A re-sleazed synthpop musical, Kaleidoscope is your post-watershed synthpop album for 2019. Johnny Normal’s at the top of his game here, while Bridget Gray adds light to the feast with some effervescent love (cf. the lovely “Butterflies” and self-aware “Another Song”)
The legendary Howard Jones shows the new kids how it’s done in this brilliant return to form. With a little help from his pal BT, Mr. Jones delivers an album-full of fresh synth-pop songs that delightfully brought me back to circa. 1985.
This debut album from Stockholm’s Last Night On Earth hits the spot. Vintage synths drive this wonderful collection of finely-crafted, warmly-chill scandi synthpop songs for the electric youth generation. It’s gonna be quite a night!
This dreamy electropop wave from the Dynalectric Orchestra pairs a retro-synth machine with powerful, heart-felt vox from a variety of vocalists. Follow with the also-excellent 9-track “AFTERGLOW” EP for the full-orchestra experience.
This jewel of a debut album has wonderful retro synth sounds forming some lushly infectious synth-pop tunes. Vocalist Rita Lukea sings with experience and dynamism on killer tracks like “Diamonds” and “Soft Peaks” – a hidden gem; Ameritronically Yours.
Following a string of magnificent EPs, French duo The George Kaplan Conspiracy’s debut album maintains that exquisite high quality. A nostalgic, contemplative shell wraps around this synthpop-funk for lazy days and hazy nights (or so it seems).
Wow, was not expecting such sublimely synthy stuff like this from national treasures Keren and Sara – Bananarama return-a-delica! With slick electropop to follow moves from Kylie and Sophie, In Stereo has a double-dose of infectious, hit-worthy disco delights to keep you forever dancing.
Winter in Sweden sounds idyllic, if this gorgeous synthpop album is anything to go by. 2019 was an epic year for Red Sleeping Beauty 2.0, with the release of this terrific 10-tracker and as many again top lovely songs on EPs. Both vocalists hold their own with range and heart, and the 80s synth landscape welcomes all electronica veterans to this fine city of song.
From the ever-mucky North of England, ITOP’s essential debut album shines a light on the World with its first-principle bleeps, eccentronic tweaks and synth-pop treats.
There’s so much to love about this record, especially if you grew up in the school of original synth. From the Kosmisher Broadcast of “She Walks” to the singalong-a-tronic, end-of-the-night waltz “Oh Yosemite,” these 10 songs deliver a perfect mix of multiplex synthpop with Confidence and old Yoda magic. Bloody brilliant.
Enjoy and learn from Pansentient League’s album of the year!
Listen to select tracks for all the above albums + many more here:
Voilà Rue Oberkampf, here for some much needed post-fin de siècle minimal waviness. Ebbhead shades are pink-tinted here: Waveclash is cold wave punk-electronique, but there’s also a slight sense of optimism and self-awareness lurking in the depths of this short but solid album, thanks in no small part to the beguiling and fey French vocals.
A clue in the title for sure, here’s this year’s Electric Youth/Drive soundtrack kind-of-record. Hopefully not just a one-off collab from Makeup + Vanity Set and Jasmin Kaset, as this is a gorgeous album that brings out the best of both drivers. It’s a relaxing, chilled album with some poignancy to the lyrics and a strong sense of direction. Add to your favorite destinations!
I discovered Fröst via The Electricity Club: good call guys, I love this! The 60s-psych sound has always meshed well with synthpop-tronics, with artists like Jane Weaver and Amber Arcades being notably talented. Fröst joins the ranks, thanks in part to some Fujiya & Miyagi action. This album is seriously cool, it deftly mixes neo-psychedelica with synthpop, krautrock and a chemical beat to produce a solid 37-minute listen.
Fave tracks: Scars on the Lining, Eternelle, Delta Antenna
The list of now-vintage instruments used to make this album is impressive, if that sort of thing’s your bag (hey, there’s a Casio VL-1!). For me it’s mostly just about how it sounds, and We Sleep Again is an album I’ve returned to often in 2018. Stuffed with Thermostatically chippy synthpop (plus a few excellent “slow ones”), this 12-track album delivers delightful electronic pop music with some real gems if you dream deep enough.
Fave tracks: You Are, Color the Stars, Shine a Light, It’s All Happening
Écouter et répéter! Belgium’s Vive La Fête are this year’s 2RAUMWOHNUNG: gifting us a fabulously fun synthpoppy album seeded with European style & panache, singalong songs (if you speak a bit of French!) and lots of replay value due to some outstanding tunes and quirky riffs. Tourterelle aka “the turtledove song” is especially sumptuous synthpop, mes amoureux 😉
Alanis Morissette was a righteous woman, and For Esmé share that well of power and occasional rage. This is a serious album make no mistake (and it pays to listen to it in order), but it’s also rich in memorable electronic pop songs and infectious melodies. While CHVRCHES seem to have lost their way this year, Righteous Woman shows that synthpop can still carry a message (if you care to listen).
Fave tracks: To Hate, Doubtmouth, Modern Love, Didn’t Ask
Confidence Man – Confident Music For Confident People
With three-out-of-three funky-as-flip songs released in the build up, I did wonder whether these cats could maintain the quality of their singles for a full album. I needn’t have worried: this record is absolutely fabulous!
Bouncy pop laced with humor and intercontinental beats, Confident Music For Confident People is slinky and sassy and the best album this year to put on at a party: everyone’ll love it, regardless of their electro-pop opinion. There’s nods to disco days of Primal Screamand Black Eyed Peas, maybe a touch of Bee Gees and the Jackson 5 (and hey: funky drummer!) but forget the past: this is exemplary modern pop music & the record I’ve danced about the most to all year 🙂
When Freezepop did a song about a Science Genius Girl, I’d hoped they’d go on to create some kind of science-based concept album with soothing authoritative vocals and quirky synthpop DNA. They never did, but hello Reed & Caroline!
