“It’s the result of a period of frustration and anxiety” she explained about her artistic journey, “I collaborated mostly with myself and pushed through from co-producer to producer, experimenting with the mixing of organic and electronic genres, moods, soundscapes and beats, putting my voice in focus”
But Claes Björklund has not gone entirely with the self-produced album mixed by him under his BARBELLE moniker. Accompanied by films directed by Lee and John Strand, ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ is assembled with a companion audio / visual experience.
Although as enigmatic and delightfully odd as IAMAMIWHOAMI, IONNALEE is Jonna Lee’s attempt to be more upfront and less abstract than in the past. No doubt buoyed by the success of touring with RÖYKSOPP, guest contributors such as Jamie McDermott of THE IRREPRESSIBLES, COM TRUISE and TR/ST figure on ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’.
The first track presented for the project in March 2017, the stuttering presence of ‘Samaritan’ saw Lee caught passionately in an almost Nordic rap delivery of literally tens of syllables. Meanwhile, the haunting crystalline arpeggio of ‘Simmer Down’ welcomed a more stripped down introduction before the stop/start song launched into a driving percussive cacophony of bass squelches and pronounced vocals layers.
Trailed by this staged online presence, it was actually difficult to see the join with IAMAMIWHOAMI. This was most apparent on the glorious ‘Not Human’ which unveiled itself in June 2017. Co-written with synthwave exponent COM TRUISE, there were still the icy electronic soundscapes, spacey dance beats and uplifting Scandipop vocals associated with her IAMAMIWHOAMI output. But the seamless development appealed to anyone remotely enticed by Jonna Lee’s vocal presence as she announced “the urge is animal, I’m not human”.
In duet with fellow RÖYKSOPP collaborator Jamie McDermott, ‘Dunes Of Sand’ was a widescreen duet that screamed of Scandinavian shorelines with an unexpectedly trancey tempo change in the final quarter.
‘Work’ explored brassier aesthetics at its start before pulses and beats led it to a kooky orchestrated drama. But the eerie presence of ‘Joy’ provided more mystery, gently paced before it expanded in volume and intensity. And while initially more sedate and subtly rhythmic, ‘Gone’ eventually mutated into what CHVRCHES might have sounded like had they been raised next to the Gulf of Bothnia.
Despite half the album already previewed online, IONNALEE does offer further gifts from the serene building opener ‘Watches Watches’ and the paradoxically pretty ‘Like Hell’, to the ornate surroundings of ‘Temple’ and the sparse neo-acapella drama of ‘Here Is A Warning’.
‘Blazing’ offers some stranger things as chipmunk voices, drones and a deadpan demeanour weld together, while on ‘Memento’ with BARBELLE, cello samples and mournful synths shape a much doomier soundscape.
But the mood changes on the frantically paced ‘Harvest’ with TR/ST; it is a mighty album highlight with Robert Alfons restraining his usual “Eeyore gone goth” delivery to compliment Lee’s angelic tones and the lovely pipey synth counterpoints in the track’s second half.
Perhaps best of all is the marvellous closing number ‘Fold’, featuring exotic cascading timbres and spacey pulsars while distorted string synths add the appropriate chill as Lee’s passionate vocals complete the filmic vibe.
Much anticipated, ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ is easily equal to Jonna Lee’s work with IAMAMIWHOAMI. Although wanting to be more personal and less mysterious, IONNALEE’s first album is still a spacey immersion into another world with just the right level of disconnect for a wonderful escapist experience.
Yes at fifteen tracks, it’s rather a long trip, but worthy of the time and investment…
Today, electronic instrumental music is everywhere, but often in the form of tedious dance tracks with no tunes all over Beatport and social media.
Luckily, there are still exponents of the classic synth instrumental, and thanks to the rise of the Synthwave sub-genre, there is currently a sympathetic environment for more esoteric and melodic musical offerings.
The key to a good instrumental is it either has to be very melodic to make up for the lack of vocals or very unobtrusive so that while the music is interesting enough to be listened to, it can also be ignored. Thus a Eurorack modular tutorial cannot credibly count as a valid release… 😉
As a follow-up to TEC’s 25 SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The CLASSIC ERA, with a limit of one track per artist, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents its 25 FAVOURITE SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The 21ST CENTURY in chronological and then alphabetical order…
SYSTEM F Insolation (2000)
While Dutch producer Ferry Corsten hit paydirt with club hits such as ‘Out Of The Blue’ and ‘Cry’ as SYSTEM F, the debut album pointed towards the Trance’s link to electronic pop. As well as a collaboration with Marc Almond entitled ‘Soul On Soul’, the long player included the beautifully majestic classic instrumental ‘Insolation’ which took a breather from the usual four-to-the floor format.
PPK were a Russian trance duo comprising of Sergei Pimenov and Alexander Polyakov. The original melody of ‘ResuRection’ came from Eduard Artemyev’s synthesized theme from the epic 1979 Soviet movie ‘Siberiade’ which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. Easily mistaken for JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, the thrusting seven minute ‘Perfecto Edit’ in particular was like an exuberant rocket launch set to music.
Originally released by Perfecto Records, currently unavailable
With a piercing synthphonic riff, scat vocoder, robotic bass and a rigid programmed beat, ‘Turn It On’ saw LADYTRON take a bleep forward with an attempt at a KRAFTWERK track for the 21st Century via Liverpool, Glasgow and Sofia. But as it headed towards its final third, it detoured back to Liverpool and turned into ‘Electricity’ in a cheeky homage to Merseyside’s original electronic trailblazers OMD.
A Norwegian electronic duo consisting of Aggie Peterson and Per Martinsen, FROST released their second album ‘Melodica’ to a positive response, thanks to some production assistance by RÖYKSOPP on two tracks. The beautiful Arctic serenity of ‘Klong’ featuring local trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær alongside layers of gorgeous crystalline synths was one of the album’s highlights that easily outdid anything by GROOVE ARMADA and didn’t rely on using samples either.
Available on the album ‘Melodica’ via Frost World Recordings
‘Destroy Rock & Roll’ was the well-received debut album by Scottish DJ Myles MacInnes that alongside DAFT PUNK and BASEMENT JAXX, summed up the sample laden dance music that was prevalent at the time. Produced on a computer in his own bedroo, the album’s best track however was the more downtempo, MOBY-esque richness of ‘Emotion 96.8’ with its beautiful sweeping synth melodies and unobtrusive rhythm structure. A follow-up to the long player has yet to appear.
With a hypnotic Motorik rhythm, pulsating bleeps and spacey whirs driving a moodier template along the lines of cult German experimentalists EMAK, Phil and Paul Hartnoll continued their primarily instrumental template on their ‘Blue Album’, although SPARKS contributed vocals to a totally unrelated track called ‘Acid Pants’. The brothers split shortly after the long player’s release, but returned in 2009 to play The Big Chill Festival.
From ‘Hymn’ to ‘First Cool Hive’ to ‘A Seated Night’, the man born Richard Melville Hall is a master of the instrumental. The solemn ‘Homeward Angel’ closed MOBY’s comparatively conventional and sample-less ‘Hotel’ album with a solemn yet uplifting slice of mood music that in retrospect, was incongruous with the main act. However, since leaving Mute in 2008, his more recent self-released albums such as ‘Destroyed’ and ‘Innocents’ have displayed this more esoteric quality.
A ten minute instrumental epic, ‘Alpha Male’ came from RÖYKSOPP’s under rated second long player, one that moved away from the chill-out climes of ‘Melody AM’ into much darker sonic territory. The track’s lengthy ambient intro was interrupted by a mighty metronomic beat and the sort of progressive synth overtures that would have made JEAN-MICHEL JARRE proud.
Since his musical return in 1997 with ‘Shifting City’, JOHN FOXX has practically had albums coming out of his ears in song-based, ambient and soundtrack formats, both solo and in collaboration with other artists. The spacey mechanical Schaffel of ‘Kurfurstdendam’ came from an imaginary soundtrack he called ‘Tiny Colour Movies’, inspired by a friend’s birthday screening of a private film collection comprising of random surveillance clips and offcuts from Hollywood.
Few acts actually genuinely sound like their name… SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN, which translates as “the last man in space”, is the solo project of Swedish synthpop trailblazer Eddie Bengtsson, he of PAGE and S.P.O.C.K fame. The frantic ‘Space-Elevator’ with its swimmy string synths and Sci-Fi derived melody acted as an effective Moroder-esque interlude on his excellent sixth album ‘Tredje Våningen’.
Borrowing the distinctive bassline from SIMPLE MINDS’ 1981 single ‘Love Song’, the British duo put together this lively danceable instrumental for their debut TENEK EP. With a modern mechanical groove coupled to their trademark synth rock, the almost funky ‘Ice Fields’ became an early live favourite, although the duo have focussed on more song based adventures for their three albums to date, ‘Stateless’, ‘On The Wire’ and ‘Smoke & Mirrors’.
In 2007, Andreas Kleerup, producer and one-time drummer for THE MEAT BOYS, undertook his first mainstream collaboration with fellow Swede ROBYN. The success of ‘With Every Heartbeat’ led to the recording of his self-titled debut album which featured a number of brilliant instrumentals. ‘Hero’ was its perfect start and with a solid bassline and strong choral timbres, it had the vibe of how OMD might have sounded if they had formed in the 21st Century.
While most of the ‘Tron Legacy’ soundtrack album was arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese, DAFT PUNK’s spiky electronics and drum machine were kept in alongside the epic strings for the end titles of the sequel to the 1982 movie ‘Tron’. There were nods to Wendy Carlos who composed the score to the original film, with Thomas Bangalter focusing on the heroic themes while Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo was more inclined to generating the darker elements.
Available on the soundtrack album ‘Tron Legacy’ via Walt Disney Records
Forming in 2001, Swedish duo 047 began their chiptune experiments thought a mutual appreciation of vintage video games. But after their debut long player, Peter Engström and Sebastian Rutgersson began to incorporate melodic song based elements and vocals into their music. The end results led to the impressive second album ‘Elva’, but they celebrated their chiptune influenced roots with the jolly YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA salute of ‘Kanpai!’
‘The E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ was collection of rarities from the MARSHEAUX archives. While Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou have done a fair number of cover versions in their time, they are not really known for doing instrumentals. But the electro-boppy ‘Now & Never’ was a very promising wordless demo that Vince Clarke would have approved of; as one of his former DEPECHE MODE colleagues once sang: “words are very unnecessary…”
Fusing Detroit techno with more European experimental forms, Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks’ second SOFT METALS album ‘Lenses’ featured the fabulous instrumental ‘Hourglass’. As Hall put it: “I really wanted to write lyrics for that one, but was never quite satisfied with what I came up with. I decided it would be better to let that one be an instrumental. I think it holds up on its own. It’s nice to give the listener a chance to interpret its meaning on its own rather than direct them with words”.
Available on the album ‘Lenses’ via Captured Tracks
Anais Neon and Martin Swan’s tribute to ‘Assault On Precinct 13’, ‘The future through a lens’ was a moody but booming instrumental that began their excellent debut longer player of the same name, which later netted a Schallewelle Award for ‘Best International Album’ in 2014. With their vast array of analogue synthesizers and exquisite taste for sound textures, it won’t be too surprising if VILE ELECTRODES aren’t offered some soundtrack opportunities in the near future.
Although making his name within EDM circles, the Norwegian producer born Todd Olsen paid a musical tribute to ‘Back To The Future’ and its futuristic gull-wing doored Delorean DMC-12 car with this suitably driving Synthwave instrumental. Unlike other so-called dance producers, Terje is conversant with electronic music history and possesses a wry sense of humour, as evidenced by the witty wordplay of track titles like ‘Inspector Norse’ and his own DJ moniker.
After the first phase of BLANCMANGE, Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe worked within the TV and film industry, scoring soundtracks and incidental music. Although best known for his voice, Neil Arthur’s instrumentals have been a continual form of expression. The brilliant ‘Cistern’ comes over like an imaginary Bond Theme for a retro-futuristic world. The wordless wonder that is the parent album ‘Nil By Mouth’ is an unsung masterpiece.
Adam Cresswell’s sombre vocals and the darker lyrical themes on his debut RODNEY CROMWELL album ‘Age Of Anxiety’ took a breather with the bright and breezy ‘Baby Robot’. With sweet synthesizer melodies, pretty glints of glockenspiel and a bouncy beatbox, the instrumental was inspired by birth of his son. “Yes, ‘Baby Robot’ is the one track on the album that’s 100% upbeat as it is about the experience of being a father” he gleefully said.
While Danish duo DARKNESS FALLS are better known for their melancholic Nordic vocals and neo-gothic overtones on songs like ‘The Void’, the dark synthy instrumental ‘Thunder Roads’ proved to be one of the most striking tracks on their second album ‘Dance & Cry’. With a punchy drum machine mantra and menacing reverberant sequence, it was augmented by guitar screeches and sombre six string basslines reminiscent of JOY DIVISION and THE CURE.
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & BOYZ NOISE The Time Machine (2015)
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s first album for since ‘Teo & Tea’ in 2007 was a two volume opus entitled ‘Electronica’; it features collaborations with a number of synth pioneers and modern day dance artists including BOYZ NOISE aka Berlin DJ Alexander Ridha. This climactic track took on a new life as the set closer on the French synth maestro’s ‘Electronica’ world tour, with a lasered 3D visual feast that required no special glasses! BUT BEWARE OF FLASHING IMAGES! 😉
Available on the album ‘Electronica 1 – The Time Machine’ via Columbia Records
The horror film king recorded his ‘Lost Themes’ series in collaboration with his son Cody and his godson Daniel Davies as standalone pieces, without the pressure of having to put the music to moving images. The second volume was completed on a tighter schedule to accompany a world concert tour and thus replicated some of the challenging moods in his soundtrack work with tracks like ‘Utopian Façade’ recalling his classic movie soundscapes.
Dixon and Stein are members of the Texan group SURVIVE and their accompanying music to ‘Stranger Things’, a cross between ‘ET’, ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Alien’, sent electronic music fans into online meltdown with its use of vintage analogue synths. With a soundtrack influenced by the horror flicks of Dario Argento and of course John Carpenter, the one minute opening title music to the acclaimed drama series said all that was needed to be said in its brooding dissonant tones.
As would be expected from a title like ‘Klangfarben’, this vibrant instrumental from Dublin trio TINY MAGNETIC PETS is an enjoyable homage to Germanic music forms, with a loose percussive feel that still maintains that vital degree of Motorik. A word meaning “soundcolour”, it refers to a technique whereby a musical line is split between several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument, thereby adding timbre and texture to proceedings.
Big corporations may have a stranglehold on the modern music industry, but it’s the genuine music enthusiasts with their independent labels and knowledge of their respected genres who feed it by their intuition to recognise talent. One of the most successful has been Daniel Miller with Mute Records; his ambition brought DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO, ERASURE, MOBY and GOLDFRAPP to the world.
And in the current climate, there are others too; in Europe, there’s George Geranios whose Undo Records has given us electro delights such as MARSHEAUX, MIKRO, NIKONN and KID MOXIE. And here in the UK, there has been Mark Jones, impresario of Wall Of Sound Records.
The label began as a collaboration between Jones and Marc Lessner, when Lessner employed Jones at his music distributor Soul Trader. Compilations and club nights followed. Wall Of Sound turned first PROPELLERHEADS and then RÖYKSOPP into Top 10 album acts while the label also launched the career of Stuart Price aka LES RYTHMES DIGITALES.
Belatedly getting a hit single in 2004 with ‘Jacques Your Body (Make Me Sweat)’ following its use in the ‘Transformer’ Citroën C4 TV ad, Stuart Price’s influence on the shape of 21st century popular music cannot be under estimated… read the production credits of albums by MADONNA, THE KILLERS, TAKE THAT and PET SHOP BOYS if you’re unsure!
Comparatively more recently, Wall Of Sound have released albums by GRACE JONES, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and BEF.
As a long-time fan of electronic music, Mark Jones’ success also led him to becoming involved with BBC6 Music under his Back To The Phuture banner, with programmes that have recognised the history of electronic pop. BTTP also hosted the ambitious ‘Tomorrow Is Today’ event featuring GARY NUMAN, JOHN FOXX, MIRRORS and MOTOR in Spring 2011.
With Wall Of Sound now celebrating their 21st Anniversary with a compilation entitled ‘Walls Have Ears – 21 Years of Wall Of Sound’ featuring the label’s highlights and previously unreleased BBC sessions, Mark Jones chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK…
What was the music that inspired you when you were growing up as a teenager, and how did this shape Wall Of Sound as a record label?
OK, well I reacted against what my brother and sister were into, as you do, which was rock and reggae at the time. I was transfixed by electronic music and got my Mum and Dad to get me a Yamaha CS01 from the Grattans catalogue. I painted my bedroom black and sat up there making noises. The sounds and scapes made it all work. I’ve always loved melody too and been hooked on hooks. Some of the music that made me do it…
THE HUMAN LEAGUE – Every single track / album they created from the beginning 🙂
BLONDIE ‘Parallel Lines’ – I was obsessed with the band and Debbie Harry as a teen.
THE NORMAL ‘TVOD’- Electroid post-punk that inspired me to make the first ever Wall Of Sound single, as Daniel Miller did with this and Mute Records.
DEPECHE MODE ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ – The first synth riff I learnt and still is with me every minute of every day, I followed them around Germany in 1983 🙂
STEELY DAN ‘Do It Again’ – The band that brought all the Wall Of Sound artists together bizarrely.
The label’s first Top 20 single was ‘History Repeating’ in 1997 with PROPELLERHEADS and SHIRLEY BASSEY. It was quite an eccentric idea although in many ways, it was an obvious one given the duo’s interest in Bond themes. Whose idea was it to bring in her in?
Well, we had talked about getting vocalists and the idea was rinsed out in the very early hours in some dodgy Belgian hotel. Alex Gifford and myself were both a bit obsessed with getting her on the track. Alex had recorded a basic vocal through a pitch shifter and it sounded more like BILLIE HOLIDAY than SHIRLEY BASSEY. We then pitched it to Shirley’s management and she was digging it in very first listen… the rest is history… repeating.
What was the reaction like during the climax of Britpop and chart dominance by tedious bores like TRAVIS and STEREOPHONICS to Wall Of Sound’s release of an electropop album like LES RYTHMES DIGITALES ‘Darkdancer’ in 1999?
Oooooooooh! Well, I’ve said this before, but I did get hate mail and death threats when we got ‘Darkdancer’ out there. Some peeps really didn’t get it at that time as they saw the 80s as an enemy. Literally!
How did you discover Stuart Price aka Jacques Lu Cont aka LES RYTHMES DIGITALES? And what’s it been like watching him rise to working with MADONNA and literally becoming the top record producer in the world?
He bunked off school and came to see me at Soul Trader with Adam Blake as they had the band ZOOT WOMAN who I listened to and loved. I signed them up and released them, it was the fifth ever single on the label. He then informed me he had some ‘other music’ which was his school music exam and played it to me; that was ‘Liberator’. We then created LES RYTHMES DIGITALES and Jacques Lu Cont, as I said he couldn’t be the same person and the French thing was buzzing. ‘Darkdancer’ really stands the tests of time.
He is one of, if not, my proudest signing ever to the label. Seeing him elevate to being one of the world’s leading producers, and working with the world’s leading artists is something that I am very proud of.
Is it true that you first approached Phil Oakey about singing on LES RYTHMES DIGITALES’ song ‘Sometimes’ which was eventually sung by NIK KERSHAW?
I don’t remember that, but I probably did 🙂
‘Dare’ was the album that changed Stuart’s life as he was pretty much listening to classical music before that apparently!
The sublime ‘Melody AM’ by RÖYKSOPP was a really important album for Wall Of Sound. How did you find them and what makes them so magically consistent?
RÖYKSOPP have never compromised their artistic integrity, and they never will. ‘Melody AM’ is the biggest selling album in the label’s history. They are who they are, and not someone else. They featured on a Norwegian compilation and we found them there. I flew over to see them and we made things happen.
How do you look back on signing THE HUMAN LEAGUE and the resultant album ‘Credo’?
Well, they say “Never work with your heroes!” but I thought “F*** that!”; sowhen the opportunity arose to give them the bounceboard and platform that they needed, I couldn’t say no! The band made me do what I do. ‘Credo’ is a great album and was loved by everyone that actually heard it. The band were / are great to work with.
Of course, you released BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 3 – Dark’, continuing the association with HUMAN LEAGUE co-founder Martyn Ware. Would you be interested in releasing the new HEAVEN 17 album?
Yes! BEF ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction 3: Dark’ had some amazing guest vocalists. Martyn Ware is another inspiring artist who creates magical moments in music. A new HEAVEN 17 album would be great to hear.
You were a big fan of synth band MIRRORS, although they were on Skint Records and sadly didn’t breakthrough. What would you have done different with them if they had been signed to Wall Of Sound?
Yep, I loved MIRRORS. I’m not clear on what exactly happened though, I assumed the band split up so there was nothing the label could do. You have to understand exactly who a band are and what they want to achieve to make things happen.
You’ve been very critical of the ‘X Factor’ dominance on the music industry. But what are your thoughts on the more generic EDM that’s sweeping the US?
