Newish & Obscure/Unknown/Unpopular “Pop” (on eMusic & Bandcamp)

Normally I’d say pop music (not popular music as a whole, just the most most popular songs at a given point in time in a given country) is evil.  It drowns out everything else and conforms in sound and structure to something approaching a global monoculture.  Certain pop chanteuses have 99-cent EPs appear regularly in the eMusic Top 10 and are excluded from this list, despite their obscurity to the average person on the street.

Just trying to show I don’t hold songs’ catchiness against them.  It’s the music industry as popularity contest and beauty pageant that I object to.  OK, and I guess the musical equivalent of refined sugar in processed foods and candy should also be considered an unhealthy diet if not consumed in moderation.  Where there’s experimentation, it’s not of the scary, noisy kind, but rather is done in service of the particular song, which is rarely longer than five minutes.

In no particular order this time, because I find ranking earworms to be unnecessary, here’s some global pop music I like, where pop means non-rock (college radio pop), non-hip-hop (de facto pop music in the USA), and generally showing considerable production value but without, by my judgment, sounding “overproduced.”  Note that most pop exists on eMusic (and presumably elsewhere) in the form of singles, and the sheer mass of them will prevent me from sampling any of them.  These are all EPs or albums which can be assumed to contain at least one song that IMO could hack it as a single to be played on Top40 radio in a just world.  (Clearly we do not live in a just world.)

In some cases, I could imagine teenyboppers with taste bopping along to these, or the singer with a headset on stage with a dance troupe in a stadium or otherwise large audience.  In others, the scales are just tipped heavily in the direction of entertainment > artistry.  Just turn your brain off and dance or otherwise enjoy.  These should all go down easy, like Psapp (which would be on this list if not already prominently promoted on the eMusic homepage).

1. “Primavera” - Dolphinkids (2018).  Synth-heavy EP for 99 cents with a would-be diva front and center, half the songs here are in English and half not.  Each has a memorable chorus, and “Innerspring” sounds to me a lot like Young Galaxy.

2. “Saintanism” - Count Nebula (2016).  This $2, self-released EP has two strikes against it but really won me over.  It reminds me a bit of a brighter Sneaker Pimps or darker Bran Van 3000 for its (wholly successful) attempt to mix funky, psychedelic, and rock elements into cool electronic pop.  Ringtone ready not least b/c the first song’s loop sounds like an actual telephone, the lyrics are pretty secondary to the overall vibe of most of these songs.  Mostly four minutes or more, I’d say there’s slightly more substance to them than average.  Instantly uplifting and highly danceable.

3. “Element 27” - Cardinales (2020).  I’ve pretty much never heard a French pop album that isn’t cool, and not understanding the lyrics preserves that mystique.  This one starts slowly and kinda spaced out before finding its footing in angularly tuneless robot music.  The vocalists don’t exactly sing or rap so much as declare themselves over the beat, giving the songs an element of challenge I quite appreciate.  Overall, the accompaniments to this synth-pop are rather more interesting and welcoming of dissonance than the usual. 99 cents or NYP.

4. “Renjana” - Gejolak Bahasa (2019).  99-cent EPs from Indonesia that aren’t too syrupy must be snapped up immediately.  This is sweetly accessible pop rock all right. I don’t usually go for falsetto crooners, but I’ll wager the language is one most Western listeners don’t often hear.  See the Sunset Road Records label for more rock from the world’s most populous Muslim country.  Reminds me of cleanly produced rock from Thailand generally and specifically 旅行团 from China, which is surely a household name that will be very helpful to you.  (If not, look them up on StreetVoice.)

5. “Glass” - Sleephawk (2018).  At least a fathom or two deeper and more sentimentally felt than most pop music, I’d say, the accompaniment here, while electronic, also swings for the seats and an epic scale, very ambitious for a 3-minute song.  Interestingly, the opening, title track is one of the two not available as a single.  With the same lyrical themes and catchy, simple instrumentation, I don’t understand why “Malibu” is an infinitesimally small fraction as popular as Gotye’s hit other than to say the world of pop is capricious and unfair.  “A New Soul” also channels his inner Geographer for crisp, high notes.  $2 is relatively pricey, but this is pop worth some serious attention.  

6. “Je Vois, Je Crois” - DeSaintex (2018).  I’m glad we’re in the 21st century, where I no longer have to worry about liking music that sounds flamboyantly gay.  Squeaky, high-tones abound in these electronic songs, and they straddle the line between catchy and cheesy most precariously, with a low male vocal usually paired with a falsetto part.  A relatively short 99-cent EP that is either fabulous or nearly so.

