Traditional murder ballads being given synth makeovers are all the rage at the moment.
Irish synth songstress FEMMEPOP presented her stark rendition of ‘Tom Dooley’ just a few weeks ago. And now, Texan Bionic Bubblepunk duo HYPERBUBBLE head north to the ‘Banks Of The Ohio’, a song that originated from the 19th Century.
It tells the story of a guilty party inviting their lover for a walk during which their marriage proposal is rejected. Once they are alone, a murder is committed although much sorrow and regret later gets expressed. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the best known versions was by Olivia Newton-John and it was actually her biggest UK hit until her imperial run of singles from the movie ‘Grease’ in 1978.
‘Banks Of The Ohio’ has also been recorded by Dolly Parton, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash and Charley Pride while there have even been reinterpretations in Swedish and Czech. Updating this urban legend, HYPERBUBBLE have produced a wonderfully haunting synth cover with an eerily Gothic Theremin solo by front woman Jess DeCuir that is perfect for Halloween.
The accompanying self-directed video features zombies, graveyards and murder with our heroine playing a supernatural ghost bride while her hubby Jeff DeCuir is cast as a gravedigger. But she is searching for something! Who is in the grave??? It’s a Roland SH-01 Gaia! Is this symbolism for the death of synthpop?
Although not including ‘Banks Of The Ohio’, HYPERBUBBLE recently released an album of covers called ‘Love & Bionics’. Not content with having delivered a cosmic country covers album three years ago inspired by ‘Switched On Nashville’ called ‘Western Ware’, that put the “MOO” into Moog, Jess and Jeff DeCuir have always enjoyed adapting their style of Texan electro artpunk to a range of standards and obscurities emerging from many unexpected genres.
The most interesting electronic covers often come from outside their regular habitat, particularly from soul and country music.
The Halloween Country Goth Horror Synth of ‘Banks Of The Ohio’ is another example of HYPERBUBBLE’s fun and quirky take on music.
‘Banks Of The Ohio’ comes from the soundtrack of the forthcoming full-length HYPERBUBBLE documentary film called ‘Cowgirls & Synthesizers’
Bionic Bubblepunk duo HYPERBUBBLE feel “the world needs some love and good vibrations… and free stuff”, so have presented ‘Love & Bionics’.
Not content with having delivered a cosmic country covers album three years ago inspired by ‘Switched On Nashville’ called ‘Western Ware’ that put the “MOO” into Moog, the duo of Jess and Jeff DeCuir have turned their attention to a wider range of standards and obscurities arranged in their own style of Texan electro artpunk.
They succeed in their adventure by their choice of less obvious songs getting the electronic treatment.
After all, does the world really need any more modern synth reinterpretations of DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO and ULTRAVOX? But even when HYPERBUBBLE cover songs readily accepted as being of a more synthpop bent, they give them their own twist. Album opener ‘Pop Goes the World’ which was originally by MEN WITHOUT HATS gets new lyrics to introduce the duo by way of a musical manifesto. Meanwhile DEAD OR ALIVE’s ‘You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)’ is given a sombre minimal synth and vocoder treatment at half the speed which surprisingly works!
‘Theme from Shaft’ is an unexpected delight with the tune’s familiar wah-wah guitar motif transferred to bleepy sequences while the orchestrated parts are brilliantly reconfigured with synths. Then there’s a hilarious robopop take on VAN HALEN’s ‘Jamie’s Cryin’ with spoken word segments and yes, synth solos!
‘Tiny Alice’ by lesser known Michigan singer / songwriter Paul Parrish is given an acapella arrangement which sounds like the beginning of DARTS’ cover of ‘Boy From New York City’ while ‘Starship 109’ which was originally a single by the obscure Dutch fusion combo MISTRAL acts as a suitably spacey interlude between the two halves of the album.
The enjoyment factor of ‘You’re the One That I Want’ will be down to individual taste, but this lively post-modern take sums up the light-hearted irreverent nature of HYPERBUBBLE. But best of all though is a charming instrumental version of ‘Sugar Sugar’, which in some ways recalls the style of Gil Trythall’s ‘Switched On Nashville’ album.
Covering music from new wave, heavy rock, exotica, soul, folk and film, ‘Love & Bionics’ is fun and free. Love or loathe, it’s a lesson to others as to how to think outside of the box when it comes to doing cover versions using synths.
As the Yule Tide season gets into full swing, The Electricity Club presents a collection of modern seasonal tunes with a more artful slant…
With a song to play on each of The Twelve Days of Christmas, some are covers with a modern approach while others gather their thoughts and emotions into original compositions. But each has their own take on the holiday period, whether happy or sad or both.
Synths at Christmas are not entirely new; ‘Last Christmas’ by WHAM! was primarily made with a Roland Juno 60 while BAND AID’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas? was dominated by PPG Wave 2.2 with a percussive sample taken from ‘Memories Fade’ by TEARS FOR FEARS also being key to the intro.
However the traditional nature of Christmas often dictates traditional instrumentation in its songs, which means that Christmas synth songs are comparitively uncommon and a more recent phenomemon.
Whatever your plans whether with the family or in the studio, please remember, a synth is for life and not just for Christmas… may it bring you lots of cheer 🎹🎄😉
CHEW LIPS When You Wake Up (2010)
CHEW LIPS may be on hiatus but in 2010, on the back of their only album ‘Unicorn’ and its subsequent tour, they were on a productive high. ‘When You Wake Up’ was a bonus tune recorded and given away as a Christmas gift to fans at the end of that very successful year. Delivered with lead singer Tigs’ usual feisty panache, listening back only highlights how much CHEW LIPS are missed.
Andy Bell and Vince Clarke’s version of this traditional Ecclesiastical Latin carol continued an ERASURE tradition that had begun in 1988 with ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ for the CD edition of the ‘Crackers International’ EP in 1988. With a precise electronic backbeat, ‘Gaudete’ was taken from its 16th Century origins and thrown into the new millennium whilst still retaining its original essence with a cheeky ‘Ice Machine’ reference for good measure.
HURTS All I Want For Christmas Is New Year’s Day (2010)
With their TAKE THAT dressed as ULTRAVOX template having achieved great success in Europe, courtesy of their debut album ‘Happiness’, Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson parradoxically turned their attentions to memories of “the worst Christmas of our lives”. In true Bros Go To Bavaria style, despite the mournful start, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is New Year’s Day’ steadily transformed itself into a hopeful anthem with a big chorus and lashings of tubular bells.
Whether it was a Casio, Yamaha or Roland, everyone wanted ‘A Synthesizer For Christmas’. Texan couple HYPERBUBBLE took that enduring memory and turned it into a delightful synthpop ditty that could resonate with electronic geeks from eight to eighty the world over. Short but sweet, it was another joyous “cartoon automaton symphony” from Jess and Jeff.
LOLA DUTRONIC Another Christmas Without Snow (2010)
In the UK, a wet Christmas is always more likely, but LOLA DUTRONIC’s ‘Another Christmas Without Snow’ resonated with its melancholic yet pretty demeanour. The project of Canadian producer Richard Citroen and using a flexible roster of wispy female vocalists, the tones of Lola Dee came over all dreamy like SAINT ETIENNE and conveyed the season’s mixed emotions.
MARSHEAUX We Met Bernard Sumner At A Christmas Party Last Night (2015)
‘We Met Bernard Sumner At A Christmas Party Last Night’ is a wonderfully whispery synthpop number that is classic MARSHEAUX. The lyrics are constructed from the song and album titles of NEW ORDER to provide an imaginary narrative on Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou surreally bumping into the Manchester combo’s lead singer at a Yule Tide function.
‘Find Peace’ is a Christmas song longing for the cold but merry winters of yesteryear under the modern day spectre of global warming, armed conflict and political tension. It is certainly a suitably poignant message for the festive season. With hints of GAZELLE TWIN, the off-kilter analogue buzzing and almost random sequences make for a striking listen as a frantic percussive death rattle and an emotive synth drone take hold to provide an appropriate backdrop for HANNAH PEEL’s eerie but beautiful voice.
Available on the download and 7 inch single ‘Find Peace’ via Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club
PET SHOP BOYS It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas (2009)
Originally recorded in 1997 for an exclusive fan club single but remixed in 2009 for an official release, ‘It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas’ was a suitably camp offering that couldn’t have been anyone else. Famous for keeping THE POGUES ‘Farytale Of New York’ off the 1987 UK Christmas No1 spot with their cover of ‘Always On My Mind’, while this didn’t hit those commercial heights, it provided a very PET SHOP BOYS take on the madness of the festive season.
A cover of Finnish metal glamsters HANOI ROCKS, this take on ‘Dead By X-Mas’ from the nocturnal synth duo SIN COS TAN aka Juho Paalosmaa and Jori Hulkkonen came over a bit like BILLY IDOL gone electro, but with an elegiac twist. Bizarrely in 2006, the former William Broad issued his own collection of seasonal themed tunes entitled ‘Happy Holidays’ … it’s a nice day for a ‘White Christmas!
Back in 1974 for their ‘Kimono My House’ album, the Mael brothers recorded a song called ‘Thank God It’s Not Christmas’, a typically perverse SPARKS romp that had nothing to do as such with the holiday season. Currently enjoying their highest profile since their pop heyday, thanks to their FFS collaboration with FRANZ FERDINAND, Russell and Ron ended the year with ‘Christmas Without A Prayer’, a fitting offering which also amusingly outlined that albums by WINGS were actually unwanted gifts.
“A twisted cover of a cover of a cover”, this synth laden reinterpretation of the tune (based on a traditional Czech carol) made famous by a bizarre but highly enjoyable version by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, saw former ABC stalwarts Mark White and Stephen Singleton reconvene as VICE VERSA to wax lyrical about 303s, 808s, 909s and a “shiny new Roland toy”. It was a fabulous combination of sleigh bells, squelching arpeggios and of course, drum machines…
If ‘Twin Peaks’ met ‘Leader Of The Pack’ under the mistletoe, it would sound like this. Possibly the best Christmas tune of the last five or ten years, Anais Neon’s harrowing tale of a departed loved one is strangely enticing, with the beautifully haunting echoes of JULEE CRUISE’s ‘The Nightingale’ lingering over the frozen lake.
Celebrating 20 years of HYPERBUBBLE, the Texan electro artpunk duo of Jess and Jeff Decuir release ‘Pretty Plastic’.
It’s a compendium of their work previously scattered across vinyl, EPs and compilations issued on labels in the UK, America, Germany, Italy and Japan.
As well as gathering rarities, ‘Pretty Plastic’ also includes slight variations on some of their best known songs that have gained the duo a worldwide cult audience.
Beginning with ‘Jouet Pop’ aka ‘Girl Boy Pop Toy’, this is the couple’s appealing musical mission statement as the “synthesizer couple” which often opens their live set and acted as one of the key tracks on their third album ‘Candy Apple Daydreams’ in 2010.
From that very album, an Extended Remix of the title track acts as enjoyable treat, featuring a more dance focussed rhythm construction while maintaining the song’s quirky B-52s catchiness. The longer middle section even throws in a robotised HYPERBUBBLE biography.
Featuring in a Nightmare Mix, the frantic and brilliant ‘Chop Shop Cop’ amusingly asks “you wouldn’t steal a car, you wouldn’t steal a DVD, you wouldn’t download load an illegal MP3, so why did you steal my heart?”, while the sturdy Valentino Mix of ‘Non Biodegradable Hazardous Waste Disposal’ adds another catchy but different focal point.
Having shown their knack for synth instrumentals on 2016’s ‘Music To Color By’, HYPERBUBBLE prove they’re always had it with tracks like 2014’s ‘Son of Sky Smasher’ and ‘Disgow Glasgow’ from 2009.
And if you’ve ever wanted to hear what ‘Money’ might sound like as mad electronic remix, then the 60 second ‘Party On Jupiter’ does the trick, while ‘(She’s So) Technical’ reveals a moodier side to the couple. The driving electronics of ‘Kinky’ provide some spice to proceedings before the octave thrust of ‘Pop Star’ amusingly captures wanabee culture with a spacey twist.
‘Welcome to Infinity’ is Vince Clarke-styled sequenced magic with shades of Donna Summer thrown in and appropriately, the 2004 vintage ‘Disco Invasion’ gives an alien take on Giorgio Moroder.
Things perhaps go off track with the Neuromix of ‘Synesthesia’ which is really for fans only but ‘Another Ride’ puts things back on track before an extended take on ‘Girl Boy Pop Toy’ nicely bookends the collection.
At 22 tracks, ‘Pretty Plastic’ is excellent value and achieves that difficult feat of appealing to loyal followers and acting as a representative introduction to those who are curious about the June Carter and Johnny Cash of synthpop.
‘Pretty Plastic’ released in CD and download formats by Pure Pop For Now People Records
The quirky Texan husband and wife duo HYPERBUBBLE have finally delivered their long awaited cosmic country album with a twist.
First revealed during an interview for The Electricity Club in 2014, ‘Western Ware’ puts the “MOO” into Moog!
Inspired by GIL TRYTHALL’s ‘Switched On Nashville’ which featured a Moog modular version of ‘Gentle On My Mind’ and a bizarre vocoder laden take on ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, ‘Western Ware’ was actually recorded in the home city of country music.
This HYPERBUBBLE album is a collection of covers that promises the recordings are “100% Electronic. No Strings Attached”. Opening song ‘Y’All Come’ is a hoe down in space, but things get more crossover with the unmistakable lilt of ‘Jolene’. Previously covered by acts as unlikely as THE SISTERS OF MERCY, STRAWBERRY SWITCHBLADE and ONE DOVE, Dolly’s classic tune gets an enjoyable synthpop reboot.
On the ‘Nashville in the 23rd Century’ rendition of ‘Boney Fingers’, Jess DeCuir’s theremin is a most perfect Country instrument as it hauntingly twangs, while she duets with her man Jeff. Perhaps unsurprisingly as electronic music’s own CARTER & CASH, ‘Truck Driving Woman’ actually sounds like one of HYPERBUBBLE’s own compositions despite being of 1968 vintage, first made famous by Oklahoma starlet NORMA JEAN.
With its swoops, sweeps and Darth Vader references, the cover of FREDDY WELLER’s ‘Bar Wars’ is hilarious and brought up to date.
The tone continues on a pulsating synth laden rendition of ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ which also features musical pranksters Ricardo Autobahn and Daz Samson as well as some HI-NRG orchestra stabs!
And as the track segues into ‘Digital Cowboy’, there’s a treat for fans of OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING as Scott Simon comes out of semi-retirement to play lead synths on this previously unreleased title track from ODW’s first EP.
‘The Rubber Room’ adds some square waltzing and more theremin before the album climaxes with ‘The Electric Horseman’, a meaty take on the instrumental from the Robert Redford film of the same name. Extended from the original which incidentally also featured a sequencer line, the track is given a powerful synthwave workout not far off from PERTURBATOR!
‘Western Ware’ clocks in at just over 29 minutes and while it doesn’t outstay its welcome, it is disappointing that ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’, which HYPERBUBBLE have played live on several occasions, hasn’t made the final tracklisting.
As with their previous offering ‘Music To Color By’, phasers are again set to fun and for the ‘Western Ware’ concept alone, HYPERBUBBLE deserve either an award or a straitjacket 😉
‘Western Ware’ uses the following equipment: Moog Etherwave Theremin, Moog Rogue, Moog Sub37, Moog Little Phatty, Moog Theremini, Moog Prodigy, Moog Taurus II, MicroKorg Vocoder, Korg Monotron, Roland Gaia, Roland Juno 60, Roland Jupiter 8, Roland TR707, Roland TR808, Roland TR909, ARP Odyssey, ARP Omni, Yamaha CS01, Casio MT500, Oberheim Matrix, Nord lead, Access Virus T12, Alesis D4, Linn LM2, Boss DR55, Simmons SKHB2, Dubreq Stylophone