Hello Science is an intelligently designed album that bursts with ear-worms for the synthpop-discerning (hu)man. Featuring science & technology-themed songs throughout, they’re all fundamentally intriguing and a rather good listen to boot. A lot of thought and care has clearly gone into this record: it’s wonderfully crafted and deceptively evocative when you give it a proper listen end-to-end. I love how Hello Science isn’t all high-school test-tube love songs but muses on topical topics like dark matter, entropy and the Goldilocks zone.
Synthpopically, Hello Science is polished pop and full of imprintable hooks. So many times this year a song from this album would jump into my head: a line or a phrase, an especially fine-formed musical bit or twiddly synth flourish. Top marks, this is why Hello Science is Pansentient League’s album of the year!
Fave tracks: Another Solar System, Buoyancy, Computers, Internet of Things
All the above artists are featured on our Spotify playlist:
Artists Discovered On this playlist:
AEX, AIVIS, Alienare, And the Echo, Apsurde, Battery Operated Orchestra, Blipblop, Coma Alliance, Ctrl, Dream System 8, Electronikboy, Electronomy Department, Eloquent, Elyxr, Flux Fin, For Esme, Form, Foxtrap, Fragrance, Happiness Project, Humble Braggers, Ideomotor, In Good Faith, Johan Baeckstrom, John Cyrus, Kennelklubben, Kodacrome, Kurs Valut, The Lipz, Logic & Olivia, ManMindMachine, Mari Dangerfield, Matthias, Metroland, Milan, Mind Cinema, The Modern, Opera, Park Fires, Perpacity, The Planets Won’t Let You Sleep Tonight, Poupee, Radioaktivists, Ratmilk, Red Sleeping Beauty, Reed & Caroline, Rocococo, Rodney Cromwell, Rue Oberkampf, Sarah Nixey, Sector One, Sine City, Sinestar, Sister Electra, Solsun, Space March, Stolen, Tiny Magnetic Pets, Trans Atlantic Crush, Tremors, Unknown Land, VIGGO, Vision Paname, Watching Spaceships, We Are Temporary, Zuma.
Greetings synthpop fans! Welcome to the Pansentient League’s Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2017. To end this year there will be few words here, because 2017: bloody hell! So mostly just let the music speak for itself and hit the Spotify buttons below. Because there was some truly fine synthpop and electronic music released in the past 12 months. Here’s our 20 favorite synthpop albums!
Note: unlike previous years, this time “album” and “synthpop” have a broader definition to include some releases just too good to miss… 😉
PANSENTIENT’s TOP TWENTY of 2017
Oblique – Prom Night
Earlier in the year, Oblique teamed up with Carlos Bayona to record “Stop the World (A Song for Pretty in Pink)” – it’s a wonderful, gorgeous love letter to music & fashion of the 1980s, with a truly awesome video. This showcased a transformation in the Oblique sound, resulting in the Drive/driven pulse of Prom Night. This album may have synthwave nostalgia stylings but it’s no nasty Pertubator: think smooth-riding Electric Youth or School Of Seven Bells instead. Vocalist Sonja sounds as fab as ever, and it’s great to hear Oblique refresh and reinvent themselves for the new new-wave.
Night Drive – Night Drive
This chic upbeat pop record has some wonderful croony vocals and lovely synth hooks. I keep thinking of a late (the late) Billy Mackenzie throughout this album: songs like the excellent “Arboria” or the funky “Trapeze Artist Regrets” have that Associated synth-disco strain (maybe that’s down to the production). Night Drive’s debut is full of killer melodies, impressive vocals and some wonderful bass synths. It’s a smooth ride.
Djustin – Voyagers
“Voyagers” has two radio-friendly singles – “New Preset” and “Dancing” – which kick off this brilliant album from Djustin that’s full of infectious pop and analog Travelogue synthiness. Recorded with internet assistance (Rose Suau records vocals in Detroit, while Labrador Records’ Johan Angergård works his magic in Stockholm), there’s 9 great tracks here: many upbeat (the smooth-edged “Millions“), some a bit darker soulful synthpop (the powerfully simple “Advance“) – all worth multiple listens.
Soulwax – FROM DEEWEE
Smooth vocals with dirty but funky synths, this Soulwax album is their eighth – whatavi been missing? Some of this is real bleepy synthy, but eclectically there’s also sounds like the brilliant Adam Antian drumming that kicks off the bonkers “It is Always Binary” or Sparksy Bolan glam in “Do You Want to Get Intro Trouble?” or the Devotional glances in “My Tired Eyes.”
TIYL your electronic music rooted in dusty old synths then funked up & spiced with contemporary instruments – the drumming on this album for example is immense. Special mention to Human League love letter “Here Come the Men in Suits” 😉
And the Echo – II
And the Echo were in our Top 20 last year and they’re back again! II is a 6-track EP (according to Spotify) but it is effectively part 2 of last year’s self-titled 29-minute debut album. These songs are way too good for “didn’t quite make it onto the album” regardless of running time. There’s some wonderful soulful synthpop (“The Blind Ones“, “Breath“) and more electro-gothiness with “Ghosts, Pt. 2“. I’ve made my own 14-track And the Echo album with these two: nothing skipped.
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe / Debris
When Tiny Magnetic Pets released their 11-minute “Semaphore / Seconds From Sleep” single I just had to social media about it. My. Word. What a superb track, it hits all my buttons with the synthpop, krautrock, neo psychedelica and astonishing audacity. And with Wolfgang Flür featuring on two tracks, the Kraftwerk connection in Deluxe / Debris is sealed. I get confused from time to time, so read Paul Brown’s review on The Electricity Club (the original one) for some informed words on this magnificent album.
Soldout – Forever
I thought this album might be good and I was right 😉 Since More in 2013, I’ve been impressed by Belgium’s Soldout. “Very sexy groove” said robsick and he too is right: expertly crafted, the music on Forever throbs and weaves around an electronic dance beat. The discotronic of “Do It Again” sits perfectly with more soulful numbers like smooth title track “Forever.” Also check out the remix album!
