Tag: Soft Metals (Page 2 of 2)

2013 END OF YEAR REVIEW

The Correct Use Of VCOs

The year started appropriately enough with an electronic number ‘2013’ by Belgian duo METROLAND.

For the first six or seven months of 2013, it proved to be one of the most productive periods in electronic pop music. Not since the Autumn of 1981 when had so many significant releases coincided. It was strangely quality and quantity, a rare occurance in modern times for music, especially of the synth propelled variety.

That time saw THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Dare’, GARY NUMAN ‘Dance’, ULTRAVOX ‘Rage In Eden’, DEPECHE MODE ‘Speak & Spell’, SOFT CELL ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’, HEAVEN 17 ‘Penthouse & Pavement’, SIMPLE MINDS ‘Sons & Fascination’, NEW ORDER ‘Movement’, JAPAN ‘Tin Drum’ and OMD ‘Architecture & Morality’ all coming out within weeks of each other!

Interestingly from that list, only JAPAN and SOFT CELL are missing as currently performing entities although Marc ALmond himself made a number of concert and theatrical appearances during the year.

OMD got back to their Kling Klang roots with their best album in 30 years entitled ‘English Electric’. Although enthusiasts of the band’s pioneering work were satisfied, fans of OMD’s pop phase were confused as to why Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys had recorded an electronic album influenced by KRAFTWERK! This was an indicator of how the band have mutated and been perceived over the years.

But that was nothing compared with DEPECHE MODE whose single ‘Soothe My Soul’ was remixed by ZZ TOP’s Billy F Gibbons… although recognisably reworked, listeners could barely notice the join, thus fully confirming DM’s development into the world’s premiere stadium electro blues combo. Their album ‘Delta Machine’ was a big improvement on 2009’s ‘Sounds Of The Universe’, but it was no ‘English Electric’.

Among the other evergreens with new long players in 2013 were PET SHOP BOYS, BEF and Alison Moyet.

Messrs Tennant and Lowe finally worked with the ubiquitous Stuart Price to produce an album that was ‘Electric’ by name and electric by nature.

Meanwhile Moyet found her most musically compatible partner since Vince Clarke in Guy Sigsworth for the stunning return to form of ‘the minutes’.

Over at BEF, Martyn Ware assembled his most impressive cast of guest vocalists yet including ERASURE’s Andy Bell and CULTURE CLUB’s Boy George for the third volume of the ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ covers series; subtitled ‘Dark’, it featured some of Ware’s most starkly electronic work since he was in THE HUMAN LEAGUE.

Another welcome return came from electronic disco pioneer GIORGIO MORODER. The icon is now 73 years old yet with his stomping track ‘Racer’, he proved could mix it with all the young pretenders. Indeed, his autobiographical contribution to DAFT PUNK’s tribute ‘Giorgio By Moroder’ reflected the respect and admiration he holds within the dance world.

Although only a few years younger, KRAFTWERK’s Ralf Hütter showed no real signs of moving his iconic brand forward despite the 3D spectacle of ‘Der Katalog 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8’ live retrospectives in Düsseldorf, London, Tokyo and Sydney.

With the various hosting art spaces still seeing their ticketing systems collapse, was this really just an elaborate publicity stunt? After all, how many heritage acts get on the news for sending websites into meltdown?

It certainly didn’t do KRAFTWERK any harm as a headlining slot at Latitude Festival and its resultant BBC TV coverage proved. However, new material was still not forthcoming but such is the demand that several unscrupulous eBay dealers in Russia were passing off CD-Rs of three tracks from METROLAND’s 2012 album ‘Mind The Gap’ as KRAFTWERK demos!

Meanwhile, former colleague Karl Bartos exorcised his Kling Klang ghost with ‘Off The Record’, a collection of his unreleased KRAFTWERK-era compositions which made a fine companion to OMD’s ‘English Electric’; his upcoming 2014 world tour is eagerly anticipated.

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Photo by David Levine

ULTRAVOX opened for SIMPLE MINDS but with Midge Ure spending most of the year doing the rounds with solo acoustic gigs, their synth lynchpin Billy Currie released his ninth solo offering ‘Balletic Transcend’.

Meanwhile in a revival of a project that both had been involved in, a fragmented VISAGE unleashed their first album in nearly 30 years to a mixed reception.

With just Steve Strange remaining from the original line-up, ‘Hearts & Knives’ was essentially a solo project.

There were heated exchanges on social networks between Strange and his estranged Blitz Club partner Rusty Egan about misappropriated royalties and the validity of the reconfigured brand. Whatever, the raw video recording of the new VISAGE performing ‘Fade To Grey’ live at London’s Hoxton Bar and Kitchen stood as possibly the most embarrassing moment of the year.

Artists who made their name during Electroclash such as ADULT. and MISS KITTIN made welcome returns in 2013 while also from that era, LADYTRON’s Helen Marnie released her first solo offering ‘Crystal World’ crowd funded via Pledge Music.

It was a novel but effective way of securing a promotional budget that involved fans in the process by offering exclusive updates and an opportunity to purchase exclusive memorabilia. In MARNIE’s case, items on sale ranged from hand written lyric sheets to her Mini-Cooper and a bikini!

Meanwhile, former SNEAKER PIMPS sparring partners IAMX and Kelli Ali also went down the Pledge Music route, pointing the way forward to a music industry future without interference from record label middle men. But the failure of several crowd funding campaigns proved the model was not for everyone.

