The Swedish band LADOMIR, who described themselves as “synth and string”, was the jump start for Anna Öberg, who had long been a stand-alone composer and lyricist.
A self-confessed lover of pop, Öberg decided to take the plunge into the ocean of electronica, releasing ‘Härsknar’ as her first solo long player.
This amalgamation of new wave, punk and heavy industrial elements was produced by Charles Storm, known for his collaborations with HÅKAN HELLSTRÖM.
This year sees Öberg’s return with a follow-up, ‘Vafan Har Jag Gjort!’, which sweetly translates as “What the f*ck have I done!”
So, Anna, what the f*ck have you done!?
Promising “further steps into her very personal synth universe and masterful craftsmanship”, Öberg claims that this time she’s pushing “a little harder”, but at the same time “a little more sweet”.
Indeed, the harder pushing, nearly psychedelic sound LSD induced and with rave qualities, introduces the album with ‘Jag Blir Inte Kysst’ (‘I Don’t Get Kissed’), where the artist goes all out with pitch changing vocal, gritty synth and dirty textures, that attack from the onset.
The question of today is ‘Vafan Har Jag Gjort!’, which is repeated several times in the course of the song, pushing further and further like uncomfortable probe, to ease off for seconds before the machine starts up again. From the clear protest song, to this of arm swaying quality, the regretful plea ebbs and flows until it disappears into the abyss of Öberg’s disturbed mind.
‘Daga Att Gråta’ sees a more demure approach with sluggish rhythm, slower beat and poetic verses, interwoven with heavier elements to complete a more uncertain track, full of Pagan imaginary and artistry.
Vintage synth a la FAD GADGET’s ‘Ricky’s Hand’ ushers ‘Jag Såg Dig På En Lördag’ where that Saturday feeling drives the fast paced beats, continuously paying homage to the analogue machinery, showing off the fact Öberg can do “the happy” as well as the harsh and sad.
The unusual returns on ‘Bråk’, which is “fraction” like GAZELLE TWIN meets BJÖRK. The main musical elements are a choir, sparse synth and echoed voices. ‘Ich Bin’ changes the tongue to German and Öberg warns in no uncertain terms the she needs love: “Achtung Achtung Ich brauche Liebe”, over possibly the most interesting musical manipulation on the production.
A PET SHOP BOYS like dance sound enters on ‘Fortfarande 16’. The clash of voices and sounds bursts out like Jack in a Box, paying further homage to synth of the past times, while the closing ‘Omöjligt’ wraps up the album with the strangest of tunes. Dark, smoky and spooky, this persuasive piece evokes uncertainty and fear, with very few sounds, which develop into a plethora of sci-fi light and truly “impossible” imaginary.
Nobody said this was easy listening music, nobody warned against harsh words, nobody prepared against heavy statements, but Anna Öberg cares not. Having Charles Storm taking the reins of production again, as well as the inclusion of the poet Bob Hansson, John Lindqwister and Russ Rydén, Öberg achieves higher levels of musical wisdom, thanks to her ever expanding electronic horizons.
The world found itself in a rather antagonistic and divisive state this year, as if none of the lessons from the 20th Century’s noted conflicts and stand-offs had been learnt.
Subtle political messages came with several releases; honorary Berliner MARK REEDER used the former divided city as symbolism to warn of the dangers of isolationism on his collaborative album ‘Mauerstadt’. Meanwhile noted Francophile Chris Payne issued the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS EP ‘Direct Lines’ with its poignant warning of nuclear apocalypse in its title song. The message was to unite and through music as one of the best platforms.
After a slow start to 2017, there was a bumper crop of new music from a number of established artists. NINE INCH NAILS and GARY NUMAN refound their mojo with their respective ‘Add Violence’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ releases, with the latter recording his best body of work since his imperial heyday.
But the first quarter of the year was hamstrung by the anticipation for the 14th DEPECHE MODE long player ‘Spirit’, with other labels and artists aware that much of their potential audience’s hard earned disposable income was being directed towards the Basildon combo’s impending album and world tour.
