Archive for the ‘Pop’ Category

T F D – Total Fucking Darkness

Posted: September 14, 2022 by Kat Meow in Electronic, Pop, Total Fucking Darkness

You could say hello to the world, or you could say “BLEEP BLOOP ASSHOLES IT’S TOTAL FUCKING DARKNESS.”  The TFD’s self-titled debut single is 80s synthpop brimming with delicious irony.  It sneers with dark sarcasm and yet earnestly hopeful lyrics… when you get past the calls for death… for things that should die (like fascism).  This is quite a broad mission statement, but the track is tight. Well, Total Fucking Darkness, you’ve gotten my attention.  Lights out!

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A Summer Among Sparks

Posted: September 7, 2022 by Kat Meow in Experimental, Los Angeles, Pop, Sparks
Gorgeous

Sparks!  Sparks, the ever-morphing pop duo of Ron and Russell Mael, has seen enormous resurgence.  I am of that resurgence.  The Edgar Wright documentary The Sparks Brothers is a relatable primer for these obscure titans, and a well done doc in its own right thanks to its combination of warm storytelling and slightly warped animations.  It was meant to invite in curious millennial music kids like myself who have been hearing Sparks on the periphery of our attention for years.  From the jump you can see why they are icons.  It’s like they’ve always been there, but the nostalgia machine hasn’t been feeding them back to us like they have been Bowie and Freddy.  Perhaps it’s because you couldn’t sell Sparks as nostalgia if you tried.  They aren’t of an era because they are of all eras.  I also think images of Ron Mael’s unnerving yet seductive face unlocked a core memory for me, like big sis had MTV on while I was playing Legos and it branded his mustache onto my unconscious.

But I really found Sparks through FFS, their 2015 collaboration with Franz Ferdinand.  I had maybe a couple weeks to vaguely research them before they played a packed house at Terminal 5, excited by what little I managed to learn.  The show was unreal.  I mean these old-ass dudes were full of pure energy.  And Ron’s face!  I remember his intense concentration looking like fury, until he stepped up from his keyboard and finally delivered some tall and skinny dance work of his own.  I fell in love, but I kept putting them off – their catalog was too daunting to start, and time moved on.  

Fortunately The Sparks Brothers acts as a guide to different eras in their sound, while also highlighting key songs that best exemplify different eras of their music.  So I went further on the journey this summer with the film’s guidance.  So far, I can boast repeated listens to Kimono My House, Introducing Sparks, No1 in Heaven, Terminal Jive, Angst in My Pants, Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins, Lil’ Beethoven, and Exotic Creatures of the Deep.  I also returned to FFS.  Here are some songs that exemplify what I love about Sparks that didn’t get the Edgar Wright treatment in the film.

Equator (Kimono My House – 1974) – The struggle of a protagonist whose lover said she’d meet him at the equator.  It’s desperate and at times exhausting.  Russell keeps his bluesy falsetto so far up in the stratosphere it becomes breathless.  Each repetition gets more panicked, and the backing femme vocals sound like they’re mocking him.  Poor sap.  Unbelievable piano rock.

Goofing Off (Introducing Sparks – 1977) – Fuck being in fashion.  Sparks put out an ode to the wonders of the weekend in a rock and roll klezmer tune.  Klezmer.  Twenty-plus years before Gogol Bordello made it cool. After a blistering guitar solo, the song comes to a triumphant close.  Are they even Jewish?  Who cares.  

My Other Voice (No.1 In Heaven – 1979) – This song could mean anything.  Maybe it’s Ron referring to Russell in a loving tribute to the power Russell gives his lyrics.  Or maybe it could be a metaphor for someone’s emergent new self: “you’re so independent but that’s gonna change real soon/with my other voice I can destroy this room.”  Either way, the simple beat and heavenly synth atmosphere make this one a triumph of the Giorgio Moroder era of Sparks.

Young Girls (Terminal Jive – 1980) – This one messed me up, because on the first listen it was a really sweet bubblegum song with gentle vocals, until the lyrics set in, and dear god.  Yeah, it’s just like that Oingo Boingo song.  But whereas Danny Elfman merely liked offending people, Ron was often performing a social criticism.  He traveled in the same scenes as all the other 70s rockers – many of whom were shacked up with children – was anyone else in the machinery of pop questioning it?

