hidden treasure

Metal Mother – Ionika, 2013

electropop / gothic / art pop

More like this – Grimes’ Halfaxa & Visions, Fever Ray’s self-titled, Zola Jesus, Gazelle Twin’s The Entire City, Drab Majesty

I only got to know Metal Mother seeing Pastel Ghost promote her on Twitter. As much as I love PG, I didn’t expect this to floor me given the er, Hot Topic flavor of her other peers. I was wrong. MM ticks countless boxes in my taste, and the same goes for most people who love their moody electronic ‘avant-pop’. I know you’re out there. Ionika knows just what I want from this stuff: an amorphous fog of synths, elaborate vocal layers, thundering rhythms and an ear for adventure. I can’t decide if it takes place in a magical glade or some dark future world. You could call those opposites and I’d agree, but this makes no difference to her!

What gets to me is how MASSIVE Ionika sounds. Let me get this clear: Mother’s production values are amazing. She gets an orchestra’s impact from vocal, synth and computer alone. With each song I’d give up with trying to count the layers as I tend to; I was too busy riding the adrenaline rush. This deserves to soundtrack a movie, not gather dust on Spotify! (It had two ratings total on often thorough Rateyourmusic by the time I listened.)

I had many pleasant callbacks to my other favorites (Fever Ray vocals in “Windexx’d”; early Grimes vibes in “Tactillium”) but it’s gloriously hard to box as a whole. It can fit so many contexts: a goth club (“Doomdome”), a cathedral performance (“Little Ghost”), a forest celebration (“Mind_off”). Tempo and volume flex to Mother’s whim, sometimes within the same song, yet nothing sounds misplaced.

Her vocals have a way of gliding around like a gust of wind. She adapts to both light and dark, from a fairy’s soul-searching mantra (“Prism”) to a creeping siren song (“Iona”). With something as dense as “Tactilium” she could be weaving spells around crumbling mountains. As I hoped, her music matches her name.

For all the wacky witch-house aesthetics, Ionika has a lot more going on than doom and gloom. MM likes to explore, even combine various emotions; something I wish more modern goth music did. It’s closer to a powerful exclamation from a cliff. You’re in touch with your spirit etc. and the waterfalls, releasing something deep inside. It has such a wonderful sense of harmony, freedom.

Deep Cuts

Brothertiger feat. Laura Ornella – “Further On” (Future Splendors, 2013)

Phased synth chords like holographic tears, dripping into a river to form some kind of dance. Then, the most gorgeously trembling verses I’ve heard in some time. Many thanks to Laura Ornella for guesting here. Gave you all of my life and you told me we’d never survive / My heart burns heavy tonight / If you hold it up to the light / You will see all of the memories of a million lives. Such a regretful atmosphere, yet such dedication and hope when the chorus hits. When Brothertiger made his name with happy-go-lucky songs like “Lovers”, this reveals a compelling new side to him.

What is it about synth-pop that makes it PERFECT for bittersweet, vulnerable ballads? Ignore the cliche that ‘synths have no feeling’ as usual. To think this is the ‘lesser album’ from a ‘lesser artist’ in a ‘fake’ genre (chillwave)… If that’s true, why did I play this 20+ times in January? More important, how wasn’t this a single?

Deep Cuts

Aleph – “Silver”, 1989 (sampled in Luxury Elite’s “Empire”)

I’m addicted to that intro with the little echoing bell. Cinematic, fierce, even a little tragic. Skyscrapers are peering over the TV credits.

I considered Luxury Elite’s edit a main theme for my mix Is It A Crime?, AKA my ‘dream Miami Vice soundtrack’. At the original pace it’s a slamming euro-disco tune with more urgency than most in it’s genre. It’s that glittery maximalist sound you come to expect, but even with the expected hammy vocal, “Silver” sounds more like a confrontation than another melodramatic love story. Why it wasn’t a single is beyond me.

hidden treasure

Alif – Dakamerap (2004, OutHere Records)

I found this all-female trio by chance back in my hip hop phase (Thanks to this HUGE list of female rappers, sadly inactive now). Outhere says they’re the first of their kind in Dakar’s rap scene. ‘[…] their first cassette Viktim caused a big stir in a country where traditional authorities like parents, religion or age play a big role.Dakamerap is a play on words: Dakar, camera and rap; saying they’re the camera watching their city. This refers to their lyrics’ focus on social issues. According to Afropop, this focus is common in the scene.

‘Musically the album goes full circle, reconnecting hip hop with its roots in Africa. Songs like Dakamerap, Taspe, Joolaa and Bataxal combine traditional sabar rhythms and the music of the griots with a contemporary blend of african hip hop.’ – Outhere

Written about mistreated house servants, “Proces” caught my ear right away with it’s haunting melody. The addition of spacious dialogue makes it especially evocative.

They’re convincing singers too. Behind a boom bap flavor in the drums, Alif have an almost instinctual knack for hooks. This finds it’s way into most songs and yet, they don’t break the rap flow more than twice. One example is “Bataxal”, complete with a Hollywood-ish string sample. Most surprising is “Thiou”, where they ride a poppy mbalax-like groove with a surging synth as if it’s a breeze. I love the balance here.

I wanted to hear more Alif, but no such luck since this is their only album with a wide enough release. On the upside, there are easier ways to dig into Africa’s various hip hop scenes, very much worth a closer look.