Dance Music

Love Gloom – Night Riots

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

Night Riots stole my heart when I saw them live with Blaqk Audio earlier this year. Their fusion of synth pop, rock, and electronic made their music irresistible. I picked up their 2015 EP Howl right away and impatiently waited for their debut album, Love Gloom. I was a bit surprised when I finally got my hands on it; it has a different vibe, mood, and feel than their previous release. It’s not drastically different, but there are some changes.

For one thing, Howl is upbeat, fun, and danceable the whole way through. But Love Gloom allows the band to explore other sounds and avenues. There are still insanely catchy jams like the popular “Contagious” and “Work It.” The latter isn’t Travis Hawley’s best singing effort, he sounds a bit too stained, but the song is still bouncy and fun. “Nothing Personal” is another catchy track blistering with lust and desire. Hawley has a vampiric presence and this comes out best on this song when he sings lines like “Numb yourself and think of me” or “I’ll be the king, you’ll be the filth/I’ll wash away.” It sounds like he’s trying to hypnotize us. It’s one of the most gripping and catchy songs on the album.

Aside from this, the rest of the album is kind of slow and melancholic. Previously, the band described their music as “pop gloom” and that’s exactly what it is. “Fangs” is pretty upbeat, but steeped in darkness and the macabre. The hook pleads “So stick your fangs, fangs, fangs/into me” bringing up images of vampires, albeit sexy ones. Similar to their other songs, this one also drips with lust and desire – it’s something Night Riots effortlessly convey in a good chunk of their songs. It’s a sort of dark romanticism they explore on this track.

The excellent “Don’t Kill the Messenger” might as well be their love letter to Depeche Mode. The shuddering bass, booming drums, and somber guitars makes it sound like it was written for the iconic band. It also has a brooding nature that plays into their melancholic side. The track stands out for its more aggressive tone and heavy hitting nature. Everything gets more intense as the track continues. It has a big sound making it one of the most satisfying songs on the record. Plus, it’s pretty catchy. After one listen, the song will burrow itself in your head.

Breaking Free” is where we start to hear the band’s softer side on the album. It’s another stellar track filled with lush tones and atmospheric music that makes it feel like you’re under water. The rolling drums that occasionally pop up give it some extra flair. It’s another brooding track talking about breaking out of a relationship. Something about it is warm and relaxing even though the lyrics aren’t exactly the most uplifting: It’s beautiful, yet haunting quality makes it one of the highlights of the album.

As previous songs have shown, Night Riots take great inspiration from 80s music. It was all over their EP and it’s all over this album, but they use the New Wave influences in a subtle way. The ballad “All for You” has this big, 80s anthem vibe to it. The dreamy guitars, far away sound, and relaxing melody makes you think of Tears for Fears, who they’ve covered in concert. To keep the song from getting too dull, the bridge comes alive, bursting with guitar and drums. It’s a soft, sweet song about being there for one another. “Tear Me Apart” starts with a weird, stuttering synth that instantly grabs your attention. This song feels directly tied to the title: the mood is somber and gloomy as Hawley laments the end of a relationship. Some of it is cliché, like the lyric “Where does it start/where does it end/I’m losing my best friend/tear me apart,” but it’s pretty forgivable. The track also has this ghostly vibe to it with ethereal singing, other world music, and a cold vibe infiltrating the entire song.

This slow, doom-laden mood continues on tracks “Pull Me Down,” which has a Gothic quality to the lyrics and “Everything Will be Alright,” which is haunting and a little eerie as Hawley sings “lately I feel undone.” Though the songs are slower, the 80s synth elements aren’t abandoned. Rather they play smaller roles in the music popping in the background or playing softly to make the song come alive. Instead of being the focal point, they’re used to add to the song’s flavor and sound. Listeners get a break from the constant wave of gloom with the upbeat “End of the World,” which starts with more attention-grabbing synth that’ll get stuck in your head.

