We might be in a new golden age of underground electronic music, call it what genre you will. Glo-fi, chillwave, psychrock: sexy names that never quite do justice to the music they’re meant to describe. You’d think an entire generation of American youth was mainlining Robotussin while nodding off over a Moog in a sepia-tinted bedroom. But if all these kids were really huffing computer cleaner, you’d hardly get the choice selection of well-crafted, just-enough-polished electronica that we have today. Acts like Blackbird Blackbird, Pollination, Toro Y Moi, Truman Peyote and Boston’s PPALMM are putting out impossibly ready-to-play music that peels off into experimental directions while still maintaining a pop sensibility. Not all of these acts are touring, or even gigging; many remain bedroom wunderkinds. But it’s a sign of overall fertility that these acts are flowering in the absence of extensive club support. If the music is good, everything else follows. PPALMM’s Cal-Aesthetics is the latest crown of laurels on the brow of this burgeoning scene that’s going to outlive its half-snarky glo-fi label.
The tracks from Cal-Aesthetics hew more to the techno end of the spectrum, away from the warped tape warblings of a Neon Indian. In fact, the overall sound is pretty clean, though dense and detailed. There’s no magnetized tape stressing here to produce that half-step hurky-jurky fade-in/fade-out rhythm that’s so popular these days. PPALMM sneaks in rhythm the “old fashioned” way, with artfully constructed samples and beats. Tracks ‘New Nostalgia’ and ‘Revel’ bring to mind middle period Aphex Twin. The latter especially invokes the heavier, dirrrtier house sounds of Richard D. James in his UK club mode. The medium tempo ‘_outherewithme_’ and ‘elec_TR_olling’ have a leisurely pace and subtlety reminiscent of Endtroducing-era DJ Shadow. All great tracks, but the heart and soul of Cal-Aesthetics is probably ‘Acid Cops’, a techno-thriller that harkens back to the straightup house grinders of the early 90s while infusing the sampling vocabulary with digital treats those pre-Macbook luddites could hardly have fathomed.
PPALMM is probably one of those underground acts that trends more towards the bedroom wunderkind at this point. Though the man behind the music Paul Morse (Paul M. = PPALMM- get it?) has gigged regular in the Boston area, and been on some great bills with Toro Y Moi, Das Racist, Truman Peyote and Class Actress, you get the feeling that outside of New England PPALMM is an unknown quantity. Cal-Aesthetics should change this and hopefully open a few doors. It’s a good thing to hear music from this special scene that doesn’t lean hard on the warbled tape, tremolo-ed “chill thump” to grab the listener’s attention. The “chill thump” could become the new disco beat- played out, lamed out- if people don’t watch out. But if it does, PPALMM will be high and dry with an album that visits Chillville, yet, thankfully, doesn’t live there.
Friendly People’s debut, self-titled 3-song EP gives a concise taste of a promising young Cambridge, MA-based band. Their jangly indie pop is peppered with hints of Americana, roots rock and folk with vocals that owe a debt to Neil Young. The EP’s clear highlight is its opening track—their namesake song—“Friendly People”. It’s a tremendous, positive track buoyed by a horn section in the bridge which lends a mariachi feel. “A Lot of Work To Do” brings out Harvest-era Neil Young, starting as a plaintive acoustic ditty which builds slowly into a passionate electric number. Closing track, “Branches”, follows the same acoustic-to-electric path. As the song builds, it introduces tribal rhythms that are reminiscent of 80s indie-punk legends, the Volcano Suns. Friendly People are scheduled to record their debut full-length in March. If the Friendly People EP is indicative of what we can expect from this young group’s next batch of tunes it will be a record to keep an eye on later in 2012.--George Dow