Silent Shout: New Music From Pop’s Fringes Featuring Autre Ne Veut, MUNA & HEALTH
Silent Shout is our recurring roundup of the latest in alt-pop. It might not be music for the masses, but — to paraphrase *NSYNC — this might be pop.
Mainstream culture has co-opted all things weird and “alt.” From tattoos to niche slang, things that previously were considered outrageous or rebellious are run-of-the-mill now. A new McDonald’s ad campaign is using a SOPHIE song, for god’s sake. Music is actually the perfect lens through which to view this phenomenon. Think of how outrageous the sight of Lady Gaga was in 2009, and how quaint that all seems now.
The distance from pop’s center to its fringes is infinitesimal. Part of that is due to social media and the digital music revolution, part is due to the natural desensitization of each subsequent generation of listeners and part is due to the fact that pop is more respected and embraced than ever. Take Björk, Timbaland or The Knife (where this feature gets its name): They once served as connectors between the avant-garde and the gooey center. But now, the acts that make up and shaped that gooey center are increasingly serving that role. Some of the industry’s biggest stars are the ones taking the boldest artistic risks — just look at Beyoncé or Miley Cyrus. Over the past five years, artists like Kanye West, M.I.A., The Weeknd, and Diplo have incepted the mainstream with alternative and underground sounds, to the point where it’s normal for Taylor Swift to sound like Purity Ring, Demi Lovato to release a track that at first glance seems to sample Justice, Miguel to channel Tame Impala or Grimes to try to write a Rihanna song. That gooey pop center has gone Ghostbusters 2 and smeared across everything.
So as our established stars stretch pop’s boundaries, what’s going on at those ever-normalized fringes? That’s what we aim to discuss in this recurring feature, by highlighting the best new songs, videos and albums at that nebulous nexus of alt and pop. And in the process, hopefully we’ll introduce you to some new stuff you may not normally seek out.
TALK ABOUT POP MUZIK
Autre Ne Veut — “World War Pt. 2”
This guy’s music is like R. Kelly‘s “My mind’s telling me no, but my bodyyy” moment pushed to its breaking point and pasted onto alien approximations of R&B. He just announced new album Age Of Transparency, leading off with the video for “World War Pt. 2,” which plays out as a sort of creepy extension of Bat For Lashes‘ The Haunted Man album cover. As for the song, it displays Autre Ne Veut’s penchant for pairing passionate vocals with sterile and sometimes jarring arrangements.
MUNA — “Promise”
Those watery New Wave guitars and drum pads give this the faded neon VHS glow of the golden era of John Hughes. It’s a trick that Ballet School also pulls off, and proves that sometimes the most shimmery pop being made right now is also the least interested in modern flourishes. Those gleefully anachronistic qualities are brought into 2015 thanks to Katie Gavin’s voice, which exhibits a proud bitterness and, as Stereogum pointed out, hits the middle ground between Katy Perry and Caroline Polachek.
Pr0files — “I Know You Still Care”
All I know about L.A. electro-pop duo Pr0files (with a zero, not an O) is that on this warped bit of space-funk they’ve unleashed one of the best electronic sounds I’ve heard all year. That melty synth line (or maybe it’s a wah-pedal guitar that’s been processed into taffy?) burrows into your head like those supposed ecstasy brain holes all the local news channels warned about in the ’90s.
HEALTH — “Stonefist”
Dubstep, molly-pop, PC Music, Hudson Mohawke, albums like Yeezus and MAYA — over the past few years, these all demonstrated that an obnoxious digital racket could coexist with brash pop. L.A. noise band HEALTH amplifies both sides of that equation on their third album, Death Magic (out August 7). Inspired by current “pop-star songs that are hitting harder than a heavy metal record because of the production,” the band deploys a maximalist mix of effects-laden mecha-velociraptor shrieks and feathery hooks. If NIN‘s “Closer” is considered a pop classic at this point, then “Stonefist” is a couple generations down the bloodline.
Clarence Clarity — “Will To Believe”
Imagine Yeasayer and M.I.A. got into that contraption from The Fly and were fused to a melting motherboard, then you might arrive at the sound of Clarence Clarity. His songs generally involve explosions of cartoonish sound effects and hyper-processed vocals cutting through a pile of analog detritus that’s been shaken into a digitized whirr. But it rarely sounds abrasive; there’s a ~clarity~ in the chaos, which can be heard in the surprising groove of “Will To Believe.” The song is off his rad mind-melter of a debut album, No Now, and he just premiered the video.