Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2009: Part I

There hasn’t been a year this good for synthpop music since 1981. The 80’s revival started a couple of years ago but it hasn’t been until this year that synthpop has reached a new critical mass. Of course synthpoppers like myself have had some brilliant albums to listen to throughout the decade, but they were always few and far between. This year however saw it reach out into the mainstream once more, with artists like Little Boots and La Roux hitting the headlines, a  synthpop night at the BBC (Synth Britannia)  and a whole host of new bands releasing some fantastic synthpop albums (Northern Kind, Parralox, Tenek). A few of the original masters also released some great records (Pet Shop Boys), some not so great (Depeche Mode), and from a-ha a true masterpiece that surprised everyone. Here then is Part 1 of my favourite Top 20 synthpop albums of the year (with Spotify links available for 17 out of 20!).

20. The Mobile Homes – Today Is Your Lucky Day

mobileOut-moding the Mode, Sweden’s The Mobile Homes (on up-and-coming Swedish synthpop label Megahype) return with a fine slice of synthpop. Despite their connections with Kraftwerk, Laibach, and Nitzer Ebb (three bands I rate highly), this band had passed me by until this year. Luckily Conzoom Records featured track 9 from this album (the wonderful “Close“) on their first electropop.1 compilation. The album does have a couple of fillers, but all-in-all this is fine record.

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19. Dragonette – Fixin To Thrill

fixin_to_thrill_dragonette_albumProof that North America can do synthpop after all, Canada’s Dragonette take up where The New Young Pony Club left off. This album is perhaps more commercial than most on this list, and it’s probably more electro than synthpop, but it’s good fun nonetheless.

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18. Client – Command

client-commandClient‘s fourth studio album is a slight return to form (for me anyway: I was disappointed with 2007’s Heartland), and even better if you can track down the 2-CD version which has some excellent mixes on it. Client have a passionate fan-base and deservedly so: few bands interact so frequently with their fans (check out Client’s official forum) and they often offer exclusive downloads and goodies from their website.

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17. Rupesh Cartel – Anchor Baby

_rupesh_MHCD06Swedish duo Rupesh Cartel’s third album came recommended to me by Matt from Northern Kind (more on them shortly). It’s a definite grower and another example of how Sweden has come to rule the synthpop world. Anchor Bar frequently crosses from synthpop into futurepop and lead vocalist Viktor Ginner reminds me of IAMX‘s Chris Corner – no bad thing!

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16. Katsen – It Hertz!

katsen_it_hertzDeservedly championed by Electronically Yours, Katsen released their debut album It Hertz! in October. Leading up to this, Katsen aka Donna and Chris had been releasing some wonderful home-made videos on their YouTube channel katsenbeeps. I thought their track Where Nobody Can Find Us was one the highlights of the essential EY Vol. 1 collection and fortunately that high standard is maintained throughout the album.

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15. Pet Shop Boys – Yes

pet-shop-boys-yes2nd-generation synthpop legends the Pet Shop Boys returned in 2009 with what I thought was their best album in years. I’ve always quite liked the Pet Shop Boys – not very much, but not disliked – and usually end up just listening to their PopArt: The Hits album. Yes is pretty good though, it’s not just a few good singles and some filler. It also spawned some fabulous remixes.

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14. Heads We Dance – Love Technology

lovetechnology300_1Perhaps the least synthpoppy album in this list, Love Technology is still unashamedly retro electronica. I must thank service user on the Marsheaux forum for pointing out Heads We Dance back in June. Back then I said: “the male lead singer reminds me a bit of S.P.O.C.K. The Kraftwerk cover sounds good with the female vocals and there’s a song named after a Philip K Dick novel (“Ubik”) for bonus points.” I’ve listened to this album lots since then and still think it’s a really good record. You can also download the remix album for free from their website – now that really is love in the digital age!

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13. Marsheaux – Lumineux Noir

Marsheaux---Lumineux-Noir-CAnother band championed by Electronically Yours, Greek duo Marsheaux released their third album in a variety of versions this summer. Provided you don’t mind the whispery vocals, there are some solid tracks on here and the production is excellent. Marsheaux’s sound has matured from its sugary beginnings, even ending here with a track that could have come from a VNV Nation album. This justifies their addition to the Out of Line rosta and certainly bodes well for album number 4.

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12. Tenek – Stateless

cover tenek

Although this is their debut album, Tenek‘s Geoff Pinckney and Pete Steer have been making electronic music for some time (see Mesh, Alien 6, Glasshouse). Tenek is their latest project and Geoff calls it “a fusion of 80’s synth with contemporary influences” .  I bought the CD back in May and said then that I thought it was a slow-burner: like some of the very best albums it didn’t stand out too much at first, but after repeated listens I’ve come to like this album a lot. It’s a bit darker than most albums featured here, but in a good way. Fans of Apoptygma Berzerk (before then went rock) should definitely check this one out.

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11. Oblique – Without Making Noise

Without Making Noise frontDisclaimer: Oblique sent me a review copy of this album a few months ago. Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was: here’s my  full review. As with Tenek, there are leanings towards futurepop and even electro-industrial here, but synthpop purists (and Ladytron fans) should find enough to make some noise about.

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Now read Part II featuring my Top 10 synthpop albums of the year!

.Part II
 

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