Music Reviews

Marlon Hoffstadt: Laws Of Attraction (Parts One And Two)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 10 2018
Artist: Marlon Hoffstadt
Title: Laws Of Attraction (Parts One And Two)
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Midnight Themes
“Laws Of Attraction” is being released as two separate 12” 4-track EP’s, one blue labelled, one orange labelled, but I’m going to lump them together here as they work well as an 8-track package, practically an album, of fairly gentle instrumental house music with a serious business-like undercurrent.

The first EP has a slightly more leisurely feel to it. “The Overground”, with its US-style vocal ‘we are…’ loop, is rather plinky-plonky. “She Is My Hero” has a gentle, particularly Balearic afternoon feel to it, before “131 MPB” [sic] raises both the pulsing and the tempo to give a nice arpeggiated sense of purpose. “Child Of The Universe” takes things in a slightly more electro-synthwave direction with a toothy lead line that seems to border on tongue-in-cheek.

The second EP adopts a more driving tone, with “Digital Desire” and “Parallel Thoughts” both tracing fairly straightforward techno-light patterns with Underworld-esque long synth pads over light drum patterns, a mood which continues with the slightly rumblier “I Ride With The Stars”. “Into The Deeper Vibe” ends on a high, a simple series of trance-tastic minor chords that strike that simple but emotive balance between heart and head that has driven the feels in dance music for a few decades now.

If you like your house music light, vaguely synthwave-y, clean and positive, these 12”s will definitely appeal.

!distain: Farewell To The Past

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Nov 25 2018
Artist: !distain (@)
Title: Farewell To The Past
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Here's a German synthpop band that began in the early '90s, has released seven albums previously, and also a slew of singles and EPs, have had plenty of (Euro) chart-topping singles, have played many live shows including the prestigious Wave-Gotik-Treffen, and I've never heard of them before. I'd venture to say that neither have most Americans. To me, this only emphasizes just how different the American and Euro music scenes are, and it's kind of sad that good bands like !distain just don't get the attention in the United States that they deserve. !distain has gone through several members since their inception but now are the duo of Alexander Braun and Manfred Thomaser. I didn't have time to listen to all of the band's discography in order to get an idea how they've evolved, but I did listen to their 'Rainbow Skies At Night' (2015) album that preceded this one. There are similarities as well as differences, but no radical departures. The major difference between 'Rainbow Skies At Night' and 'Farewell To The Past' is depth, which the latter has more of. Not that there aren't good songs on 'RSAN,' there certainly are some little gems, but as a whole, !distain's latest shows the band has put some effort into making an album that isn't just an attempt to crank out the hits, so to speak.

I didn't think that was the case at first; the opening track "The Cosmic Revolution" (feat. Seyhan) relies on a single word hook - "Universe" in order grab your psyche melodically, and of course it works like a charm. So I am now thinking these boys are just another act along the lines of Depeche Mode, De/Vision, Wolfsheim, etc., and to an extent they are. But there's something about !distain on this album that transcends the usual suspects. It begins easily and subconsciously with the balladish "Maid of Freedom," mixing German and English lyrics. Then, in "Synthpop Boy" we hear something almost nobody sings about- the actual love of synthpop across EBM, industrial, hardcore and similar genres. This is a big difference between American and Euro music. Here, most regard synthpop as music of a bygone era. There it is a common thread between many styles of music. Granted the song itself is a little bit of a melodic throwaway, but it does get under your skin. "Der Hirtenmann,' the song that follows obviously in Deutsche, has a harder, darker, more dramatic edge that I haven't heard from this band before. I don't care if I don't understand the lyrics, it's a GREAT song and I'll just use my imagination. The instrumental that follows, "No Aces Left" is a medium paced moody piece oozing with cinematic possibilities. "Wake Me Up" is a love song that cuts deep emotionally, and is as close to perfection as any of the great ones I've ever heard. (If you can bring a tear to these cynical eyes, man, you've really touched on something.) Back to the German for "Wer im Kreise geht" (Who Goes in Circles), a nice melodic tune with dark overtones on the verses, but an uplifting chorus. "Waiting For A Song" somehow reminded me a bit of Tears For Fears in its moodiness and execution. Not common synthpop by any means. The next song, "Letter To Myself" contains the album title lyrically (a clever move) and is another emotion-grabber. "Targets" was the only song on the album that I thought was merely okay, but for many (other) bands a song like this might be as good as it gets. The most unusual track though is the last one - "The Guest House" (Featuring noted dj/producer/remixer Oren Amram), a 9:44 excursion into a mystery from 1679 that is part spoken recitation and part melodic vocals with atmospheric music throughout. Even on a third of fourth listen it is still an enigmatic piece. Not your usual fare for a synthpop band. Perhaps now you can see why 'Farewell To The Past' has some real depth to it. Not only does this album hold up with repeated play, but it actually gets better. What I thought was just going to be another one of those Euro synthpop outfits has turned out to be a whole lot more. Excellent!

Shohei Amimori: PataMusic

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 19 2018
Artist: Shohei Amimori
Title: PataMusic
Format: CD + Download
Label: Noble
Tokyo-based Shohei Amimori’s “PataMusic” is a bright and often bonkers hour of twisted, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink weird-pop. It channels all sorts of influences, from the energy of J-pop, the quirky Matthew Herbert or Art Of Noise-esque joys of found sound as instrumentation, and the glitchy and unpredictable experimental edges of- well, it’s hard to say where they’re from.