MNKYBSNSS – TIMELESS
Colombia’s MNKYBSNSS blend house with synthpop and funk on TIMELESS, a fixed-point recording for this usually live electronic music duo. And it is indeed well-titled: this 1970s style shaka-funk has post-millennial polish and precision electronics that make its origins pointless. Like the George Kaplan Conspiracy and Jupe Jupe, this year has brought several fantastic albums that baseline on retro funk and progressive electronic vibes. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but “Motion” has such a Beloved melody it’s gonna be that. The mostly-English vocals throughout TIMELESS are note-worthy, as is guest vocalist Monica Birkenes’ contribution on single “Raindrops.”
Kaleida – Tear The Roots
With a track (“Think“) featuring in the soundtrack to the brilliantly bonkers Keanu Reeves movie John Wick, Kaleida’s debut album Tear The Roots came with expectations. And boy does it deliver: the atmosphere in here is hauntronic and beguiling, if you’re looking for the best in modern electronic soul here it is. Songs like “Echo Saw You” and “Meter” are siren calls to the soul; icy and dramatic with beautiful vocals to close your eyes to, this is a top-class thoughtful record. And you have to hear what they did with Nena‘s “99 Luftballons” – it’s genius.
Fever High – FHNY
Fever High’s FHNY is surely the most fun album in this year’s Top 20. Taking cues from the much-missed Belle Stars and also Bananarama, most of FHNY has that sing-a-long quality, as if the songs were covers of old classic tropical tunes. There’s some great synthpop on here, tracks like the Madonna-esque “Tantalized” or disco-dancy “One of the Guys“. And by way of the Kingpin, the amazing Jeff Goldblum makes a unique contribution on the not-to-be-missed “Good Advice“!
Afront’s Gig Highlights 2017
Edinburgh Summerhall, March 2017
Sophie Ellis Bexter
The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, March 2017
Edinburgh Usher Hall, June 2017
Stereo, Glasgow, October 2017
Run the Jewels
Glasgow, November 2017
PANSENTIENT’s TOP TEN of 2017
Hyperbubble – Western Ware
The album you never knew you were waiting for all your life came out this year, courtesy of the incorrigibly inventive Hyperbubble! Western Ware features 10 classic country & western songs, all synthpopped to the stirrups and delivered in Hyperbubble’s irreplaceably unique style: part tongue-in-cheek, part serious synthpop artistry – but always good fun music of the likes we need more of these days. That it’s coming from Texas is just bodacious good luck 😉 You can read what I wrote earlier about Western Ware – I stand by my scan, y’all – bring a little Hyperbubble into your life, this here’s a star-spangled disco-pop rodeo show like no other!
Pixx – The Age of Anxiety
I saw Pixx supporting Austra in Edinburgh’s Summerhall back in March. They played much of “The Age of Anxiety,” their new debut album on 4AD (a label with big history). I went mostly to hear “I Bow Down” – the song that opens this album and one of my songs of the year. Every bit as wonderful live, Pixx also had some other great tracks; “Waterslides” is mental, a joyful Blondie blitz with blippy beats. I hadn’t thought the album could possibly match the quality of the initial tunes, but like Chvrches this debut uses established label support to make fantastically good synth & pop music.
Fujiya & Miyagi – Fujiya & Miyagi
I’ve been a fan of Fujiya & Miyagi since 2006’s Transparent Things. Since then, this not-Asian but from Brighton group released 3 solid albums (including Ventriloquizzing, reviewed here), but these never quite completely captured the brilliance of that earlier release. But 2017 brought this self-titled 12-track album that’s pure magnificence from start to finish. Fujiya & Miyagi are back in my system! “Serotonin Rushes” is classic F & M, complete with smartly logical lyrics, then “Solitaire” is too; it’s just soooo funky wiggle hip electronic music, and that’s before you get a double-dose from the remarkable lyrics. “Extended Dance Mix” takes The Streets, Frankie‘s “Rage Hard (Young Person’s Guide to the 12 Inch mix)” and some hypnotic rhythms to make this year’s best song about the song.
The George Kaplan Conspiracy – The Light Inside EP
We usually don’t feature EPs in our Top 20 Albums of the Year lists. But for the George Kaplan Conspiracy, we change the rules. The Light Inside EP is 6 slices of heaven, all at the end of one Spotify link. Adding 3 new songs to the previous 3 singles, this EP only leaves me wanting more; it’s that good. This funky progressive electronica is achingly delightful, and the melancholic edge to the vocals adds a whole alternative side. “Foggy Goodbye” is in my Top 5 Songs of 2017, I’ve played it to death this year, just can’t let it go. Of all the bands featured in this year’s Top 20, these guys are my favorite “discovery” – very much looking forward to hearing more!
Vitalic – Voyager
This album was sure to make it into a lot of Top 10 Lists for 2017. ‘Cause about 40 seconds in you get it: this is gonna be a glamorous ride! From wacky opener “El Viaje” to song-of-the-year “Waiting for the Stars” – you can feel Pascal Arbez has crafted something special here. With pit stops in discotronica a la Emperor Machine and Hot Chip style house (the superb “Use It or Lose It“), Voyager is less Daft Punk (excepting perhaps “Eternity“) and more blissful, danceable synthpopped electronic music. “Sweet Cigarette” is “Warm Leatherette” for the nicotine addicted and may not be for everyone, but closing cover “Don’t Leave Me Now” – with its simple beginnings to walls of synth – proves just how solid this polished album is. There’s a good review of Voyager on the Electricity Club (the original one) where they agree this is “a strong contender for Album of the Year lists.“
Jane Weaver – Modern Kosmology
The relaxation of our “pure synthpop only” stance in these annual Top 20s is in part to allow Jane Weaver’s magnificent Modern Kosmology in the chart. On Modern Kosmology, we hear the follow-up to the critically lauded The Silver Globe. After a collab with Hannah Peel and Beyond The Wizards Sleeve (last year’s winner “Creation“), there’s much here with more than a touch of synthpop (try Broadcast-worthy “The Lightning Back“) but also a frothing of Krautrock (“Loops In the Secret Society“) and most essentially an epic feeling to each song on this album. Jane Weaver inspires such confidence that you know, you just know that a charm awaits in each track here.
