Friday, June 29, 2012

Perfect Pop Song (Part 22)

I've been listening to a lot of 80's synth pop lately so naturally THE PET SHOP BOYS have been in rotation. Am I feeling nostalgic for my youth? Probably, but "One More Chance" is still one of the finest slices of pop music you will ever here:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

ExLovers make melancholy joyful

EXLOVERS are like a warm blanket. The London quintet make music that celebrates the joy of twee pop reminiscent of some of the sunnier elements of LUSH in their heyday. The band has just released it's debut album, "Moth", which is awash in shimmering guitars and wispy vocals that are perfect for lazy summer afternoons in the park.

The opening jangle of "Starlight, Starlight" sets the tone as it bounces along with it's skippy drumbeat, all the while pining for lost memories and lyrics about regrets. "This Love Will Lead You On" is a pop confection re-pleat with a big chorus and bigger guitar chords. "Emily" slows the pace down a bit without sacrificing the overall feel of the sound they have cultivated. Elsewhere, the single "Blowing Kisses" capitalizes on the dueling female harmonies to bring the right dose of melancholy to the song. When the band pulls back on the reins their sound is similar to THE SUNDAYS or MAZZY STAR as is the case with "Unlovable". or the boy girl duet "I Wish We'd Never Met". As is the case with most albums these days, the band closes the set with the almost 9 minute opus "The Ruins" which opens with a gentle guitar line and soft female cooing, which fades out before the hidden track, 'Moth-Eaten Memories" closes the set with more shimmering goodness.

I'm not sure where the band goes sound wise from here. The best comparison might be the early work of THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART, who also travel in this sort of sound, but EXLOVERS have created a collection of wonderful tunes worth spending a day or two with driving around with your hands out the window. If you're summer will be spent pining for lost love or silently aching for the girl or boy next door to notice you, then you have your soundtrack. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Martin and Vince's Vanity Project

Here's what happens when you become famous. After a while you get bored with the avenue that made you rich and famous and you start looking for new ways to express yourself. Actors will write children's books, authors will attempt to act in movies, musicians start fashion lines. It's inevitable. The problem is that sometimes this can be a good thing, sometimes not so much. There's a reason they weren't famous for this new endeavor, usually because they are not cut out for that work.The ancillary to this condition is the vanity project. An actor may write or direct. An author of adult fiction may try young adult or a comic book. A musician will seek out a new genre of music to dabble in. This is where we meet Martin Gore and Vince Clarke. 

Gore and Clarke are two of the founding members of DEPECHE MODE. Clarke also went on to form YAZ and ERASURE. So clearly both men are credentialed as pop music gods. Both have their roots in the dance/club/rave culture and have chops in creating anthems that move the body. So when I heard they were teaming up to record together, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I mean these guys are legends, what could they produce that wouldn't be good.

Turns out, pop music wasn't what they were after. Recording under the moniker VCMG the duo have released "SSSS", a collection of techno musings designed to entreat the listener to a club experience through your headphones. They duo reportedly concocted this collection through email exchanges working in separate studios. The offshoot of this working relationship, is music that feels tacked together. With minimal interplay between the two, beats are left to linger on (maybe be design). Each track houses the same basic structure; a 4-4 drum beat with effects washed over the top. Keyboard washes and blips and blops abound. Songs mesh together at a relentless place as the duo by homage to the scene they cut their teeth in. "Spock", the erstwhile single, uses the same keyboard sound as "Just Can't Get Enough" but warps it into a much darker, foreboding tone. only the lead track, "Lonely", spends any time building to the rhythm, the rest of the songs pound away, slaves to the beat. 

This is a vanity project because it in no way resembles their other jobs. Gone are the vocals about love, faith and despair. Replaced by the cold electronic dots and dashes that are designed to be enveloped on the dance floor. I am certain this record was created as a result of two famous guys wanting to shed the shackles of pop music for a fresh challenge. Which is fine, and taken for what it is the record is not half bad. Just don't quite your day jobs.

