I took such an ‘exile’ from focusing on music writing this year (-cough cough- self doubt -cough-) that I totally forgot to update the actual blog about this album. Well, after many periods of stress and doubt that I’d even release the thing, I published Seahorses in full just one day before my birthday. It showed up at Vulpiano on 10/08.
Seahorses is a dive into the strange, alluring yet often creepy ways of marine life. Being my second archive release, these are songs I made back in late July (2, 4, 6-10, 11, 13) and December (1, 3, 5, 12, 14) of 2016. #11 is download-only. Given that I previewed many of these songs over the past months it’s become a compilation of sorts.
My inspiration was a mix of Spencer Nilsen’s Ecco The Dolphin music, ocean-themed library music like Eric Vann’s Water World and quirky old space-age/lounge. A particular riff actually reoccurs in about three tracks, somewhat like a library record or soundtrack. I was obsessed enough with this idea of ‘aqua lounge’ to make a companion mix of these influences for Vulpiano: www.mixcloud.com/camp_fr/vulpiano-records-12th-may-2021/
When it comes to my grand-scheme priorities I still don’t feel so good about focusing on such old material for so many months, but I can say that the amount of positive attention this album got made the whole process so much more worth it. My regret shrunk for sure. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a few people telling me they enjoyed my music, I’m just happy to know it wasn’t all for naught, you know? It’s also such a thrill to know that my self-deprecating, anxious 15 year old self’s music is indeed finding some appreciation when, for all I know, it could have found none.
In other news, this means I can finally try and put more focus on newer songs and ideas. I really miss getting creative with my music; the last time I really went ahead and finished something all-new was my song for the Thaw compilation. This early October I’ve been trying to give myself a break from all the project-related stress but I want to at least drop a couple of singles before the year is through. I’d love to get back to writing too but all I can promise for now is the year-end music list. I’ve had a rough year for sure and all this focus on Seahorses meant that the lateness of October caught me a bit off-guard.
F!ONN, real name simply Fionn and pronounced ‘Fyun’, is a groovy 19-year-old from Ireland letting out his anxieties and observations through fun, snappy synthpop with a tight ear for hooks. While chart topping pop princesses like Madonna, Kylie and Perfume are some of his heroes, he holds the digitized weirdness of Charli and SOPHIE in high regard and often goes for the introspective in his lyrics. In fact, his single “Being Yourself (Is Overrated!)” pokes fun at the cliche advice of the main title, arguing that true openness about one’s identity can endanger rather than help certain people.
Later this August Fionn plans to drop his most accomplished music yet with the glitzy Desolate Disco. Seeing as I came to know him through a chance peek at his Blondie discord, I decided to ask him some questions; thus birthing the first-ever interview here at MAM! Stream Desolate Disco‘s single ‘Conformative’ below.
In just a flashy sentence, how would you describe your music? Trashier than a bin bag full of Paris Hilton CD’s, and I mean that in the best possible way.
What were your biggest inspirations for the sound on this album? The singles have a glossier, fuller and (of course) dancier sound than before. Daft Punk definitely inspired a lot of the sounds on the record, because of the way they re-contextualized old samples from disco, soul and soft-rock into super forward-thinking, futuristic music. I’ve been inspired by a lot of the O.G. early chicago house and garage house like Frankie Knuckles’ music, which I love for the lush melodies and dance beats. I was also vibing to the Pet Shop Boys’ 2013 album Electric, which is a fabulous blend of contemporary EDM with great hooks, lyrics and vocals.
I love dance music that is not solely created as functional, but also as enjoyable music in lyrics and composition, another task I wanted to fill when creating Desolate Disco. Roisin Machine by Roisin Murphy, also deserves a special mention because I liked the way her and the producers kind of played with the tropes of Dance music in a super creative and fun way and deconstructed them. Also, an icon of Ireland!
The title of Desolate Disco along with the blurred cover photo implies the classic ‘crying in the club’ feel that resonates with so many pop fans lately; could you elaborate on the lyrical themes? The lyrical themes of Desolate Disco are split into three parts, marked by the interludes at the start of each act. Act 1 – The Pop Show, consists mostly of upbeat pop songs with positive messages and represent my mind’s state before the pandemic. At the time, I was just about to turn 18, I was about to start college and although I was still acerbic and bitchy (my brain is just wired that way), I felt content. Sorry We’re Closed is the second act and revolves around more introspective songs that discuss the self, directly tackle the pandemic, one’s place in the world and my own struggles with depression, which I have been transparent about in my previous work, but haven’t been so direct about. The final act is called Freedom Punks, and its really talking about healing and learning to have fun again, while also dealing with the lingering bouts of pain and anguish when they happen. Its more sonically experimental and aggressive than the pop songs in the first act. I also sing a lot of the more socially critical songs in this act such as “Tik Tok Killed The Video Star”, a critique of music’s place in Gen Z society and “Ultraviolet”, a denouncement of modern party and club culture.
