One of the definitions of ‘Obverse’ is “the opposite or counterpart of a fact or truth” and it is this intriguing title that heralds the arrival of the fifth studio album by Danish composer / producer Anders Trentemøller.
‘Cold Comfort’ which opens ‘Obverse’ is an epic languid downtempo piece which perpetuates TRENTEMØLLER’s obsession with the sound of UK post-punk; although this time there are major echoes of COCTEAU TWINS with SLOWDIVE vocalist Rachel Goswell’s ethereal vocals drifting Liz Fraser-like over a backing track which is heavily inspired by the Scottish trio.
Also present, as with much of TRENTEMØLLER’s work, is the grey spectre of ‘Faith’-era THE CURE with the intro owing a debt to ‘All Cats Are Grey’; a dynamic chorus shift with abrasive fuzz guitar stops the piece becoming a parody though. The last and frankly superfluous two minutes of the track go into waltz time and the piece dissolves into more of a soundscape than a song…
‘Church of Trees’ is an all-electronic instrumental which although pleasant enough, feels more like an interlude piece rather than something which should occupy the second track of an album and as such ends up being a momentum killer.
‘In The Garden’ features more vocals, this time from Lina Tullgren and placed over another sound-a-like backing track of THE CURE.
‘Foggy Figures’ is another instrumental, starting off ambient in nature with floaty chorused guitar and splashy ride cymbals before transforming into a breakbeat that is almost drum ‘n’ bass inspired for the piece’s final two minutes. The track is beautifully produced, but like the album opener, struggles to sustain interest over its seven plus minute length.
‘Blue September’ is less predictable in nature and not so in awe of the post-punk aesthetic. Frustratingly instead of bringing back Lisbet Fritze’s beautiful vocals, the track’s final two minutes go off on another synth excursion which again is functional enough, but wastes the song’s full potential.
There is another Lisbet Fritze collaboration here ‘One Last Kiss to Remember’ which raises the tempo a fraction and provides some welcome variety; along with ‘Blue September’, it’s one of the stronger pieces here if only because it’s shorter, more memorable and less self-indulgent.
‘Try a Little’ is the closest to a pop single on ‘Obverse’, it’s to the point, has a catchy chorus and is counterpointed by a Hooky-style melodic bass guitar line. To be honest, it’s the only track here that is melodically strong enough to stay with you after the album has finished. Outro ‘Giants’ ends ‘Obverse’ (unsurprisingly) in a gloomy fashion; a combination of the Mellotron experimentation of OMD’s ‘Architecture & Morality’ and Ennio Morricone’s score to John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’.
The main problem with ‘Obverse’ is the lack of killer songwriting, without wanting to second-guess the gestation process of the album, it sounds like the backing tracks were created in advance and then the vocalists drafted in to vibe over the top. This can work well, but adversely it can mean that the song’s core can be woefully lacking, once stripped of all the production sheen and effects.
As The Electricity Club previously observed with TRENTEMØLLER’s previous work ‘Fixion’, the producer still remains in awe of his influences, to the point where once the post-punk guitars are removed, there is nothing here that provides any kind of original or signature sound.
It is immaculately produced and mixed, but at its very core is an emptiness and lack of originality or emotion which means that the listener isn’t compelled to return to ‘Obverse’ after a cursory listen.
‘Obverse’ is released by In My Room in the usual formats
Nearly 30 years since the Concert For The Masses at Pasadena Rose Bowl, DEPECHE MODE continue to fill stadia throughout the world.
However, their recorded output in the 21st Century and their attitude towards their live presentation leaves a lot to be desired.
Despite The Electricity Club’s criticism of DEPECHE MODE as a live band with the excesses of The Drumhead and The Noodler, they are still capable of occasional brilliance as an artistic force. And it is that intermittent quality which is the most frustrating aspect of DEPECHE MODE in the 21st Century.
But this article is not about the absence of Alan Wilder or the much-debated choice of producers, it’s about when the DEPECHE MODE brand has got it right, whether with the full involvement of the band’s members or not.
So which are those moments that veer closest to the glory of albums such as ‘Black Celebration’, ‘Music For The Masses’ and ‘Violator’ that see Messrs Fletcher, Gahan and Gore properly exploring the electronic sound with which they made their fortune?
Tellingly, many of the best DM moments in this new millennium are remixes, instrumentals, bonus tracks or songs sung by Martin Gore. It must be pointed out that this listing is NOT intended for Devotees, but aimed those former fans of DEPECHE MODE disillusioned by Dave Gahan’s drug fuelled stage diving antics who bowed out after ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ or those hanging on for the possibility of a good record using synthesizers rather than a collection of pastiche electro-blues.
