Music Reviews

Key To The Mint: A Godless Line

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 26 2018
Artist: Key To The Mint (@)
Title: A Godless Line
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Key To The Mint is an '80s retro synthpop band (although they describe themselves as "post punk") from Cleveland, Ohio, who have been around since 2015 or so. The band consists of Joel Anger (lead and backing vocals), John Alexander (guitar, bass, keyboards, drum and synth programming), and Rich Kundracik (drum and synth programming, bass, keyboards) plus a few guests who help out with additional backing vocals and guitars. They admit to influences of Depeche Mode, The Smiths, The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, and OMD, and truth be told, they sound a little like most of those bands. This 11-track CD opens well enough with "The Hague," a song that sounds nearly like a Depeche Mode B-side, but unfortunately it's all downhill after that. The aptly titled next track, "Make Me Suffer" will make you realize that this album sounds like it was recorded live in a basement. It's also where the singer switches from Dave Gahan mode to Morrissey mode, meandering in the melody with no real hooks to anchor the songs. Joel Anger's vocals may be an amalgam of all the singers of the aforementioned "band influences" (excepting the Sisters) but basing the vocal melodies on the worst traits of Morrissey is no way to make an impact. Considering that Anger's voice is the most talented aspect of this group (the instrumental performance/execution is fairly pedestrian), these guys have a long way to go as the competition is fierce in this genre, and there are many better bands out there. In this age of rampant technology there's simply no excuse for the mediocre recording. What this band needs is a spiffy songwriter (one who can really cook up great hooks) and a good studio with someone who knows how to use it. Until then, it's back to the basement.

Dicepeople: One From Many

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 20 2018
Artist: Dicepeople (@)
Title: One From Many
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Syndicol Music (@)
Rated: *****
Finally, Dicepeople have released a new full album, very different from their previous one ('End of the Line,' ) but no less ambitious. The band has changed a bit too. Matt Brock (songwriter, electronic musician/programmer, producer) has contributed some vocals on 'One From Many,' Rafael Filomeno (visual artist) is still aboard, and (female) vocalist Zmora is now listed as a band member. Where Brock previously only used guest vocalists, now there is a permanent one. Still there are a number of guest vocalists on the album - Sara Dee, Atashi Tada, Darien Graham-Smith, and Hemiola. Additional guest guitarists include Roger Le Guin and Rob Ackerman. An overall description of the music would be dark electro with touches of EBM, techno-industrial, synthpop, darkwave and post-rock. It has a "grand scale," expansive, futuristic, cyber-sound with generally great production by Brock. Using different vocalists keeps the material from sounding too homogeneous, while not betraying the feel and theme of the material. There are 9 tracks all with single word titles running a succinct 47 minutes or so total. The odyssey begins with "Void," a track of mostly space ambient effects with a lengthy dialogue sample from the 1993 Aussie cult film- "Bad Boy Bubby". The dialogue is an existential rant on God, and seems to be a useful setup for what's to follow. "Gone" features Zmora on vocals with backing vocals by Atashi. For some reason she reminds me of Propaganda's Claudia Brucken here. A very spacey electronic ambience is woven between the beats, and the subtle chorus hook is beguiling. On "Multiplicity" Matt Brock speak-sings his way through this heavy electro track on the verses while Zmora sings the choruses. Okay, now I understand why he's used other vocalists. It's still a good track and also features a neat twisty instrumental section. "Celestial" (co-written by Darien Graham-Smith, who also provides lead vocals) is a bouncy number with Sara Dee also on vocals with vocoder processing. On "Nitro" Atyashi steps up into the lead vocalist spot for a song with a real EBM/technoir vibe. The angular bass synth motif of "Addiction" provides a stark contrast to the smoothness of the previous track with Brock on primary vocals, supplemented by the voice of Zmora. "Pigs' treads more traditional electro-industrial territory with vocals by Brock and Zmora. A processed (but unassimilated) Borgish vocal that opens "This" continues along electro-industrial lines with Hemiola's voice swimming against the slipstream of cosmic effluvia. If that track seemed like it was awash in an ocean of synthetic sound, it's nothing compared to "Duality". Zmora sounds like she's nearly drowning but somehow managing to cling to a liferaft, until it capsizes in the bitter end. This is one interesting and unusual album, brimming with cyber-vibes and wonderfully executed. I imagine that it's even more spectacular live when Rafael gets to work his visual magic. My only complaint is that the album is download only with no physical product. I'm kind of old school when it comes to that, but I'll save that rant for another time.
Artist: A Place Both Wonderful And Strange
Title: The City Smells Like Cat Spit EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: self-released
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****

BUY from  HERE
Elegant and whimsical but dark and uncomfortable at times..."occult electronic" and "doom gaze" are perhaps the terms closest to being appropriate for the Brooklyn duo, A Place Both Wonderful And Strange.

After a successful East Coast/Midwest tour, the band releases their new digital-only EP, The City Smells Like Cat Spit on August 24. The EP features one original track, "Kristae" and 3 re-worked live & studio tracks, "W*tch (Mevius Tour Version)," "Stone (Version)," and "Hex And The City (Resonata Remix)."

