In Notes From Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends time with new music from Human Heat, Lauran Hibberd, Robots With Rayguns and Frances Rose. What have you been listening to lately?
Human Heat, “Best for You”
The work of Minneapolis outfit Human Heat (really just the moniker of multi-instrumentalist Alex Schaaf) is rooted in the complex histories of his previous bands. Schaaf was a founding member of Brooklyn indie rockers Yellow Ostrich before joining touring bands The Tallest Man on Earth and Tei Shi. And after a few years of putting miles on his instruments, he wanted to take all those experiences and put them toward the creation of his own music. He focused on a more mature approach—one that incorporated synths, organs and dramatic rhythms that spoke to his need for emotional release. With the release of his forthcoming record, “All Is Too Much,” Sept. 15 via Offline Records, he’s looking to further document his exploration of candid lyrical detours and spectacular musical landscapes.
On his new track, “Best for You,” Schaaf embraces the woozy, synth-led sounds that seem to pour unrestrained from his subconscious. Aided by some persistent piano lines and a neo-R&B vocal melody that recalls the work of Bon Iver or Caribou, the track delivers a bracing indie pop nostalgia that seems to be drawn from some half-remembered dream. It’s immediately familiar but plays around with the mechanics of the genre without losing its intrepid creativity or the pensive personality that’s built note by note within its length. Drums patter and thud while his voice echoes around in this synthetic environment, purposeful in its approach and execution but still injecting a raw emotionality into the arrangements.
Lauran Hibberd, “Old Head Young Shoulders”
Lauran Hibberd is a singer-songwriter based out of Isle of Wight in England whose music can often appear fragile and lightweight but is, in reality, imbued with a sizable force and energy. Its superficial beauty belies an undercurrent of ferocious emotional insight and aptitude. At just 19 years old, she manages to convey an earned wisdom and perception that extends far beyond her age, and she explores her love of literature through a gossamer guitar style reminiscent of artists like Laura Marling or Lucy Rose. Her weightless folk narratives are born from a singular innocence but reach into both light and dark experiences to shed light on the complicated connections we make in our lives.
On her latest single, “Old Head Young Shoulders,” she evokes a neo-folk shuffle by eschewing the stereotypical singer-songwriter vulnerability and creating a sound that’s both unfiltered and tender. The song finds Hibberd adapting these soft folk melodies to suit her own distinctive needs. Opening with some simple piano notes before shifting into a breezy pop shamble, it wisely sidesteps the gloss and overproduction of most new folk-pop tracks and revels in the deceptive simplicity of its nimble aesthetic. The drums build up an impressive momentum, carrying her and the ensuing wash of sound toward an inevitable and satisfying conclusion that reveals just how lithe and reflective her music can be.
Robots With Rayguns, “Memories” (featuring Carl Gershon)
Sometimes, you want to hear something that is so over the top that it completely subsumes your senses. And that is where Phoenix-based musician Lucas Patrick Smith (AKA Robots With Rayguns) comes in, ready to dole out acres of eye-sizzling synths and chest-collapsing beats. His retro pop tendencies have served him well over the years, giving him the opportunity to explore the entrenched connections between our desire to embrace the physicality of music and the more ethereal preoccupations it causes within our brains. His classic ’80s grooves and meticulously crafted melodies lay at the heart of his songs, giving each a day-glo vibe that doesn’t lessen with the passing of time. He’s set to release his new album, “Slow Jams,” Sept. 15.
With recent single “Memories,” Smith teams up with musician Carl Gershon to offer a sun-soaked synth wave concoction, the kind of blissed-out euphoria that elicits erratic movements on the dance floor. But there’s also heartache at the center of the song, with the music bubbling and squelching in time with the down-tempo beat. Bittersweet memories and experiences line the crowded lanes of the track, creating a raucous synth atmosphere where the ’80s never died and the sun is always setting on some neon skyline. Love and regret wander through this electric haze, careening through its fluorescent landscape like a runaway locomotive. But despite its artificial setting, the feelings it elicits are as genuine and devastating as they come.
Frances Rose, “Read My Body”
For Frances Rose, a New York City-based indie pop duo built around the twin imaginations of sisters Sarah Frances and Michelle Rose, music is more than the interaction of music and words; it’s a communal invitation to share experiences and build up one another. Growing up in the Hudson Valley, they were constantly surrounded by music, which was due in no small part to the fact that their great-grand-uncle Epi Stathopoulo was the founder and designer of Epiphone Guitars. Delivering a catchy yet weighted musical racket, their songs sit comfortably at the crossroads of scuffed-up rock and addictive synth pop. They’re currently gearing up for the release of their debut mixtape, due out later this year.
On their new single, “Read My Body,” the sisters evoke a joyous indie pop groove, the kind of R&B-inflected noise that so many artists try to capitalize on and so few manage to produce with any authenticity. The infectious melody curves around the synth-scorched arrangements as the cathartic vocals explore thoughts of empowerment and feeling confident in your own skin. There’s no doubt that the duo owes much to their synth forebears, but their work is anything but an imitation of their influences. They mix and deconstruct a collection of ’90s-era electro pop beats, some alt rock proclivities and a brash lyrical insight into a coherent narrative about the joys of physical contact and exploring your own sexuality.
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.