Music Reviews

Nevrosa: Lost

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Feb 19 2017
Artist: Nevrosa (@)
Title: Lost
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****

Nevrosa is a 2 person synthpop/postpunk band from Karlstadt, Sweden consisting of Patrik Axelsson - vocals and synths, and Emma Friman Browne - synths. Also, on this recording, Anton "Arne" Olsson played bass synth on two tracks. Apparently Nevrosa (not to be confused with Brazilian all-female thrash metal band Nervosa) has been around since 2005 in one form or another, but you'd never know that from this three-song EP. This has all the hallmarks of a "first time out" recording. The recording quality is kind of shaky, the drums (drum machine I believe) and bass are way too loud in the mix, and synths and vocals are getting lost in the sauce. Maybe that's why they titled the first track "Lost," but it's not a bad song in and of itself. Patrik's vocals are good in their Scandinavian synthpop style - melodic and melancholic, although not what I'd call strong. The music is minimal synth and coldwave. The title track is the strongest one on this EP, and the other two - "I hate you, don't leave me" and "Worthless" don't offer enough diversity from the first one to sound much more than a continuation of the first track. For a project that's been around since 2005, I would have expected much more progress than it seems Nevrosa has made. A couple other things have clued me in to what seems like an amateur project - a handwritten note accompanying the CD (claimed they ran out of flyers) and no website/email contact info on the CD slipcase. Now I appreciate the personal touch of a handwritten note (yes, I do occasionally get them, usually with other promo material included) but handwriting important info such as your email address could lead to possible misinterpretation. As far as the CD I received goes, I have no idea whether its for sale or not, or they just pressed some promo copies. (The tracks are on the band's Bandcamp website, otherwise there would be no review.) So over all I would advise this band that if they wish to continue and get noticed, they need to up their recording/production quality, write songs with more memorable hooks and work on diversity in material.

Hyperbubble: Western Ware

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Feb 19 2017
Artist: Hyperbubble (@)
Title: Western Ware
Format: CD
Label: Fellowshipwreck (@)
Rated: *****
Well, it had to happen sooner or later. San Antonio synthpop duo Jeff and Jess DeCuir have finally put out a Country Western album. Yep pardners, you heard me right- we got both kindsa music here- country AND western. YEE HA! It was recorded in Nashville but there ain't one geetar, banjo, mandoleen, or fiddle on the whole durn thing. But there are dozens of them thar sythysizers, drum machines and the like. Now I never thought I'd be reviewing a C&W album here, and this genre is right up there with rap and hip hop on my shit parade, but with enough beers, steers and queers, and a heapin' helpin' o' nitrous oxide, I guess I can keep an open mind (tongue planted firmly in cheek). After all, it is synthpop at its core.

The band sashays through 10 tunes on 'Western Ware' - mostly covers of country classics (sort of), from Arlie Dufff's "Y'All Come," to Dave Grusin's "The Electric Horseman." Okay, well the latter is more like country-disco than country-western, but what the hay. Hyperbubble fans are mostly used to Jess being the voice of band, but on this album Jeff cleans up rather nicely as lead vocalist on a good number of tracks. Remember Freddy Weller's "Bar Wars"? It was a #32 hit for him back in 1978, mostly due to the Star Wars craze but Jeff does this one proud. Not so sure about Leon Russell's "Queen of the Roller Derby" which lacks a bit of that Russell Texas barrelhouse funk, but the backing vocals by Aleah Metzger Hendricks are mighty fine. Then there's that Hoyt Axton chestnut, "Boney Fingers" where Jess and Jeff duet. Reminds me a bit of Spell (Rose McDowall and Boyd Rice) in a Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra sort of way. Speaking of Rose McDowall, Strawberry Switchblade is the only synthpop band I ever heard cover Dolly Parton's "Jolene," until now. Not sure which version I like better. They both have their charm. Jess may not the same country cred as Norma Jean, but she does turn out a credible version of "Truck Driving Woman." One song in this genre I've always hated is "Rhinestone Cowboy". Somehow Hyperbubble makes their uptempo version of it somewhat palatable. One fail though is the cover of Porter Wagoner's maudlin "The Rubber Room," a poor choice for a supposedly feel-good album like this. I can think of numerous other selections that might have been better, such as Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." Remember 80's synthpop band Our Daughter's Wedding? ("Lawnchairs," if you need a hint.) Well Hyperbubble cover their "Digital Cowboy" instrumental with Scott Simon from the band on lead synth. It's okay nostalgia but it won't make your heart sing or nothin' like that. Some of the choices of material on 'Western Ware' could have been better, then again, it could have been worse. I can live with what they's a givin' ya. I think overall, the album starts with a bang and kinda ends with a whimper. Some of these tracks just may make it onto (non-mainstream) radio playlists just for the novelty, and that ain't a bad thing a'tall. I just hope this is a one-off, and not the new direction of Hyperbubble.

