Music Reviews



Lowenhertz: Echtzeit

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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May 28 2017
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Artist: Lowenhertz (@)
Title: Echtzeit
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
'Echtzeit' is the sophomore release from this German synthpop duo consisting of Alexander Pfahler (vocals) and Andreas Scherer (music), the followup to their 'Irgendwo In Deutschland' debut in 2014. Along the lines of (mid-period) Depech Mode, De/Vision and Wolfsheim, Pfahler divides the dozen songs evenly between German and English. It's pretty much all melancholic romantic in theme, and the synth arrangements while meticulously competent take no chances. Most of it is dance club friendly but not necessarily dance-floor compelling. The first two tracks (sung in German) sound nearly identical with mildly attention-getting hooks. Alex breaks out the English on track 4- "It's Too Late" sounding an awful lot like Dave Gahan on this track. To me it seems like when he's singing in English there's more vocal effort, and in German, he just breezes through the melodies. Maybe it's just my language perception, maybe not. Most of the songs are pretty good and melodic in a gentle sort of way, but there's nothing I would call outstanding. The most adventurous of the lot is "Winter Falls" with a little bit bolder synth play, but it's nothing you haven't heard before elsewhere. While most of the aforementioned synthpop bands have moved on from sounding strictly synthpop, Lowenhertz remain rooted in it. From what I understand the band has had a few singles climb the top 10 of the German Alternative Charts. Lowenhertz has a long way to go before they crack that nut in the U.S. alt charts though as the competition is fierce, promotional $$$ enormous, and tastes of U. S. audiences, well...that's something else again. A pleasant morsel for fans of smooth and dulcet synthpop, but not much more than that.

Dicepeople: Synthetic

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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May 14 2017
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Artist: Dicepeople (@)
Title: Synthetic
Format: CDS (CD Single)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Been awhile since I've heard from Dicepeople, but here they are again with a new track, "Synthetic," on a maxi-single with four different versions. The song is an excellent piece of cyber-pop with lead vocal by Atashi Tada who must be a full member of the band by now. The song does hearken back a bit to "Dissolution" from the 'End of the Line' album in the chorus rhyme scheme with the title ("Synthetic, Magnetic, Genetic, Prosthetic...") but it works here, and that's the point. So the basic track is great, it's the remixes where we run into trouble. The Venteer Remix of the song subs a lot of synthy distortion, a drum machine snare and punchy kick for the beat, stripping out much of the melodic from the original. Didn't do much for me. The Little Death Machine Remix is a slowed-down version of the song with basic cheap drum machine and bass, drunken/broken vocals pushed to the back, and tapping effects that hardly seems to have anything in common with the original. Novel, yes. Interesting? Not. The Pneumatic Mix brings in a different synth riff and sounds while keeping a similar bass. The vocals here are closest to the original (sans harmonies) but I'm still not won over. In defense of Dicepeople, I usually don't like remixes much, and I thought that by now remix maxi-singles might be passé. The video version of the song is pretty cool though (on YouTube, not on this disc); you should check it out if you get a chance. Perhaps the direction Dicepeople is taking now is more in the realm of synthpop than psychedelic dark electro, but their next album should give us a better idea of where Matt Brock and crew are headed.

5TimesZero: 0K

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Apr 30 2017
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Artist: 5TimesZero (@)
Title: 0K
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
5TimesZero is a five-man synthpop band from Essen, Germany, and 0K (that's "zero Kay", not OK as in "okay") is their debut album. The one good thing about having five guys in the band is that in live performance there should be less reliance on computer assistance. It also makes for a fuller sound. The five guys are:
Attila Schuster, Carsten Rehmann, Hendrik Stefenhag, Jürgen Merkel, and Michael Hanses. They like to categorize the band as dark electro but it doesn't sound that dark to me. Fortunately these guys sing in English (with one exception in their native German, but it's a really good song) and '0K' is somewhat mature, but not necessarily totally serious synthpop. The production is really stellar here which is a great thing for a debut album. The majority of the tracks are club-friendly with some of them being real dancefloor burners. Vocals are pretty good and effective of carrying the melodic content. I'm hearing shades of Gary Numan, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Heaven 17, New Order, Pet Shop Boys and to a lesser degree, Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk. While not every track is going to stick in your head like a gummy bear, there is enough variety and enough hooky melodies and vocals to make you come back for more. Best tracks are "Unimportant" (with a Freezepop sort of groove), "Don't Push Me," "Instrument," "Pyromaniniac," "Frozen," and "Augen der Grosstadt." Worst track is the goofy "Naked," an obvious joke with the lyrics "We are going to the strip club dressed in flip flops..(totally naked)...we are going to the strip club dressing the girls up." Overall though 5TimesZero is refreshing change from a lot of the newer synthpop bands on the scene these days that are just trying too hard.

