“Angels strumming harps atop clouds overlooking line dancers in choreographed constellations below”. That may sound like a clumsy mouthful of superfluous praise. And yet, it perfectly describes Mari Persen’s sound. The Norwegian, some years back in 2009, released a cracking album of some of the most sublime orchestral pop—and nobody paid attention. Her only album to date is every songwriter’s dream: a lush pop wonderland where the thrills are never cheap but the payoff is always satisfying and worth the price of the admission. While many pop artists project themselves forward into a future world of love, sex, and happiness, Mari looks back. Way back. Say around the time Dorothy just made it over the rainbow and Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell were foxtrotting across the glass floors of soundstages.
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Sweden’s Sarah Assbring has spent the last several years perfecting her own brand of morose-pop, exploring the inner reaches of depression that has informed every one of her releases. Her rather capricious start in music was the result of a strange encounter with a stray dog on a beach in Spain. Under the moniker El Perro del Mar (“Dog of the Sea”), Assbring would go on to record a quietly mournful set of songs that would comprise her self-titled debut. The Swede’s coy mix of Brill Building pop and gamine affectations were genuinely intoxicating, earning plaudits across Europe and bridging the gap between Stina Nordenstam’s difficult anti-pop and Anja Garbarek’s space-age diva-sonics. Assbring followed her full-length debut with another batch of confectionery lullabies entitled From the Valley to the Stars, before recording 2009’s Love Is Not Pop.
If the name Owl City doesn’t mean anything to you, you probably were living underground in 2009 when the song “Fireflies” was everywhere. Adam Young, the mastermind, one-man band behind Owl City has a mass of fans (who call themselves “Hoot Owls”) who have followed him faithfully since long before the “thousand hugs from ten thousand lightning bugs”. Young, a shy insomniac with a knack for writing whimsical lyrics that make the Hoot Owls swoon (“The silence isn’t so bad till I look at my hands and feel sad, ‘cause the spaces between my fingers are right where yours fit perfectly”), has a rare innocence about him that coupled with his supremely imaginative writing style could charm just about anyone.
Chad Valley’s Hugo Manuel has been a busy man. The Jonquil frontman just completed a tour of the UK with Massachusetts electronic band Passion Pit and Glaswegian electro-pop outfit Chvrches, and also launched his first tour of the US as Chad Valley, so he was justifiably tired when we met to discuss his debut album Young Hunger. While in America, the Oxford-based artist had the opportunity to headline a label showcase at CMJ, and though the tour wasn’t what you’d call traditional, he got the opportunity to promote his music in a way which should open up regional programmers to his unique blend of ‘90s-era Balearic chillwave and modern electronic music.
Manuel recently spoke to PopMatters not only about his new full-length, but how the album’s numerous, noteworthy collaborations (Twin Shadow, Glasser, El Perro Del Mar, etc.) came into being, and how he accidentally came across Bono’s unique method of writing lyrics.
will.i.am has a rather large problem, and the worst part is that he has yet to realize it: he is not a leading man.
This past week brought the release of “Scream & Shout”, a new single from his perpetually delayed solo album #willpower, featuring none other than Britney Spears. Its club intentions are extremely clear, its video is amazingly expensive, and it proves to have the main characteristic that has marked the noted rapper/producer’s work in the past few years: it’s pretty terrible. Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-off or an exception to the rule by any means. This is a problem that will.i.am has been running into for years, and the fix is so easy that will.i.am doesn’t want to hear it: he’ll have to step out of the spotlight.