Music Reviews

Soft Riot: When Push Comes To Shove

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 03 2019
Artist: Soft Riot (@)
Title: When Push Comes To Shove
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: Possession Records (@)
Rated: *****

Soft Riot is Jack Duckworth (JJD); a former Vancouverite who has clocked over fifteen years of musical output in various bands and projects. Moving from Vancouver to London, UK, in the late 2000s, Soft Riot came into full being, having released a couple of acclaimed albums and EPs and staging numerous tours around Europe. Soft Riot now has set up camp in Sheffield, UK; a city with a history of innovative synthesizer music.

While Soft Riot's previous album - 'The Outsider In The Mirrors' was a marked step up from earlier material (which often sounded amateurish and tenuously experimental), 'When Push Comes To Shove' is the first Soft Riot album that doesn't sound like it strictly came from Demoville. Now there are a few things you have to understand about Soft Riot if you haven't heard it before. This is much more "Cold Wave" than synthpop. Coldwave is characterized by its detached lyrical tone and somewhat minimal (and usually analogue) synthesizers, as well as drum machines and/or programmed electronic percussion. Think of (mid-to-late period) Kraftwerk, John Foxx ('Metamatic' period), KaS Product, Marquis de Sade, Lebanon Hanover, early (pre-'Dare') Human League, Suicide, and outfits along those lines. Of course, vocal quality of the aforementioned is quite variable, and perhaps less important (and consequently less "pop" or popular) than it is in synthpop. Depeche Mode, OMD, Camouflage, Erasure, etc. were never really Coldwave, always synthpop. This distinction is important, because as a synthpop artist, Soft Riot would miss the mark more often than not. In Cold Wave, Soft Riot is at the top of its game. While there's an unbridled enthusiasm on 'The Outsider In The Mirrors' it lacks that certain something that makes an album compelling.

'When Push Comes To Shove' starts off strong with "Taking Off The Edge" grabbing the listener's attention with a 'less is more' technique and a memorable synth riff. The galloping rhythm of "It's No Laughing Matter" reminds me of Telex (remember them?) and that's pretty cool. JJD's somewhat monotone voice is like John Foxx filtered through the spirit of Ian Curtis, and then put through Ralf Hütter's voice box; distant and remote, the way Cold Wave ought to sound. I couldn't help but notice that something sounded out of tune in "The Lost Weekend," and in places there's just too much going on. I don't know if it's too much compression, but it sometimes sounds a bit mushy and packed too tightly. Otherwise it's a decent tune. "Fate's Got A Bone To Pick With You" takes a more minimal approach which works well. Good no frills dance beat too. "By The Skin Of Your Teeth" reminds me of Bill Nelson's more experimental electropop, post Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise. The vocal could have been a bit more up-front in places on "Don't Get Yourself Bent Out of Shape" as the synths nearly drowns the voice out at times. The most promising potential (hit) single off this album would be "Heads Turn Around" as it's very simple, has a dynamite hook and a relentless beat. Shave a minute or so off it and ship it to college radio stations. I guarantee it would get plenty of airplay. Final track, "Your Work Is Never Done" tries too hard to breech the synthpop genre and gets caught up in its own ambition leaving the album on a weak note.

There is definitely some very good material on 'When Push Comes To Shove,' but I think Mr. Duckworth might benefit from a savvy producer for Soft Riot’s next effort. Definitely a must for Cold Wave fans, I'd recommend the vinyl format even though it is a bit pricey. Then again, what vinyl isn't these days.

Roman Jungblut: Back To Where It Never Started

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 29 2019
Artist: Roman Jungblut
Title: Back To Where It Never Started
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: self-released
Established musician and sound artist Roman Jungblut mainly works in bands or on soundtrack and sound design work, as well as teaching, but his ‘proper’ musical releases have been very scarce, especially in the last decade. This is his first solo release to appear in his own name, without an alias, and it’s a distinctive set of sketches that draws from a variety of different sounds and genres, fusing some more classical composition elements with quite an angry and raw electronic melody work that generally sits front and centre and grabs all the attention.

“Detox - Retox” opens almost like a piece of EDM, atmospheric tension getting cut through by a gutpunching, bass-rich power note full of drama- but as it proceeds, this lead note starts meandering, almost drunkenly, like a rant that has made its point nowhere to go. “78-7-8” transplants a not dissimilar distorted and wailing melody onto a much more conventional piano arpeggio base, for the most accessible piece of the set. “Einsicht” also adopts a piano but far more sparingly, letting the classic contrast between gentle bell notes and screaming abstract electro-distortion (this time with hints of vocal noises) play out in confusing fashion.

It’s a short 23-minute EP, almost half of which is accounted for by final track “Two For Tooth”, which is much gentler, with warm synth arpeggios and wistful pads playing out a much less harsh affair. Some crisper sounds appear as it proceeds, but it’s always much more settled than what preceded it.

It’s synth work with character, particularly where it’s interjected with a fury and edginess that’s coupled with synthwave-ish sounds that are more often used to sound glib or confident. It’s clearly from an experienced and cutting-edge sound designer, and although it does feel a little more like a production showreel at times, it does stand out in its field.

