Based out of Louisiana, electro-pop duo StonerPop’s debut self-titled EP is as unique as a musical voyage as listeners are likely to take in 2016. The five track collection features Maudie Michelle on vocals while she shares musical arranging and songwriting chores with her artistic partner Jimmie Maneuva. The band’s sonic template, alluded to earlier in this review, is naturally constructed around synthesizers and keyboards, but dispense with any preconceptions you may have about electronic instruments before you go any further. The days of cold, soulless electronic music are confined to a time in musical history when those instruments were making significant technological leaps and remained relatively new. Keyboards, synthesizers in particular, have now been part of our popular music scene for multiple decades and artists and designers alike have learned how to incorporate them into their compositions more seamlessly than ever before. StonerPop uses them with immense artfulness and a knowing sense of their impact on audiences, especially devotees of the genre.
There’s a light melodic touch evident in their music from the first alongside their mastery of texture. The melodies are often ghostly and play off quite compellingly against the cipher-like rhythms accompanying them. “Preachers” opens the EP and begins exactly like that, but StonerPop does an exceptional job of slowly escalating its sonic range until it reaches a high level of intensity. The pull between the melody and rhythms continue throughout the song and give it priceless tension. Some ominous synthesizer lines open “Running” before an omnipresent, claustrophobic beat explodes from the speakers and maintains its intensity, if not gathering even more at key points, for the remainder of the song.
“You’re Never Listening” takes on a much more subdued air than the opening tracks, but the tension defining those earlier numbers remains present here as well. Michelle’s voice takes on a number of different sounds throughout the EP, usually closely connected to the sonic thrust of each song. She’s quite aggressive here, but her voice maintains a very human texture throughout that strongly contrasts with the electronic music. “Monsters” is probably the EP’s most commercially minded effort to this point, but it certainly has its own distinctive character. It is an unusually spartan track for StonerPop until late in the song’s second half when some of the same musical attack heard on earlier songs returns to blast listeners with sheets of sound.
The electric piano heard on “Monsters” returns on the album’s final track “Fox”. It has a gritty late night feel, a dark urban bounce, that’s impossible to deny. It would be misleading to say StonerPop create soundscapes of any sort; the electronic instruments are used in a much more musical fashion than similar acts do. The lyrical content, as well, outstrips anything else their contemporaries are doing and Michelle’s strongly emotive vocals put the material over the top.
It is rare for two musical talents to complement each other so precisely, but Maudie Michelle and Jimmie Maneuva working together create something far greater than the individual sum of their parts. Their self titled EP debut is some of the most memorable electro-pop in recent memory and doesn’t confine itself to a single approach.