Music Reviews



Ghost Twin: Plastic Heart

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 14 2017
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Artist: Ghost Twin
Title: Plastic Heart
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Artoffact Records
The debut album from Canadian duo Ghost Twin is a bold bit of solid synthpop that is hopefully the beginning of something very big. The combination of dark-tinged stomping synthwave and guitar with a languid and lilting female vocal that’s more reminiscent of Maggie Reilly, Maddy Pryor or Kate Bush than of the normal synthpop vocal fayre works well throughout.

Tracks like “Blue Room” and “Plastic Heart” has a relentless, slightly teutonic single-chord thump to them, but this is mixed in with gentler set-ups like “The Haunt”, which beautifully holds back an uplifting chord change until halfway through in a very deft bit of songwriting. A similar trick makes “Not Our Time” a complex melting pot of different emotions.

Over the course of 11 tracks the energy level rarely drops, and as is so common on pop albums the second half isn’t quite as strong as the first, with the formula just beginning to show signs of wearing thin by “Mystic Sabbath” and “Evermore”. The male vocals on “Into Oblivion” lack the punch of their female counterparts. Considering it’s a debut album though, this tailing off effect is surprisingly minimal. The traditional ‘ballad at the end’, “Transfigured Heart”, is a strong showcase for the vocal, with the electronics edging back to good effect.

Though it’s a debut, both band members have some experience under their belts in other bands, and it shows. It’s a strong and unusual-sounding bit of dark synthpop with more than its fair share of highlights, and a remarkably strong debut album that means Ghost Twin are ones to watch.

Daily Planet: Play Rewind Repeat

 Posted by Marc Tater   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jul 31 2017
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Artist: Daily Planet
Title: Play Rewind Repeat
Format: CD
Label: Progress Productions (@)
Distributor: Border Music
Rated: *****
2017 seems to be a perfect year for friends of Synthpop music generally just if you look on the latest releases of global players like Mode, Erasure, Alphaville, Pet Shop Boys or O.M.D. Although the Swedish duo of Daily Planet doesn't play obviously in the same league than the mentioined veterans, someone could come to the impression to get with "Play Rewind Repeat" one of the true pearls this late spring- / early summer-time has to offer. It's kind of a deja-vu and comparable to the release of their second album simply entitled "Two" in 2014 with which they broke their nearly 18 years longing time-out after their highly acclaimed debut "The Tide" released during the heydays of the long out-of-business Swedish Energy Records label.
Johan Baeckström and Jarmo Ollila surely have found lots of inspiration to return with this new album which features 12 tracks of finest and perfectly produced classic Synthpop music. Baeckströms programming skills surely follow the works of idols like Vince Clarke to his being in Depeche Mode, Yazoo, The Assembly until his successful early years with Andy Bell under the Erasure moniker. But don't think that you'll get a retro-/mid-80s oriented Pop-/Wave-album - the studio perfection of the current times don't allow any reminiscences of long gone days.
You know that phenomenon but it is an unwritten law that Scandinavians still offer the finest and catchiest tunes for this genre and so Jarmo Ollila does his best to provide the required human warmth with his nice timbre into the synthetic sound of his partner. Both are teaming up perfectly and offer usable stuff to the dancefloor-addicts with the faster tunes like "Grains of Sand", "Set Me Free" or "Vicious Circle".
Deeper impressed I am with their more mid-tempo based and richly-detailled arranged tracks like "Fire In Me" (this one must be their secret "Any Second Now"-dedication track...) "Drown" and the brillant balladesque "Weeping" to close this album sentimentaly.
If you have heard the to my opinion excellent new Erasure-album "World Be Gone" and if you miss on it a bit more nostalgia into arrangements and a bit more rhythm-/percussion-work then you should definitely check out this brillant produced album of Daily Planet. Classic Synth- / Electropop cannot be produced much better than on this one.