So here are the 18 tracks which act as The Electricity Club’s own Beginner’s Guide To DEPECHE MODE in the 21st Century.
Dream On – Dave Clarke Acoustic Version (2001)
‘Dream On’ was a messy trailer to the inappropriately named ‘Exciter’ album, but with Dave Clarke slowing down the song’s acoustic guitar line, the makeover brought the track closer to its full musical potential. Anything BUT acoustic thanks to the addition of electronic drum patterns and icy string synths, there was the bonus of the track being made instrumental and free of the dreary lead vocal on the original.
Inspired by Giorgio Moroder, the pacey and club friendly ‘I Feel Loved’ stood out like a sore thumb on ‘Exciter’, being the album’s only truly uptempo number. With its synthy sirens and tightly sequenced bassline, treated enhancement was provided by Airto Moreira, a veteran jazz drummer from Brazil who appeared to have a good grasp as to the best way to provide percussive colour to a danceable electronic recording.
Martin Gore’s interest in leftfield electronica and thus the employment of the late Mark Bell from LFO as producer on ‘Exciter’ only truly manifested itself in the full-length version of ‘Easy Tiger’ which appeared on the B-side of the ‘Dream On’ single. A beautifully progressive track with many intelligent layers and hypnotic percussive counterpoints, a truncated version of ‘Easy Tiger’ ended up on the album, but was so short that it was rendered virtually pointless when cut off at two minutes.
Available on the 6CD single boxed set ‘6’ via Mute Records
A dreamy neo-instrumental with a few Martin Gore vocal ab-libs, ‘Zenstation’ emerged as the B-side of ‘Freelove’. Using exotic koto samples and assorted detuned synth sounds, the under rated track was strong on melody and inventive in its percussive interplay. Recalling an earlier mood piece ‘Christmas Island’ but utilising a more meditative environment, its Far Eastern overtones provided a wonderful textural diversion within the DEPECHE MODE canon.
Available on the CD single ‘Freelove’ via Mute Records
A Pain That I’m Used To – MARSHEAUX remix (2005)
Already a magnificent brooding epic in its original form, ‘A Pain That I’m Used To’ was brilliantly transformed by MARSHEAUX, adding their own sparkling top end dynamic. While this is one of DEPECHE MODE’s better offerings in recent years, it seems outsiders have a better grasp of classic DM than the band themselves. Although never officially released, this was voted top remix in a poll of Devotees and far superior to the dreadful Jacques Lu Cont remix that the band insist on doing live!
Remix not officially available
Suffer Well (2005)
The ‘Playing The Angel’ album was a return to form, thanks largely to its “pain and suffering in various tempos” but also following his lacklustre solo debut ‘Paper Monsters’, the rise of Dave Gahan’s abilities as a songwriter, as proven by the embittered thrust of ‘Suffer Well’. It was a fine if slightly overdriven fusion of rock and electronic elements that came over brilliantly in a live setting.
It could be said that the worst judges of DEPECHE MODE’s music are DEPECHE MODE themselves… originally titled ‘Martyr For Love’, this rousing number came from the ‘Playing The Angel’ sessions, but was apparently rejected from the album for being too poppy! Released as the launch single to a ‘Best Of’ compilation, the most enjoyable version of the song came via a remix from top Trance DJ Paul Van Dyk who exploited the tune’s accessibility to the full with a nicely polished club friendly sound.
Available as an iTunes download single via Mute Records
Wrong – Trentemøller Club Remix (2009)
Anders Trentemøller’s superb Club Remix of ‘Wrong’ well and truly outstripped the rather ploddy original. His astute understanding of synthesizers and conventional instruments has made him an acclaimed producer in-demand with both electronic acts and indie bands such as SAVAGES. But despite sitting under the noses of Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the Dane has unbelievably never received that call.
Martin Gore writes great instrumentals, but unlike the days of yore when he would explore his synths and build atmospheres like on ‘Oberkorn’ and ‘Nothing To Fear’, they are kept as short as possible, almost in fear of boring the more rock inclined audiences where subtle textures are a bit of an anathema. ‘Spacewalker’ was wonderfully light and tuneful relief on the rather dire ‘Sounds Of The Universe’.