Jupe Jupe – Lonely Creatures
Jupe Jupe’s “Lonely Creatures” came out in September – it was Magnus I think who brought this to my attention, and I’m so glad he did. From opener “Faith in What You Hear” I was grabbed: a new wave sound that audaciously double-jumps back to the Alan Parsons Project. Each song on this 10-track album has a wonderful hook; usually a stonking chorus (like on “Stranger Days“) or a sweet synth curl. The guitars on this album add an indie-edge to the synthpopping, especially on tracks like the disintegrating “High on the Hill.” I fell in love with this album: it just gets everything right.
AIVIS – Constellate
Just over a year ago, we introduced you to AIVIS. This was the back of hearing “The Wilderness” – a blinding debut song that had pricked my ears like little does these days. Aidan and Travis gave us some insight into their then-forthcoming debut album where they promised “hooks, hooks, and more hooks!” And Constellate does not disappoint: here is 40 minutes of sumptuous post-modern synth songs, with deeply thoughtful lyrics powered by grand synth lines and indeed lots of those hooks we were promised. “Forever Gold” is a great opener that sets the mid-tempo pace that dominates Constellate (although “Dark” ups the BPM and rush; it’s the kind of song that should earn them a support slot with Chvrches). “Flick” was a song Aidan said to look out for and I hear why: laid-bare synthpop with some gorgeous vocals and memorable melody. “Record and Surveil” soundtracks our age like an epochful wipe; its zeros & ones show AIVIS aren’t afraid to tackle subjects of privacy and free speech in the form of well-crafted pop music.
A highlight of the year for me was the little hand I had in introducing AIVIS to Dancing With Ruby – the English synthpop duo who are dear to my heart. This resulted in two remixes: Matt Culpin remixed AIVIS single “The Wilderness (Dancing with Ruby Remix)” (with additional vocals from DWR’s Charlie Sanderson!) while AVIS remixed “Animals“. I love the open, collaborative attitude of bands like this, it’s a great way to invention.
The Moonlandingz – Interplanetary Class Classics
According to Spotify, The Moonlandingz were my most-listened to artist in 2017. I’ve followed the antics and output of Adrian Flanagan for years now, I love the guy. His 2006 Kings Have Long Arms album “I Rock-Eye Pop” is a forgotten masterpiece, imo. Then he went a bit arty but that was alright because it brought us The Moonlandingz – his ERC team-up with Johnny Rocket and the Fat White Family. “Sweet Saturn Mine” started it all, surfing up that eccentronic pop Adrian and Dean Honer have pioneered. “Vessels” resurrects the awesome Schaffel Beat, Gary Glitter be damned, then “I.D.S” – I love this track so much, it’s like Sigue Sigue Sputnik with added political commentary. Gentler synthpop fans be warned: as well as guitars, there’s some raw, crazed, rocked-out shenanigans going on in Interplanetary Class Classics – I mean, there’s a song called “Glory Hole” on it (actually some smooth Crampsy psych rock with added ERC bleeps). But this album works on so many levels, there’s something for everyone here (Yoko Ono helps out on get-yer-pals in finale “This Cities Undone,” along with Phil Oakey and Confidence Man). It’s just a shame Adrian didn’t lead the vocals on one track, Ringo style 😉
PANSENTIENT LEAGUE ALBUM OF THE YEAR
²RAUMWOHNUNG – Nacht und Tag
This is the best synthpop album of the year, no doubt about it for me. Well, half of it is 😉 2raumwohnung’s Nacht und Tag has two versions of every song, the first 10 “night versions” presented in sequence before the album repeats in a day mix. The night versions are what we’re here for though: glorious synthpop with so many hooks and earworms it’s explosive. Inga Humpe’s vocals are just sumptious throughout, flitting between German and English as she croons and entices.
Every song on Nacht und Tag is wonderful, highlights include “Lucky Lobster” – my song of 2017 but I just can’t explain why. It has the simplistic charm of a song from the 1920s but with an electronic beat and joyful synth and vocal flourishes, to say nothing of the spot-on production. Thinking about that lucky lobster swimming in the sea (alive and free) was one thing that got me through 2017… Single “Ich bin die Bass Drum” is gets your head nodding, and “Das Herz irrt nie” has a sweet bit of Blondie; it should soundtrack the next series of Deutschland 83. Yello‘s Dieter Meier lends vocals to “Bonjour Cherie” – a very Yello sounding song, even before you add his bass-bothering tones.
Choose the Nacht side of this “double album” like I did, or choose Tag with its indified, warm summery day setting. Either way, ²RAUMWOHNUNG’s Nacht und Tag is Pansentient League’s album of the year!
Pansentient Favortite Songs of 2017
Here’s a Spotify playlist with our 50 favorite songs from 2017. Featuring tracks from the above artists plus up-and-coming bands like Black Fly, Little Cub, FM Broadcast, Heaven and aYia – 2018 is looking good already 😉
Notably absent from the Top 20 list above
OMD – sorry, but after a run of some of the best music in their career, this year’s album didn’t do it for me. A few stand out tracks for sure, but not enough to rate the complete album so highly like some sites did (ditto Depeche)
Last summer, San Antonio Texas duo Hyperbubble got on their electric horses and moseyed on down to Nashville, Tennessee to record their new country moog album WESTERN WARE.
With No Strings Attached, synth cowboy Jeff and cowgirl Jess recorded the album in the home of Country and Western for good reason: WESTERN WARE is a full album of classic country songs, some very familiar (Rhinestone Cowboy, Jolene) and others more obscure (although admittedly my C&W knowledge is Beginner Level).