Instant Weight Loss (Angst In My Pants – 1982) – I hear this as a great-uncle to Cut Copy’s first album, Bright Like Neon Love.  The drums have this delicious skip in its rhythm, this kind of double-tap *howdoyado* that gives it a little hip along with its breezy keys.  In typical form, the lyrics tell of a man who is willing to pull some wild Christian Bale weight loss/gain antics over a woman.  

Serving Face

Nicotina (Angst In My Pants – 1982) – A dramatic post-punk opera song about a sentient cigarette meeting her horrifying fate.  ‘Nuff said.

I Thought I Told You To Wait In The Car (Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins – 1994) – The inner monologue of a simp being barked at by his desire. Russell’s fay spoken-word shines against the dark 90s techno as he reflects on being someone’s dirty little secret. What old-Hollywood power player inspired this?

Suburban Homeboy (Lil’ Beethoven – 2002) – Ron and Russ have never once in their life given a fuck.  This sprightly pop track is anything but “homeboy” as it comes from the perspective of every upper-class WASP that ever wore a du-rag.  Omnomnom, archetype schadenfreude.

I’ve Never Been High (Exotic Creatures of the Deep – 2008) – Sparks is illustrated as a band that didn’t spend their yesteryears nose-deep in powder.  But rather than being haughty, this tune is wistful, even regretful, of never having been damaged enough to publicly circle the toilet because of addiction.  It ends with a wry poke at how it might have garnered them more public attention: “then I’ll be something, then I’ll be something/look there’s a camera, smile and say cheese.”  After all, self-destruction sells records and builds legacies.  Isn’t that screwed up?

Police Encounters (FFS – 2015) – Written as FFS alongside Franz Ferdinand, this one is just fun fun fun.  But the references to elder cultural figures feels so out of place.  Albie and Pinter plays?  Feeling like P.T. Barnum?  It occurs to me that this song might be a period piece, with a character regretting leaving Harlem because he’s being pursued by cops.  It makes me think Ron’s voice stepped into the mind of someone brown or black who ventured too far south of 125th street while trying to get a little culture.  You can marinate over the setting and the protagonist’s thirst for dangerous women while the “bomp bomp diggy diggy” becomes your inner rhythm.

Iconic

STORRY – Intimate Abuse video

Posted: August 3, 2022 by Kat Meow in Pop, R&B, Storry, Toronto
Storry

In another “near miss,” I almost made the mistake of sleeping on STORRY. Hailing from Toronto, this self-produced songstress and JUNO award nominee putting out eclectic R&B and pop. “Intimate Abuse” is her latest offering, celebrating real love thriving in the shadow of abuse. STORRY’s voice simmers with impassioned thriving. She is a soul child picking apples from the tree planted long ago by Mary J. Blige.

Front and center is resilience learned from being coerced into the sex industry. It’s a bravely unpopular position to take. It is an uphill battle against big-moneyed interest that has been successfully marketing itself as empowering rather than endangering. “Even well-meaning family members would tell me not to share my experiences,” she writes, “because there’s a lot of shame and victim-blaming when it comes to abuse and the sex industry.” STORRY’s biggest asset is her willingness to tell her story – despite a world that silences people like her. Brava.

Check out the video for “Intimate Abuse” below, and a dozen more on her YouTube.

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Art by Scarlett Flynn

During my annual May/June burnout I ended up sleeping on some incoming tunes that needed to be heard, but I knew I had to go back to through the inbox for May release “Sour in the Sun” by Scarlett Flynn. Woozy bass and keys paint a downtempo portrait behind Flynn’s enigmatic voice. It sounds a little like Kate Bush fertilized Portishead’s egg sac. It’s another song ruminating on lockdown ennui, a common theme these days, but Scarlett Flynn presents it through a “horror of choices” that color the illustration vividly: “I haven’t decided yet/celery or cigarette/to sour in the sun or split the water/to reach for the gun or the stars.”

