Filmic dreamwave duo POLYCHROME are back with a new single ‘UltraViolet’ that comes with a force of aggression not heard before compared to their 2018 self-titled debut album.
Several songs found favour with TV producers and advertising agencies around the world. But with ‘Ultraviolet’, an overdriven digital rimshot, as used by the likes of Prince in the past, makes a dynamic rhythmic statement. Meanwhile the rich haze of a malfuctioning Yamaha DX7 and understated bass warbles from multi-instrumentalist Olly Price provide the backdrop for the angelic treated vocals of Vicky Harrison.
A blend of ELECTRIC YOUTH, CHROMATICS and CHVRCHES, Vicky Harrison said of ‘UltraViolet’: “It’s quite driving with a faster tempo and I think it leans more towards synthpop, but there was no particular conscious choice. We made a series of electronic vibes and picked what we liked and started sculpting those. We might do that in a few sessions on one song, but the main body is there by the time we get to the end.”
While the computer animated video does feature an abundance of clichéd synthwave imagery including grids, sunsets, palm trees, sports cars and shades of magenta, there is a twist with Harrison’s lips making an eerie appearance…
The dystopian resonance of ‘UltraViolet’ reflects the darkness of a year where many have suffered and lost. It was no different for POLYCHROME and what began as a song about relationship break-up mutated into a narrative comprising of a post-Covid world where that last few people alive on a dying earth struggle to survive and are forced to live in a computer simulation! Despite the subject matter, there is a strange beauty to ‘UltraViolet’.
Olly Price caught Covid hard at the start of the pandemic and its effects still loom; “This Virus is a f*cker…” he said, “So many people have had it way worse than us so this is our tribute to everyone who has had a crap year”
Describing themselves as “Slacker synth-wave refuseniks”, POLYCHROME’s brand of filmic dreamwave as showcased on their self-titled 2018 debut album found favour with TV producers and advertising agencies around the world.
The duo of Vicky Harrison and Oliver Price wrote the majority of their first record in isolation around the serene surroundings of Grianain Eco Lodge near Fort William.
Utilising grainy Lo-Fi synths, old drum machines, WEM copycat tape echo, minimal guitar textures, the emotional centre comes from Vicky Harrison’s angelic vocals filtered through vintage microphones but airily layered using modern production techniques.
Having recently signed to Outland Recordings, both parties are celebrating their union with the release of a brand new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’. Vicky Harrison chatted about the evolving sound of POLYCHROME.
How would you describe the sound of POLYCHROME?
Our debut album was a mix of dreampop, synthwave, chillwave and shoegaze, so it wasn’t very specific, no! It shows how interested we are in different genres, especially underground electronic styles. But bands tend to end up sounding like the bands they like don’t they? People say “oh, you sound like so-and-so…” and you reply “Oh yeah, I love them, they’re one of my favourite bands so…”*laughs*
Which acts have been key influences, it would appear ELECTRIC YOUTH and CHROMATICS are but who else?
Definitely the ‘Drive’ soundtrack, we were making music in that kind of style but because our track ‘Final Kiss’ did so well, we decided to continue POLYCHROME.
When the first album came out, we got a lot of references to COCTEAU TWINS, M83 and we also had dreampop references, LANA DEL REY and GOLDFRAPP, that sort of thing.
POLYCHROME are very active on social media, how did you and Oliver go about developing this?
It’s more me driving the social media, but Ollie does a lot more of the production so it evens itself out. I’ve been thinking a lot more about how we can connect with fans and try to change my attitude to online platforms being a barrier to people, to being a way of connecting with our fans. It’s trying to think about what they want, rather than what I like or want *laughs*
It’s been very interesting actually, I noticed quite a lot of our fans seem to like metal music as well, as I’m not really a fan… a lot of rockers have come into synthwave, I don’t know what it is, the dark basslines maybe?
From a visual image point of view, you are comparatively more understated to go with the music?
