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Electronic





Liner notes for a virtual world: Bunny X goes back to the retro-future on remix album

Readers note: If you wanna go straight to Bunny X’s very own song-by-song liner notes for their new album that's under discussion here, please feel free to skip the think-piece-cum-rant and scroll down to near the end (below the jump) and hey I seriously won’t hold it against you but I am watching, always watching…

If you wanna believe in something / then let be this one thing / Paradise
We could make it last forever / as long as we’re together / Paradise” — “Perfect Paradise”

“Young and in love / fast-forward to the past” — “Young & In Love”

Bunny X is a musical duo made up of Abigail “Abbi” Gordon and Mary "Mary" Hanley who self-identify as an “Italo disco/retrowave duo with influences ranging from early Madonna to FM Attack.” But I hope they’ll forgive me if I use the term “synthwave” rather than “retrowave” seeing as most people prone to discussing such things consider the terms interchangeable and also I’d venture that many punk rock bands, for instance, are “retrowave” just as much as any synthspop act, so let’s go with synthwave for clarity’s sake and if you disagree you can write an angry letter to the editor. 

The duo’s latest album is what’s known as a “remix album”, a term I unpacked in some detail a few weeks ago so I won’t repeat myself here. On their Bandcamp page they explain that “after releasing the hit album Young & In Love last year, New Yorkers Bunny X asked some of the hottest names in the international electronic scene to reimagine some of the highlights of the album and were truly thrilled with the response they received” and ergo the new album. (see below for one of the unremixed songs off from Young & In Love, and see above for the entire “remix album” and the original album and please try to keep up with me here!)



Listening to Bunny X’s Young & In Love (The Remixes) (Aztec Records) has been a learning experience for me because for one thing I’ve learnt is that the album’s 80s-throwback mix of percolating synths, gated drums, robo-funk baselines, Super Mario 64 worthy DX7’s, etherial and even vocoderized vocals, and omnipresent washes of airy ambient sound is virtually guaranteed to turn you into Molly Ringwald for at least long enough to dance frantically on a balcony for your new reprobate friends during detention.

What’s more, I’ve also learnt about the existence of a bunch of cool remixers and producers I’d never heard of before. (more on them below in the “liner notes” portion of this article!) And I’ve also learnt that I enjoy Bunny X’s music very much having not had much exposure to their music before, that is until I saw them perform live opening for Fuck You, Tammy a couple weeks ago, and subsequently getting lost in their hypnotic synthpop sorcery. And finally, I’ve also learnt and come to appreciate that Kim Wilde was one of the key architects of the genre today known as synthwave. Allow me to explain. (Warning: digressions ahead!)

The first track on Y&IL(TR) is a remix of the Bunny X song “Perfect Paradise” and the remix was made by Ricky Wilde with additional vocals contributed by Kim Wilde. And in case that latter sounds familiar it’s probably because she recorded two now-iconic hit singles in the ‘80s (actually 17 hit singles in her native UK, but only two that made the US Top 40) both of which are “80s Night” DJ staples to this day—namely “Kids In America” (1981) and her Hi-NRG style cover of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” in 1986.

And it turns out that Ricky Wilde is Kim’s brother (surprise!) and that the two Irish twins (“Irish twins” are siblings born less than a year apart and thanks to Wikipedia for perpetuating this ugly slander upon my ancestors) co-wrote many of Kim’s early hit singles together with their father Marty (an early UK rock ’n’ roller) and let’s hear it for family values. But here’s the kicker, I’m gonna go out on a limb and claim that the Wilde family basically invented synthwave (or at least helped!) decades before that term even existed, and well before “retro” even entered the picture, with Kim’s debut single “Kids In America.”

How, and why, you ask? Because “Kids” combines the musical DNA of Kraftwerk’s avant-artpop-techno (check out that single-note drone and weird atonality in the intro) with the electrified postpunk of Gary Numan, OMD, Ultravox, Thomas Dolby, et al., all topped off by the poppiest of pop tropes like Kim’s girl-group-esque vocal harmonies and the la-la-la bubblegum hook sung by Ricky I presume. 