The track comes off Scarlett Flynn’s upcoming solo album Living is Hell. This is her debut after fifteen years of co-lead vocals with pop/folk outfit Running Red Lights. Check out the video below, too.

Scarlett Flynn BandcampScarlett Flynn WebsiteScarlett Flynn Linktree

Ben Sefton is a fresh singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan. Stepping off the success of alienation diary entry “Humans,” Sefton has released his third tune and attached short film, Harrison. The sound is theatrical and layered, bringing up flavors of Queen or even Jellyfish in its evolving structure as it travels though different channels of pop and rock. Harrison’s narrative is an archetype of the isolated high school geek, with lyrical hints towards suicidal ideation (that I prefer to ignore). Though awkward teen narratives are often cliche, it’s important to see a story of an isolated kid that doesn’t put on a trench coat and blow away the lunch room. It’s a reminder that some kids just need to be heard. Keep an eye out for the guitar-shredding bear.

Ben Sefton Instagram

Ben Sefton Bandcamp

The Magus due out March 4th

This mustachioed magician’s new EP has left me spellbound. Peter Cat (Cat Cat) is the mostly solo project of Graham Neil Gillespie, the dapper “sophisti-popster” behind glam-o-rama hit The Saccharine Underground. Peter Cat brings his brand of wry humor and introspection to a new four track EP, entitled The Magus. I was lucky enough to get to listen to the whole shebang before release and it is fan-flipping-tastic.

It starts with “Blue Raspberry,” the second single off the EP. It’s got a dreamy surreal quality over the beat, meant to illustrate the song’s theme of projecting a fantasy and expecting it to be real. The lyrics start with a touch of meta humor and end in a melancholy that I found really easy to connect with. “Blue Raspberry” sets the tone for the rest of the EP in that The Magus balances introspection and darkness with wit and rhythm throughout the four tracks. For every chuckle, there’s an equal tug at the heart. But for every earnest admission, there’s a knife twist, too.

If Peter Cat played Skyrim…

Track two, called “The Magus” (named for the John Fowles novel) is the inspiration for the characterization you’ll hear in this song’s Billie Eilish-adjacent sprechgesang. Here, Gillespie is taking on the role of the magician as he welcomes you to his show, where he plays with both the heads and the hearts of his victims. It grows atmospheric and tense before exploding into delicious baroque pop.

The EP’s biggest star is also its first single – “Melon Dating Simulator.” It is an instant head-bopper with an absurd twist. Again, the speaker is willing to skewer himself for his bad behaviors, but now he has found his other half in the form of fruit, inspired by Gillespie playing (and having high praise for) a dating simulation game called Superstorm Melon Date. Insert a series of puns and a vaguely dystopian atmosphere, and this one is a certified earworm. Listen for the one off-beat Meyers-Briggs joke that makes me cackle every time I hear it. It’s so very sing-able that I have subjected it to dozens of people in my day job who are forced to listen to me (to which I respond “yer welcome.”

Closer “Disappearing Act,” starts with a piano cabaret-type tune that illustrates when the singer is reasoning with a lover versus narrating his actual intentions. It lends itself so beautifully to a theatrical visual (in my mind), complete with 2d urban backdrops backdrops and the depressing glow of a street lamp. The main character is revealed to be just another manipulative bottom-feeder of relationships, who gloats out the side of his mouth about how he patronizes his lovers so he never has to face himself. Behind it reveals the emptiness that causes such a chasm where a decent man would otherwise be. The piano grows moodier as it takes on more finality and the EP is carried to an end.

All in all, it feels like a piece of theater, lends itself to fun mental visuals, and carries an EP-long narrative if you look for it. I keep being struck about my own willingness to empathize with the character speaking in these songs even though it would be misery to be in a relationship with that kind of person. It all makes my brain go tingle, and that makes me happy.

This EP is not to be missed. Peter Cat play shows around Glasgow so definitely check ’em out if you’re lucky enough to be in Europe. I would love to hear how these tunes sound live, but alas, I live across an ocean from where they play, so let’s cross our fingers and hope for a stateside visit one day. The Magus comes out on March 4th – GO GET IT!

I also got the chance to have a brief 1-on-1 with the man himself. We will have that up for you soon!