"Kristae" is a deeply haunting cut that evokes the image of a ghost-guided dusty LP, perhaps something out of Moby's worst nightmare. The standout track for us is "W*tch (Mevius Tour Version)." Musically haunting in the backdrop but guided by the heavenly vocals of Laura. "Stone" starts off with a cinematic female spoken narration and then moves to a whimsically-nuanced, fluid and moving track that ends before you know it or want it to. "Hex And the City (Resonata Remix)" is a bit of a layered, complex version of the song showing the band's unique mix of electronica and trip-hop.

"Wonderful" and "Strange" they are indeed. But the band is much more than that. They are simply one of the most original, un-classifiable electronic bands out there right now. I can't wait to see what they come up with next. For now, The City Smells Like Cat Spit is a perfect blend of electronica, darkwave and post-punk and then some....

Page: Start

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 13 2018
Artist: Page
Title: Start
Format: CD EP
Label: Energy Rekords (@)
Rated: *****
Page- a pioneering Swedish synthpop band, often credited with being the first band to bring synthpop music to Sweden. They go all the way back to 1980, with core members Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko. In their time they released a half-dozen albums and numerous singles up until 2000 when they decided to call it quits. (Temporarily, as it turned out.) I never heard any of them though. Big in Sweden, and parts of Europe I imagine, but here...nada. Maybe it was because the vocals are exclusively in Swedish, maybe distribution issues, I really don't know. What I do know is that they reformed in 2010, put out a few more albums, and this EP is my introduction to the band, titled (appropriately for me) 'Start' It consists of 4 tracks - the title track "Start," "Stor ej," "Nere För RÄkning," and "Krasch" (Apoptygma Berzerk Redux). While much of the synthpop I've heard coming out of Sweden sounds more cosmopolitan, this stuff sounds particularly Swedish, and not just because of the vocals, although that's a factor. The music is pretty simple, the vocals are light and happy, and the whole thing has an '80s retro vibe as if they never really left that decade. At times I'm reminded musically of OMD, but not Depeche Mode. Something else from the '80s too, but I can't recall what in particular. The best thing on this EP is the Apop Redux of "Krasch," which seems the least Page-like song on it. Bouncy synth bass, a good beat and better than the rest vocals with a good hook make it standout, but not a chart topper as far as I can tell. It might be a little presumptuous of me to say that if these folks sang in English they'd find a wider receptive audience, but something tells me they're just happy where they are.

Analogue-X: Course Of Life

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jun 25 2018
Artist: Analogue-X (@)
Title: Course Of Life
Format: CD
Label: RMP Records/Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Analogue-X is an electropop band from Germany consisting of Rene Mussbach (vocals); Susie NLG (background vocals); ALexis Voice (synths, programming), and Clarke Gahan (synths and drum machines). Clarke Gahan?? Seriously? Isn't that a bit too Depeche Modey? Whatever. (Rene is a guy by the way.) Okay, so maybe musically I've given a bit away. Not that Analogue-X are Depeche Mode clones or anything, but what synthesizer band doesn't owe a little something to them. 'Course Of Life' is the band's debut album, after 2017's 'Rising in the Dark (The Remixes)' in which the band got a bunch of artists to remix one of their songs. Some of the remixers were Paralyzed RMX, Cyborgdrive, Jeff Appleton, Erwin Pempelfort, etc., etc. As much as I'm no fan of remixes, someone in the business once told me "if you want your music to get noticed fast, get some top-notch remixers to have a go at your songs. Apparently Analogue-X put this plan into effect before they even had put out their first album! (They've also released a remix album of 'Course of Life' but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.) So, what have we got to work with. First I can say that the synth programming and performance is very strong. Most everything works for the dancefloor too so the rhythm is potent too. Where we run into a little problem is in the vocal department. Rene's vocals are fine in a sense, melodic and pleasant enough, but not particularly strong or memorable. Susie's backup vocals, where present are fine too, occasionally bolstering the melody. The music is fairly melodic as well, and there are hooks a-plenty, just not particularly strong ones. I think the problem here is one of too much nuance, and not enough devotion to those big, obvious, infectious killer hooks. Right from the get-go on the opening track "Another Time," they put forth a good (chorus) hook but try and say too much in it. Second track- "Dark Shadow" (very reminiscent of Camouflage) has a lot of potential but the title of the song is reduced to a mere background afterthought. Too bad as it's one of the best tracks on the album. Don't get me wrong, as these songs aren't bad, they just lack some pizzazz, that certain quality that puts some artists on the top of the heap. Like Depeche Mode. Like Covenant. A strong, charismatic vocalist might have been able charge this material, but a merely good one doesn't flip the switch. There are still more good songs on the album, such as "Rising in the Dark," and "Never Alone," but as we keep chugging along, the songs begin to sound similar, mainly due to the vocals. Another part of the problem might be the lyrical content, which is largely from that Depeche Mode/Duran Duran school of romanticism, and tends to get bogged down in affairs of the heart. I think if the band headed in a bit colder, more austere direction they might hit upon that elusive magic bullet. But hey, that's just my own personal opinion. 'Course of Life' is a competent album, just not exceptional.

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