Music Reviews

Styrofoam: We Can Never Go Home

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 24 2018
Artist: Styrofoam (@)
Title: We Can Never Go Home
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
If you're deep into Euro-electronica, the name Styrofoam is likely known to you. Belgian sound producer Arne Van Petegem has worked with so many, including Valerie Trebeljahr (Lali Puna), Andrew Kenny (The American Analog Set), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service), Bent Van Looy (Das Pop), Markus Acher (The Notwist, Lali Puna), Miki Yoshimura (Munk) and Alias, just to name a few. 'We Can Never Go Home' is his 8th album under the name Styrofoam, with more EPs and singles, and his first full album in 8 years. Although his name is familiar to me, I can't say I've even heard his work before, so I guess I'm coming from an unbiased perspective, one way or another. The album is full of percolating synth sequencing in a myriad of shimmering, bubbling dimensions underpinned with legato basslines and slap-dashy but effective percussion, giving the impression that some of this has been well thought out, and some of it just throwing caution to the wind saying "what the hey..." So in a sense, it sounds partially like some pieces could be adapted as background for real commercials, while others have no commercial potential whatsoever. Regardless of some unconventiality, the format is largely standard with synth sequencing (arpeggiated, or otherwise) being the core, percussive elements nudging things along, a slow-moving bass bottom and synth melody or something more abstract (sometimes abrasive) on the top. I guess this is just what Styrofoam is, or does, but it would have been nice to hear something that didn't conform to the format at all. At times I was reminded of earlier Kraftwerk (you know, before they got into pop songs) but not exceptionally so. My one beef with the music is that a couple of tracks took way too long to end - a single note just sustained for what seemed like eons. Some of the song titles are as abstract as what you hear - "It Isn't Real So It Doesn't Count," "The Crook of Your Elbow," and "Did Your Mouth Buy You This Scar?" but it hardly matters as 'We Can Never Go Home' seems to be more of a complete work than a collection of (instrumental) songs. Perhaps most telling is the picture on the front of the album cover, a dead pool at some resort or civic center. It fully looks like summer in the background but no swimming fun here! So in a sense, this album has the sonic trappings of nostalgia, but none of the depth the first-hand experiences of it. In that sense, we never can go home. Handmade cardstock CD container, limited to 300 numbered copies.
Dec 22 2018
Artist: FYI Chris ft. DJ Morris
Title: Songs About People's Feelings
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Toy Tonics
I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that “Songs About People’s Feelings” isn’t about people’s feelings, other than the specific feeling of wanting to dance. This is deep house music built from steady kicks, clean low basses, short melodic and atmospheric patterns and the odd decorative snippet or sample. Short phrases like the words “it’s okay to escape” that repeat in “B Glaser” don’t really qualify as a deep psychological study of people’s feelings- but you can definitely dance to it.

DJ Morris appears on “Encounters”, which starts out as though it’s going to be a full-on spoken-word-narration house record, but then wanders into deeper territory, cutting up the conversation into short breakdown pieces and peppering light synth stabs around over a sweet kick sound.

“Flat Psych” is a simple one-groove affair with nice measured use of a vocal-ish melodic loop over rolling, fairly Belearic beats. Despite its name “Just Atmosphere” is one of the more complex pieces, with a jazzy organ sound getting twisted and glitched playfully over a marginally more industrial beat (and an ending that will trip up DJ’s not paying attention).

And with the name “FYI Chris feat DJ Morris”, in case there are any Brits who might for a moment have wondered if controversial DJ Chris Morris was involved- I’m pretty confident he’s not.