Circuit3: The Price of Nothing & The Value of Everything

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 18 2019
Artist: Circuit3 (@)
Title: The Price of Nothing & The Value of Everything
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
It's been awhile since we've heard from Circuit3, but it's good to know that Irish electronic musician Peter Fitzpatrick is still alive and well and turning out good stuff. 'The Price of Nothing & The Value of Everything' is his 3rd album under the Circuit3 moniker, and essentially, a very good one. Fitzpatrick's electronic music pedigree goes back to the '80s, and parts of this album sounds steeped in those times. In the 10 tracks that comprise this album I can hear influences of Gary Numan, Ultravox, John Foxx, Human League, Visage, and of course, Depeche Mode. Fitzpatrick's voice is well-suited to the material, appealing enough, perhaps even more than some of the Euro vocalists I've heard of late. As for the songs, there's just the right amount of melancholy without the compositions sounding dreary. While there aren't any "barn-burners" on 'TPON&TVOE,' there's lots of great melodic content and plenty of hooks. It's kind of a moody album that might be best listened to at night. Of course, the first track, "Safe To Sleep" is the likely hit single, but not the one that's going to move 'em on the dancefloor. We're still waiting for that one. A worthy album maybe best purchased in the numbered, limited edition coloured vinyl version because that's just too cool.

Projekt Ich: By Train Through Counties

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 18 2019
Artist: Projekt Ich (@)
Title: By Train Through Counties
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Projekt Ich is a synthpop endeavor spearheaded by Ulf Muller from Rosenheim/Barvaria. Since 2011 he's released numerous singles and EPs, but this is Projekt Ich's first full album. In order to execute his concept ('By Train Through Counties') Muller asked various vocalists across Europe from other groups to sing his compositions. The travelling party includes: Wolfgang Kemmerling / PLEXIPHONES (DE), Marcus Mokuso / Rename – Mindmodvl (DE), Mick L. Angelo / 5TimesZero (DE), Erik Stein / Cult With No Name (GB), Catrine Christensen / SoftWave (DK), Manfred Thomaser & Alex Braun / !distain (DE), Michael Draw / Otto Dix (RU), Caroline McLavy (GB), Oleg Degtiarev / Lilith My Mother (CZ), Markus Kühnel / Elandor (DE), René & Susan Mußbach / Analogue-X (DE), Asia Wolf / End Of New (IR). Lyrically, the songs deal with social problems and personal stories between love, dreams, longing as well as grief, fury and despair. Most of the songs were pre-released as singles in order to appreciate and acknowledge the singers involved with their very own release including remix versions by international artists. Therefore, this album presents a summary of Projekt Ich’s conceptual work of the last two years.

So there is a lot of talent on this album, and also variety in the vocal department. My problem is with Projekt Ich's compositions more than their execution. Muller is a competent, though not particularly innovative synthesist. The songs lean toward the more twee side of synthpop or else become melodramatic, but lack the edginess to have much of an impact. Too bright, too light, too much fluff and not enough substance. One exception, a darker song titled "The Sleepy Time" sung by Caroline McLavy repeats the phrase "We live in sleepy times" over and over again. What does that even mean? Projekt Ich seems to take itself too seriously for my taste, and no matter how hard the vocalists try with this material, it lacks punch and the poignancy it is often trying to portray. If René & Susan Mußbach put a track like "Forgotten Dreams" on an Analogue-X album, it would be an easily forgotten track. Maybe one needs a Euro perspective to enjoy this sort of synthpop, but to use a distinctly American idiom, 'By Train Through Counties' doesn't really cut the mustard for us here.

Psy'Aviah: Soul Searching

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 18 2019
Artist: Psy'Aviah (@)
Title: Soul Searching
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Alfa-Matrix (@)
Rated: *****
First, I should mention that the subtitle of this album is 'Musings and Notes Taken from a Soul Searcher's Mind'. 'Soul Searching' is Psy'Aviah's ninth album, masterminded by Belgian music producer Yves Schlepe. Once again a cool cadre of vocalists is employed to breathe life into the songs, and the line-up this time includes Dirk De Wachter, Roeland van der Velde, Alicia May, Kyoko Baertsoen, Saydi Driggers, Marieke Lightband, Addie Nicole, Lis van den Akker, Mari Kattman, Mark Bebb and Ellia Bisker. I wonder how Yves finds these people; does he scour the internet for talent, or do they send him demos? I do know that a good number of them are vocalists that have participated in past Psy'Aviah albums. On 'Soul Searching' every single one of them is just right for the song they sing. The format is somewhat along the lines of modern Delerium/Conjure One- sophisticated, orchestrated synth-pop, with a tinge of New Age, positive vibrations, and a more adult, radio-friendly commerciality in mind. Schlepe's arrangements and orchestrations are gorgeous, lyrics are intelligent yet uncomplicated, and there's plenty of hooks. Not a bad, or even mediocre track on this album.

I should mention that there are actually two albums in this deluxe set - the first titled 'Soul Searching' which contains 12 tracks and clocks in at 50 minutes, and that 50 minutes goes pretty fast. There is a aura of spirituality running through the songs that is innate to Psy'Aviah's conceptual theme. While simple song titles such as "Train of Thought," "Voodoo Love," "Hold On," "Dream Fever," and "Lucid Bliss" may not convey this fully, the lyrics and music certainly capture the feeling. There is plenty of variety in mood and temperament as well, although nothing so far afield that could be called experimental.

Moving on, the second part is titled 'Kindred Spirits' and is a remix album of 8 of the songs off of 'Soul Searching,' but 16 tracks total as some of the songs are given multiple remixes. Normally I'm not a big fan of remixes but in this case I think it works pretty well as the remixes are more beat-oriented and conducive to club play. This really give the songs a whole different vibe making it a worthy addition to the main album. Even in the more rhythmic mode the conceptual loftiness is not lost. Remixers include SD-KRTR, Metroland, Rob Dust, 11grams, Mind.Divided, SNVFF, J.Wolf, The Gothsicles, Studio-X, Cosmic Armchair, Noire Antidote, Maerten Pels, Tom Bro, People Theatre, KGproject, and French Skies. There were some remixes I preferred more than others, but really, it's all good, and that's a rarity to be sure. Both album have a lot of replayability, and come highly recommended. I believe 'Soul Searching is Psy'Aviah's best effort yet.

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