Music Reviews



Armoteque: Dusting the Plants

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 11 2018
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Artist: Armoteque (@)
Title: Dusting the Plants
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
This has to be one of the oddest releases to cross my path of late- an avant-synthpop band called Armoteque from Italy that sounds anything but Italian. According to the accompanying one-sheet provided by the band they used to have a singer who went by the name of vanilla punk, but he departed a while ago, and now they have a new vocalist by the name of y:dk. He sounds quite American (sings in English) in an almost swampy sort of way on most of the tracks. The music is predominantly synthetic/electronic, provided by fredbo ( keys, sequencers, synths, fxs, programming) and jean-loux boka (guitars, basses, sequencers, synths, fxs, programmings) but a far cry from your typical euro-synthpop. While not directly emulating them, the band has a NIN sensibility that carries a definite edge. It's a dark, melancholy sort of synthpop that has no equivalent that I can think of, so comparisons with other acts are out the window. Unlike many synthpop outfits these days, Armoreque doesn't seem to be interested in making hit tunes, and that may be due in good part to y:dk's lethargic, baritone, drawly vocals. Yet there is a visceral, nihilistic quality about the songs that's almost painful. A lot of the synthwork is gritty and abrasive, pushing this project even further away from the mainstream. For some strange reason though, 'Dusting the Plants' really resonated with me, even though it isn't what I'd call a great album. It's just so different from anything else out there. The last track on the album, "So2speak," is the most atypical, yet perhaps the one track y:dk's vocal is perfectly aligned with because it's a slow ballad, and the main instrument on it is acoustic guitar. Yet, if the whole album was like that song, I'd probably wouldn't care for it. I have no idea if anyone else is going to find 'Dusting the Plants' an enjoyable album, but frankly, I don't give a damn.
Mar 10 2018
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Artist: Robin Schaller | Roman Leykam
Title: Interferences
Format: CD
Label: Frank Mark Arts (@)
Rated: *****
Most of the releases from Frank Mark Arts that came into my headphones or amplifiers are (synth or electric) guitar-driven, and focus on long-lasting abstract progressions or meditations with a strong influence of retro synth electronica. This collaboration by Roman Leykam - a "dino" of this independent label - and Robin Schaller - a newcomer in Frank Mark Arts, handling synths and programming beat patterns - succeeds in adding something different to the catalog of this imprint. I wouldn't say this collaboration distinctly put that retro touch aside, as you can easily catch since the listening of the first part of "The Shades of the Own past", the first of the 13 tracks of Interferences, but they forged a more rhythmical album. The 4/4 beat of the opening track I mentioned, for instance, gets dragged by a pumping kindof heartbeat and by other rhythmical grafts as well as by abstract git digressions, which are closer to Asian sonorities, instead of Western ones (a sonic transplant consistent with the contemporay geopòolitical framework?). It seems that most of the material of Interferences "was recorded without pre-rehearsals as the result of improvisations acted on impulse", as highlighted by the words attached to the release, but most of the tracks seem to get built on a static loop, which they inflated through aptly improvised git lines or additional sonic items. There are many tracks (such as "Wrap of Strangeness" or "Unsolvable Riddle"), that doesn't really differ from previous (solo or collaborative) outputs by Leykam, but the beat programming by Schaller permeates most of the work with many interesting moments ("Sound of Everyday Life" or "Submerged City"), even if the whole sonorities keep on resembling tons of outputs coming after many musicians get addicted by the intensive usage of synths like Ensoniq SQ-80 or Roland JD-800...

SDH (Semiotics Department of Heteronyms): Tell Them

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 09 2018
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Artist: SDH (Semiotics Department of Heteronyms)
Title: Tell Them
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Avant! Records
“Tell Them” is a strong, hard-edged set of three synthwave pop tracks hailing from Barcelona. Slightly industrial-tinged synth basses and pads and crisp, simple drum machine sounds roll with a decidedly dark streak while Andrea P. Latorre’s reverb-laden, quite Chrissie Hynde-esque vocal rides on top at what feels like half-speed compared to the quite high-energy instrumentation.

There’s good songwriting here, the title track and the slightly dreamy “Abandon” being the highlights, making extensive use of the device of repeating lyrics into mantras rather than writing too many words. “Blind Guide” is the obligatory ballad, which is a decent bit of synthpop but doesn’t feel particularly accomplished, with a more demo-like feel than the first two tracks.

A solid statement from Semiotics Department Of Heteronyms that’s more accessible and poppy than their artist name and artwork may suggest, and if an SDH album appears I will definitely check it out.

In Good Faith: Trinity

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Feb 18 2018
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Artist: In Good Faith (@)
Title: Trinity
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
German synthpop band In Good Faith have been around since 1998, but this is the first I'm hearing of them. The band consists of Kai Vincenz Iggi Nemeth (vocals, keys, drums, programming, e-bass); Jorg Allenbach (keys, brogramming); Mic-L (keys, vocals, production); Hendrik Strehl (drums). There are additional musicians involved on 'Trinity' but let's not get carried away with the credits. The first thing you're going to notice about this album is just how much these guys are influenced by Depeche Mode. While I can't exactly call them clones, second cousins is not far off the mark. Kai has a voice that is as distinctive and pop-oriented as David Gahan's. While Depeche Mode has matriculated towards material that's more political and ponderous, In Good Faith direct their energy towards the dance club with insistent, compelling beats. Not to say they can't lay back a bit; "Light," sung in German, sounds like a romantic love ballad. While the songwriting on 'Trinity' is pretty darn good overall, the band's own material will undoubtedly be overshadowed by their choice of covering Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." Almost impossible to top that one under any circumstances. At least they did a credible (updated) job of it. The very slick, professional production throughout the album should ensure it will get noticed likely beyond their region. In Good Faith aren't trying to reinvent the wheel here, just letting it roll on a faster track.

Mills: Monochrome

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Feb 18 2018
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Artist: Mills (@)
Title: Monochrome
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Austrian band Mills is the duo of Alexander Steiner (guitar, keys) and Walter Glatz (vocals, keys) and they've been around since 1994. Their label (Echozone) categorizes them as Post-Wave, which doesn't exactly seem on the money to me; it's more of a grey-electro melancholy synthpop. If you've been around long enough (through the late '80s and '90s) you've probably come across a few bands that sounded a bit like this. It's music that's symptomatic of some alternative bands that were never looking to make it big with commercial sounding vocals and killer hits, but rather an introspective bent and ambience. Shoegaze grew out of that ethic, but Mills is not shoegaze, as that sub-genre has certain distinctive elements which Mills lacks. The guitar playing is along the lines of Joy Division/early New Order, in their mellower moments. Perhaps in some ways not far removed from the Durutti Column. Keyboards are just there enough to get the music across and hardly ever obtrusive. The album has a subdued ambience throughout, and Glatz's low key baritone vocals make even rockers like "New World" seem rather placid and sombre. The album might be instantly forgettable due to its lack of very strong and memorable hooks, but simply because it is so different it tends to leave an impression. 'Monochrome' is not an album that will ever set the world on fire or cause a riot in the record store, but it's nice music when you can't think of anything else to play on a grey day.


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