April 18, 2016
Released On May 15, 2012
Released By Tommy Boy Records
Plushgun is one of those bands that I tell everybody about.
I discovered Dan Ingala’s synth pop/indie rock masterpiece on MySpace — I’m sure I was rearranging my Top 8 or adding a ridiculous animated background to my page at the time. Upon listening to the few demos available, I literally pushed myself back from the computer (because MySpace) as my eyes widened, my jaw dropped, and my ears filled with musical goodness.
Plushgun, whose influences include Sega Genesis video game themes, is pop in its most basic, unpolished form. This is dance music you wouldn’t mind being seen dancing to. There’s so much energy in Plushgun’s music that a normal pop song can’t contain it. They played a show at the now-defunct Alley Katz (RIP) in Richmond, Virginia and delivered a great show full of happy synth pop mixed with hard rock that got everyone in the place dancing – and I mean everyone.
I had a hard time deciding which album of theirs to present: this one, Me.Me., or the band’s 2009 debut Pins & Panzers, but ultimately both are excellent in their own ways. Pins & Panzers introduced me to the world of Plushgun, but Me.Me. was more like a homecoming — returning to something familiar and discovering what’s changed. The band took what they did on its debut and added to it. It wasn’t all upbeat dance numbers; there was a lot of heart in this record. From yearning to be the belle of the ball in “The Prom Queen” to the let’s-do-what-we-want mentality of “Our Way” to wanting to know the universe of someone’s mind in “Galaxies,” the songs on this record are so well-crafted both musically and lyrically. And “Mixtapes” will always hold a special place in my heart as I also own a collection of mixtapes that hold both wonderful and painful memories of people no longer in my life.
Me.Me. was a record that could actually hold the title of “eagerly anticipated” for me. I waited with baited breath for it to come out and it lived up to every expectation I had placed on it. I hope you find this record as rewarding as I did.
Basically what you imagine every bouncy synthpop band to look like even if the end result is vastly different than their contemporaries.
Me.Me. is probably the best new album I’ve reviewed since we started doing OYR. I really like this record and I highly recommend it. See you next week! Wait, I have to write more? Contractually obliged you say? Easily replaceable am I? Okay, fine. It’s hard for me to not gush about this album until you feel nauseous, but I found Plushgun’s second record to be a real gem. I have a real soft spot for synthpop (damn you Depeche Mode!) and boy oh boy did Me.Me. ever hit that spot. It’s as if The Killers and The Postal Service had a baby, and that baby grew up listening to A Flock of Seagulls. All thirteen tracks offer something different too — I didn’t find a single song to be skippable or filler. At one point this week, I was listening to this album as I walked through town, the sun was shining, and I just had this great sense of joy within me. It’s a perfect album for summer. In terms of the MVP tracks, I think “Your Hologram” is a perfect encapsulation of what Plushgun is all about. Plushgun’s Me.Me. is why I love doing this every week. From not even knowing anything about them, I’ve fallen in love with their second record in the span of a single week. Give it a listen — it gets my highest recommendation.
James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist
When you consume as much music as I do, you notice that you put artists and albums into certain boxes because they fulfill very specific functions in your life. For example, I listen to Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” when I want to cry; The Kinks are getting-ready-to-go-out music; I prefer ambient electro for working; and Lydia Loveless is perfect for one-person car singalongs (also, crying). Plushgun, like CHVRCHES and Bleachers, make excellent running music. In fact, the first time I heard Me.Me I was pissed that it never came up in any of the Spotify indie workout playlists I listen to. I am really impressed at how consistent this record is — every track makes you want to move. When I listened to it again while writing this review, I couldn’t even sit on my couch without my feet bumping up and down. Daniel Ingala is a terrific songwriter, and his four-minute gems all feel huge, like they should be everywhere all the time, the way fun.’s “We Are Young” was the year Me.Me came out. “I Like It” is such a shoulda-been-a-hit. Why wasn’t it on Glee or in every TV show in 2012? Thankfully, we have all seen the light and can add “Montreal” to all our future running mixes.
