Tag: M83

TEC’s 2019 End Of Year Review

2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.

While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business.

That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic…

MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again. HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.

Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.

Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.

As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.

Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.

Also making live returns were one-time PET SHOP BOYS protégé CICERO with a charity gig in his hometown of Livingston, WHITE DOOR with JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM at Synth Wave Live 3, ARTHUR & MARTHA at TEC005 and Mute Records veterans KOMPUTER at TEC006.

After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.

Although their long-awaited-as-yet-untitled third album was still to materialise, VILE ELECTRODES went back on the road in Europe with APOPTYGMA BERZERK and THE INVINCIBLE SPIRIT. Meanwhile, Chinese techno-rock sextet STOLEN opened for NEW ORDER on their Autumn European tour and EMIKA performed in a series of Planetariums.

Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.

To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.

But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.

QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.

On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.

Photo by Johnny Jewel

Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour.

Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.

Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.

There were a variety of inventive eclectic works from FAKE TEAK, MAPS, FINLAY SHAKESPEARE, ULTRAMARINE, TYCHO, THE GOLDEN FILTER, FRAGRANCE. and FADER. Meanwhile VON KONOW, SOMEONE WHO ISN’T ME and JAKUZI all explored themes of equality while BOYTRONIC preferred ‘The Robot Treatment’.

But expressing themselves on the smoother side of proceedings were CULT WITH NO NAME and notably SHOOK who looked east towards the legend of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.

Dark minimalism reigned in the work of FRAGILE SELF and WE ARE REPLICA while no less dark but not so aggressive, WITCH OF THE VALE cemented their position with a well-received opening slot at Infest.

Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.

2019 was a year of electronic instrumental offerings galore from NEULAND, RICARDO AUTOBAHN, EKKOES, M83, RELIEF, FEMMEPOP and OBLONG, although ERIC RANDOM’s dystopian offering ‘Wire Me Up’ added vocoder while BRIAN ENO celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing ‘For All Mankind’.

The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.

Among the year’s best new talents were IMI, KARIN MYGRETAGEISTE and ALICE HUBBLE with their beautifully crafted avant pop.

And with the media traction of artists such as GEORGIA, REIN, JENNIFER TOUCH, SUI ZHEN, THE HEARING, IONNALEE, PLASMIC, ZAMILSKA, IOANNA GIKA, SPELLLING, KANGA, FIFI RONG and I AM SNOW ANGEL, the profile of women in electronic music was stronger than ever in 2019.

Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.

However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths. DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.

Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by The Electricity Club to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.

Synthwave increased its profile further with the film ‘The Rise Of The Synths’ narrated by none other than John Carpenter. MICHAEL OAKLEY released his debut album ‘Introspect’, BETAMAXX was ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’, COM TRUISE came up with a ‘Persuasion System’ and NEW ARCADES were ‘Returning Home’.

Scene veteran FUTURECOP! collaborated with PARALLELS, COMPUTER MAGIC and NINA prior to a hiatus for the foreseeable future, while there were promising new talents emerging in the shape of POLYCHROME, PRIZM, BUNNY X and RIDER.

However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.

While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…

Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019.

It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.

Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur like it was normal behaviour, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount.

This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.

Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?

Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?

Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.

It’s a funny old world, but as The Electricity Club comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever.

Artwork by Heloisa Flores

The Electricity Club had a compilation released by Amour Records gathering some of the best music from the last 10 years and reached No2 in the German POPoNAUT charts.

It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of deluded poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.

So The Electricity Club ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after TEC006 who had also been to TEC004: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”

May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉


THE ELECTRICITY CLUB Contributor Listings of 2019

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: UNDERWORLD Drift Series 1
Best Song: MOLINA Venus
Best Gig: RAMMSTEIN at Milton Keynes MK Bowl
Best Video: SCALPING Chamber
Most Promising New Act: SCALPING


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: NO-MAN Love You To Bits
Best Song: NO-MAN Love You To Shreds
Best Gig: RAMMSTEIN at Stadion Slaski Chorzow
Best Video: RAMMSTEIN Deutschland
Most Promising New Act: IMI


SIMON HELM

Best Album: PAGE Fakta För Alla
Best Song: PAGE Fakta För Alla
Best Gig: LAU NAU at London Cafe OTO
Best Video: LAU NAU Amphipoda on Buchla 200 at EMS Stockholm
Most Promising New Act: THE HIDDEN MAN


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: KNIGHT$ Dollar & Cents
Best Song: OMD Don’t Go
Best Gig: KITE at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan
Best Video: NIGHT CLUB Your Addiction
Most Promising New Act: IMI