And this combination of sunshine pop with a dark techno and/or postpunk undertow, however subtle, is the very epitome of “synthwave” in may book as are the lyrics, which come off like an A.I. computer-generated description of adolescent suburban longing (got to get a brand new experience, feeling right / outside suburbia's sprawling everywhere…New York to East California / there's a new wave coming, I warn ya) in a song written by precisely no one who was an actual kid in America (ergo the puzzling mention of “East California” screw you Angelinos!) in a fantasy-based depiction that's all the more resonant for it. 

Overall there’s something about all these elements cut-and-pasted together that gives the song a hyperreal quality (in other words, an exaggerated or even simulated reality) which in my mind makes it a harbinger of ‘80s music in general since hyper-reality was super big in the 80s ranging from Top 40 pop to 120 Minutes alternative rock, routinely utilizing everything from drum machines to Neo-psychedelic guitar pedals (whither goth music without the humble flange pedal?) and brand new digital synthesis technology all of which took “natural” sounds and pushed them into hyperreal exaggerations and simulations (I mean clearly the “brass” and “orchestral” sounds on 80s synths can be easily distinguished from what they’re imitating, but in the process they created a cool new retro-futuristic sonic vocabulary).

Synthwave is fixated on just these sorts of blatantly ersatz futuristic-but-now-nostalgic digital sounds which are the sonic equivalent to Patrick Nagel’s extreme ‘80s illustrations—a visual aesthetic that also set the template for synthwave’s own visuals with its own “nostalgic logic” where Nagel took 50s pinup art and 60s/70s Playboy centerfolds and pushed them into pastel-and-neon-hued hyperreality portraits so exaggerated and ultra-vivid that they’re like half photograph and half cartoon. And could it be mere coincidence that both the music video for “Kids in America” and the cover art to Young & In Love (The Remixes) have a strong Nagel vibe (the latter refracted through modern day manga art) I’m thinking not!

The sublime Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” perhaps sums up synthwave aesthetics best (not to mention being a beautiful queer love story) where time-travel back to the 1980s acts as a form of spiritual salvation, with an ending that poses the question of whether living in an idealized and sanitized simulation of existence would be superior to the living in the messy real thing, not to mention the existential quandary of having an actual choice between the two. And come to think of it “Perfect Paradise” sounds like it could’ve been directly inspired by the episode hmmmmmm......

Either way, “San Junipero” has something insightful to say about the nostalgia value of 80s music and synthwave’s ritualistic recreation of such which seems to have a surprisingly cross-generational appeal. And I’m thinking this may have something to do with how a synthesizer is clearly a “synth” i.e. synthetic in this music, while a drum machine is clearly a machine and so on. Because today technology has come to be implanted deep inside of our bodies and our minds, with our phones and other electronic and virtual devices acting as a extension of our physical beings, and a component part of our mental functioning, to where really who can even tell the difference anymore. But synthwave takes our current state of social and physical unreality (alternative facts, anyone?!) rewinding and re-mixing it back into good ol’ fashioned hyperreality…

And on that optimistic note (!) here’s the real star of the show--the song-by-song liner notes provided by Abbi from Bunny X, providing some background and insights on the seven songs remixed on Young & In Love (The Remixes) and their multiple remixed-ified renditions. (Jason Lee

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"Perfect Paradise"

Originally released as an instrumental track by Swedish retrowave artist Don Dellpiero in January 2021, Bunny X and Don Dellpiero collaborated and released the track with a vocal arrangement in June 2021 and ended up receiving quite a nice response from the community. Fast forward to 2022 and a true stroke of luck when Bunny X befriended UK music blogger Lee Bennett who happens to be well acquainted with the brother and sister dream team that is Ricky and Kim Wilde. It was a remix match made in heaven when Ricky Wilde offered to take a stab at a remix of "Perfect Paradise" and Kim Wilde ended up gracing the track with her iconic vocals. After so much isolation and separation during the pandemic, "Perfect Paradise" speaks to the simple yet profound joy of just physically being in the same space as your friend or lover. This track was also remixed nu jack swing style by Syst3m Glitch and with Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 69” vibes by GeoVoc.

