Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Kids Are Happy, Even Though School Started Again



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Nick Martin could pass as a superhero. If you met Martin on the street, you might never guess he was one of the Bay Area’s most brilliant young R&B artists--yet as soon as he steps into the shoes of his Romance alter ego, he transforms into a smooth yet tough and high-energy character with a prominent dark streak. There’s not much darkness to “Superhuman,” the latest single by Martin’s megaband Romance of Thieves, but there’s smoothness, toughness, and a whole lot of energy. Over a beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Janelle Monae song, rapper De’Andre delivers a killer verse that references Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” while Martin, like a DJ scrolling through his iTunes library, references nearly every song Katy Perry has ever sung. While the production is bogged down by a rather irritating horn loop courtesy of Martin’s old St. Valentinez bandmate Will Randolph V, the song, as a whole, is an R&B blast that’s heavy on the rhythm and light on the blues.


“This Could Be Anything”

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I mean, come on! These guys have a picture of two guys in knitted caps camping in their living room for their album cover! “This Could Be Anything,” the latest single from The Yellow Dress, is so twee it doesn’t hurt, even though it tickles a bit. There’s handclaps, a major key signature, glockenspiel, subtly out-of-key horns, a girl-group chord progression, and boy-girl duetting. All of it is held together by the bustling production of George Rosenthal, which complements the music considerably better than the lo-fi production of the group’s earlier releases. To top it all off, it basically sounds like Ghost and the City on Prozac. Honestly, what more could you want out of upbeat indie pop?


“What I Want”

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Though they’re not as well-known as some other teenage Bay Area rockers, Tano Brock and Jack Gorlin have both produced some quality bedroom pop in the last few years. Brock produced a string of brilliant lo-fi singles last year (most of which are no longer public), and Gorlin’s classic rock covers are worth giving a listen. Put the two together in the same room, and you get... a free-bitch disco anthem? It’s surprising, but it works. On the second official single by their collaboration under the moniker Space Among Many, the duo’s chemistry is obvious. Brock’s piano-driven production is consistently interesting and danceable, with Gorlin’s filtered vocals driving the song along rather than merely floating on top. In addition, the vocal harmonies between the two are seamless. Brock has stated that the goal of Space Among Many is to experiment with as many genres as possible while maintaining a distinctive sound. While “What I Want” is far more effective than their previous single, the dark synth-pop “Not Alone,” it will be interesting to see what these two cook up.

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