The artists behind the LA based project LOST IN STARS like to sideline with the slightly less ubiquitous FUTURE FIRE.
London boy Dylan Willoughby and his collaborator Darren Burgos are often joined in LOST IN STARS by the fabulous Elena Charbila aka KID MOXIE, as well as Alysa Lobo and Jon McCormick. Having been raised on all kinds of instruments requiring fingering and knob turning, Willoughby and his musical imagination started early. With the inclusion of classical piano training, he developed into a fully-fledged producer of stunning cinematic pieces and heart felt arrangements.
A couple of years ago, the master of filigree electronic gems said: “I lived in Toronto when I was younger, and my first instrument was the organ. This was the time of shopping malls and old men with moustaches going nuts on those souped-up organs with all the multi-coloured levers. I guess they were their own kind of rock star. As cheesy as they seemed at the time, those organs revealed that you could play the keyboard and manipulate the sounds.”
Being LA based helps matters enormously and the British boy needs no encouragement to showcase his musical talents, even though for years he’s been battling adverse health conditions and debilitating depression. Surely the output Willoughby produces is closely mirroring his mental state, making the pieces very precious and private to him. After couple of albums with LOST IN STARS and previous releases with FUTURE FIRE, the collaboration with Burgos brings us another EP, ‘Unfollow’.
The almost eponymous track covers the ups and downs of social media of today, where you don’t exist unless you’re active on various social networking platforms, and where the reality seldom meets posts / tweets / videos displayed. “Unfriend unfollow! Unfriend unfollow! I better not see you on my timeline tomorrow!” sums up the relationships of today, with the lyrics written by American vocalist Phalon, who also lends her voice here. ‘Unfriend Unfollow’ is strangely cheerful, given the lyrical content, with a funky beat and cute synth line.
‘Fireflies’ takes Willoughby down memory lane which he says “is a nostalgic song that revisits my youth in which summer dusks were filled with the pulsing lights of fireflies – as kids we would catch them and put them in jars with a hole in the top so they could breathe”. The sounds are also retro; soft synths and calming vocal, it’s a prefect synthwave ballad. Burgos’ voice takes the listener on a journey into the care free past. “The song is about the bittersweet past that we long for even though we didn’t realise at the time how special it was” says Willoughby.
‘What You Need What You Want’ utilises Oberheim SEM on all parts except drums, being a candied synthpop tune with some industrial thrown in.
It’s a luscious club number à la Detroit disco with a twist, it vibrates and arpeggios towards the sublime peak of gritty synthgasm.
A different story is portrayed on ‘I Can’t Take You Anywhere’. According to Willoughby it is “Dystopian House that bridges the debut album and the new EP”. The instrumental extravaganza of sound hits from all directions, not letting up. You could ponder this one, or just get on your feet and dance, mood permitting. Easy!
FUTURE FIRE certainly write supremely good electronic music and the fragility of Willoughby is also his strength… this is not boys with synth toys, it’s men with the big guns!
Downtown LA houses an electronic project by the expat Brit Dylan Willoughby called LOST IN STARS.
Occasionally joined by Darren Burgos, Alysa Lobo, Jon McCormick and Elena Charbila aka KID MOXIE, LOST IN STARS provides sophisticated amalgams of synth, often augmented with more radical offerings in the form of dubstep and rave.
Having released a successful EP and eponymously named long player, Dylan Willoughby is back with another album ‘Fábula’.
Having started small, “I was not one of the kids with an Emulator II in the bedroom; I had a humble Casiotone but a good imagination”, the artist progressed into classical piano training, then furthered himself into electronic music production.
The survivor of long battles with adverse health conditions and debilitating depression, LOST IN STARS releases another product of his emotional journey in ‘Fabula’.
This time stripping down the sounds and going into a more minimal landscape, Willoughby takes unprecedented inspiration from a twelfth century mystic abbess, Hildegard, who affected by chronic illness, took musical reigns against all odds, creating a mystical soundscape to aid the pain.
