Impressing recently at Synth Wave Live with a very engaging performance were Danish duo SOFTWAVE.
The Herlev couple of singer Catrine Christensen and music producer Jerry Olsen released their first EP ‘Together Alone’ in Summer 2016.
A six track collection of appealing Nordic synthpop, it includes their debut single ‘Follow You’ and the solid live favourite ‘Awake But Still Asleep’. With debut releases often being like dress rehearsals in public, SOFTWAVE have learnt very quickly.
A few months on, they have actually managed to improve on the EP’s best number ‘On & On & On’ with a throbbing alternate reworking by Olsen for a remix version of the EP. As the video illustrates, it is a hope filled electronic tune with the positivity mantra: “In a world of circles, she goes on and on and on…”
‘Together Alone – The Remixes’ features five of the original EP’s tracks over nine remixes and while these vary in accomplishment, ‘The Light Behind My Eyes’ in particular benefits from a remix courtesy of David Burdick which adds a chirpier paced Europop groove.
Like their Scandinavian neighbours TRAIN TO SPAIN who they could be most compared to, SOFTWAVE are greatly inspired by the sequenced superpop of Vince Clarke. Their optimistic outlook is to “make sense of today’s relationships, while exhibiting strength and patience when it comes to fighting for it and the one you love”.
As well as working on their debut album, SOFTWAVE will be featuring on ‘Electropop.12’ released by Conzoom Records and are planning to open for some bigger artists.
SOFTWAVE’s promising synth laden sound is another sign that in some parts of the music world, it’s like acid house never happened and for this, The Electricity Club is extremely grateful 😉
Overall, 2016 was not a vintage year, but there were plenty of quality songs on offer throughout the year and a number were significantly outstanding.
Rounding down to a final 30 songs is always difficult and among the acts in the initial shortlist were ADAM IS A GIRL, BRIAN ENO, DELERIUM, EMIKA, KALEIDA, LADYHAWKE, METROLAND, PRESENCE OF MIND, REIN, FIFI RONG, SPRAY, WHITE LIES and the now disbanded ANALOG ANGEL.
After much deliberation and with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 Songs of 2016 in alphabetical order…
APOPTYGMA BERZERK Rhein Klang
Futurepop veteran Stephan Groth certainly put his head on the line releasing an instrumental Sci-Fi concept album as an APOPTYGMA BERZERK long player. But with influences like KRAFTWERK, TANGERINE DREAM and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ was an undoubted artistic success and perhaps what ‘MG’ should have sounded like. Full of Groth’s electronic lifeblood, ‘Rhein Klang’ was a wonderful oscillating slice of synth motorik in tribute to NEU!
JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM has been involved in electronic music for several decades, but it wasn’t until 1994 that he gained recognition as part of DAILY PLANET with vocalist Jarmo Ollila. His first album ‘Like Before’ in 2015 drew favourable comparisons to Vince Clarke. A competent vocalist himself, the long player’s title song got a standalone release in 2016 and instantly recalled the glory days of ERASURE with its precise, yet emotive synthpop with a message to “swim the oceans like before”.
Crossing CRYSTAL CASTLES with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, the husband and wife DIY duo BATTERY OPERATED ORCHESTRA released their first album ‘Incomplete Until Broken’ in 2014. Inspired by a poltergeist experience after a gig in Hamburg, the ‘Radiation’ album’s title song synthetically apes WIRE and TUBEWAY ARMY as it searches for its shadow in vain. Yes, there are musical references to the past, but the tune is fully Battery Operated.
Possibly one of the songs of 2016, BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE’s ‘Diagram Girl’ was the work of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris, formally of THE GRID. Featuring the unisex vocals of HANNAH PEEL, a deeper pitch shift provided a psychedelic out-of-this-world feel which bizarrely fitted in alongside the songstress’ dreamily breathy tones. Meanwhile the pulsing electronic soundtrack had surreal echoes of OMD, in particular their lesser known minor hit ‘Secret’.
BLACK NEEDLE NOISE featuring KENDRA FROST Warning Sign
It can be tricky keeping up with the prolific studio legend John Fryer. Following the critical success of his projects MURICIDAE and SILVER GHOST SHIMMER, BLACK NEEDLE NOISE employed a flexible lead vocal policy and did away with the idea of albums or EPs, focussing on just single songs. Magically breathy, ‘Warning Sign’ employed the soaring vocals of Kendra Frost from KITE BASE against a spacious backdrop of synths, beats and guitars for a brooding sonic amalgam.
With the sort of mighty Linn Drum engine room that would make Martyn Ware proud and punctuated with some rugged lead synth, ‘Hundred Hands’ was the best track on CIRCUIT3’s debut album. The work of Dublin based musician Peter Fitzpatrick, he even dropped in hints of KRAFTWERK’s ‘Showroom Dummies’ by way of a musical tribute. The parent album ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ was classic styled synthpop made by someone weaned on classic synthpop.
The elegiac ‘Thank You’ utilised some ‘Endless Endless’ vocodered stylings over layers of sweeping synthetic strings and a gentle metronomic pulse. A list of RUSTY EGAN’s musical heroes and associated beneficiaries in no particular order, this tone poem was a touching acknowledgement of electronic music’s marvellous history. A simple yet highly effective idea, the beauty is in its realisation. Appropriately, it ends with a touchingly poignant “VISAGE… thank you”.
