Phoenix-based VIOLET CHOIR comprise of Mickey Louise and Jesse Pangburn who met at college while studying jazz.
Previously indie rock combo THE PROWLING KIND and dream popsters MRCH, the output from their previous guises appeared in the soundtracks of ‘The Twilight Zone’, ‘Search Party’, ‘13 Reasons Why’, ‘Shameless’ and’ The Vampire Diaries’.
On ‘Reactions’, their 2017 debut album as MRCH, the duo fully embraced a more electronic sound to the point that it was more or less fully sequenced.
Inspired by the likes of independent artists like COMPUTER MAGIC aka DANZ CM and the synthwave breakthrough, there came a change of style with a change of name. So VIOLET CHOIR was born. Their self-titled EP makes use of a Prophet 08, some Moog via the Matriarch and Minitaur, plus Ableton soft synths simulating DX7 bell sounds. Meanwhile a live kit and drum machines sit in tandem alongside occasional electric guitar and bass.
Moody and percussive without resorting to synthwave clichés, ‘Don’t Come Around’ recalls the feel of KLEERUP’s ‘Nothing Left To Die For’ with Jenny Wilson. Nurtured on jazz and rock, Mickey Louise’s voice comes over rich and airy over an appealing electronic pop song that doesn’t sound as long as its five and a half minutes length might suggest.
Although adopting more of a post-punk template with live bass and guitar, ‘Tonight’ still has plenty of synths to add texture including a surprising jazzier twirl and a particularly piercing but melodic sound reminiscent of the sparkly feminine new wave vibe of PARALLELS or CHROMATICS.
Meanwhile, the chunky fuzz and deeper treated vocal counterpoints on ‘Dream About It’ offer a slightly gothic dimension to a slice of precision disco lento, with its dynamic highs and lows projecting in the manner of THE GOLDEN FILTER.
Maintaining that “life is strange”, the sombre root note bass and strident keyboard arpeggio patterns make ‘Friend Song’ the most archetypical synthwave styled offering on the EP, with the breezily wispy vocals contributing to an enjoyable chorus uplift.
The electroclash-derived ‘Kids On Sunset’ adopts a dominant bass triplet for a galloping rhythmic sway that becomes more addictive as it approaches the dancefloor. The presence of the coy feline allure of COMPUTER MAGIC with her track ‘Fuzz’ in particular and the much missed Texan duo ELEVEN:ELEVEN are strong.
This debut EP is not your run-of-the-mill synthwave-by-numbers and by bringing their experience from other genres, VIOLET CHOIR have largely avoided the usual musical catchphrases that can haunt modern electronic pop. What stands out are the songs and the musicality. Time will see Mickey Louise and Jesse Pangburn fully realise the promise on show here.
Who does mysterious Scandinavian flavoured electronica well, having swapped their respective countries for the gloominess of London’s Peckham? THE GOLDEN FILTER…
Vocalist Penelope Trappes, originally from Australia, joined Ohio-born synth programmer Stephen Hindman in New York before relocating to London.
Their first album ‘Voluspa’ showed some integral songwriting knowledge, with well-placed singles such as ‘Solid Gold’, ‘Thunderbird’ and ‘Hide Me’.
The second long player proper ‘Still // Alone’ showed further potential with its undiluted grown up timeless synthscapes and this summer celebrates ten years of the couple’s musical endeavours with ‘Autonomy’.
Fiercely independent; with writing, producing, mixing, video shooting and self-releasing, THE GOLDEN FILTER certainly need no-one to tell them what direction to take. They do it in their own time, their own way with no outside interactions.
Dismayed, as is most of the UK population, with the politics, the seemingly never ending Brexit saga, people’s apparent disconnection from reality and the growing socio-economic gap, the duo draw strength from their relationship and wish to impart some positivity into the otherwise darkening landscape.