Aidan Casserly: Steal For Love

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 16 2018
Artist: Aidan Casserly
Title: Steal For Love
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: House Of Analogue
Rated: *****
"Steal For Love" is the newest Aidan Casserly's single and is a really nice one. It contains two songs: the main title and "The SIgn Before". The melodies, the orchestrations, the sax inserts of the songs make me think about great synthpop bands like ABC or some Marc Almond solo stuff but here there's more than that and that's because Aidan has so much personality that what is an inspiration is remaining just that and it's enriched by his taste. You know, Aidan isn't a newcomer, on his back he has projects like Empire State Human, The Garland Cult, Ferrochrome, Figaro, etc and luckily he has so much to offer still. Synth lines that remember me some Heaven 17, sax solos, strings, a bit of 80s disco attitude make of this single a must have!

Yani Ani: Yalla Bo

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Dec 14 2018
Artist: Yani Ani
Title: Yalla Bo
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Unterman
Yani Ani’s debut EP on Unterman is a fairly casual and confident affair, taking fairly relaxed beats and organic, natural-sounding guitars and synths into fairly simple, mid-afternoon-slow-dance friendly instrumental grooves.

The title track is a fairly simple affair, relying on a slightly Peter Hook-style guitar riff over a steady house beat for an enjoyable, semi-lo-fi pattern that works, without wowing. The D.Y.O.R. remix of that track is the highlight for me, precisely doubling the length of it and adding a bunch of dynamism and rhythmic energy that makes it shine. The gentle one-chord synth patterning of “Ohevet” is nicely mesmeric, while as the name suggests “Hectic Living Rhythm” is the most urgent-sounding of the set, with a slightly faster BPM and some active bongos adding a bit of breadth.

It’s a steady debut, neither a record-breaker nor a ground-shaker but a winner for people who like their mellow house with just a little bit of guitar in it.

Broken Ego: Avenue To Wonderland

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 13 2018
Artist: Broken Ego (@)
Title: Avenue To Wonderland
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Broken Ego is a "glitter-pop" band from Vienna, Austria, led by the charismatic Chris Ego, and 'Avenue To Wonderland' is their debut full album after their 2011 EP, 'Love & Decay in 16 Bit.' While "Glitter Pop" might have American audiences thinking Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or something of that ilk, that's not the case here. Their focus is on the slick electro-pop of the early 1990s, with an emphasis on SLICK. This is miles beyond 'Love & Decay in 16 Bit' in production, execution and songwriting. From what I understand, they came from Goth-Industrial roots but shed that for a [more commercial] electro-pop sound combining synths and complimentary guitars into a dynamically appealing package. Right from the get-go on "Electric Girl" you'll know where this band is coming from, as it grabs your attention and infects your psyche with its well-produced ear candy. Ego's vocals aren't bold or forceful, but they fit the music hand-in-glove and are pleasing enough to keep your ears glued to it. Hooks are bountiful throughout, and lyrics carefully contrived for maximum pop effect. In fact, every bit of the music on 'Avenue To Wonderland' has been crafted with hit potential in mind. There's even a song titled "Everything is Perfect" (which is more about things going right in your life for a change) which may be the mantra of 'Avenue To Wonderland' because everything does sound perfect on it; maybe just a little too perfect. Usually when a band puts out an album of a dozen tracks there's at least one that blows the others away, and at least one that's kind of a dud. Not so much here really. Some of these tunes are a little catchier than others but nothing at all sub-par. Although he had help (Max Cor- bass; "Captain" Mani Strasser- guitar; Jo Marchari- drums; and Depeche Mode's drummer Christian Eigner on one track), Chris Ego is responsible for the bulk of the material on the album, and I guess the production as well, which is sparkly stellar, giving him the right to call this glitter-pop. Rather than compare this retro-wave outfit with bands of the past (the poppier aspects of the Buggles and Tears For Fears come to mind), the closest modern act I can come up with is the Swedish band Melody Club. I think Broken Ego are a little edgier, but if you're familiar with Melody Club you will know exactly what I'm talking about. For all of Broken Ego's excellence and top-of-the-synthpop potential though, there's something a little ephemeral about 'Avenue To Wonderland' in that it's great while it's playing, but when it's done, you're likely to forget most of it. Still, most will never even realize that because of the generally transient nature of modern pop music these days. Likely to become very big in short order.

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