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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Published March 25, 2014 on The Le Sigh

Couples Counseling fills up the room with intimate bedroom pop.

“Bedroom pop” is a strange genre name. It’s often used to write off releases, as if composing and recording music on a laptop at home is any less of a feat. Other times, it is lazily used to literally describe home-recorded poppy tunes instead of searching for more appropriate adjectives. But then there are the cases when “bedroom pop” isn’t just referring to the production or used as a dismissal; it captures the intimacy, creativity, experimentation and ambiance of the music. Couples Counseling, the solo project of Virginia de las Pozas, fulfills that definition while its name complements that special intimate quality.

In an album released on a limited cassette run on Blood Oath Slumber Party, de las Pozas creates a layered, dreamy world filled with hazy loops, chirping birds, staccato drum beats, choppy vocals and sweet melodies using effects pedals and a SP-404sx sampler. While many of the individual elements seem pretty on paper, when put together, Couples Counseling gives off a sinister glow. “double dream sequence” includes pitched-down samples and chilly bridge, and “peach pits” features Twilight Zone-y whistling effects throughout the song. It’s this sort of toying with atmosphere – plus the airy layering, angelic vocals, peculiar melodies and inclusion of natural samples and snippets of dialogue – that reminds me so much of Julia Holter’s early work. The first minute of “fiftyseven” would fit right in on Holter’s first album Tragedy (more than once, I actually had to check iTunes didn’t goof and switch over to Tragedy as “fiftyseven” started).  Like the name suggests, Couples Counseling follows the story of a courtship that turns sour, although the lyrics aren’t always easy to pick out since vocals are used as an equal layer (another quality in common with Holter). In the shy opening song “hope u nevr hear this”, the artist crushes from afar: “I don’t know you, but I feel like I know you” / “Let me get to know you, I’ll show you that I’m the girl for you.” By the middle track, she seems to be growing tired: “You been shaking the fruitless tree / You’ve been eating apples with no seeds.” And the final chapter has some perspective: “We only lasted half an hour”; “I can’t say I had the best intention”; “You were just a pretty package.” Listening to this relationship unfold and fall apart is like a therapy session in itself, and Couples Counseling embraces the kind of intimacy you can only get from bedroom pop. It feels like you’re sitting on the bed next to Virginia de las Pozas as she confides her relationship troubles in you.

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I posted this on my Tumblr a couple weeks ago after I saw St. Vincent and Holly Herndon perform live at Terminal 5 in NYC. I wanted to get out some thoughts I had on the show, on how rude people can be and on how people’s tolerance of “weirdness” in art is weird. My friends and fellow music dweebs gave me great feedback, and we exchanged horror stories of awful crowd experiences. I also got to write “dickhead(s)” five times.

St. Vincent is fucking weird, and we love her for it. Wednesday night at the awful Terminal 5, Annie Clark twitched, writhed, stared blankly, shuffled in sync with her guitarist and delivered BuzzFeed-like banter in a detached voice. That’s not yet taking her music into account, which, as she said on her Colbert Report appearance, aims for “the intersection between accessibility and lunatic fringe.” Her music is definitely pop, but it’s fucking weird. And she still had the whole of a sold out Terminal 5 shouting “An-nie! An-nie! An-nie!” waiting for her encore.

Some of my favorite artists all but trick people into liking strange music by pairing it with familiar pop hooks and melodies and/or danceable beats. Julia Holter, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Flying Lotus, a chunk of DFA. Holly Herndon talks about this idea in a PitchforkTV interview that I’ve already blabbed about. “I’m able to slip in some really weird vocal processes if it’s in the context of a structured pop song … if you have something that people are physically engaging with, you can really get people to open up.” I knew I had to spring for a St. Vincent ticket when Holly Herndon was set as the opener. My bf got to see Holly Herndon perform live last year, and I’ve been jealous since. Even though Terminal 5 was not the space to experience Holly Herndon’s music, Tim was 200% right in that she’s next level, unmissable and important. Worth it.

As is my usual luck, I was stood next to a group of dickheads Wednesday night. There I was, grooving and obviously enjoying Holly Herndon’s stellar set, and the people next to me proceeded to make fun of her music the entire time. At one point while Herndon was doing her choppy processed voice thing, the loudest of the dickheads said “if you gave a 5-year-old a microphone, this is what would happen,” and mimicked it, in case we didn’t understand his distaste. He obviously has no clue Herndon’s a PhD candidate for electronic music composition and her music is the result of that. Also, as Tim pointed out, that is what tedious assholes say about modern art — “lol fuck Jackson Pollock I could totally fingerpaint that and make soooo much money dude.” No, you couldn’t. After Asshole #1 made that comment, I couldn’t help but say out loud, though not directly at any one, “No, it’s not, dickhead.” He didn’t hear me, but he didn’t have to because his friend next to me did. He must’ve shared my comment with the group, and soon I was treated to half-overhearing loads of creative comparisons of Holly Herndon’s music. After a minute of this bullshit, I had to ask them to stop because what else would I expect of fully grown adults. They didn’t, of course, but I made sure to be a little less careful and polite with my dancing in the cramped space. Holly Herndon’s music is weird to the unfamiliar ear, and it’s okay if you don’t like it. (Especially considering Terminal 5 is not the right setting for it.) Just, please don’t be rude and ruin other people’s experience. Please.

