Phoenix-based VIOLET CHOIR comprise of Mickey Louise and Jesse Pangburn who met at college while studying jazz.
Previously indie rock combo THE PROWLING KIND and dream popsters MRCH, the output from their previous guises appeared in the soundtracks of ‘The Twilight Zone’, ‘Search Party’, ‘13 Reasons Why’, ‘Shameless’ and’ The Vampire Diaries’.
On ‘Reactions’, their 2017 debut album as MRCH, the duo fully embraced a more electronic sound to the point that it was more or less fully sequenced.
Inspired by the likes of independent artists like COMPUTER MAGIC aka DANZ CM and the synthwave breakthrough, there came a change of style with a change of name. So VIOLET CHOIR was born. Their self-titled EP makes use of a Prophet 08, some Moog via the Matriarch and Minitaur, plus Ableton soft synths simulating DX7 bell sounds. Meanwhile a live kit and drum machines sit in tandem alongside occasional electric guitar and bass.
Moody and percussive without resorting to synthwave clichés, ‘Don’t Come Around’ recalls the feel of KLEERUP’s ‘Nothing Left To Die For’ with Jenny Wilson. Nurtured on jazz and rock, Mickey Louise’s voice comes over rich and airy over an appealing electronic pop song that doesn’t sound as long as its five and a half minutes length might suggest.
Although adopting more of a post-punk template with live bass and guitar, ‘Tonight’ still has plenty of synths to add texture including a surprising jazzier twirl and a particularly piercing but melodic sound reminiscent of the sparkly feminine new wave vibe of PARALLELS or CHROMATICS.
Meanwhile, the chunky fuzz and deeper treated vocal counterpoints on ‘Dream About It’ offer a slightly gothic dimension to a slice of precision disco lento, with its dynamic highs and lows projecting in the manner of THE GOLDEN FILTER.
Maintaining that “life is strange”, the sombre root note bass and strident keyboard arpeggio patterns make ‘Friend Song’ the most archetypical synthwave styled offering on the EP, with the breezily wispy vocals contributing to an enjoyable chorus uplift.
The electroclash-derived ‘Kids On Sunset’ adopts a dominant bass triplet for a galloping rhythmic sway that becomes more addictive as it approaches the dancefloor. The presence of the coy feline allure of COMPUTER MAGIC with her track ‘Fuzz’ in particular and the much missed Texan duo ELEVEN:ELEVEN are strong.
This debut EP is not your run-of-the-mill synthwave-by-numbers and by bringing their experience from other genres, VIOLET CHOIR have largely avoided the usual musical catchphrases that can haunt modern electronic pop. What stands out are the songs and the musicality. Time will see Mickey Louise and Jesse Pangburn fully realise the promise on show here.
Releasing ‘II’, their only album to date in 2009, the reputation of DESIRE was reinforced when one of its tracks ‘Under Your Spell’ was included on the influential soundtrack to the film ‘Drive’ starring Ryan Gosling.
Fronted by the vivacious French Canadian Megan Louise, DESIRE also feature Johnny Jewel and Nat Walker of CHROMATICS.
Jewel is also the founder of the highly regarded independent record label Italians Do It Better and after a period looking after royalty accounting, Megan Louise became company president.
A second DESIRE long player has been eagerly awaited for some time now and in 2020, a series of singles including ‘Boy’ and ‘Liquid Dreams’ were released as teasers although as with CHROMATICS ‘Dear Tommy’, it did not actually materialise.
But there were several excellent tracks released among these trailers. There was the deviantly amorous ‘Black Latex’ which was a spoken word art piece in French and English inspired by Andy Warhol, while the brilliantly naive escapist electronic disco of ‘Escape’ imagined BANANARAMA fronting NEW ORDER.
Talking of NEW ORDER, when DESIRE embarked on the ‘Double Exposure’ world tour with CHROMATICS and other Italians Do It Better label mates in 2019, they performed a faithful note-for-note cover of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’. On stage, Megan Louise literally got into the spirit of the song’s title and passionately kissed her live keyboardist Aja of IDIB act HEAVEN in full-view of her beau Johnny Jewel. But for the new DESIRE single ‘Zeros’, Megan Louise has found a new keyboard partner-in-crime in Korean-born model Soo Joo Park.
A gorgeously dreamy electronic dance track produced and mixed by Johnny Jewel, the seductive opening line “Hey Mr Midnight, I’ve been waiting for you” signals the intent and its sunset noir cinematics are captured in the accompanying video shot in the desert of Palm Springs. Directed by Kirill Nong, it sees Megan Louise and Soo Joo Park burying their past. Reflecting the lockdown fatigue many are feeling, there is resignation that things are “Adding Up To Zero Every Single Day”.
Of ‘Zeros’, Megan Louise said: “As the calendar pages fly by, we are all reaching for a new normal on what sometimes feels like an endless loop. The cyclical music echoes flashback sequences of a recurring dream, chanting ‘Falling like a feather… Never touch the floor’. We sampled the incessant strikes of a grandfather clock, stopwatches and digital alarm clocks to keep the time. From sunrise to sunset, every single day is adding up…”
‘Zeros’ is released by Italians Do It Better as a digital single available on the usual platforms
Describing themselves as “Slacker synth-wave refuseniks”, POLYCHROME’s brand of filmic dreamwave as showcased on their self-titled 2018 debut album found favour with TV producers and advertising agencies around the world.
The duo of Vicky Harrison and Oliver Price wrote the majority of their first record in isolation around the serene surroundings of Grianain Eco Lodge near Fort William.
Utilising grainy Lo-Fi synths, old drum machines, WEM copycat tape echo, minimal guitar textures, the emotional centre comes from Vicky Harrison’s angelic vocals filtered through vintage microphones but airily layered using modern production techniques.
Having recently signed to Outland Recordings, both parties are celebrating their union with the release of a brand new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’. Vicky Harrison chatted about the evolving sound of POLYCHROME.
How would you describe the sound of POLYCHROME?
Our debut album was a mix of dreampop, synthwave, chillwave and shoegaze, so it wasn’t very specific, no! It shows how interested we are in different genres, especially underground electronic styles. But bands tend to end up sounding like the bands they like don’t they? People say “oh, you sound like so-and-so…” and you reply “Oh yeah, I love them, they’re one of my favourite bands so…”*laughs*
Which acts have been key influences, it would appear ELECTRIC YOUTH and CHROMATICS are but who else?
Definitely the ‘Drive’ soundtrack, we were making music in that kind of style but because our track ‘Final Kiss’ did so well, we decided to continue POLYCHROME.
When the first album came out, we got a lot of references to COCTEAU TWINS, M83 and we also had dreampop references, LANA DEL REY and GOLDFRAPP, that sort of thing.
POLYCHROME are very active on social media, how did you and Oliver go about developing this?
It’s more me driving the social media, but Ollie does a lot more of the production so it evens itself out. I’ve been thinking a lot more about how we can connect with fans and try to change my attitude to online platforms being a barrier to people, to being a way of connecting with our fans. It’s trying to think about what they want, rather than what I like or want *laughs*
It’s been very interesting actually, I noticed quite a lot of our fans seem to like metal music as well, as I’m not really a fan… a lot of rockers have come into synthwave, I don’t know what it is, the dark basslines maybe?
From a visual image point of view, you are comparatively more understated to go with the music?
It’s all about the music maaaan… *laughs*
I’m not against a strong visual image at all, in fact I’ve just ordered a really cool catsuit that I may be wearing in our next live video and I want to very much consider our look as well.
But I’ve always been just a bit of a music geek and in my old band VICTORIA & JACOB, the whole thing was set on the music and being very much understated and introspective with the stage presence.
I’ve analysed it quite a lot since to understand why I decided to go down that route, because I really wanted people to connect with the emotion of the songs. But with POLYCHROME, I want to go a step up from that and think more about my stage presence, the look and how I present myself. Our aesthetic is to be more shimmery, glitter and that sort of thing. You will see more of that, a strong visual image does make people look and check out the music.
It’s got to be considered even if it’s understated… when I think of understated, I think of LONDON GRAMMAR, I love that band and I love her voice, but I love that she just wears a pair of jeans and a black top. And THE XX, every time, black tops, black trousers, it’s still considered and not random.
What do you think when you look back on your self-titled debut album?
I’m really happy with it, I do think it’s a grower and me myself, I like albums that grow on you. I like weird underground electronic music or I like something pop, so I think we do have some of that pop sensibility in quite a few of our tracks. There were lots of soundscapes in there.
But there are always things you’d want to improve; our writing process is in the studio so we’re recording and writing at the same time.
So sometimes it’s the final product although we do go back and tweak. You need to sit on it for a few months to review it with a little bit more perspective.
So is a lot of it done with you both sitting in a room together rather than remotely by exchanging files?
We did one track sending files to each other but yes, we had this friend in Scotland who has this amazing lodge which she let us stay in. We felt quite at home and we were definitely inspired by the landscape.
We’d go out on long walks, meet with my friend who is an amazing cook and it all felt very comfortable. We wanted to make sure we had this time to reflect and put it into the writing process. It was really fun and we probably won’t get the chance to do it quite like it again.
‘Synesthesia’ was the tune you opted to get behind to do a video for. What was it for you about that song particularly?
We did work with a PR company so they might have had some influence, we did want their advice. I really that track, we worked with a guy named Stephen Hodd who co-wrote it with us, he’s done a lot of work with PASSENGER and LAMB so I think you do get those influences in ‘Synesthesia’ from him, so there’s an element of folkiness and trip-hop.
The closing track ‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ took its lead from ‘Stranger Things’, how influential do you think that series has been on popular culture?
We’re big fans of ‘Stranger Things’, especially the first series. We’re influenced by anything with a nostalgic element to it and ‘Stranger Things’ had that 80s thing going on. It was one of the big shows that really captured people’s attention. I did meet Nora Felder, the ‘Stranger Things’ music supervisor, at an event so I asked if she’d consider putting POLYCHROME in their but she said “No, we only take 80s originals!”*laughs*
‘Final Kiss’ has become your most popular track and has a disco lento femme fatale air about it, what was its catalyst in terms of writing and production?
It was a long time ago! I did a fair bit of the production on this and the vocal for ‘Final Kiss’ was done with a mic we found in a car boot sale, a vintage harmonica microphone.
Whenever we record, we try out a lot of microphones but quite often, we come back to that one because it just seems to capture the best frequencies of my voice. I don’t know where that Italo disco thing came from, it must be in me and Ollie, the nostalgia from that era must just resonate *laughs*
‘Final Kiss’ did particularly well and what sort of kicked POLYCHROME off to do a whole album. It’s had quite a bit of coverage, we’ve had it on adverts in Poland and Denmark, it was part of a Russian brand campaign.
More recently, it was on ‘The Unorthodox’, a series on Netflix. Denmark has particularly brought in a lot of fans and we’d like to tour that region at some point when we’re ready.
Many artists say they have a lifetime to prepare for a debut album but for the second, its much less, any thoughts?
After our first album, we took a break because we put a lot of effort into it; we started a record label called Hi-Lo-Lo-Hi to release it ourselves. There was a lot of investment and being an independent band, it takes a lot of time to make back what you’ve put in, so we needed a bit of recovery time after that.
Then we re-evaluated our approach to the business and releasing music, hence my improvement with social media. It was to get rid of this belief that somehow, a PR company is going to make something happen for you… sometimes they get something and sometimes they don’t. But you have to make sure you are consistently in control of your fanbase and building it, keeping it and giving them what they want.
I think me and Oliver were a bit stuck in the old model, a record label and a PR company because that’s how we’d done it in the past but things have moved on. And there aren’t that many print magazines now so you can’t get a write-up there either!
What would be the creative dynamic between you and Oliver?
Oliver comes to life in the studio and there’s this great dynamic. We just bounce off each other I guess.
I’ll send Ollie quite a lot of samples or source out a new piece of equipment but he does most of the production stuff. He has quite a clean pop sound although I don’t know if he would agree with me there! *laughs*
The new single is ‘Starts With A Kiss’, so you like kissing as it appears to be a recurring theme?
I know! That’s what we wanted because we’d finished with a kiss, so now wanted to start with one. We had originally delayed the release due to the sensitivity with the current situation but now we’ve just decided to go for it.
It has vocoders and a FM rock guitar solo too…
The guitar solo is by Bjorn Ågren from RAZORLIGHT who is a friend of Ollie’s, apparently he just loves his 80s stuff so he was really up for it. We’ve gone a little more synthwave with our new tracks so we’ve tried to be a bit more specific, but even when we try, we still come out synthpop! *laughs*
On the new material like ‘Signs’ , there appears to be more of the vocal glitch processing techniques that were heard on the first album with ‘Dreaming About You’, ‘Final Kiss’ and ‘The Call’, do you see the voice as being as much an instrumental aesthetic as much as synth or guitar, so fair game for treatment?
Yes, like with ‘Final Kiss’, the vocals were a hook so we wanted to keep and develop our signature sound. It’s definitely part of the instrumentation but it’s also part of the interpretation of the story, crossing the humanity with the technology.
At the moment, I’m working a lot on how to interpret our own songs for live, thinking more about what the songs mean. So I’ve come up with a character that lives throughout the stories of the songs.
This is so I can keep a consistency through the interpretation in the hope of keeping a stronger connection with the audience. The character is a young Asian girl called Lucy and she’s in this post-apocalyptic world and she is living under water in the sea as one of the last humans; she’s developing a connection with a romantic partner and there’s this strange dependency going on between the two of them, there’s hope and comfort in there.
The journey will take you through the story as the characters are relying on technology. In my mind, they are partly made of technology and Lucy is relying on the technology to interpret her own feelings.
You mentioned previously that you feel vocals are the most important aspect of a recording?
That’s going to be very individual to the listener but for me in any track, the vocals are important to me. I’m a singer, I’m a voice teacher, I’ve analysed the voice, I’m studying the voice, so for me, the voice has been so important to me in my life as a means of emotional expression.
I’m just fascinated by it, how it works, how you can get different sounds and create different connections to your audience, using just your voice, it creates a sense of humanity and makes it more personal. You can have great instrumental tracks but in my mind for it to stick out, the voice is essential. You make what you love. I am used to instrumental versions of our tracks because we want to get our music out on TV and films for producers to consider using as an atmosphere to back a visual.
How has your voice changed over the years?
I used to use a clearer tone but with POLYCHROME, I’m a lot more breathy, it just happened.
I just liked the atmosphere so I added in more breath. It matched the style of the music but contrasted it as well against the electronic sounds and made it a little bit sexy and eerie.
Atmospheric would be the made word here because with dreampop, you’re not using the lyrics so much but creating more of atmosphere or feel, an emotion or vibe. The lyrics perhaps aren’t as important… you might not hear them on first listening and be drawn to the melody, and then later on, you become involved with the lyrics.
Another new song ‘UltraViolet’ seems to sound more aggressive musically with that loud rimshot and layers of synths?
It does! I don’t know why! *laughs*
It’s quite driving with a faster tempo and I think it leans more towards synthpop, but there was no particular conscious choice. We made a series of electronic vibes and picked what we liked and started sculpting those. We might do that in a few sessions on one song, it still needs a lot of work but the main body is there by the time we get to the end.
You’ve signed to Outland Recordings for your next release, what are your hopes and fears with regards the future of POLYCHROME?
We’re very excited to be working with Outland, we met Stuart McLaren about a year ago and he’s a fantastic chap who is well into the synthwave scene. I guess that’s drawn POLYCHROME a bit further in that direction and it’s been interesting to get to know that scene.
I met a lot of lovely and dedicated fans, they’re always super friendly so that’s really nice. So regarding the future of POLYCHROME, we’re just going to release these tracks and see how they go.
We have a good direction with regards our music being used in television for adverts and we’d like to continue that as our music seems to go down well. At the moment, we are looking to try and find people to represent us in different countries for that and we’re hoping Outland gets us some good playlisting.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Vicky Harrison
In Autumn 2019, CHROMATICS broke a seven year silence between albums with the release of ‘Closer To Grey’.
However, scrutiny revealed ‘Closer To Grey’ to have a ‘VII’ subtitle in blood red on the artwork, despite it being their sixth long player. That was because an album called ‘Dear Tommy’ had been announced in 2015 and yet to be released as album number six.
Legend has it that producer and Italians Do It Better head honcho Johnny Jewel decided he wasn’t happy with the record, so destroyed all 15,000 CDs and 10,000 vinyl copies that had already been pressed.
One record that suffered a similar fate was ‘Techno Pop’ by KRAFTWERK which was actually advertised in the German press in 1983 before being delayed and reworked. It was then released as the disappointing ‘Electric Café’ in 1986 with some additional new tracks, while its original lead single ‘Tour De France’ was omitted. Then in a bizarre revisionist twist, it was remastered and renamed ‘Techno Pop’ with a slightly amended tracklist in 2009!
The ‘Dear Tommy’ saga has become much talked about by observers and fans with speculation rife that it had been shelved. But in the interim, the quartet of Johnny Jewel, Ruth Radelet, Adam Miller and Nat Walker have continued to release singles while also touring the world.
The ‘Dear Tommy’ announcement has been trailed by a purple hazed video for a great new airy synth driven song entitled ‘Teacher’, of which Johnny Jewel says “The apple obscured in fog is enigmatic & open to the interpretation of the viewer. Are we sinking into the unknown or rising from beyond the grave?”
As with KRAFTWERK, the original ‘Dear Tommy’ lead single ‘Shadow’ has now been dropped from the revised tracklist having become ubiquitous, thanks to its inclusion’ in ‘Twin Peaks: Revisited’; also missing are ‘Cherry’, ‘Camera’, ‘In Films’ and ‘I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around’ which have all now been previously released in one form or another.
But included are the previous singles ‘Time Rider’ and ‘Just Like You’, while many of the eighteen tracks announced appear to be completely new with only a few like ‘Fresh Blood’, ‘She Says’, ‘Endless Sleep’ and the title track remaining from the original ‘Dear Tommy’.
A release date for ‘Dear Tommy’ has yet to be confirmed so this saga could go on. However with so much expectation, this album is in danger of underwhelming audiences like ‘Electric Café’ did. With that in mind, it therefore something of a strange coincidence that CHROMATICS and KRAFTWERK had both been due to perform on the same bill at London’s All Points East festival in May.
‘Teacher’ is released by Italians Do It Better via the usual digital outlets
To narrow down ten years of electronic pop to 30 songs was always going to be a challenging task.
But ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has given it a go to offer its own subjective twist.
As the decade started, female artists like LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX and LADYHAWKE had appeared to have been making in-roads into the mainstream as new flag bearers for the synthesizer.
But it proved to be something of a false dawn and while those artists continue today, the music that has made the most lasting impact between 2010-2019 has been made by evergreens from Synth Britannia whose talent has not subsided or independently minded musicians who focussed on art over commerce but didn’t forget to throw in a tune along the way.
As per usual, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s lists are all about rules. So this one has not only been restricted to one song per artist moniker but also to one vocalist. Hence SIN COS TAN just get the nod over VILLA NAH, while MIRRORS take preference over James New’s guest slot for FOTONOVELA on ‘Our Sorrow’ and the Midge Ure vocalled ‘Glorious’ has been chosen instead ULTRAVOX’s ‘Live’.
Presented in alphabetical order, here are our 30 SONGS OF THE DECADE 2010-2019…
With alternative songstress NYXX on additional vocals, ‘Rhythm + Control’ saw Daniel Graves take his industrial pop to the next level. The magnificent Electro Mix successfully realised an oddball blend of Darren Hayes, Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson. With a mightily elastic bassline, when asked whether ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had gone crazy coming up with the comparison, Daniel Graves replied “God no. Spot on, guys!” adding “The goal was to cram as many features into one song and have fun with it as possible.”
Close to the heart of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK with its solidarity to the synth, Synth Is Not Dead’ is a touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider. Johan Baeckstrom said: “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.
‘Without A Trace Of Emotion’ saw Karl Bartos conversing with his showroom dummy Herr Karl and confronting his demons as an ex-member of the world’s most iconic electronic group. But whereas his former colleague Wolfgang Flür vented his spleen in book form with ‘I Was A Robot’, Bartos took a more ironic musical approach with the line “I wish I could remix my life to another beat” summing up a wry reference to ‘The Mix’ project which drove him out of Kling Klang!
BEYOND THE WIZARD’S SLEEVE featuring HANNAH PEEL Diagram Girl (2016)
BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE’s ‘Diagram Girl’ was the work of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris of THE GRID. Featuring the unisex vocals of Hannah Peel, a deeper pitch shift provided a psychedelic out-of-this-world feel which bizarrely fitted in alongside the songstress’ dreamily breathy tones. “They wanted me to sound like a man!” she remembered. Meanwhile the pulsing electronic soundtrack had surreal echoes of OMD, in particular their lesser known minor hit ‘Secret’.
Muscian, producer and Italians Do It Better head honcho Johnny Jewel, has lways been into all things Lynchian. So when CHROMATICS released the dreamy Badalamenti-inspired ‘Shadow’, it instantly recalled The Black Lodge’s red curtains in that sleepy Washington town. With Ruth Radelet’s wispy vocal and an eerie string machine for the main melodic theme, the ghostly wistful tune later came to further prominence thanks to its inclusion in ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ in 2017.
CHVRCHES stuck to the synthpop template of their 2013 debut and as a result, delivered what LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, and LADYHAWKE and HURTS all failed to do… a decent second album! The propulsive four-to-the-floor action of ‘Clearest Blue’ was wonderfully held in a state of tension before WHACK, there was a dynamic surprise in the final third that recalled the classic overtures of Vince Clarke. The song was electronic pop magnificence embroiled.
RODNEY CROMWELL is the alter-ego of Adam Cresswell, formally of ARTHUR & MARTHA. ‘Black Dog’ recalled the pulsing post-punk miserablism of SECTION 25 and was embellished by some Hooky styled bass. As with NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’, despite the inherent melancholy, there was an optimistic light at the end of the tunnel that made ‘Black Dog’ a most joyous listening experience despite its very personal themes of love, loss, depression and redemption.
The ‘All You Need Is Now’ album saw DURAN DURAN cyclically return to the funk-led syncopated pop of their first two classic albums. A superb sequencer assisted disco number with a tingling metallic edge, ‘Being Followed’ hinted at THE CURE’s ‘A Forest’ while Nick Rhodes’ vintage string machine captured the tension of post 9/11 paranoia. Simon Le Bon gave his wayward all and while he has technically never had a great voice, what he delivered was unique AND untouchable…
Despite EAST INDIA YOUTH being no more as a project, the debut long player ‘Total Strife’ pointed towards William Doyle’s potential to pen sublime pop, and with the follow-up ‘Culture Of Volume’, the album’s centrepiece was ‘Carousel’. It imagined OMD’s ‘Stanlow’ reworked during Brian Eno’s sessions for ‘Apollo: Soundtracks & Atmospheres’. With no percussive elements and over six minutes in length, Doyle gave a dramatic vocal performance resonating in beautifully crystalline melancholy.
