In Rotation: Amy Klein, Lightning Bug, The Smynths, Tripmastermonk (Review)

Classic-sounding goth pop, hazy dreampop, synth-only Smiths covers, and vintage Japanese cinematic funk.
Amy Klein

In Rotation is a regular Opus feature where I post short reviews of noteworthy music, both new and old, that I’ve been listening to lately.

“Nothing” by Amy Klein

Amy Klein’s latest single is the goth pop song that I didn’t know I needed until I first heard it. Though Klein isn’t a “goth” singer by any stretch of the imagination — her previous album, 2016’s Fire, is solid singer/songwriter fare — “Nothing” is filled with the sort of swirling aggressive guitars and pounding rhythms that best typifies the genre. At the same time, Klein’s lovely voice is ghostly in all the right ways. If the idea of Kate Bush fronting The Sisters of Mercy sounds appealing to you, then this is the song for you.

The Torment of Love by Lightning Bug

Back in 2015, Audrey Kang, who records under the Lightning Bug moniker, released Floaters, a wonderfully lo-fi dreampop/shoegaze album. Given her music’s decidedly unassuming nature (which is part of its charm), I’m not surprised that Kang’s follow-up completely slipped under my radar. Released in 2017, The Torment of Love is a bit more polished than Floaters, but these 4 songs are still lost in plenty of haze, with some slight folk and orchestral arrangements in there for good measure.

Kang’s voice sounds like it’s locked in a perpetual sigh, which only adds to the music’s dreamy effect, as do evocative and pining-filled lyrics like “In spring, I am so frail/White blossoms fall until/Their petals fill my eyes/And petrify my will” (“Aubade”) and “When did my soul stop growing?/Was it when you left me?/I do, I do miss you” (“Nocturne”).

At 19 minutes, The Torment of Love is both the perfect length and way too short. It’s short and sweet, and its four songs are all the more poignant as a result. But when it’s over, it’s a bit jarring when the spell is broken. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself pressing “Play” as soon as possible to experience its enchantments all over again.

The Smynths by The Smynths

While The Smiths avoided using synthesizers in much of their music — in a 1983 interview, Morrissey claimed there’s “nothing more repellent than the synthesizer” — they were a big influence on synth acts like Dance House Children, Joy Electric, and Fine China. And also The Smynths, a side-project of Chicago producer Nicky Flowers that reinterprets Smiths classics like “This Charming Man” as synth-only pieces.

Flowers’ project “was born out of a rejection of Morrissey’s rejection of synths, and a rejection of Morrissey because he’s a dick.” That being said, these synth-only covers are both fun to listen to and proof that great pop melodies — which The Smiths had in abundance — are great pop melodies, regardless of the instruments used to play them.

Knocksteady Zencast Vol. 2: Ninja Funk & Gangster Ballads: Ode to the Brotherland by Tripmastermonk

When one thinks of “funk,” Japan probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind. But as this mix culled from Japanese gangster, samurai, and superhero titles (e.g., 1975’s Cops vs. Thugs, 1976’s Violent Panic: The Big Crash, 1979’s Kamen Rider) shows, Japanese composers definitely knew their way around slinky, stylish grooves and nasty beats.

There’s no track list (though YouTube commenters have tracked down some of the original titles) and it’s sometimes difficult to tell where Tripmastermonk’s beats and production end and the Japanese grooves begin, so this isn’t an ethnomusicological treatise by any means.

But if you’re a fan of the funkier side of world music à la Dan the Automator’s Bombay the Hard Way, or you need a soundtrack for the kick-ass cinematic samurai/yakuza face-off that you’ve always imagined — or you just need something ultra-smooth to get you through the workday afternoon — then this mix has everything you’ll need.

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