Harmony House started as the soundtrack to a fictional sitcom. Sloan Struble, the man behind the music/dayglow, was inspired by the soft rock of the late 70s and early 80s, as well as the old TV show Cheers. From the synths to the lyrics, the whole album is drenched in the welcoming, nostalgic vibe of an old sitcom.
Last week, MGMT released Little Dark Age, the duo’s fourth studio album. Admittedly, I haven’t listened to much of MGMT beyond their hits from last decade like “Kids” or “Electric Feel,” but nevertheless I really enjoyed listening to Little Dark Age. The album appears to have received generally positive reviews, with most critics asserting that Little Dark Age is a welcome return to MGMT’s commercial-pop sound after their foray into a more experimental quality during the early 2010s. Little Dark Age is rather quick to convey a retro vibe, made apparent from the breach by songs like “She Works Out Too Much,” “Little Dark Age,” and “When You Die.” MGMT seems to have pulled from the vernacular of 1980s pop music, with warm, analog synthesizer tracks on essentially every piece of the album. “Little Dark Age” the lead sample from the album which was actually released back in October, contains a machinated drum beat and near monotonic vocal track, both of which bring “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats to mind.
You may know Emily Haines from the Canadian band Metric. This Emily Haines is an entertainer. She energizes arenas of fans. She sings and plays the synth at Coachella. She dances comfortably on the stage.
This past Friday, Dan Smalls Presents treated us to a lovely and endearing performance at the State Theatre of Ithaca by inviting Regina Spektor to pay the city a visit. Waiting for the start of the concert, the theater was loud and everyone seemed in a slight daze, presumably from the recent turn of the weather, or maybe as a residual effect from the week’s earlier presidential debate. The cold outside had everyone shedding layers of coats, or drinking off the chill, or both. A half hour after the projected start time, as people could be heard asking their neighbors, “The opener hasn’t even started yet?” Spektor waltzed out onto the stage with drummer Mathias Kunzli, cellist Yoed Nir and keyboardist Brad Whiteley. “Oh my gosh she’s so cute!” I heard someone half-whisper off to my left.
On a typically dreary day in London during my semester abroad, my friend from Cornell and I began a text conversation about the artists we longed to see live. We had the privilege of seeing Norah Jones last fall at the State Theatre, and we began brainstorming other musicians who would be equally as enthralling. Lianne La Havas rolled off the tongue — a versatile musician who we had grown to love over the course of our college experiences. Her vibrato was a routine point of conversation, as no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t emulate the intense subtlety of her vocal wavering. And we had fond memories of listening to and discussing her 2015 album Blood just moments after its release.
Once in awhile, an artist appears who produces exactly what you were looking for. The pop music scene has been overly blessed with strong female leads, from any of Ariana Grande’s continuously multiplying tracks (I love her and Nicki Minaj, but “Side to Side” is a bit much for me to get out without wincing a bit — “wrist icicle/dick bicycle?” Really?) to any of the pure gold that Rihanna and Beyoncé rain down on us. I’d been craving someone with a bit of a different sound for a while and around last spring ran into Izzy Bizu’s “White Tiger,” off her 2013 EP Coolbeanz. This track is liquid happiness and believe me, it makes a much better alarm then your AT&T default track “Spring Morning.” With a minimal rhythm of piano and percussion by her side throughout, it feels about as wholesome as watching How to Train your Dragon with your grandma (which is a 10/10 would recommend, by the way). It’s clean in lyrics and in production, it’s light, it’s substantial and it leaves you feeling the same as the track comes to a close.
Pop has changed. Over the course of the last decade or so, what was once an outlet for one-dimensional electronic ballads such as Spear’s Top 10, Toxic, has become one that allows expression of the complexities of more than simply romance, artists are expressing the intricacies of their lives. Pop has come to encompass a great deal of music as well. Suddenly, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Britney Spears are all in the same category. That being said, in many respects, the pop bar has been raised in just the last 10 years.
David Lawrence is a film and television composer, songwriter and producer whose score and song credits include the American Pie films, the High School Musical series, and the forthcoming HBO documentary, Becoming Mike Nichols. The Sun spoke with Lawrence in anticipation of his visit this Friday about movie music, the process of scoring and Frank Sinatra. The Sun: There are so many people who write music to be a pop hit or for the radio. Was it your goal to write television theme music or soundtrack music? David Lawrence: I went to conservatory in New York.