The Britpop era was not particularly known for its use of electronics but two acts who did indulge, REPUBLICA and DUBSTAR, made formal comebacks on the live circuit in 2013.

mesh-webSeeded from around the same time, Bristol’s MESH made possibly their best album yet in ‘Automation Baby’. Celebrating 30 years in the business, techno icon WESTBAM assembled a diverse cast including Iggy Pop, Lil’ Wayne, Hugh Cornwall, Bernard Sumner and Richard Butler for an intriguing set called ‘Götterstrasse’. It was the surprise electronic release of the year.

There were also sophomore albums from LITTLE BOOTS, HURTS and AUSTRA which all drew muted responses from fans following their well received debuts; the promising spark had been present in all three acts appeared to have faded although each album had strong highlights. But there were impressive debuts in 2013 by GHOST CAPSULES, COLLINS and MODOVAR; and all this happened before the summer had started!

On the more guitar driven end of the spectrum, NIGHT ENGINE pursued an art rock aesthetic that would have made Berlin-era DAVID BOWIE proud. And of course, The Dame himself returned with ‘The Next Day’ headed by the touchingly reflective ‘Where Are We Now?’.

Adopting a more post-punk attitude, GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS showed how battered synths, clanky guitars and motorik drums could still come together in perfect harmony while maintaining an air of mystery.

Meanwhile, WHITE LIES continued their New wave odyssey into how THE TEARDROP EXPLODES would have sounded had Julian Cope not got upset by BLANCMANGE’s ‘Happy Families’; they even borrowed a snatch of ‘Fade To Grey’ for the title track of their third album ‘Big TV’. This was despite the mainstream music media’s attempt to downplay their use of synths although the band countered that by declaring TEARS FOR FEARS, TALK TALK and THE BLUE NILE as kindred spirits rather than INTERPOL or EDITORS.

The second half of the year brought the much anticipated debut from CHVRCHES entitled ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’. The trio have moved the goalposts as far as modern synthpop is concerned but they were not without their flaws such as the inexplicable decision to use dreary indie-styled male lead vocals on a pair of tracks.

But despite this, with sold out club tours, gigs supporting DEPECHE MODE in Europe and the might of Virgin Records behind them, world domination surely beckons and with it, a new raised profile for the synthesizer overall.

Virgin Records themselves celebrated 40 years in the business with a series of London concerts and its legacy in electronic music was represented by CHVRCHES, HEAVEN 17, SCRITTI POLITTI and SIMPLE MINDS. Although the label is now owned by the Universal Corporation (having been under the control of EMI since 1992), its colourful history remains associated with the championing of new and unconventional music forms during its fledgling years.

And in a diversion from music, one-time Virgin signee Thomas Dolby produced and directed ‘The Invisible Lighthouse’, a documentary on a monument local to his childhood home. In a novel style of presentation, the film went on a tour accompanied by a live narration and soundtrack from TMDR with some of his songs dispersed in between.

Gary Numan’s long delayed ‘Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)’ finally became a reality. A move to LA relaxed him to the point where he was posting his holiday photos on Twitter!

Musically though, he was as intense as ever but luckily, ‘Splinter’ was not the one dimensional riff monster that had been threatened and contained some of his best work in over ten years. Interestingly NINE INCH NAILS, who have been a major influence on Numan and vice versa, also returned after a period of absence with ‘Hesitation Marks’.

Over at Mute, there was another Sorcerer versus Apprentice battle when GOLDFRAPP and Polly Scattergood both released new records in the same month. Now no longer on Mute but very much still part of the extended family, MOBY released the impressive ‘Innocents’ which didn’t tinker too much with his well established formula and included a great collaboration with Wayne Coyne of FLAMING LIPS that sounded like Gary Numan in a Pentecostal church!

In 2013, North America appeared to be turning into a new haven for synth talent. There was LA pop duo NIGHT CLUB while also based in the region, SOFT METALS continued their Detroit Techno inspired progression with ‘Lenses’. Slightly eastwards, Texan based FEATHERS made an impressive statement with their debut long player ‘If All Now Here’; a European tour supporting DEPECHE MODE in January 2014 was fine recognition of their talent.

Fellow Texans ELEVEN:ELEVEN finally got their debut album ‘Through The Veil’ out too. New Yorkers HOLY GHOST! sprung the enjoyable electronic disco of ‘Dynamics’ while also from the area, AU REVOIR SIMONE returned with their fourth album ‘Move In Spectrums’ after an extended break.

But one slow burning combo were Canada’s TR/ST; led by the enigmatic and moody Robert Alfons, at times he sounded like a young LEONARD COHEN updating the sleazy demeanour of SOFT CELL. They toured extensively and garnered some more well deserved attention for their grower of a debut ‘Trst’ which actually came out back in January 2012!

However, all the good work was undone by a ticket lottery fiasco for an end of year London gig in which unsuccessful applicants were not notified until three hours before the concert, this despite communications to the contrary telling people to arrive at the door with ID. In this ever more challenging music industry, artists have to be innovative with promotion. But restricting availability and tricking fans into what was effectively a marketing scam for a larger London concert in May 2014 only alienated audiences.

Like in previous years, Europe was again a centre of creativity. Athens based synth maidens MARSHEAUX were back with their maturer fourth album ‘Inhale’.

Meanwhile, their production team FOTONOVELA gathered DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood, MIRRORS’ James New, KID MOXIE and SECTION 25’s Bethany Cassidy for ‘A Ton Of Love’ while riding on a crest of a wave from ‘Helen Of Troy’, their acclaimed collaboration with OMD.

The song ‘Our Sorrow’ featuring James New turned out to be particularly poignant as after a year of minimal activity, MIRRORS called it a day.