Swansea: Flaws

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Apr 26 2017
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Artist: Swansea
Title: Flaws
Format: LP + Download
Label: Self Group
Oregon trio Swansea’s album “Flaws” is a neat and tidy slab of ten electro-indie-guitar-pop songs with a no-nonsense approach. Verse-chorus structures, steady tempos, light synth patterns and songwriting and singing that plough their own path that’s somewhere between American indie and more quirky European flavours. The production is neither too crisp nor too muddy, with an overall sound that’s authentic if at times a little flat.

For what it matters, there’s an aspect of this release which is a little bit dated in pop terms. It draws comparisons to LCD Soundsystem, DFA, Soulwax, The Ting Tings etc. and a broad genre that had its zenith about a decade ago.

But it’s certainly a decent pop album in parts, with some good hooks. “This Time”’s twist from melancholy to extroversion is nicely pulled off. “Samurai” has a lovely bright groove that sounds like it’s only a quick remix away from appealing to Roisin Murphy or Goldfrapp fans.

The second side of the LP is more innovative than the first, with the energetic “No Power” and the vaguely prog rock “Cincinnati”. Final track “Be Brave” and digital bonus track “Blue Sky” both stretch out of the pop mould into more dreamy, languid and melancholic arrangements- the soft percussion on the latter being particularly interesting.

“Flaws” is pleasant enough and a perfectly good soundtrack for a quiet night in, but it’s lacking anything that will really make it stand out from the crowd.

d'Animal: d'Animal l'Ogic

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 29 2017
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Artist: d'Animal
Title: d'Animal l'Ogic
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Media (@)
It’s hard to pick a category for this release, so maybe take the category description above with a pinch of salt…

Surprisingly poppy by the usual drone and post-rock standards of Silber Records, “d’Animal l’Ogic” is a 14-track album of bright, vocal psychadelic pop with one foot in the 1960’s and the other in today, albeit the lo-fi alt-pop part of today.

Dan West is a one-man band I’m told, but it’s hard to believe from this release that d’Animal isn’t a full indie-rock band- guitars, bass, keys, guitars and vocals, everything’s there in the right amounts. The production is mostly faithful to the band structure but there are moments, such as towards the end of opening track “Hear It (Creeping Down The Alley)” where there are some genuine George Martin-esque moments with reversed tracks and found sounds. There’s clearly nothing precious about the target sound, as heard in the unashamed use of filtered house loops and scratch FX on tracks like “Comments”.

It’s also really strong song-writing. Vocally there’s a hint of They Might Be Giants about it, particularly in the harmonising. Lyrically it’s mostly a little more conventional than that, often concentrating on single lines or ideas rather than full-on four-verse-long stories. For example, “She Knows Someone”’s complete lyric is “she knows someone who knows someone”, yet it’s worked in different ways so that it’s both verse, chorus and bridge covered by six words. Conversely “Gemma & I” is a complete love story. If I was itching to criticise something, I might say that the vocal production does sound a little on the homegrown demo side compared to the rest of the sounds, but I’d be clutching at straws as to be honest it sounds fine.

There are plenty of highlights. “Retrofission” sounds like liquid drum’n’bass recreated using indiepop instruments, and it really works. “No Shame”, the only track to break the 5-minute barrier, has slight hints of Ben Folds about it, while “Pleasure Freak” has a Beck-like groove and some fun 8-bit flavours. Final track “Buena Vista” is mostly a Latin-tinged ballad, but with a bonkers and abrupt prog rock outro.

It’s packed with energy, a surprisingly successful 52-minute pop album that seems to have fallen backwards out of time but doesn’t seem to care. A total and very welcome surprise.


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