Tag Archives: synthpop

Concert Review: Madeon and his Pixel Empire

“Would you like to hear some of the new music I’ve been working on?”


It’s not his first time touring the States, and it probably won’t be his last, either. Meet Madeon, the stage name for 21-year-old electronic prodigy Hugo Leclerq. Having made a name for himself in the past year following the release of his chart-topping album, Adventure, scoring production credits with Lady Gaga, and performing at enormous festivals like Coachella, Leclerq didn’t wait long before starting off another coveted tour around the United States. After stopping by Seattle for not one, but two performances last year in September, Madeon chose this time to play at Foundation for a small DJ set gig before kicking off his big Pixel Empire Tour down in Portland, Oregon following the MLK weekend.

That didn’t stop me from following him there anyway.

Madeon, of course, wasn’t alone. Joining him on his tour this time was Skylar Spence, the stage name for a certain Ryan DeRobertis. The vaporwave artist, formerly known as Saint Pepsi, has also made a name for himself over the years. It quickly became clear why Skylar Spence was Madeon’s opening act: DeRobertis’ nu-disco synth sounds match well with Leclerq’s own style of house music, since both are very pop-driven. Skylar Spence, it seemed, was to be the appetizer to Madeon’s prepared main course.

But half an hour after DeRobertis had left the stage to applause and cheers, the star of the show was still nowhere to be seen. Just as the impatient whispers of the crowd had begun to grow into a muffled roar, however, three large screens flickered on to display an iconic diamond amid a crowd of cheers.


To have the crowd wait in suspense for such a dramatic entrance reveals Leclerq’s talent as both musician and entertainer who doesn’t fail to deliver as the artist Madeon. Standing center stage and an outline of the Adventure diamond logo flashing vivid scenery behind him, the set began with “Isometric”, the intro from Adventure that immediately had fans – including myself – jumping up and down in anticipation. The rest of the night was filled with jumping, since Adventure is mainly glitch-hop, pop, and disco-inspired; even slower-paced songs, like “La Lune” or “Innocence”, possess a strong, dance-driven beat. The energy in the room somehow stayed alive and never slowed, due in part to Madeon’s own enthusiasm as he danced to the melody or hopped in time with the manic rhythm of his own tracks.

Props must be given to Madeon not just for his passion, but for his ability to mix such an incredible set. Crowd favorites like “Pay No Mind”, “OK”, and “Nonsense” blended consecutively one after another to the point where their transitions seemed near non-existent. Giving recognition to older tracks like “Pop Culture” and “Shuriken” from his earlier days, the set celebrated Madeon’s growth overall as an artist, and nothing impounded this theme of his Pixel Empire tour more than when he introduced live exclusives like “Albatros” and the newly produced “Together”.

An encore, being inevitable, led to an eclectic, upbeat medley of his set that ended the concert with an electrifying finish. On the drive back to Seattle, Adventure ended up being blasted on repeat, and for good reason. When you stop by the Pacific Northwest again, Hugo, I’ll be waiting.

Wendy Kang

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Album Review: St. Lucia – Matter


If you’re a firm believer in the idea that less is more, then you probably should avert your ears from St. Lucia’s sophomore LP, Matter. If you love 80s-inspired synthpop that’s extra-synthy, extra-poppy, and extra-excited, you should keep reading.

Jean-Philip Grobler, the man behind the music, had few reservations in creating his newest production, which is his first release in over two years. The album, a follow-up to 2013′s When the Night, contains not only the same retro-shimmery sound that put St. Lucia on the map (bad geography pun, anyone?) in the first place, but somehow adds even more hyped-up, repetitive choruses, sometimes to the point of excess.

This album is a monster. It’s 11 tracks and 53 minutes of non-stop dance/power ballads, giving H&M stores a lot of new material to play over their speaker systems for years to come. It opens with “Do You Remember”, a tune with a similar sounding backing track to “Elevate”, the lead single from the first album (but hey, that’s the St. Lucia sound you came for, right?). The song is pretty catchy, and is probably one of the less “retro” sounding tracks on the album. For a minute, I actually thought I was listening to a new Bleachers or CHVRCHES single. “Dancing On Glass”, the album’s first single, is a huge favorite of mine, and was one of my top tracks during October. It’s catchy, it’s fun, and it still feels innovative and new, all things that remind us why this album was so highly anticipated. “The Winds of Change” is also pretty good, which is due to fun vocal hooks and choruses.

This balance of indie-pop and dance is where the album (and band) shine, but, as the album moves on, we see how Grobler moves away from this, walking a dangerous line between modern edginess and straight-up overproduction. This is apparent in “Rescue Me”, which appears to be a six-and-a-half minute long mashup(?) of just about every artist to ever play on a soundtrack to a John Hughes movie, “Thriller”, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” (now I’m getting all excited thinking about Zoolander 2, dammit). By this point, the album is already starting to sound repetitive and tiring, and we’re only at track 8. 

