Music Reviews



Arctic Sunrise: A Smarter Enemy

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 17 2015
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Artist: Arctic Sunrise
Title: A Smarter Enemy
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
German synthpop duo Torseten Verlinden (vocals) and Steve Baltes (electronics) present their debut album 'A Smarter Enemy' on the Echozone label. As you might surmise from the cover, these look like two pretty serious guys. (Well, they ARE German, so what else might you expect?) To their credit 'A Smarter Enemy' has a rather big and highly professional sound. Vocals are in English, another plus. The first few tracks, "Twilight","Beautiful Sunday" and "Real Life" have enough hookiness to warrant repeated play. Things bog down a bit with "Violet", but not every song can be a winner, eh? "Shellshock" offers a topical treatment of the disaffected military airman; perhaps a mission over Kaostan, or wherever, the pointlessness of the casualties inflicted, and the lies told by command to cover it up. "Sometimes I don't know why I even care, Sometimes I don't know why I'm even there." I could see this song being used in a movie. This theme of futility comes up a lot in Arctic Sunrise's ouevre. "Nothing More" hammers the point home- "No need to change the world, I'll always have a girl, what more important could there be? No need to change the world, I want to go out and play, there's nothing more that I can say..." It's symptomatic of the society we live in. At first, I thought the lyrics were rather vapid, but it becomes clearer as we dig deeper into 'A Smarter Enemy' that it's the furthest thing from the truth. "Somebody Says" lays the cards on the table, taking an even darker turn into the human psyche. "200 Souls" turns to the plight of migrants adrift at sea. Title track, "A Smarter Enemy" hits the nail on the head re: the terrorist threat. "Dumb" is an uber-quirky number (for these guys anyway) about stupid people that seem to latch onto us that we can't get rid of. The ballad that ends the album, "Hold On" offers some hope about life, and what we consider precious. It is interesting that the first few tracks are the ones that will most likely gain this band reconition, but it is what comes after that has the most substance. This is thinking man's (or woman's) synthpop, if you can imagine such a thing. The music is superbly executed, and although it might take a while to absorb to appreciate it fully, you're not likely to be disappointed.

Erotic Elk: III

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 17 2015
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Artist: Erotic Elk (@)
Title: III
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Erotic Elk? Seriously? I guess I've heard stranger band names. This Swedish synthpop band has been around since 2009 and consists of Tomas Gustafsson and Fredrik Sigeback. Who does what I'm not exactly sure, but they're armed with an impressive battery of vintage synths and drum devices, and maybe they both sing. (There's a lack of specific info on that.) They've had two previous releases I haven't heard, both on the Major Records label, but on this one, appropriately titled 'III', they decided to do it themselves. The album was mastered by Claus 'Leaether Strip' Larsen, so that undoubtedly ups their game as far as production goes. Although the album is basically 14 tracks, my copy came with 5 bonus tracks, for a total of 19. WOW! That's a LOT of material. Granted, the opening track ("Intro") is a brief, dark, brooding instrumental with an overlay of foreign dialogue (Spanish? Italian?) and there are four remixes from the original 14 tracks, but that's still packing this disc to the max.

I wasn't knocked out the first, or even the second time I heard 'III', but after the third listen, I got hooked. Perhaps I thought the vocals a bit underwhelming, lacking some distinctive character. Don't get me wrong; they're still pretty good, melodic and appropriate for the material, but it takes a little time for them to work their way into your psyche. Once that happens though, they gotcha. First song, "What You Give is What You Get" has a good, if understated hook, as well as being a solid dancefloor number with its powerful, pulsing, sequenced 1/16 note format. "Surrender" is the killer track on the album that nearly rivals Electronic's "Disappointed", with a richer arrangement and dynamite hook - "I surrender to you, Lay my weapons aside, I raise my hands up for you, the white flag shows what I would do for you..." Damn! That's good, Really good. The song even has a pretty cool bridge. EE changes the groove and tempo, and brings out the big drums for "Other Side of Love" and adds a little guitar to the mix. I'm noticing that thematically, most of these songs seem to be about failed relationships; miscommunication, loss, betrayal, emotional pain, etc. I wouldn't quite call it gothic, but it does have a brooding, melancholy quality to it. Slowing things down a bit, "Dark Winter" is a nice mood piece, but the first real surprise comes with the next track, a cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game". It takes balls for a synthpop band to cover this song, but Erotic Elk certainly has them, and makes this song their own, doing it justice. "Higher", "Would" and "Distorted" are decent enough tracks, but don't pack the punch of some of the previous songs. Then we get the weird 'Burning Down Your House" (nothing to do with Talking Heads). "It wasn't me who burned down your house, it wasn't me who burned your car...but I guess I could do it, just to show you how I feel, 'bout the way that you treat me, and you took advantage of me..." Geez, somebody really done somebody really wrong on this one. Still, it's a powerful number full of intense emotional loathing. Things lighten up a bit on "Seal The Moment", which seems like a bid for reconciliation. "With You" is a brief, dark instrumental, sort of like an intro to "Without You", a song in search of a hook that just can't be found. The finale before the bonus tracks is a nice bittersweet, melodic piano-based ballad that morphs into a full-blown synth orchestral arrangement called "Never Stay the Same".