And indeed, the opening instrumental of ‘Wand’ which is full of emotion, simply depicted in clean sounding instrumentation, and polished musicality. Its sister track, sharing the name with the album title, imagines a piano brought back to life from being long buried away, while ‘Entre Luces’ is dark and very stripped down.
‘Hush & Hum’ is progressively messier with toy piano and xylophone and sounds like a composition made by a child, learning to make the first musical steps; but it’s endearing.
The Spirit features on the single ‘Feel The Glow’, which is deliciously synthy, even though still very minimalistic. Inspired by the late Chinese artist Ren Hang, Willoughby delivers as promised.
Speaking last year he said: “Health permitting, I will try to write a sequence of songs inspired by the artist Ren Hang, whose journal I discovered in Guernica Magazine, translated by Amanda Lee Koe. The journal entries are almost unbearably sad and gut-wrenching, but also beautiful, well-observed, insightful and poignant”.
‘Feel The Glow’ depicts the inability to find oneself in the world plagued by depression and debilitating anxiety; a very personal track for the artist, hoping to bask in the “glow” of others, since his energy has long been depleted. ‘DON’T YA’ is a funky dance track with sophisticated beats, while the closing ‘Walk In The Light While Ye Still Have It’ introduces delicious strings, granular synth and trippy rhythms.
LOST IN STARS must be one of the most exciting artists of contemporary electronica, thanks to Willloughby’s versatility, knowhow of classical arrangement and the understanding of what makes the listener tick.
‘Fabula’ is amazingly arty, haunting at times and very personal to Willloughby, occasionally reminiscent of the last achievements from LOTIC or FISCHERSPOONER.
FUTURE FIRE is an LA based project by the artists behind LOST IN STARS; the British born Dylan Willoughby and local boy Darren Burgos.
LOST IN STARS also featured Alysa Lobo, Jon McCormick and Elena Charbila aka KID MOXIE, dipping in and out of the ensemble.
Bred on synths of all sorts, Willoughby “was not one of the kids with an Emulator II in the bedroom; I had a humble Casiotone but a good imagination”.
Soon enough that imagination translated itself into full on music making, with Dylan taking his classical piano training and meeting Burgos, who led an Electronic Music Production class, which Willoughby attended.
“The synth appealed to me on many levels. It was a cool combination of piano and technology, and it wasn’t just about playing keyboard but about designing cool sounds.”
FUTURE FIRE sees the two producers continuing their collaboration with couple of guest additions on ‘Shattered Light’.
The Spirit features on Americana Noir meets ethereal synth on ‘Your Kiss Could Burn Fire’ and KID Moxie supports her buddies on ‘Beautiful Disguise’; a sparkly electronic gem à la SPECTRA PARIS. The ‘Dark Embodiment’ is “haunted by the ghosts of synthpop”, while a heavily melodyned voice glides over clever sounds in ‘Another Time’.
The tantric ‘Protect Us From Above’ conveys the opposite message to ‘Mother Space’, which lends itself perfectly as a film score, due to its cinematic soundscapes and storytelling textures.
For the uncertain feeling of non-belonging, ‘Three Scratches’ hovers above the perceived safety, while ‘Choking On Fumes’ (nothing to do with DM’s ‘Breathing In Fumes’) presents an easy listening, male vocal led piece.
A little bit of electronic sci-fi gathers its allegiance on ‘Ejected In A Capsule’, continuing the futuristic elements on ‘Electric Current’.
The latter is an extravaganza of what machines are capable of and that very notion wins the listener on ‘Old Feelings II VHS’, a number that could be a signature piece for the super synth soundtrack to ‘Stranger Things’. While nothing is getting older on ‘Dorian Gray’s Portrait’, ‘In The Time It Takes’ presents another notion of a synthtastic film score.
Wrapped up with the enigmatic ‘Tears Of The Future’, ‘Shattered Light’ is a movie in itself. Featuring some excellent soundtrack worthy pieces, interwoven with more poppy tracks with vocals, it can however leave one a bit confused. An album of nineteen songs always takes a tad too long to process, no matter how gripping the pieces may be.
