Immediately from the intro to opening track “Harmless” it’s clear that this will be an electro-techno EP with purpose and attitude. Steady drum machine, pulsing but hard-edged Vangelis-ish basslines arrive first- but there’s a twist, when the guitar and vocals arrive and it all takes a slight turn for the indie. The slightly Dave Gahan-ish vocals (but early, more clean-sounding Dave Gahan) are introspective and just a little nervous-sounding.
“Harmless” is something of a crossover track, to the extent that I’m surprised they haven’t thrown in a radio edit just in case, but the rest of the EP is more straightforward and purist instrumental electro-techno. Both “Recurrent” and “Dusty Knights” border on progressive house, with understated beats letting the pulsing basslines do all the work. A squelchier feel to the melody and some ‘ah-oh-ah-ah’ vocal notes in the latter make it the more interesting of the two.
“Recurrent” also gets an Alexander Robotnick remix, which keeps fairly close to the original in terms of tone, with a more compact structure, clappier house rhythm, and most importantly the addition of an acid 303 line which is a well-trodden but reliable route to electronic sonic happiness.
It’s my understanding that Cantor is Italian (though this might not be correct), in which case I can’t help but make a comparison between “Harmless” and fellow Italians Planet Funk who, after their initial pop records, but out consistently good indie-techno-pop releases that aren’t a world away from this. If you liked them, or you appreciate the work of New Order but wish they’d done slightly harder techno, then this is something you’ll appreciate.
After last year’s 6-track EP “We Are Nowhere”, the duo of Eric Shans and Augustine Backer have returned with a full 10-track album that continues the journey through some of the more introspective sides of synthpop.
Instrumentally the format is for the most part familiar- drum machine, pulsing synthbass, skippy arpeggios, and warm pad sounds, with a homely analogue feel. But in a genre that somehow never manages to sound tired, so no problem there. Now and again there are some other details to give variety, like the twangy and faintly Depeche Mode-ish guitar that opens “Vanishing Point”, the funkier wobbly bass of “Polyhedron”, or the higher-energy urgency underpinning the unexpected lyrics of final track “Splatter”.
While the production is reliably bright and polished, it’s tracks like “Colors Monochrome” that demonstrate a strong feel for a catchy melody, which are the make-or-break element. The vocal isn’t particularly punchy, and seems to make nervousness part of its idiom, but luckily this is in keeping with the mood of the lyrics. Unexpectedly, the vocal tone of it at several times of the Pet Shop Boys-produced Cicero album from the early ‘90s- an obscure reference, certainly, but a fairly strong one. It’s not always totally successful- the sustained multi-tracked melody of “Diode Glow” doesn’t quite scale the heights it thinks it does- but it’s predominantly strong, as demonstrated in more understated tracks like “Flipping Stones”. The tracks all sit very close to the five minute mark, allowing for extended instrumental breaks and intros, so it’s far from wall-to-wall lyrics.
Most experimental moments come in tracks like “Eigenvector”, with its spoken word core and tense, rustling percussive sounds and horror-movie-ish synth strings, or the early OMD-ish slow, quirky drum patterns and theatricality of “White Dust”.
Synthpop is still alive and well and still has its serious face on, and Elegaic is a well-above-average example of the health of the genre.
Dovregubben is a four-pack EP of bright, poppy instrumental cosmic disco from the Bergen-based producer Cavego. Over quite synthwavey beats and steppy analogue basslines roll twinkling melodies and soft melodic elements, in a delicate balance of hot and cold. “Rask Gange” has an operatic vocal ‘ahhh’ sound that sounds strongly reminiscent of Andy Bell from Erasure, emphasising the 80’s feel somewhat. These also occur in “Huldra”, but in a more feminine way- the track is named after a seductive Scandinavian forest spirit, which is a good fit. Meanwhile “Dovregubben”, “the Dovre Giant”, rather than being a mythical figure, used to be the fastest locomotive train in use in Norway. So the steady journeying beat and flat but purposeful groove of the titular track makes sense too. The title track has to be a standout thanks to its absolutely infectious, feel-good chord pattern, but “Alfred (of vennene hans)” is notable as well thanks to a more driving beat, simpler one-note approach and faintly “Strings Of Life”-ish synthline. Warm analogue disco-synthwave does feel like quite a crowded area at the moment, and there’s nothing in-your-face or overtly different here that really makes this release jump out. But it might rise to the top more discreetly thanks to its catchy instrumental melodies and an almost inexplicable likeableness. It’s club friendly (once clubs are available again) but is also worth pointing out to a more stay-at-home or synthpop crowd too.
