Music Reviews

The Blow: Brand New Abyss

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 20 2018
Artist: The Blow
Title: Brand New Abyss
Format: LP
Label: Womanproducer
Melissa Dyne and Khaela Maricich are The Blow, here serving up a compact 8-track album of lo-fi lightweight synth-punk. Vocally it’s sometimes sung, part-rapped, part-spoken, with the lyrical message at the forefront.

Sonically it’s a bold and distinctive sound, working modular synthesis and old samplers into something that traces the synthpop ‘sounds influenced by Kraftwerk’ standard all the way back to its root, with a stopover at Cabaret Voltaire and The Normal. Rough-edged analogue electronics that could be called weak-sounding- but paired up with poppier rhythms that, in a hard to justify way, make me think of Goldfrapp.

“The Woman You Want Her To Be” is a good example of the bitter, disturbingly passive-ironic lyrical threads that run through some of the lyrics, but you also get more familiar American-introspective-female-singer-songwriter song forms in tracks like “Think About Me”, the sparse and dreamy “Greatest Love Of All” and slightly deceptive easy-listening opener “Peaceful Easy Feeling”.

It’s one of those albums where simplicity is strength, a sincere collection of heartfelt pop numbers set onto interesting, retro-analogue synth arrangements that aren’t going to set the charts alight but which deserve a good chunk of respect.

Azalia Snail: Neon Resistance

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 16 2018
Artist: Azalia Snail
Title: Neon Resistance
Format: CD + Download
Label: Silber Records
Previously branding herself as lo-fi pop, established avantgardeist Azalia Snail steps up the production values on “Neon Resistance”, a 12-track collection of perky, energetic guitar-pop songs that bears some comparison to acts like Sally Shapiro, Saint Etienne and Dubstar.

Opening track “Celeste” is seriously catchy, and followed up by the strangely feel-good, quite 90’s-ish groove of “Field Rep”. Each track has its own distinctive instrumental ideas, from the dubby piano stabs of “Made Out Of Honey” to the unexpected appropriation of samba rhythms and trumpet sounds into a semi-ballad for “Save This Place”, but each is built around a strong bit of post-punk-pop songwriting and an obvious admiration for the 3-to-4-minute-long pop song. Pop songs often live or die by their choruses but there’s no such problem here, with many hooks that would have passed the old grey whistle test.

The lo-fi aesthetic isn’t completely left behind, as evidenced by some crunchy vocal touches and light-sounding, kick-thin drum recording, but instead it’s now one tool in a broader sonic toolkit that also allows for polished and bright-sounding, reverb-washed guitar solos and backing vocals.

The vigorous energy of “Ode To Vega” is just crying out for some euphoric club mix to showcase the excellent pop work, while the slightly punkier performance in tracks like “Weekend Back” has shades of Amanda Palmer.

It’s still too quirky to trouble the real musical mainstream but it’s a fantastic alt-pop album that will hopefully reach a wide audience.

Armoteque: Dusting the Plants

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 11 2018
Artist: Armoteque (@)
Title: Dusting the Plants
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
This has to be one of the oddest releases to cross my path of late- an avant-synthpop band called Armoteque from Italy that sounds anything but Italian. According to the accompanying one-sheet provided by the band they used to have a singer who went by the name of vanilla punk, but he departed a while ago, and now they have a new vocalist by the name of y:dk. He sounds quite American (sings in English) in an almost swampy sort of way on most of the tracks. The music is predominantly synthetic/electronic, provided by fredbo ( keys, sequencers, synths, fxs, programming) and jean-loux boka (guitars, basses, sequencers, synths, fxs, programmings) but a far cry from your typical euro-synthpop. While not directly emulating them, the band has a NIN sensibility that carries a definite edge. It's a dark, melancholy sort of synthpop that has no equivalent that I can think of, so comparisons with other acts are out the window. Unlike many synthpop outfits these days, Armoreque doesn't seem to be interested in making hit tunes, and that may be due in good part to y:dk's lethargic, baritone, drawly vocals. Yet there is a visceral, nihilistic quality about the songs that's almost painful. A lot of the synthwork is gritty and abrasive, pushing this project even further away from the mainstream. For some strange reason though, 'Dusting the Plants' really resonated with me, even though it isn't what I'd call a great album. It's just so different from anything else out there. The last track on the album, "So2speak," is the most atypical, yet perhaps the one track y:dk's vocal is perfectly aligned with because it's a slow ballad, and the main instrument on it is acoustic guitar. Yet, if the whole album was like that song, I'd probably wouldn't care for it. I have no idea if anyone else is going to find 'Dusting the Plants' an enjoyable album, but frankly, I don't give a damn.
Mar 10 2018
Artist: Robin Schaller | Roman Leykam
Title: Interferences
Format: CD
Label: Frank Mark Arts (@)
Rated: *****
Most of the releases from Frank Mark Arts that came into my headphones or amplifiers are (synth or electric) guitar-driven, and focus on long-lasting abstract progressions or meditations with a strong influence of retro synth electronica. This collaboration by Roman Leykam - a "dino" of this independent label - and Robin Schaller - a newcomer in Frank Mark Arts, handling synths and programming beat patterns - succeeds in adding something different to the catalog of this imprint. I wouldn't say this collaboration distinctly put that retro touch aside, as you can easily catch since the listening of the first part of "The Shades of the Own past", the first of the 13 tracks of Interferences, but they forged a more rhythmical album. The 4/4 beat of the opening track I mentioned, for instance, gets dragged by a pumping kindof heartbeat and by other rhythmical grafts as well as by abstract git digressions, which are closer to Asian sonorities, instead of Western ones (a sonic transplant consistent with the contemporay geopòolitical framework?). It seems that most of the material of Interferences "was recorded without pre-rehearsals as the result of improvisations acted on impulse", as highlighted by the words attached to the release, but most of the tracks seem to get built on a static loop, which they inflated through aptly improvised git lines or additional sonic items. There are many tracks (such as "Wrap of Strangeness" or "Unsolvable Riddle"), that doesn't really differ from previous (solo or collaborative) outputs by Leykam, but the beat programming by Schaller permeates most of the work with many interesting moments ("Sound of Everyday Life" or "Submerged City"), even if the whole sonorities keep on resembling tons of outputs coming after many musicians get addicted by the intensive usage of synths like Ensoniq SQ-80 or Roland JD-800...

SDH (Semiotics Department of Heteronyms): Tell Them

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 09 2018
Artist: SDH (Semiotics Department of Heteronyms)
Title: Tell Them
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Avant! Records
“Tell Them” is a strong, hard-edged set of three synthwave pop tracks hailing from Barcelona. Slightly industrial-tinged synth basses and pads and crisp, simple drum machine sounds roll with a decidedly dark streak while Andrea P. Latorre’s reverb-laden, quite Chrissie Hynde-esque vocal rides on top at what feels like half-speed compared to the quite high-energy instrumentation.

There’s good songwriting here, the title track and the slightly dreamy “Abandon” being the highlights, making extensive use of the device of repeating lyrics into mantras rather than writing too many words. “Blind Guide” is the obligatory ballad, which is a decent bit of synthpop but doesn’t feel particularly accomplished, with a more demo-like feel than the first two tracks.

A solid statement from Semiotics Department Of Heteronyms that’s more accessible and poppy than their artist name and artwork may suggest, and if an SDH album appears I will definitely check it out.

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