While splitting the material over two separate records would have been a simpler idea, it has to be said that Willoughby and Burgos certainly know how to write considerably superior electronic music.
The world found itself in a rather antagonistic and divisive state this year, as if none of the lessons from the 20th Century’s noted conflicts and stand-offs had been learnt.
Subtle political messages came with several releases; honorary Berliner Mark Reeder used the former divided city as symbolism to warn of the dangers of isolationism on his collaborative album ‘Mauerstadt’. Meanwhile noted Francophile Chris Payne issued the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS EP ‘Direct Lines’ with its poignant warning of nuclear apocalypse in its title song. The message was to unite and through music as one of the best platforms.
After a slow start to 2017, there was a bumper crop of new music from a number of established artists. NINE INCH NAILS and Gary Numan refound their mojo with their respective ‘Add Violence’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ releases, with the latter recording his best body of work since his imperial heyday.
But the first quarter of the year was hamstrung by the anticipation for the 14th DEPECHE MODE long player ‘Spirit’, with other labels and artists aware that much of their potential audience’s hard earned disposable income was being directed towards the Basildon combo’s impending album and world tour.
Yet again, reaction levels seemed strangely muted as ‘Spirit’ was another creative disappointment, despite its angry politicised demeanour.
Rumours abounded that the band cut the album’s scheduled recording sessions by 4 weeks. This inherent “that’ll do” attitude continued on the ‘Global Spirit’ jaunt when the band insulted their loyal audience by doing nothing more than plonking an arena show into a stadium for the summer outdoor leg.
Despite protestations from some Devotees of their dissatisfaction with this open-air presentation, they were content to be short-changed again as they excitedly flocked to the second set of European arena dates with the generally expressed excuse that “it will be so much better indoors”.
By this Autumn sojourn, only three songs from ‘Spirit’ were left in the set, thus indicating that the dire record had no longevity and was something of a lemon.
Suspicions were finally confirmed at the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ Q&A featuring Daniel Miller and Anton Corbijn, when the esteemed photographer and visual director confessed he did not like the album which he did the artwork for… see, it’s not just ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 😉
Devotees are quick to say all criticism of DEPECHE MODE is unfair, but the band can’t help but make themselves easy targets time and time again. But why should the band care? The cash is coming, the cash is coming…
The Wirral lads demonstrated what the word spirit actually meant on their opus ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, while the former class mate of Messrs Gore and Fletcher demonstrated what a soulful, blues-influenced electronic record should sound like with ‘Other’.
As Tony Hadley departed SPANDAU BALLET and Midge Ure got all ‘Orchestrated’ in the wake of ULTRAVOX’s demise, the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album directed by Rusty Egan, to which they contributed, became a physical reality in 2017.
Now if DM plonked an arena show into the world’s stadiums, KRAFTWERK put a huge show into a theatre. The publicity stunt of 2012, when Tate Modern’s online ticket system broke down due to demand for their eight album live residency, did its job when the Kling Klang Quartett sold out an extensive UK tour for their 3D concert spectacular.
No less impressive, SOULWAX wowed audiences with their spectacular percussion heavy ‘From Deewee’ show and gave a big lesson to DEPECHE MODE as to how to actually use live drums correctly within an electronic context.
Mute Artists were busy with releases from ERASURE, LAIBACH and ADULT. but it was GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Silver Eye’ that stole the show from that stable. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM returned after seven years with their ‘American Dream’ and it was worth the wait, with the most consistent and electronic record that James Murphy’s ensemble has delivered in their career.
2017 was a year that saw acts who were part of the sine wave of Synth Britannia but unable to sustain or attain mainstream success like BLUE ZOO, B-MOVIE, FIAT LUX and WHITE DOOR welcomed back as heroes, with their talent belatedly recognised.
Across the Baltic Sea, Finnish producer Jori Hulkkonen released his 20th album ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ while nearby in Russia, a duo named VEiiLA showcased an unusual hybrid of techno, opera and synthpop and ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY offered a ‘❤’.
