Music Reviews

Page: Start

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 13 2018
Artist: Page
Title: Start
Format: CD EP
Label: Energy Rekords (@)
Rated: *****
Page- a pioneering Swedish synthpop band, often credited with being the first band to bring synthpop music to Sweden. They go all the way back to 1980, with core members Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko. In their time they released a half-dozen albums and numerous singles up until 2000 when they decided to call it quits. (Temporarily, as it turned out.) I never heard any of them though. Big in Sweden, and parts of Europe I imagine, but here...nada. Maybe it was because the vocals are exclusively in Swedish, maybe distribution issues, I really don't know. What I do know is that they reformed in 2010, put out a few more albums, and this EP is my introduction to the band, titled (appropriately for me) 'Start' It consists of 4 tracks - the title track "Start," "Stor ej," "Nere För RÄkning," and "Krasch" (Apoptygma Berzerk Redux). While much of the synthpop I've heard coming out of Sweden sounds more cosmopolitan, this stuff sounds particularly Swedish, and not just because of the vocals, although that's a factor. The music is pretty simple, the vocals are light and happy, and the whole thing has an '80s retro vibe as if they never really left that decade. At times I'm reminded musically of OMD, but not Depeche Mode. Something else from the '80s too, but I can't recall what in particular. The best thing on this EP is the Apop Redux of "Krasch," which seems the least Page-like song on it. Bouncy synth bass, a good beat and better than the rest vocals with a good hook make it standout, but not a chart topper as far as I can tell. It might be a little presumptuous of me to say that if these folks sang in English they'd find a wider receptive audience, but something tells me they're just happy where they are.

Analogue-X: Course Of Life

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jun 25 2018
Artist: Analogue-X (@)
Title: Course Of Life
Format: CD
Label: RMP Records/Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Analogue-X is an electropop band from Germany consisting of Rene Mussbach (vocals); Susie NLG (background vocals); ALexis Voice (synths, programming), and Clarke Gahan (synths and drum machines). Clarke Gahan?? Seriously? Isn't that a bit too Depeche Modey? Whatever. (Rene is a guy by the way.) Okay, so maybe musically I've given a bit away. Not that Analogue-X are Depeche Mode clones or anything, but what synthesizer band doesn't owe a little something to them. 'Course Of Life' is the band's debut album, after 2017's 'Rising in the Dark (The Remixes)' in which the band got a bunch of artists to remix one of their songs. Some of the remixers were Paralyzed RMX, Cyborgdrive, Jeff Appleton, Erwin Pempelfort, etc., etc. As much as I'm no fan of remixes, someone in the business once told me "if you want your music to get noticed fast, get some top-notch remixers to have a go at your songs. Apparently Analogue-X put this plan into effect before they even had put out their first album! (They've also released a remix album of 'Course of Life' but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.) So, what have we got to work with. First I can say that the synth programming and performance is very strong. Most everything works for the dancefloor too so the rhythm is potent too. Where we run into a little problem is in the vocal department. Rene's vocals are fine in a sense, melodic and pleasant enough, but not particularly strong or memorable. Susie's backup vocals, where present are fine too, occasionally bolstering the melody. The music is fairly melodic as well, and there are hooks a-plenty, just not particularly strong ones. I think the problem here is one of too much nuance, and not enough devotion to those big, obvious, infectious killer hooks. Right from the get-go on the opening track "Another Time," they put forth a good (chorus) hook but try and say too much in it. Second track- "Dark Shadow" (very reminiscent of Camouflage) has a lot of potential but the title of the song is reduced to a mere background afterthought. Too bad as it's one of the best tracks on the album. Don't get me wrong, as these songs aren't bad, they just lack some pizzazz, that certain quality that puts some artists on the top of the heap. Like Depeche Mode. Like Covenant. A strong, charismatic vocalist might have been able charge this material, but a merely good one doesn't flip the switch. There are still more good songs on the album, such as "Rising in the Dark," and "Never Alone," but as we keep chugging along, the songs begin to sound similar, mainly due to the vocals. Another part of the problem might be the lyrical content, which is largely from that Depeche Mode/Duran Duran school of romanticism, and tends to get bogged down in affairs of the heart. I think if the band headed in a bit colder, more austere direction they might hit upon that elusive magic bullet. But hey, that's just my own personal opinion. 'Course of Life' is a competent album, just not exceptional.


 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jun 22 2018
Artist: Kate NV
Title: ДЛЯ FOR
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: RVNG Intl.
All the tracks on Kate NV’s second album have three-letter English titles and Cyrillic equivalents, which it seems I can’t reproduce on this website, so with my apologies the track titles will only be referenced in English.

Moscow-based NV has offered up ten extremely quirky bits of mostly-instrumental abstract synthpop noodling. Playful keyboard-sample melodies dance childishly through opening track “EAR”. The melodic primitivism is most notable on “HOW”, which really feels like it ought to be the underscore for a pre-school cartoon. Gentle marimba- and glockenspiel-like synth tones play gentle pleasant patterns, around which slightly more ‘grown-up’ electronica noises- sine wave pads and chords- lilt and meander. “YOU” is a more rounded example, featuring spoken-word vocals and delicate sonics that end up sounding almost Japanese.

