Euphoric pop outfit welcomes you to the jungle…
The sun-baked streets of Los Angeles seems an unlikely place for an indie synthpop group to emerge from, but the pop power of TOPANGA offer up an appeal that’s difficult to ignore.
Drawing from an eclectic number of influences that include David Byrne, Tame Impala and Miike Snow, Topnaga’s founder members Derek Brambles and Eric Johnson also cite Paul McCartney’s RAM and David Bowie’s Hunky Dory as being particularly special records. Taking their name from Topanga Canyon in LA, the duo were struck by the Native American meaning of the word which meant “where the mountains meet the sea”.
Brambles and Johnson had previously created ad spots for various companies and this knack for catchy tunes is evident on the material they’ve released as Topanga.
Their debut release Midnight Jungle (the title refers to the nickname that the duo had given LA after dark) manages to show off the outfit’s range, which is an unashamed punt at the commercial market, but still crafted from shrewd composition, deft instrumentation and pure melodic hooks.
There’s more than a hint of The Flaming Lips in the spacey vocal delivery on ‘Shadows’, which was Topanga’s first single. Originally penned as a melody for a commercial spot, Brambles felt there was something special there and instead took the composition to craft into a Topanga song.
Inspired by a childhood memory, the lyrics on ‘Shadows’ deals with memory and the idea of letting things go to live in the present. “Slow down now, relax and let the world take over you” offers the song, whose power is through the driving vocal melodies. There’s even a few brass stabs in there for good effect.
There’s a more dreamy arrangement in place for ‘Inmates’ whose unusual lyrics revolve around incarceration with a repeated motif of “prison and sun”. Elsewhere, ‘Life’s A Coma’ has a more Latin flavour to it with its choppy rhythms – and has an immersive 360 degree video to go with it.
The EP’s standout moment however is the euphoric ‘American Promises’, a tune that has ‘banger’ written all over it. The tune has sweeping vocal trills and a clean, tight production style. With lyrics that offer a nod to the uncertain American political climate (“You can’t fake this”), the song is not only timely but boasts synth melodies that will stay in your head for days.
Meanwhile, the pop appeal of ‘Hey Stranger’ has a sun-drenched selection of melodies and clipped vocals. It’s little telephone dialogue segments adding to the charm.
Ultimately, the songs on Midnight Jungle demonstrates a positive and joyful approach that’s the perfect antidote to the gloomy weather and even gloomier political climate currently surrounding us. While the outfit are leaning much more heavily on the pop side of things, it’s difficult to ignore the talents at work behind the tunes.
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.