One of the year’s discussion points was whether Synthwave was just synthpop dressed with sunglasses and neon signs but whatever, Stateside based Scots but Michael Oakley and FM-84 made a good impression with their retro-flavoured electronic tunes.
Canada’s PURITY RING infuriated some of their fanbase by working with KATY PERRY on three tracks for her album ‘Witness’. AESTHETIC PERFECTION’s new singles only policy was paying dividends and the Electro Mix of ‘Rhythm + Control’, which featured the promising newcomer NYXX, was one of the best tracks of 2017.
Female solo artists had strong presence in 2017 as FEVER RAY made an unexpected return, ZOLA JESUS produced her best work to date in ‘Okovi’ and Hannah Peel embarked on an ambitious synth / brass ‘Journey to Cassiopeia’. Meanwhile, SARAH P. asked ‘Who Am I’ and MARNIE found ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ as ANI GLASS and NINA both continued on their promising developmental path.
Respectively, Ireland and Scotland did their bit, with TINY MAGNETIC PETS and their aural mix of SAINT ETIENNE and KRAFTWERK successfully touring with OMD in support of their excellent second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’, while formed out of the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL, RAINLAND wowed audiences opening for ASSEMBLAGE 23.
Despite getting a positive response, both iEUROPEAN and SOL FLARE parted ways while on the opposite side of the coin, Belgian passengers METROLAND celebrated five years in the business with the lavish ‘12×12’ boxed set
Overall in 2017, it was artists of a more mature disposition who held their heads high and delivered, as some newer acts went out of their way to test the patience of audiences by drowning them in sleep while coming over like TRAVIS on VSTs.
With dominance of media by the three major labels, recognition was tricky with new quality traditional synthpop not generally be championed by the mainstream press. With Spotify now 20% owned by those three majors, casual listeners to the Swedish streaming platform were literally told what to like, as with commercial radio playlists.
It is without doubt that streaming and downloading has created a far less knowledgeable music audience than in previous eras, so Rusty Egan’s recent online petition to request platforms to display songwriting and production credits was timely; credit where credit is due as they say…
While ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK does not dismiss Spotify totally and sees it as another tool, it should not be considered the be all and end all, in the same way vinyl is not the saviour of the music industry and in physics terms, cannot handle the same dynamic range as CD.
Music is not as emotionally valued as it was before… that’s not being old and nostalgic, that is reality. It can still be enjoyed with or without a physical purchase, but for artists to be motivated to produce work that can connect and be treasured, that is another matter entirely.
However, many acts proved that with Bandcamp, the record company middle man can be eliminated. It is therefore up to the listener to be more astute, to make more effort and to make informed choices. And maybe that listener has to seek out reliable independent media for guidance.
However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast. And as it comes close to completing its 8th year on the web, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK maintains its position of not actually promoting new acts or supporting any scene, but merely to write about the music it likes and occasionally stuff it doesn’t… people can make their own mind up about whether to invest money or time in albums or gigs.
Yes, things ARE harder for the listener and the musician, but the effort is worthwhile 😉
It was a year when the veterans re-established their standing within electronic pop.
That was not to that comparatively newer acts weren’t making a good impression, it was just that a fair number of established acts gave their all and were producing some of their best work since their imperial heyday.
Great tracks by SPARKS, OUTERNATIONALE, SPACEPRODIGI, iEUROPEAN, PARALLELS, FEVER RAY, SOL FLARE, SOFTWAVE, KNIGHT$, 2RAUMWHONUNG, JORI HULKKONEN, FIFI RONG and KITE BASE made it onto the shortlist, but despite their quality, they did not make the final listing.
Also not included are songs from ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’, the debut album from Rusty Egan; although gaining a physical release this year, it was reviewed by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in the Autumn of last year when download versions of the long player were distributed to those who had purchased it in advance via Pledge Music. Meanwhile, its closing track ‘Thank You’ was included in our 30 Songs Of 2016.
