The Analog Girl's Minimalist Electronic Pop
By Keith Walsh
Since electronic pop music exploded onto the scene in the 1970's, artists as diverse as Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Devo, Depeche Mode, and Lady Gaga (and countless others) have presented their visions of the future, some ironic and fun, others dark and apocalyptic. By the year 2000, the implied futurism of an electronic sound was ubiquitous, as synthesizers became smaller and more powerful and the personal computer became a self-contained recording studio. Case in point: Singapore's singer/songwriter/laptop rock artist Mei Wong, known by her stage name The Analog Girl, who presents a humanistic vision that captures the past, present and future all at once with lovely minimalistic electronic music produced using her Apple laptop.
Wong explains: "I have been keeping my setup really minimal on my laptop to get me focused on the songwriting aspect as opposed to spending my time trying out all sorts of software – akin to that of a musician who writes primarily on a piano or guitar. So it's been Ableton Live as my main DAW (digital audio workstation)."The Analog Girl creates machine music, there's no doubt about it. But the vibrant human heart behind it is revealed in the bittersweet sentiments of the melancholy instrumentation and her abstract lyrics, which address a range of topics including love, hope, disillusionment, and altered states of consciousness. The Analog Girl tells stories with dramatic, poetic images atop a sweet tonal palette.
From "Wonder"(from Golden Sugar Crystals):
Waiting at the corner standing
Looking at the falling rain I wonder
What is it about this weather
Makes me feel like I could run forever
Like the 8-bit programmers of the early days of personal computers and handheld game devices, who meticulously arranged the three voices they were limited to, Wong achieves delightful harmonic effects using a minimum of sounds, in lush productions that also owe a lot to the techno pop artists of the '80's. Wong explains. "The 8-bit revival happened when I was starting out as The Analog Girl, so that naturally influenced my sound of that time in the early 2000's. I also grew up with 8-bit videogames, so there's that added connection. As for the 1980s' sounds, I just like them personally."
Imbued with minimalist charm, the music of The Analog Girl features reproductions of legendary synth sounds and catchy beats that present pop and dance music in new forms, along with entrancing down tempo numbers. Wong's meticulous mixes feature an array of enticing sounds, such as flanged cymbals, echo-effected electronic drums (both acoustic sounding and synth reproductions), fuzzy square wave bass, bell-like synths, ethereal leads, warm pads, atonal glitch effects, and reverb-swathed vocals.
Those vocals are truly stream of consciousness, often coming into existence for the first time as they are being recorded. "Sometimes, the words don't make sense,"she says. "I used to write and record the lyrics/vocal at the same time, as it happens – so they are more guttural and expressive than literal." Added to this textual mystique is the vocal production, which features Wong's sultry, breathy delivery. Whereas most pop music today features vocals mixed up front to emphasize the personality of the singer, in The Analog Girl's creations, the voice is another instrument in the mix, which only enhances the mysteriousness of the overall sound.
Wong's instinctive understanding of what makes a good mix is apparent; she mixed all of the tunes on her new album, Golden Sugar Crystals (with the exception of "What You Are Showing Me Is A Fantasy,"mixed by Tobias Heymer), Using just the right amount of effects, and with a gift for creating suspense and mystery using harmony and rhythm, The Analog Girl's arrangements transform only a few voices into the moving, transcendent experience that's come to define her brand.
From "What You Are Showing Me Is A Fantasy":
It's night after night and I fall so easily
The feeling is right and I know that I cannot lie
If I could tell you babe then I'm not scared
If I could love you babe then I'm not scared
With her first album, 2005's The TV Is On, The Analog Girl presented a future nostalgia that challenges convention, sounding something like an 8-bit TRS 80 Model 1 had been hacked into by a savvy, time-traveling pop diva from the year 2050 coaxing out a magical melodic data array. That hypothetical TRS 80 was definitely enhanced though: Wong's mixes are as full and profoundly beautiful as they are catchy.
The follow up, 2007's Sometime Next Galaxy continues the trend, with more enchanting, hummable tunes, while 2011's "Tonight Your Love"features dark minimalist sounds (along with a tempting vinyl LP release). And now, 2017's Golden Sugar Crystals, with its cautiously optimistic lyrics wrapped in sweet, dark layers of tonality sets a new standard. A lot of its charm comes from Wong's willingness to experiment with song structures and production techniques.