A previously unreleased song for a compilation of Foxx’s song based work in the new millennium, ‘A Man & A Woman’ was a surprise in that it was less rigid than previous JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS recordings. Featuring some enchanting whispers from the seemingly ubiquitous HANNAH PEEL, it was an interesting departure that even featured some subtle acoustic guitar flourishes. Foxx’s work is still under-appreciated, so for many ‘21st Century: A Man, A Woman And A City’ provided an opportunity to catch up.
Welsh songstress ANI GLASS served her apprenticeship with girl groups GENIE QUEEN and THE PIPETTES and worked with Andy McCluskey and Martin Rushent respectively along the way. ‘Y Ddawns’ (‘The Dance’) was a wonderfully exhilarating pop art adventure. Swathed in synths and driven by a metronomic beat, it was a declaration of hope, deeply voiced in the verse with a gorgeous soaring resonance in the chorus, about “finding solace and meaning in music, dance, art and culture”.
Helsinki-based Ringa Manner has been making crystalline sine waves as THE HEARING. Her second album ‘Adrian’ boasted the sub-eight minute epic ‘Kabeldon’. A outstanding electronic work with an affinity to Norwegian songstress SUSANNE SUNDFØR, there were also bows to DAVID BOWIE’s ‘I’m Deranged’ when the mad cascading piano kicked in alongside the frantic drum ‘n’ bass and steadily building cacophony of noise. Then, when it appeared all over, the song mutated into an eloquent Nordic dubstep ballad!
Available on the album ‘Adrian’ via Solina Records
The project of Julie Kathryn, the haunting tension of ‘Losing Face’ accentuates a variety of electronic and organic colours. A muted chop’ n’ chuck provides the percussive backbone while an eerie soundscape is steadily configured as Kathryn succumbs to lust. “You’re different when you’re on top of me… how I hate the state I’m in” she paradoxically reflects, as bubbling detuned synth swirls and acoustic guitar penetrate the foreboding atmosphere in the vein of ‘Felt Mountain’ era GOLDFRAPP.
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & CYNDI LAUPER Swipe To The Right
After decades of composing lengthy synth symphonies, there must have been times when the France maestro must have just wanted to do a four minute pop tune. This JEAN-MICHEL JARRE managed in a quirky collaboration with Brooklyn’s CYNDI LAUPER. No stranger to electronic forms, particularly with her under rated ‘Bring Ya To The Brink’ album of 2007, ‘Swipe To The Right’ had big bass riffs galore for a great poptastic exploration, while reflecting on the use of Tinder in modern relationships.
KID MOXIE is Elena Charbila, the Greek born singer and actress who likes to make music with friends. Working best in collaboration, her well-received album ‘1888’ showed she had blossomed and displayed an inventive maturity following the gutter pop of her early releases. From her best body of work yet in ‘Perfect Shadow’, the seductive ‘Still High’ was gloriously cinematic synthpop with a touch of maiden iciness that affirmed this artistic progression.
One-time label mates of MARSHEAUX, LIEBE are the electro disco duo comprising of George Begas and Dimos Zachariadis who could be considered the Greek PET SHOP BOYS. Sitting on that difficult bridge between pastiche and post-modern, their romantic disco friendly sound mines Europop while adding the vocal drawl of Jarvis Cocker. The magnificent JEAN-MICHEL JARRE goes Italo disco of ’The Box’ was the highlight of their wonderfully escapist pop album ‘Revolution Of Love’.
Recorded in London and Athens, a new approach saw MARSHEAUX’s trademark wispiness blended in with a subtle tone of aggression. The opening song on ‘Ath.Lon’, the album title of which was derived from the cities of Athens and London, ‘Burning’ was a harsh but sexy slice of synth expressionism. While clearly referencing darker electronica forms with its hypnotising percussive motif, it crucially maintained the essence of a good tune.
With their new album ‘Looking Skyward’, MESH alleviated any fears that they might not be able to sustain the artistic momentum seeded by 2013’s ‘Automation Baby’. Despite the lyrically negative nature of ‘The Fixer’, a driving bass triplet attached to a solid four-to-the-floor beat and an anthemic topline shed a light of optimism amongst the gloom. MESH have firmly carved their own niche and any disillusioned DEPECHE MODE fans should consider joining the fold immediately…
Buoyed by the acclaim of their EP trilogy and their power as a live act, NIGHT CLUB experimented with a more aggressive synth rock disco sound for their debut long player ‘Requiem For Romance’. Playing around with a range of unsettling vocal pitch shifts and religious imagery for the sinister overtones of ‘Pray’, Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks have more than substantiated their position as one of North America’s best independent electronic pop duos.
It’s been a busy year for HANNAH PEEL; layered with staccato voice samples and uplifting bursts of symphonic strings, the driving arpeggio laden ‘All That Matters’ was her calling card, not just as her most synthpop offering yet but also as a mantra to live in the moment. The opening track of her second album ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’, her very personal musical journey themed around memory and the effects of dementia was a startling artistic triumph.