This various artists set is a collaboration between Mexican club night YuYu, and the very reliable Infinite Machine label. It serves several purposes, including to showcase the health and quality of the club and electronic scene acrossMexico, and also act as a fundraiser for the people whose livelihood is in trouble whilst that club scene is closed thanks to coronavirus.
After kicking off in purposeful fashion with the chanting techno of Er Irreal Veintiuno’s “Demagogia”, it quickly twists towards the darker, more sinister electronic sounds I associate with Infinite Machine. I can’t imagine any dancefloors throbbing to the awkward time signature and metallic pulses of Turning Turso’s “Los Dos”, but as a piece of home-listening EDM (and isn’t every piece of music home-listening music at the moment?), it’s got some excellent detailing. A throbbing, sub-bass-heavy techno with above-average rhythm complexity is the home ground here, though Tomas Urquieta’s “Midake”, Undefined Pattern’s “En Contra” and more.
It’s cleverly sequenced. Benfika’s “Torrente” contrasts nicely its plinky, trap-like top end with gutpunching and aggressive rhythms. In turn this plays well against AAAA (not Jimmy Cauty)’s initially lighter and breaksier “Phased Flashing On A Building”, and Microhm’s beautiful and trancey “Kyoke”.
Within the broad umbrella of EDM, it’s generally very consistent in vision, with no real odd-ones-out. It’s dominated by instrumentals so Camila Fuchs’ “Settle Down”, with its “oh it scares me” refrain that’s somewhere inbetween Siouxsie, Yoko Ono and Bjork, comes as a bit of a surprise- but generally, the surprises are few.
Other highlights include OMAAR’s deceptively simple but effective house-acid crossover “Sabe”, the skittish, glitchy “Leitmotiv” from CNDSD, and the nicely meaty brooding progressive of Nico’s “Walk”.
Like most compilations, there’s a sense of a large buffet rather than a full meal. With the majority of these tracks under five minutes, there are points where you’re left wanting more, forced to resort to Googling whether those artists have got full albums out. But there isn’t a single duff one in the pack, and ambitious and very open-minded DJ’s will find a lot to work with (or at least to practice with, at the moment) in this pack.
The duo of Columbo were one of the quirkier, funkier things to come out of the commercial success phase of big beat indie pop in the late ‘90s. With a video starring legendary (and anachronistic) TV celebrity Lionel Blair, the “Rockabilly Bob” single could’ve been massive. But back in the days when your first single had to be a smash hit otherwise you were dropped, it somehow failed to hit the mark, second single “Made In The UK” (which was even stronger) was quietly parked without promotion. The planned album was shelved and Columbo disappeared- although the two members, Jules Bromley and Rajan Datar, have had successful careers since.
In 2016 a casual inquiry and a randomly fired-off email from one of the people behind the small Banoffeesound label managed to unearth the fact that an album was buried under all the dust. It was exhumed, remastered and released, and the album “We Know Who You Are” was unleashed on the public, just sixteen years late. Sadly, it too managed to not roll the right number on the dice to get wide attention.
This Bad Behaviour EP is a mopping up of some leftover tracks that were remastered as part of that process, but not released as part of the 2016 bundle. They’ve been slipped out as the sixth installment in Banoffeesound’s gloriously inconsistent 2020 Singles Club series, where they put out a release each month for the year- a conceit planned, it happens, before lockdown came along and changed everything.
Finally getting to the point- this is brilliant jazzy pop music, that got seriously overlooked back in the day. Bad Behaviour showcases Bromley’s indie-tinged vocals over a rolling pop beat that in its alternative mix, subtly different from the album version, emphasises the more Propellerheads-ish elements. Twangy guitar melody lines are catchy as hell, and a slight bitterness in the vocals plays nicely against the cheery, almost party-like music vibe.
The track is backed by previously unreleased instrumental versions of the two back-in-the-day singles “Rockabilly Bob” and “Made In The UK”. These really showcase the big-budget production quality. “Made In The UK”’s brass is glorious. If only “Match Of The Day” had picked up on the perfect match these might have made with their goal-of-the-month montages, it might have been a different ballgame (but, erm, still football).
It’s Banoffeesound’s final attempt (unless they can unearth any more) to draw attention to an isolated and wrongly abandoned bit of former pop glory. This is indie-pop at its best.