The closing track, “As You Are,” has elements that are likable along with some questionable bits. The opening is too slow and sappy for my tastes. Lines like “Don’t change for me/you got nothing to fix/you’re not broken” end up sounding a bit corny. But what saves the song is the beautiful, symphonic quality to it. As Hawley sings, strings swell up around him making the song pretty and heartbreaking. This paired with the way he croons “Meet me as you are” is enough to give you chills. It’s a somber song; Hawley sounds like he’s at the end of his rope, which makes the final line “I let you down/ betrayed you” hit even harder. It’s not the best track on the album, but it’s a fitting close.

Love Gloom wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. There weren’t as many upbeat, catchy, danceable songs as on their previous release. Yet, it remains a strong, thoughtful debut. The upbeat songs are still there, showing Night Riots know how to make you dance. But the slower tracks laden with darkness and of course, gloom, show another side of the band. The album is a melancholic affair; something you put on when the sky is grey and leaves start to fall. Some of it is brooding, some of it is fun, but the whole thing is honest. That’s part of what makes it so appealing. Many of the songs may not grip you right away, but if you give it a chance, you’ll find a great debut that’s not afraid of the darkness, which we all need to embrace from time to time.

Howl EP – Night Riots

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 9.5/10

If it wasn’t for Blaqk Audio I wouldn’t know who Night Riots are. The band opened for Blaqk Audio on their recent tour and I fell in love with their catchy songs, fun vibe, and charming vampiric frontman Travis Hawley. Their performance was upbeat, fun, and made you want to dance. Though I already listened to a few of their songs before the concert, I downloaded their EP Howl as soon as I got home. Similar to how I felt after the performance, it left me wanting me. The only thing I could was hit the repeat button.

This is one EP you can’t get enough of. All the songs are awesome and stay with you long after the record ends. The opening track “Oh My Heart” is actually my favorite. It starts with this cool distant chanting that forms the beat of the song. Hawly’s vocals are pretty strong and have an impressive range. From his singing here you can hear all the charisma he exudes on stage. Something about the way he sounds when singing “Two in a crowd – I feel your desire” makes him seem like the mysterious guy in the club you secretly want to hook up with. The entire track is irresistible and introduces listeners to the fun ride they’re about to experience.

The infectious “Contagious” is one of the strongest songs on the EP and shows off the band’s sound the best. It’s a mixture of synth pop, new wave, and alt rock. This track starts with a weird wailing sample that makes you take notice as soon as you hear it. Thanks to Hawley’s low vocals during the verse there’s also a sexy vibe to it. His vocals come alive and vibrant during the hook when he croons “I am contagious/I am breaking down.” The song is a fun mix of rock, synth, and dance music that’s so grabbing you can’t help but move. Again, it’s another one of those tracks that’s so damn good you’ll be singing after one listen.

Unlike the first two songs, “Holsters” isn’t one that instantly grabs you. Its mellow nature has to grow on you, but it won’t take long. With the lighter music and Hawley singing about a seemingly bad break up it has an anthemic quality to it. The bridge, where the uplifting message of “Learn to live again” is shouted over and over, makes you picture people in solidarity pumping their fist in the air singing along. The lyrics seem to have a lot of references to fighting such as being battered and weathered and even the title makes you think of weapon holster. It’s an interesting way to address a break up and trying to remain a strong without being straightforward.

The band let’s their 80’s influence fly high on the energetic and upbeat “Break.” This is another track that begins with odd synth riffs, which sounds like someone stuttering. It’s a bit weird but definitely ear catching. Though it’s another dance-centric song with a strong hook that lodges itself in your head, the music is more reminiscent of 80’s new wave, which makes it more fun. “Shine” differentiates itself a bit with a rapid, thudding beat sounding like it’s on the run. Hawley’s vocal prowess is on display here as he goes from low to high range. It’s hard to describe his voice, but it makes you think of someone sophisticated and classy; like if Lestat fronted a synth pop band. After hearing a few songs you’ll understand how his voice is electrifying, sexy, and exciting.

The closing track “Follow You” is also cool and catchy with its slinky groove, but it’s pretty creepy. The whole song is about following a girl home he doesn’t really know. During the pre-hook, Hawley sings “I will follow you home/’Cause I know where you live/You’ll never be alone/’Cause I know where you live.” That is stalker territory. Even if you’re singing along, it doesn’t take too long to realize something isn’t right. He’s day dreaming and potentially stalking a girl whose picture he saw in the newspaper. He even talks about sneaking around her house and watching her undress in the last verse. That sort of shit is bound to get you arrested. It may be creepy, but you can’t deny how catchy and fun the song is.

