Top 10 Synthpop Albums of 2009

If you’d have said to me at the start of the year: “Afront, come December you will be compiling a list of your Top 20 favourite synthpop albums of the year” I would have laughed and said “What, there are going to be 20 new synthpop albums this year?” If you’d then said: “Yes, and the new Depeche Mode album won’t even make it onto your list” I would have assumed you had a loose arpeggiator. But 2009 has been such a good year for music in general and for synthpop in particular that it gives me a rare chance to compile a top list specific to my favourite genre. So following Part I (20-11), here are the albums I thought were the ten very best synthpop albums released in 2009.

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10. Starbase 109 – My New Invention

l_2fda6ba15a3d46e1b4637999697dac45Starbase 109 are another band I’ve featured before, where I said: “This album has 13 synthpop songs to tickle your ribs. Their first album was full of brilliant low-key humour and thankfully My New Invention has more of the same, all wrapped up in tight beats and Kraftwerk-esque synthpop.“  This band are truly unique: you only have to see one of their rare live performances to understand why. It’s not often a song’s lyrics can make you laugh out loud, and this album has a whole hanger-full of tunes guaranteed to put a smile on your face. They should really be massive stars but perhaps Earth is still not ready for the eccentricities of Starbase 109.


09. Eloquent – Carousel Of Life

col200Again thanks to Conzoom Records and their fine electropop compilations for featuring a track from America’s Eloquent, whose second album was released via A Different Drum at the start of the year. This is pure and innocent synthpop in its catchiest form, of the kind Erasure used to make. Steve Cochran’s vocals may be a little monotonous to some, but the quality of song-writing makes this album a joy from start to finish.

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08. Little Boots – Hands

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Victoria Hesketh aka Little Boots seemed to “do a Gary Numan” this year: she came out of nowhere to storm the charts and claim the synthpop crown for herself. And amazingly in the usual sea of mediocre pop, this UK Top 10 album really is something special. I saw her live show last month and was amazed by the diverse range of fans in the sold-out venue: from teenyboppers out at their first gig to ageing rockers with their earplugs. Hands has no less than 9 different producers but somehow it all hangs together. The highlight for me is of course her duet with Philip Oakey of The Human LeagueSymmetry is a fantastic song that could be the soundtrack to a new generation.

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07. La Roux

la-rouxLittle Boots had much success this year, but La Roux did even better: Bulletproof was the first Number 1 synthpop single since the Pet Shop Boys in 1988 and this début album has sold by the bucket-load. And whereas Little Boots had many hands to help in making her album, Elly and Ben made this record on their own terms, writing and producing it themselves. More than any other release this year, La Roux has brought synthpop back to the masses with an album that’s full of great electropop songs. UPDATE: Polydor records have pulled this album from Spotify.

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06. ParraloxState of Decay

parraloxstateofdecay250Last year John Von Ahlen’s Parralox project released Electricity, a remarkable record full of perfect pop songs and my favourite album of last year. He follows it up this year with another slab of sexy synthpop that gets better and better the more I listen to it. Unfortunatley I’ve only had a few weeks to listen to this album: given more time State of Decay may well have made it even further up my list. State of Decay retains much that made Electricity such a good album: polished production, oldschool references for the synth geeks (and Ian Burden!), and frequent sci-fi references. New vocalist Amii takes over from Roxy expertly, and while the lyrics don’t always stand up the quality of song-writing is astonishing. Disclaimer: my name is in the sleeve notes only because I pre-ordered the CD.


05. Emmon – Closet Wanderings

emmon_closetwanderings_full_200x200Back in February, not long after I’d discovered a music streaming program called Spotify, I posted a playlist of some new synthpop songs including a track from Emmon. Closet Wanderings had been released exclusively on Spotify as the perfect Swedish partnership: music from Wonderlands Records delivered by those young upstarts and game-changers Spotify. Closet Wanderings was the first real gem for me on Spotify and it opened my eyes to the plethora of fantastic synthpop coming out of Sweden.

