Archives for category: International Pop Underground

Continuing the electronic music theme from the previous post Vera Vice are an experimental electronic duo from from Tallinn, Estonia, and “Down the River” here is from their 2020 album “Vera Versa”.

Vera Vice are Helen Västrik and Ave Vellesalu. They met at the Estonian Academy of Arts and started by building their first synthesizers in old cigarette boxes, before borrowing equipment from friends and teachers and continuing experimenting with sound, and now creating their music with keyboards, drum machines, analog synths, effect pedals, etc. Prior to this their music experience was singing in choirs, so their initial lack of knowledge and skills in electronic music provided them with the “idea of unsystematic freedom and possible accidental success.” 

Vera Vice’s music inhabits a liminal space somewhere between the bass-heavy dub expansiveness of Australian duo HTRK and the more dreamy pop melodicism of NZ duo Purple Pilgrims. Their voices are an equal force in their music to the icy but colourful electronic minimalism. That idea of “unsystematic freedom” and arts background may explain why their music sounds so distinct and often bypasses the conventions of the genre taking unexpected ambient diversions and creating it’s own introspective sound-world. “Vera Versa” is my first purchase from Estonian musicians – thanks to the power of Bandcamp – and is unlikely to be my last.

Many of us can’t travel far at the moment, particularly to exotic destinations in far off countries. All we have is our imaginations to travel with. Take a trip to nowhere with “This New Heaven” by Fine Place.

Dystopia is a location of the mind, although it’s usually a place our mind tries to take us away from. I’m guilty of referring to a lot of futuristic, synth based music as sounding ‘dystopian’ (as in a music that one may expect to hear in the soundtrack to some sci-fi film or ‘cyber-punk’ book about an imaginary future dystopia). But when the chorus of a song includes the word “dystopia” I’m probably on safe ground with this one.

The visual reference for my personal Dystopia is usually fuelled by ancient memories of train journeys to and from Edinburgh past the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemical plant with flare offs lighting up misty winter evenings or nights like a scene from the Bladerunner movie. It has always struck me as incongruous that this was the setting our beloved Cocteau Twins grew up in, and developed their extraordinary musical imaginations in, before escaping from the town in the 1980s. The thing about a lot of music I think about as being ‘dystopian’ is that it is a soundtrack to travelling/ escaping from that real or imaginary dystopia, often with the distraction and/or beauty of the music providing hope of sorts or a kind of relief or escape. If every vision of Dystopia comes with a desire to escape, then every escape journey needs a soundtrack.

Scottish band Simple Minds – in their brief imperious 1980-81 phase between Empires and Dance and Sons and Fascination/ Sister Feelings Call – imagined the cool synth+guitar strange-dancing-in-baggy-pants future we could have had. But it turned out we didn’t deserve that future, so we got the one we have now. At the time their icy cool light industrial motorik funk was the perfect soundtrack to travelling through and beyond the at times dystopian landscapes of industrial Britain.

On the title track of the upcoming album by Fine Place called “This New Heaven” there’s an echo of the kind of shimmering synth and delay guitar background sounds that made those three Simple Minds albums so evocative to me. It’s all a bit lower tech and DIY and all the better for it as the relentless beat propels the song on its journey, background sounds and eerie reverb-washed vocals in tow.

Fine Place is a duo of Frankie Rose (Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls) and Matthew Hord (Running, Pop. 1280, Brandy), based in Brooklyn, NYC. Their first album “This New Heaven” is: “nocturnal, electronic pop music that charts a way out the post-global, cyberpunk dystopian environment it was crafted in.”

While Fine Place are not from Scotland, their album is being released on Glasgow based label Night School Records, where it joins many other soundtracks to escaping your personal Dystopia which have been released on that fine label by artists like Molly Nilsson, Ela Orleans, etc. I’m a sucker for dystopian synth pop at the best of times, and this first track sounds really good, so take my pre-order money already.

Grangemouth, Scotland

Everyone’s favourite Isle of Wight pop duo Wet Leg return with a new single “Wet Dream”. You have been warned:

Wet Leg (Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers) continue their sardonically absurdist bubblegum buzz-saw pop fun. It’s fantastic intentionally quirky sweet & sour pop, and they craft clever, menacing words that burn: “what makes you think you’re good enough to think about me when you’re touching yourself?”

