The second album from Mick Hobbs’ Officer! (the punctuation’s part of the name) was released on vinyl in 1988. It’s been dusted off- or “remastered from the original reel-to-reel tapes” to give it the proper term- and released on CD by KlangGalerie with five bonus unreleased instrumental tracks from around the same time, as part of a rather prolific output.
It’s very 1988, in many ways- a lo-fi guitar-pop with a quirky, folky attitude and the occasional tilt towards the weird, backed up with a pleasant richness of guest string and wind instruments. The sound quality would have felt low-budget even then, and a bit of remastering doesn’t disguise the generally grungy feel. What carries it above that slight sonic problem is the fact it has a very strong ear for a catchy hook and a catchy riff, with elements like the chorus of “Coma” or the infectious opening riff of “Simone” undeniably strong pieces of song-writing.
Certain parts, like the Jethro Tull-ish flute of delightfully odd “r Tune” (a Simon Bates-sampling tune that Bates would never have played), feel both more eccentric and slightly older, harking back to a more experimental 60’s studio feel. “Remove Your Hat”’s first part has that barking mad avantgarde spaciousness, before the second part develops into a song that’s halfway to Madchester, while the Beatles-ripping riff of “Bright Star” seems like a more overt throwback.
“r Tune” is also an example of the unusual lyrical approach, which sits somewhere between straight-faced, wacky and ironic, without ever settling into overt comedy. “Simone, she leaves me accident prone, so I’d better leave her alone [...], keeping her body in tone, with food that’s organically grown” is poetry. The introverted but sweet love song parts, such as “(I’ve Got A) Nice Girlfriend”, never quite reaches Jilted John territory, but it’s not far off, while the simple and innocent approach stretches into wilful ironic pretend-dumbness in songs like “Hid It (‘Cos I Wanted You To Find It)”.
As quite a contrast, the five previously unreleased instrumental bonus tracks, rather than being the sparse pop-demo sound that I might have anticipated, are rich experimental pieces with analogue synths and complex time signatures that hint at a very different but equally interesting compositional approach. “Distal Interphalangeal”’s mesmerising counter-play of repeating plinky bell sounds with spontaneous growls is a particular highlight.
It’s oddly endearing from start to finish, and while the clanginess and sonic quality of the guitar does start grating over the course of an hour, it’s an interesting way to get introduced to Hobbs as an off-beat songwriter with some great tunes.
Whether it’s channeling widespread frustrations in lockdown, or whether it’s just naturally naughty, Eric Shans & X Miss Ella’s Sexting With Strangers channels plenty of sexiness into its chunky electro house. The spoken-word vocal has very strong shades of Miss Kittin and some electroclash classics, while the house production is in that world too, but with fresh, polished production and a certain US smooth vibe in it.
There’s an original and an acid mix of “Sex And Dinner”, and for me it’s the 303’s of the acid mix that win the day on this one. The vocals are a little clearer, and there’s a slightly more rave-like urgency to it that fits nicely with the slightly Lil Louis-ish gradual erotic build-up in the breakdown, which jolts back into steady house for the final couple of minutes.
Additional track “Sparkly Unicorn” is slightly quirkier, with a slightly more progressive house tip and some lovely arp. X Miss Ella sings on this one, a lovely languid la-la-la with an appropriately tripped out feel that’s just the right side of lazy, while the electronics roll nicely with some bright fills and a feel-good (but not radio-friendly) tone.
It’s another reliable pack of tracks from the 3Bridge label, whose consistency of DJ-friendly output throughout a lockdown period has to be appreciated, whether it’s through loyalty or stubbornness! It’s exclusive to Beatport on June 26th, and everywhere else two weeks later.
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.