Martin Gore’s voice is undoubtedly more suited to ballads and in an album of C-sides, a song that perhaps would have only been a B-side a few years earlier was the highlight of ‘Sounds Of The Universe’. With lyrics such as “Whenever we walk in – You’re going straight to hell for wanton acts of sin”, ‘Jezebel’ was a stand-out song and able to keep the some of the more deviantly inclined Devotees happy.
‘Oh Well’ is one the best DEPECHE MODE recordings of the 21st Century, but it never made the final tracklisting of ‘Sound Of The Universe’ which proves the band aren’t the best judges of their own music. The first Gore / Gahan song collaboration, although their parts were written separately, it showed that they could sound exciting when some creative tension was thrown in. Like Giorgio Moroder meeting DAF, it was cruelly used as a video teaser to fool fans into thinking there would be a full-blown synth work.
The Sun & The Moon & The Stars – Electronic Periodic’s Microdrum Mix (2009)
‘The Sun & The Moon & The Stars’ was a Martin Gore vocalled outtake from the ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ sessions and while it was included on the deluxe 4CD boxed set alongside ‘Oh Well’, the original guitar driven ditty was not very convincing. The more overtly electronic Microdrum Mix with its scratchy rhythm passage and robotised harmonies was far superior, as an example of yet another more fully realised recording courtesy of an external remixer.
Available on the iTunes Pass download album ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ via Mute Records
Soothe My Soul (2013)
An obvious cousin of the bluesy ‘Personal Jesus’ but quickly disowned and dropped from the ‘Delta Machine’ tour, ‘Soothe My Soul’ was one of the few crowd pleasers in a live set that had far too many lulls. But with Gahan’s rockist tendencies and insistence on live drums from Christian Eigner, why don’t DEPECHE MODE be brave and go the full blues combo hog, put Peter Gordeno on bass guitar and drop the electronics, as well as the old hits? Is that possibly because no-one would bother to see them?
A song that Dave Gahan said to Mojo Magazine was “uptempo” but in reality, was more like ‘A Question Of Time’ with assistance provided by a mobility scooter, ‘Broken’ was nevertheless, one of the better and more electronic offerings on the blues dominated ‘Delta Machine’. But the end result sees Gore desperately trying to work guitar into a track where it’s not needed, almost as a statement to say that DEPECHE MODE are NO LONGER an electronic band!
In a pattern similar to ‘Oh Well’, the best song from the ‘Delta Machine’ sessions was left out of the main act. ‘All That’s Mine’ featured a tightly sequenced backbone, electronically derived rhythms and a gloomy austere… in fact, they were all the perfect ingredients for a classic DM tune! But it was no doubt rejected because Dave Gahan can’t do a Mick Jagger impression to it and would have been changed beyond recognition if performed with live drums.
Using sounds sampled off ‘World In My Eyes’, this 4/4 bootleg remix by DOMINATRIX was far superior to the original, offering many of the synthesized textures and electronic percussive templates that made DEPECHE MODE great. In its original form, the song was good but suffered from a lacklustre production and ploddy arrangement, perhaps in an attempt to project a more authentic bluesman demeanour. It’s as if DEPECHE MODE are scared to be considered an electronic band these days.
Remix not officially available
Cover Me – Alt Out (2017)
The vocal-less second half of ‘Cover Me’ was brilliant, a gorgeous cacophony of arpeggios and layers of sweeping synths reminiscent of the ‘Violator’ era. But when the ‘Alt Out’ mix was issued as a bonus on the ‘Spirit’ album’s deluxe edition, it was as if someone within the band’s circle understood Gahan’s SOULSAVERS warbling was likely to polarise and that an instrumental version would be appreciated by the masses… it was!
Available on the 2CD deluxe album ‘Spirit’ via Columbia Records
Despite being the main songwriter, things do not look good when the best vocal song on a DEPECHE MODE album is one sung by Martin Gore. And on ‘Spirit’, it was the turn of the sombre but enticing ‘Fail’. Gore seems to have an understanding of what is appealing about DEPECHE MODE, but appears too frightened to assert that ethos on the grunge victim that is Gahan. But their financial dependency on each other to means that much of the music now in the name of the brand seems strangely muted.
Available on the album ‘Spirit’ via Columbia Records
DEPECHE MODE play London Stadium on Saturday 3rd June 2017
2016 will forever be remembered as the year when a significant number of cultural icons and popular musical figures left us; DAVID BOWIE, PRINCE, TOMITA, PETE BURNS, COLIN VERNCOMBE, KEITH EMERSON, DON BUCHLA and LEONARD COHEN were just some of the names who sadly departed.
