Music Reviews

C.A.R.: Pinned Up

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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May 09 2018
Artist: C.A.R.
Title: Pinned Up
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Ransom Note Records
After describing Chloé Raunet’s second C.A.R. album “Pinned” as “a blend of supremely confident post-punk swagger with electronica twiddles, steady-walking house beats and just a dash of synthwave”, Ransom Note Records have followed it up three months later with a 7-track remix collection giving some of the most prominent songs on the album over 50 minutes’ worth of reworkings into deep house and the softer sides of techno, that largely keep the song structures intact and adopt a very classic and always welcome classic extended house mix layout.

Generally I’d say that some remix albums work and others don’t- but this definitely has to go into the former, “it works” category. Raunet’s gentle, slightly husky and not-trying-too-hard vocal work really suits some long deep electronica workouts, and despite the repetition- over twenty minutes of this release is remixes of “This City”- you can listen to it from beginning to end as a coherent house album. It’s one of those that’s perfect for while-you’re-working, or for long drives, but has individual tracks that are properly DJ friendly and will fit well in the middle of relatively leisurely sets.

There are two distinct sections- the first four tracks are generally fairly consistent and uniform house numbers. Michael Mayer’s take on “This City” is a perfect fusion of pop and house piano with steady motorway-friendly progressive house beats and opens the collection on a definite high. Marcus Wargull’s take on “Cholera” is in a similar vein but with somewhat less energy, before Bawrut’s take on “Daughters” adopts a slightly muddier synth bassline and a slightly more tribal flavour in line with the more chanted-rather-than-sung song content.

Jonny Rock’s nine-minute remodel of “Strange Ways” is quite rumbly as well, drifting towards a more synthwave-y sound that allows the vocal to shine through more than others do, and the restrained, held-back use of the bell-like three-note melody has a good impact; DJ’s beware on the last minute of this mix though, which is sparse and acapella when you might be expecting beat-match-friendly beats.

The second part, the final 3 tracks, mixes things up a bit and adds the variety needed to keep you engaged. Timothy Clerkin’s take on “This City” is another highlight, channeling some classic breakbeat samples, acid squelches and rave stabs into something bright and energetic that manages to rework some nostalgic sounds without wandering into cheesy territory, although it’s the one track where you do find yourself wishing more of the vocal could’ve been worked in in less buried, vocoded ways.

Lokier’s version of “Cholera” has a more industrial, attitude-laden groove that’s closer to the sound of the unremixed album, before Man Power’s version of (again) “This City” ends on a high with a bright, lightweight bit of synthpoppy production with synth guitar stabs that takes things into almost Goldfrapp-y territory.

Whilst the original album certainly wasn’t bad, given the choice I’d rather listen to this remix album, especially when looking for something that isn’t demanding my full attention. There’s not a single duff or flat remix in here, which is rare, so full marks for this one.

VV.AA.: Wave Earplug No. 2

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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May 08 2018
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Wave Earplug No. 2
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: 4mg Records
A ten-track collection of pan-European synthwave music, the second volume of “Wave Earplug” is a worthy sampler of a variety of dark-edged alt-synthpop you may not have already encountered. For the most part it’s a variety of artists revelling in old-school analogue synths and some quite lo-fi and industrial production values, as though the 90’s and beyond had never happened, but it’s none the worse for it. Tightly-constructed under-four-minute pop songs of vocoded vocals and bright melodies over simple proto-techno grooves pervade.

Strong tracks include Staatseinde’s driving and squelchy “Repa” (particularly the surprisingly operatic finale), the heavier-kicked rumbles of ImiAFan’s “Sekundenzeiger” and the early-Depeche-Mode-like “Moonlighting” from Arsenic Of Jabir. Noisebrigade’s “X-Rays” wraps things up with a nicely dark twist.

A couple of tracks, like Machinepop’s “Integrated Circuit”, perhaps have too much of a homegrown bedroom demo feel to their production.

It’s well curated in that there’s a lot of consistency- save for the vocals it would be easy to believe that most if not all of these tracks had been produced from one source- but it’s perhaps lacking in real standout highlights that would make you reach for this compilation for frequent repeats. For wave fans though, this is a healthy dose of new material and could well open your door to some new artists worth further inspection.

