Tag: A-Ha (Page 1 of 4)

THE WEEKND Less Than Zero

After ‘Blinding Lights’ and ‘Save Your Tears’, THE WEEKND have done it again and reminded the mainstream of the emotive beauty that can come from classic synthpop with ‘Less Than Zero’.

‘Less Than Zero’ has been co-produced and co-written by Swedes Max Martin and Oscar Holter; the ubiquitous Martin is the man behind hits by Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Britney Spears but Holter was formally a member of industrial act NECRO FACILITY. Studio hands from a darker electronic background getting involved in pop is not unusual with Dave “Rave” Olgilvie from SKINNY PUPPY having helmed the final mixes of Carly Rae Jepsen.

Taken off the new album ‘Dawn FM’, ‘Less Than Zero’ itself sounds not unlike Michael Jackson produced by Tony Mansfield. The cross of catchy hooks, glorious counter-melodies and acoustic strums are reminiscent of Mansfield’s own combo NEW MUSIK who had UK hits with ‘Living By Numbers’, ‘This World Of Water’ and ‘Sanctuary’ in 1980; Tony Mansfield himself later when on to produce most of A-HA’s debut album ‘Hunting High & Low’.

The lush tones of ‘Less Than Zero’ even recall Cliff Richard’s appealing Alan Tarney produced synth period and of course, Tarney also went on to work with A-HA on a number of their biggest hits including ‘Take On Me’, ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’, ‘Cry Wolf’ and ‘Stay On These Roads’.

Over pop history, mainstream acts going through a period of synthpop or at least doing a synth-driven song or two has been a rock ‘n’ roll rite of passage. While the likes of Cliff Richard, Robert Palmer, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Leonard Cohen and even Neil Young have entered the mysterious world of electronics in the past, with the assistance of that renowned Nordic melancholy and folk tradition, Abel Tesfaye appears to be enjoying his synthpop adventures as THE WEEKND more than most.

In ‘Less Than Zero’, he has created more magnificent earworm magic that harks back to the tradition of A-HA and others who came before them. No kids, the synth was not invented by Ryan Gosling in 2011 for the film ‘Drive’ 😉


‘Less Than Zero’ is from the album ‘Dawn FM’ released by XO / Republic Records

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th January 2022

PISTON DAMP Making The World Great Again

PISTON DAMP are the new electronic pop duo based in Norway compromising of Jonas Groth and Truls Sønsterud.

Classically trained, Sønsterud became known for remixing under the alias of TRÖLL. Meanwhile Groth has been making music mostly with his old brother Stephan and his band APOPTYGMA BERZERK but with PISTON DAMP, he emerges from that shadow to front his own music. Having performed lead vocals on ‘Nearest’, an ethereal electronic ballad both in concert and on the most recent APOPTYGMA BERZERK EP ‘Nein Danke!’, it is a task he is more than ready for.

PISTON DAMP formed in 2000, but has remained as a hobby project until now. The duo’s first single ‘Something In Me’ perhaps unsurprisingly was reminiscent of the more immediate side of APOPTYGMA BERZERK. Catchy, melodic and rhythmic with an emotively spirited vocal, when Jonas Groth hits falsetto, it provides a most glorious lift.

Entitled ‘Making The World Great Again’, the album begins with the spy drama collage ‘ШУМ’ but a more formally start come with the rousing four-to-the-floor synthpop of ‘Hearts On Fire’ which recalls Swedish combo THE MOBILE HOMES and their ‘Feeling Better’ but with a heavier rhythmic stance.

As the second PISTON DAMP single, the anthemic ‘Runaway’ was given the remix treatment from MESH and DIE KRUPPS; here it punches its way into the psyche with a hypnotic bassline that just stops short of a squelch, while ‘Depth Of Your Eyes’ takes a diversion into an orchestrated 6/8 in the manner of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘One Caress’.

