LAYA LAYA, “Asteroid”
The glossy sheen of “Asteroid”, the latest single from British electronic pop duo of Indian heritage Laya Laya, hides a lovelorn vulnerability which has an out-of-norm appeal as one package. The duo, Freya Zai and Super Joshi, want you to think way outside the box and imagine the unattainability of love floating out there in space like an asteroid. It sounds so remote, that you want to reach out and grab it, and as Freya sings “I want you to myself”, which could be a subtitle for the song as the phrase resonates in the chorus. “Asteroid” is beautifully sung with delicate-sounding music leaving the lyrics to pack the punch, and has already received support from BBC Radio. Stylistically think of Frank Ocean and George Michael meet Dusty Springfield and Sophie B. Hawkins and go from there.
British duo Barbudo are making some pleasing inroads from when I first heard them last year with their new single “Sunshine”. Barbudo are brothers Ben and Harry Stanworth, who hail from the south of England. Although the production is fairly basic, sometimes more is less when it suits the moment and the song. Taking their cue from the pandemic and spinning that on its head, the lads came up with “Sunshine” as part of the musical antidotes we’re all hearing now as much of the world transitions out of the pandemic. It doesn’t say anything new, but the presentation is alternately chill and snappy, full of 80’s sounding British-European jazzy disco flavours that help turn it into a bit of a singalong. Although it’s too long for what it has to say, “Sunshine” is made up of all the right stuff to turn listeners’ heads.
SAXITY and VICTOR PERRY, “Could’ve Should’ve Would’ve”
Every release together is always such a welcome surprise, so I’m always happy to write about another teaming of Saxity and Victor Perry, this time on “Could’ve Should’ve Would’ve”. The German producers always make Victor’s voice and lyrics shine, and this time it’s in some funky Michael Jackson/Usher/George Michael territory that allows Victor to let loose. Throw in some gorgeous high notes for harmony as well as slick instrumentation including some well-placed saxophone against a chugging groove and “Could’ve Should’ve Would’ve” is a fine addition for your anytime playlist!
CHEAT CODES, TRAVIS BARKER and TOVE STYRKE, “All Things $ Can Do”
Quickly following up their collaboration with Little Big Town and Bryn Christopher on “Never Love You Again” is another radio-friendly earworm from the trio Cheat Codes called “All Things $ Can Do”. And this song is another collaboration too, marking a return of Swedish singer Tove Styrke after three years (she has a new solo single too called “Mood Swings”), and featuring Blink 182’s Travis Barker, who also co-produced the song and has been popping up on other people’s songs while shepherding new artists such as teen sensation jxdn. Long an alternative pop fave, Tove’s vocal would sound great next to singers like Zara Larsson, Sigrid or Astrid S. on the radio, the production is smooth and tidy, and the song certainly spells out a truth for a lot of listeners. “All Things $ Can Do” (co-written by Canada’s bülow, too!) doesn’t get lost in the shuffle which is good news for Cheat Codes as their songs veer away from the more electronic dance pop of a few years ago.
BLACK SANDS and MARTINO, “Used To It”
In “Used To It”, California electronic/pop producer/songwriter Black Sands (aka Andrew Balfour) concludes that while life will not be the same after an unfortunate and tragic event, he must move on, and thus takes us on an emotional foray with The Weeknd as his clear inspiration for his new music. The song comes to a stylized fruition thanks to L.A. R&B/pop vocalist Martino. Because of his voice, “Used To It” reminds me of The Weeknd’s music circa Starboy and My Dear Melancholy, which is some of my favourite music of The Weeknd’s career, all recorded in the aftermath of a breakup. The synths sparkle and create their own kind of twilight. Black Sands recorded his new EP Afterglow following the sudden death of his sister. And while the stories are bleak, they never come across that way at a distant listen. Listen closely though and you’ll grasp that Black Sands has achieved something far from ordinary with his new songs.
DUCK SAUCE, “Nonchalant”
After a long hiatus, A-Trak and Armand Van Helden reunited on record as Duck Sauce last year with two delightfully quirky singles in “Captain Duck” (which prominently sampled Captain Sensible’s “Wot”) and “Mesmerize” (which has one of the strangest animated videos). “Nonchalant” isn’t as much of a novelty as either “Barbra Streisand” or “Captain Duck”, as it builds an extremely catchy, soulful vocal chorus around a retro-sounding Latin melody that is lifted from British group Modern Romance’s 1981 disco/dance release “Queen of The Rapping Scene (Nothing Ever Goes The Way You Planned)”, a minor but memorable dance record (I still am proud to have my original 12″ import of it!!). That makes it a sure dance floor draw, with the slick-sounding sample in direct contrast to the fierce vocal. “Nonchalant” is a pretty irresistible, highly creative slice of fun. You can peruse the ‘duck takeover’ in the odd video above, or check out the track below. Quack!
