Music Reviews

C.A.R.: Pressure Drop EP

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 13 2019
Artist: C.A.R.
Title: Pressure Drop EP
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Ransom Note Records
Chloé Raunet, as C.A.R., successfully blends elements of experimental punk-pop with electronica. I rated last year’s “Pinned” album. This is the first new material since then, and it’s from the some sonic world, but with perhaps an extra shade of maturity in there as well.

The main track has a steady, slightly U.N.K.L.E.-ish groove that mixes straight brooding rock-ish beats with ultra-epic pads and atmospherics, which the spoken word talk of loneliness matches well.

The Suzanne Kraft remix spins it really nicely, keeping the overall vibe not too dissimilar but shifting it over to a chugging electro pattern that’s steady, workmanlike, but varied enough to keep it all interesting.

Final track “Suture” is classic B-side / album track territory, a chance for something a little more experimental to see the light of day- in this case a grumbling ballad-like number laden with bleeps, effects and some quasi-ethnic melodic sounds. The “stop my heart!” mantra that comes in halfway through is really strong, but this feels like a strong standalone idea that couldn’t find a box to sit in.

It’s a welcome and fairly prompt return from C.A.R. and it bodes well for future releases, for sure.

Daybehavior: Based On A True Story

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 07 2019
Artist: Daybehavior
Title: Based On A True Story
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Swedish pop-trio Daybehavior’s history stretches back over twenty years- their first album was released in 1996- but their album releases are far from regular. This is only their fourth, and their first since 2012. Listening to it, you can easily believe that this is due to long gestation periods in which the band are aiming for synthpop perfection- because they’re very close to achieving it.

From the bright opening chords and purposeful groove of opener “Burning Slowly” and onwards, this is timeless synthpop work, the kind that was born in the 1980’s, sonically perfected in the 90’s, but which now exists outside musical time. It’s rarely concerned with modern pop techniques or standards, and revels in the joy of synth chords, drum machines, and catchy verse-chorus female vocals that, being from Sweden, are inevitably excellent. There’s something in Swedish DNA that makes them better at writing choruses than anyone else, and it’s on display here.

The single “Tears That Dry”- for which the YouTube video is available now- is a strong example of what to expect. Other highlights include the extremely motorway-friendly “Driving In My Car”, and coincidentally, and the mostly-spoken nostalgia of faintly more industrial-sounding “It All Started With A Train”. The most-hummable-hours-after-you’ve-heard-it-melody award has to go to the utterly dreamy, Xenomania-esque “Change”- the YouTube video for which is now more than four years old, showing again what a long birthing period this album has had.

If I were deliberately trying to find fault, I might suggest that across 12 tracks, there’s a slight shortage of variety. Tracks like “Solitude” and “A Perfect Day” give you standard slow ballad numbers, complete with plenty of emotive synth-strings, but it still feels quite conventional and they are the album’s weak points- as though it’s a contractual obligation that every album is obliged to have a ballad, rather than something they really wanted to do. When each track is followed by a thumping 4/4 beat and rolling bass, it’s an energising relief. There’s no real sign of the band pushing the boat out and trying something genuinely different or experimental. This is all comfort zone stuff, clearly- though for many fans I expect that’s precisely what they would want, especially so long after the last new material.

The list of famous acts who you could cite in a “recommend if you like” list is almost too extensive to make it worth attempting. There are shades of OMD, and more than a little bit of Pet Shop Boys. The wistful breathiness of the vocals in tracks like “Driving In My Car” is sometimes quite Saint Etienne-y.

This is absolutely premium Swedish synthpop. It’s a touch weak in the ballads but it’s more than made up for by some stomping singalong tunes.

Loewenhertz: Traumfaenger

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Oct 28 2019
Artist: Loewenhertz (@)
Title: Traumfaenger
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Yet another German synthpop duo, this one from Augsburg, consisting of Alexander Pfahler and Andreas Pfeifer. Apparently Alex handles the vocals and Andy does the synthwork. 'Traumfaenger' is their sophomore album after their 2017 debut album, 'Echtzeit'. (Back before 2008 they used to be called L'Image.) Apparently I reviewed 'Echtzeit' some time ago but I can't seem to recall it at all. No matter; it's what's here and now that counts. Undoubtedly it's the Euro market Loewenhertz are aiming for, with half the songs sung in their native German and the other half in English. This is pretty commercial fare for the alternative market with catchy melodies and hooks, not a lot of depth, and styled in the De/Vision, Depeche Mode sort of mode. If you're not up on your Deutsche some of the album might be a challenge lyrically, but it still goes down easy. (The title, 'Traumfaenger' translates to 'Dreamcatcher'.) Though there are a few grey clouds strewn about the atmosphere, songs aren't particularly dark. I'd say that Loewenhertz's brand of synthpop is more likely to appeal to hausfraus in their thirties (and maybe beyond) than a younger audience. American interest will assuredly be limited in spite of their general pop appeal. (Likely in the late '80's or early 90's they might have had a good shot here.) Still, 'Traumfaenger' is not a bad album at all, just not a particularly memorable one to these ears. If you get a chance you should check out their video for "Golden" from this album on YouTube; the gals in it will make it worth your while. :-) For some that just might be enough to but the album.

