Musical Discovery: ‘Little Secrets’ by Passion Pit

Passion Pit is a band who always seems to find their way into my life at those euphoric moments. Their collaboration with my favourite DJ Madeon on the track Pay No Mind welcomed me into adulthood, and now Little Secrets was part of my Summer in the City 2017 soundtrack – a weekend which was absolutely incredible.

With kazoo-like electronica that sounds reminiscent of an old Nintendo game mixed with summery French music, there’s a sense of blissful nostalgia which distracts oneself from Michael Angelakos’ slightly irritating falsetto. It’s how the lyrics and vocals intertwine with fluttering synth and bouncy drums which makes Angelakos just about bearable on this track. Whilst there’s no denying that his high-pitched singing is impressive, using this as in an attempt to heighten the emotions isn’t entirely successful.

Instead, you have a track which is worth listening to because of the instrumentals. It defeats the purpose of the track somewhat, but the feel good vibes are nonetheless apparent – despite the song supposedly having a much darker meaning.

Review: ‘Swimming Pool Summer’ by Capital Cities

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Capital Cities. Late last year they returned with their track, Vowels, but it was all the way back in 2013 that the duo released a collection of songs – that was their debut album, In A Tidal Wave of History.

Now, the band reveal their new EP, Swimming Pool Summer. For those who hoped that Vowels was the build-up to their second album, it looks like that isn’t coming just yet.

Swimming Pool Summer Album Cover
‘Swimming Pool Summer’ follows on from Capital Cities’ 2013 debut album, ‘In A Tidal Wave of Mystery’.

The EP’s title track is a welcome return to Capital Cities’ original style (following a little funk detour with Vowels). Much like Safe and Sound‘s standout trumpet melody, this song has a repeated synth tune which makes this track memorable. Add that to the odd trumpet flourish, traditional harmonised vocals and a bouncy drum beat, and you have the groovy sound we know and love. At the end of the EP, we hear THCSRS remix the track, which is a fair re-version, but it’s the original which is the best of the two, with its nostalgia hit making it a stand-out track on the record.

The band’s signature tone is distorted in the second track on the four-song EP. Drop Everything still maintains the bouncy tempo apparent in a traditional Capital Cities bop, but now, the main melody is an electronic-heavy tune that feels somewhat out of place when listening to the band’s previous work. In the past, the group have always flirted with synths and electronica, though it has always been tame, calm and euphoric. With Drop Everything, much like how Vowels tapped into the increasingly popular funk scene, the track tries to chip in to the current electro scene (with a sound reminiscent of the DJ, Marshmello) – to mediocre success.

By the third track on the EP, one starts to assume that the record will be ‘old, new, old, new’ in terms of structure. A mix of Love Again and Farah Fawcett HairGirl Friday sees singers Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian repeat vocals in the hope that this will deliver a hit for them. Whilst the chorus and first verse set a chill tone, this vibe is quickly destroyed by the rapper Rick Ross. Regardless of the smooth flow, Rick’s interruption of the chorus just ends up being obnoxious, ruining the 50/50 balance that a collaboration should convey.

With a laid-back rhythm, the penultimate track, Drifting, has a fitting name. It’s a different style of electronica to the three other songs. Gone are the slightly auto-tuned vocals and bouncy drums, instead we hear a more pure, chilled sound which brings the EP to a relaxed finish (if we exclude the aforementioned remix).

However, with Girl Friday containing a flawed collaboration, Drop Everything drifting too far away from Capital Cities’ original style, THCSRS’ remix not adding much to the song, and Drifting being a chill track, it’s Swimming Pool Summer which is the only memorable song of note from the EP. At which point, you have to ask: would it have been better to have released the aforementioned track as a single in order to build up excitement for the second album, whenever that may be?

Although the EP does showcase further experimentation from Capital Cities, we are still left in the dark about what’s next for Simonian and Merchant.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, you decide.

Musical Discovery: ‘Thinking of You’ by Busted

I was wrong to assume that an electronic-funk style for Busted was a bad move for the trio. Whilst my opinions on their return single, Coming Home, remain the same (that its attempts to appeal to a teenage demographic with expletives is unneccessary), the band’s new album Night Driver is far from a turbulent transition into a new musical genre.

Take Thinking of You. Fluttering synth arpeggios linger underneath electronic vocals, as the band sings another song about another girl. From air hostesses to great-great-great granddaughters, to a woman who is ‘on fire’, a typical Busted theme remains in the new music – and let’s not forget the guitar bridge towards the end, which is a brief nod to older days.

Yet, the aspect of the track which stands out the most is the keyboard melody during the chorus, which sounds like three meowing cats (in a good way – it’s the best way of describing the sound). With regards to Bourne, Simpson and Willis’ vocals, a harmonic style in the verses mean that they’re pretty forgettable in the song, save for the chorus.

A track which has hints of Busted’s older days in amongst the new stuff, one wonders if Thinking of You would have made a better lead single than Coming Home. The answer? Quite possibly.

Musical Discovery: ‘Symphony’ by Clean Bandit feat. Zara Larsson

You’d have thought that a song called ‘Symphony’ by the electro-classical band Clean Bandit would involve bursts of violin and cello. Yet, with orchestral flourishes only appearing in the background, it’s another pop song by the trio which has this imbalance between dance and strings.

It’s a track much like Extraordinary and Dust Clears in nature. Bouncy, light synths and snappy drum beats are at the forefront underneath the vocalist’s sound, with the occasional, classical flair. In this case, it’s the artist behind Lush Life – Zara Larsson – and sings with pure, soft vocals reminiscent of her ballad, Uncover.