"Can’t Wait" 

When you’re in the last year, month or week of graduating, quitting your job, moving out, breaking up, etc. The list goes on but this track goes out to all those that are just on the cusp of and getting “so close to the finish line” that they just might burst. This track, written with LA-based artist SelloRekt/LA Dreams, and recently remixed by Italian producer Le Cast, was truly inspired by a Brat Pack type of montage (you can picture it) when you’re studying for that last exam and then you finally make it through to the other side…

"Head Rush"

In keeping with the teen angst theme of Young & In Love, "Head Rush," remixed by Sferro, Fulvio Colasanto and Uncover, is about that pure adrenaline rush that comes with first (real) crushes when you are positively intoxicated by being around that certain someone. When you feel like “there’s just something different” about them because they see you as no one else ever has and “when you’re all alone together” you “can finally” be yourself. 

"Diamonds"

Pure and utter nostalgia. "Diamonds" is about remembering how you felt when you saw your crush in the hallway or watched them from afar wondering if they even knew you were alive. This track, remixed with care by Mike Haunted, is a look back through time, albeit with a much different lens, since “those old high school days are long in the past now” but sometimes it’s okay if you prefer to remember that particular person the same way they were back then. It’s probably - definitely - a suspension of reality but is that such a bad thing? 

"Back to You"

We’ve all been there. The push-pull and the complicated feelings around just not being able to get over someone. About wanting to go back and try again because “there’s such passion every time” you’re together and so you want to just "keep coming back.” Swedish-based artist, The Secret Chord, stays true to the original sentiment of the track while simultaneously breathing new life into it with some excellent Laurie Anderson-esque vocoder effects throughout. 

"Lost Without You" 

UK-based producer Maxx Parker’s remix of "Lost Without You," written by Bunny X and Don Dellpiero, brings a tropical, romantic and even vaporwave twist to the original track. True to the theme of the original album, the track is full-on Sixteen Candles style romantic lust and delusion – “when you called me up I was speechless, why would someone like you talk to me in the first place?” Those same hopes and dreams are quickly dashed because “when the last bell rang” the object of your affection “grabbed their friends” and “just walked away.” Ouch.

"Go Back"

France’s Sight Telma Club gives "Go Back," originally released as an instrumental by SelloRekt/LA Dreams, a darker spin with the vocal pitch bending effect throughout and it works because the theme of Go Back is a somber one – again in keeping with the overall nostalgia wave that is Young & In Love. When you just wish you could go back and do it all over again. Maybe it would be different this time and maybe it would “just turn out to be the same.”

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Electronic

Time: 
19:00
Band name: 
FELIX III
FULL Artist Facebook address (http://...): 
http://www.instagram.com/ohfelixiii
Venue name: 
The Sultan Room
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Groupthink "Guilty Pleasure"

Groupthink released visuals for his latest single "Guilty Pleasure" this week. This comes just five days after releasing the single and a steaming Joseph Morrison directed lyric video.

This single is huge leap forward for the musician that began working on this track three years ago. At the time he had very little, but is now on the verge of something huge.

 

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Forest Management "Palm Life"

Forest Management has released the first single, "One After Another", from his forthcoming fifth full-length album, Palm Life, which is due out April 22nd.

This is the experimental drone music of John Daniel, and this album marks his return to the use of tape as a source of texture and composition.

You can catch Forest Management on May 1st at Garfield Park Conservatory with Elton Aura and Lala Lala.

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Bow before MOTHERMARY's debut LP "I Am Your God"

Repping NYC at SXSW this coming Wednesday...

