Disco Wagon Wheel!

29 01 2012

The geniuses at Penisco have outdone themselves. Revel in the new sensational product that will keep you busy with wonder and delight for many hours. Disco Wagon Wheel is so amazing that our advertising department didn’t know exactly what to say about this product. Well, they’ll have lots of time to think about it now while they look for new employees! This thing is really a treat for all!

Enjoy Disco Wagon Wheel when you unwrap it on Christmas morning, and have a blast with the old ladies. Boy George can’t keep his hands off it, nor can that old dyke in front of the American flag. Even Uncle Mary wants a piece of that shit. So buy Disco Wagon Wheel today, and enter a totally new universe of fun!

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Austra

18 01 2012

I think I may have discovered my new favourite band. That is hard for me to say, since Erasure have occupied the most prominent setting in my crown of musical gems since 1995. That may soon change. Their competitor is Austra, a synthpop/darkwave/indie electronica band from Toronto who just released their debut album, Feel It Break, last year. (Yes, I know, as usual I am late to the game.) However I am not yet ready to give the number one position to Austra, simply because Erasure have produced fourteen studio albums, and I have only heard one by Austra, but if they keep up the amazing work, they very well could earn that place. Besides, a tie between the two bands isn’t entirely out of the question.

OK, so you want to know what the hype is all about, don’t you? It’s about their coherent, well-developed style, their professional-sounding technical wizardry, their eerily fun dance sensibility, lead singer Katie Stelmanis’s chillingly pure, cold voice, their artistically spooky themes, their rich harmonies, their otherworldly melodies. All of these in combination produce a lush, full, satisfying sonic experience. Listening to their debut album, Feel It Break, one imagines opening up a book of occult lore and exploring the hidden mysteries within. I would liken them to a cross between Florence and the Machine, Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, and Karin Dreijer of The Knife and Fever Ray. But at least as creepy as Karin Dreijer. Finally, an album that sounds weirdly Scandinavian without getting mired in slow, dissonant, undanceable experimentalism. It’s musically exploratory, thematically fascinating, and fun to dance to.

Check out the video for their single Spellwork, taken from the debut album. In my opinion is encapsulates the overall deliciously spooky theme of the work:

This song gives me goosebumps. One thing that stands out is the strong verse-chorus structure characteristic of pop songs—but it’s all done in such a beautifully strange and ethereal way that it doesn’t sound commercial or formulaic. Stelmanis’s eerily quavering vocals are spot-on, the melody soars like some dark-winged bird over bare tree branches, and those rich harmonies complete the vocal arrangements. And those layers upon layers of tinkling synthesisers just sweep you away into a glittering fairy world of yore. I can’t get enough of the cryptic occult references, either. Lots of Youtube commenters have said that the video is “weird”, but it’s supposed to be. The song is about pagan rituals (or so I think), so obviously the video reflects that. It’s so enticing because it’s so arcane.

Then there is the light, bright, beautiful synthpop gem Lose It. This is probably as pure, pretty, and pristine as synthpop can get, and Austra have distilled the essence of the genre in this song, and yet we haven’t quite heard synthpop done in such a fresh, clever way before. At least I don’t think so. Just have a listen:

Isn’t that just delightful? It makes me pee my pants. And it makes me pregnant. With twins. The most remarkable thing about this song, I think, is the perfect harmony between Stelmanis and the background singers in the chorus. Together, they create this plaintive, crystal-clear, birdlike song of hope and sorrow. It almost sounds like Enya in a strange way, but a cool, synthpoppy Enya. Delish.

OK, on to our last video. Showing their ability to master a range of synthpop sub-genres, Austra reveal their goth goth side in this video for their single Beat and the Pulse, and boy is it sexy. Be forewarned: I don’t do censorship, so this video is not safe for work! (That means it’s NSFW):

So what did ya think?? In my opinion, This is the difference between pornography and erotica. The models are portrayed in a seductive, tasteful manner, and they exude a mysterious power. It’s not crass and exploitative; it’s subtle and stylish. Besides, listen to the pulsating bassline that suddenly creeps into your ears when the beat kicks in. And, again, that rich texture of harmonies fills out the song and sends chills down one’s spine. This is dark, sinister synthpop at its finest.

Speaking of weird Scandinavian-sounding dance music, compare Austra to Karin Dreijer when Dreijer accepted the award for best dance artist on behalf of her band Fever Ray at this Swedish music awards ceremony:

Kooky! And fabulous. Now that we’ve established that both Austra and Fever Ray are cool, creative bands with a statement to make, it’s time to ask the question: which one is weirder? All that matters is that they are weird, and there’s a rhyme and reason to it, even if the typical Beyonce-glamoured American can’t see past his milquetoast Top 40 music collection. Consider this Youtube commenter’s post about the above Fever Ray video: “Its unfortunate most people cannot understand the statement of the absurdity of award shows, come up, make a stupid speech and say thank you within 20 seconds and walk off stage for the next commercial, absolutely meaningless. If viewers can only see the surface level and think ‘Man that lady is weird, whats with the face?’, they need to start digging deeper past the surface [sic]”. So true. So, so true. I cannot improve upon that observation, except to say that the average American isn’t into the musical creativity of artists like Fever Ray and Austra, because they’re only exposed to the commercially successful acts.

