Music Reviews

Tralala Blip: Eat My Codes If Your Light Falls

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jul 17 2019
Artist: Tralala Blip
Title: Eat My Codes If Your Light Falls
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Someone Good
It’s almost a shame that the promotion for Tralala Blip’s first full album in over five years still puts so much emphasis on the five band members’ status as differently abled individuals, as it takes attention away from an end product which is worthy of attention regardless of how it was created. The fact there were additional challenges in its creation makes it more impressive, and no disrespect is intended, but it’s an album that deserves repeat listens regardless of the individuals behind it.

It’s a short 8-track collection of quirky alt-pop with a healthy dose of both modern-sounding and more synthwavey electronica elements. Bright synth pads, drum machine and clap rhythms, verse-chorus vocals and generally upbeat vibes are the core, with other details coming and going on demand. That said, there’s a modesty and a laptop-staring introspection at times that make it feel more honest and unique, especially in a group setting with multiple vocalists where vibes are sometimes more inclined to turn to party sounds.

Tracks like “Voodoo Pins” are relatively conventional, almost rock-like, with cheery 80’s stabs and chants that make it decidedly radio-friendly. “Voltage Flowers” makes me think of Ninthwave Records, while “Nightmare Land Welcomes You To” has a songwriting quality to it that reminds me of fellow Australians Infusion at their broodiest, whilst also having shades of M83 in the more droney production elements. I may be overdoing it here but “Dear Formless”, another highlight, recalls Midnight Juggernauts- coincidentally another Australian band.

There are odder moments too. Opener “Pub Talk” is a glitchy downtempo affair that would sound at home on Planet Mu. Ballad-like “Star Of Hope”’s heavily effected vocal takes on an Eastern-sounding mantra-like quality. “The Canyon” is a nicely atmospheric winding-down conclusion, an album-closer in a classic style.

If I could change one thing about this release, I’d tweak the mixes to make the vocals more prominent and clear. If I could change a second thing, I’d make it all last longer- it’s only 30 minutes in total- because apart from those two details it’s one of the freshest-sounding pop albums I’ve heard in ages and it leaves me very much wanting more.

Glok: Dissident

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jul 11 2019
Artist: Glok
Title: Dissident
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Bytes
Andy Bell- not the Erasure one, the one from Ride and the one previously a bassist with Oasis- yes, that Oasis- wanted to keep his middle-aged-guitarist status a secret so he could put out some much more synthwave works without prejudice and preconception, so for a couple of years, Glok was a mystery. The veil is now lifted, but given my lack of familiarity with Ride or affinity with Oasis, I find myself able to review it without prejudice anyway.

The nearly-20-minute title track is very much in the latter-day Tangerine Dream mould- a thoroughly digital, slowly changing and progressive bit of synthwave that’s not overtly retro but isn’t old fashioned either, decorated with enough care and detail to keep things balanced between interesting and mesmeric.

The rest of the tracks are less ambitious, but a bit broader in tone. “Kolokol” is sonically in the same ballpark, but with a more subdued structure that brings it closer to mellow belearic techno, but with the drums turned right down and the synth washes brought forward to dominate the track. “Pulsing” channels the 90’s trance vibes of Salt Tank or Union Jack into that format, to very successful effect and with a positive tone that makes it a highlight.

The four four-minute tracks that make up the rest of side B feel more like miscellaneous experiments and unfinished pieces than a coherent album conclusion, but they’re not without their merit. “Weaver” is faintly trip-hoppy, with a nice guitar melody line, but with a slightly flat and forgettable groove that perhaps skirts too close to library music, while “Projected Sounds” is gentle plinking over a Kraftwerk-esque rhythm pattern. The twangy guitar and synth blend in “Cloud Cover” is reminiscent of State Of Grace but without the vocal, and somehow ends up sound tired rather than relaxed, but final piece “Exit Through The Skylight”’s more complex drum patterns and just faintly toothy synth work provides a more interesting flavour to conclude with.

It’s the title track that really shines here, and along with “Pulsing”, the admission price is certainly justified, but it does run out of steam somewhat before the end.

Empire State Human: Housemuzik

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jul 05 2019
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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Jul 28 2019
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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Jul 17 2019
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.

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