04 June 2010

Catching up with Radio Dept., Archie Bronson Outfit, and The Electric Pop Group

I swear up and down that I want to avoid these “Catching Up” posts, and sincerely I do, but inevitably I discover something well after its release or simply just did not have the time to write about it. And time has been something that has been difficult to come by lately. But these are three bands that have really tickled my fancy lately, and unfortunately I was not able to give them the time they deserved previously. (Furthermore, two of them have no official video postings for their current releases.) So I am not going to belabor this one, as I know you may have heard them already, but I wanted them to be represented here on the blog. Enjoy!

The Radio Dept.: “Clinging to a Scheme”

Anyone who knows my tastes in music knows that not only am I a sucker for dark, sinister music, the brooding kind that is nightmare inducing, but I am also a sucker for Scandinavian bands! From Abba to The Legends, Cardigans to Bjork, Moonbabies to Northern Portrait, there is this cosmopolitan feel to their music that distinguishes it from everything else. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that there is just more exposure to music in Scandinavian nations than most others, being saturated from British to American music, as well as continental and their own musical scenes. What is usually created is sophisticated, intricately arranged music, and The Radio Dept. is no exception. Releasing their third album, “Clinging to a Scheme” (21 April 2010), the band combines electro and indie hooks with a shoegaze feel, and the airiness of dream pop.

Like the post-punk of Cocteau Twins, this is an album that allows itself to be slight broody, completely introspective, but not gloomy. Right from the beginning, Radio Dept.’s signature is evident: the interplay between variant, distinct layers of music – “Domestic Scene” is as sweet as any lullaby and the most serene way imaginable to open the album. The second track, “Heaven’s On Fire,” opens with an interesting Thurston Moore [of Sonic Youth fame] sample: “People see rock and roll as, as youth culture, and when youth culture becomes monopolized by big business, what are the youth to do? Do you, do you have any idea?” Though the sample does not tie into the track in any meaningful way, it points out a truth about the music industry trying to control every aspect of releases, especially since the broadband revolution, when they are losing control of how music is consumed by people.

The album is full of great songs: “This Time Around” reminds me of early shoegaze, and “Memory Loss” (“If I curse, if I should accuse you, please tell me that I’m wrong. If I’m worse, I’m just scared to lose you, I’ve wanted this too long.”) is hauntingly sexy, with a barebones ambient backdrop and a slow tempo, it is the breathy vocals arrangements that really carry the song. My favorite track, “David,” is simply amazing. It is a schizophrenic jamboree of musical elements. With beats that are syncopated at one point and not at another, piano, an almost trip hop feel, the song is the perfect example of Radio Depts.’ master craftsmanship: the ability to really distill many variant strings of musical references into one song. Beginning to end, the album just whisks you away into an ambient, loungy, adventure through an infectious soundscape.

Track Listing:
1. Domestic Scene
2. Heaven’s on Fire
3. This Time Around
4. Never Follow Suit
5. A Token of Gratitude
6. The Video Dept.
7. Memory Loss
8. David
9. Four Months in the Shade
10. You Stopped Making Sense

Keep up with Radio Dept. at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Archie Bronson Outfit: “Coconut”

Releasing their third album, “Coconut” (1 March 2010 in the UK, 23 March 2010 in the USA), on Domino Records, Archie Bronson Outfit is starting to see their lead single, “Shark’s Tooth,” creeping in many different sectors – two thumbs up to Logo for featuring it. Breaking with their previous album’s sound, “Coconut” experiments more with electronic elements and production styles – though it avoids all gimmicks. Working with Tim Goldsworthy [production credits include Cut Copy, Massive Attack, Rapture, and UNKLE], the album has this alluring aspect like the best of dance punk, but maintains the bands indie rock feel, that always has that touch of psychadelia to it.

If any song was perfect to be the lead single, it was “Shark’s Tooth.” The song is dying to be new wave with a bit of post-punk, but like the video, there is a retrofuture feel to the song, in much the same way that a decade-and-a-half earlier Luscious Jackson accomplished with “Naked Eye.” Except ABO’s “Shark’s Tooth” is more cacophonous and much harder to ignore. This is a ditty that gets right under your skin in a good way. Their next single will be “Hoola,” which takes the band in another direction. This time around, the music is as deadpan as the vocals, though the thick bass line keeps the song from collapsing into a dirgeful, mournful number.

What I really like about Archie Bronson Outfit’s “Coconut” is that it is the exception to all the rules. Garage punk meets surf rock, but melodically more varied, indie rock, but not on some bandwagon, paying homage to the past, but not rehashing old genres – ABO exists in a niche that is outside of the current indie rock scene, removed from trite trends or clichés. Go to any song on the album, whether the almost playful “Chunk” or the sexy but overwhelming “Harness (Bliss)” (such appropriate music for that title!), ABO delivers music that clearly demonstrates thinking outside of the box.

Track Listing:
1. Magnetic Warrior
2. Shark’s Tooth
3. Hoola
4. Wild Strawberries
5. Chunk
6. You Have a Right To a Mountain Life / One Up On Yourself
7. Bite It & Believe It
8. Hunt You Down
9. Harness (Bliss)
10. Run Gospel Singer

Keep up with Archie Bronson Outfit at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here are their video for “Shark’s Tooth” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

The Electric Pop Group: “Seconds”

Heading back to Sweden, The Electric Pop Group released their sophomore effort, aptly titled “Seconds” (9 February 2010 in the USA). Led by the Aamot brothers, this is an album of catchy guitar arrangements and steady tempos that just encourage you to sit back and chill. It is the sort of album you want to be playing in the background when you are lying back, relaxing under a tree’s shade. With uncomplicated lyrics, at times bordering on sappy, the album is never syrupy or saccharine. And just like their contemporary Scandinavian brethrens, they have this knack for distilling a vast array of musical references into their songs.

Glossy and sophisticated production, the vocal arrangements meld into the musical arrangements – every aspect of each song conspires together to create a uniform experience. The songs are carried by steady guitar picking and beautiful strumming; it is the sort of guitar playing that even if the lyrics are heading towards sappiness like in “My Only Inspiration” or the sad personal introspection of “In the Back of My Mind,” the guitar arrangements brings in a feeling of lightheartedness. And that is the hook of the album: it is friendly and inviting, it is pop with soul and heart. Yet, for all the friendliness of the album, The Electric Pop Group, despite their name, does not cater to writing music that is radio ready in any conventional sense.

There are two tracks on the album that I cannot stop listening to. The first is “I Know I Will”; it is one of those semi-acoustic inidie songs with a touch of 60s to it that sort of lulls you into a comfort zone. From first listen, you get this feeling of familiarity with this track that makes you want to listen to EPG even more. The other track, my favorite track on the album, is “Into Thin Air.” I am about to commit a sin in the eyes of some people, but imagine a steady Simon Gallup [of The Cure] bass line with a Johnny Marr [of The Smiths] lead guitar, and in this strangest of unions you have “Into Thin Air,” as it subtly breezes by. But it is in that sort of combination of musical concepts that Electric Pop Group excels. They are not shoegaze or reviving Britpop, they are not Smith’s knockoffs or recapturing Ride’s beautiful guitar arrangements. They have, however, listened to some of the best, jumbled it all up into a creative kettle, infused their own brand of indie rock, and poured out a distinct album of beautiful arrangements and infectious moods.

Track Listing:
1. Not By Another
2. Out of Sight
3. I Know I Will
4. Drawing Lines
5. My Only Inspiration
6. In The Back of My Mind
7. The Way It Used to Do
8. Into Thin Air
9. We Never Made Up Our Minds
10. The Best of Times

Keep up with The Electric Pop Group at MySpace.

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