So restricted to purchasable releases only and one song per artist moniker, here are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 Songs Of 2017 in alphabetical order…
AESTHETIC PERFECTION Rhythm + Control – Electro Mix
Additionally featuring NYXX and WILLIAM CONTROL on vocals, ‘Rhythm + Control’ saw Daniel Graves take AESTHETIC PERFECTION’s industrial pop to the next level via his new singles only policy. The magnificent Electro Mix successfully realised this oddball blend of Darren Hayes, Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson. With a mightily elastic bassline, when asked whether The Electricity Club had gone crazy coming up with the comparison, Daniel Graves replied “God no. Spot on, guys!”
From only the third solo album in the long career of Richard Barbieri, ‘Solar Sea’ was a sleazy rhythmic excursion into another world. With the one-time JAPAN sound designer using a Roland System 700 for its bassline, the track’s atonal jazz feel was augmented by the haunting voice manipulations of Lisen Rylander Löve through a vintage Soviet submarine microphone and warping noises offset by soothing brass inflections and live drums.
The American electronic rock quartet BATTLE TAPES continued to develop from their 2015 debut album ‘Polygon’ via their ‘Form’ EP. The best track ‘Control’ hinged around a syncopated filtered synth bass and a brilliantly catchy chorus sung by Josh Boardman, with enough guitars for power and texture without distracting from the overall electronic aesthetic, and even coming over like a heavier Stateside version of SIN COS TAN.
“International in flavour, cosmopolitan in style” and sounding like a long lunch followed by a round of cocktails, Australian duo CLIENT LIAISON roped in one-time TV talent show star Tina Arena to duet on a lush slice of romantic pop that also rode on the current fashion for Synthwave. ‘A Foreign Affair’ could have easily been a Rat Pack movie song.
Johan Baeckström made positive waves with his debut solo album ‘Like Before’ in 2015 but reunited with his musical partner Jarmo Ollila, producing an excellent third album with more tempo variation than their 2014 offering ‘Two’. Featuring the guest vocals of Mac Austin from cult synth trio WHITE DOOR who were one of the inspirations for DAILY PLANET, ‘Heaven Opened’ was an uncomplicated but wonderfully poignant slice of classic synthpop.
ELECTRONIC CIRCUS is the musical vehicle of Chris Payne, the one-time Numan band member who also co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’. With a symphonic theme bursting with melody and musicality like ULTRAVOX galloping across the plains of Normandy, the brilliant neo-instrumental ’The Trapeze’ was given a wondrous tone of humanistic unity when Payne’s wife and daughter joined in on the final straight in Latin.
FADER are the synth superduo featuring BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur and Benge; ‘3D Carpets’ captured an independent post-punk intensity, like JOY DIVISION or THE CURE but realised with analogue electronics rather than guitars. While the pair worked on their parts separately, their creative dynamic produced a great debut album in ‘First Light’.
From the Welsh synth songstress’ first EP, the fabulous ‘Geiriau’ was a driving sequential drama that had more than a passing resemblance to the first part of SPARKS’ ‘No1 Song In Heaven’. Revolving around ANI GLASS’ experience of flying the nest and returning years later to reconnect with her Welsh and Cornish heritage, it was a spacey and futuristic soundtrack for a wonderfully uplifting homecoming.
‘Volupsa’, the promising Nordic flavoured debut album from THE GOLDEN FILTER came out in 2010, but the Aussie American duo of vocalist Penelope Trappes and synth programmer Stephen Hindman took their time with the follow-up ‘Still//Alone’, having relocated to London after spending several years based in New York. The hypnotic pulse of ‘Rivers’ with its precise drum machine pointed to a female fronted OMD, complete with a catchy riff and synthy jabbing bassline.
The immensely catchy ‘Systemagic’ was a prize electronic gem from the seventh GOLDFRAPP album ‘Silver Eye’, reminiscent of the lusty and beat laden electronic material from ‘Black Cherry’. But its riff asked the question as to whether you will always find Alison Goldfrapp in the kitchen at parties? In the event of Jona Lewie filing a lawsuit, the lucrative income from the song’s use in a BMW advert may ease any potential net payout.
After three acclaimed albums as IAMAMIWHOAMI with producer Claes Björklund, Jonna Lee went solo in 2017 although it was actually difficult to hear the join on the glorious ‘Not Human’, so seamless was the transition; there were still the icy electronic soundscapes, spacey dance beats and uplifting Scandipop vocals while the delightfully odd visuals were all present and correct.
Available on the download single ‘Not Human’ via To Whom It May Concern
I SPEAK MACHINE is the audio / visual collaboration between musician Tara Busch and filmmaker Maf Lewis. Soundtracking their film ‘Zombies 1985’, the story was one of greed and self-obsession in Thatcher’s Britain as a businessman drives home, oblivious to the zombie apocalypse going on around him. Co-written and co-produced with Benge, the brilliant ‘Shame’ with its cascading synths and noise percussion was a wonderful hybrid of THROBBING GRISTLE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and GOLDFRAPP.
After a number of years gigging around London, KATJA VON KASSEL finally unleashed released her electro Weimer Cabaret to the world. The pulsating ‘In Little Rooms (Show Me Love)’ captured an aesthetic which closely resembled that of RONNY, a former protégé of Rusty Egan. Attached to Alex Gray’s intricate filmic electronics, Fraulein von Kassel’s deep vocal detachment was art cool sexy.
Swedish duo KITE unleashed their darkest offering yet in ‘Demons & Shame’. Shaped by a ritualistic drum mantra and brooding bass drones, as the title suggested, the song confronted the despair that life occasionally throws up while pursuing visions and dreams. If Ennio Morricone composed music for Nordic Noir dramas, it would sound a bit like this. Vocalist Nicklas Stenemo literally screamed his frustration over an epic synthetic soundscape from Christian Berg, laced with nocturnal Arctic overtones and the spectre of THE KNIFE.
James Murphy returned as LCD SOUNDSYSTEM after seven years with this widescreen musical statement reflecting on the political situation in the US. Glancing across the Atlantic and back to the Winter Of Discontent, this 3/4 synth laden tune that had more than a passing resemblance to THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Circus Of Death’. So did “The Clown” referred to in that song remind Murphy of someone in particular?
Having started out in a more rave inclined environment, Lizette Nordahl ventured into more synthy climes and her debut mini-album had the air of KITE is all over it, which was not entirely surprising as its co-producers were Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg from the acclaimed duo. ‘Rest’ with its swirling synth sounds and widescreen Nordic atmosphere had an optimistic air of acceptance despite the melancholic tone and majestic growls.
Led by British born musician Dylan Willoughby, LOST IN STARS is a floating ensemble which also includes Elena Charbila aka KID MOXIE and producer/songwriter Darren Burgos. The latter takes the lead vocal on the spirited electronic pop of ‘Sky’; now if NEW ORDER were from Los Angeles instead of Manchester, they would have sounded like this.
After releasing her first solo album ‘Crystal World’ in 2013, Helen Marnie added more prominent choruses and guitar onto her second, resulting in a catchy Scandipop style. ‘Bloom’ was an optimistic burst of synth laden pleasure and while not totally dissimilar to LADYTRON, it was without their usual hardness or gothic gloom.
Having worked successfully in 2013 with Guy Sigsworth on ‘the minutes’, an acclaimed album which saw ALISON MOYET return to the synthesized music forms to compliment her powerful and self-assured voice, the follow-up ‘Other’ was a natural progression. The startling orchestrated electro-dub drama of ‘Alive’ gave Moyet’s two former classmates in DEPECHE MODE a stark lesson in how to actually fully realise electronic blues. Indeed, it was ‘In Chains’, the lame opener from ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ gone right…
With the narrative of ‘Savage’ provoked by Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States of America from the Paris Climate Accord, the mighty apocalyptic rock of ‘When The World Comes Apart’ was something of a revelation for GARY NUMAN. Using synths as the dominant instrument and having guitars less obviously prominent in the mix, with its richly anthemic chorus, this was the magnificent crossover song that both old and new Numanoids had been waiting for.
MICHAEL OAKLEY is a talented Glaswegian who describes his music as “Melancholic postcards from my heart wrapped up in synthesisers and drum machines”. The melodic ‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ came complete with Italo “woah-oh” chants and whether it was Synthwave, synthpop, electropop, Italo or whatever, it showcased Oakley’s fine songwriting abilities, regardless of genre.
The excellent ‘One More Time’ was a classic bittersweet OMD stomper, where “everything you gave me didn’t last”. Using electronic percussion as opposed to drum machines, the enticing verse and uplifting bridge were set to a plethora of gorgeous textures and distorted synth to add a touch of enigmatic weirdness. While Andy McCluskey cried “you can break my heart just one more time”, the track’s star was Paul Humphreys with his crystalline synth sounds laced with some portamento bounce.
As well as keyboards and violin, HANNAH PEEL can also play the trombone. Featuring an array of analogue synthesizers and a 29-piece colliery brass band, ‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ was her instrumental story about a fictional elderly musical stargazer. Beginning with the lift-off of ‘Goodbye Earth’, Miss Peel’s electronic arpeggios and synthetic noise built up to a crescendo of brass and timpani for a quite unusual combination of two very different musical worlds.
Available on the album ‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ via My Own Pleasure
From the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL came forth RAINLAND. Their self-titled calling card was a vibrant synthpop statement, embroiled in a musicality that provided a journey through the Grampian Mountains. Ian Ferguson had already proved himself a worthy vocalist in his previous combo with dulcet tones not dissimilar to a certain Midge Ure and this was allowed to reign free on ‘Rainland’. Meanwhile, the ivories of Derek MacDonald stylistically aped the symphonic overtones of ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie.
Between 1980 to 1984, RHEINGOLD were at the forefront of Die Neue Deutsche Welle, releasing three albums and achieving their first domestic hit ‘3klangsdimensionen’ in 1981. Led by Bodo Staiger, ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’ was their first album of new material for many years. The melodic synth of ‘Paradieshafen’ drove along a beautiful instrumental that came over like a dream collaboration between OMD and Michael Rother.
With hypnotising hints of Kate Bush and percolating Ryuichi Sakamoto style textures, ‘Who Am I’ by electropop goddess SARAH P. was an ode to “humanity, the world we live in and our importance (or unimportance) as individuals and/or as a whole”. And as the Greek-born songstress announced that “I don’t know where I come from… do you know my name?”, a metronomic beat kicked in to lead a dramatic house-laden climax.
Available on the album ‘Who Am I’ via EraseRestart Records
The normally flamboyant Welsh duo SHELTER surprised all with their darkest and most accomplished song yet in ‘Karma’. “What you want is what you’ll get…” sang Mark Bebb, “…you will get a lot more that you planned”. A vibrant but edgy production from Rob Bradley complimented the sentiment as the message was relayed loud and clear…
Available on the single ‘Karma’ via Ministry Of Pop
From ‘From Deewee’, the first new SOULWAX album since 2004’s ‘Any Minute Now’, ‘Conditions Of A Shared Belief’ was a modular synth lover’s wet dream from the Dewaele brothers. With a retro-futuristic collage of detuned blippy sounds and a backbone of smashing white noise percussion recalling THE HUMAN LEAGUE in their Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh phase, it was complimented by some suitably abstractly pitched TALKING HEADS inspired vocals.
TINY MAGNETIC PETS had their best year yet with a UK tour opening for OMD and to accompany it was their second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’. Featuring Wolfgang Flür, the album’s best song ‘Never Alone’ sounded appropriately like SAINT ETIENNE fronting KRAFTWERK. Paula Gilmer has one of the best voices in modern synthpop and her alluring tone no doubt added to the song’s breezy dreamlike state.
The adventurous third VANBOT album ‘Siberia’ was composed and recorded during a 17 day journey on the Trans-Siberian railway. The crystalline ‘Collide (Krasnoyarsk)’ though captured a more Nordic vibe with its gorgeous melodies, while the surrounding rhythmic pace of a train ride made its presence felt. An aural exploration of the relationship between time, location and emotion, ‘Siberia’ was a bold musical experiment.