Howl is an excellent EP from start to finish. It shows off the fun, upbeat, and energetic nature of the band. This is something you put on when you want to dance or just get yourself in a good mood. Their mix of synth, rock, and pop makes for songs that are catchy and memorable, while Hawley’s vocals standout as being charming and seductive at times. The EP is so good you’ll want to hear it again and won’t be able to hit repeat fast enough. Night Riots are a promising band on the rise and I can’t wait to hear what they’ll do next.

13 Above the Night – My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult

Release Year: 1993

Rating: 8.5/10

When a band wants to change their sound it can have disastrous results. It may not sound good and some fans will feel betrayed. But Thrill Kill Kult takes that risk with every album they release. Whether it’s industrial metal, swing, new wave, disco, or techno, the band always gives fans something new and unexpected with each record. Somehow they make it work without being cheap or straying way too far from their roots. While there are hints of the creepy, eerie sound they started out with on their fourth album, this record is drenched in club music that wants to make you sweat.

The thing I love about Thrill Kill Kult is they have their own brand of weird dance music that’s actually interesting and rarely repetitive, which is a big reason why I’m not a fan of EDM. And this vibe is found all over this album. Though it’s not my favorite song “The Velvet Edge” represents the cool, sexy, mood of the band. It begins in a fury of noise with lots of distortion and screaming. It then mellows out with some weird wonky synth that’s both slinky and playful. It’s also kind of sleazy, which fits in with the band’s attitude. They also let the sexy fly on tracks “Dirty Little Secrets,” which has breathless singing, and “Disko Fleshpot,” which explores various realms of sex and lust. These tracks show even though the music may change, their sensual themes stay the same.

The band throws fans for a loop with tracks like “Dirty Little Secret” and “Blue Buddha.” The former song has this groovy, cool-cat groove that’s made for a Jazz lounge. It’s really smooth and has a bit of a swing vibe, making it sound like something that should be played in an 40’s underground club. It’s not the best track on the album since it gets dull after awhile, but the different sound further shows how the band isn’t afraid of pushing the boundaries. The same goes for “Blue Buddha.” This one has more of a hip-hop/funk flavor. Similar to the other tracks, it has a great groove and is really playful with the lyrics. Again, not the best on the record, but not terrible.

The creepier side of the band comes out on “Delicate Terror,” which has electro pulsing music with synth made for a horror movie. The main sample of “Join the children of hell” adds a sinister layer to the track. Otherwise the song is drenched in excess as Groovie Mann sings “Hypnotic mouth talks on fantasy phone/Sanitarium Borderline/Gone today and here tomorrow…/Killed his taste for switchblades.” “Dementia 66” is also on the eerie side with ethereal sounds and unsettling chanting. Groovie Mann even sounds ghoulish when he’s singing. The whole thing sounds like something that should be playing during a ritual or sacrifice, especially with a weary voice pleading “Oh god help me” in the background.

Most of the album seems to be inspired by dance music, house music in particular. The band have always had elements of dance in their work but it’s represented best on this album. “Final Blindness” was made for a rave with the out of control electro music and blaring sirens that signal some sort of chaos. All that’s missing are the glow sticks. “China de Sade,” “Starmatyr,” and “13 Above the Night” all use electronic music as a basis and then throw in dashes of disco, hip hop, funk, soul, and a lot of groove to create an eclectic dance beat. There are also lots of samples thrown in and are mixed so well they become their own rhythm. What the band does flawlessly is mix and transform sounds so you’re never sure what to expect next. Not only does it make the music more interesting, but it keeps listeners on their toes.