Yet again, reaction levels seemed strangely muted as ‘Spirit’ was another creative disappointment, despite its angry politicised demeanour.
Rumours abounded that the band cut the album’s scheduled recording sessions by 4 weeks. This inherent “that’ll do” attitude continued on the ‘Global Spirit’ jaunt when the band insulted their loyal audience by doing nothing more than plonking an arena show into a stadium for the summer outdoor leg.
Despite protestations from some Devotees of their dissatisfaction with this open-air presentation, they were content to be short-changed again as they excitedly flocked to the second set of European arena dates with the generally expressed excuse that “it will be so much better indoors”.
By this Autumn sojourn, only three songs from ‘Spirit’ were left in the set, thus indicating that the dire record had no longevity and was something of a lemon.
Suspicions were finally confirmed at the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ Q&A featuring Daniel Miller and Anton Corbijn, when the esteemed photographer and visual director confessed he did not like the album which he did the artwork for… see, it’s not just The Electricity Club 😉
Devotees are quick to say all criticism of DEPECHE MODE is unfair, but the band can’t help but make themselves easy targets time and time again. But why should the band care? The cash is coming, the cash is coming…
The Wirral lads demonstrated what the word spirit actually meant on their opus ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, while the former class mate of Messrs Gore and Fletcher demonstrated what a soulful, blues-influenced electronic record should sound like with ‘Other’.
As Tony Hadley departed SPANDAU BALLET and Midge Ure got all ‘Orchestrated’ in the wake of ULTRAVOX’s demise, the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album directed by Rusty Egan, to which they contributed, became a physical reality in 2017.
Now if DM plonked an arena show into the world’s stadiums, KRAFTWERK put a huge show into a theatre. The publicity stunt of 2012, when Tate Modern’s online ticket system broke down due to demand for their eight album live residency, did its job when the Kling Klang Quartett sold out an extensive UK tour for their 3D concert spectacular.
No less impressive, SOULWAX wowed audiences with their spectacular percussion heavy ‘From Deewee’ show and gave a big lesson to DEPECHE MODE as to how to actually use live drums correctly within an electronic context.
Mute Artists were busy with releases from ERASURE, LAIBACH and ADULT. but it was GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Silver Eye’ that stole the show from that stable. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM returned after seven years with their ‘American Dream’ and it was worth the wait, with the most consistent and electronic record that James Murphy’s ensemble has delivered in their career.
2017 was a year that saw acts who were part of the sine wave of Synth Britannia but unable to sustain or attain mainstream success like BLUE ZOO, B-MOVIE, FIAT LUX and WHITE DOOR welcomed back as heroes, with their talent belatedly recognised.
Across the Baltic Sea, Finnish producer JORI HULKKONEN released his 20th album ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ while nearby in Russia, a duo named VEiiLA showcased an unusual hybrid of techno, opera and synthpop and ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY offered a ‘❤’.
One of the year’s discussion points was whether Synthwave was just synthpop dressed with sunglasses and neon signs but whatever, Stateside based Scots but MICHAEL OAKLEY and FM-84 made a good impression with their retro-flavoured electronic tunes.
Female solo artists had strong presence in 2017 as FEVER RAY made an unexpected return, ZOLA JESUS produced her best work to date in ‘Okovi’ and HANNAH PEEL embarked on an ambitious synth / brass ‘Journey to Cassiopeia’. Meanwhile, SARAH P. asked ‘Who Am I’ and MARNIE found ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ as ANI GLASS and NINA both continued on their promising developmental path.
Respectively, Ireland and Scotland did their bit, with TINY MAGNETIC PETS and their aural mix of SAINT ETIENNE and KRAFTWERK successfully touring with OMD in support of their excellent second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’, while formed out of the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL, RAINLAND wowed audiences opening for ASSEMBLAGE 23.
Despite getting a positive response, both iEUROPEAN and SOL FLARE parted ways while on the opposite side of the coin, Belgian passengers METROLAND celebrated five years in the business with the lavish ‘12×12’ boxed set
Overall in 2017, it was artists of a more mature disposition who held their heads high and delivered, as some newer acts went out of their way to test the patience of audiences by drowning them in sleep while coming over like TRAVIS on VSTs.
