Now Let’s Have Some Fun

•February 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Brooklyn electro-rock trio and Wesleyan grads MGMT have been HotListed for big things in ’08 by nearly every key music publication and head-phoned nerd with an iBook. Perhaps with good reason.

Despite their cute-ass, vowel hating name and the preciousness that birthed it, MGMT introduce their debut LP Oracular Spectacular with “Time to Pretend,” a remarkable, soaring, wide-screen anthem about reluctantly leaving behind the joys and pleasures of youth. A dirge of a song disguised in amped-up, digital psychedelia, “Pretend” details brilliantly the inevitable march toward maturity and the things to be left behind:

“I’ll miss the boredom, and the freedom and the time spent alone.”

The end result sounds like the Flaming Lips covering the Bangles “Manic Monday” and is pretty fantastic.

And I guarantee you, like the Lips’ “Do You Realize,” the song will be in at least a half-dozen commercials by year’s end.

Oracular Spectacular is out now. The trippy clip for “Time to Pretend” is here.


The Word Is On Your Lips

•February 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Something’s sunny in the state of Denmark: Cophenhagen six-tet Alphabeat!

Unlike most “proper,” instrument-playing bands who sound pop because they’re trying on irony or throwing a bone to folks not wanting a tuneless dirge about their own self-misery, Alphabeat are pop on purpose.

Their UK debut single “Fascination” is a glossy Polaroid of their LiteBrite, perpetual pep rally aesthetic. Bouncy, jangly guitars, peppy keyboards, and a driving beat cheer on flawless girl/boy harmonies that are essentially about nothing in particular and everything about being young, happy and alive.

Perhaps there’s something besides Fluoride in Danish water. Or maybe something is lost or rather found in the cultural translation, because Alphabeat sound as if they’ve were fed a diet of PopRocks and Archies records. The clip for “Fascination” bears ample witness:

In truth, for 11 full tracks on the group’s self-titled debut LP, their energy, much like cardio or small children, can be repetitive and exhausting. But in short bursts, it’s a wink-free, no guiles sugar rush–the kind of which rarely gets a hearing these days.

And you kind of have to love a band that turned down the opportunity to open for the Spice Girls on their recent armed robbery, masked as nostalgia, world tour–because the Danes felt the Hag Fives were “tired and not energetic enough.”

“Fascination” is out now in the UK. Alphabeat, briefly available on US iTunes last year, is being retooled and is scheduled for release later this year.

You’re My Number #1 Guy

•February 21, 2008 • Leave a Comment

God bless British boys. While American Alt-boy bands like the Killers and the Bravery use synths and rhythm like they do eyeliner–as window dressing to show they, you know, listened to all the New Order, and more likely, Duran Duran CDs belonging to their older sisters–kooky left of center blog-hero Britons like Hot Chip put their keyboards where their not-lip glossed mouths are.

The first single off their new LP Made in the Dark, the squiggle and squelch dancefloor anthem “Ready for the Floor” bounces brightly. The boys claim they wrote the track for Kylie but liked it so much they kept it for themselves. Boy-loving lyrics and all. It’s a delicious slice of rubbery, melodic Play Doh colored Jolly Rancher flavored funk. Imagine kindergarteners channeling early 80s Prince and you’ll get the picture Hot Chip is drawing.

The video, like earlier efforts, is the usual art student project gone awry. A+ for enthusiasm and energy. Head of the class, you lot you.

Made in the Dark is out now.

And Now I Know That This Is Going to Be the End…

•February 21, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Long before he was the target of taunts by homophobic Detroit rappers; Way before his grave-robbing, schmaltz-ified 40’s spiritual soul-samples became the de rigeur soundtrack of bourgeois cocktail parties, Banana Republic shopping sprees and brunch; Moby was one of electronic music’s most innovative and adventurous sonic wizards.

In the early 90’s Moby, aka Richard Hall, broke new ground, introducing rave to house in a headlong rush of storming euphoric techno-pop songs–“Feeling So Real” “Everytime You Touch Me“–that effectively emulated the ecstatic effects of dance and the drugs that often accompanied it.

However, like Bono, whose pomp and didacticism, became more pronounced and insufferable the richer and balder he got, by 2005’s Hotel LP, success and self-importance had made Moby nothing more than a purveyor of audio wallpaper for car commercials and elevators.

So that’s why it’s pleasant and surprising that one of the first views into the diminutive domed one’s new LP Last Night is such a throwback to his heady salad days. “Disco Lies,” featured in Cloverfield–the latest cinematic attempt to render Manhattan back to the bedrock upon which it is built–is classic Moby.

Repeated, foreshadowing “woo-hoo-ooh” chants etch a tale of tech-house romantic paranoia that cast suspicion as the monster in this relationship disaster-movie of a song. As the beat builds, call and response wails recall false promises, which build and climax in a crescendo of volcanic, finger-wagging disco diva accusations.