Never mind their age, PET SHOP BOYS are still ‘The Pop Kids’ and ‘Twenty-something’ ones at that. But on the moodier ‘The Dictator Decides’, there comes one of those politically laced introspective numbers in the vein of ‘My October Symphony’ and ‘Don Juan’ that Tennant and Lowe always do so well. As Tennant deadpans “if you get rid of me, we can all be free”, the song provides an amusing surreal narrative of a tyrannical politician bored of his outright power and wanting to live a normal life.
From the Cold War Night Life curated ‘Heresy: A Tribute To Rational Youth’, one of the highlights from the collection is PSYCHE’s take on ‘Ring The Bells’ from appropriately, RATIONAL YOUTH’s ‘Cold War Night Life’ debut. The clattering 808 beat and elegantly haunting sweeps combined with Darrin Huss’ mournful vocal provide an atmospheric reworking that betters the original and reflects the decades long kinship between RATIONAL YOUTH and PSYCHE.
Greek electropop goddess SARAH P. started her music career as the frontwoman of KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS. With ‘I’d Go’ she said: “Most of the people do not get that this song is not as happy as it sounds at a first listen”. In her own words she confesses: “I’m a childish woman and nobody can stop me from being one” and adds “If there’s anything I stand for with all my heart is the ‘Go be you’ motto!” – her full length debut long player ‘Who Am I?’ is eagerly awaited.
Available on the mini-album ‘Free’ via EraseRestart
Enigmatic Gothenburg electronic trio SILENT WAVE possess the hauntronica hallmarks of fellow Swedes THE KNIFE. ‘War’ is a reminder of how that sibling duo once combined tunes with their experimentation. With a suitably dark Nordic vibe, it could easily have come off ‘Silent Shout’ and while the template is undoubtedly derivative, ‘War’ is extremely well executed.
Available on the download single ‘War’ via Silence Records
With his career spanning 10 CD box set ‘Trials Of Eyeliner: Anthology 1979-2016’, the last thing anyone expected from MARC ALMOND this year was an electronic pop album. Almond first recorded with Anglo German production duo STARCLUSTER in 2008. A great cover version, ‘To Have & Have Not’ was originally recorded by RONNY and retains the stern manner of the former Parisian model, while giving this slice of modern Weimar Cabaret a new lease of life.
Available on the album ‘Silver City Ride’ via Closing the Circle / Private Records
An appearance at the 2015 ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf reinforced TINY MAGNETIC PETS’ reputation as an intriguing live act by winning over figures such as Rusty Egan and Andy McCluskey. The soulful ‘Not Giving In’ makes the most of Paula Gilmer’s enticingly wispy voice. With detuned pulses contrasting the digital chimes and staccato voice samples, an unusual stuttering reggae inflected beat enhances the atmosphere.
Highly exuberant and featuring a poptastic four chord progression, ‘Believe In Love’ was TRAIN TO SPAIN’s first recording to feature producer Lars Netzel aka NOT LARS as a full-time member. It developed on the promise of songs like ‘Passion’ from their debut album ‘What it’s All About’ released in 2015 and significantly gave more space within Jonas Rasmusson’s classic synthpop framework for lead singer Helena Wigeborn to exude her charm in. But it seems TRAIN TO SPAIN are back to a duo again…
‘River In Me’ was an unusual TRENTEMØLLER recording in that Jehnny Beth from SAVAGES actually came to his home studio in Copenhagen to lay down her vocals. The end result possessed a Gothic intensity, yet was vibrant and melodic with Beth’s Siouxsie-like tones complimenting the hybrid synth laced soundscape. While some complained that ‘River In Me’ was not as dark as the Dane’s previous work, it was his most immediate offering yet with a fine balance of accessibility and mood.
It’s the avant pop approach reminiscent of early OMD that sets VILE ELECTRODES apart from and makes them so captivating. ‘The Vanished Past’ is a potent successor to the drama of ‘Deep Red’, complete with a mighty drum cacophony à la OMD’s ‘Navigation’. Bleak and wonderful, “not everything is as it seems” as a forlorn stranger joins in. As the seven minute adventure unfolds like a lost OMD epic, that stranger begins to sound like a certain George Andrew McCluskey!
From their superb second album ‘Ultima’, ‘Stranger’ was a brilliant return for VILLA NAH after a five year absence. Front man Juho Paalosmaa said: “‘Stranger’ is a play on words; how somebody you’ve known can turn stranger over the span of time… and end up as a complete stranger in the process. I don’t think it’s a track I would’ve written as a 20 year old. It requires some years of age and experience to really understand how time can change people, including yourself.”
Available on the album ‘Ultima’ via Solina Records
If CABARET VOLTAIRE had hijacked Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas while TALKING HEADS were recording ‘Speaking In Tongues’, the end result might have ended up sounding a bit like this. ‘Stupid’ sees Stephen Mallinder in warped falsetto mode over a hypnotic sequence of menacing synths from Benge and Phil Winter. The track’s rhythmic heart creates an almost robotic, yet electro-funk feel for one of the undoubted highlights on WRANGLER‘s ‘White Glue’ album.
Despite 37 years of making music together, the distinctive sound of YELLO remains intriguing and distinctly European and the new album ‘Toy’ delighted fans. On the superb ‘Electrified II’ (the original version appeared on Boris Blank’s boxed set of the same name), Dieter Meier has his mind blown by the velvet voice of Malia. As she exclaims “Life’s a bitch and I’m no witch”, this could be Shirley Bassey indulging in some seductive energetic electro-cabaret.