Callenberg: Dear Satellite

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Apr 22 2018
Artist: Callenberg
Title: Dear Satellite
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Bend Records (@)
Rated: *****
Lovers of legendary vintage synths will be delighted while listening to this nice output by Anders Callenberg (signing his releases by his surname only), a Swedish drone-folk producer and songwriter, who left microphone and guitar aside for the making of "Dear Satellite" in order to forge twelve nice electronic tracks. To do that, he mainly used a glorious member of the huge Yamaha family of CS synths, the CS70M, the one who immediately preceded the notorious CS80. Its recognisable bubbly basses and its fat sounds together with its flexible LFO fill the polyphonic melodies, that got inspired - I appreciated the honesty by the author - by Boards Of Canada (I'd say this great Scottish project was the main source of inspiration, as particularly clear on tracks like "Off Guard Again", "Long wait for Geri" or "Winter road kept not"), Kraftwerk ("Jack's beat"), Brian Eno and other "obscure electro bands" he didn't mention, but I hear some resemblances with the electro-driven downbeat stuff by Lee Norris/Metamatics or Bauri on tracks like "Are we screwed?" or "Some stones are really hard". There are many tracks (the mellow song "What if we never get there?" seems quoting BOC in the reverb surrounding the polyphonic melody, spicing a song structure that could resemble the ones by Nikakoi, John Foxx or Norken), where the above-mentioned influences and resemblances get wisely melted, and there are many others where it's clear this artist features a certain sense of humour (have a check for instance to the nice vocal sample of "International boredom conference"). The album is available as a digital download (available on the main digital stores as well), but Anders announced a forthcoming tape version on the website of his imprint.

C.A.R.: Pinned

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Apr 19 2018
Artist: C.A.R.
Title: Pinned
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Chloé Raunet’s second album as C.A.R. is a blend of supremely confident post-punk swagger with electronica twiddles, steady-walking house beats and just a dash of synthwave. Slow tempos, rumbling long bass guitar notes and some surprisingly sparse mixing gives quite a bold overall result. Bleak lyrics are mostly spoken and semi-rapped with a controlled, sometimes semi-whispered temper, only occasionally twisting into singing on tracks like highlight track “Swaggart”, the faintly bluesy “Prism” or the more radio-friendly gradual progressions of “This City”.

After the slightly underwhelming opener “Growing Pains” leads into the richly textured Steve Osborne-produced single “Daughters”, the first half of the album has slightly brighter pieces, with the upbeat “Heat” and the properly quirky “Flat Out at the Sockhop”.

Tracks like “Strange Ways” are also very accessible, with a decidedly indie flavour, but there’s nothing truly impenetrable here, with every track keeping within at least the broader definition of a pop structure. The pared-back “VHS” is worth playing to Siouxsie fans.

This is mature and balanced pop music, introspective-yet-confident, earnest and cathartic yet not too indulgent. It won’t set either your heart or the charts alight but hooks or charisma but if you’re looking for something more grown-up and rewarding, there’s certainly an appeal.

House Of Blondes: Time Trip

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Apr 17 2018
Artist: House Of Blondes
Title: Time Trip
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Alrealon Musique
Though they cite influences like Steve Reich and Brian Eno, John Blonde and Chris Pace’s work as House Of Blondes sits quite firmly under the umbrella of synthwave, albeit on the more sombre and serious side of that playing field. Across nine pieces, all instrumental with the exception of one single word in one track, they combine layered synths and samples with a mix of real and electronic drums and some authentic bass guitar.

It’s a steadily grooved, measured, road-trip atmosphere most of the time, with pieces like the title track evoking images of steady, trouble-free open-road driving in some warm synthetic forest. “Why It Happened In The West”, with its steady repeating ‘remember’ mantra, feels like it wants to make some important political statement but the result is probably more suited than the musicians intended to winding the car window down and turning cruise control on. There’s a positivity to “The Tilted Earth” that feels genuinely warming.

Things do get a little darker and colder in pieces like “Modern Clock” with its forefronting of quite droney pad sounds, but a predisposition towards melody is never too far away. Gentle ballad-like “The Rise Of The Equal Hour” is a prime example. “Intimate Seconds”, with a slightly darker distorted synth bass, sounds like it might be about to rip into speaker-busting drum-and-bass imminently, but it never arrives.

It’s a pack of atmospheric and thoughtful synthwave that at points threatens to deteriorate into blandness but generally manages to keep it together as a synth soundtrack well suited to those times when you’re actively looking for something that’s uneventful but in the nicest possible way.

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