‘This World Is Ours’ is the sophomore album from FORM, following up 2018’s debut offering ‘Defiance + Entropy’.
The trio comprise singer Mark Bebb of SHELTER, Keith Trigwell of DEPECHE MODE tribute band THE DEVOUT and producer Rob Dust, whose studio prowess can be heard on works by dark European electronic acts such as DE/VISION, MESH and TORUL.
With songs written by Trigwell and Bebb, ‘This World Is Ours’ uses the one word song title aesthetic like Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle’, COCTEAU TWINS ‘Treasure’ and ULTRAVOX’s ‘Brilliant’ did.
Beginning with a short but epic untitled gothic instrumental swathed in the spirit of Gary Numan, the album starts proper with the type of industrial Schaffel anthem done many times by MESH; ‘You’ is accomplished although it is unfortunate that Bebb sings of being “predictable”. Whatever, this template continues to be favoured by acts aspiring to join the Amphi circuit and will remain popular with their crowds for years to come.
The opening salvo is followed by a pair of sombre complex ballads in ‘Here’ and ‘Succumb’ which will need an appropriate frame of mind to digest. Meanwhile the brooding ‘Extinction’ does build steadily but could have done with gathering more momentum in its progress. But the rhythmic ‘Glitter’ utilises cracking glam claps and grabs the bull by the horns with an electronic pop tune that THE HUMAN LEAGUE used to be so good at; a fabulous whirring synth solo from Trigwell in the style of Billy Currie is also a nice touch.
‘Glitter’ is followed by another instrumental interlude that takes its cue from DEPECHE MODE before they became a tedious blues influenced pseudo-rock combo… but FORM, please give these things titles in future because it is extremely annoying for reviewers that these worthy pieces have no identity or point of reference!
Battening down the hatches in the face of adversity, ‘Protector’ is another ballad but in waltz time, while ‘Hazed’ plays on the propulsive Schaffel thing again with Bebb hitting falsetto as it attempts to emulate ‘Strict Machine’ by GOLDFRAPP. The speedy thrust of ‘Viva’ is like a goth ERASURE doing ‘I Feel Love’ and the closest the album gets towards the more sparkly template of SHELTER, but ‘Athenian’ deals with toxic relationships with some suitably sharp backing.
A four-to-the-floor dance anthem in ‘World’ closes the album on an optimistic note after all the intensity and could be considered FORM’s own electro take on the ethos of ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing’. But has the album ended? No… and a final untitled instrumental sourced from the DEPECHE MODE B-side ‘Christmas Island’ sneaks in to present a reality check.
FORM have produced a worthy second album and if you enjoyed ‘Defiance + Entropy’, then ‘This World Is Ours’ is a natural progression that will also be appreciated. Followers of DE/VISION, MESH, TORUL, MACHINISTA and BEBORN BETON might find this musical statement on the fragility of the world up their dark alley as well.
Dark synthpop trio FORM are SHELTER’s flamboyant frontman Mark Bebb, Keith Trigwell from DEPECHE MODE tribute act SPEAK & SPELL and noted German producer Rob Dust.
Releasing their debut album ‘defiance + entropy’ last Autumn on Infacted Recordings, home to TORUL and FROZEN PLASMA, their rousing vocals and acute understanding of the sound design delivered an impressive collection of songs and instrumentals.
From the industrial Schaffel of ‘Poison’ to how everything HURTS should have been with ‘Surrender’, ‘defiance + entropy’ told a story which would appeal to enthusiasts of alternative electronica. The trio chatted about the chemistry of FORM…
You were busy with your own musical vehicles, so what was the motivation for and genesis of FORM?
Mark: FORM was organic. No grand master plan, just a shared love of dark, electronic music. Stuff and ideas evolved and developed pretty easily really.
Keith: Mark wanted to do something dark and I wanted to write with someone creatively different to myself. It started casually working on ideas from a ‘pool’, and it just flowed, so we quickly started writing fresh tracks from the ground up.
How did you set about making music that was as distinct as possible from SHELTER and DEPECHE MODE?
