Music Reviews

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.

Territoire: Alix

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Apr 13 2018
Artist: Territoire
Title: Alix
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Humo
Oscar Arson, as Territoire, serves up a dark, slow-techno concept album based around the titular character being born into slavery. Not that you’d realise it was a concept album from the lyrics, as there are barely any. Instead what you get is seven slices of gothic-tinged bass rumbles, slow heartbeat-like kick drums, sinister whispered vocals, low gated and processed synth pads and atmospherics.

More conventional instrumentation- guitars, tuba, clarinet- are worked into some tracks but in nicely understated ways that add to the palette of those tracks without sounding like novelty- in some cases you may be hard pushed to distinguish that instrumentation from its synthesized setting.

After the very bold and attention-grabbing polished sound of opening track, erm, “Sourd”, “Esclvvv” begins a steady, not-too-heavy pounding that’s imbued with plenty of both fear and attitude. Things go a little off the boil with “Soumission” and “Chant” which settle into slightly less dramatic, industrial-ish rumbling. “Exil” is a bit more vigorous initially but unfolds into an almost ambient conclusion, which segues nicely into “Meta/Xim”’s broad and fairly empty rumbling into nothing. Final track “Quatre siècles de privilèges” sounds at first like the beginning of a new dawn- certainly not a happy ending but certainly slight hints of optimism rather than fatal finality.

At 37 minutes it’s quite short, but that helps to excuse the slight lack of sonic variation. The concept may not shine through but as a hybrid of some very dark techno with also-dark soundscaping and atmospherics, it’s got a polished sincerity and a powerful mood-changing tone.

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