When and how exactly did you decide you were going to be a pop musician? There wasn’t an exact moment really, but probably when I went to this festival in Merrion Square as a kid, where you were allowed go up on the stage and sing a song and I sang only the chorus of Umbrella by Rihanna for about 2 minutes straight.
What song do you think is your best work? If you were to summarize your music in five, which would those be? It depends on the day, but one of my personal favourites is “Ordinateur” because I love how atmospheric and haunting thetrack turned out. I also think Being Yourself (Is Overrated!) and Not Invited are essentials though, as they are the songs that people get the most visceral, intense reactions from.
“Being Yourself (Is Overrated!)”; “Not Invited”; “Ordinateur”; “Eye For An Eye”; “Your Heart (ft Whitewoods)”; “Conformative”
Your sound evolved a lot since you started; and somewhat quickly. You have an ear for tightly structured pop music as well. Any advice for struggling or just-beginning musicians out there? I think musicians who are starting out, should literally just start. When I was a child, making tracks entirely out of loops on GarageBand, I don’t think anyone thought I’d get good at making pop music. But, I just kind of absorbed what I’d learnt from listening to other great musicians and kept making music the best that I could. I think its also great to get to know a lot of bad and good people, and have tons of mad experiences with them that can give you good writing material.
Most F!ONN lyrics are quite personal or thoughtful, in contrast to plenty of pop artists. Do you think that pop music has an untapped potential for more serious lyrics as opposed to ‘fluff’? How do you feel about the fluff itself? I don’t think there’s a need or a potential, I just do it because it’s my chosen way of self expression. Pop is about pleasing timbres and catchy hooks, and there’s a lot of music I like that is simple and fun like that. If you market let’s say an Ed Sheeran album as being an authentic, gripping slice of his own soul, with trashy low-brow lyrics, the general public will view it that way regardless of the actual merit of the album. Yet, if you market a Lady Gaga album as being trashy dance pop, but with Joni Mitchell level deep lyrics, the general public will view that album as its marketed too: trashy dance pop.
Your biggest inspiration in writing lyrics? It usually starts with an interesting quote I’ve heard or a tiny tidbit of my daily life. In this particular album, which is more conceptual, there are a lot of critiques of the society and culture of Generation Z and the COVID 19 era, which I often feel disillusioned with. Conformative is about the way we as human’s constantly try to fit in with each other when a key part of maturity is learning that one can’t entirely change themselves. Its sort of a sequel to Being Yourself (Is Overrated!) in that sense, except its more direct rather than using irony as a lyrical device. [The upcoming] Tik Tok Killed The Video Star is a personal favourite of mine that touches on similar phenomena. The reduction of music to 15 second or shorter clips that are lip-synced by some of the most inane narcissists to ever grace the planet. I remember when musical.ly first came around, it blipped and quickly fell off everyone’s radar, but it really troubles me that Tik Tok seems to be a new normal of sorts for pop.
Where do you think you’ll take your music in the future? Do you think you’ll always focus on pop? Well, I’m currently working on a score for an indie film, so I think that already encapsulates your question succinctly. But, I also think that I will work on creating some musical theatre too, possibly something in the vein of Jesus Christ Superstar, where its a suite of songs that form a complete narrative arc.
Any friends or other musicians from your area you’d like to recommend us? Chris Cahill, also known by the alias Porridge who helped me with additional production on some of the songs. Also, he’s not a musician, he’s a comedian, but Patrick McDonnell proof-read a lot of my lyrics before I recorded them.
See my previous post for first single “Mouthbrooder” and what I’ve been doing this year.
Seahorses is a downtempo/’aqua-lounge’ project originating from way back in 2016; I was inspired by Spencer Nilsen’s Ecco The Dolphin music, the space age of the 50s-60s and ocean-themed library music from the 70s.
Tentative track names & sequence for Seahorses
Fish In Oceania
In Our Submarine
A Wandering School
‘B-sides’ “Lullaby For Sad Porpoise” and “Seahorses” will be exclusive to the download.
This two-song single is a taster for Seahorses, an upcoming 10-track downtempo/’aqua-lounge’ album I ‘fished out’ from my archive; it goes way back to July of 2016! I decided it had too much potential to leave behind and it gives more context behind my obsession with aquatic sounds and imagery. I’m ~hoping~ to release it sometime during March 2021.