An instrumental interlude ‘Factor Out’ features commentary on spiritual connection which is more than fitting when it segues into the two minute ‘Never Thought It Would End’…

With its hymn-like topline over a gentle sequenced passage, ‘Never Thought It Would End’ comes over like U2’s ‘I Still Have Found What I’m Looking For’ arranged in the style of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Waiting For The Night’. Continuing with the spirit of Basildon, while the ‘Making The World Great Again’ title song dons its hat off to ‘Black Celebration’, it almost immediately locks into something much pacier and anthemic with a fabulous array of synth sounds and a rousing optimistic chorus of voices that announce “we won’t make the same mistakes as them!”.

‘Don’t’ is the closest PISTON DAMP get to EBM with a thrusting triplet as chiming melodies and soaring vocals glide over a cinematic setting that sets it apart from the Bundeswehr crowd, particularly with an angelic vocal return from COMPUTORGIRL who released an EP back in 2002 that was co-produced by Jonas and Stephan Groth.

‘Loose Ends’ offers what A-HA might have sounded like had they adopted the more baroque industrial pop elements of APOPTYGMA BERZERK, which is not as crazy as it sounds because APOP remixed ‘Lifelines’ for a promo release in 2002.

Primarily instrumental with sporadic percussion, ‘Sacred Secret’ makes use of layered choir refrains while a lonely piano adds poignancy, but shaped by sombre strings, ‘Testimony’ could be a Nordic PET SHOP BOYS with its octave disco bass although the guitar line from DM’s ‘Precious’ finds a way to morph it into a homage to CAMOUFLAGE…

‘Another Pain’ acts as the closer and sees a spacey arpeggio allows Jonas Groth to express some heartfelt frustration and when his multi-tracked vocal ab-libs join in, it starts to sounds like THE BEATLES, especially with the trumpet line…

For anyone who loves the sort of tuneful melancholic European synth that emerged after ALPHAVILLE, A-HA and CAMOUFLAGE as well as the more immediate aspects of APOPTYGMA BERZERK, the self-produced ‘Making The World Great Again’ is an ideal collection to return everyone to a mindset that while reflective, is hopeful that everything is going to be alright.


‘Making The World Great Again’ is released by Sub Culture Records, available from https://subculturerecords.bandcamp.com/album/making-the-world-great-again

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https://open.spotify.com/album/54YyjAXhjYXjcmboEgvkO7


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photo by Kine Jensen
10th June 2021

Introducing NATION OF LANGUAGE

Brooklyn-based duo NATION OF LANGUAGE are singer / songwriter Ian Devaney and his wife Aidan Noell on keyboards.

Gifted with a voice of anguish, Devaney had fronted New Jersey alternative rock band THE STATIC JACKS who released their only album ‘In Blue’ in 2013.

Legend has it that NATION OF LANGUAGE came into being when Devaney heard OMD’s ‘Electricity’ in his father’s car for the first time in years, having grown up with it as part of his domestic soundtrack. This led to Devaney adopting what he termed the “beginner’s mind” of those pioneering synth acts.

So he began writing songs with monophonic synths like the Behringer MS-1, Korg MS20 and Moog Sub37 while like OMD, also using bass guitar. Issuing a series of singles since 2016 including an electronic cover of PIXIES’ ‘Gouge Away’, NATION OF LANGUAGE finally released their debut album ‘Introduction, Presence’ in Spring 2020.

Now if Rodney Cromwell had joined MIRRORS or if MIRRORS had more of a Factory Records fixation as opposed to looking up to OMD, then that would be the sound of NATION OF LANGUAGE. So despite having dense production aesthetics in common, the more inherent gloominess means that NATION OF LANGUAGE are perhaps less obviously immediate than MIRRORS. NATION OF LANGUAGE have also made more use of NEW ORDER style melodic lead bass provided by Michael Sui-Poi from THE STATIC JACKS, while Fabrizio Moretti from THE STROKES occasionally guested on drums.

‘On Division St’ is a close relative to ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with its sharp synth lines and programmed bass triplets, while ‘Rush & Fever’ plays with sequencers and electronic effects to reinforce the NEW ORDER influence but perhaps more unexpectedly, Devaney starts to sound like Morten Harket of A-HA.