Plushgun tell an interesting tale of the life of an electronic indie rock outfit. Blowing their audiences away with lead single “Just Impolite” and landing a number of national appearances for the tune, it seemed only imminent that the band would continue to grow. As they grew artistically, it seems like Me.Me. didn’t receive its just due and it’s a shame. While their initial adoration may have been founded in writing delicate pop lullabies, Me.Me. shows the band attempting to break that mold with intense rock gestures. “Waste Away” starts off unassuming before ramping up every aspect to the point of not knowing where the song will end up by the time it reaches it four-minute conclusion. “Your Hologram” takes the specifics of Plushgun to a point that seem like they’d fit magically into the world of video game and anime culture. Even in the suggestion of the chorus, Plushgun are embracing the digital age of 2012 by seeing how little flesh and bones matter in comparison to your digital/social media identity. It’s moments like these that highlight the charm of Plushgun. As a live being, they are engaging and resort to every possible means of captivating an audience. On record, they provide the ideal soundtracks for any number of scenarios. “Hologram” being romance in the digital age and “The Prom Queen” being a tale of discovering comfort in oneself. As a result, this leads to a personal awakening that is just as compelling as it is resonant of the band’s knack for storytelling. The one thing I took from this record as a whole was how it seemed to channel the innocence of Air’s contributions to The Virgin Suicides soundtrack while also playing as the afterthought of the impact The Postal Service had on indie rock. What we received was the thoughtful pop bliss of Plushgun that didn’t just stop with Pins & Panzers. It carried in creative and inventive ways on Me.Me. that definitely deserves the attention of any fan of new wave or synthpop.
The contrast hit me as I was listening to “Waste Away” and pulling my lawnmower out of the shed on Sunday afternoon. Coincidentally, a fitting lyric — “you put me in my place” — passed by as I thought about how different Me.Me. is from what’s become my go-to mowing music: Drive-By Truckers. Truckers songs are distinctly Southern, narrative, and character-driven. Earthy, in the same way you’d describe the rural populace as “salt-of-the-Earth.” Perfect for kicking some dust up. And then there’s synthpop, which — I guess I never realized until this weekend — I associate with big cities. The pace, the artificial sounds, the neon colors that come to mind…”Your Hologram” is a great example. I close my eyes and it’s 10 p.m. in a downtown Tokyo intersection that’s lit brighter than day by flashing LED advertisements. Seeing that Plushgun is based in New York City makes me feel like I’m not totally off base here, as does the fact that one of their songs (not from this album) was used in a spin-off of The Hills called The City. I promise I’m not pointing all this out to pigeonhole a band or a genre. I’m excited that Plushgun dredged up this unconscious association, because it feels like something worth steering into. The next time I head up to DC or NYC, I’ll have the perfect soundtrack for walking with earbuds in and feeling that specific anonymity I feel when I’m floating in a river of humanity that I’m not normally part of.
I rarely use the term “made me feel like a kid again”, mainly because it’s trite, but also because I feel like a perpetual 14 year old. But I definitely got some real fountain-of-youth feels while listening to Me. Me. It has this incredibly organic, wave like flow for its entire run time, while still offering so many individual tracks that are fucking anthemic. With its beyond perfect opening line — “If you want / I can hold your hand inside this van” — do you know how many girls would have gotten “Montreal” on mix CD’s if I had this album in high school?!? Speaking of mixes, the way that perfect little guitar riff creeps in out of nowhere at the end of “Mixtapes” gave me legitimate chills the first time I heard it. Everything here has such a beautiful, dreamlike feel, best exhibited by “Galaxies” and “Your Hologram.” Short version: the sounds like HelloGoodbye’s “Here (In Your Arms)” and Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” perfectly blended and stretched to an hour long. 16 year old Josh is anxiously standing in line at Circuit City to pick up his copy.
Let’s waste away…with memes. With memes.
I’m digging this Plushgun record, y’all. I know nothing about this band — I’d never heard of them before getting this week’s assignment, and didn’t bother to do any research while listening, because sometimes it’s fun to just absorb something with no preconceived notions (also, sometimes you get home from a show your band played and remember you were supposed to send this blurb in already. Whoops). Upon first listen, what stands out to me is this band’s exquisite blend of 80s Anglophile postpunk guitar patterns and a much more melodic synth-based layer overlaying the well-constructed rhythms. Vocals are shiny and catchy, but also feature an aloof aspect that again hearkens back to that vaguely gothic 80s UK sound. The Chameleons are a little bit of what I’m hearing here, but the vocals give a poppier New Romantic aspect to it all, as if Plushgun could have written one of the lesser-known songs on the Lost Boys soundtrack (and I didn’t do any research, so for all I know, they did!). Then again, some of the synthesized sounds also remind me of Grandaddy’s state-of-the-early-2000s-art soundbeds, so I’m thinking these guys are a bit anachronistic for that early 80s era. But the details of the sonic construction here aren’t nearly as important as how goddamn catchy so many of these tunes are. “I Like It” is bouncy and fun, incorporating a pitch-shifted pop chorus that makes me think of Icona Pop; while album centerpiece “The Prom Queen” is an anthemic masterpiece, using ascending synth chords and guitar crunch that dips in and out at crucial moments to make your heart swell. This album isn’t that easy to categorize, but regardless, it’s easy to connect with, and you can certainly expect to feel some feels while you’re listening to it.
