Music Reviews



Empire State Human: Housemuzik

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jul 05 2019
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Artist: Empire State Human
Title: Housemuzik
Format: CD
Label: ScentAir Records
Rated: *****
Two years after their latest album "Romo", Empire State Human, that nowadays means Aidan Casserly, a new album titled "Housemuzik" is out always on ScentAir Records. After the positive feedback after the release of "Romo", Aidan started to work at a new chapter for Empire State Human. He said: "I looked into the art world especially, for its starting point (the term Housemuzik, I came across on a London underground advertising poster a number of years ago. Relating to an exhibition at the V&A). I've always been lead by art, and by that, I mean every art form. - I was reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald, when he said: "An artist is someone who can hold two opposing viewpoints and still function". Musically after listening to this new album which has ten new tracks, I thought about Aidan as a singer as a mix of Marc Almond and Billy MacKenzie... you know, he has that particular voice that it makes me think of drama and burlesque. All the tracks of the album are good ones, I think you know the common way of saying "all killers, no fillers", well here we have different good ones and some others which are really good ones. This album could be perfect for the early Pet Shop Boys fans as it has catchy melodies, a bit of dance attitude and nice arrangements with sax inserts (like on "Watson The Needle" and the following "B For Baby"), electric and acoustic guitars (on the closing "This Is the City") which fits in good way with the electronic abundance of the album. There are also a couple of instrumentals ("House On The Ocean Drive" and "B For Baby") which recalls me the ones Human League had on the album "Secrets". The thing that I appreciated the most is the sudden change of atmosphere on tracks like "Watson The Needle" (you know that in the Conan Doyle books Holmes was a drug addicted, don't you?) or "My Black Friday" (we pass from a dramatic moment to a dancey one with a nice playful lead synth melody). Aidan nailed it and I hope that this album will get the attention it deserves!

Phenotract: Tides

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jun 28 2019
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Artist: Phenotract
Title: Tides
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
After the 2017 album “It’s All We Feel Every Day”, Eric Shans is back with his established Phenotract monicker for a new three-track EP of unabashed and proud synthpop songs. Drum machines, synth arps, bleeps, squeaks and a generally melancholic and traditionally structured verse-chorus vocal can all be ticked off, present and correct.

Opening track “Turning Tides” is actually the weakest I think, with an acoustic guitar loop that comes across as awkward and which takes away from what’s otherwise a perfectly decent synthpop song, with slight shades of New Order, and which benefits from a rich, almost folky female backing vocal.

“Seven Days” is the highlight for me, a catchy chorus, some bright pads and a few less predictable chord changes making it the most attention-grabbing of the pack. “One Last Time”, with some quite lush string sounds and another strong chorus, is quite reminiscent of the earliest material from Mesh, and also randomly throws up memories in my head of the Cicero album as well.

Whether deliberately or accidentally, but there’s a thickly 90’s style to the production, eschewing more modern synthpop wall-of-sound approaches in favour of a thinner, less heavily processed sound that could even pass for a live recording at times (and subjective I think there may even be a vocal bum note in track 3). It’s an approach that will endear itself to fans of synthwave and retro sounds, but which will hold it back from having a broader appeal, which may be unfortunate as the songwriting is strong.

Miss Ballistic: Blood And Glitter

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jun 17 2019
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Artist: Miss Ballistic
Title: Blood And Glitter
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Black Pill Red Pill
“Blood And Glitter” is synth-pop, bold and brassy- a classic pack of 10 songs, every song falling close to 3 minutes 45 seconds in length, every song 4/4 and pretty much all with intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus structures, this is a pop music LP in a traditional mould, and it will have a broad pop appeal accordingly. It’s produced by Angelspit and can hardly be faulted in production terms. EDM elements, mostly around the bass- note-tweaked distorted synths, sudden bass drops, etc.- are coupled with more radio-friendly chord stabs and beats- to make something that sounds very much like 2019 pop through-and-through, in a good way.

Lyrically, it’s slightly more cynical, but in a good way as well, mostly. There’s a concept album idea of sorts, about the dark underbelly of beauty pageants turning to genuine aggression- exemplified in “Vicious Streak” as an example- but that seems less like a genuine concept-album approach and more of an excuse to write multiple songs all on the same subject. The realisation of that is not nearly as gritty, cutting-edge or dark as it’s branded as. Both melodically and thematically it’s reminiscent of what Rogue Traders or Schmoof were doing over a decade ago (most notably on the title track). When it gets more rap-like or spoken word it’s got shades of Uffie about it, but mostly without the pointed vulgarity that became its own novelty selling point- with the polite exception of “Diamond Dildo”.

There are some sharp moments, like the “you should run for president” lines in “Less Wardrobe More Malfunction” (one of the album’s dafter moments, which will appeal to fans of Hyperbubble or Freezepop) and some songs will forge connections as empowerment themes for angry women, but it lacks the really witty capabilities of bands like Spray.

Ultimately it also lacks one or two killer singalong choruses that would really make this album push itself to the top of playlists. “Red Pearls” is the standout exception, a genuinely super-catchy singalong number with more than a shade of 80’s in the chorus, but it throws into relief that some of the other songs seem flat by comparison. The understated catharsis of the “you make me scream” chorus in “Scream” is also worth a mention though.

It’s a strong bit of attitude-laden synthpop that deserves a big audience. It lacks the real toothiness and cutting edge that it’s being branded with, but underneath is a great and somewhat old-fashioned strong pop album.

Zea: Agency

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jun 03 2019
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Artist: Zea
Title: Agency
Format: 7"
Label: Subroutine
“Agency” is a sweet-sounding but pointed 7” slab of folksy anti-pop with a political message that spans environmental catastrophe and ex-UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s porcine rumours. Lyrics like “the whole world’s got cancer” and “who should I kill to save this planet?”, sung in English with a fairly heavy Dutch accent, are the unique selling point. There’s a nice rumbling electroacoustic loop pattern that opens it up and runs underneath it, and it’s only this element that really qualifies as ChainDLK territory- everything else is more Billy Bragg or late-era Chumbawamba, no bad thing but not our typical audience expectation.

B-side “My First Friends Were Animals” is quite different. Zea (Arnold de Boer)’s sampler gets a more front-and-centre position over a 100-bpm basic drum machine groove and a novel guitar melody that plinks along somewhere between a sitar and a ukelele. The vocals have been distorted and crushed to the point of being hard to make out. It’s classic B-side territory, in a way, in that it seems to represent an artist experimenting outside their standard comfort zone and willing to mess about, and it works fairly well, though it’s not a classic.

The sharply digital cover art is quite a mis-sell for this half-acoustic, hot-and-cold mix of angry politics and soft acoustic guitar ballads with a politically frustrated message.

Nature of Wires: Reborn

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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May 23 2019
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Artist: Nature of Wires (@)
Title: Reborn
Format: CD EP
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
I haven't been this excited about a synthpop band in a long, long time. Maybe you've heard of Nature of Wires, an echo of their beginnings in the early '90s before they faded into obscurity. From the UK (Herefordshire) and originally formed in the 1986 by Gary Watts and Andrew Stirling-Brown, and later joined by Lady B (Sarah Bouchier), they released one now-impossible to find album called 'Modus Operandi' toured a bit, then disappeared. Watts re-emerged in 2015 and teamed up with someone by the name of Countess M. for an album called 'Cyber Rendezvous'(2016). I checked the album out, and it was okay, kind of Gary Numanesque, and the electronically processed vocals of Countess M. sounded more like a guy than a Countess. They weren't particularly strong, but plenty cold and alien. Synthwork was good, but nothing I'd call a hit in the songwriting department. I'd give it a B-. Flash-forward to 2019, Lady B. is back, and so is Andrew Stirling-Brown, and 'Reborn' proves this band is in it for keeps, not just shits and giggles. The opener, "Try" is a killer all the way around, and Lady B.'s vocal recalls the power and glory of Yaz's Alison Moyet. This is EXACTLY what's needed to propel this simple but effective song to the top of the chart. Everything about it screams MEGA-HIT. If it were released in 1983 or so, these folks would be synthpop icons and still collecting royalty checks. Few synthpop songs I’ve heard written in this millennium have this much commercial potential. I’m dead nuts positive that if "Try" were entered in 2019 Eurovision song contest, it would have done way better than Michael Rice's piece of crap that doomed the UK to finish dead last. Not that Nature of Wires is the kind of act that appeals Eurovision's uber-commercial fans and judges, but even they would have had to respect this talent. "Human Nature," the song that follows is almost as good as the opener; the hook isn’t quite as strong, but Lady B's shows a lot of soul in the vocal department. The deeper into this EP, the darker the tracks get, but lose no melodic appeal. "Suffer" is good and does not stray from the formula that has worked so well for the previous tracks. Final track - "Fight" delivers similar quality. All along the way, the synthwork and rhythm by the guys is designed to support, not upstage the vocals, Dark, but not too dark; dance-worthy but not beat-overwhelming; just the right combination of everything. It's almost like this band studied exactly what makes hit material in the synthpop genre, put their own dark spin on it and struck gold. It’s serious, rather than frivolous synthpop, but still serious fun with an emotional kick. This outfit is one to be reckoned with, and I can't wait for the release of their full album 'Modus' this summer.


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