Available on the album ‘Toy’ via Polydor / Universal Music
Swedish synthpoppers TRAIN TO SPAIN have recorded their best song yet in their new single ‘Believe In Love’.
Highly exuberant and featuring a poptastic four chord progression, the track is to first to feature producer Lars Netzel aka NOT LARS as a full-time member.
‘Believe In Love’ develops on the promise of their debut album ‘What It’s All About’ released in 2015 and significantly features more space within Jonas Rasmusson’s classic synthpop framework for lead singer Helena Wigeborn to work in.
Jonas Rasmusson has been releasing music as TRAIN TO SPAIN since 2011, but it wasn’t until the recruitment of Helena Wigeborn in 2013 that things begin to gather momentum. With Lars Netzel, who did the final mixdown of ‘What It’s All About’, now joining the duo, TRAIN TO SPAIN’s journey has taken an exciting new route while still heading towards the same destination of synth city.
In an interview with The Electricity Club earlier this year, Jonas said: “There are only good things about having Lars as a full time member. We complete each other just great”. Helena added: “On ‘What It’s All About’, Lars was putting his effort into mixing. As a full member, he will be involved from the start with all tracks and most probably write new songs together with me and Jonas, he’s got some interesting pop-tricks up his sleeve”.
Sweden’s TRAIN TO SPAIN finally released their debut album ‘What It’s All About’ in 2015, having issued music in a variety of different line-ups since 2001.
Named after a lyric from THE HUMAN LEAGUE song ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’, the duo’s first long player was an enjoyably flirtatious affair centred around a crashing metronomic heartbeat reminiscent of PHILIP OAKEY and GIORGIO MORODER’s joint eponymous opus from 1985.
Featuring singer Helena Wigeborg and instrumentalist Jonas Rasmusson, the album imagined LANA DEL REY fronting YAZOO, particularly on songs like ‘Keep On Running’, Passion, ‘All About’ and ‘Screw It Up’.
TRAIN TO SPAIN could be perceived as being a bit pop and fluffy, but ‘Grab and Touch’ dealt with the rather serious subject of harassment. But there was also the perky electronic disco of ‘Work Harder’ and best of all, the marvellous Euro stance of ‘Remind Myself’ which enjoyable sounded a bit like TATU without the helium. Overall a promising debut, ‘What It’s All About’ certainly wore its synthpop influences on its sleeve.
Ever keen to move forward and enrich their sound, TRAIN TO SPAIN have now been joined by Lars Netzel who was involving the mixing of ‘What It’s All About’; a musician in his own right under the moniker of NOT LARS, things are set for a new chapter in TRAIN TO SPAIN.
Helena, Jonas and Lars kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about the past, present and future of TRAIN TO SPAIN…
How does it feel to finally get release a TRAIN TO SPAIN album?
Jonas: It feels just great that we got a debut album out. It’s been a long but enjoyable journey.
Helena: It feels good! We’ve been working on that first album since September 2013. So to finally get the album in my hands felt like an achievement and I’m very happy with the result.
After you played ‘An Evening With The Swedish Synth’ in London 2014, things went really well and you got signed by a UK label…
Helena: That’s right. We were very lucky that night. It was a night to remember.
Jonas: It was a dream come true.
But the label went under and put TRAIN TO SPAIN in limbo, what were your thoughts at this time?
Helena: Well, to be signed by a label is good of course, but the music industry of today is not like it was, let’s say twenty years ago. There are so many ways of getting your music “out there” and I wasn’t too sad by the loss of our contract to be honest. And not long after we managed to be signed again, this time by Subculture records.
Jonas: I wasn’t that sad, because we had a solid proof that our music belongs out there. And I knew that we sooner or later would be signed to another label.
It gave you an opportunity to rework some of the songs, particularly ‘Passion’?
Helena: Yes that’s right. ‘Passion’ was one of the first songs we wrote, so we thought it could do with facelift.
Jonas: All the songs were in a kind of demo mode. The plan from the beginning was to go back to the studio and record the vocals again.
‘Passion’ is possibly your most immediate song, why did you not go for it as the first single to launch the album?
Helena: ‘Passion’ is a good song, but so are many of our other songs on the album. When we asked people around to get any idea of which song we could chose to be the first single, we got so many different answers that we decided to pick the first song that was recorded, and that was ‘Keep On Running’. It’s a song that means a lot to me.
Jonas: Like Helena said, there were many songs to choose from and at that moment ‘Keep On Running’ was all done.
What did you think of MACHINISTA’s Club Mix of ‘Passion’?
Helena: It’s definitely a good dance remix. It got power and that particular MACHINISTA sound to it.
Jonas: Since I’m a big MACHINISTA fan, I really liked it. It’s a good mix of Helena’s vocals with the sound of MACHINISTA, and it all comes from a song I made.
What influences do each of you bring to TRAIN TO SPAIN?
