Moogfest Bands: Foundation in melody

Here is where electronica edges up against pop. Sometimes the two neatly envelop each other, but more often than not, these artists showcase their anti-pop sensibilities by juxtaposing danceable beats with off-kilter narratives, or gorgeous vocals with odd pairings of instruments. Still, the end result is digestible and easy to like. These are the songs that feel accessible, even familiar.

Active Child is an alchemy of harp tones, mellow R&B pulses and singer Pat Grossi's choir-boy voice. Also rather heavenly: the soaring dreampop of M83. Also rather dreamy: The sprightly glitch-meets-organic compositions of Baths and the simultaneously expansive and haunting songscapes of John Maus.

On the other end of that spectrum, Ghostland Observatory is all kinetic beats and swagger — equal parts tech geek and rock star. Also rather rocking: The synth-pop beats of Passion Pit, an unabashed call to the dance floor (even if you don't know this band, you know its oft-remixed song "Little Secrets" with the chorus of kids chanting "higher and higher and higher"). Also rather dance-y: The subtle but persistent palpitations of The Naked and Famous, whose beats and melodies portray love and angst and youth with perfectly proportioned urgency and cool.

In fact, that's kind of what this group is all about. Urgency and cool. Dreaming and dancing. Beauty and the beat. —A.M.

If it seems that a choir-boy background and harp skills (think angels, not bluesmen) don't seem like the ingredients to a successful pop career, Active Child's Pat Grossi would argue otherwise. The former chorister/harpist/singer/songwriter just released his debut album You Are All I See, a dreamy, breathless collection of synth-pop that sounds like nothing else. And yet it's impossible to listen and not think that there is a heaven and the angels do strum harps. Hopefully they also drop canny hip-hop beats and fervent melody lines. —A.M.

M83 (aka French musician Anthony Gonzalez) just signed on Active Child as support for his current tour. It's a perfect pairing. Gonzalez takes his stage name from the spiral galaxy Messier 83, and his song inspirations from the sky. Starlit and shimmering with fuzzy synthesizers, orchestral layering and soaring vocals, the dream-pop aesthetic spans all aspects of double-album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Gonzalez considers the two discs to be be brother and sister, and the songs within track the magic and beauty of childhood.—A.M.

 

Minnesota-born composer John Maus' vision is described on his YouTube channel as an "often blurry yet always determined world." Chimes, synthesizers, a resonant baritone that recalls the velvety timbre of Peter Murphy. In recent years, Maus has moved in a pop direction, but his early work was inspired by the likes of Black Mountain College faculty John Cage. —A.M.

 

New Zealand-based indie rock quintet The Naked and Famous is a long way from home and, if their blog is anything to go by, enjoying every moment. Photo posts include posing with umbrellas in Brooklyn, bowling and hanging out back stage at Fuji Rock Festival. Following Moogfest, they return home to play the New Zealand Music Awards. —A.M.

 

Multi-instrumentalist Marley Carroll is Asheville born and raised and, like many Moogfest musicians, leads a double or triple life of sorts. At age 17, he was named best scratch DJ in North Carolina at the Guitar Center’s Spin Off competition. He has since DJed solo and as part of Charlotte-based hip-hop trio Mr. Invisible. But he's also fronted his live band Melanaster (until recently, when he developed a solo Melanaster performance using a MIDI controller, turntable, keys and a multi-channel audio interface). —A.M.

 

Techno musician Axel Willner has a number of stage names: Lars Blek, James Larsson, Cordouan and (for our purposes) The Field. As the latter, he's released a handful of albums, layering loops of synthesizers, guitars and vocals. This year's release, Looping State of Mind, sees Willner back at his most successful formula while touching on influences of deep house and post-punk. Moogfest band Battles tapped The Field to play at the All Tomorrow's Parties Nightmare Before Christmas festival this December. —A.M.

 

Japanese singer Yumi Nagano fronts Swedish collective Little Dragon, but nationality is hardly an issue: The band sounds at once otherworldly and familiar as a recurring dream. Sometimes ethereal, sometimes dropping hip-hop beats, Little Dragon has effortless cool and is much-sought-after for collaborations by the likes of Moogfest bands TV on the Radio and SBTRKT. —A.M.

