For Chris Merritt, Cruise Elroy has been a labor of love years in the works, built on the solid foundation that was the song of the same title, a seven-four exercise in pop-jazz perfection. Daring continuously to push the envelope of what great pop music can and should be, he’s existed on the fringes of pop, building melodies of the Ben Folds ilk while taking his lyrics in the vein of a less snarky Jonathan Coulton. There’s always been more to Merritt’s music than easy comparisons may make clear, but it’s a good start. Now with the arrival of EP1 and EP2 from Cruise Elroy, the full spectrum of this sound is immediately evident.
While the first EP takes the opportunity to update early Merritt faves “Tarmac”, “Feminine Mind” and “Rain King” via a cleaner studio veneer, it also provides us with the songwriter’s strongest pop contribution yet. Via “The Fever,” which speaks to the search for truth between what we can see, smell or touch versus what we sense might be true on the fringes, Merritt hits us with his catchiest chorus while peppering the musical arrangement with his trademark odes to video-game music and off-kilter kitsch. “Shorty” opens the EP with an extended 5/4 disco-funk breakdown, then segues into a surprisingly straightforward dose of keyboard-tinged nostalgia complete with the best fuzzed-out bass outside an early Ben Folds Five effort. And even the new studio recordings of Merritt classics shine as examples of remarkably astute songwriting, particularly “Feminine Mind” for it’s twist on Billy Joel’s “She’s Only A Woman To Me” — “She’s a killer but she’s always on time; she’s brutal but she’s never unkind,” Merritt sings without the dark edge of Joel’s misogyny tainting the proceeding. And “Rain King” softens the edges of the lo-fi gem via a pair of extended instrumental interludes at the song’s center and conclusion while heightening the contrast between the bare melody with the trio’s deftly layered vocal harmonies.
But if EP1 introduces you to the sounds of Merritt and Cruise Elroy in a non-confrontational setting, EP2 becomes positively revolutionary, evident from the moment you crash ears-first into “Sisyphus.” Thirty seconds in and you’ve thrown out any comparisons to Ben Folds as the band embraces prog-rock leanings much more in tune with bands like Wax Fang. Quite unlike anything else I’ve heard on any pop album this year, “Sisyphus” takes everything that’s great about Merritt’s songwriting and encapsulates it within a melodic structure that demands a schizophrenic arrangement. All but demanding headphone listening, the song features layers upon layers which, peeled back, illustrate an artist coming fully into his own. And four minutes in, the Chris Martin-inspired harmonic breakdown seals it, making repeat listens compulsory.
And if you weren’t already sold, the EP’s closer, “Ghost,” which opens with the best rock intro not composed by Styx, will cement you as a lifelong fan. A freewheeling pop masterpiece, Ghost reminds one immediately of the more experimental side of Weezer (“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”), a symphonic synthesized sensation which aptly showcases why I’ve argued for years that Merritt is the best pop songwriter you’re not yet listening to.
These two EPs make it tantalizingly clear that great pop music won’t be denied. With the tease of a full-length still on the horizon, take the opportunity to introduce yourself to the sonic world of Cruise Elroy. Nothing else this year comes even remotely close to this, and you ignore it at your own peril.
Elroy was here, and he’s thrown down the gauntlet.
Nikki Lerner’s entire album Longings is well worth your listen, but if you’ve only got time for one song, try the subtle building “Plea,” which showcases her pop-meets-jazz leanings in full-on glory. This is an example of a song taking its time to earn a listener’s respect, building layer upon layer of melody as Lerner’s vocals swim among the notes, elevating them from mere pop to something significantly more. This is mournful blues, soaring pop and multi-textured jazz all rolled into one five minute track, something you have to hear again and again to fully absorb. From the pizzicato strings at the first chorus, which immediately make the hairs on the neck stand alert, to the background vocals which add depth and clarity to the melody, this is a song built upon attention to detail. Every detail brings you back. By the time the song builds to its apex — “Please forgive me!” lingering in the air over thundering toms and an epic string instrumental provided by jazz violinist Zach Brock, there’s no going back.
You can buy the album via her Bandcamp page.
Is it crazy that it only took one listen to this song and I fell in love?
Is it crazy that I know all the words and I can’t help but sing along?
Fuck no it’s not crazy ….
One listen and you’ll understand. Kat Dahlia is for real, and she’s coming to take control of your earphones.
“I’ll fly like a cannonball,” Glee-alum Lea Michele sings on her first original single, but what goes up eventually must also come down in a gory explosion of pyrotechnic overkill. At least that’s what happens here in a single which explodes in all the wrong ways, something only Michael Bay could fully appreciate.
Akin to something from a bad Broadway rock musical, Michele overacts her way through the video, backed by her own overwrought vocals, verses and chorus merging into one dense morass of pop miscalculation. The basic message is this: I’m lonely inside, but I’m going to get out there once I light this fuse and live my life, today … today … today …” Michele repeats words and phrases as though beating us with a blunt rhetorical instrument will make us like this song even in the slightest.
I in turn will start living today, and my first step will be vowing never to play this song again. If you’re feeling particularly masochistic, you can press play on the video below and then make the same vow never to do so again. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!
On this episode of the “Hear! Hear!” and Now Podcast, I have the opportunity to speak with Kat Dahlia, a 22-year-old pop / hip-hop songwriter who’s already made waves with last year’s viral hit “Gangsta.”
Dig beneath the surface and it’s easy to hear her disappointment with those in her generation who remain content bragging about accomplishments which in the end mean little. This, juxtaposed against her own family struggles as a first-generation Cuban-American growing up in Miami, sets her apart from most in the genre.
With a mix of fun party songs and more serious looks at the world in which she lives,one thing is clear: Kat Dahlia has something to say coupled with the drive to take over your pop landscape. Listen up, she’s coming to a city near you and there’s the chance to get in on this thing from the ground floor!
For a list of upcoming tour dates and to get a copy of her Seeds Mixtape, you can visit katdahlia.com
From a pure pop standpoint, Kat Dahlia’s new single “The High” is both invigorating and unabashedly ear-catching. The video she’s crafted for the song, a five-minute intense look at a violent relationship come to a brutal conclusion, is as visually arresting as the song is undeniably a hit in the making.
The single, off the 22-year-old’s latest mix-tape Seeds, is one of those graphic and brutally honest videos you have to see to believe. Even when the video at times seems on the verge of falling into Twilight territory, the song remains there in all its intense, stutter-pop glory to keep drawing you in.
“You say you’re gonna love me better,” she sings mournfully, but there’s no glossing over it. “But for now and for forever it’s a lie.” This is love in vain, even when it does make for visually and aurally invigorating art. The underlying pain of her experience is brutally evident. Consider this 2014’s first monster hit in the making and a must-hear.
This week on the “Hear! Hear!” And Now Podcast, we take a trip Down Under to hear what’s what among inspired Australian pop artists. Our featured songs include some kalimba-pop from Phia, an Australian-born Berlin-based songwriter, and The Griswolds, a band from Sydney with the hooks of Vampire Weekend by way of The Wombats. Enjoy!