Tag Archives: synth pop

The Sum of Molly Nilsson’s “Imaginations” are a Revelation

Molly Nilsson, Imaginations (Night School/Dark Skies Association)


“On and on/some things are stopping us from proving them wrong/when they tell you the skies are grey/but looking through a glass of rosé/the skies are clearly pink”

Molly Nilsson is a musician/vocalist/producer originally hailing from Stockholm but now based in Berlin.  Imaginations is her seventh full-length release (to go with a few EPs and singles).

Throwback 80s signifiers abound on Imaginations, but it doesn’t feel derivative.  Rather, it’s an absolutely mesmerizing collection of pop music that’s only ‘indie’ in the sense that it’s likely far too interesting to be played on commercial radio.

Much of 80s popular culture – music, film, video – depicted the accumulation, loss and/or showing off of stuff – status as a means of seduction.  Having lived through it, I know there was depth there for those who sought it out, but such is the collective remembrance that much of what is retained is the Rolex, the Armani suit, the several car garage as the means to whatever end.  Much of what makes Imagination’s use of many of the musical signposts of this indulgence is their contrast when applied to a modern reality derived, in part, from their consequences.  Songs like “Inner Cities”, “Money Never Dreams” and “Think Pink” feel Springsteenian in their uplifting portraiture of the realities of everyday life, but without teetering into mawkish platitude (pay attention, Killers).  Elsewhere, tracks like opener, “Tender Surrender”, “Memory Foam” and “American Express” exude enough Avalon worthy swank and sultriness to make a pro blush.  But where the suavity of the saxy sax and the glassy chords can often ring hollow, marrying it to Nilsson’s at times raw, often wry, lyricism makes it genuine.  Here, the personal is political, either by encouraging a change of perspective on the grey “inner cities of our lives” by “looking through a glass of rosé” (“Think Pink”), or eschewing ‘champagne, caviar and bubble baths’ for “McDonald’s in bed” (“American Express”).

This is what makes Imaginations so enticing – it’s icy, cool-as-fuck pop veneer belying a warmth, a humanity (Book of Love, a personal fave from back when, was brought to mind).  It’s pop music that likely won’t be anywhere near as popular as it should be.  Borrowing from the title of a track from Nilsson’s 2010’s album, Follow the Light, these are songs they won’t be playing on the radio.  But they should, damn it, they should.

Imaginations is out now, courtesy of the fantastic Night School label and Nilsson’s own Dark Skies Association.  Tour dates are up on Nilsson’s fbook page.

Highlights include: “Memory Foam”; “Tender Surrender”; “Think Pink”; “Modern World”.

Make Contact with Rose Elinor Dougall on “Stellular”

Artwork for "Stellular", the new album from Rose Elinor Dougall.

Artwork for “Stellular”, the new album from Rose Elinor Dougall.

Rose Elinor Dougall, “Stellular” (Vermilion)

We’ve made no secret here at thegrindinghalt of our admiration for Rose Elinor Dougall (it’s been mentioned here, and there).  It’s embarrassing, really.  Except it isn’t, damn it, because she’s just that good.

Dougall’s voice has an effortlessness that’s enthralling.  It reminds of singers like Tracey Thorn – ostensibly pop singers, the restraint in the vocals provides an extra dimension/gravitas/oomph (call it what you will) that elevates from the typical boring and overworked pap on the radio (insert music critic diatribe re: “popular” music in 3, 2, yawn…).

Which brings us, then, to her new solo track.  “Stellular” – which serves as the title track/lead single to a new album – is a heady, uptempo blend of new wave, Motown and psych that matches the extraterrestrial vibe of the lyrics (and official video, which you can watch below).  It’s deserving of a close up – and radio play.  Make it so.

“Stellular”, the album, is due in January from Vermilion Records, and is available for preorder from Rough Trade here (in the UK) or on iTunes.  In the meantime, Ms. Dougall can be followed on many of the usual points in our collective social ether.  She also has a show upcoming at The Victoria in London, if you are fortunate enough to live in the area.

The Radio Dept. Return With “We Got Game”, from New Album “Running Out of Love”

The Radio Dept., “We Got Game” (Labrador Records, 10/7/2016)

Sweden’s The Radio Dept. have made a habit, over the years, of moving between jangly dream-pop and more clubby, synthesized vibes.  Where “This Repeated Sodomy”, a track released earlier this year, fell into the former category their latest, “We Got Game”, finds both feet firmly jacking in the latter.

“We Got Game”, with its lustrous synths and four-on-the-floor beat, is the sound of Kevin Saunderson (his Inner City project’s classic 1988 album, “Big Fun”, seems much in evidence from the opening bars) producing Technique or Fox Base Alpha.  Vocalist Johan Duncanson’s  quiet, world-weary voice belies the impatient tone of the lyrics – a rallying cry from the politically and socioeconomically disaffected, taking back from “the overfed” and dissatisfied with talk of a “middle ground” that is too often merely a code word for “maybe next year”.

“We Got Game” is released October 7, and will also feature on The Radio Dept.’s forthcoming long-player, “Running Out of Love”, due October 21 from Labrador (preorder here).  Follow along with the band’s doings on fbook and the twitt, and catch them in early 2017 on a (rare) tour that will hit the EU/UK in January and the North America beginning in February.