“Wet Dream” is a welcome reminder of simpler times when the pop charts were not full of earnest careerist formula production pop stars, but had room for a bit of subversive music from leftfield celebrating the mundane aspects of everyday life with droll wit and deadpan delivery – Jilted John’s “Jilted John” and Jona Lewie’s “In the Kitchen at Parties” are a couple that come to mind.

After two quality singles it’s already clear Wet Leg are very good indeed at their distinctive kind of thrillingly off-kilter hybrid cool-but-weird art pop chart pop.

The Lodger return with a new song (single?) following the release of their impressive ‘comeback’ album “Cul De Sac of Love” which was released back in March and quickly sold out its first LP pressing. “Bewildered” here is a new standalone track – so far anyway…

Bewildered” is another very classy 3 minute slice of melodic and optimistically reflective melancholic pop, this time led by piano. It has a classic descending chorus, and a heap of subtle details in the musical arrangement. It’s a little bit Beatles (“A Day in the Life”) but with an almost Polyphonic Spree twist of unpredictability and lush inner-glow vocal harmony.

By way of a recap for anyone who missed the March post for the single “Dual Lives” which preceded the album, The Lodger – a Leeds, UK trio led by songwriter and guitarist Ben Siddall – went into a decade-long hiatus in 2010. Prior to 2010 The Lodger released a handful of much-loved singles and EPs and 3 studio albums through a variety of labels including Slumberland Records in the States.

The Lodger are masters at capturing the distilled essence of the craft of Pure Pop, an era perhaps most associated with the second half of the 1980s onwards, a period where the UK produced numerous practitioners of the Pure Pop craft like the Lightning Seeds, later period Orange Juice, and also a semi-forgotten band, Frazier Chorus, who released a beautifully melancholy single “Sloppy Heart” on the independent label 4AD before signing to Virgin Records. In fact it’s the honey-on-velvet voice of Frazier Chorus’s Tim Freeman on that song that Ben Siddal’s tone remind me of here. And his lyrics too for that matter, straight from the (sloppy) heart:

how do we get so bewildered
why do we fall apart
love isn’t complicated
we’re just not that smart

Itasca is songwriter and guitarist Kayla Cohen, who abandoned Los Angeles for New Mexico where she wrote her second album “Spring”, released at the end of 2019. Here’s “Only a Traveler”:

Coming across like a world weary Joni Mitchell channeling Nick Drake “Only a Traveler” is built on Cohen’s finger-picking guitar playing, full of subtle complexity, her introspective captivating vocals adding melancholy and mystery to create a powerful but restrained song.

The whole album “Spring” is a quiet wonder. Unhurried and restrained but bursting with surprising musical and melodic flourishes, most notably the delicate jazzy piano accompaniment of Marc Riordan (Sun Araw). “Spring” is not really folk, or country or even Americana, but seems a kind of American Cosmic Music, where the psychedelia may be dialed right back, but so often there in the minimalism of the luminous understated accompaniments and in Cohen’s exploratory songwriting.

As well as those Joni Mitchell/ Nick Drake vibes on “Only a Traveler” the rest of “Spring” at times carries ghosts of David Crosby’s “If Only I Could Remember My Name” and Ry Cooder’s “Paris, Texas” haunting atmospheric soundtrack, while also fitting alongside the music of contemporary songwriter Aiofe Nessa Frances.

Kælan Mikla describe their music as appealing to fans of “dark and dreary music”, but there’s more dark magic than dreariness in the Icelandic dark wave synth trio’s sound, as “Ósýnileg” here shows:

Kælan Mikla was founded in 2013 as an entry in a Reykjavik, Iceland poetry competition, somehow evolving into a dark wave synth trio, releasing their first song in 2015, followed by albums and performing at international festivals. “Ósýnileg” (invisible) is from their upcoming 4th album which they say “will mostly revolve around folklore and fairytales, drawing the band even deeper into their realm of magic and mysticism.”

The music of Kælan Mikla is likely to appeal to contemporary dark wave synth-pop artists like Boy Harsher, and Death And The Maiden.

