No matter where you lived, 2014 was a good year for electronic music. While our city of Boston and its surrounding communities will always be a haven for rock and roll, a new sound emerged over the past 12 months, one that introduced a host of new artists and projects and filled our daily playlist on Vanya Radio’s This Is 617. Electronic music projects like Goldbloc, St. Nothing, and Pale Hands, among others, gave our music scene a fresh new vitality, and a seemingly never-ending rush of new singles and releases. From the sparking dream-pop of Child Actor to the brooding dark-disco sounds of Radclyffe Hall, here are our 10 favorite electronic pop songs from the past year, listed alphabetically.
As they’ve done over the past few years, the Connecticut/Massachusetts duo of producer Max Heath and vocalist Natalie Plaza created some of the year’s most hauntingly beautiful electronic pop. The standout on September’s solid-all-the-way-through Never Die LP is lead single “Against The Night,” a glistening firecracker of a pop tune that sparkles and fades in all the night places. As usual, Plaza’s vocals are heavenly, and the storytelling is magnified by the accompanying video.
Back in January we were immediately drawn to the soulful electronic compositions of artistic collective Goldbloc. Producer Esteban De Los Santos, under the name Goldenhaus, teamed up with vocalist Solei for a trio of introductory songs that included the trip-hop-influenced “Days Are Dreaming.” It sounded like nothing else in Boston, and as Goldbloc evolve — their jam-session-like shows can take root anywhere from a rock club to a dance party to freestyle busking sessions at MBTA stations — they remain one of the most intriguing musical projects in town. Goldbloc create music for your headphones as you ride the late-night T service.
Falling somewhere between lost cuts off the Drive soundtrack (high praise) and Berlin’s early new wave days, Let’s Wait’s November EP Hiding In Your Fantasy is a lo-fi synth-pop dream dressed in hot pink slashes. Our favorite track off it is “Shadows,” a five-minute electro-pop epic that finds singer Tashi PK channeling both Terri Nunn and Ida No, while the synths behind her bake slowly under glowing heat lamps. We’ll always love a band that runs their logo in Mistral font (hey, like us!), and yes, we’ve already asked them about possibly performing the Drive soundtrack at one of our Halloween parties. One day, one day…
“Waves” by Boston/Cambridge synth pop duo Miss Geo was so prominent in our 2014 playlists, we sampled it for the intro of This Is 617. When we heard the track for the first time early in the year, it showed Boston was finally breaking free from its rigid rock and roll restrictions and bouncy, moody, delectable synth-pop was starting to echo through the streets. Miss Geo have released a full EP since first surfacing with “Waves,” but the blissful track remains their high-point (so far).
Boston’s Andre Obin has made a career skillfully playing off musical elements of light and dark. When antagonized, an agitated, almost-industrial stomp surfaces in his music, a grit matched by dragging knuckles across a bed of rocks and concrete. But when Obin finds his chill zone, his compositions take new life; buried deep within this spring’s Ways of Escape LP was “Watermark,” possibly the veteran producer’s career apex that shines high before drowning in a sea of its own majesty. A slow pulsating synth purrs along as Obin reassures us that, for the first time in a long while, everything will be OK. And we believe him.
Like Obin up above, Pale Hands spent the year churning out mindful electronic pop awash in detailed layers and complex emotion. It culminated with autumn’s Spirit Lines record, but the standout remained June single “No Stars,” an aching dream-pop number that begins with these lyrics: “The patron saint of drunks & fools must be watching over me & you tonight/We make our way following the stars and get kicked out of every bar tonight.” Vocalist/keyboardist Jen Johnson wrote the tune during a snowstorm last winter, and like in her other bands Velah and Static of the Gods, Johnson’s voice weaves in and out of the music with ease. Music to listen to with your eyes switched off.
A bunch of dudes in Boston rock bands (that they’d probably ask us not to mention) get their dance-pop on — with insane results. Party Bois debuted over the summer with unstoppable funk anthem “In Your Head,” but then raised the stakes in November with freestyle j-a-m “Being In U,” which might top this list had we decided to rank the songs. Taking pop back to the simple structures of the late-‘80s, “Being In U” makes us miss the KTU days of our youth and comes off as a party starter for any crowd or occasion.
This is a bit of a cop out. Boston’s Radclyffe Hall gave us perhaps our favorite record of 2014 with September’s Extended Play, its strength built off two incredible singles in the brooding “OMG” and the huge-sounding “Dare To Dream.” Either would easily make this list if we weren’t so enraptured by the FM-ready pop seducer “Love Me Tonight.” Displaying a lightness seldom found on their EP, this is probably the sound of Radclyffe letting loose and having fun a bit, and definite outlier to their distinctively dark electro-pop numbers that they will eventually be famous for. But damned if “Love Me Tonight” didn’t crawl up into our ears and refuse to leave; toss this on a mix alongside Indiana and Noosa and the dance party is set off. With a freshly-signed record deal with Cleopatra and an emerging dual-drummer live show, Radclyffe Hall are going to be everywhere in 2015 and beyond — and we’ll be the idiots in the front row requesting this “deep cut.”
For most of 2014, St. Nothing were quickly developing a following and reputation off a handful of demos songwriter/producer Marco Lawrence released the year prior under the Hall of Mirrors moniker. With the local spotlight now bright and an appearance at Boston Calling in the books, St. Nothing proved the early demos were no fluke with “Echoes,” a moody bedroom-pop number with grand ideas and grander execution. The track’s string arrangement gives “Echoes” a human depth, and juxtaposes modern electronic sounds with Jenna Calabro’s effective cello playing, all while giving St. Nothing its instantly recognizable sound (no small feat in 2014).
Yeah yeah, Betty Who is from Australia and today probably lives in New York or Los Angeles. But the future Pop Queen graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2013, so this song probably had its foundation created here in town. We’ll claim her as our own on the strength of April’s Slow Dancing EP, but Ms. Who is listed here because she represents a new wave of Berklee pop that’s taking over the world: Radclyffe Hall, Lucius, Karmin, Kiesza (who’s “Hideaway” could have made this list if we really wanted to stretch), Gentlemen Hall, CliffLight and others are all redefining the school’s identity. But still, few of Berklee’s suddenly hip offerings are as saccharine-sweet as Betty Who’s “Heartbreak Dream,” which cops a Katy Perry feel so hard the “Dark Horse” singer took Who out on an Australian tour. Fire this up and never look back.