Even when the band slows things down they want to keep listeners moving. On the awesome and sensual “Badlife” Groovie Mann sings “He’ll castrate your soul/and penetrate your mind” while the slick music keeps its mellow groove. This has always been one of my favorite songs: not only do Groovie Mann’s soft vocals sound sexy, there’s also this underlying creepiness to it with the distorted noises and howling that sounds like ghouls in distress. The closing track “Savage Sexteen” is another stand out entry on the LP. It’s pretty catchy and again has that cool vibe and slickness the band exudes. Just as with the other songs, you can dance to this one and admire Groovie Mann’s wordplay like “Sinderella pussy cat.”

Each Thrill Kill Kult album is a fun, unique experience. Some of the same themes, samples, and sounds expand across their entire body of work, but they always have something new up their sleeve. This album takes dance music as a basis and adds on top on of it with different genres, moods, samples, and vibes. Some of the tracks are creepy ala classic TKK, while others are sensual and sexy, a mood the band plays with so well. Even if every song isn’t catchy or memorable, 13 Above the Night is still a really fun album to get loose and dance the night away to. After listening to this record, you can’t wait to hear what comes next.

Playlist: Give ’em the remix

Remixes can be tricky to handle. In the wrong hands it can sound nothing like the source material it’ll put off listeners. Other times it sounds too much like the original making it pointless. But when done just right, a remix can turn a great song into an even better one. Whether it speeds things up to make it a dance hit or slows things down to place it in a new genre, there are a lot of remixes out there way too many to gather in this list. So this month’s playlist takes a look at some of my favorite remixes.

“19-2000” (Soulchild Remix) – Gorillaz

This is a remix of the Gorillaz’ second single and it’s much better than the original. Known for its simple hook of “got the cool shoe shine,” the version from the band’s debut album was very slow featuring sleepy music, lush beats, and very light percussion. The song got most exciting during the aforementioned hook. It’s not bad, but it sounds like the band are on the verge of drifting off while singing. But this remix by Soulchild wakes up the song, turning it into something fun, bouncy, and energetic. You can even hear bits of “The Humpty Dance” in the mix. Everything about it outshines the original and turns it into something you can’t stop dancing to.

“Heartbreaker (Remix)” – Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey’s “Heartbreaker” was already a success reaching the top spot on several charts. But the song blew up more when she dropped the remix in 1999. Featuring DJ Clue, Da Brat, and Missy Elliot this remix turns the Carey pop hit into an R&B/hip hop infused jam. Using a sample from Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t No Fun (If Homies Can’t Have None)” the song is catchier than before with Carey singing even more breathless than she did in the original. It’s sleek and just the right amount of funky making it one hundred times cooler than original. The song was so successful Carey continued doing remixes for singles, like “Loverboy,” but it didn’t match the success of this one.

“Ignition (Remix)” – R. Kelly

I’ve never been a fan of R. Kelly, but even I have to admit this song is too damn catchy to hate. The song became so popular, charting at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, that it’s hard to remember what the original sounded like. Whereas the original was a slowjam meant to put someone in the mood, this one is all about partying. What really makes the song is irresistible hook. It’s one of those songs where you’ll know all the words after only hearing it three times. Apparently, the original version of the song was going to be on his then upcoming album Loveland, but the album was leaked causing R. Kelly to rewrite and remix most of the album and turn it into The Chocolate Factory. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise.

“The Way I Am (Remix)” – Eminem Feat. Marilyn Manson

In the late 90s/early 00s the two biggest controversial figures in music were Eminem and Marilyn Manson. Surprisingly, the two formed a friendship with Manson appearing at the rapper’s concerts and even making a cameo in the original “The Way I Am” video. This remix brings the world of rap and rock together. Eminem spits rhymes over the crunchy guitars and intense rock music taken straight from a Manson song. The music perfectly captures Manson’s creepy essence. To make things even better Manson sings the hook in his gravely voice. He also provides some eerie moans throughout the track. It’s a stellar remix that makes you wish the two continue working together. Maybe on the next album? We can only hope.

“Rock With You (Frankie Knuckles Favorite Club Mix)” – Michael Jackson

This mix takes this Michael Jackson hit and turns it into something you can actually dance to. Frankie Kunckles keeps the smooth R&B vibe of the original for the most part. He layers glistening pianos, some synth, and upbeat percussion on top of the track to get you grooving. There are even some further vocal arrangements from Jackson that aren’t found in the original. Clocking in at over seven minutes, it’s definitely something made with the club scene in mind, but the remix is so good you won’t find a problem jamming out to it in your house. The remix is actually quite popular and is often the basis of many Michael Jackson mash ups, which also prove to be great fun.