Keith: Being in a technical / exacting tribute band is as far removed from a free original project as imaginable, so the projects and their reasoning were always going to be separate, but not in a forced way. DM will always be influential, but if the flow of what’s going on in the room is heading one way, it would be stupid to steer it a different way? This is now so much the case that the two projects won’t even share equipment.
Mark: There are no parallels between DM or SHELTER and it was a conscious choice to ensure that happened. Both independent projects are still our love and passion and they are what they are. No value or enjoyment in second grade replication, only in reinvention.
Were there any particular artists or approaches that inspired the concept of FORM?
Mark: Every electronic artist past and present will inevitably influence everything we do, but there’s a vast difference between being inspired by something versus wishing to sound like something. We wanted to forge our own sound using our vast array of influences in whatever ‘form’ that takes
Keith: I think we find inspiration in the fearless attitude of several bands, and the distillation of ideas to something economic. Which is a journey in its own right and there’s an entire history of pioneers in that regard.
Rob: At that time I had made a remix for SHELTER’s ‘iPop’ project with Andy Bell. Mark liked it so much that he really wanted to do something with me. At some point he spoke to me again and told me that he had something new planned and if I wanted to join.
Is this how FORM became a threesome?
Mark: Rob had done some remix work previously and so unions had been forged much earlier and his production prowess speaks for itself. Check out his discography, it’s like an A-Z of dark electronica plus he’s an absolute diamond geezer is our lil Dustmeister.
Keith: To try to self-produce would have been problematic because writing would have been influenced by trying to produce at the same time and production would have been tainted by having written the tracks and heard them a thousand times. I think Rich Silverthorn from MESH knew Rob so Mark spoke to him and we ended up bouncing tracks back and forth. After a few passes, Rob homed in on the sound we wanted and wanted to keep it.
Rob: Mark and Keith send me their demos in advance. I listen to them and we talk on the phone and discuss what could best fit the track. Which feeling we want to transport, what kind of story behind it etc … then I try to add the certain something and to give the mix the necessary power … each one of us knows what he does and can do, so that we work together perfectly and complement each other!
What was the three way creative dynamic?
Keith: Mark and I write the material. I engineer and program it to a point that feels complete yet raw, then commit it to a production process with Rob and wait for the real magic, with different tracks at different stages of completeness. And this process works exceptionally well because it means we have defined areas to focus on, just trust in each other, accept what happens and relax into it. That in itself keeps the creative juices flowing. I think our record is writing and recording four songs in one extended weekend.
Mark: Keith and I write and arrange while Rob produces. The dynamic is fast-paced, mutually one-directional, professionally and personally sound. It’s a very easy combo and one that generates musical ideation at a ridiculous pace. And makes everything very easy and effortless and therefore enjoyable as a process. We each know exactly what are roles are and we each bring to the table and we try not to cross into each other’s arenas too much where at all possible
‘Poison’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a MESH album?
Mark: MESH, especially the two Richards are good friends of mine and being compared to them and their musical talents makes me very happy indeed so thank you.
Keith: Yes, I heard that recently, probably because if the offbeat ‘Strict Machine’ bass swing. I saw Richard S recently and we talked about that. As far as I’m concerned, MESH are a real force so it’s a great compliment. Here Chi, have a free snog x
Rob: Why not ?!? … ?
Marc Almond looms on the glam laden ‘Sugar’?
Mark: That’s likely to be down to me now and then frivolously wishing to push the envelope of my gender fluidity. Again, being mentioned in the same breath as a true icon kinda makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You have a knack of doing that Chi. When are you gonna ask me out on a date then lol?
Keith: Yes ‘Sugar’ is an old pool track that came with a dollop of offbeat rock arrogance. But by the time it went through the FORM process, it took the seedy club reflection in what Mark and I have described as a “grubby knickers off” moment. With Mark’s strong lyrical direction and the fearless, unrestrained performance it had that punch.
How did you best integrate the software and hardware available, both vocally and instrumentally?