The spectre of the Norwegian pop trio looms on the superb synth driven album highlight ‘Friend Machine’ which examines society’s addiction to technology and the standalone synthpop flavoured single ‘A Different Kind Of Life’. However, the shadier tones of  CHVRCHES collaborator Matt Berninger of THE NATIONAL is who Devaney mostly emulates vocally.

Album opener ‘Tournament’ imagines an artistic union of A-HA and LCD SOUNDSYSTEM while ‘Automobile’ adds full chords via some Roland Strings; continuing the driving theme, there’s the partly spoken robopop of ‘The Motorist’.

While the album closer ‘The Wall & I’ exhibits more of a post-punk feel like FM ATTACK meets SECTION 25, the glorious brand new single ‘Deliver Me From Wondering Why’ uses a more blippy construction and takes a leaf out of the more experimental phase of early OMD while eschewing bass guitar following the departure of Michael Sui-Poi.

‘A Different Kind Of Life’ and ‘Deliver Me From Wondering Why’ both signal the next phase of NATION OF LANGUAGE and unlike MIRRORS who many are comparing them to, a second long player is a likely realisation.

It will be very interesting to see where the duo head next and whether the machines become not just friends but family…


‘Deliver Me From Wondering Why’ is available as a digital single, along with their back catalogue to date from https://nationoflanguage.bandcamp.com/

‘Introduction, Presence’ can be purchased as a vinyl LP from https://www.nationoflanguage.com/

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
3rd March 2021

WHITE DOOR The Great Awakening

If there is one person who has probably sparked the realisation of a long-awaited second WHITE DOOR album, then it has to be the synth Superswede Johan Baeckström.

A solo artist in his own right but also a member of synth duo DAILY PLANET, the young Johan Baeckström was a fan of the first WHITE DOOR album ’Windows’ released in 1983.

When he needed B-sides for the singles from his own 2015 solo debut ’Like Before, he covered ’Jerusalem’ and ’School Days’.

Although Baeckström has been unashamedly candid about the influence of Vince Clarke on his music, his musicality was also been shaped by the small catalogue of songs by Mac Austin, Harry Davies and John Davies.

While Mac Austin and Harry Davies have continued to perform in their prog combo GRACE over the years, Baeckström sowed the seeds of a WHITE DOOR reunion when he and DAILY PLANET bandmate Jarmo Olilia invited Austin to provide lead vocals on ‘Heaven Opened’ on their 2017 album ‘Play Rewind Repeat’.

That sparked a WHITE DOOR reunion and as a newly confugured quartet, Mac Austin, John Davies, Harry Davies and Johan Baeckström now present ’The Great Awakening’. Baeckström gives the pulsing Vince Clarke-isms a breather and swaps it for the more polyphonically formed keyboard interventions of his other heroes like Howard Jones.

A joyous tune that sets the scene, the exotic sophistication of ’Among The Mountains’ possesses the soaring windscreen poise of A-HA with a flawless vocal from Mac Austin while the soundscape is sweetened by flute, providing an interesting timbral contrast.

Acknowledging the theme of ’Get Carter’ but with a more brassy flair, ’Resurrection’ surprises with a bouncy Giorgio Moroder inspired stomp and the lift of a rousing chorus. Meanwhile Mac Austin manages to sound like a cross between Morten Harket and Chris De Burgh over some beautifully symphonic synth and subtle slapped bass in a guest appearance from Baeckström’s son Simon.

’Soundtrack Of Our Lives’ captures the joys of spring, with the English folk austere that was very much part of WHITE DOOR’s make-up playing a key role with the harmonious vocal arrangement.

A sparkling production with space for all the elements to shine, there’s even a few classic Linn Drum sounds thrown in too. Yes, they are more recollections of A-HA although of course, the ’Windows’ album came out a year before ’Hunting High & Low’.

Holding down the steadier mood with a synth arpeggio, the richly layered ’Lullaby’ makes what appears to be a simple arrangement sound grand and complex in a cleverly configured traditional tune that steadily builds and surprises with a burst of saxophone in the final third which also glistens ivory-wise in the manner of Howard Jones.

Beginning with a slightly stuttering rhythm, ’Angel Of Tomorrow’ bursts into life with a spacey buoyant pomp that captures an air of Vangelis.

An elated majestic tone ensues as staring mortality in the face, ’The Great Awakening’ celebrates an embracment of life and second chances with a range of complex synth motifs. All wondefully complimenting one another, it is akin to a casade of church bells ringing on a Sunday morning.

The spritely ’Simply Magnificent’ does as the title suggests and is pure sequenced synthpop in the vein of early ALPHAVILLE, the distant transistor radio ending acting a nice tribute to bygone listening experiences.

Ending the album, ’Beautiful Girl’ is classic WHITE DOOR and a song which Harry Davies describes as ”a wonderful song for making babies to”. Vocally like a modern hymn with patterns of hooky chimes, there’s even a surprising lilt of sax that suits the electronic backdrop, with a gorgeous sweeping polysynth conclusion that CHINA CRISIS would be proud of, recalling the feel of their appropriately titled tune ‘The Soul Awakening’.

Hopeful, mature and joyous, ’The Great Awakening’ grandly blows away the attempted sensitive synth overtures of the young pretenders almost half their age. It is twilight magic provided by the sorcerers and their apprenctice. Nearly four decades on, WHITE DOOR have again passed the test with commendation.

Of his role in ’The Great Awakening’, Johan Baeckström said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: ”I really wanted to do my best to maintain the WHITE DOOR sound and spirit in the production on this album”.

Mission accomplished 😀

’The Great Awakening’ uses the following synthesizers: Roland Jupiter 6, Roland Juno 106, Akai AX73, Minimoog, Korg Mono/Poly and ARP Odyssey


’The Great Awakening’ is released by Progress Productions on 17th April 2020, pre-order download from https://whitedoor.bandcamp.com/album/the-great-awakening

Pre-order CD or white vinyl LP from Progress Productions at https://mailchi.mp/9e7025e1bf26/whitedoor

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th April 2020, updated 17th April 2020

THE WEEKND Blinding Lights

Canada does it again, using a bit of help from Sweden, with THE WEEKND’s new single ‘Blinding Lights’ owing more than a small debt to the supreme Nordic synthpop of A-HA and in particular, the classic ‘Take On Me’.

Noted for his dark wave R ‘n’ B and already a veteran of three albums, THE WEEKND is the musical vehicle of Abel Makkonen Tesfaye.

The Toronto-born soulful pop exponent has also won three Grammy Awards Grammy including two in the ‘Best Urban Contemporary Album’ category for ‘Beauty Behind the Madness’ and ‘Starboy’. Not shy about collaborating with the electronic dance world, the ‘Starboy’ title song was co-written and co-produced with DAFT PUNK, giving the French duo their first chart topping single, while later there was ‘I Feel It Coming’ which recalled Michael Jackson. There have also been three collaborations ‘I Was Never There’, ‘Hurt You’ and ‘Lost In The Fire’ with the French techno DJ GESAFFELSTEIN.

However, ‘Blinding Lights’ sees THE WEEKND working with noted Swedish pop supremo Max Martin, best known for his work with Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. The song itself premiered as part of a Mercedes-Benz commercial aired on German TV, resulting in yet another No1 for Tesfaye in a number of European territories.

Directed by Anton Tammi, the ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas’ inspired video to ‘Blinding Lights’ adds a strong visual dimension that channels Tesfaye’s lyrical urgency about rekindling a broken relationship, but sees him confused by the dazzling temptations of fast cars and fast women.

Following where the story left off in the video for the previous single ‘Heartless’ and with product placement by Mercedes-Benz, Tesfaye looks positively relieved that his hallucinated misadventure has just left him bloodied and bruised.


‘Blinding Lights’’ is released as a digital single by XO

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
27th January 2020

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