Submarines – Honeysuckle Remixes
Released as two digital EPs, Honeysuckle Remixes are deft reworkings of material from Honeysuckle Weeks, the Submarines last LP. Remixers include other indie sensations, such as Ra Ra Riot and Alaska in Winter, as well as producer/mixologist Amplive. The latter provides a big-beats, downtempo version of “1940,” countered by a chamber electronica, string-laden remix of the same track with the Section Quartet on EP 2. This type of double coverage continues for much of the EP, and creates some additional interesting juxtapositions.
Ra Ra Riot’s version of “Submarine Symphonika” features undulating polyrhythms and suave pizzicato accompaniments; the corresponding remix by “Wallpaper” makes the song ripe for the dancehall, with synth slides and a suavely peppy beat structure. “You, Me, & the Bourgeoisie” is given a Euro-funky rendition, a lá Hooverphonic and replete with vocal echos, by Tonetiger; Alaska in Winter here prefer IDM clubbing; undergirding the song with an ostinato subwoofer bass thud. The only remix to not have a complement is Styrofoam’s “Xavia;” it’s easy to see why, as this is given a full-on, everything and the kitchen sink arrangement; busy, thickly scored, yet instantly catchy!
Loney Dear’s second LP serves as a reminder that, despite myriad ups and downs, synth pop remains a vital genre. Dear John combines crisp, effervescent arrangements with lyrical hooks. The synthesized oscillations and punchy bass lines of “Airport Surroundings” and “Violent” are both well-crafted and headily visceral. The high level of clarity and production values belies the notion that home-recording necessitates a ‘lo-fi’ aesthetic.
While Loney Dear (Emil Svanängen) capably evokes melancholy inflections – as on the affecting “Harsh Words” – this is hardly downtempo IDM. Instead, he has created an all too rare synergy between sophisticated electronica and the concision and appealing sweep of good pop singles. Even songs such as the title track and “Harm,” where the atmosphere is more spacious and the textures more varied, still keep the continuity of the vocal lines, and their achingly delicate traversal of poignantly spun elegies, as the foremost concern.
Me and Armini
Emiliana Torrini’s voice bears more than a passing resemblance to fellow Icelandic singer Björk’s instrument; particularly in full throttle in its upper register. It’s not surprising that Torrini substituted for Björk in the soundtrack for The Two Towers. And while comparisons between the two artists needn’t end at vocal signatures – they both have explored electronica in their arrangements for instance – Torrini has carved out a distinct musical identity for herself.
Her latest CD, Me and Armini, reintroduces a vigorous mixture of electronic elements and robust rhythms; materials she downplayed in her previous album, the stripped-down Fisherman’s Woman. But her voice more often serves as a calming force buffeted by these walls of sound – witness her captivating, understatedly cool delivery amidst the rocking accompaniment of “Gun.” The title track employs zesty reggae rhythms alongside a sultry vocal. Torrini returns to a primarily acoustic palette for “Big Jumps,” a catchy alt-pop single with a vocalize hook that dares you to not sing along.
As a church musician, I get to play a lot of Christmas music around the holidays; and I love it. Last weekend, I played an hour of carols at the Elms of Cranbury, a nursing home. Despite an hour-long drive through an ice storm and the challenge of sticking keys on an out-of-tune Wurlitzer, I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a gig more. The residents and staff were most receptive; you’d have thought we’d brought a choir of seraphim rather than our motley, alto-heavy, Congregational contingent.
Carol sings are great fun – the week before Christmas. But there’s also a side of me that seeks to keep the tunes special by not bringing them out too early at home. It bothers me that many stores blare holiday music at us almost as soon as summer is over. After being out “In the Bleak Midwinter,” dealing with careless drivers and manic shoppers, I sometimes want to escape the holiday din.
Silber Records feels my pain. For years, they’ve been providing some of the best holiday compilations – for free – for ambient electronica fans. This year’s collection – Winterized – takes a break from downbeat covers of upbeat carols to supply wintry slices of music-making sans commercialism.
On the commercial end of things, two of their new releases, Northern Valentine and Hotel Hotel, are well worth paying for; they both create evocative soundscapes that are inventively structured and varied in hue. They’re just the thing to banish that irritating version of “Jingle Bell Rock” you couldn’t escape at the restaurant…
Happy Holidays to all. Below, a few cheerful pictures from home, France, and Westminster. -Christian
Sad Robot EP
Arts and Crafts (www.arts-crafts.ca)
After the success of 2007′s In Our Bedroom after the War, one would understand it if Stars further mined the ‘bedroom rock blown-up big’ approach on a follow-up. Sad Robot EP, on the other hand, recall’s the band’s IDM roots, presenting half a dozen lovely, lush electronic songs.
The title tune inhabits a glitch-influenced soundscape. “14 Forever” and “Undertow” both exude fetching synth pop textures and booming bass articulations. “A Thread Cut with a Carving Knife” is an aptly-timed Recession-era ballad, featuring an underemployed man facing economic woes and battling substance abuse. While some fans of their last album may wonder where the guitars went, one hopes that Stars’ current fascination with IDM will continue to inflect their music for some time to come.