After their introduction in the late 70’s and popularity in the 80’s, synthesizer parts started sneaking back into rock in the early aughts with The Sounds and Metric, and subsequently The Killers who pulled it right to the front of the mainstream. That brought a bevy of followers, some putting their own spin on this synth-rock sound (like the band in this review), some following the same formula (the bravery), and some just inserting bleepy keyboard lines because it was cool (even grossly pop-punk stalwarts simple plan). I don’t know if or where Radiohead really sits in that whole trend, and I am not even going to try and tackle their use of electronic instruments or the influence that may or may not have had on other musicians, because well…they’re Radiohead.
This resurgence of the synth in rock started nearly ten years ago, and now spans everything from a programmed beat or keyboard part here and there to fully electronic rock, and pops up in songs from small indie rock bands right through to mainstream indie rock bands. Haha, I joke I joke, I kid I kid. Anyway, it’s everywhere. Some bands have found a mix that works well for them, such as Ratatat (distinctive instrumental sound, harmonized guitar that sounds like a synth leads), Pheonix on their most recent album (laser precise indie telecaster guitar, with some electronic energy and catchy but not tiring melodies), and the ever-present Metric, who retain a raw feel, boasting a catalogue ranging from songs entirely driven by electronic parts to others devoid of synthesizers or drum machines that somehow still maintain the dancey rock energy they are known for.
Friendly fires have a fairly equal mix of live and synthesized instruments, with the two types meshing so well with each other that it is often difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Latin, disco and rock beats are combined with funky and/or indie guitars/bass, and Brit-Pop/R&B/disco vocals on this album to create a mix that sounds wholly original, despite all seperate parts being noticeably borrowed from specific genres. Just enough of an edge is kept on each song to keep the roots in rock.
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Jump in the Pool – Synthesized vocal choir opening implies something much more like an electronic Sigur Ros song is slowly developing, but latin and or afro-funk percussion and British Idie-pop vocals quickly jump into the mix and dispel any such notion. The verses are energetic, and the reverb drenched chorus vocals return us somewhat to the feel of the intro but it’s like we have skipped over the buildup of the previously imagined sigur ros style right to the crescendo. That’s why I like pop, sometimes it’s best to just deliver the goods up front. Immediate gratification, audio drugs. There is a keyboard solo near the end of the song that sits just right in the mix, allowing the percussion and atmospherics to do most of the talking, and just adds some light frosting (have you ever had one of those cakes that has like an inch of frosting on the outside, gross right? Ruins a perfectly good cake).
White Diamonds – Disco flavoured beats. Theatrical verse vocals. Driving, Dance-tastic, Octave-bounce chorus, sparse atmospheric break makes you wonder for a second if there has been a transition to another song, but familiar elements begin to return and pull you right back to the chorus. While the singer advises “don’t hold your breath too long, for white diamonds in the snow” the backing music of slowly swelling guitar notes and reverby pianos sounds just like falling snow might, if it weren’t silent.
Lovesick – Latiney percussion accents, Chromeo pre-chorus, full-on pheonix meets bloc party dance pop chorus, lo-fi synth bridge.
Just to try something different for this section, I am going to try and explain what I mean by some of my music nerd/guitar player babble instead of continue to babble away in said fashion.
I refer to different instruments and musical parts as sounding “indie” multiple times in this post, and I know some people might not know what I mean, or might not agree with me. When I think of indie guitars, I think of the guitar sound (the amp, guitar, effects, and knobs on each), and how that guitar is played (input from the musician).
For sound, I think of fairly clean (as opposed to distorted) sounds. Thats kind of like you can hear every string in a chord (instead of being mashed together in a fuzzy but fun mess), and the notes decay (get quieter) reasonably quickly (instead of sustaining, or retaining volume for longer). It sounds closer to an acoustic guitar than a distorted guitar would. Also, an indie guitar sound tends to be fairly “round”, not twangy like in a country song, or sharp sounding like a rock song. This is mainly a function of what type of pickups (kind of like a guitar’s built in microphone) are in that guitar, and the position under the strings of the pickup or pickups selected.
What I would classify as indie guitar playing would be fast, repeated, almost robotic sounding chords or single notes. These are often produced by picking the strings only on the downstroke, but doing it fast. Very similar to a lot of punk guitar, but a little more precise, and when combined with the cleaner guitar sound, a different feel is produced. But then again, there is a lot of overlap between punk and indie. I hope I just took something confusing and made it more confusing.
Listen to it. With some volume. Dance and/or smile. Naked and/or with friends.