today?” Most of it wanders elsewhere, though, suggesting a life lived in parallel to the one we can glimpse in the phone call. “Clark, WA,” a moody, guitar-driven track, seems to tell the story of an imbalanced past relationship; in “Sheet,” a delicate but hopeful-sounding song, Lushloss sings, “I’m so tired of feeling tired today”; and in “Yana (Interlude),” the bridge between Asking and Bearing, Lushloss plays a slightly sped-up recording of a voicemail for a person far away, this time with seemingly romantic overtones.

None of that distracts from the call, which comes to form the central narrative. And neither does the album’s second part. Much more straightforward electronic pop, the five songs on Bearing provide welcome companionship for the reflection required after Asking (and they probably deserve more critical space than sharing a bill with Asking affords them). Asking/Bearing is rife with voices—not just the mother-daughter duet, but the artist’s voice processed to different pitches and tones, tapes of friends speaking, field recordings, electronic and acoustic instruments—that tell separate and intersecting stories. At the end, though, as the beat and bare vocals on “Gymnasium” glitches and fades, Lushloss leaves you with an intimate sense of her as an artist and the intimacy that seeing someone so closely can create.

PREMIERE: Stevhen Peters - Team 7-11

Kelly Kirwan

Stevhen Peters adds texture to his synth-pop. It’s his own brew of electronic and hymnal, hovering somewhere in the “experimental” end of the spectrum for it’s uncanny delivery. His visual counterpart would likely fit in the taxonomy of “abstract” for his spattering of beats that know no conventional trajectory--a Pollock of off-beaten indie. From his upcoming EP, Playoff, (which is stamped with the Lobby Art Records' letterhead) Peters presents the track Team 7-Eleven, which evokes references to fluorescent-lit convenience stores or the underdog cyclist team of the 80's depending on your pop culture fluency. The song layers staccato rhythms and stalled, backing vocals beneath Peters' elongating, featherweight lead vocals. It opens with the repetition of a skipping track, but one firmly rooted in the digital era, rather than a nod to a wavering needle on a rotating record. You pick up bits and pieces of the lyrics that hum beneath the surface, a kind of male Siri-stutter that churns out either words or seemingly inaudible sounds that feel just on the cusp of our recognition. "Trying to, trying to...candy, candy...scripture, scripture..." we can parse out from Peters' unhurried stammer, turning a pseudo-glitch into an artistic style. Throughout the song there are moments of (relative) cohesion, beats which linger a little longer--a hiatus that feels contemplative paired with Peters high cadence. "I meant to say goodbye..." he sings gently, as the flurry of activity that is his melody suddenly clicks--moving pieces that in tandem meld together like the gears in a clock, barreling onward.