"It certainly did not come naturally to me," she says. "Even though I loved pop music growing up, when I wrote, I pretty much wrote from the gut. So anything goes – I didn't really think much about the song structure before, and neither did they fall into the experimental category. Under this context, I guess it sparked this comment from a friend, ‘So, where is the hook?' It struck me then that I needed to zone in on my sound and style more, and ever since, it's been a lifelong exercise of coming up with something catchy, original, and that pleases me, all at the same time."
Striding the fine line between indie and commercial, Wong enjoys the freedom of releasing her music herself. "It's an artist's dream to have 100% creative control,"she says, "but in reality even if you don't answer to a label, subconsciously you do answer to other persons, e.g. your audience. There is always this other voice aside from your own influencing your creative decisions."
By trying to give her audience what she wants, The Analog Girl doesn't shy away from making songs with the potential to be embraced by millions. "I'm extremely flattered whenever I hear that my music possesses commercial qualities,"Wong says, "because to me sounding commercial does not necessarily equal ‘selling out' but also reflects a musician's ability to understand and relate to their audience's psyche and desires – which if I could achieve on any level means I am on my way to doing my job well. So I strive to be authentic and appealing at the same time."
A Global Vision
Raised in robust cosmopolitan Singapore, Wong studied piano as young child, and early on, she experimented with multi-tracking on consumer electronic keyboards that provided drumbeats and melodic accompaniment. After college, she worked at MTV Asia and Warner Music Singapore before embarking on a full time career as a musician. "So with MTV Asia, it was more of a step into the world of broadcast media and looking at the music industry from a journalistic role," Wong explains. "But my dream since 5 years old was to be a recording artist – there was no doubt about that."
Wong's first professional recordings were created by bouncing tracks back and forth between cassette recorders. Soon after, Wong's father, an accountant, gave her an unused business laptop that she repurposed for music, and she has never looked back. "I don't think there was much change in the way I record over the past 10 years as opposed to the past 20 years when it was done on an analogue 4-track cassette tape recorder,"she explains. "And I was still working that way when I started The Analog Girl in 2002, because I hadn't fully explored DAW's yet. As a result, my music was dubbed ‘lo-fi electronica' by the media, which I thought sounded pretty cool!"Since these early days, The Analog Girl's equipment has grown in sophistication, and though her studio work is still based on her Apple laptop, when she plays live she changes things up a bit.
"It's always interesting for me as a performer to explore new instruments as they influence the way in which I present my music,"Wong says, "which is often a challenge for laptop-based musicians like myself – it's not easy for the audience to comprehend what you're doing on stage behind that screen. It's not particularly engaging as well. So I had been drawn to incorporating instruments and MIDI controllers that present a visual feedback, and these include the Monome (an interactive USB grid) and Percussa AudioCubes. The Percussa AudioCubes are also great for improvising as in Sensor Mode, I can wave my palm over the cube and that can be assigned a filter." In addition to the color-changing cubes, she uses the Yamaha Tenori-On sequencer, which features a lighted display that changes when buttons are pressed.
Since her stage debut in the early 2000's, Mei has traveled the world, bringing her one-woman show to events like the Nike Street Style Awards, the Singapore Fashion Festival for the Versace Label, The Heineken Music Lab, the Apple iPad2 launch event for Singapore Communications, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 launch event, to name a handful. From the very beginning, encouraging partnerships happened, including her song "Liquorice,"which appeared in Nike's "Changing The Game"Retail campaign of 2004 (the song also appeared on her 2005 album, The TV Is On). "What You Are Showing Me Is Fantasy" (the first single from Golden Sugar Crystals) was named "Best Of The Week" by Apple Music last February.
As Singapore of the‘70's was wired to receive sounds and visions of media from all around the world, Wong was influenced by the pop sensibilities found on her parent's vinyl collection, as well as on seeing and hearing American and European acts on TV's Solid Gold.
And despite the global reach of her music, The Analog Girl is content to call Singapore her home. "Growing up," she says, "I have always appreciated the peace and security this country brings, so I enjoyed writing in this serenity despite Singapore being very much a bustling cosmopolitan city at its core." It seems that all the culture anyone could want or need is available on the island nation. "As a multi-racial society, we are not homogeneous, and English is our first language that binds us all together. So naturally, imported culture plays a large role in our lives, which has its positives and negatives – positive because we take on a more international perspective, and negative because local music takes second place given the choices that audiences here have. I do view it in a more positive light though, as the way people find out about and consume music has changed since the internet age, so it's a strength to have been brought up with a more global vision."
Also see the Analog Girl's website
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