But there aint no twang and wail of traditional country instruments here! WESTERN WARE is 100% electronic, and Hyperbubble have brought their playful, fun synthpop to a sound that’s built-in to any Texan’s heart. “Back when I was a teenbopper, I found a copy of Gil Trythall’s “Switched on Nashville” in a dollar bin at a used record store,” says Jeff. “I took it home and listened to it 6 million times, so I reckon something like this was bound to happen!”
I’ve been expecting it too: it’s a rare crossover (apart from “Switched on Nashville” all I can think of is Schmoof’s “Hayfever“) but if anyone was gonna mix synthpop with Country & Western, it was gonna be Hyperbubble. WESTERN WARE is a wild west of urban cowboys, honkey-tonk angels and truck-driving women. With Moog and Theremin, Hyperbubble synthpopify classic country songs like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene“. It’s a lovely version here, stripped back to blips, bleeps, drumtronics and Jess’s heat-felt singing that puts a new twist on a familiar tune.
Hoyt Axton cover “Boney Fingers” is rewired as a real purdy barn-dance duet, complete with Jess getting boney on the Theremin while you do si do your pardner. I hadn’t heard the original but the lyrics are fantastic; it’s a jolly old song with farm-hand optimism.
“Truck Driving Woman” gives Jess a turn on lead vocals in this jaunty rolling number with C.B. radio chat like Smokey and Bandit. “Breaker one-nine, this here’s the Bubble Boy, was that a mini-skirt driving that truck?!” This is a real fun record, with songs like this it’s perfect for family trips in the car.
“Queen of the Roller Derby” has a Westworld vibe to it (the “Sonic Boom Boy” band, not the TV show) adding bluesy rock n roll riffs to another fun song that’s like something from a synthpop musical. “Rhinestone Cowboy” is one of those songs you think you know, but Hyperbubble (with help from Rikki & Daz) give it a serious synthpop makeover – I never expected to love this PARTICULAR song but it’s like something you’ve never heard. And it works! I think I have finally found my karaoke song at last :p
Giddy up, sequence into “Digital Cowboy” – featuring no less than Scott Simon Esq., off his chair to play lead synths on his previously unreleased title track from the first Our Daughter’s Wedding EP. It’s good, but now we need the extended version!
“The Rubber Room” recites a tale of incarceration, with spooky Theremin as the perfect accompaniment for this late-night campfire story song. Closing the album, “The Electric Horseman” covers the Dave Grusin soundtrack song from the 1979 movie. Complete with electric coconut shell hooves, this instrumental is the longest track on WESTERN WARE and follows Hyperbubble’s tradition of going HYPER hyperbubble on the last track. Hear Jess let rip on the Theremin, she’s the queen riding this synthwave: I love it 🙂
Gil Trythall called WESTERN WARE “a hoot and a half!” and hot dang it if he aint right! WESTERN WARE is a hyper fun album with lots of sing-a-long replay value. And for city slickers like me, WESTERN WARE also doubles as the perfect primer to the world of Country and Western music. Yee haw, my pop would be proud!
If the Beach Boys are the sound of California in the 60s, and Kraftwerk the sound of Europe in the 70s/80s then WESTERN WARE is the sound of Texas in the year 2017.
Synthpop releases in 2016 came thick and fast, with thousands of songs and singles being released throughout the year. This exceptional quantity of course meant a lot of mediocrity and clone bands with nothing really new to say: in 2016 I listened to a lot of so-so synthpop. But amongst all the electropop noise, some fantastic songs and albums emerged – new music with that special something that made me want to listen again. So while most “godfather bands” had little to offer this year (exceptions from the legends that are the Pet Shop Boys and Yello), a few new artists quietly released some superb albums for you to enjoy. Check them out below!
Top 20 Synthpop Albums
Here are my favorites: the Pansentient League’s Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2016!
I do love a concept album, so the “far-future Earth” backdrop to Infinite Summer is something I approve of. This is no synthwave season however, think more Hot Chip and Daft Punk. With monster songs like “Two Hearts” and the title track itself, there’s walls of pop channels going on here (and the occasional guitar burst). Songs like “New Atmosphere” may actually get a little synthwavey (but in a good, Dead Astronauts kind of way) and there’s always plenty of Human League circa-mid 80s bass synth going on.
Conzoom Records continue to put out fine new euro-flavoured synthpop. This year, Zoon Politicon’s Black in White was a comeback of sorts – their first album since the late 90s. For Conzoom, this is a venture into a more futurepop sound, as Zoon Politicon’s vibe here often sits well with bands like And One and Covenant. The synth-goth of songs like “Dreamer” or “New Phase” are highlights that sound like they’d be fantastic to hear live.
Also on Conzoom, Sinestar delivered a debut album that’s stuffed with gig-friendly tunes. Opener “Ready Set Go & Die” must be a sing-a-long favourite, while less-rocky tracks like “Heart of the Fire” evoke Erasure-esque love and dancing. Elsewhere, synth ballads like “The Mirror Song” and “Sentinel” provide some variety in this 14-track album of evolved electropop.
This came out early 2016 and instantly went into my rotation. Seattle’s Kasson Crooker aka Symbion Project is the man behind this fun disc of s’pop instrumentalism. Laced in baroque synth stylings reminiscent of Maison Vague with added 8-bit, Versailles has Freezepop DNA spliced with Thermostatic-style chiptune that’s just great fun from start to end. “Let Them Eat Synth” and “Dauphin” are two highlights, but this works better as a complete album concept (see also the de-lovely video for “Mirror Mirror“). Clocking in at just under 40 minutes the novelty never wears off, despite the lack of vocals. C’est synthpop, mais une autre mode entièrement!
I first heard My Robot Friend through the single “Waiting” with Alison Moyet back in 2010 and as informed, the album has been worth waiting for. From the New Order inspired tracks like “Goodbye” and “A Practical Joke” to the electro-rock-and-roll of “909“, Open the Book has an Orbital-like starness around it, with Andre Williams adding sassy lead vocals for a third of the songs. “Emancipated Hearts” infectiously mixes Underworld with the Stone Roses, while album closer “Gone” is a gorgeous synth-folk track with memento madchester.