RICHARD PRICE

Best Album: KNIGHT$ Dollar & Cents
Best Song: OMD Don’t Go
Best Gig: MIDGE URE + RUSTY EGAN at The London Palladium
Best Video: IMI Margins
Most Promising New Act: PLASMIC


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: MECHA MAIKO Let’s
Best Song: KANGA Burn
Best Gig: DANA JEAN PHOENIX, KALAX + LEBROCK at London Zigfrid von Underbelly
Best Video: IONNALEE Open Sea
Most Promising New Act: PRIZM


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Ian Ferguson
16th December 2019

M83 DSVII

‘DSVII’ AKA ‘Digital Shades Volume Two’ is the 8th studio album by Anthony Gonzalez.

Originally a duo alongside Nicolas Fromageau, Gonzalez arguably peaked when his work ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ was nominated for a Grammy in 2011. Previous high profile support slots saw M83 touring with DEPECHE MODE (on the ‘Tour of the Universe’ set of dates), KINGS OF LEON and THE KILLERS.

‘DSVII’ primarily takes its inspiration from the soundtracks to classic adventure-based video games such as ‘Final Fantasy’, ‘Dragon Quest’ and ‘The Legend of Zelda’ and musically gives nods to ambient heavyweights TANGERINE DREAM and BRIAN ENO.

Gonzalez explained that the gestation of ‘DSVII’ started after some of the negative reaction to his album ‘Junk’: “I had a weird sensation that people didn’t fully understand the direction of the record. Despite a very successful tour all over the world, I couldn’t stop thinking that the fans were disappointed with ‘Junk’. And a feeling of failure stayed with me for a very long time…”

To help promote the new release, ‘DSVII’ is preceded by three ludicrously arty promo videos directed by Bertrand Mandinko. The one accompanying the album’s final track ‘Temple of Sorrow’ is a deliriously bonkers affair, with nothing musically happening for its first four minutes until the track eventually bursts into life at 4 minutes 45 seconds, coming across like classic AIR with visuals provided from a vintage BBC ‘Blakes 7’ episode.

‘Lune de Fiel’ is an interesting combo of latter day TANGERINE DREAM with live breakbeats and features characters from the previous promo and an equally surreal combination of yesterday’s sci-fi imagery.

The final part of the trilogy ‘Feelings’ takes its visual cues from Italian Giallo director Dario Argento and when it comes to summing it up, The Electricity Club can’t beat one of the YouTube commenters who states “I switched to Pornhub when my grandma walked in ‘cause it’s easier to explain…” (!)

Album opener ‘Hell Riders’ is an odd mixture of muzak, acoustic guitar and synths and struggles to sustain its 9 minute running time. ‘Goodbye Captain Lee’ takes its musical cues from ‘Forbidden Colours’ with an arpeggiated synth riff which is almost identical to the one in David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s classic piece from ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’.

Without a set of visuals to accompany them, many of the other tracks on ‘DSVII’ struggle to convince. With a running time of nearly an hour, this is an epic work but being completely instrumental (with occasional choral and wordless flourishes), it often struggles to hold the listener’s attention. When it comes to re-creating early synth works, there is a fine line to be trod between being lovingly inspired by the era or descending into a sizable vat of fromage… unfortunately ‘DSVII’ falls into the latter category too many times.

When listening to ‘DVSII’, The Electricity Club can’t help of thinking of the glorious ADULT SWIM pastiche ‘Live at the Necropolis: Lords of Synth’ which poked fun at the golden age of electronica with caricatures of WENDY CARLOS, GIORGIO MORODER and VANGELIS.

In places with ‘DSVII’, it’s hard to tell whether Gonzalez has his tongue in his cheek or is actually being serious, although The Electricity Club suspects it’s the latter…

If you are a fan of throwback muzak, you may find some of ‘DSVII’ enjoyable, but many listeners will surely be digging out their copies of ‘Moon Safari’ and ‘The Virgin Suicides’ instead. Both of these works provide a masterclass in how to do this kind of stuff reverentially without becoming overly bland.

Maybe ‘DSVII’ would have functioned better as a soundtrack album rather than a stand-alone one, which is a shame as all involved here (including an all-too brief appearance from Susanne Sundfør) have obviously committed to this whole-heartedly.

M83 have made the mistake here of overtly focusing on the past rather than simply referencing it and bringing something new to the vintage wavetable.


‘DSVII’ is released via Naïve in double pink candy floss vinyl LP, CD and digital formats

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Text by Paul Boddy
2nd October 2019

JEAN-MICHEL JARRE Electronica 1: The Time Machine

Jarre-electronica-coverFor the last eight years, French synthesist JEAN-MICHEL JARRE has mainly focused on his live work and reworking past glories, touring the world with a greatest hits set featuring most of the iconic pieces of equipment that were used on the holy trinity of albums he is most associated with – ‘Oxygène’, ‘Equinoxe’ and ‘Magnetic Fields’.

Despite nearly pushing 70, the creative urge has sparked JEAN-MICHEL JARRE to release some new material and ‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ sees his welcome return with 16 tracks and 15 collaborators.

Whilst for other artists (hello DURAN DURAN!), the collaboration option is often one which is resorted to a) when the creative fire has started to splutter out and b) when you cynically try to “get down with the kids” to attract a new audience, for Jarre it is the obvious and perfect route to take.

jarre clarkeThe album was a lengthy four years in the making, mainly because of his insistence to work in the same space as the collaborators, avoiding the internet route preferred by many electronic artists. All of the guests featured here are either ones who Jarre admires or who have been influenced by him, some of them are obvious choices, others are a little left of field, but more on that later.

The opening title track created with BOYS NOIZE is classic Jarre, both compositionally and sound wise, a very hooky melody with driving drums and sequencer parts that keep the piece moving throughout.

Entertainment for some can be had on this album by playing synth-spotting and seeing which sounds have been previously been used by Jarre. ‘The Time Machine’ features the Laser Harp sync bass sound used on the second half of the epic ‘Second Rendez-vous’ and works brilliantly here on what is an excellent album opener.

Unfortunately, the M83 song ‘Glory’, as well as being desperately mistitled, kills the momentum generated by the opener and still feels as plodding and pedestrian as when it was released as one of the lead-off tracks of the album earlier in the year. It’s not a bad song per se, it would surely have been preferable to have placed it towards end of the album… so for those of you that love to generate custom Spotify playlists, you know what to do!

The AIR pairing is a musical no-brainer, the duo being arguably the best electronic act to come out of France since Jarre first broke through. ‘Close Your Eyes’ features typical AIR chord progressions and ethereal vocals, both live and vocodered. But the surprise here is the rhythm track which lopes along like something from ‘Autobahn’; this is a good thing though and there are enough musical ideas in this piece which could easily have seen it extended by another 3-4 minutes.

The outro features classic pitch modulated synths and burbling EMS sound effects (both Jarre trademarks) and the song itself is sung from the perspective of a synthesizer “Switch me on, play my song and close your eyes”. On the strength of this track, one can only wish that there could be a whole collaboration album in the pipeline, it’s easily one of the most cohesive fits here and works beautifully.

For many, the VINCE CLARKE collaboration is a match made in synthetic heaven, and fans will be rewarded with two tracks here – ‘Automatic Part 1’ and ‘Automatic Part 2’. ‘Part 1’ is centred around an electro drum beat before leading seamlessly into ‘Part Two’ which goes 4/4 with the energy level being raised with another classic Jarre melody. Both pieces feature wonderful interlocking sequencer parts and they are everything that a follower of both musicians could hope for.

jarre+bootsLITTLE BOOTS, whose recent profile in the UK has waned significantly, pops up with a typical piece of electropop fluff – ‘If..!’ sounds very MARSHEAUX-like in its conception with an ultra-hooky chorus and is only let down by some dubious tuning on some of Miss Hesketh’s ad-lib vocals. ‘Suns Have Gone’ featuring MOBY starts off like a long lost PHILIP GLASS piece, interlocking arpeggios recall the iconic minimalist composer before the former Richard Hall’s world-weary vocals and a solid beat take the track into more into EDM territory, but still with a melancholic feel to it.

‘Travelator’ is probably the biggest surprise on ‘Electronica 1’; despite being well known for his electronic experiments with THE WHO, few would expect Pete Townsend to appear on a Jarre album. The result is more successful than the pairing would suggest, although the sound of the rock vocalist surrounded by driving synths takes a few listens to get used to!

‘Zero Gravity’ is one of the other collaborations here that got fans of instrumental electronic music excited, it features TANGERINE DREAM and possibly one of the final pieces that Edgar Froese contributed to before sadly passing away earlier this year. Full of classic TD sequencer parts, it takes a few listens to truly appreciate, but once it has sunk in, acts as a fitting memorial.

In many eyes, Jarre is recognised as The Godfather of Trance, so a joint venture with a current artist from that genre would seem like a safe bet. ‘Stardust’ featuring ARMIN VAN BUUREN sounds pretty much as you would expect it to, very melodic with a thumping kick, descending synth melody and a hands in the air breakdown section.

The last couple of tracks on ‘Electronica 1’ will be welcomed by those that prefer Jarre’s mainly instrumental work, both the pieces with JOHN CARPENTER and LANG LANG are truly superb; ‘A Question of Blood’ (given its co-creator’s background) is a movie theme waiting to happen whilst the latter (‘The Train & The River’) combines classical piano over an extended electronic backdrop with one of Jarre’s classic sequencer riffs.

At approximately 4 minutes into ‘The Train & The River’, you WILL get goosebumps when Jarre drops in a descending phased Eminent string chord and just for good measure brings back THAT sync bass sound again… again this is another collaboration that is crying out for more pieces.

Jarre 2015The only missed opportunity with ‘The Time Machine’ is that despite many of them being well known in their field, none of Jarre’s collaborators here could be classified as exceptionally strong vocalists; it would have been intriguing to have (for example) someone of the calibre of SUSANNE SUNDFØR vocalling, but it’s understandable why he chose the people he did.

Jarre has an embarrassment of musical riches here and with more saved up in the bank, a second volume is due next year due to the sheer volume of artists agreeing to work with him like HANS ZIMMER, SEBASTIEN TELLIER and GARY NUMAN.

This work, and hopefully ‘Volume 2’, will be a wonderful addition to the tradition and provides what is one of the best electronic albums that you will hear this year. As Jarre himself mentions in his sleeve notes, “Electronic music has a family, a legacy and a future…” and ‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ comfortably ticks all three boxes with consummate ease…

‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ uses the following electronic instruments: ARP 2600, EMS AKS, EMS VCS3, Fairlight CMI, Minimoog, Memorymoog, Moog Modular 55, RMI Harmonic, Roland Jupiter 8, Korg Micro-Preset, Theremin, Korg MS20, Roland AXS, GRP Modular, Elka Synthex, Laser Harp, Eminent 310, Mininova Vocoder, DigiSequencer, Coupigny GRM, Swarmatron, ARP Omni, ARP Pro-Soloist, ARP Odyssey, Waldorf Blofeld, Alesis Ion, Roland VP330, Virus Access, Clavia Nord Lead 1, Clavia Nord Lead 2, Clavia Nord Lead C2D, Emulator II, Korg PA500, Moog Taurus, Farfisa Pro 2, Vox Continental, Mellotron, Keio Minipops, Korg KR55, Roland TR808, Roland TR909, Roland CR8000, Eko ComputeRhythm, Keio Doncamatic, Linn LM-1, Linn LM-2, Metasonix D1000, Native Instruments Maschine


‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ is released by Columbia / Sony Music

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https://twitter.com/jeanmicheljarre

http://aerojarre.blogspot.co.uk/


Text by Paul Boddy
18th October 2015

SUSANNE SUNDFØR Ten Love Songs

The profile of Norwegian singer / songwriter / producer SUSANNE SUNDFØR is probably at its career zenith right now, thanks to some quality collaborations with a number of high profile friends. Her last album ‘The Silicone Veil’ in 2012 was her UK debut and saw her experimenting more within electronica.

Since then, there has been her epic guest lead vocal on M83’s ‘Oblivion’ for the theme song of the same titled Tom Cruise film, as well as key appearances with fellow Norwegians RÖYKSOPP and Swedish producer KLEERUP.

And that’s without mentioning her remix of MAPS’ single ‘AMA’, and production work for BOW TO EACH OTHER on their debut album ‘The Urge Drums’.

This all sets the scene nicely for SUSANNE SUNDFØR’s new, eagerly anticipated solo album ‘Ten Love Songs’.

Largely self-produced, it is to an extent, a concept album: “To me, love isn’t always what it seems” she said, “When I first started to work on the album, I wanted to make an album about violence, and then, as I was writing the songs, there were violent aspects, but they were usually about love or relationships, how you connect with other people. And in the end, that turned out to be 10 love songs”.

‘Ten Love Songs’ also sees a move towards pop as Sundfør explained: “I wanted to be more mainstream. Not in the sense of the sound, but in terms of expression. There is something about pop songs that, to me, hits me more than any other types of song do. I’ve been a sucker for pop music since I was a little girl, and I’ve always wanted to make a pop record. So I guess this is my attempt!”

But although there are tunes, this is not exactly TAYLOR SWIFT’s ‘1989’ and ‘Ten Love Songs’ is still very much a compelling and tense leftfield record. This is best exemplified by the wonderful launch single ‘Fade Away’. A three minute Nordic Noir drama with fabulous vocal layers, pulsing electronics and a terrific polyphonic synth solo that Sundfør says was inspired by QUEEN, there are rousing, almost gospel like qualities that set the tone for the album.

However, it all begins like a short church service with ‘Darlings’ where a harmonium accompanies Sundfør’s mournful vocal, lamenting about the hopes and fears of love with that Nordic gospel flavour which was hinted at on ‘Fade Away’. “So, it’s definite, then…” announces Sundfør as she ponders the impending emotional gloom.

Photo by Luke Gifford

Photo by Luke Gifford

Hints of DEPECHE MODE’s spiritual longing also emerge so when ‘Accelerate’ kicks in, it sounds exactly what the Basildon boys SHOULD be doing today musically.

In collaboration with BIG BLACK DELTA, solemn synths with a haunting Cold War spectre linger before a detour into some rumbling rhythmic aggression, the combination of live drums and machines providing a magnificent rhythmic surrealism.

Sundfør’s voice is resigned one moment, then vicious the next. The chorus turns into a widescreen assault before some baroque organ interludes into the piercing climax.

The semi-acoustic ‘Silencer’ begins sparsely but when strings by the TRONDHEIMSOLISTENE chamber ensemble appear, things beautifully build like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack for a glacial Spaghetti Western with a Fjord as the scenic backdrop. ‘Kamikaze’ has a similar sparse introduction but then launches into a loose four-to-the-floor stomp. There’s stabs of spacey synths, gunshots and war noises before a sudden harpsichord break for the conclusion… it is this kind of bizarre musical jigsaw puzzle that makes ‘Ten Love Songs’ such a fascinating experience that continually asks the question: “what’s next?”.

And what’s next is the album’s ambitious ten minute centrepiece ‘Memorial’ which sees Sundfør’s partnership with M83 revisited. Again featuring strings by TRONDHEIMSOLISTENE, the tone is neo-classical in the mould of MUSE, but this is not surprising as the track was inspired by QUEEN; “I love Queen, and Freddie Mercury” Sundfør said, “I saw Live Aid when I was about 18, they broadcast it on one of the channels in Norway and I was just sucked towards the screen when he came on stage. His charisma was insane”.

In three distinct movements, Sundfør’s soaring vocal takes a breather for the middle section as a piano and orchestra take the limelight. ‘Memorial’ is a beautiful mini-drama and her cry of “You are heartless cos you took off my dress, and you never put it on again” captures an exposed and haunting vulnerability. These kinds of heartfelt theatrics have been attempted before by Sundfør on tracks like ‘Meditation In An Emergency’ from ‘The Silicone Veil’ or ‘Walls’ from her self-titled debut, but not all together on this grand a scale.

Despite an eerie, droning intro with echoes of THE WALKERS BROTHERS’ ‘The Electrician’, second single ‘Delirious’ thunders with some hard-edged electronics bolstered by more strings, coming over like THE KNIFE meeting DEPECHE MODE. With her moving vocal vibrato, our heroine announces “I’m not the one holding the gun”… this is love as a reluctant battle.

Things calm a little with ‘Slowly’, probably the most classic Scandipop song of the collection. Digital claps also give the track a more vintage feel but although comparatively lighter to the rest of ‘Ten Love Songs’, it is still richly swathed in melancholy.’Trust Me’ exposes more of Sundfør’s heartache as the sombre harmonium of ‘Darlings’ makes a return in a development of the opening track while she snarls “you cannot replace me…”

Susanne Sundfør

Photo by Sofia Fredrick Sprung

So with sinister swirls and a frantic techno rattle to finish, ‘Insects’ possesses a dark finality that is more aggressive than anything else the album.

As the machine gun drums attack, unsettling air raid sirens soundtrack an impending apocalypse. It is said that only insects will survive a nuclear holocaust, so this is a stark consequential reminder of what could happen in a world without love.

‘Ten Love Songs’ is one of those artistically accomplished albums that grows and gets better with each listen. Some components maybe unconventional, but the end results are still songs and therefore accessible in many ways. Accessibility is something THE KNIFE moved away from in their quest for experimentation… SUSANNE SUNDFØR though has successfully married the avant and pop approaches for an emotive commentary on the human condition.

“It is very taboo to be a vulnerable person” she concedes, “It’s almost like the biggest weakness today is to be a human being, because everything around us is about perfection, as if we’re trying to be like robots… If I listen to music or read books where people are saying ‘I’m very human, I feel a lot of things, bad things, good things’, that’s what touches me.”


With thanks to Debbie Ball at Create Spark

Quotes by SUSANNE SUNDFØR from the ‘Ten Love Songs’ album biography by Dan Cairns

‘Ten Love Songs’ is released on 16th February 2015 by Sonnet Sound via Kobalt in CD, vinyl and download formats

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
10th February 2015, updated 14th February 2015