Anyway, I haven’t written about a cool band in a while, so when I discovered Austra I just knew I had to say something about them and spread the word. I entreat you to do the same. Spread the word. As you would your seed. No, just kidding. Sort of. I can’t wait to hear their next album! I’m thinking of writing about new releases by a few other bands who make me want to diddle myself, like Glass Candy and Chromatics, so keep visiting this blog. (Oh, and I’m posting another instalment of the fabulous lady-comic Julie Gentron and the Lady League very soon, so look for that too.) So go out and buy Austra’s debut album Feel It Break—make sure it’s the deluxe version—and support one of Canada’s most talented and interesting musical products of recent times. (The album was released by Domino or Paper Bag—can’t remember which—and it’s on iTunes, of course.)





Swedish Electro-pop Pixie Robyn

8 04 2011

I’m constantly searching for the ultimate pop diva–one who combines vocals, songwriting skills, dance moves, fashion, and a delicious sonic soundscape into a single succulent package. I don’t want the typical American top 40 R&B crooner with whiney, annoyingly overwrought vocals–I want an edgy, in-your-face dance-pop diva who knows how to sing to an actual melody. Soul-singing is not supposed to sound incoherent–it is supposed to pluck at the heartstrings. And I like Kylie Minogue, but, to be honest, is she a good songwriter? With this in mind, I think I may have found the diva I am looking for. She is singer and songwriter Robyn, the peroxide-blond pixie from Stockholm, Sweden. I like some of the other larger-than-life icons, but Robyn really kicks you in the face with her plucky synthpop fierceness. She can sing, dance, and express herself with abandon. And, with the occasional exception, her style is a staunch disavowal of watered-down U.S. R&B; it remains stalwartly devoted to the European electronic dance tradition–the most savvy, metamorphic, and creative genre in pop music.

For a taste of Robyn’s bold, bedazzling pop-gems, consider the following video for her song Dancing on My Own:

Wow. I love everything about this video. I love the hot, steamy, glowing-red nightclub shots, the off-shoulder top, the funky, cropped blond hair, the chain earring that’s attached to her top, and the fuck-you, martial arts dance moves. I wouldn’t want to cross her path in a dark alley. I think there’s something about strong, independent women that gay men appreciate; I think it might be the tenacity in the face of social obstacles. They can identify with it. And, even though visibly she’s Swedish to the bone, she sounds almost like a black woman from Detroit. And there is something about her that uncannily reminds me of Cyndi Lauper, who is probably the queen of punch-you-in-the-nutsack synthpop.

Now, play close attention. Perhaps my favourite dance move in the video is at 1:07. I could do that all day long, in the shower, on the street, in the office. Don’t care. I could sway my hips from side to side like that all day long.

The next video I want to share with you is for her song Hang with Me:

I love the melody combined with the four-to-the-floor beat and sweet, icy synthesizers. And I love the tour-bus footage. It makes me feel as though I am witnessing the star’s day-to-day adventures first-hand, as though I am playing a personal part in the life of a burgeoning pop princess, one that is remarkably fun and down-to-earth. And I love the footage of the bus driving down the motorway in Britain (you can see the traffic sign to London in the video). It reminds me of my vacation in Britain in 2003, when I drove out of the sad, decrepit stone-and-concrete maze of London and into the smooth, green, rolling countryside toward some ancient monument, a low, giant sun glowing through the polluted sky.

The next-to-last video is for her song Indestructible. It is very sexy and artistic, full of longing, fleshly desire and fluid-tube body-suits:

This is a poignant video. Watching it, one is encouraged to love—to love urgently—as though one has never loved before, despite past heartbreaks. That is hard to do. And yet, it tells us that we should keep trying, and never grow bitter. In essence, it tells one to maintain a sense of hope, because nobody likes a frowning middle-aged matron with self-obsessed wrinkles on her brow. Think about it. Who wants to turn into some bitter, crusty old crab-woman? (Although, I must admit, I would simply love to portray Miss Havisham in a stage production of Great Expectations.)

Finally, I would like to share with you the video for the same song, but this time the artist is performing at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Concert, hosted by bug-eyed beauty Anne Hathaway:

Wow! Inimitable dance moves. Let me bring your attention to the moment at 1:39, where she perfectly synchronises with the beat. Bam! This girl loves it. And there are rock concerts for the Norwegian Nobel Committee! A committee which awards prizes to those who have contributed to the advancement of peace! They have electronic pop artists performing for them, for goodness’ sake! Isn’t that a most beautifully harmonious collaboration of agendas? I want to move to Oslo or Stockholm now.

If you like high-end, high-purpose electro-pop, visit the official Robyn Web site. I am going to do that now.