From their Berlin HQ, NOBLESSE OBLIGE delivered an ‘Affair Of The Heart’ with its stark funereal cover of ‘Hotel California’ while Slovenian trio TORUL impressed audiences opening for MESH. Still fiercely independent and uncompromising, THE KNIFE divided opinion with their performance art presentation of their experimental double opus ‘Shaking The Habitual’. From Demark, TRENTEMØLLER delivered his third album ‘Lost’, an adventurous blend of real and electronic instruments that more than proved his suitability as a future prospective DEPECHE MODE producer.

With the critical acclaim still resonant for her 2012 album ‘Highwire Poetry’, Karin Park continued to tour the world but found time to co-write Norway’s Eurovision entry ‘I Feed You My Love’. Sung by Margaret Beger and leftfield by pure pop standards, it came a respectable fourth but predictably, the UK gave it nul points! Following their wonderful eponymous debut album in 2012, SIN COS TAN swiftly followed it up with the more organic but still synth friendly ‘Afterlife’.

Never one to sit still, the duo’s Jori Hulkkonen also released an EP ‘European Splendour’ with John Foxx which sounded every bit as good as its title. Foxx didn’t sit still either and collaborated with THE BELBURY CIRCLE while also curating a covers EP of his own songs featuring GAZELLE TWIN and I SPEAK MACHINE.

Back in the UK, ANALOG ANGEL, AUTOMATIC WRITINGF.O.X, GAPTOOTH and MAPS flew the flag for the domestic scene.

But best of the local crew though were VILE ELECTRODES; they snagged a prestigious support tour with OMD in Germany where the local crowds connected with Anais Neon and Martin Swan’s analogue electricity and opened for John Foxx in Brighton on their return. Their long awaited debut LP ‘The future through a lens’ did not disappoint and from it, the closer ‘Deep Red’ was easily the best OMD song that Humphreys and McCluskey never recorded.

As with last year, attempts were made within the industry to centralise electronic pop and dance music. But as the cancellation of the Playground Festival due to poor ticket sales proved, the two factions do not mix. Scheduled to appear on the Saturday, despite the technological influence of Gary Numan, John Foxx and Wolfgang Flür on the dance scene, the fans of those artists generally loathe the lifestyle and attitude of club culture.

Most just want to see the headline act and go home… the idea of paying an extra premium on the ticket price for a couple of DJs tagged on the see out the early hours of the morning simply doesn’t appeal! And those who are there for the DJs and larging it certainly aren’t interested in live bands. The sooner promoters and record labels realise that electronic pop and dance music are NOT the same thing, the better. That said, it was a difficult time for live events generally with a number of name acts playing to half full venues.

Elsewhere, the music press were on the backfoot with rumours that the once mighty Q Magazine and NME were in trouble. But lazy journalism and lack of adventure by both were as much to blame as any proliferation of the internet or smart technology. That aside, 2013 was a superb year where the music spoke for itself. Many of the veterans gave the best up-and-coming artists a real run for their money.

And while the amount of new electronic music was at an all time high and the finest exponents rewarded with assorted high-profile opportunities as a result, a number of lesser accomplished acts suffered from the comparison with the best.

Helen Marnie said: “I think it’s great that electronic music is on a high right now but it’s so saturated as well. Everyone’s going it’s great cos it’s electronic and I’m like ‘I’m not so sure’… but there’s lots of good stuff”.

In fact, the standard was so high in 2013 that some of the acts who ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK featured in 2012 probably wouldn’t have got a look in this year. From those who sounded like the middling bands featured on the Janice Long Show circa 1985 to 21st Century synthpop reincarnations of HUE & CRY, the volume of music available in many ways made it quite easy to distinguish the excellent from the pleasant but ordinary material that was, as the dreaded ‘Say Nothing Auntie Of Landfill Indie’ Jo Whiley would say, “alright”!

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK accepts the continuing mission to maintain a degree of quality control in 2014 as it has done since its inception.

As @TheRobMo put it on Twitter: “gatekeepers / tastemakers… it’s what we go to you for”. Meanwhile on the site’s Facebook, regular reader Brian O’Malley correctly added: “Not all synth music is great, and not all guitar music is rubbish”.

But the final word on 2013 must go to BEF and Glenn Gregory (or HEAVEN 17 if you prefer) via their electronic cover of an Ervin Drake song made famous by Ol’ Blue Eyes:

“And it poured sweet and clear… it was a very good year”


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2013

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: MAPS Vicissitude
Best Song: MAPS Built To Last (Free School Remix)
Best Gig: ALISON MOYET at London Royal Festival Hall
Best Video: HOLY GHOST! Dumb Disco Ideas
Most Promising New Act: JUVENILES


KAREN BUXTON

Best Album: VILE ELECTRODES The future through a lens
Best Song: HURTS Someone to Die For
Best Gig: OMD + VILE ELECTRODES at Leipzig Haus Auensee
Best Video: OMD Night Cafe
Most Promising New Act: MARTYN BAILEY


DEB DANAHAY

Best Album: GARY NUMAN Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)
Best Song: COVENANT Last Dance
Best Gig: GAZELLE TWIN at London Roundhouse Studio Theatre
Best Video: TRUST Bulbform
Most Promising New Act: TRUST


STEVE GRAY

Best Album: CHVRCHES The Bones Of What You Believe
Best Song: MARGARET BERGER I Feed You My Love
Best Gig: BAS 2013
Best Video: IAMX I Come With Knives
Most Promising New Act: TORUL


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: OMD English Electric
Best Song: FOTONOVELA feat MIRRORS Our Sorrow
Best Gig: OMD + VILE ELECTRODES at Cologne E-Werk
Best Video: FEATHERS Land Of The Innocent
Most Promising New Act: FEATHERS


SOPHIE NILSSON

Best Album: ALISON MOYET the minutes
Best Song: SPACEBUOY Breathe
Best Gig: DEPECHE MODE at Copenhagen Parken
Best Video: DEPECHE MODE Soothe My Soul
Most Promising New Act: CHVRCHES


RICHARD PRICE

Best Album: PET SHOP BOYS Electric
Best Song: OMD Dresden
Best Gig: KARIN PARK at The Lexington
Best Video: MONARCHY featuring DITA VON TEESE Disintegration
Most Promising New Act: CHVRCHES


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th December 2013

SOFT METALS Interview

Making sine waves on their extensive tour of North America at the moment are LA based duo SOFT METALS.

