In the last article I set-up the parameters of what I have coined the “Haunted Retro” sound, and looked at Ariel Pink and his friends John Maus and Gary War. But that was all very phallocentric really, so this time I am covering the female-led bands in this imaginary “scene”.
Well, it’s not so imaginary, as a lot of these artists have worked together and definitely share some aesthetic and musical qualities. For instance L.A.‘s Nite Jewel have worked with John Maus and Haunted Graffiti member Cole MGN in the past. It’s not hard to see or hear why. They both record to 8 track tape using analogue and classic FM synths (like Roland Junos) and both have a slightly surreal, daydreamy vibe. But while Maus could very roughly be described as “synth-pop”, Nite Jewel make something that is more like “white-girl-soul”. They have recorded a cover of MOR-period Roxy Music and have a definite Fleetwood Mac-on-more-downers vibe. Being largely the work of one woman (Ramona Gonzales) Nite Jewel recently released the Am I Real? EP on the American Gloriette label, whose lead track “We Want Our Things” is a good snapshot of their sound.
Nite Jewel “We Want Our Things”
Nite Jewel “What Did He Say”
Nite Jewel “Want You Back”
Italians Do It Better Records
Even more explicitly disco are the artists on the New Jersey label Italians Do It Better. IDIB is a hot house of acts produced by Johnny Jewel and promoted by DJ Mike Simonetti, but almost all the voices you will hear are female. The best known of these acts is Glass Candy, though other reasonably well known names on the roster are Chromatics, Farah and, yes, Nite Jewel (who released the gorgeous “Let’s Go The Two Of Us Together/What Did He Say” 12” on the label). Although they have developed separately from Ariel Pink and his friends, they too share a similar hissy, dreamy vibe. Glass Candy have been together for quite a while now, and have toured extensively, building up a large following. Farah has perhaps the most monotone voice in modern music (a compliment!) and Chromatics scored a minor hit when their excellent track “In The City” was used on the soundtrack to Nip/Tuck. The best place to start with Italians Do It Better is the After Dark compilation, which features all of the following:
Chromatics “In The City”
Farah “Law Of Life”
Glass Candy “The Chameleon”
But my favorite of the IDIB bands is one called Desire. Another Johnny Jewel production, I caught them live as a Glass Candy support act in Manchester a couple of years ago and was intrigued enough to buy a CD. (All the Italians Do It Better releases come in gorgeous sleeves worthy of attention in their own right). I’m glad I did - their track “Don’t Call” has been a mixtape staple for a few years, but two of their tunes are stand outs: “Dans Mes Réves”, a disco groover that shimmers with a certain dreamy melancholy, and the stunning “Under Your Spell”, a modern day synth classic equal to anything by Ariel Pink or John Maus. Check out the album Desire II on which these tracks feature - it’s gorgeous.
Desire “Under Your Spell” (fan video ft Roy Lichtenstein and more triangles!)
Desire ” Dans Mes Reves”
Desire “Colorless Sky”
These acts (and the ones in the previous post) all share an appreciation of the pop culture of the early 80s, of new wave and synth-heavy pop acts like The Cure, Prince and Madonna (Italians Do It Better is a slogan made famous by a t-shirt she wore). What I love about them is that, even though they now have access to the tools of those previous generations, they have kept in their music the smudged haze of half-remembered childhood memories, like the grain in an 8mm movie. Which is how I see my childhood when I think of it. This to me is more true to nostalgia than simply trying to recreate the sounds of 1983 or 1979, and this is why I find it so beautiful, and so haunting.
BONUS! Some more videos:
Glass Candy “Feeling Without Touching”
Farah “Kill For Life” (Live)
Chromatics “Running Up That Hill”
Farah “Gay Boy” (a special dedication going out to Orly Dude)