This album is stuffed with catchy synth songs, each with a unique hook. “Trust Fund Girl” is one my songs of the year, it’s perfect bouncy synthpop. “Say You Love Me” harks back to 2008, but long-term fans are served with two remixes on this 12-track album. “Slave Luv” has a hint of a kinky vocal line, while “Sorry to Meet You” is a hypnotically good electro-ballad, and “It’s Over” is VERY earworm!
Released near the end of the year, Reed & Caroline’s Buchla and Singing is the second release on Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords label. With Reed Hays using only a Buchla modular system, the vocals of Caroline Schutz (Folksongs For The Afterlife, The Inner Banks) add a playfulness as the lyrics dance to “Washing Machine” (a nod to Manchester’s Starbase 109 perhaps?) and songs with cosmic intentions (cf. Vile Electrodes but from the other side of synthpop). About half of this 13-track album is just fantastic: “Electrons” is awesomely Freezepoppy, and “Rene’s Red Room” beautifully flaunts with Enya spirit. “Harmonic Generator” has Caroline vocalising like Trish Keenan while harmomical electronicals carry the song. I love it, I only wish Buchla and Singing had fewer experimental tracks ( “Henry the Worm” does kinda make up for it though 🙂
Norway’s Highasakite is this year’s essential Scandi release I reckon. With sonic roots in the likes of The Knife and Thermostatic, Camp Echo makes quite a statement. “Samurai Swords” for example is achingly, anthemically catchy, and “Golden Ticket” is smoothly assured synthpop with the emphasis on pop. Vocalist Ingrid Håvik has great range (check out “Someone Who’ll Get It” for example) and there’s a rumble of bombasticness about the production. Closer “Chernobyl” is epic in scope, and a poignant end to a wonderful album.
My EBM-tinted pick this year is the magnificent Anyway from Germany’s The Invincible Spirit, an original 80s band no less. Thomas Luedke helms a maxi 16-track album that instantly plunges you into Nitzer Ebb and Signal Aout 42 territory. “Erase” is a mosh-pit stomper, the kind of thing Front 242 should be doing now, while “Dark Eye” hammers in a Laibach beat to industrious effect. If you like this end of the synth- “pop” spectrum, you’ll love this. Pop purists might not be so excited, but give say “Everytime I Move” a go first.
Italo disco saw a huge resurgence a few years ago, but since then I’ve not really heard much new to get too excited about. That is, until The Sweeps’ joyfully vibrant Morning Maniac Music came along early in 2016. Comparisons with Sally Shapiro are fair, but songs like “Never Let Me Down” dial up the synthpop to 11 and “Touch Me” includes that drum break straight outta Dare. “Morning Maniac” swaps out the italo for something more soothing: it’s a gorgeous wee instrumental, perfect for hazy lazy summer days. Closing song “Sputnik” is another sumptuous voxless track, this time splicing Jean Michel Jarre with Space‘s “Magic Fly” for a swirly, synthy sensation.
Sharpies at the ready: it’s time for some synthpop coloring-in with HYPERBUBBLE! They’re currently putting the finishing touches to their much-anticipated Country & Western-themed new album “Western Ware” for release in 2017. Yee-hah!
Top 10 Synthpop Albums
Here’s the Pansentient League’s ten favorite albums of 2016!
Another concept album on this list, here I Monster (of “Daydream in Blue” fame) provide the soundtrack to the Dave Spiers documentary of the same name, about the characters involved in the invention of early synthesizers. It’s both a great synth record and educational too. As a bonus, if you just want all the vintage synth noodling without any commentary, Bright Sparks is also out as an instrumental version. But you’d miss Philip Loutsis’ Hot Chipped vocals on opener “The fantastic tale of Dr. MOOG and the Birth of the Shimmering Beast” – the “purest” synthpop song on the album. Elsewhere space-disco and progressive electronic make way for one of my favorite songs of the year: “The Bradley Brothers realise the transmutation of the Chamberlin to the MELLOTRON.” Dean Honer’s musical partner Kevin Pearce (Skywatchers) guests with Tara Busch on intoxicating vocals for this neo-pyschedelic cult classic that joins the new Broadcast coven of Innerspace Orchestra, Jane Weaver, Gulp etc. A couple of tracks on Bright Sparks are perhaps a bit too experimental to call this a “pop” album as a whole, but it’s about as synth as you can get (excepting Stewart Lee) so enjoy the crackle.
On the back of their shouldn’t-have-worked Depeche Mode covers album, Athens’ Marsheaux returned in 2016 with this 11-track album of new songs. From the get-go, songs like “Like a Movie” wrap around with retro sound; pure sequenced synthpop, as if circa England 1980s. There’s still a lot of variety and modern touch on Ath.Lon however, “Wild Heart” for example takes a new wave, even goth turn, with Cure-ious guitar and Manchunican beat. It’s a standout track and hints at a very interesting alt.direction for the duo. “Mediterranean” has epic intentions, like a euro-synth Beatles on holiday in the sun. There’s shades of Neon Lights here, but at only ~4 mins long I hope this track gets an extended mix sometime! “Let’s Take a Car” revs Gary Numan to a Hi-NRG beat, while “The Beginning of the End” brings unexpected apprehension juxtaposed in a dreamy, luscious, synthpop wave. The overall template may be familiar, but these Ebay Queens can still excite and surprise.
Three years in the making, England’s Viles returned in 2016 with sophomore album In the Shadows of Monuments. Drenched in atmosphere, this is a brooding, hypnotic set of songs that sees the band develop their electro-existential music. The stark realities on foreboding constructions like the title track and “Into Great Silence” carefully balance the upbeat synthpop of shoulda-been-singles like “The Red Bead” and “Last of the Lovers”. On “As We Turn to Rust” – synthpop’s own Ozymandias – Anais Neon has never sounded finer, as the Swan provides some superlative hi-NRG synth swagger. “Incision” is wonderfully multiplex and probably pretty morbid if you think about it too much. But then this is a “thinky” album; god bless ’em but there aren’t many of those in electropopland 2016. If you’re in the right mood for something fundamental in a Dead Can Dance or 2001: Space Odyssey kind of way, this is the perfect album.