I’m not sure which benign deity brought the twin-sister dark electronica duo known as MOTHERMARY into our plane of existence (Lilith? Kali? Ishtar? Cher? Dolly?) but we owe them a debt of gratitude because not since the heyday of Prince and Madonna have there been two such solid proponents for eroticizing religious dogma which is great for Christianity in particular with its central conceit of “original sin” where being tempted to enjoy a piece of deciduous by a sexy wifey made from your own rib is grounds for the eternal damnation of humankind not to mention eternal shame at our own nakedness. 

And then it doesn’t help matters when a few millennia later these same humans somehow managed to murder God’s only son in a particularly gruesome fashion and all this is without doubt deeply guilt-inducing and deeply unsexy. Or is it?

MOTHERMARY offer strong evidence to the contrary on their debut full-length I Am Your God released in late January and they know what they’re talking about because Elyse Winn and Larena Winn were raised in a devout Mormon household in Missoula, Montana (where a deep love for music was self-reportedly instilled alongside the Mormonism) and both attended BYU before moving to Salt Lake City and eventually NYC (first Elyse and later Larena) and recording their debut single “Catch Fire” which caught the attention of their friend Alex Frankel who’s also one-half of synthpop duo Holy Ghost! (how appropriate!) who passed it along to Megan Louise at Italians Do It Better which is basically the go-to label for cooly restrained yet highly and sublimely dramatic electro music—kind of like Italo-disco on steroids and tranquilizers at the same time—a perfect fit for the duo and their own melding of kewl and hawt, sinful and angelic.

And speaking of hotness “Catch Fire” is smoking hot—all swelling organs and throbbing bass and pulsating rhythms accompanied by Johnny Jewel-style synth-tom fills (RIP Chromatics and the fabled Dear Tommy LP) with lyrics from the POV of the sneaky snake in the Garden of Eden (see the truth when / it’s in the nude / taste the fruit / put the blame on me) and geez if Tipper Gore ever heard this song she’d likely have an aneurysm on the spot nevermind if she saw the music video we’re talking heart attack (brief synopsis: Bible study group/faith healing ceremony transforms into a polymorphously perverse strip club complete with crucifix tossing and leather-studded-slow-motion gyrating by Elyse and Larena).

But it’s not all “hotness for hotness’s sake” as MOTHERMARY point out I Am Your God “isn’t about a god complex, it is an invitation to ponder what you worship. It’s about women reclaiming their holiness and inviting you to acknowledge your own…it is a mirror to religion both reflecting the bad and salvaging the good” with the very name MOTHERMARY being “the ultimate symbol of religi[ous] hypocrisy & the insane expectations placed on women…These two extremes. Have children to procreate, but don’t be sexual beings.” The Madonna/Whore complex is an impossible needle to thread for sure but on the album’s most recent single and music video (title track “I Am Your God”) the Winn twins come pretty darn close with a song that floats by on ethereal clouds of airy heavenly electronic oscillations, but it's equally voluptuous and lusty (and a bit creepy with that pitch-shifted vocal) with the repeated line “I can come again” straddling the same line between holy and horny.

I guess guilt is complicated that way when you think about it—it’s an age-old tool for subjugation (especially used against women natch) but keeping people form what they want and need only builds desire upon desire and before long they’re developing some pretty elaborate fantasies and fetishes to redirect some of that energy not to mention making cool art and beautiful music to express their frustrations and longing not to mention how it makes being bad feel so good so guilt is a volatile thing to say the least. 

But enough of this music blogger’s theological thoughts! In closing it should be mentioned that some of I Am Your God was created together with compatriot/co-producer Chris McLaughlin with whom Elyse Winn likewise collaborates on the Cigar Cigarette project fronted by Chris where she takes on the role of co-composer, art director and music video director, and by the way MOTHERMARY direct or at least co-direct all their own music videos which makes sense given their backgrounds in art and theater alongside music plus “sacrilegious spectacle” of course and if the “Pray” video below doesn’t deliberately riff on Garbage’s glorious video for “Queer” I’ll eat my hat!



And so let’s pray all these beneficent forces keep working together and spawning more (un)holy ravishing music because the world really needs it and I’d even be willing to try and guilt them into it. (Jason Lee)

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