‘Mouthbrooder’ will appear on the album, with b-side ‘Seahorses’ as a bonus track hence ‘hidden title theme’.
Also, long time no see. I’m aware that this is the longest pause between posts in awhile so I guess this is the time I let the 3-5 total people who read this blog know what’s up. On the one hand it’s the typical ‘life happens’; I wasn’t in a good place through most of 2020 for both obvious and personal reasons, and now I’m struggling a bit to get it together. On the other, that led to my many bubbling project ideas, over-ambitious as ever, to delay A LOT. One project in particular? It’s taking me SIX on-and-off months and counting. Ughhh.
In the meantime:
I did get around to uploading sample songs for 80% of my music projects to my otherwise desolate YouTube account! I’m hoping that some people digging around for music will find me there, but I’d appreciate if you subscribed! Especially when WordPress has this annoyingly closed-off ‘only members can follow’ system. You can find the full Spires EP there too, since that wound up the second MOST popular Vulpiano release on Rateyourmusic. It’s too bad I keep getting this feeling that I can’t get back on that level, in both ease of making the music and quality..
I stepped away from my ‘RYM front-page-review retirement’ to praise my mutual ~simoon’s new synthpop project, Bride. It’s a definite ‘lost entry’ in my 2020 list and she could use more attention, so give her a listen if you enjoy things like Pink Industry, Geneva Jacuzzi and space-age synth music.
Isolated, often mournful voices wander through a specter-like fog of synths and reverb, suggesting ghosts and the mysterious tragedies surrounding them.
poison arrow – yeule / your favorite color – lifeformed / possession – pastel ghost / moon in aquarius – pat moon / dreams – mushy / lazy hunter – boy friend / little ghost – metal mother / ambur – demen / island of doom – agnes obel / flying dream – tamaryn w. oneohtrix point never / visiting night eyes – samantha glass / call me – gigi masin / dance ghost – helado negro / master of none (beach house cover) – toro y moi / ghost dance – be forest / annie’s box (karin dreijjer version) – the knifew. planningtorock & mt. sims / crystalfilm – little dragon / patterns – suse millemann / no matter what – ioanna gika / into the light (siouxsie and the banshees cover) – darkswoon / vernal limb – camp counselors / vulnerable now – low city rain
Sequencing this one was difficult for some reason. Here’s some songs I would include in different iterations of this idea:
Tamaryn – “You’re Adored” (2019)
Black Marble – “A Different Arrangement” (2012), “It’s Conditional” (2016)
When we worship dream pop as this ~phenomenon~, it surprises me how hard it gets to find modern acts who capture the 4AD ’sound’ beyond some reverb on guitars. Patience in such a thing with the press is a whole other story. Hearing so much about repetitive shoegaze adds to my confusion. Hatchie came close; after all, she was the rare artist to get big through more than whisper-singing. Still, I felt Keepsake stepped too far into it’s own formula, with one chipper (and a little on-the-nose?) love anthem to the next.
Rather than falling into either formula, Cranekiss sees Tamaryn carry the torch for 4AD and escape their own limits in the ‘ol ’whispers over vacuums’ genre. This album takes us back to a time where dream pop didn’t entail indie rock plus-reverb; the band has thorough ears for it’s history. We get all the bubbling chorus pedals and dulcimer-like strums (“Collection”) we could want. In traces, I get some Vini Reilly, Be Forest and White Poppy, but these sounds work as ‘pieces to the rainbow’ rather than make this a bunch of emulations. (Albeit accurate ones…) They don’t overlook the niche’s gothic edges; as much as the sound steps closer to Cocteau’s late 80s’ sheen and both bands excel at it’s idyllic ‘pop’ side, I’m glad they see more to Cocteau N Co. than that one song.
TThe thing that made an album Treasure special was, it didn’t shower me in ‘plain old’ beauty alone. It took me from sunken ships to medieval courts to Christmas within minutes. It wasn’t a lazy IRL daydream alone; it bent sensations and time periods so much that it escapes words. This was true surrealism that made tapestries rather than textures; and no matter how vague they seemed, the Twins painted them with the same ornate detail as Vaughan Oliver’s artwork. Through the sheer decadence of their sound, Tamaryn achieve a close effect. When I put this on, I have one foot in a fountain made from rainbows (the harmonious, child-like euphoria of “Sugarfix”) and another in the vast ocean shimmering to the side. Somehow, rose petals drift by on it’s currents. At it’s darkest, something sublime persists in Cranekiss as it did with the Twins. Every single sound finds a way to flourish, all the way to the splashing drums that open the whole thing.