‘Autonomy’ bears a resemblance to their previous works with the metallic eponymous title track, which is raw and tribal, minimalistically sparse and containing only a pinch of vocal. Meanwhile ‘Infinity’ bears all the characteristics of the duo’s well known sound, with a nod to THE PRODIGY laced throughout. ‘U OK’ though explores nature sounds and positive vibes, before being rudely interrupted and cut short.
The very retro feel of ‘Electric Light’ brings to mind the early works by THE HUMAN LEAGUE or NEW ORDER with Siouxie-esque vocals and old school sounds. The question of “are you ok?” seems to prevail throughout the album, with a calling to be open minded and kind hearted to the fellow human beings.
‘Downturn’ is dark and cinematic, very David Lynch style; weird on the surface, but meaningful deep beneath. But a new kind of diluted pop manifests itself on ‘Coercion’, which brings the works of Toyah and co to mind. Here is where Trappes sings her sorrow away and Hindman showcases his capable musicality, painting a backdrop to the mournful lyrical content. ‘We Are The Prey’ returns to the minimalistic interplay, with experimental escapades à la Björk meeting MOLOKO.
Further ‘Wisdom’ is imparted via the medium of arpeggiated sounds, systematically enhanced by sampled elements, leading into a messy plethora of sound waves, pulsating in and out of reality leading to the force of ‘New Politik’. Even more minimalistic if that can be imagined, the number is pretty much lead by the vocal and scantily added pulses, which become more and more flowering into a semi-conscious, independently floating wall of sound.
The closing ‘All The Queens’ imagine a brand new world, led by divine femininity, yearning for a change in perceptions and shift in mindsets. Musically, this is one of the more approachable tracks on the long player, perfectly enticing with ethereal vocal and the rise and fall of the delicate melody.
Undoubtedly, one of the more ambitious and well-adjusted projects from THE GOLDEN FILTER, ‘Autonomy’ is an eclectic mix of genres, defying the pigeon holes and bending the genres to achieve a diverse and unparalleled soundtrack of the duo’s lives.
“Penelope and Stephen set about on a mission of self-searching and solipsism drawing influence from their love and unity that sternly defies the damage caused by the ever-growing daily trauma of capitalism and politics”... something they certainly managed to achieve.
It was a year when the veterans re-established their standing within electronic pop.
That was not to that comparatively newer acts weren’t making a good impression, it was just that a fair number of established acts gave their all and were producing some of their best work since their imperial heyday. Great tracks by SPARKS, OUTERNATIONALE, SPACEPRODIGI, iEUROPEAN, PARALLELS, KITE, FEVER RAY, SOL FLARE, SOFTWAVE, KNIGHT$, 2RAUMWHONUNG, JORI HULKKONEN, FIFI RONG and KITE BASE made it onto the shortlist, but despite their quality, they did not make the final listing.
Also not included are songs from ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’, the debut album from RUSTY EGAN; although gaining a physical release this year, it was reviewed by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in the Autumn of last year when download versions of the long player were distributed to those who had purchased it in advance via Pledge Music. Meanwhile, its closing track ‘Thank You’ was included in our 30 Songs Of 2016.
So restricted to purchasable releases only and one song per artist moniker, here are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 30 Songs Of 2017 in alphabetical order…
AESTHETIC PERFECTION Rhythm + Control – Electro Mix
Additionally featuring NYXX and WILLIAM CONTROL on vocals, ‘Rhythm + Control’ saw Daniel Graves take AESTHETIC PERFECTION’s industrial pop to the next level via his new singles only policy. The magnificent Electro Mix successfully realised this oddball blend of Darren Hayes, Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson. With a mightily elastic bassline, when asked whether The Electricity Club had gone crazy coming up with the comparison, Daniel Graves replied “God no. Spot on, guys!”
From only the third solo album in the long career of Richard Barbieri, ‘Solar Sea’ was a sleazy rhythmic excursion into another world. With the one-time JAPAN sound designer using a Roland System 700 for its bassline, the track’s atonal jazz feel was augmented by the haunting voice manipulations of Lisen Rylander Löve through a vintage Soviet submarine microphone and warping noises offset by soothing brass inflections and live drums.