Mark: We only used vocally and sound-wise just what we felt each track needed and nothing more. That has a two-pronged benefit; a) that being finished songs together quicker with less fuss and b) the melodies and ideas remain fresh and strong as they haven’t been over-produced or unnecessarily tampered with beyond giving them what they need to be complete to us as a unit.
Keith: Yes there was a lot of new synths, equipment and software and we use all of them, but part of the discipline has been to resist switching gear on for the sake of it, otherwise it stops being an expressive process and becomes some strange sort of mental box-ticking exercise.
Rob: I owned tons of synth years ago (end of 90s – early 2000) and sold them to work completely ‘in the box’. For electronic music, it’s perfect in my opinion… so many great software synths and stuff out there… it’s awesome!! But you need a great microphone and gear to record the vocals of course… but that’s it! But it’s true… It’s more fun to work on a real synth…. 😉
What was the idea behind having those untitled instrumental interludes?
Mark: We wanted the listener to be taken in a journey (I know, I hate that cliché too but in this context, it’s true), we wanted the listening experience to be one of seamless and each segue interlude is the connective tissue that interplays and introduces the next movement or feel of the tracks succeeding it.
Keith: For me it’s two reasons. First, some modern albums don’t feel like they document a period or purpose, feeling fragmented or compiled. The interludes join things in a purposeful way. The second reason is down to overcoming the fear of running out of ideas and hoarding them. I wanted to overcome this, to use the ideas, and then just trust the universe to send back more.
‘Infinity’ is one spirited album closer…
Keith: ‘Infinity’ has deep, personal meaning for me, being started with a determination to write about a vivid experience over a couple of nights in 2017, working the musical progression and programming the synths so it gave Mark space. Mark and I discussed the experience in some depth and then we then set about taking the ideas on to what is now my favourite track on ‘defiance + entropy’.
Mark: ‘Infinity’ is basically a song about dying but we tried to produce it in the most emotionally uplifting and joyous way possible. Death is inevitably very much guaranteed and therefore a huge part of life actually. Both ends of the spectrum are tightly interwoven and it’s usually tougher for those left behind. That’s essentially the fundamental sentiment behind that track. Vocally intense for me that one, but most of them are actually come to think of it on ‘defiance + entropy’!
Which tracks from ‘defiance + entropy’ have been your own favourites and why?
Mark: I can’t speak for the guys but for me personally, simply for the emotion and drama injected into them vocally would probably have to be ‘Stranded’, ‘Infinity’ and commercially possibly ‘Override’. I think ‘Surrender’ has a beautiful ambience to it too and quite bitter sweet lyrical content about love and the threat of its loss
Keith: I’m pleased with the whole album, but stand out tracks are ‘Infinity’, ‘Stranded’ because of the sheer performance and statement with ‘Addict’, ‘Poison’ and ‘Override’ for the pace and energy.
Rob: Same as Keith … ?
How have you found launching effectively a new act into the marketplace?
Mark: It’s the easiest thing I’ve ever been a part of. As I mentioned above, the ideas flow at a rate of knots, the guys are incredibly talented at what they do, what’s not to love. We have a fantastic label manager in Torben Schmidt who took a respected punt on us and with the chart positions of ‘Poison’ and the album have reached already have very lovingly and surprisingly validated the fact that there is a lil place in the market for us which is a lovely feeling, way more than we had expected.
Keith: We all did it for the love of dark melodic electronic songs, wanting to do the best we could with no self-inflicted limitations. When there’s that freedom in a group who understand, respect, share and have trust, you end up very quickly benefitting, learning and constantly improving.
Have you been able to social media to your advantage?
Mark: There’s lots of posts flying around and many lovely supportive words of love and support from fellow formlings around the globe coming on-board. Essentially people either like your music or they don’t. We didn’t wanna over-hype anything with FORM and probably won’t. It’s something we would rather be assessed on its musical integrity rather than bells and whistles. Let’s see what happens.
Keith: Yes I think so. We’re in different locations so it’s not like we’re permanently generating content. But because FORM’s has a purpose, we can find things to say about what we’re doing. Once we settle into the whole process, post ‘defiance + entropy’ and playing live we can meaningfully take social media forward in a measured and appropriate way.
What next for FORM? Is this a one-off project?
Rob: I don’t think so… it’s just the beginning… ?
Keith: Live dates are next so there’s some umm’ing and ahh’ing about possible appearances that feel right for us and the label, so I’m looking at live delivery. As the creative process didn’t stop after we sent the album off for mastering, we just kept writing and the next album was more than half written by the time we signed to Infacted. It’s now pretty much written (and named) based on what we collectively found nourishing.
Mark: Probably not allowed to say anything which is exactly why I will as you know, but the second album is already written and recorded… so yes, this year it will be getting produced up by Rob in Berlin and no doubt at some point, just appear when we’re all happy with it. Might be next year or late this year, no pressure though and that’s also what we enjoy with such a supportive label as Infacted with Torben. It will be released when we feel it’s ripe for release.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to FORM
2018 saw JEAN-MICHEL JARRE celebrate 50 years in the business and whether the world really needed another of his compilations, ‘Planet Jarre’ was probably one of the better collected representations of his work for casual admirers.
But not standing still and releasing his fourth new album in three years, ‘Equinoxe Infinity’ continued the story as the French Maestro tuned 70.
SOFT CELL made a totally unexpected return for a huge one-off farewell gig at London’s O2 Arena; and with it came a boxed set, the ‘Northern Lights’ single and other new recordings which have raised hopes for a new album.
From the same era, FIAT LUX announced plans for their debut album ‘Save Symmetry’ with an excellent lead track ‘It’s You’, while B-MOVIE came up with their most synth-propelled single yet in ‘Stalingrad’.
But one act who actually did comeback with a brand new album in 2018 were DUBSTAR; now a duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie, as ‘One’ they reminded audiences as to why they were the acceptable face of Britpop with their bridge to Synth Britannia.
IONNALEE finally released her debut opus ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ and her tour which included choice cuts from IAMAMIWHOAMI, proved to be one of the best value-for-money live experiences in 2018, one that was even endorsed by Welsh songstress Charlotte Church.
CHVRCHES offered up their third album ‘Love Is Dead’ and continued their role as international flagwavers for quality synthpop, while EMIKA presented her best album yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, an exquisite electronic record with a Bohemian aura.
JOHN GRANT was on an artistic roll both solo and in partnership with WRANGLER as CREEP SHOW with two new albums. However, he was beaten by Neil Arthur who managed three albums over a 12 month period as NEAR FUTURE and BLANCMANGE including ‘Wanderlust’, possibly the latter’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation.
It was a busy year for STEVE JANSEN with a new solo ambient work ‘Corridor’, the well-received vinyl reissue of JAPAN’s two Virgin-era studio albums and his epic, more organically flavoured band project EXIT NORTH with their debut long player ‘Book Of Romance & Dust’.
SARAH NIXEY went on some ‘Night Walks’ for her best solo album yet, a wonderful collection of everything she had ever been musically all wonderfully rolled into one.
Meanwhile TRACEY THORN went back to the ‘Dancefloor’ with her ‘Record’ which content wise was right up there with some of ALISON MOYET’s electronica output from the last five years.
Hungary’s BLACK NAIL CABARET offered some noirish ‘Pseudopop’ and promising Norwich youngsters LET’S EAT GRANDMA got more deeply into electronica without losing any of their angsty teenage exuberance on their second album ‘I’m All Ears’.
Less intense and more dreamy were GLASSHOUSE, the new duo fronted by former TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler.
While the new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’ is still to be finished, Glenn Gregory teamed by with live keyboardist Berenice Scott as AFTERHERE. Their long-time friend Claudia Brücken performed as xPROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and partnered up with one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Jerome Froese, releasing the ‘Beginn’ album in the process.
Highly appealing were a number of quirky Japanese influenced female artists from around the globe including COMPUTER MAGIC, MECHA MAIKO and PLASMIC. But there were also a number of acts with Far Eastern heritage like STOLEN, FIFI RONG, DISQO VOLANTE and SHOOK who continued to make a worthy impression with their recorded output in 2018.
Heavy synth rock duo NIGHT CLUB presented their ‘Scary World’ on the back of tours opening for COMBICHRIST and A PERFECT CIRCLE while also from across the pond, NYXX and SINOSA both showcased their alluring potential.
At the poppier end of the spectrum, Holger Wobker used Pledge Music to relaunch BOYTRONIC with their most recent vocal incumbent James Knights in an unexpected twist to once again prove the old adage to “never say never” as far as the music industry is concerned.
Meanwhile, Chris Payne co-wrote and co-produced the excellent ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP with KATJA VON KASSEL while also revealing plans for an autobiography and opening for his old boss…
The surprise album of the year was CHRIS CARTER with his ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ while using a not dissimilar concept with their second album ‘Hello Science’, REED & CAROLINE took their folk laden synthpop out on a US tour opening for ERASURE.
STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY harked back to the days when GARY NUMAN and OMD would release two albums in one year by offering ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ and ‘The Electric Eye’ in 2016. Those veteran acts themselves celebrated their 40th anniversaries by going orchestral, something which SIMPLE MINDS also did when they opted to re-record ‘Alive & Kicking’ for the ’80s Symphonic’ collection although Jim Kerr forgot how a third of the song went!
With SIMPLE MINDS also performing a horrible and barely recognisable ‘Promised You A Miracle’ during BBC’s ‘The Biggest Weekend’, making up for the live joke that his former band have become was one-time bassist Derek Forbes with the album ‘Broken Hearted City’ as ZANTi with Anni Hogan of MARC & THE MAMBAS fame.
Other former members of high-profile bands were busy too with Ian Burden, formally of THE HUMAN LEAGUE returning with the Floydian ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ while A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS reformed briefly for an orchestral re-run of their catalogue.
With the release of their second album ‘Kinetik’, EKKOES handed over THE HUMAN LEAGUE support baton to SHELTER who came up with their best body of work yet in the more introspective shades of ‘Soar’
That darker approach manifested itself on singer Mark Bebb’s side project FORM with Keith Trigwell of SPEAK & SPELL whose debut long player ‘defiance + entropy’ also came out in 2018.
Having been championed by RÖYSKSOPP, Wales’ MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY returned with ‘Infinity Mirror’ while riding on the well-deserved momentum from opening for OMD, Ireland’s TINY MAGNETIC PETS embarked on their first headlining tour.
NINA’s long awaited debut album ‘Sleepwalking’ was a fine hybrid of synthpop and the currently fashionable Synthwave aesthetic; her live double billing with Canadian synthpopsters PARALLELS was one of the hottest tickets of the year.
However, the endless AOR excesses, moonlight sax breaks and highly unimaginative band monikers using numbers between 80 to 89 affixed to an archaic technology reference, illustrated by yet another neon sunset, VCR grid and Lamborghini, were becoming tiresome.
As Synthwave cynics, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s touch paper was being lit big time! The whole point of the synthesizer’s role during the Second British Invasion of the US was to fight against the insipid overtures of AOR like TOTO, CHICAGO and JOURNEY, NOT to make music coated with its horrid stench as THE MIDNIGHT did in 2018 with their long player ‘Kids’.
But there was naivety within some quarters too; electronic music did not begin in 2011 with ‘Drive’, an above average film with a good if slightly over rated soundtrack. However, its cultural influence has led to a plethora of meandering tracks made by gamer boys which sounded like someone had forgotten to sing on them; perhaps they should have gone back to 1978 and listened to GIORGIO MORODER’s ‘Midnight Express Theme’ to find out how this type of instrumental music should be done?
Many of the newer artists influenced by Synth Britannia that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has featured have sometimes been accused of being stuck in the past, but a fair number of Synthwave acts were really taking the soggy biscuit with their retro-obsession.
Rock band MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown. There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”!
But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD, while electropop diva LA ROUX used a visual stylisation for ‘In For The Kill’ that has since been claimed by Synthwavers as their own, despite it being from 2009 when Ryan Gosling was peddling graveyard indie rock in DEAD MAN’S BONES 😉
This was one of the bigger ironies of 2018, especially as MUSE have always used synths! One of Matt Bellamy and co’s biggest musical inspirations is ULTRAVOX, indicating the trio probably have a better understanding of the fusion between the synthesizer, rock and classical music, as proven by the ‘Simulation Theory’ bookends ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Void’, than any static laptop exponent with a Jan Hammer fixation.
It is interesting to note today how electronic music has split into so many factions, but there’s still the assumed generalisation that it is all one thing and that synthpop fans must also like Synthwave, Deep House, EDM, Industrial and those tedious beach chill-out remixes.
Back in the day and even now, some fans of THE HUMAN LEAGUE didn’t like OMD, DEPECHE MODE fans only liked DEPECHE MODE and rock fans had a token favourite electronic band.
Out of all the acts from the Synth Britannia era, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had very little time for THOMPSON TWINS despite their huge international success, but their leader Tom Bailey’s 2018 solo recorded return ‘Science Fiction’ was warmly received by many.
Just as COLDPLAY and SNOW PATROL fans don’t all embrace ELBOW, it is ok to have preferences and to say so. Not liking the music of an artist does not make you a bad person, but liking everything does not make you a better person either… in fact, it shows you probably have no discerning taste! In 2002, SOFT CELL warned of a ‘Monoculture’, and if there is no taste differentiation in art and music, it will spell the end of cultural enhancement.
With twelve tracks over just under an hour, ‘defiance + entropy’ is a remarkably ambitious artistic statement for a debut long player.
FORM are SHELTER’s flamboyant frontman Mark Bebb, Keith Trigwell – the production mastermind behind DEPECHE MODE tribute act SPEAK & SPELL and noted German producer Rob Dust whose credits include ALPHAVILLE, CAMOUFLAGE, DE/VISION, MESH, TORUL, CHROM and FRONT 242.
Basically, if you like your dark flavoured melodic synthpop, then FORM are the band for you.
Beginning with ‘Prelude 47’, this is a Depeche flavoured instrumental that crosses elements of ‘Christmas Island’ and ‘Ice Machine’ while demonstrating Trigwell’s acute understanding of the sound design behind DEPECHE MODE. And as Gahan, Gore and Fletcher can’t be bothered to sound like this anymore, then someone else should be able to take up the mantle.
With the rugged ‘Override’, there are shadier dynamics but also rousing vocals and danceable rhythms without dumbing down the set-piece. Meanwhile, the industrial Schaffel of ‘Poison’ sees Bebb adopt a lower register than many would be used to from SHELTER. Almost machine-like and deadpan but effective, with a fabulously catchy chorus, this is a track that MESH would be proud to call one of their own.
‘Surrender’ with its digital claps and deep Eurocentric atmosphere is everything HURTS should have been after ‘Wonderful Life’; it’s a much edgier proposition than the BROS Go To Bavaria stance that Theo and Adam adopted and a Speak & Spell machine even makes its presence felt to add a strange dystopian quality.
There’s some real intensity to ‘Enough’, while the haunting epic of ‘Stranded’ is the darkest ERASURE song that Andy Bell and Vince Clarke never recorded. With elements of ‘Running Up That Hill’ slowed to a canter, Bebb belts his heart out over a rumbling percussive backbone, but double tracked to his own whisper to create that air of mystery which loomed on THE DOORS ‘Riders on the Storm’.
A relative of ‘Poison’, ‘Sugar’ has a more frantic 6/8 pace like an electro-glam ERASURE. Borrowing a few sounds derived from ‘Some Great Reward’, ‘Lies’ utilises further use of the swung Schaffel rhythms again as does ‘Fire’, a track which boasts an amazing swirling synth solo to behold.
‘Everlasting’ is perhaps the moment which is closest to SHELTER as a pure thrusting synthpop moment. More four-to-the-floor, ‘Addict’ penetrates the mind with its pulsing bass and wild synth lines.
A rich piano dressed ballad ‘Infinity’ closes ‘defiance + entropy’ and echoes SHELTER’s recent album ‘Soar’, something that is highly appropriate as Bebb’s vocal certainly does that while Trigwell’s swooping solo provides another highlight on this cinematic epic.
In common with a number of MESH albums, there are various instrumental interludes segued into the tracklisting; ranging from RECOIL inspired soundscapes and discordant doom laden romps, these largely work. But the final hidden track which comprises of Numan-esque rumbles and schizo voices for that horror movie effect, while interesting, sticks out like a sore thumb and sonically sounds out of place with the rest of the long player.
‘defiance + entropy’ is impressive, if a bit long and probably could have done with one less song, one less interlude and the hidden track.
But this is a debut that has a good number of excellent songs that should scare the competent if slightly stagnant German alternative electronica scene, who have been peddling the loop laden 6/8 darkness for over 20 years and really need a rocket up their software.
‘defiance + entropy’ uses the following synthesizers: Minimoog Model D, Sequential Prophet 6, Dave Smith Instruments Pro-2, Moog Sub-37, Arturia V-Collection 5, Native Instruments Komplete 11, Native Instruments Maschine Studio, SynthMaster Collection, AJL VProm LinnDrum LM-2
Welsh duo SHELTER are back with their third album ‘Soar’ and it largely sees them in a more introspective mood.
The usually flamboyant pairing of Mark Bebb and Rob Bradley have toned down their approach following their previous full-length offering ‘Ascend’ in 2016.
That record had been something of a mixed bag, the sound of a band trying too hard and unable to shake off the spectre of ERASURE, although the more subtle ‘Figaro’ was an indicator of what they were capable of.
Their Crowdfunder mission statement said: “This time around, they’ve simply let the songs breathe their own life and be just what they felt the songs needed to be organically to tell their respective stories, without feeling a need to try to make them fit to any specific genre / sub-genre or generic template”.
For the start of ‘Soar’ though, it is business as usual for SHELTER with the supercharged opener ‘Electronica’ being an enjoyable PET SHOP BOYS styled celebration of electronic music utilising great synth lines and an appropriately procured robotic vocal aesthetic. The lyrics though, while well-intentioned don’t work so well.
Second song ‘Touch’ bases itself on ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ and throws in the kitchen sink with a variety of stabs, sawtooths and drops that might cause the listener to duck!
But ‘Karma’ sees SHELTER at their best yet and realising their potential with a dark and more restrained demeanour. “What you want is what you’ll get…” sings Bebb, “You will get a lot more that you planned”. With the message relayed loud and clear, Bradley compliments the sentiment with a dynamic production that hits the spot with its highs and lows.
One of the dilemmas that has always haunted SHELTER is the many directions they can take their music; one example is ‘Soar’ which is a good song with a great topline. However, it might have benefitted from a less rigid rhythmic base and a more synthpop-based treatment.
On their previous album, it was observed that Bebb needed to work on how best to apply his voice. He’s done his homework and really makes very good use of his vocal potential on the lovely ballad ‘Pieces’ which will surprise many who may not have taken to SHELTER in the past. It’s the sort of tune that Midge Ure might have come up with for his ‘Fragile’ opus.
Following on, the heartfelt ‘Survive’ is cut from a similar cloth although more synthetically orchestrated in its superb cinematic arrangement with Bebb’s deep proclamation that “the sun will rise”.
‘1984’ does what it says on the tin, recalling the great octave bassline driven melancholic pop of the classic era, while the optimistic ‘Extraordinary’ plays with a Latin flavoured R’n’B template that emulates SHAKIRA and actually works! ‘Sorry’ features more great synth work from Bradley while Bebb tries to put a positive slant on the end of a relationship.
Closing with the staccato drive of ‘Exhale’, it’s SHELTER punching the air and making their play for a spot in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie!
A big improvement on ‘Ascend’, this is a more refined SHELTER unafraid to explore their darker side. Less can more and ‘Soar’ is documentary evidence of that.