In this week's Notes from Left of the Dial, we take a look at some of the songs making the trip from computer speaker to iPod to the occasional club. Starting with producer Burial's hyper-dubstep philosophizing and EMA's dense sonic squall, we quickly move on to Pure Bathing Culture's hypnotizing cover of Jessie Ware's "Wildest Moments" and a dose of Phantogram's synth-pop theatricality. We skew a bit more electronic in our initial discussion, but once you hit the playlist, we spread out quickly.
Burial, "Come Down to Us"
It's been six years since we've gotten a proper LP from producer Burial, that being 2007's "Untrue"; but in the interim, he's been quite busy releasing a handful of EPs and remixes. And although we still don't have confirmation regarding any plans for a new full-length, fans can rest easy, as he'll be releasing another EP of new material Dec. 16 via Hyperdub. "Rival Dealer" will feature three new Burial tracks, including the title track, "Hiders," and "Come Down to Us." On "Come Down to Us," the producer mixes political and pointedly emotional samples with his own languid beats and synth work to create an overwhelmingly personal musical statement—one in which he deftly handles the subjects of loss, despair and love with a master's touch. Ending with a speech by transgender filmmaker Lana Wachowski, the song makes no apologies for its overt affiliations. But even when the song drops the subtlety, it never fully reveals itself, allowing the listener the pleasure of discovering something new on each repeated listen.
EMA, or musician Erika M. Anderson, released one of the best albums of 2011 with "Past Life Martyred Saints," a collection of songs that showed that lo-fi aesthetics and grandiose sentiment could coexist within the same song. Her music is of the directly confessional sort, where her ability to make the listener feel uncomfortable is part of its charm. Her sophomore effort, "The Future's Void," is set to be released sometime in the spring. But in the meantime, we have "Satellites," an industrial-sized, operatic catharsis where gothic piano hammering and jagged strings thread themselves into looping drones and cacophonous synths. The track quickly presses up against your speakers, anxious to get out, but it's only by the strength of her vocal pull and swagger that the music is kept in check.
The Mast, "Raining Down"
Electro-pop duo The Mast will see the release of their latest album, "Pleasure Island," Jan. 28 via Channel A Records. Brandishing ominous synths and futurist pop tendencies, they surge through their collective influences and inspirations—including Massive Attack and Mont Kimbie—at a quick clip. Strands of frayed synth-pop and dance floor bangers thread themselves around singer Haleh Gafori's sultry vocals and Matt Kilmer's Eastern-influenced production. On their latest single, "Raining Down," the band combines a series of twisting melodies with pristine pop-centric arrangements and a euphoric dance aesthetic. The track will have you bobbing your head and hips in equal measure. Far from some empty club cut, "Raining Down" leaves you breathless, excited and ready to hear it just one more time.
Pure Bathing Culture, "Wildest Moments" (Jessie Ware cover)
It's always a risky proposition when dealing with covers. You want to keep the heart and soul of the original but also impart your own spin on the music and lyrics. Some artists have a tendency to completely bury themselves in the song; and therefore, the song completely buries them, along with any sense of originality or apparent creative impetus. But on Pure Bathing Culture's sparkling synth-pop take on electro-R&B singer Jessie Ware's hit "Wildest Moments," the duo never forgets to keep their own identity and that of the original separate. By maintaining the smoky soul of the source material while injecting their own glistening pop inclinations, they manage to pay respectful homage to the track and make it their own at the same time.
Phantogram, "Fall in Love"
Blustery synth-pop duo Phantogram is gearing up for the release of their sophomore LP, "Voices," Feb. 18 and has recently shared the lead single, "Fall in Love," with their fans. Presenting a more cerebral take on the band's ephemeral dance pop aesthetic, the track alternates between electro-soul arrangements and lush art-pop landscapes. The song also subtly rearranges singer Sarah Barthel's captivating voice through layers of reverb and rhythmic filters, drawing you into its churning cauldron of synths, airy vocals and programmed beats. But far from sounding like some staid, chrome-plated automaton, "Fall in Love" basks in its circular melodies and vibrant synthetic instrumentation.
And as always, I've put together a playlist featuring other songs that you may have missed this past week. This week's playlist includes such artists as The Flaming Lips, Warpaint, Araabmuzik and Speedy Ortiz. So sit back, enjoy the last few days before Christmas panic sets in and press play.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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