During the last few tracks of the album, Matter really loses its momentum. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I don’t like the album, but I feel like there is a large proportion of weak tracks. This is amplified when the album is almost an hour long. However, I definitely have a few of the songs added to my playlists and listen to them frequently. One way that the sometimes excessive production might work is that it could translate really well to live shows (and St. Lucia will be at the Showbox in Seattle on March 2!)

So if you need a pick-me-up on a drab day, love synthpop, or still can’t let go of the fact that you were born too late to live in the 80s, don’t hesitate to give Matter a listen, and see what you think. 

Listen Here

Rating: 5/10

Notable Tracks: “Dancing On Glass”, “Do You Remember”, “Winds of Change”

Ann Evans

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Album Review: BØRNS – Dopamine


Never have I listened to an album so aptly named. Listening
to BØRNS’ new album,
Dopamine, releases that sweet, sweet
neurotransmitter right into your synapses and keeps you coming back for more.

born Garrett Borns, is a Michigan magician-turned-musician. His debut album
starts off with “10,000 Emerald Pools”, a song featured on his earlier EP, Candy. This chilled-out, transcendent
song about a significant other in BØRNS’
life is a perfect introduction to the rest of the album. The laid back synth-electro-pop
sound is superb, with the album later mixing into it various elements of alternative, glam rock and even a dash of folk.

The theme of love and slight obsession present in the first
song stays throughout the album. This certainly isn’t an album that relies on
sadness and heartbreak to make a connection to the listener. Rather, it brings
you back to the good times in your life, when the only thing that mattered was
your feelings for another person. If you’re painfully single like me, you can
alternately listen to the album while imagining the object of affection to be
the pint of Ben & Jerry’s in your freezer. It almost feels the same.

The entire album is very cohesive; never sounding like a
collection of singles. Rather, it feels like every song was written with the
intended vibe in mind. This, to me, is paramount in an artist’s debut album.
Rather than throw his musical variety in your face, BØRNS’ first album chooses a sound and sticks with it,
while also not letting any two songs sound the same.


The two songs that stand out to me are “American Money” and
“Fool”. The former has a fantastic chorus that’s catchier than a three-armed
baseball player, and the latter elicits feelings of ‘70s disco tracks. “Fool”
is the last track, and by far the most upbeat. When you finish the album,
you’ll feel pumped up and ready to dance your way through any situation.  

Sorry, Garrett, but there actually are some songs that I’m NOT fangirling over. “Dopamine”, the title track, seems disappointingly uninspired. While it has a great opening and a funky beat, it lacks the catchy chorus that BØRNS has a knack for. “Dug My Heart” is another song I’m not crazy for. The entire song is less energetic than the others and feels like it was recorded in molasses. If it sounded a bit less sluggish, I think it would be great. 

Overall, Dopamine gets 8/10. The music on BØRNS’ first album sounds
exactly like his hair looks: smooth, velvety, and distinct. 


Niles Kyholm

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Concert Review: Grimes


“You’re so sexy!” someone screams behind me. Grimes, the sexy one, is playing The Showbox on October 28. She’s out of breath from dancing and jumping under bright green, blue, and pink lights despite a boot on her foot. I try to take a decent picture for this post before the next song, but it’s no use. She’s off again, headbanging so hard that some of her pink ombréd hair gets caught in her mouth. Next time, I’m bringing a photographer.

Grimes, the alter-ego of Canadian electropop musician Claire Boucher, had a contagious energy last Wednesday. She was as endearingly unpolished and bubbly as I expected; swearing about missing a cue and giggling over what a great crowd we were. Even though she was the usual rambling, swearing Grimes, the concert was well-executed. The lighting was beautiful–my favorite part was when laser lights made multicolored pin-points on the ceiling–and two dancers in flight suits and sunglasses worked the crowd.

Boucher’s high-pitched, dreamy vocals sounded stronger live, and her signature layered sound was present. The audience sang along with all of the favorites that she played off of her previous album, Visions (2012), and almost pulled her off stage when she reached out to touch people’s hands. Something that stood out the most were her collaborations with Canadian producer Blood (formerly Blood Diamonds, but according to Grimes “he doesn’t want to be a dick about blood diamonds”). “Go” is a track with stronger vocals than usual, and a drop. Featuring a smoke machine, it got the biggest reaction from the crowd.

Grimes also played a lot of tracks off of her new album, Art Angels, set to drop November 6. “Scream” features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes. Aristophanes wasn’t at the concert, but we got to hear Grimes screaming a lot. And let me tell you, she screams as beautifully as she sings. For her encore (even though she didn’t go off stage first because she thinks encores seem fake), Grimes played “Kill V. Maim,” inspired by her idea that The Godfather is perfect, but would be better if they were vampires. This track was simultaneously dark and danceable, due to harsh vocals and a bass-heavy, driving beat.