Ford & Lopatin’s members are part of two other bands. Ford is Joel Ford of the group Tigercity; Lopatis is Daniel Lopatin, aka Moogfest band Oneohtrix Point Never. What's the intersection of the two bands? Well, beats. And synths. And a band called Polyphonic that they started together when they were 15. —A.M.

Like an electro-dance-party doppelganger of the Black Keys, Austin, Texas, duo Ghostland Observatory fuses infectious rock ’n’ roll tunes with dirty, trashy bleeps and beats. While known for their sophisticated laser-light live shows, the boys also love them some analog. So much so that a few months back they gave away a pair of weekend Moogfest passes to whichever fan could share with them (via Facebook) the sexiest pic of a vintage synth. Ahhh, Moog porn. We bet Bob would be proud. — M.B.

Thanks to his sweet falsetto and glitch-pop beats, vocalist/songwriter Michael Angelakos and Passion Pit have spent the last few years making hearts go a-flutter and feet go a-thumping. But underneath that sheen of giddy, electro-soul on blog-burning tracks like “Sleepyhead,” the dude’s got some serious, dark undertones. File this one under: Near-future baroque. — M.B.

With a Brooklyn-cool sound that totally belies the band name, YACHT started off as Jona Bechtolt’s bedroom solo project before he recruited vocalist (and respected science writer/science-fiction critic) Claire L. Evans in 2008. The duo’s first album together, 2009’s insanely catchy See Mystery Lights, is a playful blend of dance-punk, ‘80s new wave, and off-kilter electro-pop. Imagine a sunnier LCD Soundsystem (who also happen to be their DFA lablemates). — M.B.

YACHT Utopia / Dystopia (The Earth Is On Fire) (Explicit) from DFA Records on Vimeo.

You might call it the ideal season for Brooklyn’s Warm Ghost. With a static-y, autumnal synth-pop sound, the electronic duo has already been buried in critical buzz thanks to their debut LP, Narrows, released barely a month ago. Think of dreamier, art-fractured Tears for Fears. — M.B.

WARM GHOST // OPEN THE WORMHOLE IN YOUR HEART from HOLY COW COLLECTIVE on Vimeo.

Acclaimed avant-garde trumpeter (and N.C. native) Ben Neill is one of the few Moogfest musicians who actually knew Bob Moog. Back in 1984, the electronic pioneer helped Neill design the “mutantrumpet,” an electric-acoustic hybrid of a beast with three brass horns and a slew of analog MIDI controllers. Five years ago, Neill and his beautiful monster teamed up with seductive-voiced art-pop singer Mimi Goese (from ‘80s band Hugo Largo). The result is an alluring blend of classical melodies, atmospheric Portishead-esqe trip-hop and bizzaro-Bjork-pop. — M.B.

Sure, 23-year-old Claire Boucher (aka Grimes) has the sweet, child-like voice of a Canadian Joanna Newsom. But instead of a harp, this falsetto chanteuse enchantress reels you in with shuddering waves of cascading harmonies and swells of throbbing, bounce-bloopy synths. It’s a sound so hypnotic and dreamy, you could dance out to sea on it. — M.B.

L.A.’s Glasser (real name Cameron Mesirow) comes from a oddly musical family: Her father is a member of the Blue Man Group, and her mother played in early-’80s post-punk band Human Sexual Response. Glasser’s debut LP, 2010’s Ring, sounds nothing like either. Instead, with her soft, swooping melodies and dark, mystical electro-pop, her ethereal sound falls somewhere on the pop scale between Feist and Bat for Lashes. — M.B.

Known for his layers of giddy, intricate rhythms and the odd assortment of household sounds he uses for samples (e.g., running water, snapping scissors, clicking pens), L.A. producer Will Wiesenfeld (aka Baths) is like the Bjork of indie-electronica. His charming pop tunes are glitched-out, elegantly bizarre and totally captivating. — M.B.

 

For full Moogfest coverage, click here.

 

 

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