Plushgun’s Dan Ingala sounds like he might write songs to fit television situations. Many of these songs could be used as semi-emotional background tracks for a backlot romcom or maybe an MTV reality show. Lots of breakdowns? Check. Catchy keyboard riffs? Check. Building parts slathered over familiar sounding pop song structures? Check. It’s predictable and fun. “Sarah’s Locker” is a standout track for me. Even though these songs were written and recorded in his apartment, they sound huge. Me.Me. is the perfect post-iPod pop album, recorded at home and probably mostly streamed by fans.
Plushgun’s Me.Me. album could be described with the one pace you to sit and listen to it: It hits you fast and quick never letting you compute what you are digesting until the last track subsides. Even during its placid moments, there is a peppiness with which either the music or vocals are delivered keeps an airy atmosphere. It is impossible to dwell and take stock in one or two listens, let alone the dozen or so it has taken me to write these words. The record feels ultra-futuristic from the opening track “Waste Away” as it skips along at a brisk pace with sedated vocals levelling out synthpop exuberance. On the second track “I Like It,” the band add an extra layer of female vocals complimenting lead vocalist Daniel Ingala monotone delivery. Surprisingly, the somber nature of the vocals combine with upbeat synths to give everything a huge pop sensibility, especially on “Kick Me Out” that could be easily mistaken for mid-90s Lightning Seeds. Lyrically, the album strives to make a statement; however, for me personally, it lets everything else take center stage too much. One exception though is “Sarah’s Locker” in which the chorus is now indelibly etched in my psyche. I find myself walking around singing the line “Stay here / all the things that matter / they degrade as years go by” which is a depressing line but, in this context, becomes an excellent pop hook. In conclusion, this is a dichotomy of a record, where the vocals and music always seem at odds but somehow exist creating a little bit of magic.
Matt Green (@happymad1986)
Fiery Orator Of Nostalgia
I think I’ve mentioned before in this newsletter how much I like not knowing at all what an album is going to sound like when I hit play. This was definitely the case with Plushgun and I have to confess that I was surprised to find the synth-rock stylings that you might also hear from, say, Ozma or Big Data. Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against the genre, I just have found that it’s very difficult to do well. And then Plushgun made its case. And what a case it was! It has been such a long time since I’ve listened to an album that so perfectly encapsulates not only what an era sounded like, but also what it felt like. The technology, the gender identity struggles, the casual cynicism with the establishment. It’s all there. What’s more, the music is enjoyable and relistenable. It feels sad to have to actually have to say that, but so often lyrics this rich are accompanied by bland music, because not a lot of people have time to do both well. For me, the highlights were stuck right in the middle of the album. “Sarah’s Locker, “Our Way,” and “The Prom Queen” are all so good it feels unfair to the rest of the album. This is a fantastic album that was definitely off my radar.
Here’s a better visual representation of the band: polished & detached with a gaze that makes you wonder what’s really going on. Me.Me. in a nutshell.
There was one word that immediately came to mind and it was hard to get rid of from the moment I began listening to Plushgun’s Me. Me. From the indietronica musical aesthetic to Daniel Ingala’s delicate vocals to the lyrical style, this is the kind of music that just screams “twee.” Even with this through-line of preciousness, though, the band sometime pushes outside the box in a couple of ways that molds their sound into a more unique identity within a crowded genre. Opener “Waste Away” combines the best elements of the whole album into one four-minute mission statement — its rousing sing-along chorus is instantly infectious and contrasts nicely with the more ethereal electronics. Track “The Prom Queen” is interestingly queer in a genre that sometimes has trouble moving beyond “boy loves girl” as a song subject. Other highlights include “Galaxies,” with the smart addition of piano, and beautiful closer “All The Same,” whose synth drones and strings end the album on a high note. It’s really when the arrangements go beyond “indie pop/rock + synths” that the band finds the sound and identity that eludes them on the simpler tracks.
David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer
This Brooklyn-grown trio likes to party with their emotions. It’s electro-fied twee. The stuff of summer festival nights and tank-tops. It doesn’t stop for a second to be wallow-y; there’s no time. It drives at the speed of youth — stories about mixtapes, lockers, and prom. The tracks are stacked with pretty much every weapon in the indie arsenal, from ukuleles to mellowtron samples, all supposed on a highly energetic core. When things do slow up a bit and get anthemic on “Sarah’s Locker” and “All The Same,” there’s no loss of momentum. Every move is studied and saccharine. Synthesizers soar, sparkle and throb on this night out of an album, though less New Wave and more early 00s indie-fusion. As the weather warms and windows come down, when you need that something bouncy to bob your head to, make sure Me.Me. is nearby.