7. “TV에 내가 나왔으면 정말 좋겠네 I wish I had gotten out of here on TV” - illoYlo (2017).  16 minutes of power pop in a language you probably don’t understand might be just the thing you need to put a spark in your day and hear all music through refreshed ears.  With a little electronic beat and buzz thrown in with the guitars, this EP is like a lot of Asian pop in disregarding the fine line between being happily upbeat and overkill obnoxious.  Choose from two EPs for $1.49.

8. “Fluid Window” - Miracle (2011).  The Bandcamp review raves with Depeche Mode comparisons, and I suppose I hear it.  The studied listener will undoubtedly hear many other points of comparison from the 1980s and the three following decades.  There’s an atmospheric darkness to both the music and the vocals many will find appealing for not being stereotypical pop.  Given almost nine minutes to expand, the closing “Breathe” is most interesting and least poppy.  Great value for 99 cents, and those who are enticed will find two full-length albums of interest as well.

9. “Le Fil” - Camille (2006).  One of the most experimental entries, both vocally and in terms of accompaniment, this is surprisingly the only full-length album on this list so far.  It’s an inventive, challenging barrel of agitated monkeys, full of improvised percussion, handclaps and snaps, a cappella loops, and multiple layers of herself backing up her lead vocals with aplomb and no small amount of nasal sass.  The songs are on the short side but add up to more than the sum of their parts.  I expect each of her albums is a full statement and look forward to hearing more.  I love her music video where she gets attacked by knitting (far better than Weezer’s “Sweater Song” in every way)  It’s equally impressive that Because Music continues to carry almost her full discography.  Sadly, it’s rare for eMu to offer more of something I already knew, owned, and enjoyed, so when it happens, it must be highlighted.

Bandcamp Only:  

“Hybrid” - Elsiane (2008).  Affected vocals can be an immediate turn-off, but the fit with the music in this case is quite irresistible.  Together, this album takes the listener to an otherworldly place somehow at once exotic, innocent, and sinister.  Swims between pop and cool trip-hop as adeptly as anything I’ve heard.

“Rum EP” - James K (2013).  A mere 14 minutes over four songs, there’s a disjointed feeling to most of these, still pop for the ethereal vocals.  Overall, I’d say this EP is unconventional rather than experimental.  NYP.  

“Union” - Saint Saviour (2014).  Most of this hourlong album is a pretty mixed bag, a result of inconsistent production and perhaps even mixing, but there are a few songs with extremely compelling choruses as well as moments of cathartic brilliance.  Her voice is all over the map, always prominent, and no one will like all of it.  There’s always a strong grasp of melody, often of harmony as well, but some moments are cringeworthy for general histrionics and notes beyond her range (“Reasons”) or lyrics delivered with maximum pathos that don’t connect (the otherwise interesting “Liberty”).  Whose idea was it to break into rap in the middle of “Domino” and what the heck do you make of the explosive synth & vocal orgasms on “The Rain Falls on the Just”?  Not quite strong enough to defy genre, this often sounds like an album unsure if it wants to rock & roll or oonce & beep, and if so, in what style.  And how should she sing in the meantime while the song is deciding?  I hear everyone from Kate Bush and Annie Lennox to obscure semi-contemporaries like Chainsuck and Superhumanoids.  A very interesting album equal parts seductive, sentimental, frustrating, and confusing.  By the description of her follow-up album, she just wants to be a pop singer-songwriter painting with broad, accessible strokes and wasted a lot of energy trying to be so edgy.  

Young Galaxy.  Among the synthiest of synth-pop, I’d have to strain to hear any guitars or otherwise non-electronic instruments over the course of 2013’s “Ultramarine,” the only album I own.  Emotional and romantic, often catchy while hardly shallow thematically.  Much more to explore, and I especially endorse the music video for “Blown Minded,” , one of the most immersive and entrancing out there.   

Le Bombe.  Really captures the magic of childlike whimsy and exuberance on 2006’s impossible-to-find, near-perfect (too brief) “Min Så Kallade Soul”.  On the strength of that album, I sprang for the full discography deal, which duplicates several tracks but also fleshes out different moods.

On other lists:  Mirela Vilar, Onuka, Kid Francescoli (with Julia), “План побега (Plan Pobega/Escape Plan)“ - Обе Две (Obe Dve/Both Two) (2018)

Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic: 

& by my evaluation

& by genre 


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