At times, it feels like we’re enjoying regularly structured synthpop, with the intro to “Now Forever” sounding initially like straight-laced lounge music that gradually gets more manic. “Fence Of Bats” has some English-language lyrics, but I still won’t pretend to have the vaguest clue what it’s about.

It’s not all crazy. Amimori’s academic compositional background is on display in the cultured small string ensemble piece “ReCircle” and the quirky, almost rom-com waltz of “ajabollamente”, which serve as a real palette-shifting mood changer after the album’s initial energetic flurry.

But once you’ve settled into expectations of traditional form and structure, along comes tracks like “Climb Downhill 2”, a weird acid squelch workout and an unfiltered revelry in squeaky sonics to shake everything back up again. “Washer” is also notable for its experimental electronics, the love of gradual pitch change that’s exhibited on several tracks playing out nicely here.

The album proceeds in this manner throughout, always throwing curveballs to keep you on your toes, clearly enjoying the capability of its own breadth and diversity- yet thankfully, as most of the tracks are above five minutes, it’s rather satisfying too, with most of the ideas explored up to the right length for their natural conclusion.

It’s odd, and arguably a little bit like showing off at times, but it’s also rather endearing and works well as an off-kilter and idiosyncratic offering from the very edge of what could be called pop.

Hidden Souls: The Incorruptible Dream

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Nov 12 2018
Artist: Hidden Souls (@)
Title: The Incorruptible Dream
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
It seems as though I've misplaced all the promo material on this band so I guess I'll have to wing it. This futurepop group is from Buenos Aires, Argentina, but they don't sound like it, or at least not what you might expect musically from the region. In fact, they sound very Euro, not unlike VNV Nation with a strong and charismatic vocal presence. The band consists of Leo Carden, Guillermo "William" Pardo Neira, and Alejandro Visona. Who plays (or sings) what I really couldn't tell you, but all songs are in English. Lyrically the songs are mostly of a personal nature - feelings, love, fear, dreams, desires, revenge, etc., but there are a couple of others that are different, and the title of one is self-explanatory - "Political Brainwash Machine," something of a rather timely nature. On the other, "The World is Falling," the band opens strong with a forceful track that kicks butt - "...I can't understand why the religion is the biggest gun of all, please believe me, the landscape begins to bleed, please believe me, no one deserves to die..." put in the context of powerful synths and a killer chorus hook, this is can't miss hitsville. The following track, "Deep Emotions" shows depth in songwriting through some unexpected chord changes with very effective vocal harmonies. This band proves they’re not just a one-trick pony! After a little slowdown they pick the pace right back up again with "Hearts & Minds". It's not as memorable as the opener but still a strong track. "Revenge" brings another strong hook to fore and now these guys remind me a bit of Assemblage 23. As I could have almost predicted, there is a bit of a slowdown-lag in the middle of the album with "Separate Ways," "Mine," and "The Guilt," which is kind of typical. The question is- can they revive themselves and put some oomph back into the music? Well, they certainly try. "Darkness Falls Down" comes really, really close but the hook is too long in coming and just isn't powerful enough. "Silence" has all the makings of a great track but once again lacks a strong hook. "Know" goes for a completely different vibe with an atmospheric rainstorm, and acoustic guitar but doesn't forsake the synths. There's a nice romanticism here without getting sappy, which leaves us finally with "Political Brainwash Machine." It's a little slim in the quantity of lyrics - "All I see it's a mass destruction of young minds and the oldest of values, morality forbidden and forgotten, blind people in a political brainwash machine," but large in concept and execution. It's also the darkest track on the album. After a complete play-thru, there is no question in my mind that Hidden Souls are not lightweights, and they deliver enough quality material on 'The Incorruptible Dream' that a lot of people are going to stand up and take notice. Some tracks have great dancefloor potential as well. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if a remix ep or album was in the works...

Michele Mercure: Beside Herself

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Nov 06 2018
Artist: Michele Mercure
Title: Beside Herself
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: RVNG Intl. / Freedom To Spend
“Beside Herself” is a 19-track, 66-minute anthology of material taken from Michele Mercure’s self-produced and distributed cassettes released between 1983 and 1990 from her base in Pennsylvania (until divorcing in 1987, some were released under the name Michelle Musser).

It’s a collection of almost wholly instrumental experimental electronic vignettes, with one foot decidedly in the world of lo-fi 80’s synth pop but the other foot pointed outwards into more esoteric and avantgarde directions.

It’s one of those works that inspires a lot of comparisons to other artists, which is not to take anything away from its originality or the uniqueness of its character. “Beginning” sounds like a mid 80’s Nik Kershaw instrumental, and not in a bad way, while “An Accident Waiting To Happen” with its sampled car noises and sharp noisy percussion has more than a shade of The Art Of Noise about it, albeit with the sound quality of a homespun demo rather than a Trevor Horn-produced master. “De Dunk” is an oddly squelchy bit bit of slow-grooved weirdness that sounds like one of the more out-there moments from the early days of library music.

Thanks to some warm bass guitar work, there’s a decided downtempo funk aspect in parts, the title track for example feeling like it could have soundtracked a night-time stakeout in a big-hair cop show. “Mother” is a nicely quirky bit of synth work with an almost lullaby-like quality to it.

Mercure’s breakthrough material is certainly worthy of some re-appraisal, though the demo-like sound quality and production techniques root it firmly in its original decade. Fans of the edgier and more experimental edges of the early days of the 80’s synth explosion will find a lot of merit in this.

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