My goal in writing about music is not to criticize and make people feel bad for liking what they like. The aim is to help people find their joy through music they might never have heard or to which they have not given full consideration. The only time I go negative is when artists that I’ve previously enjoyed comes up wanting. In the case of Plushgun, my best thought is that here’s a band for those who want to find something like Passion Pit or Matt & Kim, but with fewer of the foibles of either of them. Perky songs, relentless dance beats, huge choruses, you get the idea. But now I’m going to hijack this post and shine a light on a band that is so off the radar that they’re barely on Spotify or iTunes and you can buy one of their albums for a penny on Amazon. I’m talking about Dubstar, who put out two wonderful albums in the 90’s that I had to buy on import — even then they were off the radar, in the U.S. at least. There was a touch of St. Etienne to their sound, which married crystal clear female vocals, folk song structures, dance beats, and contemporary pop production to produce pure pleasure. Songs like “Stars, Not So Manic Now, I Will Be Your Girlfriend,” and “Cathedral Park” — these were hits on my own private radio station — and their cover of Billy Bragg’s “St. Swithin’s Day” is a treasure. So if you are a new or old fan of Plushgun, I urge you to seek out Dubstar. You will have many new songs to learn and sing.
Like nearly all of the bands so far on OYR, this is my first time hearing Plushgun. In doing these reviews, I don’t like to do any pre-search. I don’t want any information, whether it be geographic, technical, or the hotness of a lead songstress, to affect my opinions and insight on a given week’s selection. I got my degree in marketing, and worked as a director of marketing for a handful of years in my mid-twenties. Through that first-hand experience, I can tell you that Plushgun’s Me.Me. album is an ad agency’s dream. The upbeat, electronic cotton candy that is Me.Me. made me feel as if I was listening to a 45-minute Kia commercial during the NBA playoffs. It’s just hip enough for the hipsters. Just nerdy enough for the nerds. And just catchy enough to make you pay attention to the commercial, but not so overpowering that is distracts you from Rashida Jones’ voiceover. The album is full of super-nerdy, super-clever references to technology, love, and all things in between. It’s like a Pixar movie for your ears — there’s something for your whole nerdy family. “Your Hologram” even comes complete with a “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah” refrain in the chorus! Your nerdy college bros will love the soccer hooligan chorus of “Waste Away.” And your nerdy, emo sister will identify with “All The Same” — the album’s only somber moment, featuring a soaring string arrangement that melts the soul. System preference? More Me.Me!!
On paper, it doesn’t sound like Me.Me. would be a compelling album. It’s synthpop released at the peak of the genres’ saturation level with detached vocals that seem to exist in a completely different space at time while every track tries to out “anthem” the other. Hell, the opening song has a chorus that references memes over and over again. In reality though, Me.Me. is a great record almost for the exact same reasons it shouldn’t be. Yes, it’s synthpop released just as people were getting tired of the genre, but this is no Matt & Kim. In fact, Plushgun upstaged the duo’s entire career with “Our Way,” a song that is seemingly built on the Matt & Kim formula yet continually strives to be more than just a set pattern. Yeah, the detached vocals are odd at first, but after only a few songs, it becomes the record’s most endearing trait with it offering a distant perspective on a normally inviting genre. With electropop almost hinging on deeply emotive expression, it’s just another reason why Me.Me.‘s quality is simply astonishing. Let’s talk about the ego war going on between each song too. From track to track, it seems like each song desperately wants to out do the last one, even if it’s following a more tepid tempo. Obviously bands like CHVRCHES come to mind with their records being great displays of this, but even those Scots now how to bring it down for a few songs. Not with filler necessarily, but songs they know serve a better function as a bridge between musical thoughts. Me.Me. has no bridges. It’s an escalator constantly rising with bigger and bolder ideas, some of which take the band beyond the confines of synthpop — come on, “Kick Me Out” totally sounds like a song Johnny Marr would write. Because of the disparity between description & reality, Me.Me is the classic example of a record you get recommended and you just move to the side, but trust me (and us) when we tell you that moving it to the side will be a huge mistake and you’ll miss out on fifty minutes of sublime music from a band that may just have the most refreshing take on a somewhat stale genre.
12 Songs by Cory Branan
Chosen By Shannon Cleary