‘Glorious’ not only reunited Midge Ure with Rusty Egan but also Chris Payne who co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’; Ure told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I liked the music, but I didn’t think the song / melody / lyrics were strong enough, so I rewrote all of that in my studio. I stripped the demo down to the basic track, edited it down into a more ‘song like’ format and started working on a glorious melody. I added the main melodic synth line and layered guitars over it, ending with the ‘hopefully’ uplifting solo over the outro”.
With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.
Available on the album ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ via Emika Records
John Foxx and Jori Hulkkonen had worked together previously on singular songs like ‘Dislocated’ and ‘Never Been Here Before’, but never before on a body of work with a conceptual theme. ‘European Splendour’ took on a grainier downtempo template and the lead track ‘Evangeline’ was all the more beautiful for it. Full of depth, coupled with an anthemic chorus and vibrant exchange of character throughout, this rousing yet soothingly futuristic number was quite otherworldly.
Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” in this gloriously optimistic tune about finding love again in midlife. Their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ finally came out in 2019.
As the title suggested, the gorgeous and sophisticated ‘Dreaming’ adopted a distinctly European flavour compared with the mid-Atlantic AOR focus of songs like ‘Rocket’, ‘Alive’ and ‘Believer’ on the ‘Head First’ album. Alison Goldfrapp’s voice resonated angelically with beautiful high-register chorus alongside the with pulsing sequences and string machine washes of Will Gregory’s primarily electronic arrangement complimented by Davide Rossi’s cinematic orchestrations.
The Berlin period of IAMX has maintained a special quality in that Chris Corner captured an electro Gothic aesthetic that combined the theatrics of Weimar Cabaret with themes of sex, alienation and dependency. Despite the lyrical content, Corner’s songs were always strongly melodic with an accessible grandeur. ‘Ghosts Of Utopia’ had instant appeal for a dance in the dark with exhilarating mechanical drive. His scream of ”this is psychosis” was wholly believable!
As IAMAMIWHOAMI, Jonna Lee and Claes Björklund offered icy musical art. ‘Hunting For Pearls’ featured wonderfully pulsing sequences and trancey atmospheres, coupled with beautifully rich vocals. With a mysterious falsetto reach, the air might have been cold outside but inside, things were warm if delightfully odd. If Kate Bush made a modern electronic dance record at ABBA’s Polar Studios, it would probably have sounded like this. Jonna Lee continues the artistic adventure now as IONNALEE.
Available on the album ‘Blue’ via towhomitmayconcern
Sweden’s KITE are probably the best synth act in Europe right now. Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg’s wonderfully exuberant array of sounds and rugged majestic vocals certainly deserve a much larger audience. Issuing only EPs and never albums, the magnificent progressive electronic epic ‘Up For Life’ was a two-part nine minute masterpiece, the passionate and sublime first half mutated into a beautifully surreal journey of VANGELIS-like proportions for its second.
Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw Katja von Kassel questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by Chris Payne’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.
The beautiful ‘Ambulances’ was totally different to anything LADYTRON had done before, almost in te vein of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. Moving at a much slower pace, Helen Marnie’s voice adopted an unexpected angelic falsetto over the lush spacious mix featuring dramatic strings, synthetic timpani and an almost random hi-hat pattern. Daniel Hunt said he “wanted it to sound ethereal and otherworldly” and with a glorious crescendo, ‘Ambulances’ was certainly something to be to be savoured.
A worthy of re-assessment of DEPECHE MODE ‘A Broken Frame’ was long overdue and MARSHEAUX have certainly gave a number of its songs some interesting arrangements. Their version of ‘Monument’ borrowed its bassline from latter day DM B-side ‘Painkiller’. Combined with the wispily resigned vocals of Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou, it provided a tense soundtrack. It’s not often that cover versions are better than the originals, but this was one of them.