It’s a shame though that the video is so emblematic of Moby’s post-Play visual schtick, awkwardly mixing his personal politics –in this case veganism–with his need to appear ironically hip and humorous, Tarantino-style, for the “kids.”

Recipe for rendering a great song irrelevant? One pimp chicken, overcooked in revenge.

Last Night drops April 1.

Burn, motherfucker, burn

•February 14, 2008 • 1 Comment

For those averse to the sentiments of St. Valentine’s Day, might I offer a bit of bitter sonic tonic?

Let me introduce Samantha, a failed Swedish contestant on that country’s version of American Idol. Like so many of her contemporaries, the only remaining career options are: a) topless model; and b) disco diva. Luckily for us, she’s done the first, posing for the wonderfully titled men’s magazine, Slitz, and realized the second with a jaw-dropping debut single.

On the decidedly un-romantic, “U-Turn (Burn, Motherfucker, Burn)” this fallen Scandinavian angel presides over an unlikely musical marriage of Eurodisco sheen and Riot-Grrrl sentiment–changing lanes and direction, quickly, in a relationship gone wrong. The beats are the same as you’d hear on any radio station in Berlin or any nightclub in Bayonne. The lyrics excerpted from the journal rantings of a post-feminist Valerie Solanas.

In any case, the message is clear: loving men sucks and stay the hell out of her way.

The video’s the usual pastiche of Kelly Clarkson-informed, ex-hating, mall-rat rage. Except with fires, uncontrollably burning, Rocky-esque pugilist training and a Samurai sword!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

As I a child I knew, that the stars could only get brighter

•February 11, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I like to think I’m sort of a pop music know it all. Someone who knows what’s best for the artists I love, whether it be song selection or choice of a significant other. But sometimes I’m wrong and the results are spectacular.

Take for instance Antony Hegarty, lead singer of the acclaimed New York City-based Antony and the Johnsons. Hegarty, a retiring, gender-blurring chanteuse possesses the kind of unique, tremulous, yet strangely powerful voice that you either love or hate. The kind of voice whose vigor is forged in the fire of adversity and whose sensitivity suggests the hope of making it through.

On 2005’s haunting I’m A Bird Now, the group’s masterwork, Hegarty lent that stunning instrument to ten hushed, emotionally drenched and somewhat autobiograpichal examinations of physical and spiritual confinement and redemption. The record moved me deeply and made me feel very protective and (defensive) of critical assessments of Antony and also certain of the kind of musical direction he would likely take going forward.

So it is with great surprise that I must type the following phrase: Antony Hegarty, Disco Diva. Yes, as the result of a collaboration with Brooklyn electronic quartet Hercules and Love Affair, Hegarty has been elevated to that lofty and rarefied status on the group’s first single, “Blind.” And it works. Better than I ever would have imagined. Hegarty’s voice rides the track’s retro 70’s jazz-inflected disco-funk beat assuredly and with confidence. Never belting or showing off, alternatively cooing and showing quiet, burning power. Thematically, he’s in his comfort zone and dressing in familiar lyrical clothes, singing about self-awareness and personal transformation. Stylistically, he evokes legends like the mighty real Sylvester. Some mean feat and no small achievement.

The video–in which neither Hercules, Love Affair or Antony appear–has something to do with people in togas and I think is supposed to be about accepting the goddess within or something or other. The song however is a knockout.

“Blind” is released in the UK on March 3rd and is a good placeholder for Antony fans until his group’s new LP, The Crying Light, bows in the Fall.

And the rain came down…

•January 30, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Without question, Saint Etienne is my favorite pop group of all time. At the dawn of the early 90’s the Et (as I and others call them) twirled effortlessly above their peers introducing indie to dance by way of a 60s pop variety show and releasing a score of classic singles that moved pop music forward while never forgetting to look back. Group vocalist Sarah Cracknell, now 40, has been my secret girl crush for 15 years. Hardly a vocal powerhouse, Cracknell and her warm and expressive voice have anchored the group and inspired others, like mope-icon Stephin Merrit and German techno wizard Paul Van Dyk to pen songs for her.

Lovely Sarah, who released a woefully under-appreciated solo LP Lipslide a decade ago, rarely steps out on bandmates Pete and Bob, but when she does it can be quite magical.

Such an opportunity emerges thanks to professional knob-twiddler Mark Brown, who recruited Cracknell to front his instrumental dance track of a looped opera aria, used widely in a bank advertisement in the U.K. Cracknell’s cryptic lyrics and forlorn vocal align perfectly with the track and with the Et’s darker moments of post-millennial angst to create a glorious, haunting slice of gloom house.

Cracknell makes a cameo in the darkly twitching video clip: