Music Reviews

Soviet: We Are Eyes, We Are Builders

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Sep 28 2017
Artist: Soviet
Title: We Are Eyes, We Are Builders
Format: LP
Label: Medical Records
This is an expanded re-issue of a synthpop album originally issued on CD in 2001 from an undisclosed number of Americans going by the name of Soviet. While it may seem odd to call an album that’s so heavily rooted in that 1980’s synth sound as dated, it still manages to feel like a product of its 2001 time. There was a boom of acts doing this kind of synthpop in the noughties, with some of the best examples found on labels like Ninthwave, and this feels like an unearthed part of that.

Perky but slightly thin Depeche-Mode-era-Vince-Clarke-style keyboard work and crisp drum machine patterns are the scaffolding for some fairly strong conventional pop songwriting, performed by a male vocalist with a voice that I’d harshly describe as a bit flimsy, gives us an album that’s frankly a bit synthpop-middle-of-the-road. Elements like the guitar on “Run In” have shades of Alphaville, while “Candy Girl” is willing to aim for the cheesier side of pop.

There is a good ear for melody in some parts for sure. “Marbleyzed” is a very strong pop song, let down by weak production touches (particularly on the vocal again), but if Soft Cell had released this song in the 80’s it would’ve been a hit. “Soviet Bot” is another highlight. “Breakdown” has a nice double-speed-chorus effect going on, and is one of several tracks that chugs along at a surprisingly high BPM (around 170 I think) which edge it towards a form of synthpop-happy-hardcore.

Ultimately this release falls a little between two stools- not properly 80’s retro, but not up to the standard of modern synthpop either- but if the song itself is crucial to you and the production quality not so important, you’ll find some tracks to enjoy on here.

The Process Void: Dreams of Departure

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Sep 17 2017
Artist: The Process Void (@)
Title: Dreams of Departure
Format: CD EP
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
The Process Void is Sydney, Australia based musician Alex J. Wise who has been producing music and experimenting with sound since 1995. He calls The Process Void electro post punk, melodic dark and cryptic, but I find it to be more cold wave synthpop. Interestingly, this EP was co-produced by Claus "Leæther Strip" Larsen, and mixed and mastered by him as well. Hmmm...didn't see that coming. Wise claims his previous two album ('Arcane Matter' and 'Staat Des Zerfells') had previously been reviewed here at Chain D.L.K., but try as I might, I couldn't find those reviews. No matter, for the present we have 'Dreams of Departure'. When I first put this CD on I really didn't care much for it; sounded like dreary retro cold wave to me. It somewhat reminded me of Human League's first two albums, albeit with less panache. There is some vocal similarity to Mr. Oakey but sort of filtered through a John Lydon screen. Strange how it grew on me with more listenings. While none of the five tracks on this EP are great, they conjure a certain nostalgia to the late 70s/early 80s early synth bands I still remember well. (Remember the 'Some Bizarre' compilation album? This would definitely have fit on it.) The music is mostly simple synths and drums (drum machine likely in most places) in the same vein but the last track (title track, "Dreams of Departure") is the most different. Subbing guitar and bass for synths, as well as using real drums, this track has a more PIL/Killing Joke vibe. While there's nothing groundbreaking here, 'Dreams of Departure' will provide a sentimental sojourn for those that miss Factory Records bands and early cold wave synth music.

Kedr Livanskiy: Ariadna

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Sep 06 2017
Artist: Kedr Livanskiy
Title: Ariadna
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: 2M Records
Kedr Livanskiy (real name Yana Kedrina; kedr livanskiy is the Russian name for a kind of tree), hailing from the outskirts of Moscow, funnels a variety of influences into this 10-track synthpop album. It’s got one foot firmly in the past, with production touches such as the slightly muddy reverb on the vocals feeling like a throwback to 80’s new wave, but with some expansive synthetic soundscape work that also feels quite up-to-date, and a selection of super-soft house beats that are sort of timeless (within the last 30 years).

It’s openly an album of two parts, with the first part described as a kind of suburban melancholy. Long synth pads underpin shoegazey vocals, most of which are in (I assume) Russian so I’m afraid I don’t know what they’re about but I’m guessing they’re not a-laugh-a-minute. Highlights include the very lush “Sunrise Stop”, and the spaced-out beatless “Mermaid”. The rather anachronistic “ACDC”, featuring Martin Newell’s slightly featureless reading of William Blake’s “The Tyger” and wandering into 90’s Amen breaks out of the blue, ends up working well after a rather flat start.

The second half is allegedly more urban and less insular, though it’s a subtle change. The house beats are thicker and more prominent. “Za Oknom Vesna” is a bit of faintly lo-fi deep rolling techno with a pop vocal draped on top; only the snare drum sounds dated. With a bolder and more confident vocal hook, “Love & Cigarettes” could have been a standout. The core of the album is wrapped up by the unimaginatively-titled instrumental “Sad One”, sorrowful keys echoing away over windy environmental textures.

The two bonus tracks are the digital & LP-only “Fire & Water”, another darker techno number with a more forceful, politely chanted vocal and pretty rolling hi-hats, and the slightly sluggish walking-electro of the vinyl-only track “Sunset” which has slight echoes of 90’s chillout lurking in its ambience.

Overall it’s a rich and deeply sincere synthpop album with a sorrowful core and some interesting production touches that rework some slightly backwards-facing sounds into something that sounds freshly constructed. If you like your pop music dark and brooding, this one is certainly worth tracking down.

Red This Ever: Attack!

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Sep 04 2017
Artist: Red This Ever (@)
Title: Attack!
Format: CD
Label: Nevitable Records (@)
Rated: *****
This Baltimore-based electropop band call themselves "synthrockers with shy angst and catchy hooks" but I think that kind of sells them short. Still, it's a catchphrase that comes in handy when more elaborate descriptions just make one's eyes glaze over when asked about what the band sounds like. Since their inception in 1997 they've released five previous albums making 'Attack!' their sixth. The band (on this disc anyway) is Roy Retrofit (vocals, synths, programming, stuff); Ada Retrofit (bass); Michael Waring (drums); with additional guitars by Gabe Perry. I'm kind of surprised that RTE hasn't gotten any press previously from Chain D.L.K. but we don't know, or know of, everything (yet). I was unfamiliar with the band's previous albums so I thought I'd take a few moments to check out some of their older tracks. What I heard was okay, but nothing quiet as compelling as 'Attack!'. This is a band that's heavily influenced by Brit synthpop bands, so much so that they sound like one now. Not a bad thing at all though, because back in the heyday, the best synthpop bands were British. (Some might disagree, but I can only say you're wrong, wrong, wrong.) If you took Gary Numan, New Order, The Cars (one Beantown band can't hurt), Depeche Mode, OMD, the Pet Shop Boys and the Human League, tossed them in a blender set to puree, you'd have Red This Ever. While some of their previous efforts sounded a bit derivative, the band has really come into its own on 'Attack!'.

The first impression you're going to get with this album is the band's sardonic sense of humor on the album cover - a great white shark chomping on a human victim with legs flailing outside. After a brief dark and moody instrumental intro ("Demagogues of Fear") RTE launches into the title track. Roy's vocals sound more confident and stylized, the music is bouncy and bold, and the hook is killer. Great arrangement too. The good stuff keeps on coming- the tongue-in-cheeky lyrics of "Negative Nine" are palpable, as is the resistance-themed "Man Up Now." The hooks keep coming fast and furious and the lyrics are clever as ever. The synthwork is pretty damn good as well, and the rhythm section is solid and foreceful. One song that ironically comes right in the middle of the album- "Thank You For Enjoying the Show" has such a Cars bent to it you could almost imagine Rick Ocasek covering it ("Thank you for enjoying the show-uh-o-uh-o"). This is big, bodacious, balls of brass synthpop that isn't afraid to put it all on the line, get in your face and tell you how they think it is. And dance-worthy to boot. Roy glibly turns more phrases than a hustling hooker turns tricks on a Saturday night. You've got a love a line like - "...true story, and it can get really gorey, I set my pants on fire, it doesn't mean I'm a liar, it just means that I'm not boring..." ("True Story"). There are so many gems like that sewn throughout 'Attack!' it will make your head spin. It will also keep you feet moving. There isn't one bad song on this album, not even a mediocre one. Nothing that makes me say "meh" or something of the sort. Sure, some are more captivating than others, but in total Red This Ever has dished up one heaping helping of electropop excellence that deserves to be heard and enjoyed. If you love synthpop, you'd be a fool not to buy this.

Hyperbubble: Pretty Plastic

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 22 2017
Artist: Hyperbubble (@)
Title: Pretty Plastic
Format: CD
Label: Pure Pop For Now People (@)
Rated: *****
If there's one thing San Antonio, Texas synthpop duo Jeff & Jess DeCuir certainly are, it's prolific. In the time they've grabbed my attention I've reviewed no less than five of their albums previously. But these folks go back way further than my acquaintance with them- all the way back to 1997 in fact. That's why 'Pretty Plastic' is such a cool and vital album in the Hyperbubble oeuvre- it's a compilation of singles, compilation cuts, soundtracks and vinyl-only releases over the years on labels from England, Scotland, America, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. Very little of it have I ever heard before, so for me it's like a band new album! This is the "good stuff" too - quirky dance-oriented synthpop, mostly with vocals, and not a lot of it experimental or off-genre. There are wonderful gems here such as "Girl Boy Pop Toy," two versions of "Synesthesia," "Disgow Glasgow" (did that swipe that from Telex's "Moscow Diskow" ?), "Candy Apple Daydream," "Better Set Your Phasers to Stun," "Rollerboogie Babydoll," "Welcome to Infinity," "Kinky," "Pop Star," and more. One of my favorite Hyperbubble ditties on this album is "Theme from Modsnap" (2007) which was used for a San Antonio-based , a public-access television cable TV show on fashion. Sounds very Euro-'80s. Overall, 'Pretty Plastic' is a wonderful comp, and while it can't encompass everything Hyperbubble's ever done, it does give you enough odds & sods to make it absolutely worthwhile. Recommended!

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