A war has been going on in pop music ever since the dawn of the drum machine and the rising prevalence of ones and zeros. Roots-y organicists have derided music created primarily through digital manipulation; technophiles have speculated that anything analog is obsolete. Everybody else is content to sit back and enjoy what they’re hearing.
But in recent years one sound has doubled back on the other, and a new wave of acts that compromise elements of organic sensibility and technological mastery have risen to prominence. London’s Psapp, the duo of vocalist Galia Durant and producer Carim Clasmann, combines the Postal Service’s emphasis on stable pop songwriting and the Books’ penchant for skittering found-sound beats with touches of organic instrumentation. But Durant’s sheer vocal talent is a constant reminder that this is pop music first and foremost, much like Zero 7’s more vocal-based work.
Psapp’s full-length debut, Tiger, My Friend, abandons much of the freeform sampling and beat-making of the duo’s early EPs in order to home in on the songs themselves. “Rear Moth” opens the album with a bouncy 5/4 and a cycle of squeaking toys, pizzicato strings and the hum of Durant’s gentle three-part harmony. The miscellaneous sounds give way to glitch-y keyboards and clicks and pops on “Leaving in Coffins” and “Calm Down,” but the unobtrusive layer of string flourishes and occasional acoustic guitar keeps the music grounded. All the while Durant croons graceful elegies (“Coffins”), break-up anthems (“King Kong”), and a title track that actually sounds like an ode from human to tiger, like something out of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.
It is to the credit of both of these musicians that the relatively unaltered vocals can peacefully coexist with the choppy beats, but both have the same spirit: Durant’s voice is bright and jaunty, just as Clasmann’s beats are loose, freely incorporating sounds like squeaking cat toys and beer-can drumming. The duo is hardly breaking new ground on Tiger, My Friend, but they strike a balance that even their predecessors can’t quite match.