*adopts American accent* EDM?? It’s brand new, right ? 🙂
With EDM, the penny has dropped and the pills have dropped. Hopefully, they will be asking “where did this music come from?” sometime soon…
They need music in a ‘box / brand’ over there but hey, it’s finally happened and broken through. It is crazy. I’ve said this a few times too… when I first took music from the label over to the USA, most peeps I played it to said (*readopts American accent *) “This is not music! This is not ‘real’ music” because it didn’t have a ‘real’ instruments on it.
Then when we did PROPELLERHEADS and more, they were like (*American accent*) “Wait… is that a guitar?? Is that drums?? This is real music now!”; they had a bump there. Never played on daytime radio but it did well and connected to people.
What’s been your highlight with Wall Of Sound after 21 years?
Still being here… but it was apparently always my goal to get to this point. In every interview I did back in the crazy days when journalists asked “Why are you doing this?”, I answered “Cos I’m going to get to 20 years… and stick it up your ar*e!”
I am proud of all of the music that I have released on the label, and giving artists the platform to do what they do and be themselves.
What new electronic acts do you rate at the moment?
All the acts on the label obviously… but there are a few others 🙂
DENIS THE NIGHT & THE PANIC PARTY
What’s next for Wall Of Sound?
A new RÖYKSOPP single…
EKKOES – like HURTS meets THE HUMAN LEAGUE
KILLSFLAW – THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS vs LED ZEPPELIN… rock ‘n’ rave or as I am calling it in the USA… RDM! (Rocktronic Dance Music) 🙂
KIDS ON BRIDGES – the album ‘Kidology’ is out there. They combine electronics and guitars
in a cool way too
PERFECT DAY – pop vs rock (prock), they are amazing 😉
There are some very new artists that I cannot announce at momento, as contracts not signed and someone will probably steal them!
Will Back To The Phuture ever return and would you be interested putting on another event like ‘Tomorrow Is Today’ featuring GARY NUMAN, JOHN FOXX, MIRRORS and MOTOR? If so, who would be the fantasy line-up?
Well, I’ve been focussing on the Wall of Sound fanniversary, the ‘Walls Have Ears’ compilation release and more.
But yes, Back To The Phuture will be returning, so many peeps have been asking me about it too. It looks like there will be some residencies around the world and more. There are too many phantasy line ups for me 🙂
Where do I start? BTTP places classic artists with new artists rather than being too retro-minded to. I have some cool ideas, but don’t want to mention them as they will deffo get borrowed. Phantasy line-ups… here are some that explore different electronic genres…
THE HUMAN LEAGUE
BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING
JEAN MICHEL JARRE
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Mark Jones
In the five years since its formation on 15th March 2010, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has reviewed over 100 albums and EPs.
During this time, the album has become less of an artistic statement, with the focus of both consumer and media on single songs directly led to the prominence of the extended EP or mini-album in today’s digital marketplace.
It is a halfway house, but at least the creative output of an artist can be showcased by a small body of work. And increasingly, many are combining and reworking several EP releases in order to formulate a full length album. Despite the move towards downloads and streaming, there is still a demand for physical product.
However, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has been slightly bemused by the music industry bias towards vinyl, to the neglect of CD. It should be noted that silver digital discs are still the preferred medium for the general consumer, as proven by the million plus sales of TAYLOR SWIFT’s ‘1989’ opus on CD. This was a release which was confined to compact disc and digital download variants with no concessions towards streaming and, initially in the first few months of release, vinyl.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK confesses it has no love whatsoever for vinyl in the 21st Century, and is rather irritated by it being turned into an antiquated object of fetish and snobbery which bears little relation to the music on it.
And to think ironically that the world’s record labels tried to kill off vinyl back in 1989 in favour of err… cassette! Yes, the music industry… as forward thinking as ever!! With regards Spotify, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK actually is not particularly fond of that either…
Even with the subscription model, with so much music available, most of it is not listened to properly, thus devaluing any music that is perhaps worthy of greater recognition. Think of it like the casual music festival goer who just hops between all the acts playing on the many different stages after just two songs… it’s a false economy in reality!
But despite its concerns, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK still loves a good album in whatever format. It is the content that is most important, not the mode of carriage. So which long players still stand up to scrutiny and can claim to have lasted the course over the last five years? Listed by year then alphabetical order, with a restriction of one album per artist and no recent releases from 2015, here are our 30 favourite albums from the period between 2010 to 2014…
GOLDFRAPP Head First (2010)
Although now disowned by the duo, ‘Head First’ was Alison Goldfrapp finally all relaxed and having fun. Stomping synth tunes like ‘Alive’, ‘Believer’ and ‘Believer’ were fine examples of Ms Goldfrapp taking her Olivia Newton John fixation (which had been apparent on early B-side ‘UK Girls’ with its interpolation of ‘Physical’) to a fully realised musical level. But best of all though on this short and sharp collection were the marvellous ABBA tribute of the ‘Head First’ title track and the ethereal ARP laden Eurodisco of ‘Dreaming’. While the more recent ‘Tales Of Us’ has seen GOLDFRAPP venture into more cinematic orchestrations again, a return to electronic pop is always possible with Ms Goldfrapp’s record of chameleon-like tendencies.
‘Head First’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Mute Records
One of the best electronic albums to have been released in 2010, ‘Origin’ was a fine crystalline balancing act that combined the classic synthpop of days gone by, with the freshness of new technologically fuelled dance music. The songs of the Helsinki based duo Juho Paolosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä ranged from the supreme GARY NUMAN on Prozac of ‘Remains Of Love’ and ‘Ways To Be’, to the Moroder-esque hypnotism of ‘Kiss & Tell’. Then there were the OMD influences on ‘Some Kind Of Dream’ and ‘Envelope’ so it was not entirely surprising the pair were invited to support than band on their 2010 tour. But while VILLA NAH then went into hiatus, Paolosmaa partnered up with ‘Origin’ co-producer Jori Hulkkonen to form SIN COS TAN.
‘Origin’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Keys Of Life Records
The baroque electronic trio of Katie Stelmanis, Maya Postepski and Dorian Wolf successfully broke away from the short lived Witch House sub-genre to yield their own emotionally charged sound. The moodily enigmatic ‘Beat & The Pulse’ and the frankly bonkers ‘Lose It’ had already gained a worthy amount of attention as singles and luckily, AUSTRA’s debut album did not disappoint. The tremendously epic spectre of ‘The Villain’ successfully utilised programmed technology and live drums while the sexual tension of ‘Spellwork’ was like a gothic opera crossing THE KNIFE with DEPECHE MODE that provided their most overtly synthpop offering.
‘Feel It Break’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Domino / Paper Bag Records
Since the return of the classic line-up in 2004, DURAN DURAN’s new material had general failed to meet expectations. However, despite losing guitarist Andy Taylor on the way, the Mark Ronson produced ‘All You Need Is Now’ saw DURAN DURAN reclaim their quintessential sound. The superb glitterball rework of ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for the title track signalled their intentions while ‘Girl Panic’ and ‘Runaway Runaway’ captured classic Duran for the 21st Century. The superb sequencer assisted ‘Being Followed’ had a tingling metallic edge that captured the tensions of post 9/11 paranoia while songstress KELIS dreamily counterpointed on the moody, string laden ‘Man Who Stole A Leopard’ which recalled ‘The Chauffeur’. Nick Rhodes claimed the album was “undoubtedly one of the strongest of our career”; and he was right!
‘All You Need Is Now’ is available as a CD and download via Tape Modern
‘Interplay’ was possibly JOHN FOXX’s most complete and accessible body of work since his classic ‘Metamatic’. Together with Chief Mathematician and synth collector extraordinaire BENGE aka THE MATHS, the use of vintage electronics with modern recording techniques captured a mechanised charm while simultaneously adding a correlative warmth. Among the realised examples of this fresh approach were the feisty ‘Catwalk’, the electro-folkisms of ‘Evergreen’ and the eerie ‘The Running Man’. One of the stand-out tracks ‘Watching A Building On Fire’ featured Mira Aroyo of LADYTRON and was perfectly dystopian, while the title track and closer ‘The Good Shadow’ both added a subtle atmospheric quality to proceedings.
‘Interplay’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Metamatic Records
MAISON VAGUE’s ‘Synthpop’s Alive’ was one of the surprise albums of 2011 and the creation of Clark Stiefel, a German domiciled American with a love for all things Synth Britannia. A classically trained virtuoso who studied piano and electronic music at a conservatoire, his title track battle cry sounded like the result of an unlikely sexual liaison between DEVO and PLACEBO. Chunky riff laden tracks such as ‘Pixelated Lover’, ‘My Situation’, ‘Living On Ice Cream’ and ‘Give Them Away’ affectionately revived The GARY NUMAN Principle but for some variation, there were the marvellous BETTE MIDLER gone electro of ‘No Show’ and the reggae inflected ‘Tunnel Vision’.
‘Synthpop’s Alive’ is available as a download album via Stiefel Musik
Brighton pop-noir quartet MIRRORS’ only album ‘Light & Offerings’ was a seamless majestic journey swathed in layers of vintage electronics and modern rhythmical dynamics. It began with superb sonic pulsar of ‘Fear Of Drowning’ with its dramatic overtures of young manhood before continuing with reworked recordings of the band’s excellent first two singles ‘Look At Me’ and ‘Into The Heart’. The sublime ‘Hide & Seek’ was soulful electronic pop while ‘Ways To An End’ proved MIRRORS could cut it on the dancefloor too. Elsewhere, ‘Somewhere Strange’ took the listener on the most euphoric train ride since NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’ while the final track ‘Secrets’ was an ambitious ten minute epic in three movements featuring its own ambient parenthesis. MIRRORS were worthy successors to the original Synth Britannia generation, but they sadly fragmented in Autumn 2011 and all momentum was lost before things really could get going.
‘Lights & Offerings’ is available as a CD, 2LP and download via Skint Records
With the critically acclaimed ’Visions’, Montreal’s GRIMES aka Claire Boucher explored a hybrid style of electro influenced by K-Pop, New Age and R ‘n’ B. ‘Genesis’ was one of many kookily inventive tunes on the album and like its close cousin ‘Oblivion’, played with Kling Klang derived rhythm section that came over like LYKKE LI fronting KRAFTWERK. Often using pentatonic scaling to show her affinity towards South East Asian culture, GRIMES’ sumptuously infectious approaches made tracks such as ‘Be A Boy’, ‘Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus)’ and ‘Vowels = space and time’ an aurally challenging but rewarding listen. And all this while retaining a quirky sense of humour in her promo videos…
‘Visions’ is available as a CD, LP and download via 4AD Records
While technically a stopgap compilation of rare and unreleased MARSHEAUX tracks, the ‘E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ collection did provide a mostly cohesive listening experience. Including a plethora of non-album tracks such as ‘How Does It Feel?’, ‘Sadly’, ‘Fischerprice’ and the FRONT 242 influenced ‘Bizarre Love Duo’, MARSHEAUX’s charmingly delightful synthpop covers of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Empire State Human’, BILLY IDOL’s ‘Eyes Without A Face’ and OMD’s ‘She’s Leaving’ were also largely present and correct. Meanwhile, two uptempo outtakes from the ‘Inhale’ sessions ‘Do You Feel?’ and ‘Inside’ indicated where their fourth album might have headed had MARSHEAUX’s national surroundings been less economically turbulent.
Although METROLAND have little in common with GIRLS ALOUD, they are indeed The Sound Of The Underground. While highly influenced by KOMPUTER and KRAFTWERK, the single ‘Enjoying The View’ indicated METROLAND were more textural in their use of synthetic sequences, robotic vocals and vintage drum machines. With tributes to London Underground map designer ‘Harry Beck’, Kling Klang homages such as ‘It’s More Fun To Commute’ and a cover version of IGGY POP’s ‘The Passenger’ that has to be heard to be believed, METROLAND’s soundtrack provided a ride through an electronic landscape designed for the commuter world.
‘Mind The Gap’ is available as a CD, deluxe 2CD and download via Alfa Matrix Records
Having worked together on the ‘Origin’ album, a side project between VILLA NAH’s Juho Paalosmaa and ace producer Jori Hulkkonen was almost inevitable. Under the moniker of SIN COS TAN, their debut album impressed with a rich filmic quality permeating amongst all the synths and drum machines in a much more mature approach than had been apparent on ‘Origin’. There was plenty of variation too, from the dark, atmospheric space ballad ‘In Binary’ and laid back electro R’n’B of ‘Book Of Love’ to the NEW ORDER styled dream attack of ‘After All’ and the almost Balearic ‘Calendar’. But true to form with Hulkkonen’s intelligent disco manoeuvres, the beat templates were complimentary and never overbearing. And with the sublime “disco you can cry to” closer of ‘Trust’, SIN COS TAN’s place in electronic music has been assured.
‘Sin Cos Tan’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Solina Records
A release that actually slipped under TEC’s radar on initial release, TRUST was the project of Robert Alfons and AUSTRA’s Maya Postepski. Although Postepski left after its release to return to AUSTRA, ‘TRST’ made a slow burning impact as Alfons toured his “Eeyore gone goth” electro template around the world. The filthy ‘Gloryhole’ was a wondrous combination of portamento and dance beats, while ‘Bulbform’ was perfectly doomy disco. There were more immediate moments too like the trancier synthscapes of ‘Sulk’ and the alternate Euro-disco of ‘Dressed In Space’ which came over like a more depressed version of CAMOUFLAGE. In all, ‘TRST’ was one grower of a record.
‘TRST’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Arts & Crafts
‘Brilliant’ reminded people why the classic line-up of ULTRAVOX were supreme when firing on all cylinders. It also laid to the rest, the ghost of the dreadful ‘U-Vox’ album in 1986. The title track and ‘Live’ contained all the hallmarks of Billy Currie’s Eurocentric piano and synth embellishments complimented by the motorik power house of Chris Cross and Warren Cann while Midge Ure’s voice now possessed a fragility and honesty that could only come from life experience. Then there was the pounding electronic rock of ‘Satellite’ and the percolating sequences of ‘Rise’ which saw the return of Currie’s distinctive ARP Odyssey soloing. The whirring Odyssey also appeared on ‘Change’ with beautiful ivory runs over the shuffling schlagzeug. ‘Brilliant’ was proof than while Billy Currie needed Midge Ure, Midge Ure also needed Billy Currie.
‘Brilliant’ is available as a CD, 2LP and download via EMI Records
If people can still hold enough regard for a version of KRAFTWERK featuring just Ralf Hütter to crash the websites of the world’s art spaces, then KARL BARTOS should at least be accorded some kind of equal status. After all, Bartos did co-write ‘The Model’, ‘The Robots’, Neon Lights, ‘Numbers’ and ‘Computer Love’. Utilising musical sketches and ideas gathered during his period with KRAFTWERK and his later project ELEKTRIC MUSIC, ‘Off The Record’ was a fully realised recording with Kling Klang at its heart. Indeed, ‘Without A Trace Of Emotion’ saw Bartos conversing with his showroom dummy Herr Karl and confronting his demons. The punchy ‘Rhythmus’ revisited ‘Numbers’ and ‘Computer World 2’ while the wonderful ‘Hausmusik’ had its clanking core driven by the type of mechanised backbeat heard on the ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Radio-Activity’ albums. Even using ideas gathered prior to 1996, KARL BARTOS produced a classic but modern electronic pop album.
‘Off The Record’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Bureau B
BEF Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 3 – Dark (2013)
The third instalment to Martyn Ware’s ambitious BEF covers project, amongst its fourteen tracks was some of his most overtly electronic work since he was in THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Kim Wilde’s brilliant opener ‘Every Time I See You Go Wild’ used just a Roland System 100 while the GIORGIO MORODER meets SPACE electro disco of ‘Same Love’ featuring David J Roch was another highlight. Other notable vocalists included ERASURE’s Andy Bell on an eerie take of ‘Breathing’, POLLY SCATTERGOOD’s kooky vocal on ‘The Look Of Love’ and CULTURE CLUB’s Boy George whose interpretation of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ possessed a previously unheard grouchy edge. But it was a slowed down waltz remake of ASSOCIATES’ ’Party Fears Two’ voiced by HEAVEN 17’s Glenn Gregory that virtually stole the show and brought the hankies out.
‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 3 – Dark’ is available as a CD, deluxe 2CD and download via Wall Of Sound
Like it or not, CHVRCHES have managed to attain a mainstream recognition that was denied to MIRRORS, thus furthering the cause of electronic pop worldwide. And in Lauren Mayberry, they have a sweet voice that counterbalances some of the harsher aural aesthetics that come with using Moog and her sisters. This album was full of quality synthpop with excellent songs such as ‘The Mother We Share’, ‘Science / Visions’, ‘Gun’, ‘Lies’ and ‘Recover’. However, an otherwise great debut was spoilt by Martin Doherty’s dreary blokey ramblings on ‘You Caught The Light’ and ‘Under The Tide’… and with the far superior ‘Now Is Not The Time’ sitting on the B-side bench, it is this type of noted Glaswegian bloody mindedness that will be the Achilles’ Heel to this trio achieving further success.
‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Virgin Records
While claims that FEATHERS were the female DEPECHE MODE may have perhaps been overstated, ‘If All Now Here’ was an impressive opening gambit that actually came over more like THE BANGLES fronting Basildon’s finest. Essentially the one woman project of Anastasia Dimou, she successfully combined harmonies, dystopia and deserts for some dreamy electronic soundscapes. ‘Land Of The Innocent’ was a wondrous epic based around the arpeggio of ‘Ice Machine’ while ‘Soft’ borrowed from the single mix of ‘Behind the Wheel’, but added an enlightening pop sensibility. Of course the raunchier, bluesier side of DM revealed itself on ‘Fire In The Night’ and ‘Believe’, but in ‘Dark Matter’, there was a tune with a Latino dancefloor heart, but reimagined by NITZER EBB! Opening for DEPECHE MODE on the winter 2014 leg of the ‘Delta Machine’ tour completed the circle.
Named after the cult Italo standard, FOTONOVELA’s sophomore album ‘A Ton Of Love’ was conceived as a supreme electronic record featuring vocalists from all stages of classic synthpop, as a homage to the genre. As a sign of their ambition, the first person they approached was OMD’s Andy McCluskey and the sessions went well… so well, that the resultant number ‘Helen Of Troy’ ended up on OMD’s ‘English Electric’ opus instead! With FOTONOVELA’s tracks being coveted by their heroes, it boded well for the remainder of the album. With a cast that included SECTION 25, KID MOXIE and MARSHEAUX, the quality was maintained and several cases, even exceeded. In particular, ‘Our Sorrow’ featuring MIRRORS’ James New captured the essence of classic OMD with a spirited, majestic vocal while ‘Justice’ found DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood in particularly feisty form. The presence of some of the most distinct voices in electronic pop music made ‘A Ton Of Love’ a fine showcase for one of best production teams in Europe.
‘A Ton of Love’ is available as a CD and download via Undo Records
With LADYTRON in hiatus, Helen Marnie set out “to create an electronic album with more of a pop element and pristine vocals” for her first solo record. Vocally and musically expansive like an Arctic escapist fantasy, this objective was achieved with ‘Crystal World’ with the classic pop of ABBA and MAMA CASS obviously apparent as well as MARNIE’s love of fellow weegies CHVRCHES. The brilliant launch single ‘The Hunter’ was the vibrant electropop single that LADYTRON never quite got round to releasing while there were other shining jewels like ‘Hearts On Fire’, ‘We Are The Sea’, ‘High Road’ and ‘Sugarland’. Meanwhile, ‘The Wind Breezes On’ was MARNIE’s own ‘Love Is A Stranger’ while the neo-acappella ‘Laura’ sat as a lush centrepiece to the collection.
‘Crystal World’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Les Disques Crespuscle
MESH’s danceable electro-rock ambitions became fully realised on ‘Automation Baby’. The lead single ‘Born To Lie’ was a brilliantly aggressive slice of Goth glam while in ‘Taken For Granted’, MESH had their own ‘Never Let Me Down Again’. ‘Just Leave Us Alone’ added some trancey dressing to the classic MESH template but it was the atmospheric maturity of the album’s ballads that were the big surprise. The beautiful ‘It’s The Way I Feel’ showed a more sensitive side with hints of ENNIO MORRICONE while ‘Adjust Your Set’ displayed some subtle traits despite its mechanical rhythms. But with the aptly titled ‘You Couldn’t See This Coming’, this orchestrated epic saw Mark Hockings’ passionate angst exposed for all. With the sonic balance bolstered by additional strings to MESH’s bow, ‘Automation Baby’ was undoubtedly the best album of their career to date.
‘Automation Baby’ is available as a CD and download via Dependent Records
On ‘Innocents’, MOBY’s familiar chord changes and sweeping string synths were all present and correct. But this was an adventurously beautiful work tinged with emotion, sadness and resignation that explored mid-life and mortality. Damien Jurado’s sensitive vocal on ‘Almost Home’ provided a marvellous slice of folktronica while Skylar Grey’s angelic voice on ‘The Last Day’ provided a beautiful innocence over the looping male gospel sample. One of the key moments of the album was ‘The Perfect Life’, an enjoyable duet by MOBY with FLAMING LIPS’ Wayne Coyne that came over bizarrely like GARY NUMAN at a Pentecostal church! With an elegiac tension, MOBY described parts of ‘Innocents’ as “nostalgic futurism”… it was also soothing electronic soul.
‘Innocents’ is available as a CD, deluxe 2CD, 2LP and download via Little Idiot
In 2013, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys finally released the album that many had been wanting since 1984. ‘English Electric’ was a brilliant concept album that encompassed the mantra “what does the future sound like?” The reality of unfulfilled dreams and impending mortality lingered on ‘Metroland’ and ‘Night Café’ while ‘Dresden’, ‘Helen Of Troy’ and ‘Final Song’ used clever metaphors for tales of relationship breakup. However, the magnificent ‘Our System’ did what OMD always did best, with an emotive soundtrack about the universe while ‘Kissing The Machine’, McCluskey’s collaboration with KARL BARTOS from 1993, was given some appropriate Synth-werk. And there was the return of the Paul Humphreys vocal on the very personal ‘Stay With Me’, a melodic ditty that was up there with ‘Souvenir’.
‘English Electric’ is available as a CD, deluxe CD/DVD, LP and download via BMG Music
Laced with House, Italo and Eurotrance references, ‘Electric’ took a few risks with the opening track ‘Axis’ being virtually instrumental, re-imagining Bobby Orlando in the 22nd Century. The brilliantly titled ‘Love Is A Bourgeois Construct’ recalled the pomp of ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing’ but then came the hypnotic ‘Fluorescent’. Basically a wonderful dancefloor makeover of ‘Fade To Grey’, waves of synth sirens attacked like a Martian invasion. Meanwhile, ‘Thursday’ re-explored the New York club scene with the distinctive squelch of a TB303 and captured the vibrant excitement of what is now the new Friday. The slightly berserk ‘Shouting In The Evening’ was a slice of “banging” techno before the comparatively conventional ‘Vocal’. With the vivid sentiment “I like the singer, he’s lonely and strange – every track has a vocal…and that makes a change”, it was a befitting conclusion of what this album was about; ‘Electric’ by name and electric by nature.
‘Electric’ is available as a CD, LP and download via X2 Recordings
Anglo-German collective TWINS NATALIA captured a pristine technostalgic journey through a Europe of real life and postcard views on ‘The Destiny Room’. A wonderfully emotive soundtrack of elegance and decadence with a touch of neu romance, the collection’s main act began with the gorgeously arpeggiated ‘Destiny’. Then there was the more frantic HI-NRG romp of ‘I Avoid Strangers’, while the PET SHOP BOYS styled neo-orchestrated statement of ‘Set Love Free’ climaxed like a pomped up ‘Rent’. As an appendix, there was also the superb debut single ‘When We Were Young’ b/w ‘Kleiner Satellit’ which first appeared in 2008. With rich, vibrant soloing from Dave Hewson on a Roland Jupiter 6 throughout, ‘The Destiny Room’ was perfect listening electronic music enthusiasts of a time when people actually played synths and explored the capabilities of their drum machines.
Three years in the making, ‘The future through a lens’ was well worth the wait. While not as immediate as the tracks on the preceding three EPs made available for their German tour supporting OMD, the album itself took a more esoteric, filmic approach. Like ‘Twin Peaks’ meets ORBITAL, ‘Damaged Software’ was an enticing piece of electro while ‘Drowned Cities’ was an enticing entry point following the title track overture. Both the pulsating ‘Proximity’ and the moody ‘Nothing’ grew with further listens. But with the closing ‘Deep Red’, it took all that was great about early OMD, putting ‘Statues’, ‘Stanlow’ and ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’ into a breathtaking seven and a half minute epic. This full length debut impressed enough for VILE ELECTRODES to snap up two Schallwelle awards in Germany for ‘Best International Album’ and ‘Best International Band’ in 2014.
Techno DJ WESTBAM celebrated 30 years in the music business with an intriguing mature collection of songs under the title of ‘Götterstrasse’. While the theme of the album centred on the joy and euphoria of underground nightlife, the magnificent launch single ‘You Need The Drugs’ voiced brilliantly by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS’ Richard Butler was not actually a celebration of illicit substance use. It was an album full of surprises like the dramatic ‘Kick It Like A Sensei’ with rapper LIL WAYNE and the tensely militaristic ‘Iron Music’ featuring the distinctive baritone of IGGY POP. Meanwhile, ‘She Wants’ saw the return of NEW ORDER’s Bernard Sumner on a new electronic dance composition and the frantic but serene ‘A Night to Remember’ with THE STRANGLERS’ Hugh Cornwall brought proceedings to a euphoric come down via some piano and Solina strings.
‘Götterstrasse’ is available as a CD and download via Warner Music
The transformation of Glaswegians ANALOG ANGEL has been startling. Moving away from their industrial shackles, they came up with a largely excellent collection of quality synthpop in ‘Trinity’. ‘Drive’ was a haunting drama about domestic violence that was given extra poignancy by a ghostly guest vocal by Tracy J Cox. There was also the frantic ERSAURE on Stella Artois of ‘The Chase’, the rousing schaffel stomp of ‘Round Again’ and the refined CAMOUFLAGE meets VANGELIS atmospheres of ‘Inner Voice’. But the biggest surprise was ‘The Last Time’, a cinematic masterpiece involving an orchestra that cascaded into an epic Pan-European journey across The Steppes. The virtual symphonic strings and gothic choirs gave an indication as to what OMD might have sounded like if Jim Steinman had been producing!
After the promise of the ‘Bounty’ and ‘Kin’ collections, ‘Blue’ fully realised the potential of IAMAMIWHOAMI, the slightly bonkers moniker of delightfully odd vocalist Jonna Lee and producer Claes Björklund. Expanding on the audio / visual template of its predecessors, the first impression of ‘Blue’ is that it is more of the same. But like fine wine, this album gets better with age. The windy breeze of glacial Scandinavian beauty immerses itself on tracks like the sub-COCTEAU TWINS ‘Fountain’, the ABBA-like ‘Chasing Kites’ and the closing reverberant mood piece ‘Shadowshow’. But it is the more uptempo danced based numbers like the mutant techno of ‘Ripple’ and the KATE BUSH gone trance of ‘Hunting For Pearls’ that show the most advancement. Jonna Lee’s otherworldly rasp does polarise but once overcome, the sonic rewards can be startling.
RÖYKSOPP’s final album took five years but it ultimately benefitted the outcome. ROBYN returned for a shorter, sharper version of ‘Monument’, but her thunder was stolen by some supreme vocal performances by SUSANNE SUNDFØR and Jamie McDermott from THE IRREPRESSIBLES. ‘Save Me’ and ‘Running to The Sea’ reinforced why the former is the Nordic vocalist of the moment, while the latter’s contributions to ‘You Know I Have To Go’ and ‘I Had This Thing’ showed how modern electronic dance music can be both vibrant and heartfelt. Only the pointless profanity laden ‘Rong’, ironically featuring ROBYN, stopped ‘The Inevitable End’ from achieving perfection.
