The Great Synth-Pop Crossover That Never Was Gets Poppier

In the U.K., they play alongside Coldplay and Franz Ferdinand. But in the U.S., Goldfrapp are the great crossover synth-pop band that never was. Unlike most electronica acts that pride themselves on encyclopedia-like references to the genre’s esoteric underground, Goldfrapp have always warmly embraced a pop-music aesthetic.

Supernature is their most radio-friendly work yet. The formula isn’t that complicated: Producer Will Gregory tweaks ’80s synth-pop with moody ambience and Alison Goldfrapp’s breathy, ’60s-noir catwalk vocals. The results strut with disco attitude—so much so that Madonna has actually cited Goldfrapp as inspiration, even cribbing Alison’s signature leotard-hose look.

Sexy camp crackles through Supernature like a live electric current, but not in an obvious way. Instead, Goldfrapp’s specialty is teasing out seductive vibes by juxtaposing hard and soft musical elements. Thick bass pummels through Alison’s operatic vocals (“Slide In” and “Fly Me Away”), while sweet, honky-tonk piano keys poke into a rowdy cabaret (“Satin Chic”).

In interviews, the Frapps love to mention how they’ve retreated into a world of their own creation. They record their albums in remote cabins in the wilderness; they conjure artwork of naked humans with animal heads; they make their own clothes. Their quirkiness is intriguing, but ironically, their insular confidence has helped shape an increasingly accessible sound. Now if only American charts would take notice.


Teutonic Techno Terror Dives Drunk, Yells at Schmucks, Flashes Bird and Butt

If the typical electronic producer hunched over his laptop onstage lacks a certain machismo, Berlin’s Marco Haas seems more likely to give the finger, moon his audience, and beat up the bouncer. Blitzkrieg Pop, Haas’s fourth album under his moniker T. Raumschmiere (the German translation of William S. Burroughs’s “The Dreamcops”), celebrates Haas’s usual antisocial messages, with enough blistering industrial noise to suggest Trent Reznor in an irate mood. Unlike Reznor’s best compositions, however, Haas doesn’t tap into any palpable sense of raw emotional anguish; instead we get antipathy for antipathy’s sake—arguably still a fun enterprise in its own right. “Your mediocrity is standing out . . . /So listen up you schmuck,” he taunts on his digi-metal title cut, which swells with as much scorn as it does abrasive guitar. (Channeling malcontent is something of a habit for Haas; his former metal band was named Zorn, the German word for anger.) What keeps Blitzkrieg from descending into petulant shtick is Haas’s compositional ear, which reveals itself on “Diving in Whiskey,” letting Ellen Allien’s half-muffled vocals nuzzle artfully through his scratchy IDM textures. Haas offers the digitized rebel yell—sneering with tech-punk swagger at all the schmucks in the universe.

T. Raumschmiere plays the Canal Room September 21.


In His Lonely Room

Laptop electronic or “lap-tron” songwriters have long endured a certain stigma. Composing their tunes solo, typically from the comfort of their own bedrooms, and almost never performing them before a live audience, they make you wonder: How much talent do you really need to rejigger a computer program’s pre-assorted loops and notes?

Bryan “Boom Bip” Hollon probably didn’t intend his new Blue Eyed in the Red Room to settle any old scores regarding the bedroom producer’s legitimacy. But Blue Eyed—which leans much deeper into ambient electronica than Hollon’s hip-hop beatbox debut Seed to Sun—pegs him as a nimble architect of texture and melody, chiseling experimental forms into something refined. Delicate, tinkling notes flutter like chimes in “Girl Toy,” and in a startlingly bare hymn called “The Matter of (Our Discussion),” Nina Nastasia channels Cat Stevens into an unapologetic look at the difference between feeling lonely and being alone. When Nastasia croons “I don’t believe in the power of love,” it feels like an unromantic valentine for our digital age: You can almost hear the whisper of the lap-tron composer, suggesting that a little solitude isn’t so bad, after all.


At Long Last, Hip-Hop Deigns to Recognize Asian America

When Wyclef Jean and 22-year-old Chinese American rapper Jin tha MC chose “Learn Chinese” as their first joint from Jin’s debut album, The Rest Is History, they wondered: What’s the first thing listeners will focus on? “[That] I’m Chinese,” Jin flatly told The Source. “So if that’s what they want, we’ll give it to them.”

In rap’s post-Eminem universe, being white can be an easier hurdle to surmount than being perceived as a foreigner. It’s a despairing truth that Asian Americans continue to face racial jeers voiced by both blacks and whites with an ease that’d be unthinkable today against other minorities. Amplified in the MC battle arena where every topic is up for grabs, Miami-born Queens resident Jin regularly faced lyrics attempting to shame him specifically for his ethnicity. Rap verse message boards recorded anti-Jin taunts like, “You squint your eyes and you look deceitful/That’s why God hates Chinese people.”

Only against this backdrop can Jin’s lyrical directness be fully appreciated: “Yeah, I’m Chinese/ And what?” and “Y’all gonna wanna be Chinese,” a long-awaited rush of self-vindication. Quasi-Eastern riffs and an egg foo yung reference are wincing to hear, but it’s hard not to be moved by the fierceness of Jin’s tone, deftly canvassing topics like toiling for his immigrant parents (“Think we open restaurants ‘cuz we cook good?”) and the forgotten slavery of Asian Americans (“Every time they harass me, I wanna explode/We should ride the train for free, we built the railroads”). Self-references like “original chinky-eyed emcee” and “Chinaman” initially feel jarring; but surprisingly, Jin’s visceral rage and proud swagger reclaim these slurs the way black rappers use nigga: He makes them his own.

Pricey production talent like Kanye West and Wyclef Jean lend The Rest Is History beats of the highly polished, accessible kind, moving easily from bass-throbbing club hooks to softer r&b caresses. It’s catchy fare, but how many people will hear it? Even after a record-breaking seven consecutive wins on BET’s punishing freestyle arena on 106 & Park, Jin’s toughest battle lies ahead: reversing stereotypes and their impact upon Jin’s sales appeal as a spitter. On triumphing over prejudice, Jin told The Source, “I just want people to know I’m coming, and when they do find out, the rest is history.” It’s the kind of confidence only a 22-year-old can have. Or maybe it’s a promise made by a determined adult, looking beyond his own racially challenged times.