Enjoy the Hazy Bliss of “Seeing Is Forgetting”, by Bella Union Debutantes The Beat Escape

You? Who are you?!

You? Who are you?!

The Beat Escape, “Seeing Is Forgetting” (Bella Union)

The Beat Escape are a Montréal-based synth pop/electro duo, recently signed to the formidable (in a nice way) Bella Union.  “Seeing Is Forgetting” is their first single, and it’s a slow burning epic.

“Seeing” is blissfully hypnotic.  A caterpillar’s smoke trail of hushed vocal, melodic bass line, persistent, metronomic beat and analog synthesizer melody. Meditative lines – “looking to forget the time at hand/…underneath a spell of repetition/…hoping for a chance to understand/…waiting for the sun to reappear/…time away from home can give you shelter” – complete a dreamlike effect.  Something akin to Architecture & Morality-era OMD holding hands with The Orb while slow dancing with (fellow 80s-inspired new jacks) Lust for Youth.

“Seeing Is Forgetting” will be released as a 12” single by Bella Union on October 21 – pre-order your copy here.  The Beat Escape can be found on fbook and instagram.

Preview: New Tracks from Lust For Youth

Preview:  Lust For Youth, “Better Looking Brother”; “Stardom” (Sacred Bones)

Two new tracks – “Better Looking Brother” and “Stardom” – were released this month from Compassion, the forthcoming album from Danish three-piece Lust for Youth.  Since the band’s 2014 release, International, was a particularly favorite ‘round these parts, it seemed like a good idea to have a listen.  Each track erects skyscrapers upon International’‘s lush new wave/electro bedrock, without sacrificing a certain intimacy.

The first, “Better Looking Brother”, swings and swirls, harkening back to Introspective-era Pet Shop Boys and other late 80s new wave/house music hybrids – as well as bands like Camouflage and Propaganda – as Hannes Norrvide sings of said brother’s “part to play, tonight/in whatever is to come”.  “Stardom” is, quite simply, epic.  Like the imperial phase of OMD (think Pacific Age), the track’s squelchy bass lines and chorale, glassy synths would have fit in nicely at the moment of romantic awakening in an 80s teen drama (yes, this is a good thing, you cynic).  Triumphal, hook-laden gorgeousness for “all you lovers out there”.

Compassion is released March 18 on Sacred Bones, but is available for pre-order here.  The band has a (very) few US dates set on their upcoming tour, so check them out if you’re able – all dates can be found on the band’s fbook page.

Album Review: The Juan MacLean, In a Dream

The Juan MacLean, In a Dream (DFArecords, 9/16/14)

Electronic music tends to mine its past when crafting its present.  “New” sounds tend to be an amalgamation of sounds that came before, perhaps presented in a new way or via novel platform; often mutated by what came in between.  Dreams are, similarly, a subconscious manifestation of memories of past experiences, morphed by our current reaction to an emotional and/or physical state.

The new album by The Juan MacLean is called In a Dream, and it conjures many Ghosts of Dance Music past.  As with the duo’s earlier releases – which recalled, variously, Chicago house, new wave, techno and disco – the sonic touchstones here are plentiful.  A partial list of those I noted upon repeat listening include: early Madonna and mid-80s NYC new wave/dance music in general (“You Were a Runaway”); Temperamental-era Everything But the Girl (“Here I Am”, “Charlotte”); New Order (the guitar line at the 1:16 mark of “Love Stops Here”, the glassy, Technique-sounding synths in “Here I Am”); and early new wave (the intro and boy/girl response vocals of “I’ve Waited for So Long” recalls Human League).  Several of the album’s highlights – the sublime “A Simple Design”, centerpiece “Love Stops Here”, “Running Back to You” and closer “The Sun Will Never Set On Our Love” – are satisfying combinations of these influences.

In fact, the album I kept coming back to while listening to In a Dream was Ministry’s much derided (by the band – I personally love it still) debut, With Sympathy.  A trio of Dream’s cuts, “Running”, “Design” and “Runaway” very much recall the sound and feeling of that record, with vocalist Nancy Whang often sounding a bit like Shay Jones (backing vocalist on Sympathy’s “I Wanted to Tell Her”).  “Running” takes it a step further; Sympathy synth lines welded onto a tune recalling the lush 80s R&B of labels like Tabu Records – the SOS Band meets pre-heroin Ministry!  Naturellement!

The album is no mere nostalgia trip, however – it is as timely as it is timeless; taking cues from the past to shape the present.  It is a beautiful marriage of lush, sweeping electronic wistfulness with darkly romantic lyrics, delivered by Whang (fantastic throughout) in a way that brings back the classic (somewhat detached) club diva.  The sequencing is also spot on, with opener “Space is the Place” bookended by “The Sun Will Never Set On Our Love”.  The latter – with its imperious, Vangelis(y) opening chords and titular, epic proclamation (here referring to love’s survival in the face of ecologic apocalypse, rather than empire-building) – could have been a fine centerpiece, but the ending refrain of sending love “in a rocket shape/send it out in space” provides the perfect coda to what is certainly one of this year’s best releases.

Highlights include: “Running Back to You”; “The Sun Will Never Set On Our Love”; “A Simple Design”; “Here I Am”).