Silent Shout: Kanye’s Newest Protégé, A Katy Perry Cover & More Music From Pop’s Fringes
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.
The ’80s will never die. Even though the every-20-years law long ago expired for that neon era and we’re in the midst of a ’90s nostalgia dump, pop music has been fixated on that decade for longer than it actually lasted. The rise of The Killers, The Bravery and other mopey guyliner-wearing New Wave revivalists in the early 2000s sent the first big shockwaves through music, then it morphed into an explosion of synth-pop emotionalism, from the likes of M83, Passion Pit and eventually Chvrches. That second wave was a bigger hit with a more pop-serious, dance-ready mainstream, and soon enough, those vaguely nostalgic sounds got swallowed up by stars like Carly Rae Jepsen and Taylor Swift.
Hip-hop isn’t immune to it, either. Despite the obsession with past greats, pedigree and old samples, rap over the last decade has been the most sonically adventurous genre outside of dubstep. And yet here’s Macklemore, recreating rap’s nascent years on his new single. Even The Weeknd, once a bastion of subversive internet cool, has gone Michael Bolton on us with an adult-contemporary power ballad closing out his new album.
But the interesting thing is that even though ’80s signifiers have become indistinguishable from mainstream signifiers, this hasn’t deterred left-of-center artists from flocking to those same reference points. Instead, alt-leaning artists are finding new ways to manipulate, exaggerate and deconstruct the squiggly keyboards, uncanny polish and unabashed melodic grandeur of the ’80s. And with lots of unexplored territory from that decade still waiting to be toyed with, from cold wave to smooth jazz to New Jack Swing, the ’80s revival may very well survive into a third decade.
And that’s what the five songs in our latest alt-pop roundup illustrate. None of the tracks below sound alike, but they all present a future version of that recent past.
TALK ABOUT POP MUZIK
Eliot Sumner — “Species” Eliot Sumner signed her first major label deal at 17, but is only now reemerging some eight years later with her first LP under her own name. New single “Species” illustrates the post-punk/synth-pop hybrid she landed on during that “hibernation” period: The husky vocals give it a goth vibe, the analog synth sequencing provides a minimal wave foundation, shards of angular guitar tear through the refrain and the multi-tracked chorus is pure pop catharsis.
Yumi Zouma — “Right, Off The Bridge” Those synth drum fills, rainy-window guitars and rubbery keys are Reagan-era staples, but the bedroom-pop vocals and that false drop after the bridge place the song firmly in our digital era. It’s what ’80s pop might’ve sounded like with a modicum of chill.
Spector — “Cocktail Party/Heads Interlude” London band Spector have made the not-uncommon move from cheeky indie rock to sparkly pop, and “Cocktail Party” proves it was the right call. Fred Macpherson‘s vocals give it the swoop-haired schmaltz of Thompson Twins and Spandau Ballet, but the song was co-written by Dev Hynes, so his familiar lo-fi summer-funk throb balances it out.
Empress Of — “Hot N Cold” Singer/producer Lorely Rodriguez, who records as Empress Of, released her debut album Me last week. And a few days prior she dropped a cover of Katy Perry‘s “Hot N Cold” for Rookie. It’s her first cover, and she has turned the bubblegum banger into a saccharine sway. It’s the perfect entry point for Idolator readers who are unfamiliar with her Cocteau Twins-influenced digital dream-pop.
Kacy Hill — “Foreign Fields” “Foreign Fields” is this former American Apparel model’s proper intro after signing to Kanye West‘s G.O.O.D. Music, and it dropped just before the world heard her entrancing cameo on Travi$ Scott‘s “90210.” The spare pianos and chirped vocals invite obvious comparisons to James Blake — a favorite of West’s — but there’s a throwback sensuality here that’s like listening to R&B through a Natural Wonders rain stick.