The first half of the album was written in the Spring, the latter half in the Autumn, and while the change between the two isn’t as extreme as the press release may suggest, there’s a switch to more muted tones and slightly odder and more sombre melodic noises. The idiosyncratic sine-wave-noodling on “BUG” is nicely measured and expressive, and “SEE” is enjoyably mesmeric. The jazzy, thoughtful Rhodes keys of final track “WHO” are a pleasant surprise and wrap the whole work up like a child being wrapped in a warm blanket.

With a genuinely unique character, but perhaps just a little too childish for some tastes, “FOR” is an intriguing, small-sounding album that’s really rather endearing.

Zanti: Broken Hearted City

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jun 21 2018
Artist: Zanti
Title: Broken Hearted City
Format: CD
Label: Downwards Records
Rated: *****
When I received the Zanti CD I didn’t know what to expect from the music composed by two guys who were really famous in the 80s and which are still rockin’. Anni Hogan played with Marc Almond, being part of the Mambas, La Magia and The Willing sinners and in the years did several solo records where her piano was the main instrument. Three years ago, I reviewed „Millions Of The Mouthless Dead“, album she did with Attrition’s Martin Bowes where they composed an imaginary soundtrack that was focused on the dramas of the WWI. The album before that, „Mountain“, also was a particular one: it was a CD/DVD where she performed on her piano some tunes, Itchy Ear manipulated them on pre-production and then Robert Strachan re-imagined and remixed. The other guy of the Zanti duo is Derek Forbes. He played bass guitar with Simple Minds from day one until 1985 and again in the album „Neapolis“. After Simple Minds he joined Propaganda and from 2012 he’s playing bass with Big Country. Well, after listening to the eight tracks of „Broken Hearted City“, I can say that I’m amazed. Every song is a potential single. When they sing solo or duetting, they are able to create a magical atmosphere where you can feel how much of themselves they put into these songs. The opening „Scream Machine“ is a powerful tune where Derek’s voice is upfront. The surprise is that he has a really good voice and he's a good performer too. On This tune, guitar and rhythmical loops form a psychedelic vortex where bass and piano are like brushes which enrich a rough canvas. „Lonesome“ is a perfect song where the dualism of the couple create a really nice contrast. When Derek is singing we have light distorted riffs and his voice which is almost recitate. When is Anni’s turn, the song is turning into a ballad where a trumpet, strings, acoustic guitar and the piano soften the atmosphere. Really a great effect. „Will You Be Mine“ has a great melody, so 80s but the arrangement is modern, with a distorted bass going in and out and orchestral openings where the piano and the strings change everything. With „Head Sounds“ I couldn’t believe my ears… the bass sounds like „Theme From Great Cities“, from the „Sister Feelings Call“ album but this time all the other sounds are different, even if the atmosphere can recall that jewel recorded in 1981. „Head Sounds“ starts with a melody that recalled me Great Britain’s folk songs but in the background Derek’s vocals is treated recalling me the sound of a didgeridoo. Distorted guitars in the background, spare piano chords and Anni’s vocals make of this a song that you will want to listen again as soon as it’s over. “Planet Sweet“ recalled me Marc Almond’s songs of the „Enchanted“/„Tenement Symphony“ era and it’s really nice. „Broken Hearted City“ is a piano ballad so touching that Derenk’s vocals would be enough and you would be mesmerised anyway. „Paris Vortex“ is Anni’s moment. Into this one she’s a real diva. If this song would have been released back in 1985, it would be in the charts, you have my word! The piano, the strings, the robotic minimal rhythm are building the base of the track where her is singing a melody that will be stuck into your head for days, along with Derek’s simple chorus. „Universe Of Love“ closes the album with a sort of dreamy coda where all the other songs go to rest quietly until the next listening… and be sure, you’ll do many of them. Check it now! You won’t be disappointed!

DJ Marcelle / Another Nice Mess: For

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jun 19 2018
Artist: DJ Marcelle / Another Nice Mess
Title: For
Format: 10"
Label: Jahmoni Music
DJ Marcelle’s tribute to old friend Mark E. Smith is a wilfully punky bit of lo-fi electropop that chucks in sampled conversations from Smith, short snippets of John Peel, and out-of-time ringtone samples, and lays them loosely over a relentless drum machine pattern. Despite being called “For”, it’s six versions of the track “Two Walls” acting as a lead single for a forthcoming album.

The John Peel sample in particular gives proceedings a distinctly Cuban Boys feel, though where the Cuban Boys can be playful and poppy, this has a grumpier, punkier attitude and a much darker sense of fun, bordering on no fun at all.

The original nearly-five-minute track is padded out by five dub versions, all under three minutes long. The first two of these are 80’s style rough cut-and-paste style mixes that take all the original elements and reproduce them in a different order with some different effects but not necessarily any new ideas. The Problematic dub is notably thumpier thanks to delayed drums. The “Listen! BELP Dub” is more experimental, concentrating on the atmospherics and dubby sounds built out of backwards kicks, while the “Studio Door Dub” ups the found sound percussive effects over a quirky proto-industrial groove. The “Emerson Lake & Palmer Symphony Dub” is a deliberate bit of ironic naming, a squelchy acid sound and one particular ELP-referencing part of Smith’s dialogue forming something that seems deliberately intended just to weird out people who innocently search for the words “Emerson Lake & Palmer” on Spotify.

It’s a rough hewn track with a lo-fi aesthetic that Mark E. Smith fans are likely to find appropriate, though by modern standards it does seem a bit dated and done.

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