The American electronic rock quartet BATTLE TAPES continued to develop from their 2015 debut album ‘Polygon’ via their ‘Form’ EP. The best track ‘Control’ hinged around a syncopated filtered synth bass and a brilliantly catchy chorus sung by Josh Boardman, with enough guitars for power and texture without distracting from the overall electronic aesthetic, and even coming over like a heavier Stateside version of SIN COS TAN.
“International in flavour, cosmopolitan in style” and sounding like a long lunch followed by a round of cocktails, Australian duo CLIENT LIAISON roped in one-time TV talent show star Tina Arena to duet on a lush slice of romantic pop that also rode on the current fashion for Synthwave. ‘A Foreign Affair’ could have easily been a Rat Pack movie song.
CULT WITH NO NAME All I Have Is Yours (Including You)
CULT WITH NO NAME have never been short of mood, but their eighth album ‘Heir Of The Dog’ proved to be their best yet, combining a variety of tempos and textures. With a memorable crooning vocal from Erik Stein complimented by an enticing harmony from Sirena Riley and lush electronic backing sounding like OMD by the Aegean Sea, ‘All I Have Is Yours (Including You)’ was a song that rose forever and ever like one of Aphrodite’s grandchildren.
Johan Baeckström made positive waves with his debut solo album ‘Like Before’ in 2015 but reunited with his musical partner Jarmo Ollila, producing an excellent third album with more tempo variation than their 2014 offering ‘Two’. Featuring the guest vocals of Mac Austin from cult synth trio WHITE DOOR who were one of the inspirations for DAILY PLANET, ‘Heaven Opened’ was an uncomplicated but wonderfully poignant slice of classic synthpop.
ELECTRONIC CIRCUS is the musical vehicle of Chris Payne, the one-time Numan band member who also co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’. With a symphonic theme bursting with melody and musicality like ULTRAVOX galloping across the plains of Normandy, the brilliant neo-instrumental ’The Trapeze’ was given a wondrous tone of humanistic unity when Payne’s wife and daughter joined in on the final straight in Latin.
FADER are the synth superduo featuring BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur and Benge; ‘3D Carpets’ captured an independent post-punk intensity, like JOY DIVISION or THE CURE but realised with analogue electronics rather than guitars. While the pair worked on their parts separately, their creative dynamic produced a great debut album in ‘First Light’.
From the Welsh synth songstress’ first EP, the fabulous ‘Geiriau’ was a driving sequential drama that had more than a passing resemblance to the first part of SPARKS’ ‘No1 Song In Heaven’. Revolving around ANI GLASS’ experience of flying the nest and returning years later to reconnect with her Welsh and Cornish heritage, it was a spacey and futuristic soundtrack for a wonderfully uplifting homecoming.
‘Volupsa’, the promising Nordic flavoured debut album from THE GOLDEN FILTER came out in 2010, but the Aussie American duo of vocalist Penelope Trappes and synth programmer Stephen Hindman took their time with the follow-up ‘Still//Alone’, having relocated to London after spending several years based in New York. The hypnotic pulse of ‘Rivers’ with its precise drum machine pointed to a female fronted OMD, complete with a catchy riff and synthy jabbing bassline.
The immensely catchy ‘Systemagic’ was a prize electronic gem from the seventh GOLDFRAPP album ‘Silver Eye’, reminiscent of the lusty and beat laden electronic material from ‘Black Cherry’. But its riff asked the question as to whether you will always find Alison Goldfrapp in the kitchen at parties? In the event of Jona Lewie filing a lawsuit, the lucrative income from the song’s use in a BMW advert may ease any potential net payout.
After three acclaimed albums as IAMAMIWHOAMI with producer Claes Björklund, Jonna Lee went solo in 2017 although it was actually difficult to hear the join on the glorious ‘Not Human’, so seamless was the transition; there were still the icy electronic soundscapes, spacey dance beats and uplifting Scandipop vocals while the delightfully odd visuals were all present and correct.
