At a time when America’s political climate has infiltrated just about every aspect of pop culture, Electric Guest’s latest album is a musical anomaly.
Released last month, “Kin” is the type of infectious record that could energize both a Friday cocktail party and a Sunday drive. The album’s 11 songs reflect a variety of modern genres, from the dreamy soul of “Dollar” to the chill reggae of “More,” to the playfully cheeky R&B of “Play With Me.”
At times, the sunny vibe of “Kin” feels pleasantly retro, which is exactly as the two members of Electric Guest ― singer Asa Taccone and multi-instrumentalist Matthew “Cornbread” Compton ― intended. Still, at a time when even formerly politically averse artists like Taylor Swift are referencing civic affairs onstage and on the record, the Los Angeles-based duo occasionally question whether they’ve missed the cultural boat.
Ultimately, they don’t think it matters.
“It’s a time of transition right now in the U.S. and I think it’s necessary to have music that doesn’t weigh you down,” Taccone, who hails from Northern California, told HuffPost. “It feels like a certain type of release, you know?”
Of course, it isn’t just a new record contract that’s garnered buzz for “Kin.” The excellent music videos for the album’s first three singles harken back to stylized, high-concept visuals that defined MTV in the “Total Request Live” era.
Released in July, “Dollar” saw the pair sailing a DeLorean hovercraft across the San Francisco Bay, while September’s “Play With Me” featured a Speedo-clad Taccone lounging about a Beverly Hills mansion in a playful spoof of the R&B videos of the early 2000s.
The guys say their aim is to honor their sonic influences and the artists they loved growing up.
“This feels like our first record in an odd way because we’re coming into ourselves,” Taccone said. “When we came out, we were kind of ... lumped into the LA indie scene, which wasn’t bad. For me, it wasn’t who I really was. I grew up on R&B and pop.”
“Honoring who you are while you are ascending this ladder is such a difficult thing,” he continued. “The arc, for me, at least been about being more unapologetic [about] having a sweet tooth for pop, and just going there.”
The familial tone of the album’s title also nods to their origins. The music video for “Dollar,” for instance, features appearances by many of Taccone’s friends and family from Oakland, California. It was directed by the singer’s actor-comedian brother, Jorma Taccone, whose credits include “Saturday Night Live” and “Parks and Recreation.”
“You’re not extending yourself as much as you get older because you don’t have the time or the energy, really,” the Virginia-born Compton quipped. “The people that are close to you and around you become a family.”
Whether or not “Kin” is the breakout hit that propels Electric Guest into the pop stratosphere remains to be seen. The men, however, have proven track records when it comes to writing and producing music for mainstream artists and mediums. Taccone won an Emmy for writing the music for the 2006 “SNL” sketch “Dick in a Box,” featuring Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg, and was also a co-writer and co-producer of Portugal. The Man’s 2017 hit, “Feel It Still.” Compton, meanwhile, has written music for television and films, including 2010’s “MacGruber” and 2017’s “Snatched.”
“You never know in a big pop setting what you’re going to get,” Compton said. “But Carly is so gifted. Doing anything well is damn hard, and she makes it look so easy. ‘Call Me Maybe’ is one of the biggest songs of all time, but you almost forget about her craft. She’s navigated it right.”
The release of “Kin” now behind them, Electric Guest are back on the road. They kicked off their 2019 tour in October with a sell-out show in Brooklyn, New York, followed by performances in Los Angeles and San Francisco. They’ll return to the European concert stage Nov. 18 in Belgium, followed by shows in Bordeaux, Paris and London.
As for the sentiment they most hope audiences take away from “Kin,” Taccone recalled a moment from a stage play his father recently directed in California.
“The first line was a character asking, ‘Will there be singing in dark times?’ And that person’s mom was like, ‘Yes, there will be singing in dark times,’” he said. “That’s kind of my thesis statement with it: Even when life gets rough, there’s room for joy.”