It’s all about the music maaaan… *laughs*
I’m not against a strong visual image at all, in fact I’ve just ordered a really cool catsuit that I may be wearing in our next live video and I want to very much consider our look as well.
But I’ve always been just a bit of a music geek and in my old band VICTORIA & JACOB, the whole thing was set on the music and being very much understated and introspective with the stage presence.
I’ve analysed it quite a lot since to understand why I decided to go down that route, because I really wanted people to connect with the emotion of the songs. But with POLYCHROME, I want to go a step up from that and think more about my stage presence, the look and how I present myself. Our aesthetic is to be more shimmery, glitter and that sort of thing. You will see more of that, a strong visual image does make people look and check out the music.
It’s got to be considered even if it’s understated… when I think of understated, I think of LONDON GRAMMAR, I love that band and I love her voice, but I love that she just wears a pair of jeans and a black top. And THE XX, every time, black tops, black trousers, it’s still considered and not random.
What do you think when you look back on your self-titled debut album?
I’m really happy with it, I do think it’s a grower and me myself, I like albums that grow on you. I like weird underground electronic music or I like something pop, so I think we do have some of that pop sensibility in quite a few of our tracks. There were lots of soundscapes in there.
But there are always things you’d want to improve; our writing process is in the studio so we’re recording and writing at the same time.
So sometimes it’s the final product although we do go back and tweak. You need to sit on it for a few months to review it with a little bit more perspective.
So is a lot of it done with you both sitting in a room together rather than remotely by exchanging files?
We did one track sending files to each other but yes, we had this friend in Scotland who has this amazing lodge which she let us stay in. We felt quite at home and we were definitely inspired by the landscape.
We’d go out on long walks, meet with my friend who is an amazing cook and it all felt very comfortable. We wanted to make sure we had this time to reflect and put it into the writing process. It was really fun and we probably won’t get the chance to do it quite like it again.
‘Synesthesia’ was the tune you opted to get behind to do a video for. What was it for you about that song particularly?
We did work with a PR company so they might have had some influence, we did want their advice. I really that track, we worked with a guy named Stephen Hodd who co-wrote it with us, he’s done a lot of work with PASSENGER and LAMB so I think you do get those influences in ‘Synesthesia’ from him, so there’s an element of folkiness and trip-hop.
The closing track ‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ took its lead from ‘Stranger Things’, how influential do you think that series has been on popular culture?
We’re big fans of ‘Stranger Things’, especially the first series. We’re influenced by anything with a nostalgic element to it and ‘Stranger Things’ had that 80s thing going on. It was one of the big shows that really captured people’s attention. I did meet Nora Felder, the ‘Stranger Things’ music supervisor, at an event so I asked if she’d consider putting POLYCHROME in their but she said “No, we only take 80s originals!”*laughs*
‘Final Kiss’ has become your most popular track and has a disco lento femme fatale air about it, what was its catalyst in terms of writing and production?
It was a long time ago! I did a fair bit of the production on this and the vocal for ‘Final Kiss’ was done with a mic we found in a car boot sale, a vintage harmonica microphone.
Whenever we record, we try out a lot of microphones but quite often, we come back to that one because it just seems to capture the best frequencies of my voice. I don’t know where that Italo disco thing came from, it must be in me and Ollie, the nostalgia from that era must just resonate *laughs*
‘Final Kiss’ did particularly well and what sort of kicked POLYCHROME off to do a whole album. It’s had quite a bit of coverage, we’ve had it on adverts in Poland and Denmark, it was part of a Russian brand campaign.
More recently, it was on ‘The Unorthodox’, a series on Netflix. Denmark has particularly brought in a lot of fans and we’d like to tour that region at some point when we’re ready.
Many artists say they have a lifetime to prepare for a debut album but for the second, its much less, any thoughts?
After our first album, we took a break because we put a lot of effort into it; we started a record label called Hi-Lo-Lo-Hi to release it ourselves. There was a lot of investment and being an independent band, it takes a lot of time to make back what you’ve put in, so we needed a bit of recovery time after that.