As for the bonus tracks, the acoustic (piano) version of "Dark Winter" sounds a bit demo-ish, but better conveys the sadness Gustafsson was striving for. "Surrender" (Denormal Remix) offers a different take on the song, but lacks the punch of the original. "Other Side of Love" (Vaylon Remix) seems only slightly different than the original, and the Vogon Poetry Remix of "Higher" seemed pretty dry to me; kinda boring. Now for the second surprise - a cover of Neil Young's "My My Hey Hey", a song I never expected a synthpop band to do. It's not bad either, in part due to Erotik Elk's inventive arrangement. In conclusion, this is a very worthy album with at least a couple potential hits, and a good listen too. 'III' makes Erotic Elk a band to watch now, and in the future, and as long as they keep writing strong songs (and covering ones that fit well into their oeuvre) their success is likely guaranteed.

KuBo: Strange

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 16 2015
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Artist: KuBo
Title: Strange
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Almost one year after their "This Desolation" 7", KuBo are back with a new digital single titled "Strange". Dedicated to the iconic Steve Strange, the sales of this tribute single will go to aid the Terrence Higgins Trust Cymru (Wales), a trust Steve himself was very close to. With a cover taken from 'Saint Steve' by New York based artist Matthew Lineham, part of his 'New Wave Saints' Series, the single contains two versions of the main tune: the first one "Synthwave mix", sees the duo formed by Brian O' Malley (PolyDROID) and Aidan Casserly (Glass Dancer) performing an upbeat danceable mid tempo which with its catchy melodies and upfront synth arpeggios is carrying the listener back to the days of the Blitz club, in Covent Garden, where people like Rusty Egan, Steve Strange, Boy George and Martin Degville, to name a few, where creating the new romantic movement. The "Darkwave mix", instead, gives to the track a dramatic touch by slowing it down a little and by exalting the synth pads orchestration. A cool single that you can check at all the digital distributors, in streaming and download.

Venin Carmin: Glam Is Gone

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 11 2015
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Artist: Venin Carmin
Title: Glam Is Gone
Format: 12"
Label: Seja Records (@)
Rated: *****
Venin Carmin is a newcomer in the scene of female electronic solo bands. Coming from France, she's releasing her first vinyl album through the Dutch label Seja Records. Influenced by 80s post punk and new wave, she's writing her songs from a female perspective and they talk about relationships, boredom, sex and violence. Listening to the ten tracks of her album it's coming to my mind an image as Venin Carmin could be an electronic version of the early Blondie but sometimes she lacks that energy that a track is needing to be remembered by a wider audience. So, instead, we could say that "Glam Is Gone" is more intimate and there's nothing wrong with that, also because the guitars on "July Ain't Summer" are recalling me a little bit The Cure. Anyway... Mixing electro pop and new wave, Venin Carmin has packed a nice album with catchy synth melodies, flangered guitar/bass guitar and melancholic vocals. You can check and purchase it here http://sejarecords.bandcamp.com/album/seja-11-venin-carmin-glam-is-gone
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Artist: Bunny &...
Title: The Invalid Singers
Format: CD
Label: Bearsuit Records (@)
Rated: *****
More volatile than prices of current marketplaces, the unpredictability of this nice project by Glasgow-based musician Bunny -one of the legs of the experimental duo Anata Wa Sukkarai Tsukarete Shimai -, that kind of unpredictability that could put more zealous reviewers in a rage in the vain attempt of striving for a definition, is the hallmark of this release, where the binding elements of the spell is probably the hammy lucid madness of his inventor. The squirrelly edgy nuance that suddenly got inflamed by an amazing explosion of whacky distorted guitars on "One Time For Good Time", the hot needles by which Bunny turns a simple melody into a warm blanket on "Hallucinating Felt Beasts", which could resemble some "easytronica" stuff by French band Air, the energic intro - imagine to listen Kula Shaker or Galaxie 500 in your cozy bathroom while dryng your hair by a very powerful hairdryer - and the following tender decay - imagine you burned your hair for an excess of enthusiasm and diversion! - on the amazing opening track "Ask The Man Inside Your Head", the innocent and almost fairy delicacy of "Gift To Gift", which sounds like the sonic rendering of your very first birthdays, the strange naivety of "The Invalid Singers" as well as references and hooks to listenings such as Robert Wyatt, Piero Umiliani, Ennio Morricone and even The Carpenters or other soft rock bands like David Gates' Bread which pop out of the release like mushrooms are just some of the evidence of his weird approach to composition. Check it out!


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