Peter Cat Cat Cat Instagram

Peter Cat’s Bandcamp

Peter Cat’s Official Website

Henry Solomon is an accomplished saxophonist who is most known for being The Guy In The Video For “Summer Girl,” being that he recorded three songs on HAIM’s latest album, Women In Music Pt. III. He’s also the saxophonist for Thumpasaurus, a group I admit to being insanely fond of, comparable to the level that Soda loves Jellyfish, or to the level that teen me loved Led Zeppelin. So naturally, I’ve been flavoring my life with their individual accomplishments, and the first I can find the words about is this sweet little eight minute EP Solomon made in partnership with gentle-voiced bedroom popster Allie Kelly.

It starts with “Menthol,” a breathy synthy ambiance that uses the sensation of menthol as imagery for something cutting. I can’t quite figure the lyrics out, other than the sense that the “knife” she mentions is sharp and turned inward. It’s a nice use of imagery, because the feeling of dragging on a menthol (especially for the first time after a long day) matches Kelly’s breezy vocals – it’s a sharp but refreshing discomfort to fill your lungs with minty smoke. The video makes a nice background visual. Both Kelly and Solomon have great hair and earrings and are having a fabulous night on the sidewalk, and it’s kind of amusing to watch them play around with cigarettes despite clearly being non-smokers.

I think the song that nailed it for me was “Salmon of Positive Energy,” which is certainly the background music of a video game I’ve played in my subconscious. On its own, it becomes an upbeat metaphor for some elusive wisdom, like an unformed out-of-grasp thought or the memory of a dream that’s slipping away upon waking. Per Solomon’s Instagram, the actual Salmon is a “mythical creature that protects fishermen from danger, and and brings happiness and good luck.” The song’s imagery invokes nighttime, but the sound feels, to me, like traveling at dawn through a clear sky. It just feels good and floaty. The song itself was inspired by/written for footage of salmon fishermen, which is interesting except that after four and a half minutes of upbeat drum loops and seascapes, a salmon meets his maker with a hearty stabbing. I appreciate the irony. This one stays on the playlist.

The EP ends with a minute-half little tune “Oh Song” that has the softest little sax, and Kelly’s vocal that seems to be reaching out to either keep/discard a lover depending on if you hear “can” or “can’t.” I choose to hear it as a breakup song but that’s because I’m a feminist curmudgeon and never want to hear a woman offering to be whatever someone else wants. Still, it makes what might be an ugly or desperate feeling into a pretty sound, and I wish there were more than a minute and a half of it.

**Update: April 2022

For some reason, “Oh Song” kept bouncing through my inner monologue at least once per day for a while. I felt like I misinterpreted it and it kept bugging me like it sat on my conscience. As I kept hearing it in my mind, it would morph into the song from the Mario 64 water level “Jolly Roger Bay” because my brain free-associates like it’s perpetually writing bad poetry. But somewhere in the mental swirl came the realization that this song is what an orgasm sounds like. It’s not “Oh, Song.” It’s the “O” song, which makes its short length, sound, and words make total sense in a way I didn’t really get when I first reviewed it.**

Overall, the Menthol EP is a good nighttime listen for settling in with some hot tea and a Marlboro Smooth. They’ve also got a limited edition cassette that comes with a bonus remix, and I’ll update this post when I have the goods in hand. In the mean time, check out the Salmon of Positive Energy video here, and links below.

Allie Kelly & Henry Solomon Bandcamp

Allie Kelly Instagram

Henry Solomon Instagram

It was sometime back in the early 00s when I got into King Crimson. I got to see them live with John Paul Jones when I was a Zeppelin die-hard and JPJ was touring behind The Thunderthief (2001). I got to hear the rhythmic daymare of Thela Hun Ginjeet for the first time in my life. The mix of strange and almost discordant rhythms did more to get me dazed than the contact high and warm pocket vodka. I remember being completely entranced until the song ended and I finally shuddered back to life. At the time, I also was discovering Zappa, and knew their common link was Adrian Belew. Young Lions, the first album I landed on at (thanks good ole Mr. Cheapos!), ended up tucking itself into the folds of my hippocampus in my Personal Museum of Eternally Beloved Music. This album is a mission of optimism with claws, set to vaguely jungle-ish rock drums and Belew’s unbelievable shredding. After now twenty years, whenever some Facebook chain email crosses me asking for my top fives or tens or “I listen to this when,” I instantly see the white-pink hue of my copy of Young Lions.