BOYE & SIGVARDT and JORDAN SHAW, “Microdose”
BOYE & SIGVARDT, “Over Till It’s Over”
These days, releases come by so quickly that I’m thinking it’s sometimes better to wait and write about a pair of back-to-back top drawer songs than by themselves. Danish producers Christian Boye and Christian Sigvardt are names well known to readers of this blog, and their two recent releases of “Microdose” and “Over Till It’s Over” can’t go unnoticed. Both are uptempo house tracks, with “Microdose” having the added bonus of a tremendous vocal by Jordan Shaw that gives the song all kinds of dimension on its own. Add that to an engaging hook and melody and “Microdose” is well worth your time and attention. “Over Till It’s Over” is a little more familiar and more of a Top 40 dance/pop record than “Microdose”, but its zesty bounce and quieter, thoughtful moments, along with its soulful uncredited male vocal make it well above average for the genre.
I wish sometimes that some major label releases weren’t so compartmentalized to focus on the country of origin. Both of these songs are released by Warner Denmark, but have such wide appeal that Warner itself should really focus on them worldwide! There, I’ve said it!
KACEY FIFIELD and LITTLE RAIN, “Ghost”
KACEY FIFIELD, “Confused” (Aless Vanco remix)
Through her ongoing work with singer/songwriter/producer Robbie Rosen, California’s Kacey Fifield is finding a nice niche with genuine-sounding alternative electronic pop that will appeal wholeheartedly to teens and young adults. Her most recent release, “Ghost” finds her teamed up with South Korean producer Little Rain, who has demonstrated his flair for beautiful synth melodies, such as in “Moonlight” (with vocalist/songwriter Devyn Rush). It’s a delightful pairing as Little Rain taps into the emotion of “Ghost” that allows the song to shine without being maudlin. Kacey’s down-to-earth vocal is appealing and will touch those young folks who can relate to the feelings expressed in this post-relationship story.
I previously wrote about Kacey’s Spring solo release “Confused”, which gets an engaging lift from Belgian producer Aless Vanco and makes the familiar sentiments of Kacey’s song sparkle with the addition of synth flourishes in all the right places. It’s easy to bury a vocal under effects but Aless Vanco capably balances the vocal, melodies and rhythm, and his remix helps to accentuate all of the fine features about the singer and her song.
ELEPHANTE, “Holy Ghosts”
I’ve written about the music of Southern California-based producer Elephante many times in the last several years, and watched an evolution from a talented remixer and producer, into a vocalist and musician who continues to carve out his own lane. While he hasn’t released much music over the last two years, we have been fortunate to see Elephante (aka Tim Wu) perform in a number of online concerts this past year or so, where he continues to show his confidence as a DJ/producer who is also now a singer and guitarist. “Holy Ghosts” follows up singles “High Water”, “Diamond Days” (on which he introduced his voice), and “Chameleon” (with Mako) right where they left off, with alternative rock flavours and melodies that have moved away from the bigger synth sounds of earlier releases. While the synths are cleverly restrained, the live instrument elements add a more personal richness to “Holy Ghosts”, which is about someone trying to escape his past phantoms/demons while seeking comfort and love from a special someone. I expect these singles are leading up to a third full album, which will undoubtedly be quite a different Elephante experience from his past releases.
NIGHTRO, PHIL PHAULER and ALEKSANDAR VIDA, “Don’t Like It”
“Don’t Like It” is a short but notable new dance release by NYC-based Indian producer Nightro in collaboration with fellow producers Phil Phauler and Alexandar Vida. It’s got moody, dirty rhythms and dark, edgy vocal effects which surround a well-sung vocal by an uncredited female singer. “Don’t Like It” doesn’t waste time in packing musical punches early on in the song, and it could lift up just about any set during a club evening. Nightro is receiving particularly strong reaction to “Don’t Like It” in India, so it’s now time for the rest of the world to show up and embrace this one.