In this week’s Notes from Left of the Dial, I take a look at some songs from Pavo Pavo, Alejandra O’Leary, Cusses, Fine Animal and Stèv. What have you been listening to this week?
Pavo Pavo, “Ran Ran Run“
Brooklyn-based experimental pop band Pavo Pavo is gearing up for the release of their debut record, “Young Narrator in the Breakers,” which is due out sometime later this year. The band’s particular brand of pop music seems to be searching for something incorporeal, something ethereal-resulting in a collection of tones and patterns slathered in shimmering guitars, denatured melodies and nimble synths. Their songs invoke images of some future time when pop music is based on a curiously organic artificiality but has long since moved past the need for artifice.
On their recent single, “Ran Ran Run,” the band fuses the elasticity of synth pop with the grit and determination of indie rock-it’s a potent mix that’ll leave you wondering what the band might do next. There’s a bit of orchestral pomp on display that gradually gives way to a more skewed pop perspective. You can hear piano, synths and some elegant vocal harmonies becoming irrevocably entwined; and from a band who are just now releasing their first record, it’s a reminder that some artists do come fully formed right from the beginning, without the need for years of experience to help sharpen their creative instincts.
Fine Animal, “Lay Awake“
Things are a little hazy for Columbus, Ohio, band Fine Animal-their music sidesteps easy characterization and instead opts for something foggier. They don’t work in tangibles, only in the ephemeral periphery of dream pop and synth pop aesthetics. Composed of singer/guitarist Kelan Gilbert, singer/keyboardist Lucy Oaks and drummer KC Wilder, the band creates a swirling cacophony of sound that’s not unlike Sigur Rós at their poppiest or St. Vincent at her most transient. Fine Animal is looking to release their debut record sometime later this spring.
On the gorgeous and nebulous new single “Lay Awake,” the band buries themselves in orchestral flourishes, mercurial synth rhythms and some haunting vocal melodies. There’s no sense of hurry here, only a casual elegance and grace that’s evidenced by a host of elegiac and unpredictable arrangements. The accompanying video bears this out as well, finding the band traversing barren woods, sterile cityscapes and the comforting confines of the stage. Vocals cross and permeate one another in an amorphous series of harmonies that keep the track moving along on a cushion of airy pop charm.
Alejandra O’Leary, “Burn Me Up“
There’s something to be said for perfectly made pop. For musician Alejandra O’Leary, the execution of this kind of immaculately made noise seems to be an integral part of who she is as an artist. Taking a shimmering set of pop sounds and merging them with a classic rock attitude, she manages to inject her songs with a thrilling momentum. It’s all about splitting the influences with O’Leary, a kind of dichotomous exploration of inspiration and production-a sound that’s easy to feel your way through but far more difficult to describe.
With her new single, “Burn Me Up,” she once again takes these genres to task, drawing out the heart and soul of the sounds until there’s nothing left but pure influence. She then layers each melodic section on top of the next in a winding staircase of effervescent pop rhythms. The song becomes a monument to her being able to rearrange these sounds into something that speaks to her motivations, as well as those of the artists who have had such an obvious impact on her development. “Burn Me Up” is jubilant and ambitious, and you’ll probably be humming it for weeks-and that’s not a bad thing.
Cusses, “Golden Rat“
Sometimes, you just a want a song that’s going to channel the raucous spirits of classic rock with more than its fair share of Riot Grrrl abrasiveness thrown in for good measure. And Savannah, Georgia-based rock trio Cusses is more than happy to oblige. Formed in 2009 by singer Angel Bond, drummer Brian Lackey and guitarist Bryan Harder, the band releases compact blasts of primal rock ferocity with touches of punk, psych and grunge mixed in to create something dense that moves along faster than you can imagine.
“Golden Rat” is the lead single from the new EP, and it is primed to destroy speakers. Leaping from the gate with a visceral punk snarl, the track feels slightly manic and unhinged, which is exactly what you want. The guitars spin out of control, obliterating everything in their path, while Bond howls like a banshee in the night and Lackey beats at the shadows around him. It’s loud, angry and prone to violent outbursts, but with every instrument that sounds like it’s getting torn apart, the band makes a case for rock as a conduit of unbridled energy and complete rhythmic authority.
Stèv, “Hills Are Floating“
So many artists attempt to find that natural bridge between the synthetic and the organic, of connecting the acoustic with the artificial. And barring a few notable examples, a good many artists fall short of that lofty goal. But for Italian producer Stefano Fagnani (AKA electronic artist Stèv), the distance between these two polar opposites isn’t quite as far as most people think-or at least, his casual and spacious electronic soundscapes make it seem that way.
On his latest single, “Hills Are Floating,” Stèv focuses on the curious interaction between these disparate aesthetics-he sets an impressionistic landscape of synths against a more organic set of instruments. Acoustic guitars pitch forward into swathes of subdued synths while a gorgeous backing rhythm sets everything on its right course. The song is a perfect example of how he’s able to successfully integrate these sounds together. In anyone else’s hands, it might have come across as uninspired or trite, but through these merging patterns, he’s able to find the heart and artificial soul of the music.
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.