Circa Tapes: Love And Venom

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jul 31 2017
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Artist: Circa Tapes
Title: Love And Venom
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Medical Records
A richly textured concoction of dark synthwave, Adam Killing (of Kill Memory Clash)’s third solo album as “Circa Tapes” is a moody collection of slightly muddy-sounding, sinister-ish dark electropop that’s quite enjoyably indulgent. Sometimes Cabaret Voltaire-style vocals float over the pop of slowly evolving layers of synthetic loops, light drums and moody pads.

There’s no problem locking into some solid synth grooves here, though the songwriting and structuring does sometimes feel a bit languid. Some pieces, like “SLS”, take the synth work in a more techno direction and leave you wondering what a reworking would sound like with thicker, more club-orientated drums and structures. “Carravo” sounds like it’s desperate to break into a slab of deep house.

A handful of interludes, such as “Alucarda” mixing imitation choral sounds with filmic soundbites, have an almost tongue-in-cheek feel to them.

The modern and brighter production touches, particularly on the bass elements, are what make this sound like a 2017 release rather than something truly backwards-facing. It still has a very introspective, almost shy tone, as though “nervous dark synthpop” ought to be the beginning of a new genre.

Vogon Poetry: The Heart Of Gold

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jul 25 2017
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Artist: Vogon Poetry
Title: The Heart Of Gold
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
While Vogon Poetry owe the name of their band, this single, previous single and forthcoming album “Life The Universe And Everything” entirely to Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”, sonically their retro synthwave seems to be targeting just a few years later than “Hitchhiker’s” was released, channeling a mid to late-80’s electropop sound with thick drum machine kicks, bright synth arpeggios and simple one-note basslines. A long-note-friendly male vocal croons over the top.

The lyrics are all a tribute to the eponymous spaceship’s first appearance in the “Hitchhiker’s” story as well, making this effectively a piece of indulgent fan-tribute pop. I was half expecting the music video to be populated by people in dressing gowns waving towels alongside people with prosthetic second heads. I wasn’t far off- there’s so cosplay involved, but plenty of (presumably unlicensed) video extracts from the 2005 movie.

The package comprises the original version and three remixes, all of which stay firmly in synthpop territory and never stray far enough from the original to justify their existence. The Peter Bolmehag remix in particular has all the same flavours as the original. Egil Axelsson’s remix ups the pace of the synth patterns with a long drumless intro that sounds like it’s going to break into happy hardcore before settling into something more like U96. Oren Amram’s remix, after a classy intro, settles into a steady and familiar groove with an arrangement of sounds reminiscent of early Erasure at times. A bundle of remixes that dared to try different genres and being less respectful to the original would have been more interesting to hear.

I’m not sure the world needed another piece of “Hitchhiker’s Guide”-related fan pop, but this is a reasonably polished and high quality bit of synthpop that should have a fairly wide appeal even to people too young to get any references to froods or Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters. Vogon Poetry are not, in this case, the third worst in the universe.

Negative Response: Oblique Angles

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jul 20 2017
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Artist: Negative Response
Title: Oblique Angles
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Medical Records
“Oblique Angles” gathers together selected tracks that Negative Response released on cassette between 1981 and 1983. This is lo-fi proto-electro-pop with live bass and slightly Joy Division-esque twang guitar over lightweight drum machine patterns and squelchy, playful, Eno-esque analogue electronic wobbliness. There are vocals, which are sometimes a little weak, both in performance terms and low in the mix.

The almost waltz-like rhythm of opener “A New Beginning” is strangely compulsive. “Citizen Europe” drops in some foreign-language radio broadcasts to good effect. “Calm Before The Storm” is a more conventional and structured bit of early synthpop writing that in a parallel universe could’ve been something from the first Depeche Mode album. “Touch” is in a similar vein but sounds rather laboured, but things end on a high with the longer track “Utopia” that places spaced-out echo-heavy vocals over a busy electro bassline and some thick, organic, loosely out-of-time tom slapping.

The audio tracks have been lifted from cassette and the overall quality is audibly a bit fuzzy despite some valiant mastering. Despite being a compilation, to people new to Negative Response it plays like a 35-minute, 9-track lost early 80’s lo-fi album. It’s not a lost classic, but fans of that early 80’s evolving sound will enjoy it enough to justify it being unearthed.


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