“Rope (Deadmau5 Mix)” – Foo Fighters

Deadmau5 flips this song on its head switching it from hard rock to an electronica dance hit. It’s not just a DJ adding some synths and bleeps over the Foo Fighters hit. He turns it into a completely different song only keeping Dave Grohl’s vocals in tact. It sounds like an unlikely pairing, but it works so well, breathing new life into this Foo Fighters song. With dripping bleeps, a pulsing beat, and wild music Deadmau5 makes the song his own. The two even joined forces to perform the track on the 54th Grammy Awards.

“More Human Than Human (Meet Bambi in the King’s Harem Mix)” – White Zombie

Rob Zombie never shies away from remixing his biggest hits, but this is the strongest remix to date. “More Human Than Human” was already a beast of a song, but this version makes it a hundred times creepier. The music is grittier, sounding like a record got scratched in the mix during the intense opening and Zombie’s vocals are distorted to sound more robotic and inhuman, which is a perfect fit for the song. The whining guitar riff of the original is still in tact, but the rest of the music is heavy, dirty electronic music that gets you groovin’. This does everything a good remix is supposed to do: keep elements of the original intact, but build on to make it better.

“No, No, No Pt.2” feat Wyclef Jean – Destiny’s Child

Before “Survivor” and “Say My Name” this was most people’s introduction to Destiny’s Child and Beyonce. When the song dropped in 1998, it received massive radio airplay and eventually reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100. But what about part one? The first version of the song, which was their debut single, is a slow R&B track that’s more sensual in nature. Think of it as a song to get busy to. Though it was moderately successful, it wasn’t until Wyclef Jean added an upbeat hip hop flavor and sped up the song that it became a hit. Listening to them both today, this version is still better than the original.

“Strangelove (Tim Simenon, Mark Saunders Remix)” – Depeche Mode

There are various remixes of this Depeche Mode single, but this one is among the best. This mix takes the mid-tempo song and turns it into a club hit. The music is more energetic and fast paced with additional synth and electronica elements added to the mix. There’s even a bit of a tribal vibe when the percussion kicks up. But one of the coolest things about the song is how there’s a nod to their song “People Are People.” It’s brief, but very satisfying for all Mode fans. It’s a great remix that plays around with the classic track, but still keeps everything that made it so good in the first place in tact.

“I”m Real” (Murder Remix) – Jennifer Lopez ft. Ja-Rule

Remember that time during the 2000s when Ja-Rule was popular and was featured in what felt like every song? Before he disappeared off the map, he joined forces with J.Lo for this slick remix of her pop single “I’m Real.” Whereas the original was a generic dance song with rapid beats and a forgettable chorus, this mix slows things down making way for a cool R&B/Hip Hop groove. Even though Ja-Rule’s singing is appalling, it doesn’t ruin the song. The track is from her remix album J to tha L-O! The Remixes and is actually the third best selling remix album of all time. The album also spawned successful singles “I’m Gonna Be All Right” and “Ain’t it Funny.”

“Happiness in Slavery (remix)” – Trent Reznor, Chris Vrenna, and P.K.

Trent Reznor is no stranger to remixes. Not only has he done them for other artists, but he leaves his music in the hands of others spawning several remix albums based off his studio releases. There are two different remixes of “Happiness in Slavery” on the Fixed EP, but this one is the best. It keeps very little from the original track aside from a bit of the guitar riff and Reznor screaming “Slavery!” in the background. Otherwise, the song is completely new and still just as terrifying. Though it’s more gritty and electronic centered than the aggressive original, this version still manages to be terrifying with the intense mechanical music and various screams heard in the background. There are very little lyrics, just a brutal continuation of this awesome NIN track.