But despite sadness that loomed, the year did produce some good music, particularly in the second half of the year.
GARY NUMAN launched an ambitious Pledge Music campaign and released some excellent collaborations with JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS, JEAN-MICHEL JARRE and TITÁN. But with his retrospective tour of material from his three most popular albums taking up much of his year, his new crowdfunded album did not meet its planned October release deadline.
Meanwhile JEAN-MICHEL JARRE had an excess of material and issued the second volume of his ‘Electronica’ project which also featured YELLO and PET SHOP BOYS, plus a third instalment to his classic opus ‘Oxygène’.
YELLO and PET SHOP BOYS also released new albums to a positive reception, proving again that partnerships featuring personnel over the age of 60 can still create music that is fresh and relevant.
Incidentally, one of YELLO’s young vocalists FIFI RONG continued to maintain her artistic profile with successful campaigns for her releases ‘Forbidden Desires’ and ‘Alone’.
2016 saw two concept albums emerge in ‘The Ship’ from BRIAN ENO, a solemn art piece with poignant anti-war messages and ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’, a very personal musical statement by HANNAH PEEL on the traumas of dementia. It was a busy year for Miss Peel with her also contributing her voice to BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS, as well as showcasing her own MARY CASIO side project.
WRANGLER released a new album ‘White Glue’ which exuded a less rigid format compared to its predecessor ‘LA Spark’ and collaborated with JOHN GRANT at the Rough Trade 40 live celebrations, while the prolific Neil Arthur issued another new BLANCMANGE album in ‘Commuter 23’ while also launching a new side project NEAR FUTURE with BERNHOLZ.
The Manchester veteran ERIC RANDOM issued ‘Words Made Flesh’, the second album of his recent return to the music while RUSTY EGAN finally presented ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ which despite its title, was actually a collection of classic styled synthpop. After many years of trials and tribulations for the co-founder of VISAGE, the long player featuring MIDGE URE, TONY HADLEY and CHRIS PAYNE who co-wrote ‘Fade to Grey’ exceeded expectations.
Space travel and synths were just made to go together, so JØTA and VANGELIS conceived projects covering The Cold War space race and the more recent Rosetta probe respectively. Meanwhile, WHITE LIES again showed they are as synthy as they are guitary on their ‘Friends’ album, and even started to sound like A-HA!
So again, Sweden still proved it was special with SILENT WAVE and MY GOD DAMN TERRITORY exhibiting varying degrees of potential. But it was REIN in particular who was causing a stir within the ranks of EBM, while the country’s best kept secretKITE toured North America and Asia. However, neither of these two latter artists figured in the line-up of Gothenburg’s Electronic Summer 2016 festival.
The Nordic region saw the welcome return of VILLA NAH with the album ‘Ultima’ after a five year absence, while TRENTEMØLLER made the case again as to why he is still the perfect producer for DEPECHE MODE with his new long player ‘Fixion’.
Greece was still the word with LIEBE, KID MOXIE and MARSHEAUX all presenting brand new releases, while SARAH P. maintained her profile with a series of inventive promo videos highlighting the ongoing issues of equality for women within the music industry. Embracing the same issue on the other side of the Atlantic, I AM SNOW ANGEL immersed herself in setting up the FEMALE FREQUENCY collective while also releasing her own music.
Over in LA, NIGHT CLUB developed on the promise of their EP trilogy and got a bit heavier on their debut long player ‘Requiem For Romance’, ending up sounding not unlike Britney fronting NINE INCH NAILS in the process!
Meanwhile the instrumental front, Texan couple HYPERBUBBLE provided some ‘Music To Color By’, Brussels duo METROLAND touchingly paid tribute to their late friend Louis Zachert with ‘Things Will Never Sound The Same Again’ and ULRICH SCHNAUSS went ‘No Further Ahead Than Today’. And MOBY offered a gift to profound relaxation with his free ‘Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep.’ download package.
PERTURBATOR’s ‘The Uncanny Valley’ became a flag bearer for the synth wave movement, along with the acclaimed soundtrack by SURVIVE members Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein for the absorbing Netflix drama ‘Stranger Things’.
But totally unexpected was ‘Silver City Ride’, a full length electro album from MARC ALMOND in collaboration with STARCLUSTER featuring his most synth laden body of work since SOFT CELL.
The biggest surprise of 2016 was ‘Fly’ the soundtrack souvenir to ‘Eddie The Eagle’, the light hearted biopic of the bespectacled Olympic ski jumper; featuring new material by members of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, SOFT CELL, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, ERASURE and OMD in collaboration with TAKE THAT’s Gary Barlow, this looked like a terrible idea on paper.
But it was brilliantly executed and the resultant album was a largely enjoyable collection of retro flavoured pop.
Electronic acts actually got to headline the Glastonbury Festival in 2016, albeit on The Other Stage as opposed the main event; NEW ORDER and CHVRCHES wowed the crowds when they shared the bill on the Saturday night. There were rumours that KRAFTWERK and DEPECHE MODE might feature in 2017 but this was not to be, although both acts sent social media into overdrive when they announced major tours.
Among those accorded career spanning multi-disc boxed sets were ERASURE, MARC ALMOND, DEAD OR ALIVE and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Somehow though, SIMPLE MINDS managed to milk a six disc variant of ‘New Gold Dream’ in the third of their classic album deluxe box editions; it was an amazing feat seeing as only ten songs were completed during the original sessions! The collection boasted no less than twelve takes of the aptly titled ‘Promised You A Miracle’; but the latest incarnation of the Glaswegians combo’ first big hit with KT TUNSTALL for their ‘Acoustic’ album proved to be one version too many.
Much better value for the money for the discerning music fan were the four ASSOCIATES double CD reissues, supervised by Alan Rankine and Michael Dempsey. Based around their first three albums and a ‘Very Best Of’ compilation, each additionally featured a plethora of rare and previously unreleased songs; they were a fitting tribute to the late Billy MacKenzie.
Nostalgia was very much a part of 2016, with HEAVEN 17, OMD and PETER HOOK & THE LIGHT all touring popular albums. And following the success in recent years of retro festivals such as ‘Rewind’ and the strangely named ‘Let’s Rock’, classic synthpop finally found itself part of the holiday camp circuit.
Part of the Butlins Music Weekender series, ‘Electric Dreams’ featuring OMD, MARC ALMOND, HEAVEN 17, BLANCMANGE and HOLLY JOHNSON almost went badly off-piste with the addition of GO WEST and THE ZOMBIES (!?!) to the programme. But the organisers pulled an unexpected surprise and booked modern synth acts like MARSHEAUX and AVEC SANS to support the bill.
Hardened retro festival goers are notorious for not embracing new music, but this ethos has to be welcomed and could provide an interesting new model for the future of event based entertainment. However, based on photographic evidence, the presence of inflatable pink flamingos and coloured wigs indicated the crowd atmosphere might have been no different to any of the usual nostalgia outings, but with a roof and central heating added!
And while TEC004 featuring MARSHEAUX, KID KASIO and RODNEY CROMWELL was not in the same league, it was a fine showcase for the best in independent synthpop.
Both events proved again that the best electronic music events are those actually curated by electronic music enthusiasts, something that is not the case with several other events.
In all, 2016 was not a vintage year for electronic pop. If there was a lesson this year, it’s been to cherish and appreciate great life’s moments where possible, especially with the number of music figures that have been lost in the last 12 months.
Things cannot go on forever sadly…
Best Album: PERTURBATOR The Uncanny Valley
Best Song: SOULWAX Transient Program for Drums & Machinery
Best Gig: JEAN-MICHEL JARRE at London O2 Arena
Best Video: BATTLE TAPES featuring PARTY NAILS Solid Gold
Most Promising New Act: VOX LOW
Best Album: VILE ELECTRODES In The Shadows Of Monuments
Best Song: ASSEMBLAGE 23 Barren
Best Gig: ASSEMBLAGE 23 at Denver Oriental Theatre
Best Video: I AM SNOW ANGEL Losing Face
Most Promising New Act: VOX LOW
Best Album: ERIC RANDOM Words Made Flesh
Best Song: RATIONAL YOUTH This Side Of The Border
Best Gig: Troika! featuring KITE BASE, HANNAH PEEL + I SPEAK MACHINE at Shacklewell Arms
Best Video: I AM SNOW ANGEL Losing Face
Most Promising New Act: ZANIAS
CHI MING LAI
Best Album: VILLA NAH Ultima
Best Song: VILE ELECTRODES The Vanished Past
Best Gig: JEAN-MICHEL JARRE at London O2 Arena
Best Video: BEYOND THE WIZARD’S SLEEVE Diagram Girl
Most Promising New Act: ANI GLASS
Best Album: MARSHEAUX Ath.Lon
Best Song: RODNEY CROMWELL Baby Robot
Best Gig: GARY NUMAN at Norwich UEA
Best Video: MARSHEAUX Like A Movie
Most Promising New Act: DISQO VOLANTE
MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL
Best Album: APOPTYGMA BERZERK Exit Popularity Contest
Best Song: KID KASIO Full Moon Blue
Best Gig: SPEAK & SPELL at Islington Academy
Best Video: BLACK NEEDLE NOISE featuring JENNIE VEE Heaven
Most Promising New Act: JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM
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”.
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…
In August 2015, METROLAND’s sound engineer and close friend Louis Zachert, aka Passenger L, passed away. The Brussels based duo recorded ‘Things Will Never Sound The Same Again’, a musical eulogy created from scratch as their way of paying homage to their fellow passenger. The uplifting ’Music / Machine’ with its Jarre-esque melodies started as a METROLAND remix of MUSICOCOON, a project involving Louis and his friend Philippe Malemprée. Kindly donated, its presence is in honour of Louis as the last piece of music he ever worked on.
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
‘Fixion’ is the fourth album from Copenhagen-based producer Anders Trentemøller and rather than being an overtly electronic work, it draws from the gigging band sound of the artist with live bass and guitar at times prominent in the overall mix.
To even a casual listener, ‘Fixion’ would simply not exist if it weren’t for the template laid down by Manchester legends JOY DIVISION. The sound which latterly went on to inform that of THE CURE with their magnum opus ‘Disintegration’ is omnipresent here alongside distant echoes of GARY NUMAN.
What TRENTEMØLLER has done though is infuse the distinctive guitar/bass sound of these artists with electronics and overlay them with a selection of female vocalist including Jehnny Beth from UK post punk act SAVAGES and longtime collaborators Marie Fisker and Lizbet Friske.
Opening track ‘One Eye Open’ has a bassline which is a slowed-down dead-ringer for JOY DIVISION’s ‘Shadowplay’, even the key is the same. In an era where an artist can potentially face major legal action for just templating the overall vibe and sound of a song (see the ‘Blurred Lines’/ MARVIN GAYE case), it will be interesting to see if the lawyers come knocking regarding this work.
The brooding majestic sound and production of the backing track (including some nifty Linn Drum programming) isn’t however quite matched by the vocal melody, with Marie Fisker’s contribution never quite holding the listener’s attention throughout.
‘Never Fade’ is based around a “Never fade, never look down” vocal refrain; added to this are appropriately epic synth strings which are combined with a Robert Smith sound-a-like guitar sound. What takes the song away from being a straight pastiche are the downtempo electronic house drums, 4/4 kick and outro closed/open hi-hat pattern.
First single ‘River In Me’ is pretty sprightly in comparison with much of the material here, an interesting hybrid of uptempo drum machine mixed with live bass and the sort of hollow sampled synth riff that wouldn’t have been out of place on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Construction Time Again’. Jehnny Beth from SAVAGES contributes vocals and the song is an undoubted highlight here if only because it raises the BPM and energy level.
‘Redefine’ has some great synth sounds and production touches, but again melodically isn’t a strong enough song to make you want to especially revisit it. ‘November’ is the longest track here, a beautifully atmospheric instrumental, full of washy synths, stereo-panned sound effects and reverbed guitars; whilst ‘Circuits’ is the only other track apart from ‘River In Me’ to break out of the overall downtempo sound of the album.
With TRENTEMØLLER providing the theme music to the AMC series ‘Halt & Catch Fire’, it is no surprise that in many places, ‘Fixion’ comes across as a soundtrack to a dark, imaginary thriller – the music is often textural rather than melodic and tends to feel like it should lurk sinisterly in the background rather than demanding your full attention.
It’s hard not to compare ‘Fixion’ with THE CURE’s ‘Disintegration’; both consist of mainly downtempo songs but whereas the latter had the soul-bearing mid-life crisis lyrics and vocals of Robert Smith as a focal point, the former lacks a comparable cohesion. Despite sounding appropriately epic and using all the right frames of reference, ‘Fixion’ never hits the heights of Smith and Co’s acclaimed career highlight despite being enjoyable as a late-night listening soundscape-based piece of work.
TRENTEMØLLER is undoubtedly highly talented as a producer/remixer and in many circles is seen as THE musician to produce a future work by DEPECHE MODE, but here it is nigh on impossible to listen to ‘Fixion’ without referencing the ghosts of other works and musicians.
‘Fixion’ is released by In My Room in CD, vinyl and download formats