Available on the download single ‘Not Human’ via To Whom It May Concern
I SPEAK MACHINE is the audio / visual collaboration between musician Tara Busch and filmmaker Maf Lewis. Soundtracking their film ‘Zombies 1985’, the story was one of greed and self-obsession in Thatcher’s Britain as a businessman drives home, oblivious to the zombie apocalypse going on around him. Co-written and co-produced with Benge, the brilliant ‘Shame’ with its cascading synths and noise percussion was a wonderful hybrid of THROBBING GRISTLE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and GOLDFRAPP.
After a number of years gigging around London, KATJA VON KASSEL finally unleashed released her electro Weimer Cabaret to the world. The pulsating ‘In Little Rooms (Show Me Love)’ captured an aesthetic which closely resembled that of RONNY, a former protégé of Rusty Egan. Attached to Alex Gray’s intricate filmic electronics, Fraulein von Kassel’s deep vocal detachment was art cool sexy.
Swedish duo KITE unleashed their darkest offering yet in ‘Demons & Shame’. Shaped by a ritualistic drum mantra and brooding bass drones, as the title suggested, the song confronted the despair that life occasionally throws up while pursuing visions and dreams. If Ennio Morricone composed music for Nordic Noir dramas, it would sound a bit like this. Vocalist Nicklas Stenemo literally screamed his frustration over an epic synthetic soundscape from Christian Berg, laced with nocturnal Arctic overtones and the spectre of THE KNIFE.
James Murphy returned as LCD SOUNDSYSTEM after seven years with this widescreen musical statement reflecting on the political situation in the US. Glancing across the Atlantic and back to the Winter Of Discontent, this 3/4 synth laden tune that had more than a passing resemblance to THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Circus Of Death’. So did “The Clown” referred to in that song remind Murphy of someone in particular?
Having started out in a more rave inclined environment, Lizette Nordahl ventured into more synthy climes and her debut mini-album had the air of KITE is all over it, which was not entirely surprising as its co-producers were Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg from the acclaimed duo. ‘Rest’ with its swirling synth sounds and widescreen Nordic atmosphere had an optimistic air of acceptance despite the melancholic tone and majestic growls.
Led by British born musician Dylan Willoughby, LOST IN STARS is a floating ensemble which also includes Elena Charbila aka KID MOXIE and producer/songwriter Darren Burgos. The latter takes the lead vocal on the spirited electronic pop of ‘Sky’; now if NEW ORDER were from Los Angeles instead of Manchester, they would have sounded like this.
After releasing her first solo album ‘Crystal World’ in 2013, Helen Marnie added more prominent choruses and guitar onto her second, resulting in a catchy Scandipop style. ‘Bloom’ was an optimistic burst of synth laden pleasure and while not totally dissimilar to LADYTRON, it was without their usual hardness or gothic gloom.
Having worked successfully in 2013 with Guy Sigsworth on ‘the minutes’, an acclaimed album which saw ALISON MOYET return to the synthesized music forms to compliment her powerful and self-assured voice, the follow-up ‘Other’ was a natural progression. The startling orchestrated electro-dub drama of ‘Alive’ gave Moyet’s two former classmates in DEPECHE MODE a stark lesson in how to actually fully realise electronic blues. Indeed, it was ‘In Chains’, the lame opener from ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ gone right…
With the narrative of ‘Savage’ provoked by Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States of America from the Paris Climate Accord, the mighty apocalyptic rock of ‘When The World Comes Apart’ was something of a revelation for GARY NUMAN. Using synths as the dominant instrument and having guitars less obviously prominent in the mix, with its richly anthemic chorus, this was the magnificent crossover song that both old and new Numanoids had been waiting for.
MICHAEL OAKLEY is a talented Glaswegian who describes his music as “Melancholic postcards from my heart wrapped up in synthesisers and drum machines”. The melodic ‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ came complete with Italo “woah-oh” chants and whether it was Synthwave, synthpop, electropop, Italo or whatever, it showcased Oakley’s fine songwriting abilities, regardless of genre.
