Denmark’s Rebecca Molina confesses that she “draws inspiration from the old 70s synth scene and blends it with its intuitive and quirky pop melodies”.
Taking you to “a dreamy atmospheric production, with a classic pop form, which is dominated by vibrant industrial drums”, the Copenhagen based multi-instrumentalist debuts with her atmospheric EP ‘Corpus’ which presents six tracks of experimental synthpop.
These songs skilfully combine the future and the vintage years of electronica.
MOLINA writes, produces and even creates videos to accompany her music, which puts her in line with the Canadian synth starlet GRIMES.
‘Dream Original’ kicks off the production wth harsh snare tones, various drum rolls, whistling, classic sounding synth and that chaotic representation is indeed as original as it gets, before ‘Are They Gold?’ Various influences are palpable here, ranging from DEPECHE MODE through AND ONE, AVRIL LAVIGNE and I AM SNOW ANGEL.
‘Vaporised’ is a vocal interplay extravaganza, while ‘Hey Girl’ is a melodic gem that GRIMES herself would be proud to put down her own name to. ‘Meat Monster’ again brings the old and new together, with a sublime use of synth and a haunting vocal; TEARS FOR FEARS meets GOLDFRAPP as hand-in-hand off, they walk off into the bright synth future.
First single ‘Salvation’ closes the EP with further sonic border bending and a refreshing self-confidence exhibited by the artist when it comes to, not only her own creativity, but also her body and innate ability to create music.
For MOLINA, this release is “a tribute to me and my own body, and what it can show me mentally and physically. That’s why I called it ‘Corpus’… it’s about letting go, enjoying the present and praising myself for who I am without having any disgrace.”
And so she did; MOLINA has taken the sound of vintage electro and combined it with fresh, quirky and futuristic experimental approach. If it worked for GRIMES, it will certainly work for her.
Now Denmark for sure joins Norway, Sweden and Finland in the field of artful synthpopia.
‘Corpus’ is released by No3 via the usual digital platforms such as iTunes and Amazon
So, here it is, veiled in mystery for months, with an unclear release date and promises of a masterpiece – the fourth album by the Canadian songstress Claire Boucher aka GRIMES.
‘Art Angels’ is manna for the hungry fans of the extraordinary and self-sufficient Music Dame and a worthy follow-up to 2012’s ‘Visions’.
Boucher herself has stressed that this production “lyrically, it’s more political and less abstract than before, like, really trippy free association about nature and sh*t.”
GRIMES has always been inspired by what most would find random like: “There’s a song that’s from the perspective of a butterfly in the Amazon as people are cutting down trees; there’s a song that’s from the perspective of angels who are polluted, so they’re crying polluted tears. I feel like it’s more about the Earth. I think I was more in society when I was making it, so it feels more grounded.”
The self-confessed “super feminist” uses herself and herself only, to complete the albums. She despises the idea of a producer taking credit for her work, so the whole enterprise is a very DIY job, including the tarot cards inspired artwork accompanying the release.
The girl does what the girl has to do, and the opening ‘Laughing & Not Being Normal’ sums up the entire outing with an ‘Alice In Wonderland’ inspired intro, leading into the “Miley Cyrus in her good girl country and western stage”, ‘California’. The sweetly laced track lyrically hits the negative experiences the artist went through while on “writer camps”, shaping the next hits for the Billboard 100, where she realised nothing is about art, and that it was the complete opposite to what she wanted to do.
‘SCREAM’, with its guitar riffs inspired by Tarantino movies, is an innovative track where GRIMES collaborates with a Taiwanese female rapper ARISOPHANES. Odd, you may think; well, Boucher tried to use Soundcloud more randomly, exploring the musicians with the least number of followers. That’s how she came across the artist, who shares the feminist vision she thought perfect for this record.
Next comes the first single and the mesmerisingly superb ‘Flesh Without Blood’, a poppy American Dream track, which to many, could land the artist a decent chart position. In one of her recent interviews, she swiftly replies to that statement. “I hate that all music right now has to exist in the context of the Top 40. I just want to make music that’s good. Some good music is pop, some good music is not pop.”
‘Flesh Without Blood’ is pop, but it’s beyond the sweet and candied: it’s immense, grown up and arty, without the need of being labelled within the realms of any chart position out there.
‘Belly Of The Beat’ brings a light super girly accent to the record, acting as a coma between the single and the following ‘Kill Vs Maim’. The song was written from a perspective of Al Pacino in ‘The Godfather Part 2’, except that “he’s a vampire and can switch gender and travel through space”. This statement alone summarises the artist’s flaunting approach to making music.
‘Artangels’ is a mish-mash of the good old pop, electronica and features influences of many an artist, being ingenuously fresh at the same time, while ‘Easily’ starts off with a simple piano and mellow beats flowering into a sophisticated hip-hop ballad. Just like with the clothes Boucher wears, you couldn’t find a song crammed with more genres coagulated into one, seamless number.
‘Pin’ similarly acts like a catalyst of variety, and ‘REALiTi’, which had been previously released as a demo with great success, has its overhauled version on the album, showcasing quite how magnificent the song is. Marked with Berlin’s Love Parade elements, this mellow track is remarkably modern and demonstrates the talents of the Canadian man-hater quite visibly. Go back few years to the marvellous pop creations of MADONNA, spice them with added synth and techno elements, and you have got yourself a perfect GRIMES song; quite possibly the best on this production.
‘World Princess Pt II’ and ‘Venus Fly’, the latter featuring Janelle Monáe, a multiple Grammy nominee, are as unconventionally original as they get, while ‘Live In The Vivid Dream’, which formed the act two of the promotional video, together with ‘Flesh Without Blood’ is a punctuating shortie, leading onto ‘Butterfly’. The last track on the production shows off the perfectionist and the tendency to push boundaries, being of a socially vital lyrical content, yet sung from the perspective of a butterfly, seeing the Amazon rainforest being cut to nothing.
Claire Boucher has become a clear icon of today’s youth; no limits, rules, obligations and no feeling of “owing” anything to anyone. Coming from British Columbia’s strict Catholic school system, where the teaching of science was banned, the inquisitive girl was always in trouble for asking too many questions. She’s flourished into a woman, who knows what she wants and is not scared to get it.