I started at the end with And the Echo – the beguiling, hauntronic song “Year Three” that closes this wonderful album. It’s soulful electro that’s straight outta Portishead, and a far cry from the almost twee La Roux-type synthpop of opener “Okinawa.” Mississippian’s Winn McElroy and Morgan Pennington have crafted a bold album, baseline electronic pop but mixing things up to keep it interesting (although at under 30 minutes this is a short album!) “Smoke and Mirrors” reminds me of New Order vs. the much-missed Mirrors, whereas dance-friendly “Ultraviolet” ups the ante into electro-goth territory. It’s a cool wee album: I’m looking forward to hearing more from this pair!
I loved Electric back in 2013 and Super is more of the same great upgraded PSB disco-pop music. Neal and Chris must know it too, or is that an ironic album title? It’s pretty remarkable that these boys can put out such a good record, after so many years and so many classics already behind them. Songs like lead-in single “The Pop Kids” (you’ll think it’s a song that was already a huge hit for them) or the Jarre-cha-cha “Twenty-something” are bone-fide new Shoppy Classics. “Groovy” has swank and sass, then the distopian “The Dictator Decides” synthwaves it up a bit. Robo-ballad “Sad Robot World” has some gorgeous synth lines on it; it’s a hauntingly epic tune and worth listening to via some of the bootleg videos on YouTube. “Burn” is a huge song, Hi-NRG PSB that should have closed the album.
Released back in March, SVIIB is the fourth album from America’s School Of Seven Bells and it quickly became a firm favorite. The Republica synth-rock of “Ablaze” kicks off this album and while not representative, it’s is a great choice for a single. “On My Heart” is modern synthpop at its best, dreamy Drive style with a touch of New Order bass (see also the excellent “A Thousand Time More“). “Open Your Eyes” confirms this as the Electric Youth of 2016: dreamy, soothing synthpop with an undercurrrent of melancholy. The whispery way of Curve (i.e. Toni Halliday) may ring out across several tracks, but vocalist Alejandra Deheza isn’t afraid to test her range: I just love that staccato vocal break in “Music Takes Me” for example. SVIIB is sadly the last album from School Of Seven Bells: I’m just glad they were able to make this wonderful record before the final bell.
You’ll instantly think Chvrches within about a minute of London duo Avec San’s debut album Heartbreak Hi and like my weeg’ chums, Avec Sans seem to have cracked it in terms of songwriting. The utterly gorgeous title track for example pulses with Drive soundtrack vibrations, and “We Are” is up there with the absolute best of synthpop in 2016. The jaunty electropop of “Hold On” will send Marsheaux fans into a tizzy, while “The Answer” recalls Sophie Ellis-Bextor both in its vocal delivery and catchy chorus. “Close My Eyes” has several of those rare, spine-tingly vocal flourishes and “Perth” is another hugely infectious song, with its analogue synth swirls and superior vocals that knock the Bon Iver original into a cocked hat. Heartbreak Hi arrived fully formed and instantly became one of my most-played albums of the year (it’s always at my side). Remarkably there’s not a single “filler” track on this album, and it’s pleasingly one of those rare synthpop gems that even the mainstream press picked up on.
When can synthpop be called J-POP? (or J-POP synthpop?). For years now, Japanese bands have aped the European (and especially English) sound of the times. Kero Kero Bonito (aka KKB) are the return exchange students: a London, England group who slip into Japanese on pretty much every delightful song on this happy album. This is the most fun album I’ve heard in ages, pure bouncy pop with rappish (a bit Uffie) English songs about morning routines, graduating (but not going!), trampolines, and the so-so-sweet “Fish Bowl” – an ode to a pet fish! Like Schmoof used to do, KKB’s Sarah sings about everyday things to a twee synthpop beat. “Heard a Song” is one highlight, a metatextual ~3 minute pop song with some cute team chat in the middle. “Graduation” has hand-claps, M.I.A. basslines and an earworm of a chorus. “Try Me” is a curriculum vitae (“I’m quick to learn and I can work with people in a team!“) with some seriously funky synthpop that’s perfect for a road trip. “Paintbrush” is the only song solely in Japanese, a one-minute music-box ballad, then “Trampoline” bounces into life and you’ll have a smile on your face within seconds. I don’t really know J-POP too well (see Paul at J-POP GO for that), but the Japanese in Bonito Generation sounds great in this context: kawaii enough for me, innit. Like a teen Lily Allan, the lyrics and delivery are mostly what set this album above the rest. In a year with much worry, Bonito Generation is the perfect fluffy pill:)
Culturally embedded thanks to several global mega-hits in the 1980s, these two Swiss old boys have gone and done the impossible. I had a suspicion that Yello’s “Toy” was going to be a good album but wow – this really is the best thing they’ve put out in decades! Like Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark managed in 2013, Yello have made what sounds like a Best Of album thanks to the faux familiarity of the songs. Quintessentially Yello, there’s no other band in the world that could have made this brilliant album. Boris Blank’s production has pin-sharp clarity throughout: this is a record to test your new sound system with. Dieter Meier – the suavest man in synthpop – deeply sings like he’s never enjoyed himself more, while special guests FiFi Rong and Malia provide the perfect balance. Toy is electronic pop music but Yello make synthpop-with-a-latina-soul: for them it was never about the machines, they were just the tools of love. As a long-term fan of the band, I could not have been happier than with this 17-track album. Merci vilmal Herr Blank & Meier!