The excellent ‘One More Time’ was a classic bittersweet OMD stomper, where “everything you gave me didn’t last”. Using electronic percussion as opposed to drum machines, the enticing verse and uplifting bridge were set to a plethora of gorgeous textures and distorted synth to add a touch of enigmatic weirdness. While Andy McCluskey cried “you can break my heart just one more time”, the track’s star was Paul Humphreys with his crystalline synth sounds laced with some portamento bounce.
From the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL came forth RAINLAND. Their self-titled calling card was a vibrant synthpop statement, embroiled in a musicality that provided a journey through the Grampian Mountains. Ian Ferguson had already proved himself a worthy vocalist in his previous combo with dulcet tones not dissimilar to a certain Midge Ure and this was allowed to reign free on ‘Rainland’. Meanwhile, the ivories of Derek MacDonald stylistically aped the symphonic overtones of ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie.
Between 1980 to 1984, RHEINGOLD were at the forefront of Die Neue Deutsche Welle, releasing three albums and achieving their first domestic hit ‘3klangsdimensionen’ in 1981. Led by Bodo Staiger, ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’ was their first album of new material for many years. The melodic synth of ‘Paradieshafen’ drove along a beautiful instrumental that came over like a dream collaboration between OMD and Michael Rother.
With hypnotising hints of Kate Bush and percolating Ryuichi Sakamoto style textures, ‘Who Am I’ by electropop goddess SARAH P. was an ode to “humanity, the world we live in and our importance (or unimportance) as individuals and/or as a whole”. And as the Greek-born songstress announced that “I don’t know where I come from… do you know my name?”, a metronomic beat kicked in to lead a dramatic house-laden climax.
Available on the album ‘Who Am I’ via EraseRestart Records
The normally flamboyant Welsh duo SHELTER surprised all with their darkest and most accomplished song yet in ‘Karma’. “What you want is what you’ll get…” sang Mark Bebb, “…you will get a lot more that you planned”. A vibrant but edgy production from Rob Bradley complimented the sentiment as the message was relayed loud and clear…
Available on the single ‘Karma’ via Ministry Of Pop
From ‘From Deewee’, the first new SOULWAX album since 2004’s ‘Any Minute Now’, ‘Conditions Of A Shared Belief’ was a modular synth lover’s wet dream from the Dewaele brothers. With a retro-futuristic collage of detuned blippy sounds and a backbone of smashing white noise percussion recalling THE HUMAN LEAGUE in their Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh phase, it was complimented by some suitably abstractly pitched TALKING HEADS inspired vocals.
TINY MAGNETIC PETS had their best year yet with a UK tour opening for OMD and to accompany it was their second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’. Featuring Wolfgang Flür, the album’s best song ‘Never Alone’ sounded appropriately like SAINT ETIENNE fronting KRAFTWERK. Paula Gilmer has one of the best voices in modern synthpop and her alluring tone no doubt added to the song’s breezy dreamlike state.
The adventurous third VANBOT album ‘Siberia’ was composed and recorded during a 17 day journey on the Trans-Siberian railway. The crystalline ‘Collide (Krasnoyarsk)’ though captured a more Nordic vibe with its gorgeous melodies, while the surrounding rhythmic pace of a train ride made its presence felt. An aural exploration of the relationship between time, location and emotion, ‘Siberia’ was a bold musical experiment.
Coming from a background in electro-disco, the Australia meets America duo, THE GOLDEN FILTER have more of a Scandinavian synth sound.
Vocalist Penelope Trappes, originally from Down Under, joined an Ohio boy and synth programmer Stephen Hindman in The Big Apple before relocating to London.
Their first album ‘Voluspa’ proved to be an excellent example of electronic dance knowhow, with magnificent singles such as ‘Solid Gold’, ‘Thunderbird’ and ‘Hide Me’. The debut was followed by the release of ‘Unselected Works’ in three volumes, but now the pair are back with a worthy follow-up in ‘Still//Alone’.