It starts with this pulsating stomp with bells on its ankles, that give me visuals of bonfire parties and hunting predators. This song always sends me deep into the stories in my consciousness and push up fruits of lush colors and imagery – sometimes a cavewoman lover shimmying for her beau, other times eyes in the bushes in the quiet blue darkness; a stalking foot of a carefully moving something. The driving stomp careens into a solo with a some instrument that I have no fucking idea what it is (probably some genius machination Belew does with pedals and pixie dust). It sears as much as it sings, stomping along with rhythmic grunts and twittering flutes, until the entire jungle erupts in natural rapture. It is a masterpiece of sound and joy and it moves me every time.

From there Pretty Pink Rose takes over. A guitar-crazy wailing pop smash, (the album’s one single and video), Pretty Pink Rose is just a good honest rock song. Total shoulder shimmy danceable. I won’t pretend to understand the lyrics, but they’re Bowie lyrics so they work well on their own just by sounding beautiful, nevermind what world-shaking political meanings Bowie may hide in there if you have the patience to search. “The left wing’s broken, the right’s insane” was one of the easily reachable bits to grasp, and rings even more frustratingly true the further we live through history. Other lyrics call up images of the Russian monarchy and seem to bite. Man, I don’t need to know what the hell the song is about, but the hooks in this song are so fun to sing along to, it doesn’t matter.

Humor me a personal story: There was a long time I didn’t pull this album out for a listen. I’m a sensitive soul and the universe decided to backhand me. When I was about 19, traveling the country with Led Zeppelin fans, I took my all Adrian Belew CDs on one of the coolest music adventures of my life (which I shall save for another post). My copy of Belew’s Op Zop Too Wah was with me, and it was super special. It had been gifted by another Belew fan on the internet with the caveat that I must one day pay it forward to another person who might like it. It was precious cargo, cargo that came with a mission. I wanted to make sure I had a few uninterruptable listens, and flights to and from Ohio were as good an opportunity as any.

So naturally, the airline lost my luggage.

When my bag arrived home 9 hours after I did, it was unlocked and all my beloved CDs and CD Walkman were gone. Heartbroken. I couldn’t bear to replace them, even though members of that Belew group sent me replacements and sympathy. But I felt so fucked up about it that I couldn’t really enjoy them without thinking about the violation of some chode stealing my stuff. And I always felt bad having never been able to complete my mission of paying a Belew CD forward. I sort of just blocked it out like it would be forever sour.

It took me until the darkness of 2020 to be able to see the light in this album again. In one of my many moments of deep orange panic, watching the world fall apart in front of me, I started singing “Looking for a UFO” at the top of my lungs. “Somebody will have to fall out of the sky, somebody to show us how to survive. Wouldn’t that be nice?” It sure felt like it. It came out of me randomly and at full volume like a cry to the gods (in the form of a catchy pop song). After all, it is three and a half minutes of upbeat but desperate hope when everything felt hopeless. Why not call upon the aliens? “I wonder what they see on earth. Do they see the hate and hurt? Or do they see the Christmas lights and mirth, and hear songs of peace on earth? Well maybe they would know, a way to make it so.” Maybe they do! Maybe we do, too. I confused the hell out of my neighbors, but I was happy.

One of the weirdest slam dunks on this album is I Am What I Am, which is a jam-along with cult radio evangelist Prophet Omega. I have always had a personally embattled relationship with spirituality, and this beat and monologue would make me scoff at the same time as “I am what I am, and that is all I am, and I am it” became an arcane mantra I would jot down in my notebooks in college. It’s this narrative of self-acceptance and living in the moment that is really engaging and healthy and light, although the guy also seems a little more than eccentric. I’ve since learned that Omega is some kind of legendary cult figure in Nashville music, and you can download his sermons/buy stuff about him from Genuine Human Productions here:

Genuine Human Productions Bandcamp

“Men In Helicopters” is an assault on poachers, and to some larger extent, the sins of our consumption. Belew’s rage is unfettered and raw in its biting lyrics. “Wouldn’t it be odd, if there really was a god, and he looked down on earth and saw what we’d done to her? Wouldn’t it be just, if he pulled the plug on us, and took away the sun?” I can hear a little extra breath in Belew’s rage, as if mentions of copters come with a snarl, a desire for justice. It gives you a push.