Lately, there’s been speculation and complaints that Boucher is selling out, partly because she was signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation in 2013. While she may be experimenting with a pop sound on some of her music since Visions, it is clear from seeing her live that she just loves making music. Boucher was completely genuine and proud of her new album. From the taste I got of Art Angels, I think there will be more variation amongst the tracks than on any other Grimes record; it’s clear that she’s drawing inspiration from genres other than pop. She might not be the same Grimes on her new album, but an artist can change without selling out. And anyways, as Boucher stated on her Twitter,  

“endless speculation abt whether grimes will be a popstar seems 2 disregard the fact that I’m a paranoid recluse & i can’t even walk in heels.”

Don’t forget to check out Art Angels when it drops this Friday (11/5)!

Claire Marvet

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Celebrate, celebrate: Holiday Mountain

New musicians are back, let’s dive in and straight up dig it. Holiday Mountain, anyone?


Holiday Mountain is a band that is completely out of the realm of genre. Synth pop fused with dubstep fused with the meaningful lyricism of soul? It’s trippy.
Which is not a bad thing, we need some more unique eclectic sounds in our lives. Based in Austin, Texas, Holiday Mountain dub themselves as musicians that push musical boundaries, mixing dances beats, unexpected melodies, and airy vocals.

And it’s true, they’re unconventional for sure.

Taking a look at their recently released EP You be You, Part 1, there is a lot going on that you almost wonder, and “How did they come up with this?”

Number one track off their EP “My Body” is so bizarre sounding with a mix of front woman Laura Patino half rapping her lyrics “Don’t need no hates/If you ain’t down, I’ll see you later,” to underlying synth beats and heavy percussion. This group does their own sound, and they make that known to you straight up coming to the album, regarding their unconventional sound.

But you come to get used to the way Holiday Mountain mixes their sound by the time you get to sweet tracks like “Slow Motion Things,” with tangy vocals, poignant instrumental riffs, and musical timing that ironically parallels the theme of the song.

There are funky beats, and there are rich vocals for sure. You’ve got hints of Diplo and M.I.A. with the electronic dance groove and hip hop influence, but Holiday Mountain does have one distinction.

Although their sound is crazy, the themes behind their lyricism are beautiful and empowering. With lyrics like “It’s my body/Don’t need no haters” and “Equal freedom for woman and man,” you can’t help but feel inspired regarding gender equality and female empowerment. Not something typical to normal synth-pop right?

My favorite track off the entire EP is “With You” (featuring Wild Child), and that isn’t due to just the slower tempo and more ethereal sounding vocals. It’s about self-love, but it’s also about love in general and the beautiful feelings that comes with love. There is a very airy feel to the entire track as Patino sings “With you, I am young/With you, I am free.” The layered vocals with the softer percussion and overlay of violin is beautiful. It’s a little hippie, with the underlying chorus and synth, but it’s a beautiful end to the EP, and makes you wistful for just a little bit more. 

It’s nice seeing the versatility of these musicians, purely because not everyone can necessarily automatically groove to Holiday Mountain’s aggressive dance jams. But at the same time, not everyone may not want to sit and mellow out to a more airy, acoustic tune either.

They’ve got a little bit of everything, and that’s what matter when they’re singing about themes of self-love, empowerment, and overall acceptance—something we can all relate to.

You Be You, Part 1, available here to jam to. Go groove.

Ariana Rivera

Purity Ring – Another Eternity


In 2012, Purity Ring’s debut LP, Shrines, garnered critical acclaim for its surreal take on synthpop. The record was focused and dark, with eleven fantastically produced tracks each adding to the overall occult aesthetic. Another Eternity departs from this spooky brilliance in favor of a brighter and poppier sound, while thankfully maintaining the great production values of the first album.

Unlike on Shrines, Megan James’ voice takes the front seat on Another Eternity. While the heavily processed vocals of the first album make a return on a few tracks, such as “Dust Hymns” and “Stillness in Woe”, they’re as a whole overshadowed by James’ more memorable melodies on songs such as “Heartsigh” or “Sea Castle”. MIDI vocal samples are also featured throughout the record, but are rarely the focus and serve as more of a tool in Corin Roddick’s instrumental arsenal than the lead voice.


With less of an atmospheric vibe and brighter vocals, Another Eternity takes a step towards the mainstream and, seemingly sensing this, Roddick has slotted in elements of popular house music throughout the album. At the same time, he tries to maintain some of the weirdness that made Shrines the hit that it was. The result is what occasionally feels almost anti-EDM: A lone siren and percussion roll in “Heartsigh” among the otherwise synthpop instrumentals or a build up to a drop that never comes in “Dust Hymn”. On first listen, these sounds are jarring and feel out of place, but they quickly meld into the overall tone and are barely noticed on subsequent listens.

Aside from the house influence, Another Eternity’s instrumentals are fairly similar to those of Shrines, albeit brighter, and that’s a good thing. They’re every bit as polished as those on Purity Ring’s debut LP and leave little to be desired.

Though Another Eternity is a departure from Shrines, it is every bit as memorable. A change in tone this drastic is sure to divide the fanbase, but Corin Roddick’s fantastic production values ensure that this record sounds great and maintains a sense of cohesion between Another Eternity and Shrines. All in all, Another Eternity does well to avoid the “Sophomore slump” that is all too apparent in indie bands today.

Garrett M