Then we re-evaluated our approach to the business and releasing music, hence my improvement with social media. It was to get rid of this belief that somehow, a PR company is going to make something happen for you… sometimes they get something and sometimes they don’t. But you have to make sure you are consistently in control of your fanbase and building it, keeping it and giving them what they want.
I think me and Oliver were a bit stuck in the old model, a record label and a PR company because that’s how we’d done it in the past but things have moved on. And there aren’t that many print magazines now so you can’t get a write-up there either!
What would be the creative dynamic between you and Oliver?
Oliver comes to life in the studio and there’s this great dynamic. We just bounce off each other I guess.
I’ll send Ollie quite a lot of samples or source out a new piece of equipment but he does most of the production stuff. He has quite a clean pop sound although I don’t know if he would agree with me there! *laughs*
The new single is ‘Starts With A Kiss’, so you like kissing as it appears to be a recurring theme?
I know! That’s what we wanted because we’d finished with a kiss, so now wanted to start with one. We had originally delayed the release due to the sensitivity with the current situation but now we’ve just decided to go for it.
It has vocoders and a FM rock guitar solo too…
The guitar solo is by Bjorn Ågren from RAZORLIGHT who is a friend of Ollie’s, apparently he just loves his 80s stuff so he was really up for it. We’ve gone a little more synthwave with our new tracks so we’ve tried to be a bit more specific, but even when we try, we still come out synthpop! *laughs*
On the new material like ‘Signs’ , there appears to be more of the vocal glitch processing techniques that were heard on the first album with ‘Dreaming About You’, ‘Final Kiss’ and ‘The Call’, do you see the voice as being as much an instrumental aesthetic as much as synth or guitar, so fair game for treatment?
Yes, like with ‘Final Kiss’, the vocals were a hook so we wanted to keep and develop our signature sound. It’s definitely part of the instrumentation but it’s also part of the interpretation of the story, crossing the humanity with the technology.
At the moment, I’m working a lot on how to interpret our own songs for live, thinking more about what the songs mean. So I’ve come up with a character that lives throughout the stories of the songs.
This is so I can keep a consistency through the interpretation in the hope of keeping a stronger connection with the audience. The character is a young Asian girl called Lucy and she’s in this post-apocalyptic world and she is living under water in the sea as one of the last humans; she’s developing a connection with a romantic partner and there’s this strange dependency going on between the two of them, there’s hope and comfort in there.
The journey will take you through the story as the characters are relying on technology. In my mind, they are partly made of technology and Lucy is relying on the technology to interpret her own feelings.
You mentioned previously that you feel vocals are the most important aspect of a recording?
That’s going to be very individual to the listener but for me in any track, the vocals are important to me. I’m a singer, I’m a voice teacher, I’ve analysed the voice, I’m studying the voice, so for me, the voice has been so important to me in my life as a means of emotional expression.
I’m just fascinated by it, how it works, how you can get different sounds and create different connections to your audience, using just your voice, it creates a sense of humanity and makes it more personal. You can have great instrumental tracks but in my mind for it to stick out, the voice is essential. You make what you love. I am used to instrumental versions of our tracks because we want to get our music out on TV and films for producers to consider using as an atmosphere to back a visual.
How has your voice changed over the years?
I used to use a clearer tone but with POLYCHROME, I’m a lot more breathy, it just happened.
I just liked the atmosphere so I added in more breath. It matched the style of the music but contrasted it as well against the electronic sounds and made it a little bit sexy and eerie.
Atmospheric would be the made word here because with dreampop, you’re not using the lyrics so much but creating more of atmosphere or feel, an emotion or vibe. The lyrics perhaps aren’t as important… you might not hear them on first listening and be drawn to the melody, and then later on, you become involved with the lyrics.
Another new song ‘UltraViolet’ seems to sound more aggressive musically with that loud rimshot and layers of synths?