With dominance of media by the three major labels, recognition was tricky with new quality traditional synthpop not generally be championed by the mainstream press. With Spotify now 20% owned by those three majors, casual listeners to the Swedish streaming platform were literally told what to like, as with commercial radio playlists.
It is without doubt that streaming and downloading has created a far less knowledgeable music audience than in previous eras, so Rusty Egan’s recent online petition to request platforms to display songwriting and production credits was timely; credit where credit is due as they say…
While The Electricity Club does not dismiss Spotify totally and sees it as another tool, it should not be considered the be all and end all, in the same way vinyl is not the saviour of the music industry and in physics terms, cannot handle the same dynamic range as CD.
Music is not as emotionally valued as it was before… that’s not being old and nostalgic, that is reality. It can still be enjoyed with or without a physical purchase, but for artists to be motivated to produce work that can connect and be treasured, that is another matter entirely.
However, many acts proved that with Bandcamp, the record company middle man can be eliminated. It is therefore up to the listener to be more astute, to make more effort and to make informed choices. And maybe that listener has to seek out reliable independent media for guidance.
However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast. And as it comes close to completing its 8th year on the web, The Electricity Club maintains its position of not actually promoting new acts or supporting any scene, but merely to write about the music it likes and occasionally stuff it doesn’t… people can make their own mind up about whether to invest money or time in albums or gigs.
Yes, things ARE harder for the listener and the musician, but the effort is worthwhile 😉
Since a good percentage of great synth music comes from Scandinavia, with Sweden notably leading the field of good electronica, it’s not a surprise that another act surfaces from the ashes of LADOMIR.
Having described their sound as “synth and string”, the band had enjoyed a brief period of popularity, but Helsingborg born ANNA ÖBERG has long been a self-sufficient composer, lyricist and artist.
Citing the influences such as JOHN CARPENTER, KRAFTWERK, THE CURE and BOB HUND, Anna admits that pop is constantly at the centre of her own songwriting.
‘Härsknar’ is her first solo long player, produced by Charles Storm, known for his collaborations with HÅKAN HELLSTRÖM.
Promising a good dose of “pretty noise”, alongside flute, glockenspiel and voices, all added to synthesizers and drum machines circa 1972-1986, ‘Härsknar’ invites the listener to immerse themselves into a Swedish extravaganza of new wave, industrial and punk.
Performed in Swedish from top to bottom, Anna’s solo enterprise sure is a step into the unknown for many listeners used to their favourite genre being performed exclusively in English. The songs are about “people’s anxieties, capitalism and homelessness, but also of hope and perseverance”.
Musically, the album is truly an eclectic mix of instrumentation, voices and effects. From the delicately ethereal ‘Var Inte Rädd’, put together with the help of a Jupiter 4, JX8P, DSS-1 and MODular with a twist of a flute, through to the beat loaded ‘5 Minuter’, which features no less than an SP12, TR-606, Synsonic, Pro-One, Prophet 5, Jupiter 4 and DX7 to the gritty ‘Sin Mamma’, Anna certainly showcases her wide musical tastes.
Supported by Kire Nilsson and a host of synthesisers on ‘Se Mig’, Anna doesn’t rest there. What follows is a harsher sounding ‘I Morgon’, with the addition of glockenspiel to round up the host of hardware used here.
‘Ett Rop På Hjälp’ sounds like a dirty collaboration between PET SHOP BOYS on steroids and AND ONE, while the closing ‘DNA Är Gratis’ is more of a poppy synth sweetie, being a cross of early DEPECHE MODE or YAZOO, with Love Parade sounding beats and the further use of glockenspiel.
While to many, singing in Swedish may be an obstacle, some will appreciate the plethora of fantastic synthware used on this long player. ANNA ÖBERG isn’t a stranger to those instruments and certainly knows what she’s doing.
This is a perfect alternative to those seeking something different this Spring.