“Tourniquet (Prosthetic Dance Mix)” – Marilyn Manson

This version of Marilyn Manson’s “Tourniquet” is very much in tune with the original even opening with the main scratchy riff from the original. This version keeps the same eerie vibe from the original, but amps it up with intense percussion and what sounds like gritty electronic music. Somehow it slows things down even more than the original making it a more drugged out experience. But what’s most notable about this remix is the new vocal take from Manson. He doesn’t unleash his scream on this version and lets his playful, growling vocals take over. It’s definitely the highlight of the forgettable Remix & Repent EP.

Which remix is your favorite? Which ones did I miss? Let me know in the comments!

Material – Blaqk Audio

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8.5/10

Blaqk Audio is the synth and electronic based side project of AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget. Moving away from punk rock, the duo explore lush beats, swirling rhythms, and hard hitting synth. They’re not doing anything completely unique with the genre, but they work with it well. Their debut album, Cexcells, was solid, but their follow up Bright Black Heaven seemed more or less the same. How does their long awaited third release hold up?

With this album Blaqk Audio doesn’t take any risks and sticks with their well worn formula of electronic and sythpop infused songs. This doesn’t necessarily make the album bad, but there’s very little about it that catches your attention the first time you listen to it. That’s because so much of the record sounds familiar or too similar to their past efforts. The dark nature of “Black at the Center” and the way Havok wails “I’m helpless/am I’m freezing” brings up similarities to “Ill-Lit Ships.” The rapid and catchy “First to Love” seems to continue the 80s, New Order vibe found on many of their other songs. And “I’m a Mess” uses the synth/piano format they seem to admire.

Despite this, there are some stand out tracks on the album. One of the best is “Curious Friends,” which starts with cold, futuristic music out of an 8-bit game. Havok sings in a robotic manner giving this feeling of isolation. The song amps up during the ear worm hook of “Does he tell that he loves you/like you do” and turns into more of a dance song. Everything about it is so satisfying it grabs your attention right away. The opening track “Waiting to Be Told” is another highlight. It continues the dark mood of the record with harsh, throbbing electronic beats opening the song. It’s one of the most intense on the album.

To Be Alone” has this great slow build up where the beat pluses and throbs while Havok softly sings. The track comes alive as things get more intense with eerie ambient noises sounding like other worldly moaning. Again, like other songs here it does sound like one of their previous tracks, but it still grabs your attention. “Material” is more of a forgettable song. The music and style is actually reminiscent of New Order’s “Blue Monday” and it’s not the first time their influence pops up on the record. It’s not a bad song, it’ll still get you moving. It’s just buried underneath the stronger tracks.

For some reason Blaqk Audio like having one super upbeat, poppy dance song on their albums and unfortunately, here is no different. Don’t be fooled by the name, “Graphic Violence” is the complete opposite of its brutal sounding title. The whole thing is really bright and sickeningly sugary sweet. It sounds like something that would play on a teen show on Nickelodeon. You picture pink splashes and lots of hearts when you hear it. It is slightly catchy, so it has potential to grow on you, but it sticks out on the album and doesn’t warrant itself for repeated listens.

The album hits a low point towards the end with generic sounding tracks “You Will Hate Me” and “Ceremonial.” On both songs, the mood shifts to upbeat dance music better suited for a Rihanna song. Rather than being stark, dark, and heavy hitting, the music is everything you currently hear on pop radio. Though they can be catchy at times, both of the songs are pretty bland and are filler more than anything. Luckily, the closing track “Anointed” ends the album on a high note. Though it doesn’t stray too far from what we’ve already heard on the album, it does add dirty guitars giving it more of a rock edge than the other tracks. There’s also an air of mystery and sensuality that makes it appealing. It manages to be another stand out track on the record.

With Blaqk Audio Puget and Havok show how versatile they are with music. They easily move out of their comfort zone to play around with something new. The problem is this album, just like their last one, sounds so similar to what they’ve already done. They even address the same themes of love, sex, and loneliness. You don’t expect them to do something so drastic it doesn’t even sound like them. Rather, you’d hope they’d find someway to make the album stand out from their others. Material is still another solid entry in their catalog with more irresistible songs. But since it’s so similar to their other stuff, it may take a few listens for the album to take. Still, it’s great to hear from Blaqk Audio again.