It does! I don’t know why! *laughs*
It’s quite driving with a faster tempo and I think it leans more towards synthpop, but there was no particular conscious choice. We made a series of electronic vibes and picked what we liked and started sculpting those. We might do that in a few sessions on one song, it still needs a lot of work but the main body is there by the time we get to the end.
You’ve signed to Outland Recordings for your next release, what are your hopes and fears with regards the future of POLYCHROME?
We’re very excited to be working with Outland, we met Stuart McLaren about a year ago and he’s a fantastic chap who is well into the synthwave scene. I guess that’s drawn POLYCHROME a bit further in that direction and it’s been interesting to get to know that scene.
I met a lot of lovely and dedicated fans, they’re always super friendly so that’s really nice. So regarding the future of POLYCHROME, we’re just going to release these tracks and see how they go.
We have a good direction with regards our music being used in television for adverts and we’d like to continue that as our music seems to go down well. At the moment, we are looking to try and find people to represent us in different countries for that and we’re hoping Outland gets us some good playlisting.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Vicky Harrison
Like Sweden, as a country with a relatively small population in relation to land mass, Canada punches above its weight when it comes to its contribution to popular music.
Canada’s internationally famous artists may be Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Céline Dion, Bryan Adams and Alanis Morisette, but there have been so many more that have been far more interesting.
Canada has been a significant presence in synth from the post-punk pioneers such as NASH THE SLASH and CERAMIC HELLO, to international MTV-era hits from the likes of MEN WITHOUT HATS, TRANS-X and KON KAN, up to the present day via the mainstream profile of GRIMES, PURITY RING and CRYSTAL CASTLES. Meanwhile, it also has developed into a hub for the burgeoning sub-genre of Synthwave thanks to FM ATTACK and DANA JEAN PHOENIX.
Like in the UK with the availability of affordability of technology from Japan in particular, Canadian youngsters were taking up synthesizers. And while several were to attain cult status like RATIONAL YOUTH and PYSCHE, some such as the Winnipeg trio EUROPA were destined just to have their moment on domestic television without an official release to their name.
Today, the tradition continues with artists such as DEADMAU5, TIGA, KOISHII & HUSH, LOLA DUTRONIC and TECHNIQUES BERLIN covering a wide spectrum of electronic pop and dance music.
So here is ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s list of 25 tracks from the circuit boards of Canada, subject to a limit of one per artist moniker, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order. But notice a void in between 1990 to 2000 when it could be said that the likes of Dion, Adams and Morisette dominated the airwaves of the globe.
However, the number of electronic acts who have appeared in the 21st Century have more than made up for things.
CERAMIC HELLO Climatic Nouveaux (1980)
CERAMIC HELLO were a duo who hailed from Burlington in Ontario, formed by Brett Wickens in 1980 after leaving post-punk band SPOONS. He teamed up with Roger Humphreys who added a more classical bent to their minimal synth in the vein of JOHN FOXX and FAD GADGET. Their first release was the detached cold wave paranoia of ‘Climatic Nouveaux’. Wickens later moved to England to join Peter Saville Associates, making a major contribution to the artwork for OMD’s ‘Architecture & Morality’.
NASH THE SLASH opened for GARY NUMAN and was signed to Dindisc Records. It was during this period that he had his highest mainstream media profile with features in ‘Smash Hits’; it was with the pop mag that his best known recording in the UK came via a blue flexi-disc with an early self-produced stripped down version of ‘Swing-Shift’ sitting next to his label mates OMD’s live rendition of ‘Pretending To See The Future’. He sadly passed away in 2014.
Hailing from Montreal, ‘The Safety Dance’ was written by MEN WITHOUT HATS lead singer Ivan Doroschuk after he had been kicked out of a club for pogoing, thus it was effectively a protest song against conformity, a call for freedom of expression. it had been misinterpreted as a being about safe sex and as an anti-nuclear protest song. The bouncy almost medieval feel combined with Doroschuk’s vocals like a less doomy Andrew Eldritch to produce a huge international hit.
Hailing from Toronto and lead by Gordon Deppe, after the acclaim for the 1981 debut album ‘Stick Figure Neighbourhood’, the songs on the second ‘Arias & Symphonies’ were more European influenced. With JAPAN producer John Punter behind the desk, the title song was an perfect amalgam of prog theatrics, new wave gallop and synth pomp. SPOONS were soon to be opening for bands such as SIMPLE MINDS and THE POLICE. Today, Deppe is also the guitarist for A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS.
STRANGE ADVANCE were a Canadian new wave band formed in Vancouver, made up of Drew Arnott (keyboards, percussion, vocals), Darryl Kromm (lead vocals, guitars), and Paul Iverson (bass). Utilising synthesizers and advances in programming technology, their music was a fusion of progressive rock and MTV friendly pop that struck a chord, with the lyrical couplet “The time is right / We’ll love tonight” of ‘Love Games’ capturing the mood of times.
The stunning Martha Ladly was more than just a pretty face; she was a musician, vocalist, artist and designer. Following her stints with MARTHA & THE MUFFINS, ASSOCIATES and doing paintings for Peter Saville’s NEW ORDER sleeve artwork, she teamed up with Brett Wickens from CERAMIC HELLO on this charming pop tune which echoed THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Open Your Heart’. Peter Hook provided his distinctive melodic six-string bass while the dynamic production came from Steve Nye.
Originally released as a single by Island Records, currently unavailable
The classic RATIONAL YOUTH line-up of Tracy Howe, Bill Vorn and Kevin Komoda gained acclaim for their 1982 debut album ‘Cold War Night Life’, which became one of the biggest-selling Canadian independent albums at the time and secured a deal with Capitol Records. However, Vorn left to continue his university studies, but contributed synth programming to ‘Holiday In Bangkok’, a sinister overwrought warning about the dangers of becoming international drug mule.
Available on the album ‘Heredity’ via Capitol Records
French-born Canadian Pascal Languirand was the man behind TRANS-X, and had previously been known for his spacey progressive rock solo albums like ‘Minos’ and ‘De Harmonia Universalia’. Originally issued in French as ‘Vivre Sur Video’, this cosmic octave-shifting electronic dance tune, with additional vocals by Laurie Ann Gill, became a massive hit worldwide after being re-released in 1985 and went onto to influence Electroclash artists such as FISCHERSPOONER and MISS KITTIN.
PSYCHE are the acclaimed dark synthpop duo from Edmonton, founded by the Huss brothers Darrin and Stephen. Of the foreboding overtones of ‘The Saint Became A Lush’, “Many think the main sequence sounds like ‘Tubular Bells’ and there may be some element of that as it was used in ‘The Exorcist’ movie which my brother loved” Darrin said, “It’s also inspired by JOY DIVISION, as I was really going for the sound of a world weary preacher and channelling the voice of Ian Curtis for that.”
“Love cannot attach itself to binding ugliness” goes the theatrical horror of ‘Dig It’; formed in Vancouver by cEvin Key of IMAGES IN VOGUE and vocalist Nivek Ogre, SKINNY PUPPY are widely considered as the pioneers of industrial. ‘Dig It’ was a big favourite of NINE INCH NAILS mainman Trent Reznor and heavily influenced his own track ‘Down In It’ which appeared on ‘Pretty Hate Machine’, so much so that he later confessed he had actually sampled it!
Mitsou Annie Marie Gélinas achieved the comparatively unusual feat of having a francophone pop hit across Canada with ‘Bye Bye Mon Cowboy’. But her best tune was the saucy Fairlighted ‘Les Chinois’ from the multicultural-themed album ‘El Mundo’. Written and produced by Jean Pierre Isaac who later worked with Céline Dion, she exclaimed “Non non non c’est pas comme ça, qu’on fait l’amour, regarde les Chinois”… was she trying to make babies?
The project of Barry Harris, the KON KAN name was a play on the policy of “Canadian Content” which enforced Canadian radio station to air at least 30% domestic music. Voiced by Kevin Wynne, ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was not just content with borrowing off NEW ORDER but inspired by ‘Pump Up The Volume’, used samples of other songs like ‘Rose Garden’, ‘Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)’ and ‘Get Up & Boogie’, as well as National Lampoon’s ‘Disco Hotline’. This mash-up became a huge international one hit wonder.
Toronto-based Jason Amm is all about “synthesizers, drum machines, fx, knobs, buttons, wires, wave, electro, acid”. But while he is now best known for his documentary film ‘I Dream Of Wires’, he has a vast catalogue of music released under the SOLVENT moniker. With gentle vocoder treatments and glorious whirring synths, ‘Wish’ set a pattern for acts like FOTONOVELA and QUIETER THAN SPIDERS to follow in the understated melodic machine pop stakes.
Toronto’s DRAGONETTE comprised of singer Martina Sorbara, producer Dan Kurtz and drummer Joel Stouffer. The acclaim for their self-released self-titled EP led to a deal with Mercury Records and a relocation to the UK. Opening shows for BASEMENT JAXX and SUGABABES, the highlight of their debut album ‘Galore’ was ‘I Get Around’ which was previewed on Planet Clique and Lucky Pierre’s ‘Robopop – The Return’ compilation. It also was used in ‘The Vampire Diaries’.
Available on the album ‘Galore’ via Mercury Records
With ‘Drive’ star Ryan Gosling being a notable FM ATTACK admirer, Shawn Ward has concocted a unique hybrid electronic sound combining Gino Soccio and Giorgio Moroder with Italo disco, French house, new wave and post-punk, all with a fine-honed musicality. From 2009’s ‘Dreamatic’ album which opened up the gates and led the way for what was to become Synthwave, ‘Sleepless Nights’ crossed arpeggios with octave lilts for an enjoyable vocoder-laced romp.
Named after a line in ‘She-Ra: Princess of Power’ and capturing a gritty lo-fi electronic sound, Toronto’s CRYSTAL CASTLES were a world apart from other modern duos with chaotic live shows that had an almost demonic energy. With Ethan Kath’s deliberately distorted synthetic goth-punk and Alice Glass’ afflicted vocal presence, ‘Suffocation’ was haunted, yet captured an understated beauty. But in October 2014, Glass announced that she was leaving to pursue a solo career amid acrimony.
Named after the goddess of light in Latvian mythology, Toronto’s AUSTRA deliver a stark, baroque form of arty electronica fuelled by the sexual tension. Like a gothic opera which successfully blended light and darkness with fragility and power, Katie Stelmanis and friends borrowed from classic DEPECHE MODE and crossed it with THE KNIFE for ‘Spellwork’, their most accessibly brilliant synthpop offering from their debut album ‘Feel It Break’.
While Claire Boucher might be now more widely known for being the girlfriend of Elon Musk, she began as the kooky Montreal sensation GRIMES, sounding like LYKKE LI fronting KRAFTWERK. Presented in a fun leftfield lady meets pop princess fusion, ‘Oblivion’ was a sumptuously infectious tune that despite the almost unintelligible vocals and weird noises, was probably the most immediate track on her ‘Visions’ album which also featured less immediate but equally enjoyable ‘Genesis’.
Behind PARALLELS is Holly Dodson and on their second long player was a lovely synthpop version of GOWAN’s 1987 rock tune ‘Moonlight Desires’. She said of her love for the song: “We hear the original version it all the time in Canada. It’s always fulfilled all the necessary criteria – incredible hooks, the moon, magic melodies, nostalgia. I just recently learned that GOWAN’s actually heard the cover… and approves!! Which is SUCH a relief haha…”
Available on the album ‘XII’ via Marigold Productions
TR/ST began as the project of Robert Alfons and AUSTRA’s Maya Postepski. Although Postepski left to return to AUSTRA, the debut ‘TRST’ made a slow burning impact as Alfons toured his “Eeyore gone goth” electro template around the world. From it, the filthy ‘Gloryhole’ was a wondrous combination of sinister portamento and hypnotic dance beats. Postepski returned to the fold for the recent double album opus ‘The Destroyer’, but Alfons still remains something of an awkward character.
Bill Leeb formed FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY in 1986 after his short stint with SKINNY PUPPY under the name Wilhelm Schroeder. With Rhys Fulber as the other long standing member, they were influenced by acts such as CABARET VOLTAIRE, PORTION CONTROL, DAF, TEST DEPT and SPK. Having integrated guitars, FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY returned to making exclusively electronic music on their fifteenth album ‘Echogenetic’, the highlight of which was ‘Killing Grounds’.
Hailing from Toronto, ELECTRIC YOUTH‘s collaboration with COLLEGE entitled ‘A Real Hero’ was included on the ‘Drive’ soundtrack’ in 2011. Their debut album ‘Innerworld’ finally came out in Autumn 2014 and one of its highlights was another collaboration, this time with ROOM8 called ‘Without You’. Echoing Aussie combo ICEHOUSE and ‘Great Southern Land’ in particular, its bridge and chorus were particularly tremendous with a nostalgic Brat Pack movie presence.
Available on the album ‘Innerworld’ via Last Gang Entertainment / Secretly Canadian
With CHVRCHES having had success borrowing PURITY RING’s electro template, the Edmonton duo’s sophomore album ‘Another Eternity’ was more focussed than its predecessor ‘Shrines’. Still utilising glitch techniques, booming bass drops and Corin Roddick’s rattling drum machine programming, ‘Begin Again’ made the most of Megan James’ sweet and dreamy voice. The pair off a major surprise by working with Katy Perry on three songs for her 2017 album ‘Witness’.
Self-described as a “Retro Synthwave Singer”, Toronto’s DANA JEAN PHOENIX isn’t a stranger to synthylicious ditties. Having moved away slightly from pure Synthwave styles, as one of the best live solo synth performers currently, she enjoys rocking out onstage with her keytar Jareth. The sparkling template of one of her most rousing numbers ‘Only One For One Night’ brought along a youthful escapism that reminisced about first loves and first disappointments.
Available on the album ‘PixelDust’ via New EmPire Entertainment
Behind the quirky avant pop of MECHA MAIKO is the talented Torontonian, Hayley Stewart. The delightfully odd ‘Apathy’ from her second album ‘Let’s!’ was an inventive oddball fusion of jazz swing Charleston, frantic techno dance beats and vibrant synthpop hooks. It showed she was not afraid to blend seemingly incongruous influences to get an end result and with a slight sprinkling of Japanese instrumentation to close, the eclectic creative cycle was complete!
ELECTRIC YOUTH are best known for ‘A Real Hero’, their 2011 collaboration with COLLEGE which was arguably the defining song on the soundtrack to Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’.
The film helped give synthpop (and at the time a fledgling Synthwave scene) a well needed boost and helped propel it into the wider public eye.
Since then the duo comprising of producer Austin Garrick and vocalist Bronwyn Griffin, have kept active eventually releasing their debut album ‘Innerworld’ in 2014 featuring additional production from Vince Clarke and PNAU’s Peter Mayes.
2019’s ‘Memory Emotion’ is their third album after the release of ‘Breathing’ which was originally planned as the soundtrack to a film of the same name before artistic differences saw the original film producer Anthony Scott Burns bailing (and ELECTRIC YOUTH following suit).
Opening track ‘The Life’ will delight fans of PET SHOP BOYS, initially reminiscent of ‘Love Comes Quickly’ before a Linn Drum starts driving the piece and Griffin’s vocals enter. From a songwriting and musical perspective ‘The Life’ is easily the standout piece here.
Sonically things keep going in a similar vein with ‘ARAWA’ with big polysynth chords and more Linn Drum programming. ‘Breathless’ and ‘Real Ones’ see Griffin’s vocals become a bit too saccharine and floaty to the point where the listener could easily zone out and the songs become background fodder. The latter adds a descending Indie-style guitar part and a hypnotic drum pattern which draws the piece to its conclusion.
‘On My Own’ lowers the tempo and is driven by a Roland TR808 drum pattern and another textural guitar part; lyrically it comes across as more engaging than some of the other tracks here with Griffin’s vocal emotionally reaching out to her lover (“You weren’t here last night”).
‘Higher’ injects a welcome upward change of pace with a 4/4 kick drum and a syncopated phased polysynth part straight out of VISAGE’s ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’. Again the vocals are sat back in the mix and the “higher and higher” chorus hook doesn’t quite do Garrick’s musical backing justice.
‘Thirteen’ is a close cousin to ‘A Real Hero’ with its 8 beat synth bass but melodically doesn’t hit the heights of the track it recalls and the following three tracks ‘Evergreen 143’, ‘Now Now’ & ‘Through the Same Eyes’) all have an unfortunate tendency to merge or blur into one without a real standout between them.
The overall sound of ‘Memory Emotion’ will come as no surprise to listeners familiar with the duo’s previous work; there are no rough edges here as Griffin’s vocals float ethereally over a soundbed of analogue synths and the occasional guitar part.
In some ways ELECTRIC YOUTH are trapped in a musical straitjacket here; as a genre synthpop / Synthwave can easily become constricting with certain synth sounds being overused to the point where they become musical cliché. There is nothing technically wrong with ‘Memory Emotion’, it is beautifully mixed and produced but in too many places, it skirts close to aural wallpaper with songwriting which doesn’t quite cut the proverbial mustard.
If you favour synthpop that would work as late night listening or to accompany a chilled beach excursion, then ‘Memory Emotion’ achieves that function perfectly, but those looking for more depth and originality would be far better served seeking out acts such as fellow Canadian’s PURITY RING who push the envelope with the genre far further.
POLYCHROME describe themselves as “Neon Segawave”, probably an apt term of reference given their flirtations with synthwave and dreampop.
Modern glitch effects like PURITY RING with the girly synthpop resonance of Miami’s PRIEST and the chillwave air of the Sarah P. era of KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS permeate through the sounds of POLYCHROME, as exemplified by ‘The Call’.
However, the London-based independent duo themselves name the usual suspects of M83, COCTEAU TWINS and CHROMATICS as well as the polarising sub-genre of shoegaze as influences. Fronted by the angelic presence of Victoria Harrison, she is ably partnered by Oliver Price and both contribute vocals as well as production.
“We love it Lo-Fi, old drum machines, vintage microphones and Sega Mega drives!” the duo say, affirming their more rustic approach to electronic pop. Much of the POLYCHROME’s self-titled debut album released in 2018 was written in isolation around the serene surroundings of Grianain Eco Lodge near Fort William and it shows.
The ‘Drive’ influenced ‘Synesthesia’ reflects the union of the senses as suggested by its title, with its synthetic and vocal layers providing an electro-organic wash, accompanied by a rainswept video shot through glass for that suitably hazy effect.
The album closer ‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ provides an airy twist on the ‘Stranger Things’ theme with a slower variation on its iconic pulsing arpeggio, it could be considered POLYCHROME’s mission statement as to their next artistic intent as they move further into combining synthwave with dreampop.
Concluding their debut album campaign with a ‘Final Kiss’ and a manipulated voice hook, the song recalls the sedate synthpop of Canadian duo ELECTRIC YOUTH with chiming guitars and electronic drums complimenting the backdrop.
It will be interesting to see where POLYCHROME head next with many possible paths on the crossroads and while there is still perhaps some focussing to do dynamically, the musical potential is there.