Their new electronic slant adds even more color to Guthrie and Co.’s sounds. When their range could rival a synth’s, both ’master’ and ‘student’ tell me it’s a no-brainer that synths have their place in this genre. Plus, despite using these sounds that Cocteau didn’t use much beyond cameos, they manage this arcane accent that blends so well with the 4AD vibe. See: the pattern that opens “Last”, recalling the medieval plucks you’d hear on It’ll End In Tears and modern synthwave with one sound.
Add some leftover shoegaze from Tamaryn’s roots to expand songs rather than crowd them, and Cranekiss unites most major ‘sides’ of dream pop. Through this, they bring each song a backdrop to get lost in just as their bolder, vastly improving hooks find room to soar like “Stay With Me” did; years before Hatchie too. Take the single “Last”. Despite the tenderness in Tamaryn’s voice, feedback seems to carry the baggage as it levitates around her modern pop melody, incredibly lonely behind the grit. I’m as high as the skyscrapers before I know it when the album’s hugest chorus takes flight, with Tamaryn quivering sweetly through her highest notes (‘Hang up before you leave’). It’s a thrill to hear such ambitious ‘pure pop’ from someone who hid so much before. It’s cathartic, it marches on; but it does a gorgeous job at capturing the weight of the rejection that lingers. The feedback from earlier adds tension just as it gives me a glance into the distant city.
Cranekiss maintains such a balance that it’s ‘extremes’ (like ’shoegaze VS pop’ or ‘dark VS light’) flow together in a sublime gradient. Neon and pastel can streak through dark clouds. The dip we take into moodier ‘atmosphere pieces’ makes sense thanks to this and like-minded sequencing. Before they can lose their focus, they get their own sonic variety and subtler (though no less alluring) hooks creeping through. For instance, the synth that shatters under jagged guitars and a lurching beat in “Fade Away”, making the chorus rumble like a storm. Right after, “Won’t Be Found” has Tamaryn’s whispering monologue just about melt in fx and guitar wash, until the siren-like chorus kicks in to suck us deeper in the murk. They took longer to grasp me, sure, but if you have a passion for the atmosphere this genre brings, the slow-burn shouldn’t take too long.
With all that in mind, it’s no wonder Tamaryn explained the title as ‘a kiss that takes you over’ and ‘being craned into the sky by somebody’. With the music smothering us in it’s waves, her own voice yanks us along for the ride. Both are just as likely to lure someone to danger as they could to paradise; her lurking presence completes the effect.
I hate to gab so much about Cocteau-isms if I’m honest, since a close listen should set Tamaryn’s voice apart. While her timbre is deeper by nature, she adds a taste for subtle and playful darkness not too far from Siouxsie’s. If Fraser was the belting ‘goddess’ from the sky, Tamaryn is a blood-red rose with thorns; honey that trickles slowly as you wonder whether it’s poison or not. For all her lurking, she lays it on thick and makes it count, as if her words come in a fancy font. Now that the guitars provide a portrait for her voice rather than shrink it, we hear these nuances better. She can bring a much needed carefree spirit to an upbeat tune like “Hands All Over Me” now, thriving in the bliss around her. It’s that icy wind on the surface that draws me in, but I stay for the resonant warmth inside.
In absorbing dream pop’s history into her own personality, Tamaryn creates the most decadent yet balanced revival that I know. Whether you prefer one Cocteau era or all; whether you’re more about shoegaze, ethereal wave or Hatchie, Cranekiss has something for you. While I can’t decide if it’s a true update or a delicious modern tribute, it tells me that the 4AD ‘sound’ belongs in our Bandcamp era and deserves an electronic revision. After five years, when many peers vanished or moved on (Sleep Over, Boy Friend; in a way, Tamaryn herself!), I wish someone new could pick up on that idea.
Well then… did that get a little dense for you? No surprise if so, since I could write you a little essay on the textures here; this was my hardest review in months and months. But, as I’m sure you can tell, I think all dream pop should aspire to that reaction.
It was way past midnight and she still couldn’t fall asleep. This night the dream was leaving she tried so hard to keep. And with the new day’s morning she felt it drift away. Not only for a cruise, not only for a day.
– Double, “The Captain Of Her Heart”
To mark it’s year anniversary I re-upped one of my best mixes with a few new songs for Mixcloud, a much more convenient way to listen. Go here for the Youtube list if you prefer that.