As a special bonus, the physical album copy does not only present the ten official album tracks but also includes the EP “Vierklangdimensionen” which has only been available in digital form so far, featuring four excellent cover versions: "Dreiklangdimensionen" (Rheingold), "Wenn der Mond die Sonne berührt" (Hubert Kah), "Leuchturm" (Nena) and "Elisabeth" (SnÄp).
Artist: Bantou Mentale
Title: Bantou Mentale
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Glitterbeat
The debut release from new ensemble Bantou Mentale, self-described as “sonic groundbreakers”, is pitched as “the fulfillment of their long-held dream to create an African band with the weight and sensory attack of knife-edged rock and hot-wired club beats”.

And in a way, that’s overselling it- this isn’t nearly as raucous or knife-edged as I initially expected. Despite having the occasional gunfire FX and angry moments, energy-wise, and in many other ways as well, it’s got more in common with older dance-fusion acts like Transglobal Underground, Asian Dub Foundation or certain-era Dreadzone- solid, enthusiastic, festival-friendly crossover dance tunes with confidence and character, some distorted vocals and guitars here and there and the odd gutpuncher sound, but nothing that’s really going to rip you a new hole to a Slamboree degree. It starts off upbeat, but to an extent chills out quite extensively as it progresses, showing off its classy French underbelly.

But that’s no bad thing, not least because an hour of angry terror wouldn’t have the depth and variety that Bantou Mentale offer up across this hour-long 12-track collection. Here there’s the space for foot-tappingly infectious grooves like “Boko Haram”, or the soulful “Boloko” with its notable mashup of electro bass with a more organic soft rock arrangement. There’s strong vocal work across tracks like “Syria” and more experimental, bordering on jazzy pieces like “Bakoko”.

Although I compared it to a bunch of 90’s-era bands a minute ago- and tracks like “Yoka Chagrin” are absolutely a throwback to that vibe- it has to be said that generally the production is tight and spot-on. “Suabala” sounds like what comes out when Liam Howlett’s feeling funky rather than angry, while “Sango” introduces distorted samples into the prog-fusion core in interesting ways.

So it’s not the furious groundbreaking sonic assault that it’s being pitched as, but no matter, this is still a shining jewel of cross-cultural musical freedom with a fantastic depth and production quality to it. Hopefully it will take off enough to make it possible to justify it being toured live, as a live environment feels like where these songs would really thrive.

Fermion: We Are Nowhere

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
 Edit (11095)
Oct 17 2019
Artist: Fermion
Title: We Are Nowhere
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Fermion is a new alias for a duo consisting of Eric Shans of Phenotract, and Augustine Backer. After sketching some tracks out at a New York City producers meet-up a few years previously, in 2019 they have finally finished up, polished off and released a six-track EP that grew from there. Whether this is a one off collaboration or the beginning of something new remains to be seen, but on the evidence of this, I hope there’s more.

This EP comes from the dark side of synthpop, with six fairly lengthy and evolving synth-electronica instrumentals that feel like they are channeling OMD’s broodier moments, particularly their earlier and more prototype-like works, and bleepy grooves that are Vince Clarke-like at times, coupled with early-New-Order-ish fragile chords. The vocal also evokes comparisons with OMD as well- and crucially, there’s a decent helping of Andy McCluskey’s songwriting ability to back it up, with some strong chorus hooks on tracks like “Ever Know” and “Echoes Reverse”.

After wistful and atmospheric opener “Nowhere” (an unusually long intro track for a 27-minute EP), the songwriting- and the kick drums and arpeggiators- start properly on “Abstract Shadows”. “Ever Know” is the ballad, of sorts, while the gritty gutpuncher sounds and heavily effected samples that fuel mostly-instrumental-odd-power-ballad “Bubble Chamber” are thoroughly modern and make it clear this is a 2019 release not solely a work of audio retro.

The driving synthbass of “Echoes Reverse” is so ubiquitous that it almost qualifies as traditional music now, but it still feels great when done well, and it works here, while the lullaby-like music box sounds of final track “Light Voyagers” firmly point towards a more ambitious and cinematic sound that leaves you wanting more.

If there’s a weak point on this EP, unfortunately it’s that the vocal could do with a tiny bit of work. There are a couple of suspicious notes in there, but the problem seems more production based- perhaps through lack of vocal confidence, there’s excess reverb and EQ that serve to make the vocal sound weaker rather than helping it. A bit more work or vocal overdubs might’ve helped I think.

Fans of serious synthpop will absolutely appreciate this. Eschewing the stereotypical American full-on-noise approach to EDM and offering up a more introspective and delicate set of tunes, this is clearly a good match-up between the two producers and hopefully it will lead to more.

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