This track came out on Friday – the same day that Larsson’s debut album, So Good, was released. In that sense, Symphony‘s delicate nature was the perfect track to coincide with the record. It shows Zara in her true form, displaying her vocal talent. For fans of Clean Bandit who have only just been made aware of the Swedish singer, it’s certainly a great way to introduce herself.

As Larsson’s vocals take centre stage (both in the song and literally in terms of the music video), everything else – including Clean Bandit’s contribution – feels somewhat supplementary. There’s even an orchestra in the video, despite the classic elements of Symphony not being at the forefront of the song. Despite the lack of strings and the absence of a move towards the style shown on their debut album (New Eyes), that is not enough to be dismissive of this particular Clean Bandit track.

As with every collaboration, the trio always manage to pick a mood and singer which work well together. In this case, Zara Larsson leads a soulful single complete with impassioned verses and fluttering choruses. It continues the pop vibe of Tears and Rockabye, albeit with a completely different tone this time round.

Musical Discovery: ‘Something Better’ by Audien feat. Lady Antebellum

There’s always something interesting about DJs collaborating with artists who aren’t fellow producers or pop singers. The task of creating a song which feels like familiar ground for the featured band or musician whilst incorporating electronic dance elements can be quite the challenge. In the case of Something Better, American DJ Audien teams up with the country trio Lady Antebellum to create a track with the band’s soft vocals and a groovy electronic melody.

With Scott, Kelley and Haywood all possessing a relaxed, calm vocal style, there’s a big opportunity in the track’s verses for Audien to experiment with the underlying instruments. In the first verse, we hear gentle synth chords, whilst the second verse involves synths which are more trickling in nature. In both cases, a light drum beat allows the song to move seamlessly into the chorus – one with a bouncy rhythm and a groovy electronic guitar effect.

Here is where Audien is truly able to show off his talents as a musician. The chorus adopts an electronic style which fits perfectly alongside Lady Antebellum’s vocals, whilst still creating a sense of euphoria which successful dance songs can establish. This winning combination of vocals and instrumentals is also shown in the final minute of the track, as the lyrics are combined with the electronic melody we hear in the first two choruses. In a final nod to Lady Antebellum’s original country style, the single ends with an acoustic guitar riff establishing a soothing, mellow tone – creating the right balance between the band and the DJ’s contrasting genres.

Musical Discovery: ‘Feel Right’ by Wolfgang Gartner feat. J Hart

Once again, I have to thank Spotify for its ability to recommend songs which fit in to my music taste perfectly. Their New Music Friday UK playlist always reminds me about the latest releases from artists I like, but a feature which I only recently discovered was the Daily Mix playlists. After giving one of them a listen, I found Feel Right, by Wolfgang Gartner feat. J Hart.

With staccato, hazy synth notes, it’s no surprise that some listeners are describing the song as nostalgic. It’s a style adopted by pop stars in the noughties, with stars such as Pitbull and Cascada adopting club synths in a bid to have the next dance anthem. Thankfully, this song does not revive the cringeworthy feel which accompanied this style at the time. Instead, a soulful and refreshing techno groove brings this type of electronic music up to date.

This is in contrast to the verses, sung by British songwriter J Hart (real name James Abrahart). Impassioned vocals combined with fluttering piano chords achieves the same euphoric feel as the chorus, so as the verse flows into the main melody, it all sounds seamless.

Alongside comparisons to the dance pop we all remember from years ago, a musical interlude two minutes into the song nods towards the techno style of Porter Robinson (particularly his track, Language). With Robinson taking inspiration from Japanese culture and always trying to create emotive and atmospheric music, it’s likely that Gartner’s Feel Right was hoping to go for a similar vibe – and it succeeded.

Musical Discovery: ‘Only One’ by Sigala feat. Digital Farm Animals

Even when it’s December, a new tropical house track from Sigala (real name Bruce Fielder) is always appreciated by music fans who still haven’t forgotten about summer. For the Easy Love DJ, he hasn’t quite finished with 2016 just yet, releasing one more track to add to other smash hits released this year (including Say You Do, Give Me Your Love and Ain’t Giving Up). 2015 ended with a massive breakthrough for the artist, and now 2016 ends with him becoming a fully fleshed out talent, with the release of his latest track, Only One (feat. Digital Farm Animals).

With vocals which sound like a weird mix between John Newman and Tinie Tempah, this new track is likely to be an opportunity for Fielder to showcase the range of artists he can work with. Easy LoveSweet Lovin’Don’t Need No Money and Say You Do all included high-pitched vocals. Now, Only One features a voice which sounds similar to Newman’s in Give Me Your Love, but for the most part, moves away from the falsetto. In the song’s bridge, we hear low-pitched vocal distortion which sounds unusual for a track from Sigala, but it works.

The chorus is always where Fielder’s talent really shines through. Once again, it contains the punchy piano chords, but alongside a fluttering melody and hazy background synths. It’s the ability to keep to a cemented style whilst trying something new within those confines which really makes a great artist, and Sigala is one.

Sigala is now a well-established DJ on the tropical house scene. Seven hit singles have allowed him to set his vibrant and upbeat style in stone, whilst demonstrating his skills as an artist. We’ve seen him feature a variety of singers on his singles, as well as dabble with different forms of house and electronica (take the drum-and-bass track Say You Do featuring DJ Fresh, for example). Now, we can only hope that 2017 sees the release of his eagerly anticipated debut album.