A summer mix invoking the romance, mystery, scenery and varying emotions of a lavish cruise as it begins a long journey overseas. Think sipping a cocktail as you watch the sunset, a romantic embrace by the docks or a suited pianist enchanting the crowd during their buffet.
This naturally doubles as a spotlight for the sophisti-pop genre best known for Sade and Prefab Sprout. Its cross of slick production and synths with elegant piano, strings, clean guitars, sax and/or brass has close ties to this imagery.
While he vanished before we knew it, Miami Vice left a definite mark on like-minded producers and helped define vaporwave. In it’s year-long span, his music came in fragments that went from one early trademark to the next with surprising ease. You had spacy ‘mallsoft’, sinister funk riffs, smooth jazz, and in this case, self-composed v-wave before that was so common. On the other hand, the thing that insists to haunt the whole project is this blurry, downbeat view of ‘paradise’. Where his debut’s ‘paradise’ was uneasy to the point it would fit an obscure 80’s disaster film, Palm Haze seems to steep itself in the heartbreak that can come with nostalgia.
It’s so sweetly eccentric on the surface; even with the groovier bits, each sound warbles and shimmers softly like an odd creature. Imagine melting synthwave into seafoam and you get something like this. Like the best vaporwave, MV opts to use lo-fi as a smooth balm that renders this weird sensation we call the eighties in a more tender and luxurious light. Once I listen close though, I get the feeling this isn’t a paradise meant to last or regain it’s old glory. As much as the synths burst with that eighties pastel, the melodies give an idea that they can’t keep nurturing and entertaining us. Whether it’s the voice of a broken toy, a worn VHS or the beach itself, they aren’t here in spirit. They’re intent to sulk and hide. The pleasure is empty then, but the refreshing part is that Miami Vice doesn’t look past the emotional weight. Palm Haze isn’t another edgy e-boy gazing off into the dystopia. The way MV does it, I can feel the innocent dismay in this scenario.
Whether you’re talking it’s period acccuracy, emotions or ghostly presence, that extra mile MV took in ‘dubbing’ these songs to real VHS makes everything three times as effective. When you render the 80’s sound that unmistakable magnetic decay and not another Com Truise polish-overload, not even a fanatic like Fire-Toolz can tell this was self-composed until I tell them. It brings this gushing, detuning effect that turns already eccentric sounds surreal while leaving them too ‘choked-up’ to clearly ‘speak’ out their sadness.
Take that lead on “Palm Haze”; the way it chirps and frolics around is just adorable, while the melody nears depression. It tries and tries to feel better and it doesn’t work despite it’s own sweetness. Move on to the farewell that swallows up “HyperColor”, ironically using the same bubbly synths as before, until it fades into “NeoSynth”‘s quiet abandonment. The outro to “Tropics” brings the most sublime textures on the album just as a tiny bell pleads to me and drowns it’s sorrows. The whimsy sits at odds with grief here. Is this how it feels to watch good memories wash away against my will, or burst a young person’s innocent bubbles? All I can say for sure is: it feels eerily fitting to revisit this when I’m approaching 20.
While “Tokyo Negative” was quick to strike a nerve with me through that forlorn twinkling, I’d call it the album’s ‘refuge’. I can see shores flourishing in a calming, cinematic slo-mo. Someone wraps themselves in a blanket, concerned for their future but grateful to have someone to help. (like the pair on the cover?) Even if they’re yet to the fix the problem, they can persevere through their support for each other. I want a 80’s movie with an outro like this.
Miami Vice didn’t intend it as a swan song, but Palm Haze wound up fitting the bill in more ways than one. Really: with a sound this lonely, coming from a project that wound up floating by itself on the internet, to haunt whoever finds it? This really is vaporwave’s lost sea shell. Fitting, but I have to sigh a bit when it promised so much for his future. Why do the best vaporwave artists have to go poof?
I have a lot to catch up with but this is an interesting music year so far! This particular mix wound up having a lot of rich and moody synth-pop along with airy vocals (AKA my default mood). I love to have some variety in all of my mixes though so we also have tropical vibes, ghostly ballads and some unique fusions. As you might expect from me, I focused my inclusions on less canon artists who could use more attention.
Σtella – The Race
Wild Nothing – Sleight of Hand
Choir Boy – It’s Over
Baby Zionov – Extract From Truth
Planet 1999 – Party
Sign Libra – Sea of Waves
Lido Pimienta – Te Queria
La Roux – 21st Century
Shura ft. Ivy Sole – elevator girl
Christine And The Queens – I Disappear In Your Arms