The couple met through a mutual love of art and music, releasing their first EP ‘The Cold World Melts’ in 2010. Fusing Detroit techno and elements of acid house with European experimental forms, Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks have just released ‘Lenses’.

It’s the follow-up to their well received eponymous debut album, through notable Brooklyn indie label Captured Tracks. Over an arsenal of cool vintage synths and classic analogue drum machines, SOFT METALS’ repeating rhythms and incessant arpeggios at times recall ORBITAL, particularly with tracks featuring female vocalists such as ‘Funny Break’.

They have an accessibly minimalistic sound with Hall’s pretty vocals reminiscent of DOT ALLISON’s flirtatious aura combined with ASTRUD GILBERTO’s innocent vulnerability as brilliantly showcased on ‘Voices’, ‘Do You Remember?’ and ‘Psychic Driving’. The result is a sexy ice maiden allure over bright hypnotic electronic sketches that comes over exquisitely Métaux Mous.

Compared with other North American duos, they are maybe a bit shinier than CRYSTAL CASTLES and perhaps have a more accessible sound than XENO & OAKLANDER. But that’s not to say SOFT METALS don’t have much weightier influences as their affectionate cover of THROBBING GRISTLE’s ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ proves.

In the midst of a busy touring schedule, SOFT METALS were kind enough to took time out to chat to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK…

How did you arrive at using vintage synthesizers for your sound?

Ian: It is the sound of a lot of music that I like; software instruments don’t sound the same. If you want a specific sound, you have to get the instrument. The tactical interface, the limitations of the machines and the quirks of the individual interfaces inspire sounds that you might have otherwise not discovered.

Which particular synths are your favourites and what is it about them that you like?

Ian: I like the Pro-One. It has the 2 track step sequencer which is good for sketching out simple melodies and basslines. It also has very extensive modulation capabilities which can result in near modular sounding tones. I also like the Mono/Poly. It has a really nice SSM filter which is really smooth and silky sounding. Having 4 oscillators that can have different wave shapes and octaves can result in complex tones. If you couple that with the arppegiator, it creates a very hypnotic soundscape.

Patricia: My favorite synth to play is the Juno 60. It’s a great synth for live performances since it has patch memory and the layout is very user friendly. Its tones are a big part of the SOFT METALS sound.

You appear to have quite European influences in your sound with the rhythmical template locked in more American dance forms?

Ian: We draw a lot of or inspiration from early Detroit techno from artists such as DREXCIYA, CARL CRAIG, etc. We continue to be influenced by early Warp records releases and early industrial/underground synth music like THROBBING GRISTLE, CHRIS & COSEY and LIAISONS DANGEREUSES.

What is the creative dynamic between the two of you when writing and recording?

Ian: Usually we start a recording session with a jam. That could come from a beat and a bassline. It usually begins with the 808 and Pro-One. We try to keep it pretty simple, maybe adding an additional melodic line from the JX-3P or Juno 60. Patricia will take the raw form of the jam and work in vocals. Once a solid vocal idea is in place, we edit, arrange, and add flourishes to the song.

With EDM being so popular in the US plus the more underground scenes like in New York with XENO & OAKLANDER, Wierd Records and the Minimal Wave label, do you feel an affinity with any of the movements or tribes?

Ian: Yes, we played at Weird Records night a few years ago. We are big fans of XENO & OAKLANDER, Weird Records and the Minimal Wave label.

SOFT METALS have a quite warm sound despite the chills as it were…

Patricia: The dark / cold place that our music comes from is a mysterious place inside your psyche rather than a dystopian outside world. We are more interested in psychedelia and exploring the stratification of consciousness. It’s an adventure of the mind and perception. A feeling of caution and reluctance is there, but it’s never cold or unfeeling. There are moments of love, beauty, doubt, sadness, ecstasy, and fear, and curiosity in our music. Our music is about intimacy with yourself, the person you love, a feeling of wonder and the weight of life. Some people say that synthesizers can’t convey emotions like traditional instruments, but I disagree. I hear my emotions reflected in synthetic tones.

How do you look back on your first album back in 2011?

Patricia: I was really proud of us when we made our debut album and I am really proud of our new album ‘Lenses’. SOFT METALS is about learning and growing and dancing and feeling. We give our best to our music and as time goes on, I think we get better and better at what we do. Each recording is a snapshot into out lives, feelings, and skill level at the time. It’s exciting for us to see the evolution.

‘Lenses’ appears to be a natural progression from your debut, how do you see it?

Patricia: I agree. It is a natural progression. Our music comes about very organically. It’s a reflection of what we are feeling and thinking at the time. It’s a pure expression.

You’re experimenting more with tuning, both synthetically and vocally on this album?

Patricia: On the song ‘Lenses’, the bassline and the lead melody are a shallow experiment with bi-tonality. We were inspired by DREXCIYA with that one. They play with that dynamic a lot and we love it. This is also a device employed by Darius Milhaud who has been an inspirational figure in composition for Ian for a long time. We wanted to try it out.

‘Hourglass’ is a rather fabulous instrumental. How do you decide whether a track should have a vocal or not as you have done a fair number?

Patricia: 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.