With their smart suits, MIRRORS presented an intense and artful approach to electronic pop that recalled Dindisc era OMD. With a dense synthetic chill and pulsing effects dominating this brilliantly uptempo electro number, ‘Ways To An End’ came over like TALKING HEADS ‘Crossed Eyed & Painless’ given a claustrophobic post-punk makeover. Sadly, MIRRORS were to only make the one album ‘Lights & Offerings’ which although under-appreciated on release, is now acknowledged as a classic of the decade.
Having worked successfully in 2013 with Guy Sigsworth on ‘the minutes’, which saw Alison Moyet return to the synthesized music forms to compliment her powerful and self-assured voice, the follow-up ‘Other’ was a natural progression. The startling orchestrated electro-dub drama of ‘Alive’ gave Moyet’s two former classmates in DEPECHE MODE a stark lesson in how to actually fully realise electronic blues. Indeed, it was ‘In Chains’, the lame opener from ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ gone right…
After the guitar dominated proceedings of the last few NEW ORDER albums, Bernard Sumner promised a return to electronic music for the Mancunians’ first album of new material without estranged founder member and bassist Peter Hook. That was certainly delivered on with ‘Plastic’, a full-on throbbing seven minute electro number mixed by Richard X with blippy echoes of ‘Mr Disco’. Dealing with the issue of superficiality, it declared “this love is poison, but it’s like gold”… beware of anything plastic and artificial!
With a lot less goth metal guitar and much more prominent use of synths, the ‘Savage’ album successfully outstripped ‘Splinter’. And it was the haunting ‘And It All Began With You’ that stopped all in its tracks, with an exposed and soulful vocal. Borrowing Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ for its chorus, the subtle orchestrations and a gentle shuffling beat coupled to a steadily discordant electric piano riff to close, it beautifully brought out the best in classic Gary Numan while maintaining forward momentum.
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage in ‘Electricity’ and four decades on, they came full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’, ‘Don’t Go’ captured the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synths and a spirited vocal delivery attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes, using beautiful melodies to tell terrible things…
SIN COS TAN was the new mathematically charged project of producer Jori Hulkkonen and VILLA NAH vocalist Juho Paalosmaa. “A synthesized duo of great promise, broken dreams, and long nights”, they have certainly delivered with ‘Trust’, all draped in melancholy with emotive vocals haunted by the ghost of Billy Mackenzie. With driving hypnotic, layered strings, sampled cimbalom and Cold War dramatics, this was as Jori Hulkkonen put it: “Disco You Can Cry To”…
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be the most exciting band since NEW ORDER and they closed the decade opening for them on tour in Europe. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive with ‘Turn Black’ being one of its standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”
The Nordic vocalist of the decade has to be Susanne Sundfør who worked with M83, KLEERUP and RÖYKSOPP as she built her international profile as a solo artist. Propelled by a pulsing electronic backbone, ‘Fade Away’ from Sundfør’s breakthrough album ‘Ten Love Songs’ caught her in rousing form with a tune that came over like Scandinavian gospel. Meanwhile, a fabulous polyphonic synth solo inspired by QUEEN’s ‘I Want To Break Free’ added another dimension.
First appearing online as a video exclusive in 2010, ‘Deep Red’ was inspired by Dario Argento’s ‘Profondo Rosso’. A gorgeous seven and a half minute funeral ballad that came over like CLIENT fronting classic OMD, this was tremendously dramatic stuff from Anais Neon and Martin Swan. It caught the ear of a certain Andy McCluskey who spotted VILE ELECTRODES while perusing ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and later invited them to open for OMD in Germany during their 2013 ‘English Electric’ tour.
Techno DJ WESTBAM celebrated 30 years in music with an intriguing mature collection of songs under the title of ‘Götterstrasse’. While the theme of the album centred on the joy and euphoria of underground nightlife, he said ‘You Need The Drugs’ was “the first explicit electronic appeal AGAINST the use of drugs with a clear message: drugs are a bore!”. Voiced brilliantly by Richard Butler of THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS’, it featured prominently in Mark Reeder’s film ‘B Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979–1989’.