As much as the word has been derided (and I personally disagree strongly with said derision, but that’s a story for another time), High Dive Heart perfectly embodies the spirit of “poptimism”. There’s the auditory side: hand-claps and slick harmonies over a tightly-produced piano and guitar backdrop, as with their newest single “Misfit.” There’s the visual side: “Misfit’s” video stars a kid living his superhero fantasy helping people accept themselves as they are, with colorful sketches and editing to boot. And, thankfully, there’s the real-life side: all proceeds from “Misfit” off iTunes and Spotify will go straight to the Bully Project, an organization dedicated to stamping out bullying in schools nationwide. I’m going to silence the cynic in me on this one: if “Misfit” is any indication, poptimism is thankfully alive and well.
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Despite the seemingly ridiculous title, “Justin Bieber at the Gates of Hell” is a surprisingly somber affair. Low-light R&B synths catapult off a shallow, bouncy bassline as Damien Verrett — the man behind So Much Light — sings in an alt-’core tenor. The song does in fact recall the Biebs, in that its downward-spiraling structure and occasional pitched-down vocals mirror the Canadian singer’s ascent into a more twisted pop world. It’s alt-pop in the same world as Flume or How to Dress Well, morose and triumphant and serene all at once. It lies at the “gates of Hell” — at a place promising tantalizing darkness, a release in exchange for slavish devotion — and, as with other music in a similar place, that positioning gives it a wonderful topspin.
NYVES’ heavy synths are a far cry from the hard rock of their two members’ previous projects (including Demon Hunter and Project 86), but their ‘80s-tinged electronic is nevertheless impressive. “Just Give Up” looses a hard-rock snarl over a stolid chunk of synthwave, the video’s black-and-white palate reflecting the spartan sensibilities of the song’s evenhandedness. It takes a couple key elements from NYVES’ past — eardrum-crushing snares, rippling bass — and gives them a futuristic sheen, plating smooth chrome over the frenzied metal spirit thrashing within. In other words, its misanthropic words and off-human music are synthwave through and through — and, more importantly, synthwave done right.
Jonathan Frahm: Perhaps it was the new set of experiences with I’m With Her last year that invigorated something new in her, but no matter the case, something about Watkins is coming across as that much more confident in her own bones—and, henceforth, that much more compelling. Being first recognized as one of bluegrass’ prodigal daughters, she handles herself incredibly well on the more rock-based instrumentation of her past couple of singles leading into her latest full-length. Despite the electrified arrangement, her vocals are still set right at the center of this track, and you can altogether feel the bittersweet nature of the song’s lyric in her earnest delivery. The various natural sets in the music video offer more than enough lush imagery to assist in driving this one home. [8/10]
“When You’ve Found It Out” is a wandering behemoth of a song, equal parts immense rocker and wispy pop specter. Sara Rachele’s coy, mirthful wail darts in and out of the dusty bass and jagged distortion of her Skintights bandmates, creating an effect both impactful and evanescent. It plays out like a mirage — quick and substanceless, but also impactful and resonant. When the final chorus thuds in with the force of a guillotine, you’ve got nothing left to do but to let the song’s raw power take its course.