Helena: I get influenced by what is happening in my life and what is going on in my mind. That is the main reason why I write songs, I need to get the words out. The last couple of years I’ve listened a lot to LANA DEL REY and I like the sadness in her voice. She is a great storyteller and she sings about her life and her experiences. I like to be true to myself and my lyrics come straight from my heart. When I’m in a flow, the words and the melodies come very easy.
Jonas: When I make the music, it just comes to me. It´s a kind of way to let things out, both happy and sad things.
‘Remind Myself’ is one of the best songs of the album, but which ones are your favourites on ‘What It’s All About’ and why?
Helena: My favourite song on the album is ‘Pressure’. It’s a song that I listen to when I feel lost and stressed, and not knowing where I’m going in life. It’s basically therapy for me.
Jonas: Actually ‘Pressure’ is my favourite song too. But I know that ‘Remind Myself’ is one of the songs from the album that people like the most. That I´ve heard from many different people.
Some of the TRAIN TO SPAIN songs had been around a while and self-production can have the disadvantage of being too inward looking; was it the reason why Lars was brought in to help with the mixing?
Helena: Both me and Jonas are very productive and creative. We are both good at writing new songs and moving forwards.
Lars on the other hand has an eye and an ear for details and perfection which is a great addition to the band.
Jonas: Since Helena was not involved in the production of the tracks, only me, I felt I needed someone to open new doors for me. Lars helped with that.
How did his contribution differ compared what you would have done had you’d handled production solely on your own?
Jonas: I would not have been able to do this production solely on my own. The overall quality turned out better.
Lars has now actually joined TRAIN TO SPAIN, so how do you think the band will change?
Helena: On ‘What It’s All About’ Lars was putting his effort into mixing. As a full member, he will be involved from the start with all tracks and most probably write new songs together with me and Jonas, he’s got some interesting pop-tricks up his sleeve.
Lars: Apart from many nerdy synthesizer talks with Jonas… we are in fact writing new tracks together, all three of us.
Jonas: There are only good things about having Lars as a full time member. We complete each other just great.
You have attended Gothenburg’s Electronic Summer 2015 festival recently. What state of health is the Swedish synthpop scene in at the moment? Are there any particular acts you like?
Lars: I love the Electronic Summer (and Winter) festival and we really needed a “bigger” synth event in Sweden after the Arvika festival went out of business a few years ago, so it’s very important for the scene. Apart from that, there are smaller concerts in Gothenburg, Stockholm and Malmö on a regular basis so the scene is alive and well. Personally I think HENRIC DE LA COUR always gives a good show.
Helena: I would say the synth scene is very much alive although the people are getting slightly older… at the moment I like to listen to KITE and HENRIC DE LA COUR. They both have a very unique sound to their music.
Jonas: I’ve never been to the Electronic Summer festival but I think the Swedish synthpop scene is just great, there’s a lot of good acts!! But like ourselves, it’s a subculture and if you’re not into it, you don’t know that it exists. My favourite bands are MACHINISTA, S.P.O.C.K, UNIVERSAL POPLAB and DISCO DIGITALE.
How do you think the Swedish electronic scene compares with the UK one?
Lars: Unfortunately I’m not updated on the UK synth scene at all. I might be wrong, but since the Vince Clarke-dominated scene in the 80s, for me, the UK has been more of a club music nation. Sweden has always had a strong electronic music community. Small but devoted to the 80s and 90s style of EBM and Synthpop. For those genres, Sweden has a great legacy of bands.
Jonas: To be honest before, I didn’t know too much about the UK scene. But since we went to London and played at 93 Feet East, and the fact that radio stations are playing us frequently, I’ve a lot of new Facebook friends who are in bands. And the scene is alive!! But I think they are struggling with the same problem as us, it´s a subculture. And since Sweden is one of the biggest music export countries, it’s hard to find a way out if you’re not signed to one of the major labels.
What next for TRAIN TO SPAIN? Perhaps some jazz influences? 😉
Helena: Jazz is in my blood, but synthpop is in my heart. I like to continue doing what we are doing, but I like to challenge my voice and what people expect from us. TRAIN TO SPAIN will definitely surprise you in a good way in the future. The plan is to release an EP in the first half of 2016, and we’re right in the middle of doing it. Next up is to record a video for our upcoming single.
Lars: Jazz huh? The first instrument I played was actually the saxophone and can really appreciate a good old JOHN COLTRANE track over a nice cocktail, but it’s doesn’t sound like a Roland TR-707 with gated reverb, does it? 😉
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to TRAIN TO SPAIN
In a far more productive year than 2014, many electronic music veterans returned to the fold in 2015 with their first new albums for many years.
There were plenty of releases from independent acts too, with Nordic Europe being a particularly strong territory once again. 45 quality songs made the shortlist and were eventually whittled down to 30.
So mention must be made of ALICE IN VIDEOLAND, ANALOG ANGEL, BEBORN BETON, BECKY BECKY, CAMOUFLAGE, CLUB 8, ELECTROGENIC, EURASIANEYES, MACHINISTA, ME THE TIGER, HANNAH PEEL and SIN COS TAN who all released recordings in 2015 that would have easily made the listing in less competitive years such as 2012 and 2014. Even DURAN DURAN’s disappointing ‘Paper Gods’ yielded one decent track in ‘Face For Today’, but one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
So the decision has been made; with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, this alphabetical list comprises tracks released in physical formats, or digitally as purchasable or free downloads during the calendar year. Here are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2015…
A-HA She’s Humming A Tune
Having played what appeared to be their farewell concert at the Oslo Spektrum in December 2010, A-HA reunited in a relaxed manner that recalled their days as a fledgling band. On ‘She’s Humming A Tune’, there were hints of 1986’s ‘Scoundrel Days’ in a lower key with sweeping synths, bottle neck six string and live drums moulding the chilling soundscape with that exquisite Nordic allure. ‘Cast In Steel’ was the antithesis of the misguided EDM blow-out that DURAN DURAN attempted on ‘Paper Gods’
Available on the album ‘Cast In Steel’ via Universal Music
Feeling gloomy? Then take heed of the advice from BLACK NAIL CABARET and “Don’t be sad! Don’t be whiney!” – this brooding slice of Gothtronica was the lead single from the Hungarian duo’s second album ‘Harry Me, Marry Me, Bury Me’. Laden with a delicious synth bassline like DEPECHE MODE reimagined for a Weimar Cabaret set piece and topped with eerie string machine, ‘Satisfaction’ was the duo’s best individual offering to date. The pair also made a worthy impression opening for CAMOUFLAGE.
Available on the album ‘Harry Me, Marry Me, Bury Me’ via Basic Unit Productions
From Neil Arthur’s first BLANCMANGE album without long time bandmate Stephen Luscombe, ‘Useless’ was a brilliant hybrid of BRIAN ENO circa ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ with LCD SOUNDSYSTEM. “It’s about anyone who thinks they might be useless” said Arthur, “This song is about that whole idea that we’re all flawed and you’re ‘useless as you are’… there are just times when you think ‘f*cking hell, I couldn’t organise a p*ss up in a brewery’ or that whole thing about confidence”.
Available on the album ‘Semi Detached’ via Cherry Red Records
Although launch single ‘Shine’ indicated it was business as usual, as hinted at with the title, CAMOUFLAGE’s long awaited long player ‘Greyscale’ was their most mature artistic statement yet. The mellow and warm ‘Count On Me’ saw Marcus Meyn duet with Peter Heppner of WOLFSHEIM fame. The lush blend of vocals and atmospherics showcased two of Germany’s most highly regarded electronic acts at their best.
CHVRCHES stuck to the synthpop template of their debut and delivered what LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, and LADYHAWKE and HURTS all failed to do… a decent second album! The propulsive four-to-the-floor action of ‘Clearest Blue’ shows how far CHVRCHES developed. Although not unlike an amalgam of ‘Gun’ and ‘Science / Visions’, ‘Clearest Blue’ is even more accomplished, wonderfully held in a state of tension before WHACK, there’s a dynamic surprise that recalls the classic overtures of Vince Clarke.
Available on the album ‘Every Open Eye’ via Virgin Records
RODNEY CROMWELL is Adam Cresswell, formally of ARTHUR & MARTHA. ‘Black Dog’ recalled the pulsing post-punk miserablism of SECTION 25 and was embellished some Hooky styled bass. Cresswell told TEC: “It’s all broadly linked to experiences in my life over the last ten years; themes of love, loss, depression, redemption”. As with NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’, despite the inherent melancholy, there was light at the end of the tunnel that made ‘Black Dog’ a most joyous listening experience.
Available on the album ‘Age Of Anxiety’ via Happy Robots
Utilising her Italian heritage, DAYBEHAVIOR’s lead singer Paulinda Crescentini gave a suitably alluring performance on ‘Cambiare’, the B-side of the Swedish trio’s single ‘Change’. Remixed to poptastic effect, the joyous yet melancholic tune took the best elements of Italo disco with an expression of sorrow and happiness that recalled imperial phase PET SHOP BOYS. With a catchy chorus and seductive topline, Linguaphone language lessons were never this much fun…
An offshoot of Swedish EBM veterans SPETSNAZ, DESTIN FRAGILE are a very different animal with hints of CAMOUFLAGE and DEPECHE MODE in their sound. ‘Run Away’ opened their ‘Halfway To Nowhere’ opus, an album which some observers have hailed as one of the best of 2015. Featuring a fine vocal from Pontus Stålberg resembling MESH’s Mark Hockings, this is what modern synthpop should be like; pop music with synths and melody as well as dynamic synth solos.
Available on the album ‘Halfway To Nowhere’ via Dark Dimensions
EAST INDIA YOUTH’s debut ‘Total Strife’ pointed towards William Doyle’s potential to pen sublime pop, and with the follow-up ‘Culture Of Volume’, this was more than realised. But the album’s centrepiece was ‘Carousel’. Imagine the start of OMD’s ‘Stanlow’ reworked during BRIAN ENO’s sessions for ‘Apollo: Soundtracks & Atmospheres’. With no percussive elements and over six minutes in length, Doyle gave a dramatic vocal performance resonating in beautifully crystalline melancholy.
Available on the album ‘Culture of Volume’ via XL Recordings
Berlin-based EMIKA is one of the dark horses of the UK electronic scene. A combination of her classical training, Czech heritage and use of modern technology has made for a provoking, brooding sound that has attained critical acclaim over the last few years. From her third album, helpfully named ‘Drei’, ‘My Heart Bleeds Melody’ was its highlight, a concoction of intricate pulsing layers and solemn detachment that provided a captivating listening experience.
FFS proved collaborations do work. A total triumph, ‘P*ss Off’ was possibly the album’s most outstanding number. With the vibrancy of ‘Kimono My House’ and ‘Propaganda’ era SPARKS, there were plenty of jaunty ivories and camp vocal theatrics in the vein of classics like ‘Something For The Girl With Everything’ and ‘BC’. “It’s inexplicable” they all growled as the multi-track phrase of “HARMONISE” kicked in! A total joy, ‘P*ss Off’ was the ultimate two fingered art school pop anthem.
One of the highlights in Herr Flür’s DJ sets has been The Ninjaneer Mix of ‘Cover Girl’, a swirling synthpop track that the former KRAFTWERK percussionist has described as ‘The Model MkII’. He told TEC: “Her story goes on and unfortunately shows her going downhill. She had bad experiences with drugs, alcohol and other things so had to dance in night clubs for earning money at least. A true story, a bad life… that’s sometimes the way how super models are knitting their career”
Available on the album ‘Eloquence’ via Cherry Red Records
JOHN GRANT’s adventure into a solemn electronic template on ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ not only won him a BRIT Award nomination too. Meanwhile his collaboration with HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR showed he understood the disco as well. ‘Disappointing’ combined the two approaches and added some funk for an enjoyable Bowie meets YAZOO styled workout. In a song full of surprises, not only was there the presence of slap bass, but there was the dulcet tones of EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL’s Tracey Thorn too.
Available on the album ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ via Bella Union
GWENNO’s Welsh and Cornish heritage has allowed her to develop a unique brand of lo-fi electronica. Her full-length Welsh language debut ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ came out on Peski Records in October 2014. Now reissued in 2015 by Heavenly Recordings, GWENNO has deservedly gained an increased profile for her music. With beautiful, traditionally derived melodies placed in a spacey yesterday’s tomorrow setting, the spacey ‘Calon Peiriant’ was one of the more immediate delights on offer from a wonderful album.
Available on the album ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ via Heavenly Recordings
Depression despite apparent material success has been an ongoing lyrical theme for Chris Corner as IAMX. And with ‘Happiness’, his craving for a mind to be free of bad news, negative influences and jealousy was countered with his line of “Everywhere hypocrisy!” as pulsing arpeggios kicked in for the final third’s gentle but drama laden climax. Highly poignant in the current economic and political climate, Corner’s move from Berlin to Los Angeles certainly did his music no harm.
Available on the album ‘Metanoia’ via Caroline International
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & VINCE CLARKE Automatic Parts 1 + 2
The French synth maestro’s first album for since ‘Teo & Tea’ in 2007 was an opus entitled ‘Electronica 1 – The Time Machine’ featuring collaborations with TANGERINE DREAM, JOHN CARPENTER, LITTLE BOOTS, MASSIVE ATTACK among many. But the two part ‘Automatic’ with VINCE CLARKE was the highlight, taking in the best of the tune based elements of both artists while not letting one party dominate. VCJMJ was certainly a more artistically realised proposition than the polarising techno of VCMG!
Available on the album ‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ via Columbia Records
“Whether I release it in 2013 or 2016, it’s still going to sound like 1985!” said KID KASIO main man Nathan Cooper. A man whose is plainly honest about where his influences lie, his love of classic synthpop permeates throughout his work. Now imagine if DEPECHE MODE was fronted by Nik Kershaw instead of Dave Gahan? With ‘Full Moon Blue’, that musical fantasy became fully realised with a clever interpolation of ‘Two Minute Warning’, one of Alan Wilder’s songwriting contributions from ‘Construction Time Again’.
Despite having been around since 2008, Swedish synth duo KITE have tended to be overlooked internationally. But Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg’s wonderfully exuberant array of sounds and rugged, majestic vocals deserve a much larger audience. Issuing only EPs and never albums, KITE’s most recent release ‘VI’ opened with the magnificent progressive electronic epic ‘Up For Life’. The passionate and sublime first half mutated into a beautifully surreal journey of VANGELIS-like proportions for the second.
A worthy of re-assessment of DEPECHE MODE ‘A Broken Frame’ has been long overdue and MARSHEAUX have certainly given a number of its songs some interesting arrangements. Their version of ‘Monument’ borrowed its bassline from latter day DM B-side ‘Painkiller’. Combined with some wispily resigned vocals, it provided a tense soundtrack that could be seen as metaphoric commentary on the economic situation in Greece. It’s not often that cover versions are better than the originals, but this is one of them.
Available on the album ‘A Broken Frame’ via Undo Records
METROLAND’s second album ‘Triadic Ballet’ was a triumphant electronic celebration of the Bauhaus, art movement led by Walter Gropius. Gropius theorized about uniting art and technology and on the B-side of its launch single ‘Zeppelin’, METROLAND worked towards the 21st Century interpretation of that goal. Now imagine if GARY NUMAN had actually joined KRAFTWERK in 1979? Then the brilliantly uptempo ‘(We Need) Machines Without Romance’ would have surely been the result.
Studio legend John Fryer has been busy and the project that perhaps harks closest to THIS MORTAL COIL is MURICIDAE. Featuring the exquisite vocals of Louise Fraser, she and Fryer apparently “met on the beach searching for mermaids”… the sea is very much the visual theme for their music, with Fryer cultivating “sonic sculptures to musically embody the exquisite Muricidae Shell itself”. The tranquil beauty of ‘Away’ captures a shimmering soundscape that compliments Fraser’s plaintive lament.
Available on the EP ‘Tales From A Silent Ocean’ via Muricidae Music
After the guitar dominated proceedings of the last few NEW ORDER albums, Bernard Sumner promised a return to electronic music for the Mancunians’ first album of new material without estranged founder member and bassist Peter Hook. That was certainly delivered on with ‘Plastic’, a full-on throbbing seven minute electro number mixed by Richard X with blippy echoes of ‘Mr Disco’. Dealing with the issue of superficiality, it declares “this love is poison, but it’s like gold”… yes, beware of anything plastic and artificial!
Available on the album ‘Music Complete’ via Mute Artists
In 2015, the Norge domiciled Swedish songstress’ KARIN PARK finally released her fifth album, the profanity laden fifth ‘Apocalypse Pop’. While less harsh in sound to some of the other tracks on the long player, ‘Stick To The Lie’ was no less angry. The most overtly synthpop track on the collection, this accessible yet emotive song was one of the highlights on a collection that affirmed KARIN PARK’s place in modern electronic pop.
Available on the album ‘Apocalypse Pop’ via State Of The Eye
With CHVRCHES having borrowed PURITY RING’s electro template and pushed it into the mainstream, the direction taken on the Edmonton duo’s sophomore album ‘Another Eternity’ was going to be watched with interest. Certainly it was more focussed than its predecessor ‘Shrines’. Still utilising glitch techniques, booming bass drops and Corin Roddick’s rattling drum machine programming, the album’s best song ‘Begin Again’ made the most of Megan James’ sweet and dreamy voice.
Available on the album ‘Another Eternity’ via 4AD Records
Sweden’s SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN (translated as “The Last Man on Earth”) are led by Eddie Bengtsson, best known for his work with S.P.O.C.K and PAGE. The themes of space travel and Sci-Fi are regular lyrical gists and while all of SMPJ’s songs are voiced i Svenska, Bengtsson opened up his Vince Clarke influenced synthpop to the English language in 2015 with the ‘Translate’ EP. Brilliantly produced, ‘All The City Lights’ (a version of his 2014 single ‘Stadens Alla Ljus’) was its highly enjoyable opening gambit.
SUSANNE SUNDFØR and her acclaimed ‘Ten Love Songs’ album developed on the electronic focus of its predecessor ‘The Silicone Veil’. With an eerie, droning intro with echoes of THE WALKERS BROTHERS’ ‘The Electrician’, ‘Delirious’ thundered with some fierce electronics bolstered by dynamic orchestrations like THE KNIFE meeting DEPECHE MODE. It captured love as a reluctant battle of the emotions while our heroine announced with emotive resignation “I’m not the one holding the gun”.
Available on the album ‘Ten Love Songs’ via Sonnet Sound
TRAIN TO SPAIN’s developing brand of uptempo, energetic pop utilises classic synthesizer sounds in the vein of Vince Clarke coupled to a metronomic rhythm structure akin to the 1985 ‘Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder’ album. Coming over like LANA DEL REY fronting YAZOO, Wigeborg’s cooingly vulnerable vocals on ‘Passion’ let rip over a suitably complimentary electronic backbone from Rasmusson, while a superb remix by MACHINISTA added some beefy gothic disco goodness.
Available on the download single ‘Keep On Running’ via Sub Culture Records
Manchester based Ross Tregenza is an experienced hand having co-written ‘Diaries Of A Madman’ with Dave Formula and Steve Strange when he was a member of VISAGE II in 2007. He surprised electronic music audiences with a Spartan cover of ‘The Partisan’, a song made famous by LEONARD COHEN. While many may despair at the very mention of the droll Canadian, his work has strong parallels with many Gothic veined musical forms, especially with this harrowing tale of fighting for La Résistance.
Originally from the EP ‘Stolen Thunder’, alternate version available on the album ‘Into The Void’ via Tregenza Music
On VILE ELECTRODES’ mesmerising ‘Captive in Symmetry’, “Filmic” is indeed a very apt description with the booming synth bass motif possessing echoes of the ‘Twin Peaks’ theme tune ‘Falling’. As beautiful sequences, eerie strings and Anais Neon’s hauntingly alluring vocals take hold, it all comes over like a dreamboat collaboration between JULEE CRUISE and OMD that could easily be considered for use in the proposed revamp of the surreal North American drama.
Available on the EP ‘Captive In Symmetry’ via Vile Electrodes
VIVIEN GLASS took a major bleep forward in 2015 with a well-produced album ‘Jura’. ‘Black Magic’ was a good example of their dark but melodic synthpop. With a catchy riff, syncopated percussive bass grunt and piercing synth pads like LITTLE BOOTS meeting GARY NUMAN at The Batcave, Melissa Glass’ gothic laden vocal provided an additional enticing allure. The bonus of an engaging co-ordinated live presentation also put the trio ahead of the domestic competition.