On the outer edges of the electronic music scene lives a strange cargo of bands, geographically distant but all sharing a love of spaced-out retro electronica. Many in this expanding synth-wave have remodeled styles of early 80s sci-fi and VHS horror movie soundtracks to suit their post-Internet lives, while others re-imagine Krautrock and synthpop into new forms of music yet to be properly classified.
Here are five new electronic albums I’ve been soundtracking recently. Each shares a central electro-weirdness that’s not for everyone, but if you’re up for a synthetic cinematic adventure let me suggest where to start…
There’s been a spate of good new retro electronic soundtrack albums recently, for films both real and imaginary. Along with Umberto’s album (see below) and Steve Moore’s Star Vehicle (under his Gianni Rossi alias), Antoni Maiovvi’s double album of lost TV OSTs: Battlestar Transreplica and Trial By Bullet. These claim to be soundtracks for two late 70s Italian TV shows (one a cheap and kinky Battlestar Galactica clone and the other an over-the-top crime thriller). How much of this back-story is true is beside the point: these albums fully stand up on their own. Battlestar Transreplica is my favorite of the two, with several epic cosmic-disco tracks that bring to mind Moroder, Jarre, Alden Tyrell and Lindstrom.
Umberto – Prophecy of the Black Widow
California’s Not Not Fun Records have been putting out some seriously twisted italo-tinged electronica recently, including Xander Harris (whose latest album Urban Gothic I highly recommend), Maria Minerva, and Umberto. Sounding like it’s a lost Dario Argento or John Carpenter soundtrack album, Umberto’s Prophecy of the Black Widow is perfectly pitched synth-horror music. With song titles like “Black Candles,” “Night Stalking” and “Someone Chasing Someone Through A House” you’ll get the idea that this is aiming to soundtrack any number of early 80s giallo movies. This makes for enjoyably disturbing listening, and if you survive all the way through there’s even a hint of a happy ending.
Warm Digits – Keep Warm… with the Warm Digits
Warm Digits are a North English duo with a new take on an old sound: this is Krautrock, but not quite as you know it. Warm Digits coined the term krautronica to describe their sound, and I think that’s the perfect description. Krautrock usually has some form of electronic sound amongst the motoriks, but Warm Digits uniquely bring this electronica to the fore. There’s still live drums and guitars throughout, but every track also has a gloriously large dose of synthetic sounds. Touch-points include Can, Neu! and the like, but you’ll also get a sense of Giorgio Moroder and kosmische disco; Lindstrom, Arp and Eno. With Andy Weatherall recently singing their praises on BBC 6 Music, things are certainly heating up for this innovative band.
Hyetal – Broadcast
Hyetal is Bristol-based producer David Corney, previously best known for his dubstep and clubland vibes. Debut album Broadcast is a slow-burning step into discotronica with added atmosphere, mixing analog synthwork and deep sub bass into an essential electronic soundtrack. This is not a dance album, but you’ll hear echoes of early New Order, 808 State, John Carpenter and that man Moroder again. Elsewhere, stripped-down tracks like The Chase display the grandeur and avant-garde of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream, while album-closer Black Black Black (featuring Alison Garner) mesmerizes with its deep beats and ethereal vocals.
Soft Metals – Soft Metals
Citing Chicago House, early industrial and italo-disco as influences, Portland’s Soft Metals successfully weave a synthpop line with their splendid self-titled debut. There’s still an undercurrent of hauntronica and italo soundtrack, but Patricia Hall’s vocals and the bands sense of melody push this album into one of the most notable synthpop releases of the year. Tracks like Voices may initially sound like Ladytron or Marsheaux but it evolves into something altogether unique, and Psychic Driving shows a loving heart missing from most of their more twisted chillwave contemporaries.