The very woman, who on her last release used “a lot of drugs” and recorded the album using Garageband only, this time has stepped up to Ableton Live and learnt to play a dozen of instruments; collaborated with known and not-so known artists, and channelled everything she’s got, is definitely the pronounced artist of today. She’s proud to live in her own house, she’s buying her own equipment, she’s not relying on producers (on which she lashes out with her “diss” track), and doing what she wants and how she wants it.
In the five years since its formation on 15th March 2010, The Electricity Club has reviewed over 130 albums and EPs.
During this time, the album has become less of an artistic statement, with the focus of both consumer and media, including TEC, being more centred around single songs.
This has indirectly led to the prominence of the extended EP or mini-album in today’s digital marketplace. It is a halfway house, but at least the creative output of an artist can be showcased by a small body of work. And increasingly, many are combining and reworking several EP releases in order to formulate a full length album.
Despite the move towards downloads and streaming, there is still a demand for physical product. However, The Electricity Club has been slightly bemused by the music industry bias towards vinyl, to the neglect of CD. It should be noted that silver digital discs are still the preferred medium for the general consumer, as proven by the million plus sales of TAYLOR SWIFT’s ‘1989’ opus on CD. This was a release which was confined to compact disc and digital download variants with no concessions towards streaming and, initially in the first few months of release, vinyl.
TEC confesses it has no love whatsoever for vinyl in the 21st Century, and is rather irritated by it being turned into an antiquated object of fetish and snobbery which bears little relation to the music on it. And to think ironically that the world’s record labels tried to kill off vinyl back in 1989 in favour of err… cassette! Yes, the music industry… as forward thinking as ever!!
With regards Spotify, TEC actually is not particularly fond of that either… even with the subscription model, with so much music available, most of it is not listened to properly, thus devaluing any music that is perhaps worthy of greater recognition. Think of it like the casual music festival goer who just hops between all the acts playing on the many different stages after just two songs… it’s a false economy in reality!
But despite its concerns, TEC still loves a good album in whatever format. It is the content that is most important, not the mode of carriage. So which long players still stand up to scrutiny and can claim to have lasted the course over the last five years? Listed by year then alphabetical order, with a restriction of one album per artist and no recent releases from 2015, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 favourite albums from the period between 2010 to 2014…
GOLDFRAPP Head First (2010)
Although now disowned by the duo, ‘Head First’ was Alison Goldfrapp finally all relaxed and having fun. Stomping synth tunes like ‘Alive’, ‘Believer’ and ‘Believer’ were fine examples of Ms Goldfrapp taking her Olivia Newton John fixation (which had been apparent on early B-side ‘UK Girls’ with its interpolation of ‘Physical’) to a fully realised musical level. But best of all though on this short and sharp collection were the marvellous ABBA tribute of the ‘Head First’ title track and the ethereal ARP laden Eurodisco of ‘Dreaming’. While the more recent ‘Tales Of Us’ has seen GOLDFRAPP venture into more cinematic orchestrations again, a return to electronic pop is always possible with Ms Goldfrapp’s record of chameleon-like tendencies.
‘Head First’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Mute Records
For their second album, TENEK successfully smoothed off some of their more industrial edges to deliver their most accessible song collection so far. Most immediate was ‘Blinded By You’ with its rousing chorus and a structure not dissimilar to THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’. Meanwhile, anthems like ‘Losing Something’, ‘Higher Ground’ and ‘No Time For Fighting’ were modern synthetic dance rock at its best. But the highlight was ‘The Art Of Evasion’, a great number with nods towards TEARS FOR FEARS and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS.
‘On The Wire’ is available as a CD and download via Toffeetones Records
One of the best electronic albums to have been released in 2010, ‘Origin’ was a fine crystalline balancing act that combined the classic synthpop of days gone by, with the freshness of new technologically fuelled dance music. The songs of the Helsinki based duo Juho Paolosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä ranged from the supreme GARY NUMAN on Prozac of ‘Remains Of Love’ and ‘Ways To Be’, to the Moroder-esque hypnotism of ‘Kiss & Tell’. Then there were the OMD influences on ‘Some Kind Of Dream’ and ‘Envelope’ so it was not entirely surprising the pair were invited to support than band on their 2010 tour. But while VILLA NAH then went into hiatus, Paolosmaa partnered up with ‘Origin’ co-producer Jori Hulkkonen to form SIN COS TAN.
‘Origin’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Keys Of Life Records
The baroque electronic trio of Katie Stelmanis, Maya Postepski and Dorian Wolf successfully broke away from the short lived Witch House sub-genre to yield their own emotionally charged sound. The moodily enigmatic ‘Beat & The Pulse’ and the frankly bonkers ‘Lose It’ had already gained a worthy amount of attention as singles and luckily, AUSTRA’s debut album did not disappoint. The tremendously epic spectre of ‘The Villain’ successfully utilised programmed technology and live drums while the sexual tension of ‘Spellwork’ was like a gothic opera crossing THE KNIFE with DEPECHE MODE that provided their most overtly synthpop offering.
‘Feel It Break’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Domino / Paper Bag Records
Since the return of the classic line-up in 2004, DURAN DURAN’s new material had general failed to meet expectations. However, despite losing guitarist Andy Taylor on the way, the Mark Ronson produced ‘All You Need Is Now’ saw DURAN DURAN reclaim their quintessential sound. The superb glitterball rework of ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for the title track signalled their intentions while ‘Girl Panic’ and ‘Runaway Runaway’ captured classic Duran for the 21st Century. The superb sequencer assisted ‘Being Followed’ had a tingling metallic edge that captured the tensions of post 9/11 paranoia while songstress KELIS dreamily counterpointed on the moody, string laden ‘Man Who Stole A Leopard’ which recalled ‘The Chauffeur’. Nick Rhodes claimed the album was “undoubtedly one of the strongest of our career”; and he was right!
‘All You Need Is Now’ is available as a CD and download via Tape Modern
‘Interplay’ was possibly JOHN FOXX’s most complete and accessible body of work since his classic ‘Metamatic’. Together with Chief Mathematician and synth collector extraordinaire BENGE aka THE MATHS, the use of vintage electronics with modern recording techniques captured a mechanised charm while simultaneously adding a correlative warmth. Among the realised examples of this fresh approach were the feisty ‘Catwalk’, the electro-folkisms of ‘Evergreen’ and the eerie ‘The Running Man’. One of the stand-out tracks ‘Watching A Building On Fire’ featured Mira Aroyo of LADYTRON and was perfectly dystopian, while the title track and closer ‘The Good Shadow’ both added a subtle atmospheric quality to proceedings.
‘Interplay’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Metamatic Records
MAISON VAGUE’s ‘Synthpop’s Alive’ was one of the surprise albums of 2011 and the creation of Clark Stiefel, a German domiciled American with a love for all things Synth Britannia. A classically trained virtuoso who studied piano and electronic music at a conservatoire, his title track battle cry sounded like the result of an unlikely sexual liaison between DEVO and PLACEBO. Chunky riff laden tracks such as ‘Pixelated Lover’, ‘My Situation’, ‘Living On Ice Cream’ and ‘Give Them Away’ affectionately revived The GARY NUMAN Principle but for some variation, there were the marvellous BETTE MIDLER gone electro of ‘No Show’ and the reggae inflected ‘Tunnel Vision’.
‘Synthpop’s Alive’ is available as a download album via Stiefel Musik
Brighton pop-noir quartet MIRRORS’ only album ‘Light & Offerings’ was a seamless majestic journey swathed in layers of vintage electronics and modern rhythmical dynamics. It began with superb sonic pulsar of ‘Fear Of Drowning’ with its dramatic overtures of young manhood before continuing with reworked recordings of the band’s excellent first two singles ‘Look At Me’ and ‘Into The Heart’. The sublime ‘Hide & Seek’ was soulful electronic pop while ‘Ways To An End’ proved MIRRORS could cut it on the dancefloor too. Elsewhere, ‘Somewhere Strange’ took the listener on the most euphoric train ride since NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’ while the final track ‘Secrets’ was an ambitious ten minute epic in three movements featuring its own ambient parenthesis. MIRRORS were worthy successors to the original Synth Britannia generation, but they sadly fragmented in Autumn 2011 and all momentum was lost before things really could get going.
‘Lights & Offerings’ is available as a CD, 2LP and download via Skint Records
With the critically acclaimed ’Visions’, Montreal’s GRIMES aka Claire Boucher explored a hybrid style of electro influenced by K-Pop, New Age and R ‘n’ B. ‘Genesis’ was one of many kookily inventive tunes on the album and like its close cousin ‘Oblivion’, played with Kling Klang derived rhythm section that came over like LYKKE LI fronting KRAFTWERK. Often using pentatonic scaling to show her affinity towards South East Asian culture, GRIMES’ sumptuously infectious approaches made tracks such as ‘Be A Boy’, ‘Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus)’ and ‘Vowels = space and time’ an aurally challenging but rewarding listen. And all this while retaining a quirky sense of humour in her promo videos…
‘Visions’ is available as a CD, LP and download via 4AD Records
Although METROLAND have little in common with GIRLS ALOUD, they are indeed The Sound Of The Underground. While highly influenced by KOMPUTER and KRAFTWERK, the single ‘Enjoying The View’ indicated METROLAND were more textural in their use of synthetic sequences, robotic vocals and vintage drum machines. With tributes to London Underground map designer ‘Harry Beck’, Kling Klang homages such as ‘It’s More Fun To Commute’ and a cover version of IGGY POP’s ‘The Passenger’ that has to be heard to be believed, METROLAND’s soundtrack provided a ride through an electronic landscape designed for the commuter world.
‘Mind The Gap’ is available as a CD, deluxe 2CD and download via Alfa Matrix Records
Having worked together on the ‘Origin’ album, a side project between VILLA NAH’s Juho Paalosmaa and ace producer Jori Hulkkonen was almost inevitable. Under the moniker of SIN COS TAN, their debut album impressed with a rich filmic quality permeating amongst all the synths and drum machines in a much more mature approach than had been apparent on ‘Origin’. There was plenty of variation too, from the dark, atmospheric space ballad ‘In Binary’ and laid back electro R’n’B of ‘Book Of Love’ to the NEW ORDER styled dream attack of ‘After All’ and the almost Balearic ‘Calendar’. But true to form with Hulkkonen’s intelligent disco manoeuvres, the beat templates were complimentary and never overbearing. And with the sublime “disco you can cry to” closer of ‘Trust’, SIN COS TAN’s place in electronic music has been assured.
‘Sin Cos Tan’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Solina Records
A release that actually slipped under TEC’s radar on initial release, TRUST was the project of Robert Alfons and AUSTRA’s Maya Postepski. Although Postepski left after its release to return to AUSTRA, ‘TRST’ made a slow burning impact as Alfons toured his “Eeyore gone goth” electro template around the world. The filthy ‘Gloryhole’ was a wondrous combination of portamento and dance beats, while ‘Bulbform’ was perfectly doomy disco. There were more immediate moments too like the trancier synthscapes of ‘Sulk’ and the alternate Euro-disco of ‘Dressed In Space’ which came over like a more depressed version of CAMOUFLAGE. In all, ‘TRST’ was one grower of a record.
‘TRST’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Arts & Crafts
‘Brilliant’ reminded people why the classic line-up of ULTRAVOX were supreme when firing on all cylinders. It also laid to the rest, the ghost of the dreadful ‘U-Vox’ album in 1986. The title track and ‘Live’ contained all the hallmarks of Billy Currie’s Eurocentric piano and synth embellishments complimented by the motorik power house of Chris Cross and Warren Cann while Midge Ure’s voice now possessed a fragility and honesty that could only come from life experience. Then there was the pounding electronic rock of ‘Satellite’ and the percolating sequences of ‘Rise’ which saw the return of Currie’s distinctive ARP Odyssey soloing. The whirring Odyssey also appeared on ‘Change’ with beautiful ivory runs over the shuffling schlagzeug. ‘Brilliant’ was proof than while Billy Currie needed Midge Ure, Midge Ure also needed Billy Currie.
‘Brilliant’ is available as a CD, 2LP and download via EMI Records
If people can still hold enough regard for a version of KRAFTWERK featuring just Ralf Hütter to crash the websites of the world’s art spaces, then KARL BARTOS should at least be accorded some kind of equal status. After all, Bartos did co-write ‘The Model’, ‘The Robots’, Neon Lights, ‘Numbers’ and ‘Computer Love’. Utilising musical sketches and ideas gathered during his period with KRAFTWERK and his later project ELEKTRIC MUSIC, ‘Off The Record’ was a fully realised recording with Kling Klang at its heart. Indeed, ‘Without A Trace Of Emotion’ saw Bartos conversing with his showroom dummy Herr Karl and confronting his demons. The punchy ‘Rhythmus’ revisited ‘Numbers’ and ‘Computer World 2’ while the wonderful ‘Hausmusik’ had its clanking core driven by the type of mechanised backbeat heard on the ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Radio-Activity’ albums. Even using ideas gathered prior to 1996, KARL BARTOS produced a classic but modern electronic pop album.
‘Off The Record’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Bureau B
BEF Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 3 – Dark (2013)
The third instalment to Martyn Ware’s ambitious BEF covers project, amongst its fourteen tracks was some of his most overtly electronic work since he was in THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Kim Wilde’s brilliant opener ‘Every Time I See You Go Wild’ used just a Roland System 100 while the GIORGIO MORODER meets SPACE electro disco of ‘Same Love’ featuring David J Roch was another highlight. Other notable vocalists included ERASURE’s Andy Bell on an eerie take of ‘Breathing’, POLLY SCATTERGOOD’s kooky vocal on ‘The Look Of Love’ and CULTURE CLUB’s Boy George whose interpretation of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ possessed a previously unheard grouchy edge. But it was a slowed down waltz remake of ASSOCIATES’ ’Party Fears Two’ voiced by HEAVEN 17’s Glenn Gregory that virtually stole the show and brought the hankies out.
‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 3 – Dark’ is available as a CD, deluxe 2CD and download via Wall Of Sound
Like it or not, CHVRCHES have managed to attain a mainstream recognition that was denied to MIRRORS, thus furthering the cause of electronic pop worldwide. And in Lauren Mayberry, they have a sweet voice that counterbalances some of the harsher aural aesthetics that come with using Moog and her sisters. This album was full of quality synthpop with excellent songs such as ‘The Mother We Share’, ‘Science / Visions’, ‘Gun’, ‘Lies’ and ‘Recover’. However, an otherwise great debut was spoilt by Martin Doherty’s dreary blokey ramblings on ‘You Caught The Light’ and ‘Under The Tide’… and with the far superior ‘Now Is Not The Time’ sitting on the B-side bench, it is this type of noted Glaswegian bloody mindedness that will be the Achilles’ Heel to this trio achieving further success.
‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Virgin Records
While claims that FEATHERS were the female DEPECHE MODE may have perhaps been overstated, ‘If All Now Here’ was an impressive opening gambit that actually came over more like THE BANGLES fronting Basildon’s finest. Essentially the one woman project of Anastasia Dimou, she successfully combined harmonies, dystopia and deserts for some dreamy electronic soundscapes. ‘Land Of The Innocent’ was a wondrous epic based around the arpeggio of ‘Ice Machine’ while ‘Soft’ borrowed from the single mix of ‘Behind the Wheel’, but added an enlightening pop sensibility. Of course the raunchier, bluesier side of DM revealed itself on ‘Fire In The Night’ and ‘Believe’, but in ‘Dark Matter’, there was a tune with a Latino dancefloor heart, but reimagined by NITZER EBB! Opening for DEPECHE MODE on the winter 2014 leg of the ‘Delta Machine’ tour completed the circle.
Named after the cult Italo standard, FOTONOVELA’s sophomore album ‘A Ton Of Love’ was conceived as a supreme electronic record featuring vocalists from all stages of classic synthpop, as a homage to the genre. As a sign of their ambition, the first person they approached was OMD’s Andy McCluskey and the sessions went well… so well, that the resultant number ‘Helen Of Troy’ ended up on OMD’s ‘English Electric’ opus instead! With FOTONOVELA’s tracks being coveted by their heroes, it boded well for the remainder of the album. With a cast that included SECTION 25, KID MOXIE and MARSHEAUX, the quality was maintained and several cases, even exceeded. In particular, ‘Our Sorrow’ featuring MIRRORS’ James New captured the essence of classic OMD with a spirited, majestic vocal while ‘Justice’ found DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood in particularly feisty form. The presence of some of the most distinct voices in electronic pop music made ‘A Ton Of Love’ a fine showcase for one of best production teams in Europe.
‘A Ton of Love’ is available as a CD and download via Undo Records
With LADYTRON in hiatus, Helen Marnie set out “to create an electronic album with more of a pop element and pristine vocals” for her first solo record. Vocally and musically expansive like an Arctic escapist fantasy, this objective was achieved with ‘Crystal World’ with the classic pop of ABBA and MAMA CASS obviously apparent as well as MARNIE’s love of fellow weegies CHVRCHES. The brilliant launch single ‘The Hunter’ was the vibrant electropop single that LADYTRON never quite got round to releasing while there were other shining jewels like ‘Hearts On Fire’, ‘We Are The Sea’, ‘High Road’ and ‘Sugarland’. Meanwhile, ‘The Wind Breezes On’ was MARNIE’s own ‘Love Is A Stranger’ while the neo-acappella ‘Laura’ sat as a lush centrepiece to the collection.
‘Crystal World’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Les Disques Crespuscle
MESH’s danceable electro-rock ambitions became fully realised on ‘Automation Baby’. The lead single ‘Born To Lie’ was a brilliantly aggressive slice of Goth glam while in ‘Taken For Granted’, MESH had their own ‘Never Let Me Down Again’. ‘Just Leave Us Alone’ added some trancey dressing to the classic MESH template but it was the atmospheric maturity of the album’s ballads that were the big surprise. The beautiful ‘It’s The Way I Feel’ showed a more sensitive side with hints of ENNIO MORRICONE while ‘Adjust Your Set’ displayed some subtle traits despite its mechanical rhythms. But with the aptly titled ‘You Couldn’t See This Coming’, this orchestrated epic saw Mark Hockings’ passionate angst exposed for all. With the sonic balance bolstered by additional strings to MESH’s bow, ‘Automation Baby’ was undoubtedly the best album of their career to date.
‘Automation Baby’ is available as a CD and download via Dependent Records
On ‘Innocents’, MOBY’s familiar chord changes and sweeping string synths were all present and correct. But this was an adventurously beautiful work tinged with emotion, sadness and resignation that explored mid-life and mortality. Damien Jurado’s sensitive vocal on ‘Almost Home’ provided a marvellous slice of folktronica while Skylar Grey’s angelic voice on ‘The Last Day’ provided a beautiful innocence over the looping male gospel sample. One of the key moments of the album was ‘The Perfect Life’, an enjoyable duet by MOBY with FLAMING LIPS’ Wayne Coyne that came over bizarrely like GARY NUMAN at a Pentecostal church! With an elegiac tension, MOBY described parts of ‘Innocents’ as “nostalgic futurism”… it was also soothing electronic soul.
‘Innocents’ is available as a CD, deluxe 2CD, 2LP and download via Little Idiot
In 2013, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys finally released the album that many had been wanting since 1984. ‘English Electric’ was a brilliant concept album that encompassed the mantra “what does the future sound like?” The reality of unfulfilled dreams and impending mortality lingered on ‘Metroland’ and ‘Night Café’ while ‘Dresden’, ‘Helen Of Troy’ and ‘Final Song’ used clever metaphors for tales of relationship breakup. However, the magnificent ‘Our System’ did what OMD always did best, with an emotive soundtrack about the universe while ‘Kissing The Machine’, McCluskey’s collaboration with KARL BARTOS from 1993, was given some appropriate Synth-werk. And there was the return of the Paul Humphreys vocal on the very personal ‘Stay With Me’, a melodic ditty that was up there with ‘Souvenir’.
‘English Electric’ is available as a CD, deluxe CD/DVD, LP and download via BMG Music
Laced with House, Italo and Eurotrance references, ‘Electric’ took a few risks with the opening track ‘Axis’ being virtually instrumental, re-imagining Bobby Orlando in the 22nd Century. The brilliantly titled ‘Love Is A Bourgeois Construct’ recalled the pomp of ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing’ but then came the hypnotic ‘Fluorescent’. Basically a wonderful dancefloor makeover of ‘Fade To Grey’, waves of synth sirens attacked like a Martian invasion. Meanwhile, ‘Thursday’ re-explored the New York club scene with the distinctive squelch of a TB303 and captured the vibrant excitement of what is now the new Friday. The slightly berserk ‘Shouting In The Evening’ was a slice of “banging” techno before the comparatively conventional ‘Vocal’. With the vivid sentiment “I like the singer, he’s lonely and strange – every track has a vocal…and that makes a change”, it was a befitting conclusion of what this album was about; ‘Electric’ by name and electric by nature.
‘Electric’ is available as a CD, LP and download via X2 Recordings
Anglo-German collective TWINS NATALIA captured a pristine technostalgic journey through a Europe of real life and postcard views on ‘The Destiny Room’. A wonderfully emotive soundtrack of elegance and decadence with a touch of neu romance, the collection’s main act began with the gorgeously arpeggiated ‘Destiny’. Then there was the more frantic HI-NRG romp of ‘I Avoid Strangers’, while the PET SHOP BOYS styled neo-orchestrated statement of ‘Set Love Free’ climaxed like a pomped up ‘Rent’. As an appendix, there was also the superb debut single ‘When We Were Young’ b/w ‘Kleiner Satellit’ which first appeared in 2008. With rich, vibrant soloing from Dave Hewson on a Roland Jupiter 6 throughout, ‘The Destiny Room’ was perfect listening electronic music enthusiasts of a time when people actually played synths and explored the capabilities of their drum machines.
Three years in the making, ‘The future through a lens’ was well worth the wait. While not as immediate as the tracks on the preceding three EPs made available for their German tour supporting OMD, the album itself took a more esoteric, filmic approach. Like ‘Twin Peaks’ meets ORBITAL, ‘Damaged Software’ was an enticing piece of electro while ‘Drowned Cities’ was an enticing entry point following the title track overture. Both the pulsating ‘Proximity’ and the moody ‘Nothing’ grew with further listens. But with the closing ‘Deep Red’, it took all that was great about early OMD, putting ‘Statues’, ‘Stanlow’ and ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’ into a breathtaking seven and a half minute epic. This full length debut impressed enough for VILE ELECTRODES to snap up two Schallwelle awards in Germany for ‘Best International Album’ and ‘Best International Band’ in 2014.
Techno DJ WESTBAM celebrated 30 years in the music business 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, the magnificent launch single ‘You Need The Drugs’ voiced brilliantly by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS’ Richard Butler was not actually a celebration of illicit substance use. It was an album full of surprises like the dramatic ‘Kick It Like A Sensei’ with rapper LIL WAYNE and the tensely militaristic ‘Iron Music’ featuring the distinctive baritone of IGGY POP. Meanwhile, ‘She Wants’ saw the return of NEW ORDER’s Bernard Sumner on a new electronic dance composition and the frantic but serene ‘A Night to Remember’ with THE STRANGLERS’ Hugh Cornwall brought proceedings to a euphoric come down via some piano and Solina strings.
‘Götterstrasse’ is available as a CD and download via Warner Music
The transformation of Glaswegians ANALOG ANGEL has been startling. Moving away from their industrial shackles, they came up with a largely excellent collection of quality synthpop in ‘Trinity’. ‘Drive’ was a haunting drama about domestic violence that was given extra poignancy by a ghostly guest vocal by Tracy J Cox. There was also the frantic ERSAURE on Stella Artois of ‘The Chase’, the rousing schaffel stomp of ‘Round Again’ and the refined CAMOUFLAGE meets VANGELIS atmospheres of ‘Inner Voice’. But the biggest surprise was ‘The Last Time’, a cinematic masterpiece involving an orchestra that cascaded into an epic Pan-European journey across The Steppes. The virtual symphonic strings and gothic choirs gave an indication as to what OMD might have sounded like if Jim Steinman had been producing!
After the promise of the ‘Bounty’ and ‘Kin’ collections, ‘Blue’ fully realised the potential of IAMAMIWHOAMI, the slightly bonkers moniker of delightfully odd vocalist Jonna Lee and producer Claes Björklund. Expanding on the audio / visual template of its predecessors, the first impression of ‘Blue’ is that it is more of the same. But like fine wine, this album gets better with age. The windy breeze of glacial Scandinavian beauty immerses itself on tracks like the sub-COCTEAU TWINS ‘Fountain’, the ABBA-like ‘Chasing Kites’ and the closing reverberant mood piece ‘Shadowshow’. But it is the more uptempo danced based numbers like the mutant techno of ‘Ripple’ and the KATE BUSH gone trance of ‘Hunting For Pearls’ that show the most advancement. Jonna Lee’s otherworldly rasp does polarise but once overcome, the sonic rewards can be startling.
RÖYKSOPP’s final album took five years but it ultimately benefitted the outcome. ROBYN returned for a shorter, sharper version of ‘Monument’, but her thunder was stolen by some supreme vocal performances by SUSANNE SUNDFØR and Jamie McDermott from THE IRREPRESSIBLES. ‘Save Me’ and ‘Running to The Sea’ reinforced why the former is the Nordic vocalist of the moment, while the latter’s contributions to ‘You Know I Have To Go’ and ‘I Had This Thing’ showed how modern electronic dance music can be both vibrant and heartfelt. Only the pointless profanity laden ‘Rong’, ironically featuring ROBYN, stopped ‘The Inevitable End’ from achieving perfection.
‘The Inevitable End’is available as a 2CD, 2LP and download via Dog Triumph / Cooking Vinyl
The ULTRAVOX reunion had a profound effect on the diminutive Mr Ure if nothing else and got him to fully focus on the solo album he’d been working on since 2001. The time that passed was worth it; songs like ‘Become’ recalled his work with VISAGE while the title track revealed that despite the moustache and long raincoat back in the day, he’d always wanted to be in PINK FLOYD. Meanwhile, instrumentals such as ‘of ‘Wire & Wood’ and ‘Bridges’ showed that Ure’s music still has subtlety. But the undoubted highlight of ‘Fragile’ was ‘Dark, Dark Night’, a co-write with MOBY. The song built to an amazing climax with the follically challenged pairing forming a partnership made in heaven. Overall, the album was an impressive musical diary of a man pondering and confronting his post-midlife.
‘Fragile’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Hypertension Music
Following the publication of a ‘25 Frontwomen That Defined Britpop Beauty’ list by fashion blog Never Under Dressed, The Electricity Club pondered as to what a synthpop list would look like…
The Electricity Club readily admits it features a significant number of new female fronted synth acts. In TEC’s opinion, many of these artists are pushing the genre forward in directions that have not been pursued previously.
In the Synth Britannia heyday, other than Alison Moyet, Annie Lennox, Gillian Gilbert, Claudia Brücken and Terri Nunn, there were very few women involved in electronic pop music as equals.
Of course, today it is very different. Portable music technology accessible via laptops and compact keyboards such as the MicroKorg has opened up endless possibilities for the independent female musician. So when a classic styled synthpop track has feminine voices and talent driving it, there is a freshness to the approach that manages to avoid sounding completely retro. With so much being hung on a so-called synth revival, there are a number of male dominated acts that are quite clearly pastiches of key bands from back in the day.
So in alphabetical order and confined to women who front primarily electronic acts and / or play synths in the new millennium, here are The Electricity Club’s choices to represent The Beauty Of The Synthesizer…
While LADYTRON are very much a quartet musically, imagewise it has been the band’s female pair who have been the focal point. When Mira Aroyo first appeared on the scene, her icy East European demeanour suited the band’s dark terrorist chic meets the catwalk. With a look akin to the notorious Baader-Meinhof gang, Mira was armed with a Korg MS20 as her weapon of choice. As well as DJing, other projects have included her stark deadpan presence on the appropriately dystopian ‘Watching A Building On Fire’ with JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS in 2011.
It’s triple keyboard action with Brooklyn’s studious librarians whose shows are a bit like musical slumber parties. No-one in the band is called Simone; there’s Erika Forster, Annie Hart and Heather D’Angelo who each have their own sweet sense of style while handling an assorted array of synths including the Nord Electro2, Roland Juno 60, Casiotone MT70 and ubiquitous MicroKorg. With four albums to their name, AU REVOIR SIMONE are still very much considered hipster faves although they are a symbol of how the synthesizer can be universally integrated.
The charming, down-to-earth lass from Halifax has been a stylish presence since first hitting the mainstream with DUBSTAR in 1995, who managed to combine synth melodies with the more guitar laden manifesto of Britpop. Sarah Blackwood’s girl-next-door charm has always been her appeal but when she formed CLIENT with Kate Holmes to adopt a harsher electronic sound complimented by the duo’s uniformed Cold War chic, Sarah’s position as a modern day synth icon was assured.
The all female Texas based quartet feature a flexible line-up, but the one constant in FEATHERS is singer / songwriter / programmer Anastasia Dimou. As one can expect from a lady of Greek ancestry, Anastasia has an enigmatic Goddess-like quality about her that with her bandmates, results in a mysterious odyssey best exemplified by the video to debut single ‘Land Of The Innocent’. Musically, FEATHERS’ sound could be likened to THE BANGLES fronting DEPECHE MODE. They supported Basildon’s finest on the final European leg of the ‘Delta Machine’ tour.
Modern electropop’s most influential chameleon. From thigh booted dominatrix, to unicorn tailed X-rated Kylie and even sexy pink jump suited alien, costume has always been a way of overcoming Miss Goldfrapp’s awkwardness with being a pop star. Her presentation sensibilities have ensured that all the looks have been alluring; “She’s got great legs!” observed Sarah Blackwood. Meanwhile, her on-stage antics using a portable Theremin have been unforgettable; “Every girl should have one” she cackled when GOLDFRAPP supported DURAN DURAN in 2004.
Montreal’s GRIMES aka Claire Boucher and her faithful Roland Juno G have provided some interesting hybrid electro influenced by K-Pop, New Age and R ‘n’ B. Her kooky charm, leftfield aspirations and macabre artwork have impressed both hipsters and old fashioned synthheads alike. Her new song ‘Go’ features perhaps a more soulful, laid back groove whilst still playing around with technologically manipulated sound sources as she prepares to deliver even further after her acclaimed album ‘Visions’ in 2012.
SOFT METALS lead vocalist Patricia Hall has that look which wouldn’t be out of place in the Shoreditch set, but her willingness to join in the synth battles with her partner Ian Hicks makes her all the more appealing. Although she has described her look as being influenced by the timeless style Françoise Hardy and Jane Birkin, she has admitted that most of the SOFT METALS kitty ends up buying equipment rather than clothes. Her favourite synth happens to be the Roland Juno60, thanks to its patch memory and user friendly layout.
With her eccentric professor persona, Ms Heap could be considered to be the female Thomas Dolby. As well as being a crowdfunding trailblazer, she has also been involved in the development of new musical interfaces like the MIDI Glove, which she describes as an extension of her “no smoke no mirrors” approach with her audience. And she’s not to be messed with either; when an advance promo copy of her 2009 album ‘Ellipse’ appeared on eBay, she rallied her loyal followers to sabotage the sale with bids of £10,000 and complaints to the online auctioneer.
The location of the 1980 Winter Olympics, it is the apt that this village in the Adirondack Mountains should be at the heart of the beautifully gentle electronica of I AM SNOW ANGEL. The self-produced vehicle of the now Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Julie Kathryn, as can be imagined from the artist moniker, the music evokes images of icy landscapes and crystalline hydro basins. Proficient as a singer, songwriter, musician and producer, she adds some traditional Americana twang to the electronica aesthetic which in itself, is quietly subversive.
The stunning multi-talented Elena Charbila is a proficient bassist and programmer. Her abilities also extend into acting where she has appeared alongside Al Pacino and Malcolm McDowell. While her music has moved towards a cinematic electronic direction on her most recent offering ‘The Bailor’ the Greek born beauty has a love of pop music in all its forms which feeds her artistic mindset. One of her favourite all-time records is ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ by The Walker Brothers. Her second album ‘1888’ features contributions from Angelo Badalamenti.
With her Korg Polysix, MicroKorg and Yamaha Tenorion, LITTLE BOOTS aka Victoria Hesketh perhaps represented what Joanne and Susanne from THE HUMAN LEAGUE would have done had they been teenagers in the 21st Century, ie get a laptop and take up the synthesizer themselves, rather than join a band of blokeys! She remains first and foremost, a musician / songwriter and whether she will ever recover from 679 / Atlantic Records attempt to turn her into the new Kylie Minogue remains to be seen.
If Mira Aroyo is the Anni-Frid Lyngstad of LADYTRON, then Helen Marnie is Agnetha Fältskog. The sweeter, more pop inclined of the pair, Helen certainly appeared at home with a more glamorous image when LADYTRON relaxed their uniformed stance after their third album ‘Witching Hour’. It was probably Helen who persuaded Mira Aroyo to sport swimwear on their 2003 DJ mix compilation ‘Softcore Jukebox’. She is obviously comfortable with that look as she has continued with the swimwear and gone for some glossy imagery in support of her pristine first solo album ‘Crystal World’.
The Athens based synth maidens borrowed their uniformed look from CLIENT, but have carved out their own wispy form of synthpop while performing in unison on a pair of MicroKorgs. Marianthi Melitsi is the Helen Marnie of the pair with her sweet vocals and porcelain looks. Meanwhile, Sophie Sarigiannidou is more akin to Mira Aroyo with a more smouldering demeanour which is deadpan in comparison. Their understated glamour has attained MARSHEAUX a cult following in Europe and gained admirers as diverse as OMD and 30 SECONDS TO MARS.
Miss Mayberry looks like she would be ID-ed at every licensed venue she is due to be playing at. But behind the sweet Humanities undergraduate look is a strong minded writer and campaigner for women’s rights. Despite the serious misogynistic abuse she has had to confront since the success of CHVRCHES, she retains a terrific sense of humour while performing… well, she would have to every time Blokey steps up to the microphone and tries to upstage her! What must she be thinking from behind that Roland A800?!
Anais Neon from VILE ELECTRODES is a synth nerd’s dream, she played the part of Gillian Gilbert in the NEW ORDER tribute band RE: ORDER. She was once mistaken for Hannah Peel… this was not an entirely ridiculous observation as both have long red hair, but this incident took place at a JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS concert while Hannah was on stage with the electro pioneer! When VILE ELECTRODES supported OMD in Cologne, Anais endearingly said the only phrase she knew in Deutsch was “Mein Kannichen ist töt”… now what’s the German word for “batteries” again?
“I was brought up to the sound of the synthesizer, I learnt to dance to the beat of electronic drums” proclaimed Miss Nixey on the song ‘Andrew Ridgley’ in 2003. With BLACK BOX RECORDER, her sophisticated allure has probably been exasperated by her ice cold lack of availability. The sexy school headmistress fantasy was fully exploited on songs such as ‘The Facts of Life’and ‘The School Song’. “You lot need toughening up” she deadpanned on the latter as the order to dive into an outdoor swimming pool in the middle of February was given!
The statuesque Swede has a towering, entrancing presence on stage with her animated stares and jerky movements. Between songs and offstage though, Karin Park is gregarious; quite the opposite of the other Karin (Dreijer-Andersson). An impressive multi-tasker who dabbles with a Korg MS20 and keytar as part of her act, she even succeeded in penning a credible Eurovision entry with the DM influenced ‘I Feed You My Love’ for Norwegian popstress Margaret Berger. Following the critical success of ‘Highwire Poetry’, her new album is eagerly awaited.
Known to her parents as Lucy Taylor, the earthy flute playing North Londoner has done stints touring with MGMT, but having acquired a Roland JX8P and borrowed a Jupiter 8, her own sugary pop sound has been bolstered by a use of classic electronics. The Sunday Times described the title song from PAWWS‘ EP ‘Sugar’ as sounding “As if Kylie had worked with OMD” and as she finds her feet, she could fill the void left open by LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX for a UK synth songstress.
If Berenice Scott is the sexy but strict school teacher of the list, then Hannah Peel is her sweet, smiling student counterpart. Known as part of JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS’ live presentation, the former Dennis Leigh described her look as being straight out the Andy Warhol ‘Exploding Plastic Inevitable’ scene. The multi-talented Hannah has the most captivating synth girl wiggle while playing along to tracks such as ‘Catwalk’. Her own burgeoning solo career has seen her experimenting more with synthesizers as heard on her ‘Fabricstate’ EP.
If Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES can sometimes sound like Taylor Swift gone electro, then our young royal looks like Taylor Swift gone electro via Queen Amidala. She once tweeted: “If it ain’t electro, I don’t wish to know x”. Her debut album ‘Cocoon’ has been a long time coming but she has been steadily carving out a elegant niche and even adding her own vocals to DAFT PUNK instrumentals from ‘Tron Legacy’. QUEEN OF HEARTS‘ cooing allure has won over many fans including Berlin based producer Mark Reeder, who has now worked with her on several occasions.
Beijing born Fifi Rong has taken music and fashion into some intriguing fusions. She first came to prominence as a member of THE TENORIONS, but has since embarked on a journey which has involved collaborations with TRICKY and releasing her first album ‘Wrong’ in 2013. With influences such as COCTEAU TWINS and MAZZY STAR, the development of her own traditionally inspired brand of crisp electronica has resulted in ‘Next Pursuit’, possibly her best work to date.
The ever smiling Maria Schiptjenko, along with Gillian Gilbert, was one of the first female synth players following the post-punk revolution as a member of Swedish duo PAGE, although their first album did not appear until 1991. Also a member of BWO, VACUUM and more recently JULIAN & MARINA, she has always possessed a European elegance that has served her well in all her projects, be they in music or art. Another exponent of the MicroKorg, Marina’s sophisticated poise has complimented the more intense, animated stance of PAGE partner Eddie Bengtsson on their recent live dates.
With key influences such as Bjork and Kate Bush, Polly Scattergood has combined jubilant experimental pop with her innocent, affected vocals. At times like GOLDFRAPP crossed with COCTEAU TWINS and rousing with an air of fragility, her kooky on-stage persona delightfully combines Sarah Brightman with Sally Thomsett. Meanwhile, her lyrical vulnerability, as best exemplified on her most recent album ‘Arrows,’ is perfect listening on those rainy winter nights. And she even has her own Polly Moog, a Little Phatty no less!
Berenice Scott is currently HEAVEN 17’s live keyboardist and a solo artist in her own right with a new album ‘Polarity’ having just been released. TEC once described Berenice as “possibly the sexiest lady ever to get behind a synthesizer”. With her synth of choice being the Roland Fantom G8, in her short skirt and high heels, her appeal is enhanced even further by the fact she reminds you of your favourite school teacher. This is especially evoked with her raised eyebrow and stern look of disapproval whenever Messrs Gregory and Ware are larking about in front of her ‘desk’! No, she doesn’t smile much on stage, but like any good teacher, she is fully focussed on her job.
As referenced in the PET SHOP BOYS song ‘Opportunities’, Mademoiselle Simon studied electronic music at the Sorbonne and then later the IRCAM. There she found “Using the computer meant that I also felt very independent artistically”. With a Kate Bush influenced dynamic, she exudes Gallic beauty and charm in her one woman shows where the Yamaha Tenorion and Casio guitar synth feature in addition to her array of keyboards. She also has a device not unlike Imogen Heap’s MIDI Gloves, courtesy of a Steampunk styled arm controller developed by Cyrille Brissot.
The Electricity Club has said it once and will say it again but much of the best new electronic based pop music seems to be coming from North America. Why is that?
Perhaps the territory is so vast that various bubbles of talent are able to develop independently and without spill, unlike in the UK where acts are much closer together and with the nation’s inherent synthpop tradition, more likely to take the phrase synth revival a little too literally.
Hot on the heels of GRIMES, AUSTRA, SOFT METALS, FEATHERS, TRUST and ELEVEN: ELEVEN is REXXY, the independent music project of musician, singer / songwriter Monica Velasquez. With dreamy sounds and pentatonic vocal melodies, she comes over a little like GRIMES fronting NEW ORDER or THE CURE. With a mix of synths and moody bass riffs to a contemporary, new wave influenced sound, ‘Careless’ is a fine example of REXXY’s haunting demeanour; her vocals are melancholic yet seductively feline while her self-played four string adds texture to the precise rhythm on top of the eerie synth swoops.
Although her early projects were influenced by disco glam and garage rock, a move to Los Angeles saw her open her horizons. Now based in Brooklyn, her self-titled debut was released by CMI Vibe Records at the end of last year. Opening numbers ‘What Makes Us Fade’ and ‘Glasshead’ both possess a tremendous wispy drive. ‘Moonshine’ follows similar territory and comes over a bit like a more indie take on PAWWS ‘Slow Love’.
Meanwhile, the mechanical clatter of ‘Just For You’ makes things a little bit more club friendly. REXXY has also been experimenting with more dance related collaborations; the first result in partnership with Lif of DUO FOX is ‘Mageyez’ and brilliantly delightful.
REXXY is not all uptempo though as more mystic, ethereal compositions such as ‘Your Eyes’ prove. Yes, Velasquez’s vocals have a marmite effect, but lovers of J-Pop and K-Pop should have no trouble adapting. Whether you are at the purer end of the electro spectrum or like things toughened with organic instrumentation, REXXY has something for you.
With thanks to Darby Kaighin-Shields at Red Tape Productions Inc
‘Rexxy’ is out now on CMI Vibe Records via iTunes, Amazon and Spotify