This also makes me wonder if that dickhead would have make the same comments if Holly Herndon was a dude. I hope that’s not the case, but something tells me he wouldn’t have compared a male producer’s vocal processing to a 5-year-old playing with a microphone.

What really gets me about this dickhead encounter is that St. Vincent isn’t comfortable listening, either. By liking St. Vincent, you’ve proved you can be musically open-minded to an extent. (And if you forget to be, she reminds you: “I want all of your mind / Give me all of your mind.”) You can appreciate the jarring sounds and confusing performance of Annie Clark; that a catchy rhythm or contagious beat can carry the crazy of everything else. That’s Holly Herndon’s philosophy. You can dance to St. Vincent and you can dance to Holly Herndon. That’s how they want you to react, while still challenging your taste. I thought St. Vincent’s set was a hell of a lot weirder than Holly Herndon’s, which was absent of purposefully awkward choreography and banter. Weird is relative, but it is especially strange what people’s tolerance and interpretation of weirdness in art is.

Published March 11, 2014 on The Le Sigh


Nineties diva-meets-2000s R&B queen for 2k14.

Hanging out with my middle school BFF usually consisted of lounging on her living room couch, flipping through channels to settle on MTV Hits, munching on popcorn, dancing and gossiping. Liz takes me right back to that couch, though now I’d sub out the popcorn for red wine. Her Just Like You EP hits that early 2000s Top 40 sweet spot when video rotations would feature cool R&B chicks Ciara and Ashanti followed by ‘90s divas Mariah and Britney. But Liz won’t stand to be just a throwback – the Mad Decent production keeps her EP very 2014 (not that it’s unusual for pop to tap into nostalgia, thanks to Pharrell, Ariana Grande and even the Marvin Gaye-swiping, 12-weeks-at-No. 1, repulsive Robin Thicke).

The opening track “Y2K” is the perfect intro, not only for the drippy Lido production, but for its nod to late goddess Aaliyah and the new millennium. “All Them Boys” owes more to UK house than the rest of the EP. Its 4/4 backbone makes it prime dance floor material, and the snapping breakdown (snaps are a welcome presence throughout Just Like You) lets you slow-groove like Ciara. Tyga shows up on “Don’t Say” to work out relationship problems and priorities, though his best contribution is the close of his first verse with “let a angel sing” and Liz steps in, not missing a beat. If Beyoncé’s self-titled album isn’t filling the void Destiny’s Child left in your heart, “Do I Like U” has a “Say My Name” bite, complete with a chest-punching bass breakdown because this is a Mad Decent release after all. Despite all of the comparisons to classic divas, Liz is not a mix and match “best of.” She’s continuing the diva legacy, and her Diplo-led label will help her break the typically macho territory of popular electronic music. Now that JoJo (another queen of the early 2000s whose style isn’t frozen in time) is free from her suffocating major label contract, I hope we’ll be blessed soon with a Liz/JoJo collab *prayer hands emoji*.

Published March 4, 2014 on The Le Sigh

A sunny disco debut on Cascine to help you cope with this tedious winter.

“I’ll always give it to you honest / I’ll always try to solve your every problem,” Kim Pflaum sings on the sincere “Sålka Gets Her Hopes Up”, like the best friend and partner we all deserve. Yumi Zouma prefers the direct approach. There’s no dancing around words and feelings on their debut EP – the sunny disco beats have that covered. The disses are disguised by breezy vocals and retro basslines; “You threw me and you screwed me and you fed me to the fishes / Like we’ve never been together and I’m only just a vision,” Pflaum bites on “The Brae”.

The three friends behind Yumi Zouma are from New Zealand, and now are split between New York and Paris. This distance isn’t reflected in the music, which holds onto the intimacy and ease of their friendship. Instead, the songs manage to feel like all three places at once: New York’s disco heyday, Paris’ romantic timelessness and New Zealand’s island scenery. There are few things I welcome more than hearing disco’s influence in new music. Last year brought us Rhye’s sultry, soft pop record, and Yumi Zouma’s EP takes the best grooves from Woman and lays a sunny shimmer over them. This dreamy disco pop will wash away the stresses of your day, as you take a mental break on a faraway beach with a citrusy cocktail (maybe even adorned with a mini umbrella) in hand. At a little under 15 minutes, Yumi Zouma’s debut is a tropical taste of what’s to come, with hopefully more tunes (fingers crossed for an LP) set to release near summertime. Until then, I’m going to harbor hair envy for their easy, breezy, beautiful cover girl.