In what’s likely to come as another blow to Boston’s traditionally grumpy rock purists still smarting over the success of Karmin, it turns out that we’ve only just scratched the surface of our homegrown pop potential. Electro-pop duo Young London, the surest bet for breakout national status this year, are so unabashedly pop they make the former duo look like Tom Waits moping through a piano dirge.
The group, led by Matt Rhoades and Sarah Graziani, both 26, originally of Salem, N.H., released their latest single, “Call My Name (Tonight),” last week, and will perform at the electronic dance music cavalcade Illumina Live at the House of Blues on Friday night before heading off on their first headlining national tour. That comes on the heels of their stint this summer on the Warped Tour and the release of their self-titled debut on Tooth and Nail Records.
Their affiliation with the traditionally punk and emo-minded label and tour isn’t quite as jarring a marriage as it seems. Rhoades’s previous band, And Then There Were None, was a trance-core outfit emblematic of the increasing crossover between punk and indie aesthetics with the pop embellishments of synths and programmed computer beats personified of late by other Warped Tour acts like 3oh!3 and Breathe Carolina. You’ll hear echoes of both acts in Young London’s music, and pop being pop, quite a few others from whom they’ve cobbled together bits and pieces over the course of their breathless sprint through recent dance music history. The latest single nods toward Robyn in its defiant dancing away of heartbreak, while the irresistible shout-along track, “Radio,” nearly one-ups the Black Eyed Peas at their own game.
It’s easy to dismiss this new surge of pop as frivolous, but a performance at the Middlesex Lounge earlier this month illustrated just how much fun the band is having playing with the genre. Covers of Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” and the Buggles’ MTV-launching hit “Video Killed the Radio Star” had the room of scenesters grinning ear to ear; it’s hard not to get swept up in their enthusiasm. The latter song, along with “Radio,” were recently picked up by Abercrombie & Fitch to set the soundtrack to teenage shopping sprees at malls throughout the country, while “Let Me Go” was licensed to keep treadmill-bound souls bouncing along at national fitness chains. Both distribution channels make perfect sense.
Rhoades and Graziani have a good sense of humor about their pop ambitions themselves. “Sometimes you’re sitting in the studio, and it’s getting late, and you’re like, ‘This is so cool, this is so poppy,’ ” Rhoades says. “And then sometimes you’re like, ‘Wow, we really did that. I have to live with that one now.’ ”
“We just sat there all day and said, ‘Cat rhymes with hat,’ ” Graziani .says with a laugh. “But we’ve been talking about it a lot, and we kind of feel like we’re progressing a little bit from that. We’re trying to go a little deeper on our newer stuff.”
Considering their respective musical roots, wildly divergent from the sum of their parts in Young London, there’s certainly room to grow musically. The duo, who grew up in a similar social circle in Salem, didn’t meet until 2010 (Rhoades attended Curry College, Graziani went to Emerson) when Graziani came in to do a guest vocal on a folk project that Rhoades was recording in his studio.
“I was doing, like, singer-songwriter stuff, and Matt was doing. . .,” Graziani begins, before Rhoades chimes in — the two regularly finish each other's thoughts. “. . .Extremely Euro, heavy, lame techno. Sarah was super out-there, no-structure singer-songwriter stuff. This was the only middle ground. We had no choice what style to do, it was weird. We had to do the electro-pop thing the way we clash.”
It’s been two years of work to get from that point to their moment here. When one of their songs makes the jump from underground to bona fide pop hit — something that seems inevitable — much of that back story will probably be glossed over, with critics dismissing them as an overnight success.
“At first it was really slow and hard, but the past few months we finally have momentum behind us, very recently, especially post-Warped Tour, all this stuff is lining up and we’re ready to explode with it all,” adds Rhoades.
“It’s all kind of snowballing all of a sudden,” Graziani says.
None of which will come as a shock to their peers.
“I am not surprised at all that they’re blowing up,” says Nikki Dessingue of the likewise synth-pop-minded Stereo Telescope, with whom they shared the bill that night at Middlesex. “It’s unavoidable for them. They’re hot, they can both sing, they know how to party, and they happen to be the most fun, down-to-earth people you’d ever want to play with. I haven’t met too many acts that can blend their shiny polished pop and arena stage presence with that wonderfully approachable warmth they have. I’m sure it’s rare.”
Aside from with Dessingue’s band, and another Boston electro-pop standout, Casey Desmond, the Young London pair say they don’t really fit in with much else that’s going on in Boston at the moment. Those two notwithstand-ing, “We’re still the poppiest by far,” Rhoades says. “I feel like we’re not in a scene. In the indie scene we’re not hipster enough, and in pop world we’re not pop enough. We’re stuck in our own world.”
Tonight, Illumina Live takes over the House of Blues. “The biggest college party Boston has ever seen,” they’re calling it. Maybe. It’s a pretty stellar lineup of New England-based producer, artist, and DJ talent anyway, along with Young London, the bill includes DJ Aleka, (with a set that moves from trance and house to Top 40), Glow Boston party-starters Glowkids & Fuse, techno and big house from Danielle Dimond and Technick, and experimental electronic and R&B from Early Nineties.
Giving Illumina a run for its money might be CollegeFest 2012 on Saturday, the annual college-themed throwdown at the Hynes Convention Center. Headlined by national acts like Wale, it also features a sprinkling of local talent, with DJ sets from the likes of Throwed resident E-Marce, Marshfield’s DJ Doubletake (a rising star who’s played big parties throughout the country), Beantown hip-hop act 100 Proof, hip-hop and R&B from Fame or Juliet, electro-house and mash-ups from Boston by way of Hong Kong’s Commandah Panda, and another set from Glowkids & Fuse. Check out www
.collegefest.com for details.
On Tuesday, the Music Ecology night at Wonder Bar features a one-two punch of Boston acts pushing the boundaries for live electronic music. Creative Common, a.k.a. Dylan Castaldi, opens with a set of tracks that, like his just-released “Claptrap,” wind their way through the jittery hi-hats of trap, the dirty squiggles of bass music, hip-hop vocals, and soulful horn samples. Chroma Concept, a Berklee-bred quartet, perform live instrumental compositions that flitter between dubstep and trip hop with an improvised jazz aesthetic. Listen at www.soundcloud.com/chroma-concept.Luke O'Neil can be reached at lukeoneil47@
gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @lukeoneil