Silent Shout: It’s Time To Stop Calling Stuff “Dark Pop”

Carl Williott | March 9, 2016 1:32 pm

Silent Shout is our recurring dispatch from pop’s fringes. It might not be music for the masses, but — to paraphrase *NSYNC — this might be pop.

I love genre labels, and the ceaseless challenge to come up with ever more specific ways to categorize certain sounds. I also know artists hate talking about genre, often thinking it’s reductive to affix a single catchall term to the art they’ve spent so much time laboring over. I get that. But the fact of the matter is, genre tags are useful. They’re useful for marketing the music — which is felt all the way from A&R and publicists and charts down to Bandcamp tags — and they’re useful for music fans/obsessives hoping to seek out or avoid a certain style of music. And it’s fun! It’s fun to hear something multifaceted like Art Angels or a dude like Raury and try to describe it to a friend in a nutshell. Musicians may think this stuff cheapens their art, but I’d argue it provides it with context and connections.

But there is one genre description that we, as a music geek community, should retire: “dark pop.” Dark pop has become the Mad Lib of choice for for writers, publicists, artists and fans trying to describe any synth-assisted minor key wallow inspired by the one David Lynch movie you saw. Like “hipster” or “all natural,” it’s so widespread now that it has no meaning. All dark pop tells me at this point is “not Carly Rae Jepsen.”

And with that, let’s get to this week’s roundup of call-it-anything-but-dark-pop songs.

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Kristin Kontrol — “X-Communicate”

Dum Dum Girls frontwoman Dee Dee is stepping out on her own as Kristin Kontrol. Her band’s 2014 album Too True moved away from their hazy girl group/garage rock roots in favor of ’80s dream-pop textures, and now she’s going deeper into that decade with debut LP X-Communicate, out May 27. The title track takes Berlin‘s bouyant synth-pop and gives it a goth nail polish sheen, and it features some of the strongest vocals of her career.

Kero Kero Bonito — “Lipslap”

Bits and pieces of Tumblr pop, bubblegum, J-pop and dance music make up this London trio’s fizzy, busy sound. They’re less pretentious than PC Music and less kawaii than Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, owning that off-kilter futurist-pop sweet spot that Charli XCX seems to be going for with her new Vroom Vroom imprint. “Lipslap” pretty much distills all that into song much more convincingly than I can in a short blurb.

Lil Yachty — “All Times” Lil Yachty is the latest rap alien to emerge from Atlanta’s freewheeling hip-hop scene, following the likes of Future, Young ThugMakonnen and Awful Records. In what other universe but this ATLien-dominated one could a dude model for Kanye’s fashion line alongside Thug just as he released a warbled sing-song trap cut built on a sample of the Rugrats theme? Indeed, what a time to be alive.

Bryde — “Help Yourself” Let’s get something straight: Lana Del Rey is alt-pop. She has the cachet and popularity of a pop star, but there’s nothing “pop” about her music. Her music has more to do with lounge singing and an imagined idea of ’40s jazz clubs and ’60s hippies than modern pop. She’s one of the many artists that highlight the conundrum of “pop” music and how you define it. (Here we are again talking about these pesky genre labels.) I say all this because it stands to reason that if Lana is alt-pop, then that’s where someone like Bryde fits on a site like this. On “Help Yourself,” the British newcomer explores the same nighttime desert noir territory of Lana and Meg Myers, and she offers up a graceful and cathartic chorus.

Follin — “Roxy” Madeline Follin of fuzzy garage pop duo Cults teams up with her brother Richie for the new sibling surname project. The lo-fi loops and Auto-Tune vocals of this lead single aren’t too far off from Cults’ gauzy, grainy textures, so Madeline is right in her sweet spot despite the more mechanistic sound. The song was one of several they recorded in New York City, and it’s their first collaborative release.