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04. Julian Brandt – Looks And Talent (Don´t Always Go Together)

0000630942_350I discovered Twitter around the same time I discovered Spotify, and both have had a dramatic and profound impact on my life. Petri Teittinen is a Twitter user and outspoken technology journalist from Finland. He’s also a massive synthpop fan and often tweets his recommendations. Last month he said: “Been a fantastic year for synthpop and it’s not over yet! Check out Julian Brandt’s album “Looks and Talent (Don’t Always Go Together).” So I did. And I loved it: thanks Petri! Featuring frequent duets with the ladies (including Christer Lundberg from Universal Poplab and Toril Lindqvist from Alice In Videoland), each song on this album has a warm, sensual sound. While Swedish, there’s something about this album that reminds me Ireland’s finest Empire State Human and Neosupervital.

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03. Flux – Safe + Sound

efs-ia-026-600_200x200Another Spotify find for me (thanks to a label search for Electric Fantastic Sound), Safe + Sound is the début album Finland’s Flux. Vocalist Asta has a gorgeous uplifting quality that offsets Flux’s darker synthpop sound perfectly. Safe + Sound is aptly named: there’s a sense that this record is trying to convince the listener that everything’s going to be alright, despite appearances to the contrary. My favourite song is No More Than Alive (“These broken bones hold me together”) but apart from the final track I don’t think there’s a single poor song on this album. If you rated last year’s Harmonizer from Thermostatic as much as I did, Flux have some kind of complimentary remedy here that you know is ultimately good for you.

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02. a-ha – Foot Of the Mountain

_aha_602527089980When I was younger people used to say that I looked like Morten Harket out of a-ha. 20 years later and perhaps I do still look like him, but nobody tells me that any more. Why would they? Who remembers a-ha? Even I’d forgotten about them mostly. I had a brief listen to Lifelines back in 2002 (thanks to the Apotygma Berzerk mix) and thought about their glory days for a bit before moving on the something else. When I heard a few months ago that Foot of the Mountain was a return to their synthpop roots, I naturally gave it a listen but without expecting too much: their best was surely behind them. But then I found myself thinking that actually, this is pretty good. A few more listens and I was thinking that no, this was really good: who’da thunk it? Perhaps this album isn’t 100% electro (the album does have some guitars on it for instance), but there’s a synthpop heart beating defiantly behind almost every track. I’ve not been this pleasantly surprised by an album for a long time, and it’s no surprise to see this on many music fan’s list of Top 10 albums of the year.

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01. Northern Kind – WIRED:

300Northern Kind‘s 2nd album has remained at the top of my best-of-the-year list since it came out in April. I wrote about it back then after Matt and Sarah had kindly sent me a copy of the CD. Make no mistake though: there’s a good reason that 5 out of 10 of my most-listened to songs this year are from this album. For me WIRED: is both the best synthpop album of the year and the best album of the year too. WIRED: is a rich, lush, varied album with some fantastic pop songs and a depth and maturity that was lacking from the first album. WIRED: is still firmly synthpop, but now Northern Kind have found their own sound and are much more than just a modern-day Yazoo. Simon Heyworth’s mastering gives a superior polish to this set of eleven tracks and I’m very pleased to hear that work on album #3 has already begun!


So that’s my list of Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2009. To recap, the full countdown is:

20. The Mobile HomesToday Is Your Lucky Day

19. Dragonette Fixin To Thrill

18. Client Command

17. Rupesh CartelAnchor Baby

16. Katsen It Hertz!

15. Pet Shop BoysYes

14. Heads We DanceLove Technology

13. Marsheaux Lumineux Noir

12. Tenek Stateless

11. Oblique – Without Making Noise

10. Starbase 109 – My New Invention

09. Eloquent - Carousel Of Life

08. Little BootsHands

07. La RouxLa Roux

06. ParraloxState of Decay

05. Emmon - Closet Wanderings

04. Julian BrandtLooks And Talent (Don´t Always Go Together)

03. Flux - Safe + Sound

02. a-haFoot Of the Mountain

01. Northern KindWIRED:

Thanks to all these wonderful musicians for creating such great records, and thanks for making 2009 the best year in music for a very long time. Long live synthpop!

Here’s the Spotify version of this list:

And if you like this style of music, here’s a Twitter list especially for synthpop:



 

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