Monopol: Weltweit

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jan 25 2017
Artist: Monopol
Title: Weltweit
Format: LP
Label: Medical Records
Fans of synthwave and attempts to recreate those halcyon synthesizer days of the early 80’s must lap this up- a genuine and forgotten 1982 LP, the sole album by Monopol. This is the real deal- synthesizer pop music, close to the cutting edge for its time, revelling in the synth sounds and phrases that so many producers now try to recreate. Motorik drum rhythms, warm analogue basslines and whistling lead lines are a classic combination but this is a really good example of its kind.

Predictably Kraftwerk and Klaus Schulze are cited as influences on the press release, but the German-language pop sensibility is arguably more MOR than that, with melodies and structures more reminiscent of bands like OMD, Propaganda, and very early Depeche Mode. The mixture of male and female lead vocals keeps things interesting and each track is a radio-friendly length, with only one track, the slightly more indulgent "Weisses Haus", passing the four-minute mark.

From my UK point of view, if Monopol had had a single strongly-hooked English-language radio hit, or managed to get Trevor Horn's attention, I'm sure they would be a great deal more remembered than they are now. The standout tracks include “TV”, the almost prototype acid house tones of “Elektrischer Stuhl”, and “City-Nacht” which is just crying out to be used on a soundtrack. The track “Gib Liebe Her”, the only track issued as a 7” single originally, is strangely ‘oompah’ and borderline cliché, an unrepresentative choice as a single.

A mint copy of the original LP will set you back the best part of €100 but it’s now been remastered and reissued on vinyl by Medical Records. Seemingly it's still vinyl-only and limited edition, a bold but faithful move, but one which might unnecessarily limit its audience which is a shame as this LP is definitely ripe for a revival.

Phenotract: It's All We Feel, Every Day

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jan 17 2017
Artist: Phenotract
Title: It's All We Feel, Every Day
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Eric Shan’s long-running Phenotract monicker is an atmospheric, mostly gentle, ballad-skewed pop album well suited to a long steady road trip when there’s a synthpop fan in the car. Lush chords, simple lightweight rhythms, and an occasional strummed guitar taking a relative back seat, combine into a very smooth listen that’s like taking a warm unchallenging bath in songs.

There’s a generally languid feeling throughout, in many ways. There’s the relatively slow, sustained vocal style. There’s the dreamy philosophical lyrics concerned with “fleeting moments”, the sky, and plenty of swimming. There’s the casual pace of instrumentals like “Leap From The Top” and the slightly Vangelis-ish “Path Home Again”. Tracks like “Rivers”, one of the strongest numbers, have hints of what Stone Roses would’ve sounded like if they’d decided to be a synthpop band. All the tracks approach or pass the five-minute mark, taking the normal intro-verse-chorus structure and stepping through it without any urgency and with relatively few surprises.

Kathleen Gauder’s additional vocals on two of the tracks really add some polish and compliment Eric’s vocal very well. On the strength of those appearances she should be enlisted as a full member of the ‘band’.

It’s certainly well-produced. If I had to be picky I’d say it’s quirkily mixed in parts, with the more electronic touches slightly buried at points, and tracks like “Souls Intact” dipping the vocal level too low in a way that singers mixing their own performances quite often seem to do, but apart from little quibbles like that, it’s got a rich professional sound to it. It’s a comforting and slightly cathartic way to spend just shy of an hour.

Levingtquatre: They Are Coming Back

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jan 09 2017
Artist: Levingtquatre
Title: They Are Coming Back
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Basserk Records (@)
Despite the 8-bit artwork (complete with animated GIF), this isn’t full-on chip tunes, but it is a pair of atmospheric synthwave instrumentals that sound like they’ve been designed to soundtrack a noble pastiche of a gritty 1980’s cop movie, set in LA. This could be the score for the nighttime scenes, the lone cop or detective wandering the city, partner killed, wife gone, danger around every corner… I digress somewhat but anyway it’s deeply atmospheric, taking some of the reverberant tones and deep bass elements pushed forward by dubstep and applying them to retrowave structures.

Both tracks build slowly and drift away almost as slowly, with both of them acting more like atmospheric grooves than structures dynamic pieces. Title track “They Are Coming Back”, with its strong broken beat, is the stronger tune, with a good melodic motif that’s strangely catchy.

Second track “Icons” is airier and less sinister, dawn rather than midnight, slightly more up-tempo and with a synth lead line that sounds like it’s yearning for a full sung vocal.

This is a nice pair of lushly-produced moody synth grooves that can wash over you a little bit too easily but are high-quality nevertheless. It’s nine minutes in total and on the strength of this I could definitely get into an album.

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