‘We Are The Music’ opens the long player, with that minimal synth sound Clarke and Gore used on their VCMG collaboration. However this time, a gorgeous female voice accents the sparse melody and execution.
‘Nine’ sounds very mathematical, almost calculated to lead to a trance induced comatose, while ‘//’ is very Gore-esque again. ‘Vibrational’ offers a futuristic approach a la GAZELLE TWIN with a metallic feel and ambient textures.
The tempo changes with ‘Questions’. Is it John Fryer on that guitar? He certainly wouldn’t be ashamed of this tune. The airy vocal and the sophisticated production bearing elements of uncertainty and placid dependency lead to possibly the best track on the opus, ‘Dust’. Here, GOLDFRAPP meets BLONDIE interlaced with NEW ORDER, with a skilful guitar and systemically apt synth.
‘There Is No Love Between Us’ comes in with the punctuating bass line and the comeback of minimal techno, crushing with the waves of simple, yet sophisticated melody. The closing ‘Rivers’ nods to OMD minus McCluskey with the higher synth riff and jabbing bassline making it an easy listening pop track.
THE GOLDEN FILTER have come back with a very eclectic combo of great tunes; there’s no repetition, no sameness, no fillers, only a decent sounding mix of songs appealing to many tastes. This is definitely a worthy outing, which will prove rather timeless.
‘Voluspa’ is the impressive new album by THE GOLDEN FILTER. Based in New York, they consist of Aussie vocalist Penelope Trappes and synth programmer Stephen Hindman from Ohio.
While they may reside in the spiritual home of electro-disco, THE GOLDEN FILTER are melodically more rooted in Northern Europe.
Indeed the album title comes from the ancient Nordic poem ‘Voluspa’ which relates the story of the creation of the world and its coming end. While often compared to THE KNIFE and almost as enigmatic, THE GOLDEN FILTER are far more accessible.
Graduating from the same school as GOLDFRAPP, SALLY SHAPIRO, MARSHEAUX, LITTLE BOOTS and SAINT ETIENNE, just what do THE GOLDEN FILTER bring to enhance the mix? In addition to the whispering, angelic vocals over the precise electronic blueprint of the above, there is a clean, uncluttered sound accompanied by predominantly disco rhythms.
THE GOLDEN FILTER are best showcased on the three brilliant singles ‘Solid Gold’, ‘Thunderbird’ (both released in 2009) and ‘Hide Me’, all are included on ‘Voluspa’. With the mirrorball in full view, this is DURAN DURAN and BLONDIE meeting GIORGIO MORODER at around 120 bpm in the year 2525.
The album’s highlights ‘Look Me In The Eye’, ‘Stardust’ and ‘Frejya’s Ghost’ follow this aural template of dance. While magnificently rigid, the electronics are let loose with magnificent counter melodies and freeform vibrato synth solos with a distinctly Arabesque feel along for the dreamy ride.
With chunky sequences and slapped bass runs, this could be the sound of many other female fronted electro acts until you throw in string sounds with Eastern scales and frantic, almost tribal percussion. This dance with the devil is like ULTRAVOX’s Warren Cann possessed by the ghost of Cozy Powell! Opener ‘Dance Around The Fire’ takes things to the maximum with some deadly satanic fiddling!
But it’s not all uptempo numbers. ‘The Underdog’ features mid-paced ANGELO BADALEMENTI-styled cinematics while THE GOLDEN FILTER can also take it down for more ‘Love To Love You Baby’ styled grooves on ‘Moonlight Fantasy’.
‘Nerida’s Gone’ has beautiful electronics alongside piano and Mellotron before taking shape as a ballad in the tradition of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘A Question Of Lust’.
Throughout the album, the songs have plenty of room to breathe and there is usual quota of wispy melancholy that would be suited to a festival disco in the gaze of The Northern Lights.
Overall, this is a highly enjoyable debut with plenty of mechanical beats for the feet, gorgeous synth textures for the ears and alluring vocals for the heart.
‘Voluspa’ is released via Brille Records on 26 April 2010