It was quite a brave move to put a lengthier ambient track such as ‘Interobserver’ on the album?

Patricia: The first inspirations of SOFT METALS are the improvised sessions we do together. We don’t want to get too far removed from what breathed life into SOFT METALS.

Over your two albums, which of your tracks have been your favourites and why?

Ian: I like the mood of ‘No Turning Back’. I was really happy with how the drums ended up sounding on that song. On ‘Lenses’, I like its simplicity and off-kilter feeling. It feels like it’s not quite right, but that’s what makes it engaging. ‘Celestial Call’ was recorded all in one take with no overdubs. I loved how it turned out.

Patricia: ‘Psychic Driving’ has probably been the best showcase of my voice in a song and when I perform it well at a show, it seems to transfix and captivate the audience. The melodies and tones are beautiful. ‘In the Air’ is my favorite SOFT METALS song to dance to. We have been getting a great response from the audience with that one. ‘Always’ is a lot of fun to me, too. I love its spaced out vibe.

You are a well presented duo… is the visual aspect of SOFT METALS important? Will you utilise video more in the future?

Patricia: Yes, we have been taking a DVD of original video art created by our friends Eva Aguila and Brock Fansler on tour with us to be projected at our shows. It looks amazing. We shot 3 music videos for this album and will be in the videos which is a new for us.

You’re embarking on a very extensive tour of North America at the moment. How are you finding it and does being a couple make it easier, or more challenging?

Patricia: So far the tour has been going very well. We are currently driving through Wyoming in what seems to be the middle of nowhere. The shows have been a lot of fun. I think we needed to do an extensive tour. Previous to this, we only felt comfortable with the studio environment which made live performances come off stiff. We have shaken off our inhibitions and have become more adaptable to various environments. I’m having a lot of fun and I’m not tired yet. Every show has been different, but that’s a good thing. Being a couple makes it feel like we are on holiday.

What next for SOFT METALS. Have you any plans to come to Europe?

Patricia: We definitely want to come to Europe.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to SOFT METALS

Special thanks also to Sara Casella at Captured Tracks

The albums ‘Soft Metals’ and ‘Lenses’ are released by Captured Tracks and available in CD, vinyl and download formats

They undertake an extensive tour of the USA and Canada throughout August and early September. Please visit https://www.facebook.com/softmetals for more details

http://soundcloud.com/soft-metals

http://capturedtracks.com/artists/softmetals/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
17th August 2013

SOFT METALS Lenses


Los Angeles based duo SOFT METALS’ debut album was a promising collection of danceable bubbly electronics, with one foot in the squelch ‘n’ bleep framework of ORBITAL and the other in more experimental climes such as THROBBING GRISTLE.

Wonderful tracks like ‘Eyes Closed’, ‘Psychic Driving’, ‘Do You Remember?’ and ‘Voices’ showcased Patricia Hall angelically vulnerable voice over Ian Hicks’ inventive vintage synth and drum machine interplay. However, some of the album’s other tracks were slightly on the repetitive side so for their second album ‘Lenses’, the tracklisting has been rationalised to eight key musical constituents in just 37 minutes.

Layered with reverbed sequences and driven by the snap of analogue rhythm composers, ‘Lenses’ continues where ‘Soft Metals’ left off and visually, the artwork follows the continuity of its predescessor as if to indicate this. Like Astrud Gilberto gone electro with Chris & Cosey at the production helm, the ‘Lenses’ title track sets the scene and is vibrant yet dreamy. The wonderful launch single ‘Tell Me’ is one of the duo’s trademark adventures in hypnotism like earlier single ‘Voices’ but adds some unsettling bursts of portamento for an aural twist.

Easing off the tempo slightly with a strange, almost electro-reggae beat, ‘When I Look Into Your Eyes’ is sexily morbid with Patricia Hall exclaiming “I wonder how it ends?” when “I die and he dies, we all die!”. Following that, ‘No Turning Back’ builds with pulsing arpeggios but swathed in a bare, eerie atmosphere, it retains the ice maiden quality prevalent throughout the SOFT METALS sound.

SOFT METALS are adept as instrumentals as ‘Celestial Call’ from the debut and their ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ tribute ‘Implanted Visions’ have proved. ‘Hourglass’ allows Hall to take a breather and this beautiful wordless wonder sections nicely with some fabulous harmonic oscillations. This vibrancy continues on ‘In The Air’, another metallically tingly and danceable tune that harks back to the days of acid house.

Also, complimented by that hard acid squelch, ‘On A Cloud’ does what it says on the tin and ventures into neo-ambient territory despite its lively tempo construction. But ‘Interobserver’ goes the full hog with a lengthy surrealistic journey that throws in the spectre of cosmic legend Klaus Schulze. It’s all very brave but quite whether it belongs on an album of songs though is debatable.

But overall, where SOFT METALS will appeal over other girl / boy duos is that their approach is quite visceral. How many times is does it seem XENO & OAKLANDER are deliberately singing off-key, that CRYSTAL CASTLES are being as difficult as possible by piling on the distortion or that TOMORROW’S WORLD won’t up the tempo in case it’s seen as uncool?

With their Eurocentric influences, shadowy techno template and altered state of escapism, SOFT METALS make the best of what they’ve got and run with it. Between their first two albums, Ian Hicks and Patricia Hall have showed their potential and proved they can produce some excellent work. When they push all the right buttons, SOFT METALS are quite superb.


‘Lenses’ is available now on Captured Tracks as a CD, blue vinyl and download

https://www.facebook.com/softmetals

http://soundcloud.com/soft-metals

http://capturedtracks.com/artists/softmetals/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Suzy Poling
15th July 2013

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 SONGS OF 2011

So what did ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK think was hot back in 2011?

It featured a day in March when THE HUMAN LEAGUE, DURAN DURAN and John Foxx all released new albums, while VILE ELECTRODES launched their debut EP. In a year when the synth pioneers were finally recognised for their valuable contribution to popular culture, here are our 30 favourite songs of 2011 presented in alphabetical order by artist…


AUSTRA Spellwork

Canadian trio AUSTRA deliver a stark, baroque form of electronica fuelled by sexual tension. Like a gothic opera which successfully blends light and darkness with fragility and power, Katie Stelmanis and friends borrow the tones of classic DEPECHE MODE and cross it with THE KNIFE for this, their most accessibly brilliant synthpop offering from their debut album. The B-side ‘Indentity’ is a worthy listen too.

Available on the CD ‘Feel It Break’ via Domino/Paper Bag Records

http://www.austramusic.com


TARA BUSCH Rocket Wife

Fresh from opening for John Foxx, Tara Busch released a charity EP for The Bob Moog Foundation. If you’ve ever wanted to hear that bizarre sonic other worldiness of GOLDFRAPP’s first album ‘Felt Mountain’ again, it’s right here on ‘Rocket Wife’. With hints of the eerie classic Star Trek theme, this is really does sound like THE CARPENTERS in outer space! Calling occupants of interplanetary craft, across the universe…

Available on the download EP ‘Rocket Wife’ via The Bob Moog Foundation

http://tarabusch.com/


DAYBEHAVIOR It’s A Game (MARSHEAUX Remix)

With wonderful riffs and an uplifting chorus, this is delicious electronic pop from the cult Swedish trio of Paulinda Crescentini, Tommy Arell and Carl Hammar. Remixed by Athens synth maidens MARSHEAUX, this has the best of both worlds and could easily be mistaken for Sophie and Marianthi. However, PaulindaCrescentini’s Italo Nordic charm gives ‘It’s A Game’ a wonderfully distinct and alluring Mediterranean flavour.

Available on the download EP ‘It’’s A Game’ via Graplur Records

http://www.daybehavior.com


BETH DITTO Do You Need Someone?

BETH DITTO would probably be the Alison Moyet of modern electro if she didn’t prefer the funky punk of her band GOSSIP. ‘Do You Need Someone?’ sees Ms Ditto’s powerful and passionate yearning adding soul to the sparkling electronic dance groove. With production from SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO, KRAFTWERK’s ‘Computer World’ tones towards the song’s coda are a marvellous touch. A future career as an alternative disco diva beckons.

Available on the CD EP ‘Beth Ditto’ via Deconstruction Records/Sony Music

http://www.gossipyouth.com

http://www.simianmobiledisco.co.ukk


THOMAS DOLBY Spice Train

While Dolby’s album return was largely organic with hints of bluegrass and Americana, its token synthpop offering was the wonderful ‘Spice Train’. Over its hypnotic, squelchy sequence and mechanised dance beat, it gets strangely humanised by a Mariachi horn section. With the kitchen sink and a host of exotic influences thrown in via Bollywood and the Middle East, ‘Spice Train’ does exactly what it says on the tin.

Available on the CD ‘A Map Of The Floating City’ via Lost Toy People.

http://www.thomasdolby.com


DURAN DURAN Being Followed

‘All You Need Is Now’ saw DURAN DURAN cyclically return to the funk-led syncopated pop of their first two albums. ‘Being Followed’ is a superb sequencer assisted disco number with a tingling metallic edge, touches of THE CURE’s ‘A Forest’ and Nick Rhodes’ vintage string machine capture the tension of post 9/11 paranoia. Simon Le Bon gives it his all and while he is technically one of the most chronic singers of his generation, he is unique AND untouchable…

Available on the CD ‘All You Need Is Now’ via Tape Modern

www.duranduran.com


LANA DEL REY Blue Jeans (NIKONN remix)

NIKONN’s brand new album ‘Instamatic’ is suitably Mediterranean so add that instrumentation to the voice of raspy New Yorker Lana Del Rey and the end result is a glorious sun-kissed dancefloor moment. Somehow, you end up feeling much happier after dancing to, what is essentially in its original form, a quite stark, heartfelt minor key ballad. Now officially sanctioned, the remix brought the former Lizzie Grant to an electronic pop audience.

Originally issued as a free download but currently unavailable.

http://www.lanadelrey.com


SOPHIE ELLIS-BEXTOR Synchronised

From her under rated album ‘Make A Scene’ which includes contributions from Richard X and Armand Van Buuren, the appropriately titled Synchronised is a synthpop tune with a distinct YAZOO flavour to it. All highly appropriate as she supported ERASURE during their forests tour this year. This superbly cements her electro kinship which has been apparent since ‘China Heart’ from her ‘Tripping The Light Fantastic’ in 2007.

Available on the CD ‘Make A Scene’ via Douglas Valentine Limited

www.sophieellisbextor.net


JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS Watching A Building On Fire

The best track on the ‘Interplay’ album is a co-written duet with Mira Aroyo of LADYTRON. ‘Watching A Building On Fire’, with its chattering drum machine and accessible Trans- European melodies, oozes a synthetic smokiness. Aroyo’s counterpoint is almost playfully feline although Foxx’s inherent dystopianism gives it his stamp, making this a second cousin of ‘Burning Car’. The Andy Gray remix is also a worthy acquisition.

Available on the CD ‘Interplay’ via Metamatic Records

http://blog.johnfoxxandthemaths.com/

www.metamatic.com


GAZELLE TWIN The Eternal

JOY DIVISION’s original on ‘Closer’ was one of the most fragile, funereal collages of beauty ever committed to vinyl but Elizabeth Walling has covered this cult classic and made it even more haunting! Replacing the piano motif with eerily chilling synth and holding it together within an echoing sonic cathedral, she pays due respect while adding her own understated operatic stylings… you should hear her version of ‘Louie Louie’!

Available on the download EP ‘I Am Shell I Am Bone’ via Anti-Ghost Moon Ray Records

www.gazelletwin.com


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Never Let Me Go

Susanne Sulley does her best LITTLE BOOTS impression with this opener to ‘Credo’, the long awaited comeback album from THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Sounding like ‘Crash’ gone right or CLIENT gone funky, it is also auto-tuned to the hilt as Da League go all contemporary with this marvellous slice of electronic pop. Let’s hope it’s not another ten years before there’s new material!

Available on the CD ‘Credo’ via Wall Of Sound

www.thehumanleague.co.uk


IAMAMIWHOAMI Clump

‘Clump’ could be the sound of the drums on OMD’s ‘History Of Modern Part 1’ but it’s actually this kooky little number by IAMAMIWHOAMI aka Jonna Lee. A synthetically charged amalgam with vintage sounds and even a toy piano thrown in, this is a bit brighter than some her contemporaries if still delightfully odd and mysterious. It’s musically more Bjork than FEVER RAY although she does share the same management with the latter.

Available on the download single ‘Clump’ via iTunes and Amazon

http://www.facebook.com/pages/iamamiwhoami/270417754335


IAMX Ghosts Of Utopia

IAMX have captured an electro Gothic aesthetic that combines the theatrics of Weimar Cabaret with themes of sex, alienation and dependency. Despite the lyrical and aural fervor, Corner’s songs are strongly melodic with an accessible grandeur. The superb lead single ‘Ghosts Of Utopia’ from new album ‘Volatile Times’ has instant appeal with its exhilarating mechanical drive and electrickery. His scream of “this is psychosis” is wholly believable! Dance in the dark!

Available on the CD ‘Volatile Times’ via Republic of Music/BMG

http://iamxmusic.com/


LADYTRON Mirage

Flautist textures dominate the more sedate pace of ‘Mirage’ almost as a reaction to the loudness war of previous album ‘Velocifero’. Helen Marnie’s voice beautifully suits the synthetic atmospherics while the widescreen, spacious mix compliments a catchy tune that has hints of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. Although confusing some of their fans, given room to explore, ‘Gravity The Seducer’ is that under rated album which will be hailed as a classic in years to come.

Available on the CD ‘Gravity The Seducer’ via Nettwerk Productions

http://www.ladytron.com


MAISON VAGUE Synthpop’s Alive

Living in a dream since 1983 and as a homage to ‘The Pleasure Principle’, MAISON VAGUE mainman Clark Stiefel responded musically to a YouTube video entitled ‘Synthpop Is Dead’. The opening salvo is brilliant and the lyric of “Everyone’s entitled to opinion, you have yours and well I have mine” hits home. But it’s the retort of “And though it seems that our opinions differ, you’ll agree in time!” that says it all as the sound of PLACEBO gone electro. This battlecry has heart, soul and humour.

Available on the download album ‘Synthpop’s Alive’ via Amazon

http://www.maisonvague.com


MIRRORS Secrets

Closing MIRRORS’ outstanding ‘Lights & Offerings’ long player, ‘Secrets’ shifting phat bass riff across two octaves is pure Kling Klang, driven by an intense percussive march. An epic at over ten minutes in length and split into three movements, the ambient interlude of the second section consists of an aural sculpture that plays with the mind. It then suddenly reprises with a piercing military tattoo for its finale with unsettling voices for some added claustrophobic edge.

Available on the CD ‘Lights & Offerings’ via Skint Entertainment

https://www.facebook.com/theworldofmirrors/


MOBY Be The One

Yes, Moby has settled into a formula but he does it well. One of the more immediate tracks from the excellent independently released ‘Destroyed’ album, ‘Be The One’ is full of rich layered synth strings with moody chordial sweeps over a motorik beat and textured vocoder. Despite the simplistic robotic couplet “I was the hell that you needed – I was the one when you needed love”, it strangely exudes warmth and emotion.

Available on the CD ‘Destroyed’ via Little Idiot Records

http://www.moby.com


NIGHTLIFE On The Run

From their second EP Radio, with Caroline Myrick’s soft vocals attached to Darin Rajabian’s classic electro disco inspired backing, ‘On The Run’ could be described as Ellie Goulding gone right and is free of folkisms. : “I want back the soft quiet days of ever, when there was lemonade and sand, and rainy screen doors and sad movies; when the minutes were no one else’s but ours”.

Available on the download EP ‘Radio’ via their website

http://nightlifepop.com/


GARY NUMAN The Fall

Anthemic gothic rock is what the former Gary Webb deals in these days but ‘The Fall’ is a lot less heavier and one-dimensional than the offerings on previous album ‘Jagged’. Co-written and co-produced by Ade Fenton as an interim project when work on the ‘Splinter’ album was put on hold, with a fair smattering of gritty synths, this achieves a much better sonic balance and Gary Numan’s most accessible number in years.

Available on the CD ‘Dead Son Rising’ via Mortal Records

https://garynuman.com/


THE OPIATES Anatomy Of A Plastic Girl

THE OPIATES are former ELECTRIBE 101 chanteuse Billie Ray Martin and Norwegian DJ and producer Robert Solheim. They have been dubbed as The Carpenters of Electro. Several years in the making, the debut album contained ‘Anatomy Of A Plastic Girl’, a fine avant pop structure that told the tale of a young wannabe actress in Los Angeles who reflects on the facial surgery that has left her scarred…

Available on the CD ‘Hollywood Under The Knife’ via Disco Activisto Records

https://www.facebook.com/theopiates


QUEEN OF HEARTS Spanish Sahara

QUEEN OF HEARTS is Liz Morphew, formally of RED BLOODED WOMEN; this mysterious young royal with her assorted headgear and couture is modern electropop’s own Queen Amidala. From a galaxy far, far away and light years ahead of the poptastic competition, this moody, pulsing cover of indie rockers THE FOALS is transformed by a hypnotism textured with spacious synths to give our Queenie room for some sexy breathiness.

Available on the download EP ‘The Arrival’

www.iamqueenofhearts.com


SECTION 25 Colour, Movement, Sex & Violence

Best known for ‘Looking From A Hilltop’ in 1984, the song’s husband and wife vocalists Larry Cassidy and Jenny Ross have sadly since passed away. So it was highly appropriate that for SECTION 25’s recorded return, fronting the former punks would be Larry and Jenny’s daughter Bethany. She does a fine job with this danceable synth led ditty which captures that classic hedonistic Manchester vibe that recalls THE OTHER TWO’s ‘Tasty Fish’.

Available on the download EP ‘Invicta’ via Fac 51 The Hacienda

www.section25.com


SOFT METALS Eyes Closed

SOFT METALS are a newish electro duo comprising Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks. Now resident in Los Angeles, they have an accessibly minimal sound with Hall’s pretty vocals being a particular delight and reminiscent of Dot Allison’s flirtatious aura. ‘Eyes Closed’ is probably the highlight from their very promising self-titled debut album, elements of ORBITAL creeping into the danceable bleep fest.

Available on the CD ‘Soft Metals’ via Captured Tracks

www.facebook.com/softmetals


THE SOUND OF ARROWS Longest Ever Dream

Stefan Storm and Oskar Gullstrand hail from Gavle in Sweden. Both filmic and musical elements are important factors in THE SOUND OF ARROWS. Produced by Richard X and featuring a sweet guest vocal from Sarah Nyberg Pergament aka action biker, the choral patches and the symphonic templates are just so reminiscent of OMD. Coupled to some fantastically optimistic ambition, ‘Longest Ever Dream’ is a panoramic joy!

Available on the CD ‘Voyage’ via Skies Above

www.thesoundofarrows.com


TENEK What Do You Want?

Featuring mournful violin by Chris Payne from The Gary Numan Experience, ‘What Do You Want?’ is the first TENEK track that could be described as possessing a degree of beauty. The Brtish duo’s more rousing anthemic style takes a breather here and although this has more in common with their other ballad track ‘The Art Of Evasion’, the subtlety and strings add a new sonic dimension to the developing TENEK sound.

Available on the CD ‘EP2’ via Toffeetones Records

www.tenek.info


TIGER BABY Landscapes

TIGER BABY are a Copehagen trio led by singer Pernille Pang with Benjamin Teglbjærg and Nikolaj Tarp Gregersen in synthetic support. They released their debut album ‘Noise Around Me’ in 2007. Stylistically, this has all the unmistakeable melodic sensibility that Scandinavian pop acts seem to naturally possess as pretty arpeggios and wispy vocals combine for some dream laden electro accompanied by a fabulous video.

Available on the CD ‘Open Windows Open Hills’ via Gunhero records

http://www.tigerbaby.dk


VILE ELECTRODES My Sanctuary

VILE ELECTRODES are a colourful beat combo who combine analogue synths with fetish fashion. Their sound could be described as THE SMITHS reincarnated as CLIENT but ‘My Sanctuary’, the closing track on their debut EP is a sweeping moody epic that recalls imperial phase OMD. Anais resigned melancholic vocal gives that ice maiden demeanour over glorious symphonic synth strings and deep sombre tones. It’s magnificence embroiled.

Available on the CD EP ‘Vile Electrodes’

www.facebook/vileelectrodes


WHITE LIES Strangers

They’re the 21st Century equivalent of THE TEARDOP EXPLODES but with no brass. WHITE LIES however are much more bombastic with synths carrying melodies and assorted effects. Driven by a sweeping theme and deep bass thud before leading to a sense of urgency in the verse, a thoroughly anthemic chorus doesn’t appear until halfway to increase tension. This is possibly what TX could have sounded like if Julian Cope hadn’t gone to live under a tortoise shell!

Available on the CD ‘Ritual’ via Fiction/Polydor Records

https://whitelies.com/


XENO & OAKLANDER The Staircase

Chugging arpeggios, clattering primitive drum machines and slightly unorthodox vocals, minimal duo XENO & OAKLANDER give a brilliantly vibrant offering of vintage futurism. ‘The Staircase’ is their most immediate offering yet. Based in Brooklyn, part of their authentic Europeanism comes from Liz Wendelbo’s wispy French / Norwegian charm. Writing with partner Sean McBride since 2004, they successfully supported JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS in 2011.

Available on the CD ‘Sets & Lights’ via Wierd Records

http://xenoandoaklander.com/


ZEBRA & SNAKE Empty Love Song

Those dark Nordic nights certainly have their effect as this cynical tune from this Finnish duo indicates. Comprising helpfully of two friends Tapio and Matti, ZEBRA & SNAKE fuse vintage electronics with a touch of ambient dexterity as an “artistic form of therapy”. ‘Empty Love Song’ is suitably bittersweet and sounds a bit like MGMT’s ‘Time To Pretend’ after six months in deep freeze! However, despite its lyrical stance, it possesses a grand anthemic quality.

Available as a free download from http://soundcloud.com/freeman-pr/zebra-snake-empty-love-song

www.zebraandsnake.com


Text by Chi Ming Lai
21st December 2011

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