‘The Inevitable End’is available as a 2CD, 2LP and download via Dog Triumph / Cooking Vinyl
The ULTRAVOX reunion had a profound effect on the diminutive Mr Ure if nothing else and got him to fully focus on the solo album he’d been working on since 2001. The time that passed was worth it; songs like ‘Become’ recalled his work with VISAGE while the title track revealed that despite the moustache and long raincoat back in the day, he’d always wanted to be in PINK FLOYD. Meanwhile, instrumentals such as ‘of ‘Wire & Wood’ and ‘Bridges’ showed that Ure’s music still has subtlety. But the undoubted highlight of ‘Fragile’ was ‘Dark, Dark Night’, a co-write with MOBY. The song built to an amazing climax with the follically challenged pairing forming a partnership made in heaven. Overall, the album was an impressive musical diary of a man pondering and confronting his post-midlife.
‘Fragile’ is available as a CD, LP and download via Hypertension Music
The profile of Norwegian singer / songwriter / producer SUSANNE SUNDFØR is probably at its career zenith right now, thanks to some quality collaborations with a number of high profile friends. Her last album ‘The Silicone Veil’ in 2012 was her UK debut and saw her experimenting more within electronica.
Since then, there has been her epic guest lead vocal on M83’s ‘Oblivion’ for the theme song of the same titled Tom Cruise film, as well as key appearances with fellow Norwegians RÖYKSOPP and Swedish producer KLEERUP.
And that’s without mentioning her remix of MAPS’ single ‘AMA’, and production work for BOW TO EACH OTHER on their debut album ‘The Urge Drums’.
This all sets the scene nicely for SUSANNE SUNDFØR’s new, eagerly anticipated solo album ‘Ten Love Songs’.
Largely self-produced, it is to an extent, a concept album: “To me, love isn’t always what it seems” she said, “When I first started to work on the album, I wanted to make an album about violence, and then, as I was writing the songs, there were violent aspects, but they were usually about love or relationships, how you connect with other people. And in the end, that turned out to be 10 love songs”.
‘Ten Love Songs’ also sees a move towards pop as Sundfør explained: “I wanted to be more mainstream. Not in the sense of the sound, but in terms of expression. There is something about pop songs that, to me, hits me more than any other types of song do. I’ve been a sucker for pop music since I was a little girl, and I’ve always wanted to make a pop record. So I guess this is my attempt!”
But although there are tunes, this is not exactly TAYLOR SWIFT’s ‘1989’ and ‘Ten Love Songs’ is still very much a compelling and tense leftfield record. This is best exemplified by the wonderful launch single ‘Fade Away’. A three minute Nordic Noir drama with fabulous vocal layers, pulsing electronics and a terrific polyphonic synth solo that Sundfør says was inspired by QUEEN, there are rousing, almost gospel like qualities that set the tone for the album.
However, it all begins like a short church service with ‘Darlings’ where a harmonium accompanies Sundfør’s mournful vocal, lamenting about the hopes and fears of love with that Nordic gospel flavour which was hinted at on ‘Fade Away’. “So, it’s definite, then…” announces Sundfør as she ponders the impending emotional gloom.
Photo by Luke Gifford
Hints of DEPECHE MODE’s spiritual longing also emerge so when ‘Accelerate’ kicks in, it sounds exactly what the Basildon boys SHOULD be doing today musically.
In collaboration with BIG BLACK DELTA, solemn synths with a haunting Cold War spectre linger before a detour into some rumbling rhythmic aggression, the combination of live drums and machines providing a magnificent rhythmic surrealism.
Sundfør’s voice is resigned one moment, then vicious the next. The chorus turns into a widescreen assault before some baroque organ interludes into the piercing climax.
The semi-acoustic ‘Silencer’ begins sparsely but when strings by the TRONDHEIMSOLISTENE chamber ensemble appear, things beautifully build like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack for a glacial Spaghetti Western with a Fjord as the scenic backdrop. ‘Kamikaze’ has a similar sparse introduction but then launches into a loose four-to-the-floor stomp. There’s stabs of spacey synths, gunshots and war noises before a sudden harpsichord break for the conclusion… it is this kind of bizarre musical jigsaw puzzle that makes ‘Ten Love Songs’ such a fascinating experience that continually asks the question: “what’s next?”.
And what’s next is the album’s ambitious ten minute centrepiece ‘Memorial’ which sees Sundfør’s partnership with M83 revisited. Again featuring strings by TRONDHEIMSOLISTENE, the tone is neo-classical in the mould of MUSE, but this is not surprising as the track was inspired by QUEEN; “I love Queen, and Freddie Mercury” Sundfør said, “I saw Live Aid when I was about 18, they broadcast it on one of the channels in Norway and I was just sucked towards the screen when he came on stage. His charisma was insane”.
In three distinct movements, Sundfør’s soaring vocal takes a breather for the middle section as a piano and orchestra take the limelight. ‘Memorial’ is a beautiful mini-drama and her cry of “You are heartless cos you took off my dress, and you never put it on again” captures an exposed and haunting vulnerability. These kinds of heartfelt theatrics have been attempted before by Sundfør on tracks like ‘Meditation In An Emergency’ from ‘The Silicone Veil’ or ‘Walls’ from her self-titled debut, but not all together on this grand a scale.
Despite an eerie, droning intro with echoes of THE WALKERS BROTHERS’ ‘The Electrician’, second single ‘Delirious’ thunders with some hard-edged electronics bolstered by more strings, coming over like THE KNIFE meeting DEPECHE MODE. With her moving vocal vibrato, our heroine announces “I’m not the one holding the gun”… this is love as a reluctant battle.
Things calm a little with ‘Slowly’, probably the most classic Scandipop song of the collection. Digital claps also give the track a more vintage feel but although comparatively lighter to the rest of ‘Ten Love Songs’, it is still richly swathed in melancholy.’Trust Me’ exposes more of Sundfør’s heartache as the sombre harmonium of ‘Darlings’ makes a return in a development of the opening track while she snarls “you cannot replace me…”
Photo by Sofia Fredrick Sprung
So with sinister swirls and a frantic techno rattle to finish, ‘Insects’ possesses a dark finality that is more aggressive than anything else the album.
As the machine gun drums attack, unsettling air raid sirens soundtrack an impending apocalypse. It is said that only insects will survive a nuclear holocaust, so this is a stark consequential reminder of what could happen in a world without love.
‘Ten Love Songs’ is one of those artistically accomplished albums that grows and gets better with each listen. Some components maybe unconventional, but the end results are still songs and therefore accessible in many ways. Accessibility is something THE KNIFE moved away from in their quest for experimentation… SUSANNE SUNDFØR though has successfully married the avant and pop approaches for an emotive commentary on the human condition.
“It is very taboo to be a vulnerable person” she concedes, “It’s almost like the biggest weakness today is to be a human being, because everything around us is about perfection, as if we’re trying to be like robots… If I listen to music or read books where people are saying ‘I’m very human, I feel a lot of things, bad things, good things’, that’s what touches me.”
With thanks to Debbie Ball at Create Spark
Quotes by SUSANNE SUNDFØR from the ‘Ten Love Songs’ album biography by Dan Cairns
‘Ten Love Songs’ is released on 16th February 2015 by Sonnet Sound via Kobalt in CD, vinyl and download formats