Insincere apologies for the lack of new PopLib posts for about 3 weeks. I’ve been too busy play XR’s album “XR!” (see previous post) to look for any new music on bandcamp. Not quite true, in that I did buy The Green Child’s “Shimmering Bassett” album as well and have been playing that half as much as “XR!” (which is still a fair bit). Here’s the opening track “Fashion Light”:

So, as we discovered on the previous post, The Green Child is Raven Mahon from XR (and previously in US band Grass Widow) with the ubiquitous Mikey Young who either plays on, recorded, mixed or mastered every second album of Australian underground pop/ rock. Slight exaggeration but Mikey brings new meaning to the word ‘prolific’.

Almost exactly a year ago PopLib shared some Mikey Young solo music, which, somewhat surprisingly was not garage rock, but instrumental synth pop. So the melodically melancholy low-key synth-pop/ dream-pop of The Green Child is not out of character. Anyway, it’s a cool album, lots of nicely baroque, dreamy, adventurous pop, which takes a while to reveal its quietly amibitious character (a good thing). Chances are you’ll love it too if you buy it, download it and live with it for a week or two.

If you yearn for effortlessly cool and quirky novelty alt-pop songs then newcomers Wet Leg have the perfect product for your enjoyment in their first single “Chaise Longue”:

Wet Leg are Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers from the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England. “Chaise Longue” evokes a kind of thrillingly off-kilter hybrid of Plastic Bertrand’s bubblegum buzz-pop, and the cool-but-weird disinterest of post-punk dada pop band The Flying Lizards. Or, if those names from the distant past mean nothing to you, perhaps Wet Leg offer a more-strangely-sweet-than-sour variant on Dry Cleaning.

In any case “Chaise Longue” is excellent sardonically absurdist pop fun, with just the lightest undercurrent of menace.

Wet cold Sundays require warm nourishing music, so here’s a collaboration between legendary Scottish folk guitarist Bert Jansch (Pentangle) and American musician Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star, Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions), “All This Remains”:

“All This Remains” is from Jansch’s 2002 album “On The Edge of a Dream”, released the year after Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions “Bavarian Fruit Bread” which he contributed to. “Bavarian Fruit Bread” was released on Rough Trade Records in 2001. It’s an essential album, but long out of print, with the LP version selling for hundreds of dollars now, and even the CD edition of the album and two related CD EPs “At The Doorway Again” (2000) and “Suzanne” (2002) are hard to find.

As Jansch explains in the sleeve notes: “I played on a couple of tracks on Hope’s album “Bavarian Fruit Bread”, and loved the imagery she evokes – particularly American, but shrouded in mystery. It was suggested we do some writing together, a collaboration, and here it is: “All This Remains.”

As well as Jansch’s acoustic guitar and Sandoval’s vocal, “All This Remains” features subtle percussion from her Warm Inventions collaborator Colm O’Ciosoig (My Bloody Valentine) and Jansch’s son on Adam on bass.

Brisbane trio The Goon Sax are preparing to release their third album “Mirror II”. Here’s the captivating opening single “In The Stone”:

The Goon Sax are James Harrison, Louis Forster and Riley Jones. Still in high school when they made their first album of awkward teenage guitar pop “Up To Anything” as 17 year olds in 2016, the trio added additional layers of delight with their second album “We’re Not Talking” in 2018.

It’s impossible to tell from just one song what the third album will be like, but the wonderful “In The Stone” may indicate a further development into deeper and darker territory, without losing any of the melodic guitar-pop charm of the first two albums.

Louis Forster is the son of The Go-Betweens Robert Forster. Some of his songs on the 2018 “We’re Not Talking” album (“Sleep EZ” and “We Can’t Win” for example) could’ve been on early Go-Betweens albums. “In The Stone” here may share vampires in common with the lyrics of a Robert Forster Go-Betweens song, but the song is a much darker Post-Punk creation more aligned to the slow cool march of New Order or The Cure.

“Mirror II” is available to pre-order now on Chapter Music in Australia/ NZ and Matador Records in the rest of the world. Here’s the official video for “In The Stone” followed by a live version video: