A graduate in audio engineering and an independent musical device manufacturer, Finlay Shakespeare founded Future Sound Systems to build modular synthesizer components predominantly for the Eurorack format.

Also a producer of music, Finlay Shakespeare released his first album ‘Domestic Economy’ in 2019 and opened for BLANCMANGE on their ‘Wanderlust’ tour. His second long player ‘Solemnities’ was a more structured progression. Developing on the debut’s complex modular construction and anxious theatrics, it maintained a distinct post-punk anguish that dreamt of wires rather than guitars and was one of the best albums of 2020.

Ultimately, Finlay Shakespeare is an electronic pop fan with a love of KRAFTWERK, THROBBING GRISTLE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, ASSOCIATES, OMD and JAPAN so with his third album proper ‘Illusion + Memory’, the Bristolian presents his most pop collection of songs yet, continuing the good work showcased on ‘Solemnities’.

Opening with ‘Your Side of the River’, this deep and sombre ballad has hints of the more recent material of BLANCMANGE and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s early work, while mechanical and call sign elements of OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ album creep in almost unnoticed before a percussive build and a vocal delivery that is more restrained but no less honest than before.

The anguish of the past returns on ‘Always’ but there are exotic melodies and infectious machine rhythms that groove like a more steadfast take on Peter Gabriel’s ‘Shock The Monkey’. In a change from the scheduled programme, a more lovelorn side is revealed on ‘Theresa’ which features a snappy percussive backbone reminiscent of the late Ryuichi Sakamoto and his early standalone solo single ‘Warhead’.

The more experimental ‘Climb’ hits harder techno territory with anxious vocal stylings but on the album’s longest track, ‘Ici’ surprises with bursts of synthbrass and off-beats though a more structured form unveils itself about a third of the way in with squelchy electronic bass and what sounds like guitars. Meanwhile ‘I Saw You’ is shaped by sort the tight frenetic sequences that characterised much of Finlay Shakespeare’s previous work with his typically feisty vocal delivery.

The glorious album highlight ‘Ready Ready’ is almost Motorik in presence with a wonderfully pulsing drive and gorgeous synth tones as our hero doesn’t refrain from his spirited feelings; if this was by NATION OF LANGUAGE, it would be on the BBC 6 Music ‘A’ list. After all the action, ‘Upcoming’ surprises as a sparse ballad with no drum sounds but the tones, sweeps and buzzes form a haunting soundscape of Vangelis proportions to close an excellent album.

If you have enjoyed Finlay Shakespeare’s music before, you will love ‘Illusion + Memory’. Meanwhile, those who have been crying out and bemoaning that there is no good music anymore, well it’s right here. More varied than his previous albums and even introducing a romantic element to proceedings, Finlay Shakespeare has shown again that he is the real deal with a genuine heart for sonically immersive electronic pop.

‘Illusion + Memory’ released by Alter on 28th April 2023, available in vinyl LP and online formats via https://lnk.to/IllusionMemory








Text by Chi Ming Lai
26th April 2023