(mp3) vcmg -- Lowly

Friday, June 22, 2012

Perfect Pop Song (Part 21)

NEW ORDER have a huge catalogue of pop perfection, but "Temptation"  is an underrated gem of a song, From Bernard Sumner's high pitched ooh's to the seemingly innocuous lyrics, it's all a little slice of pop heaven.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I am Not Lefthanded are brilliant...and have a new album

I love watching bands grow. There is something delightful about seeing an artist slowly shape and refine their voice over time, especially when that voice turns out to be something extraordinary. I AM NOT LEFTHANDED are growing up in a really fascinating way. We here at Your Moment of Zen have been obsessed with their work for sometime and now they are poised to take the next leap with their new album "The Fire and the Sigh"

The new songs reach beyond the bedroom quiet of earlier work and expand their sound to a more expansive space. Lead singer Katheryn Williams uses her voice to evoke emotion both good and bad without overtaking the sounds of the band. The opening track, "Brace Brace", sounds as if it taking flight behind the propulsive beat and bass line, which mirrors the fear the author has about jumping into new things. "Return" is closer in sound to their last EP and uses a piano line to drive it's melancholy tale. "Spark" has a creepy bass line and a steady drum fill as the only accompaniment to Williams vocal. By the time the piano comes in you are already deep into the singer's despair, but it's a musically enjoyable moment.  "No Time" plays like a elegy to something lost using a hushed vocal to recall love gone awry. When the band really soars is when it picks up the pace on the propulsive "Late Night Drive" and the closing "Falls to Me" (more on this song in a minute). The band even tackles Therapy's "Screamager" by going 180 degrees in the other direction, turning the punk original into a softer, but more painful folk song.

"Falls to Me" is where I see the grand potential in this band. They probably could have remade "Alone" for another ten songs, but "Falls to Me" shows the band reaching for sheer pop perfection. That is not a bad thing. The sheer joy of a song like this one is the ability to see the band in their rehearsal space as the song was born. The guitar line and bass careening together in a steady groove, followed by the epiphany of the lyrics about seizing the moment and making it your own. I could be totally wrong and for all I know it was a song born out of great frustration, but somehow I doubt it. You do yourself a disservice if you don't immediately champion this band and get on board as they climb to greater heights. I for one will enjoy every step of the journey.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Silversun Pickups shoot for the atmosphere

I admit I was a bit late to the part when it comes to SILVERSUN PICKUPS. I had dabbled in their music but I didn't really listen to their last record till it had been out for over a year. Something about their sound just never really grabbed me the way it did for other people. Maybe I was turned off by the comparisons to SMASHING PUMPKINS (which frankly I don't really see).

When I did finally take in "Swoon" I immediately kicked myself for waiting so long. This is a band that makes big, sweeping songs that have hooks to spare. I wore out the record and started building anticipation for the next release. "Neck of the Woods" does not disappoint in it's ability to both replicate and expand on their signature sound.

Lead singer Brian Aubert does not have the greatest of voices. His delivery range is limited and very nasal when he hits the higher register. This is not unlike Billy Corgan who can't really sing either. But his skill as a lyricist and developer of mood overcomes his limited range. On this record, Aubert has accepted his vocal frailty and turned it into another piece of the atmospheric puzzle. on the opening "Skin Graph", Aubert's vocals blend into the swirling guitar and bass lines to create a wall of ominous sound. "Make Believe" takes advantage a nice guitar pick line to set up the darker tone of the record as a whole. It also allows Nikki Monniger's bass to breathe a little more than before and showcases her deft backing vocal ability. The record really soars with the lead single, "Bloody Mary (Never Endings) which combines the keyboard washes made popular by THE CURE with a harder rock influence a la TOOL. What sounds like an odd paring actually works to great effect. "The Pit" dabbles in retro 80's synth sounds, as if DEPECHE MODE or NEW ORDER all of sudden showed up to jam. "Gun Shy Sunshine" revisits more familiar terrain for the band but with a new emphasis on building atmosphere around their sound to heighten the despair.

Silversun Pickups announced their arrival with "Swoon". With "Neck of the Woods" they stake their claim to the alternative rock big time.