Disco pop delights
It would be fair criticism to say that there’s occasionally a lack of flamboyance in the world of electronic pop. While we can furrow our brows and do some intense chin-stroking while listening to our favourite artists, it’s also nice to indulge in some exuberance now and then.
KNIGHT$ delivers that brand of electropop in style, combining a love of Italo Disco with the disco dancepop embraced by the likes of classic acts such as Pet Shop Boys. The result is some surprisingly catchy pop anthems with a slick style.
Previously, James Knights had already chalked up an impressive resume via outfits such as Scarlet Soho and Boytronic prior to his rebirth as KNIGHT$. Those musical ventures allowed him to hone his own distinct approach to electronic music, while also embracing a sense of fun.
The Electricity Club’s first proper encounter with KNIGHT$ was back in 2017, at one of the Synth Club live events (see TEC review previously), where the serviceable line-up of electronic acts were upstaged by the pure pop star antics of James Knights. There was a confidence and swagger to his approach on stage, matched with some engaging pop tunes, that really formed a chemistry with the audience (so much so, that KNIGHT$ and co. were forced to come back on stage for an encore).
Dollars & Cents marks the debut album for KNIGHT$, following on from two earlier single releases. The album embraces the Italo Disco vibe that lies at the foundation of KNIGHT$, while also zipping through a variety of different styles and approaches. Despite this, the album offers up a consistent musical journey that’s a joy from start to finish.
The album also pulls in a wealth of talent to bolster James Knights’ own (not inconsiderable) musical chops. This includes some polished production care of Martin Dubka as well as Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti (Italoconnection). He even finds time for a duet on ‘Proving A Point’ with original Boytronic vocalist Holger Wobker.
Recorded between London and Milan, Dollars & Cents has a distinctly European flavour to it. ‘What’s Your Poison?’ (which is also one of KNIGHT$’ beefier live numbers) shows a love for 80s-era disco pop that wouldn’t be out of place as a Madonna number. It’s peppered with smart lyrical allusions to drink (“If you can’t see/The Pepsi Cola killer in me”). There’s even a sax break to lend it a little extra flourish.
The pulsing delights of ‘Gelato’, meanwhile, channels the spirit of Giorgio Moroder with a love song dedicated to the classic Italian dessert dish. One of the album’s best moments, the track’s relentless electronic rhythms and neat vocoder moments are also improved by a vocal break by Monia Rega offering an ecstatic tribute to the dairy delight.
‘Julia’ takes a more leftfield approach with its falsetto vocals measured against warm synth rhythms, giving it a touch of Communards/Jimmy Somerville. It’s a formula that also works wonders on smoky synth-pop outing ‘Running’.
Keeping listeners on their toes, the album then serves up ‘Proving A Point’, which proffers a more minimalist approach to the rest of the album. Its electro flourishes (with a few sub-Kraftwerk moments) seem to throw a nod to ‘Planet Rock’-era Afrika Bambaataa on a track which oozes attitude.
But the album’s title track drops KNIGHT$ back into pure pop anthem territory. Dollars & Cents delivers disco rhythms driving a slick composition designed purely to get your feet moving. The dynamic ‘Hijack My Heart’ beats a similar path with its tight percussion and pop hooks.
Keeping things fun towards the album’s inevitable end, ‘Alligator’ is all brash pop and synth melodies, with a witty line in lyrics (“Snap! Snap!”).
Dollars & Cents is an album that demonstrates an unashamedly bold love for 80s pop anthems and Italo Disco, while also managing to avoid sounding like a pastiche of that period. Instead, its an electro outfit challenging its listeners to a dance-off on the disco floor.
Dollars & Cents is out now.
KNIGHT$ have a special Halloween show in London on 31st October at Roadtrip & The Workshop, 243 Old Street, EC1V 9EY alongside guests Roxi Drive and Theo Sayers.
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.
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