I always listen to this guy start to finish – there’s so much more to get, whether it’s the vaguely ethereal cover of “Not Alone Anymore” of the Wilburys, or “Phone Call From the Moon” or Belew’s personal cover of King Crimson’s “Heartbeat.” It’s a powerful album that more people ought to know about it. I could go on, but I won’t, because this review is already long. But I will say this:

DO YOU WANT A COPY OF OP ZOP TOO WAH? Help me complete my mission. I will send you a copy of Op Zop Too Wah on the condition that you one day pay another Belew album forward to someone else. Help me solve the mission I started 20 or so years ago in the primordial ooze of the internet. Reach out to me on Instagram! Cheers!

https://adrianbelew.net/

Adrian Belew’s Facebook

Adrian Belew’s Insta

This song makes me woozy and a little tense, in all the ways a really engaging piece of experimental music should. “God Complex,” is the newest release by chamber pop trio Gentle Party. The song starts off with breathy vocal notes that posit a tonal wondering. The song becomes lush and delicate like an edible flower, and it stays in the back of your mind, strumming its inquisition. Then the lyrics come in and ask the most frustrating question every fan of everything has had to ask themselves in the last few years – can you separate art from artist? But it’s no matter – God Complex is less about answering the question and more about pointing a finger at every fake and fraud that begs forgiveness because they got caught. And in that, they may be a “gentle” party, but “please forgive me while you pray at my feet” is a statement wrapped in barbed wire scraping the bleeding arms of the patriarchy. “I hope you diligently pray” is a beautifully veiled threat.

The video expresses the concept in a gorgeously surreal narrative as the “god” and his black hands play paper doll with the otherwise powerless protagonist. She’s caught in the narrative of a figure that admires her beauty but controls her every move when he’s not swallowing her whole in his palm. He adorns her life with symbols of control like crucifixes, instruments of torture, and chess pieces. A couple of moments make me wonder if he thinks himself Zeus, and his doll an amalgamation of his many wives represented by many legs. Either way, it’s gorgeous, start to finish.

Time to rant: Does an artist deserve to be separated from their art? This question has been bugging the funk out of all of feminists for eternity and everyone else since #MeToo. I struggle with this as someone who LOVES a lot of art from men. I’ve been let down by so many artists, ones that I really connected with and whose art has illustrated pivotal moments of my life. I’ve navigated that with all of the same dissonance. I can never forgive some performers, but I can forgive others once I weigh my discomfort with their crimes. I try to forget some songs and consider others guilty pleasures. There are performers who go unscathed despite multiple reports of violence, and I watch them and seethe. And then there are performers now that would deeply hurt me if they ended up #MeToo-ing someone. I force myself to keep remembering to “kill my idols” but it is so hard when the voices that often speak to me belong to to the same half of humanity that commits 97% of sexual violence.

“God Complex” is the second single from the upcoming album God Complex, hitting the ground on February 17th. Check them out!

Gentleparty.com

Gentle Party Youtube

Gentle Party Instagram

Social Order – “Never Again”

Posted: January 19, 2022 by Kat Meow in Edinburgh, Pop, Post Punk, Social Order

Members of The Mowgli’s, Metro Station, and Parade of Lights met and swirled during lockdown to combine their powers into anthemic synthpop. Their newest track, “Never Again,” tastes a little like The Escape Club marinated in delicious synthy goodness. The lyrics tell a tale of a busted up dramatic relationship that’s as fun as it is destructive – not that breaking the bed sounds like actual fun. Still, stuff like this is my Captain Crunch and I can eat the whole box.

Never Again by Social Order on Soundcloud

Social Order on Instagram