Oh my. This just… this album. I can’t. I can’t even. It only takes seconds and the hairs of the back of my neck stand on end and then I’m with her again and saying “but wait,listen to this! listen to this!” but she’s gone and maybe – just maybe – that’s ok because this kind of music is timeless and will never let you go alone. That is to say, Illiterate Synth Pop is a giant of an album by any genre’s standard. The fact that Prinze George have chosen synthpop as their carrier is just… it’s just… thank you. Before you might have said “listen to Yazoo” or “try Soft Cell” when questioned on the heart & humanity of synthpop, but now we have this. Musically along the lines of, say, Austra or Iamamiwhoami, it’s the lyrics and gospel delivery from Naomi Almquist that sets Illiterate Synth Pop apart. It’s the most moving and powerful record I’ve heard in years, with words that plunge to your core and trigger all sorts of emotions: synthpop may have found its Amy Winehouse. With the exception of “This Time” the tempo is moderate on Illiterate Synth Pop but that’s just fine. The widescreen/deep nature of this album demands that you slow things down a little and take a proper listen. This record isn’t for the faint-hearted: take care with the final song “Lights Burn Out” for example, it’s one that always leaves my eyes a little moist. Such is the power of really good music.
Illiterate Synth Pop is my album of the year. I hope you like it too!
The Divine Comedy – Foreverland sees a welcome return to Neil Hannon with a fantastic album
The Filthy Tongues – Jacob’s Ladder was the Scottish album-of-the-year as far as I’m concerned
Britta Phillips – Luck or Magic for which I have a Spotify algorithm to thank, picking up on my Broadcast
Savages – Adore Life is full of early Siouxsie & the Banshees energy and seriously catchy songs
Symbion Project – Arcadian – fresh from the fun s’pop instrumentalism of Rocococo, Seattle’s Kasson Crooker returned with a host of guest vocalists and a very different album: this is trip-hopped electronica with a touch of Kelley Polar & Emika
Pansentient Synthpop 2016 – The Spotify Playlist!
PANSENTIENT NEW SYNTHPOP 2016 – hand-curated Spotify playlist, with additional selections from WXJL .net – the automatic Spotify DJ with 10,000 watts of power!
AIVIS are Aidan and Travis, a brand new electropop duo from Scotland/USA. They’ve spent the past couple of years writing and recording songs, culminating in the release today of debut single “The Wilderness”. I totally love it: it’s catchy and modern and a wee bit world-wise. Glasgow-boy Aidan Smeaton’s vocals command this post-breakup tune, with its metronomic rhythms and intricate percussion; I’m sure I even heard some sleigh bells at the end….! With a cool 4K ‘mercan video, there’s comparisons with Lorde, Bastille and especially Chvrches (and not just due to the shared Glaswegian origins of Aidan and Lauren).
The PANSENTIENT LEAGUE spoke to AIVIS to find out a bit about them and their plans…
I assume the name AIVIS is from your first names, like ABBA right? Do you worry about people confusing you with a car rental company? 😉
A – An ABBA comparison! That’s a good start. Yes, it’s Aidan + Travis. We spent a long time mulling over options and just couldn’t agree on one. We wanted something that was short, represented both of us, and made us easy to google. Then one day Travis just said “AIVIS” and I was like “That’s it. That’s the one!” Now every time I see the car rental company I always think they’ve spelled it wrong 🙂
Were either of you in a band before AIVIS?
A – No, I’ve never been in a band until now. In my early 20s I had a solo project called Little Flare, where I would produce electropop instrumentals on my computer and then go to a studio to record the vocals over it. Over the next few years I really worked on improving my voice, my lyric writing, and my understanding of sound design and music production. Then AIVIS happened.
T – Electronic music was kind of an accident for me: I started out playing guitar and piano when a friend introduced me to Fruity Loops 5. I was tired of trying to depend on other people to make music so I started writing myself. While mainly using FL as a place holder to eventually record on instruments, the control and ease to create exactly what I wanted kept me on FL.
You live on different continents. How did you end up working together?
A – I hit a plateau in 2014 with my solo project and wanted to work with someone with a better ear for beats, basslines, and who enjoyed the production aspect of making music more than I did. I looked on Reddit for collaborators and started a few projects that never took off. I found a track Travis posted and luckily he’d used the same software as me, so I sent him one of my tracks and he played about with it and made it sound amazing. So, even though I was in Scotland and he was in Ohio, we were able to work on our projects by sharing files back and forth. Over the next few years we spoke a handful of times on Skype, but mainly just chatted over Facebook Messenger and shared files via Google Drive. The Internet is a wonderful thing!
T – I had posted my song ‘Airports‘ on Reddit and Aidan sent a message saying he liked my work and wanted to collaborate and I thought, why not? Our first song together was ‘Metamorphosis‘ which is exactly what these last 2.5 years have been. We lucked out. I think doing this online has helped because our schedules are so different and we can both maximize our free time to work on this without having to actually meet up.
Who are your musical influences or heroes?
A – I always feel a bit embarrassed answering this question because I’m so uncool. I grew up in the late 90s and early 00s when pop groups dominated the UK charts. As a kid I listened to Steps, S Club 7, Vengaboys, Spice Girls… the cheesier the better! When I became a moody teenager I listened to James Blunt, Delta Goodrem, Yellowcard, Avril Lavigne and My Chemical Romance. That was as angsty as my poppy personality could go! Since then I’ve been influenced by the likes of Mika, Robyn, La Roux, Bastille, Lorde, Lady Gaga, Clean Bandit, Fun, Hurts, Grimes, Marina and the Diamonds, RedOne, Max Martin and Sia.
My favourite band for some time now are CHVRCHES, partly because they’re Glaswegian but mainly because their songs are just so fucking amazing. They’re definitely heroes of mine and I look up to them for their songwriting and for their authenticity as artists.
T – I’ve taken a lot of influence from groups like Tool, Animals as Leaders, Modest Mouse, Emery. Emery’s been my favorite band for the last 10 years. I think often what I take out of music is the way it makes me feel so I may not sound like any of these groups but I put that feeling it gave me into the things I create. Then there are random songs by groups that I don’t particularly listen to a lot of that will strike me and influence me in a big way. CHVRCHES has definitely been the biggest influence on AIVIS though. Our music taste doesn’t overlap a whole lot but we both agree 100% on CHVRCHES. I think one artist I look up to a lot is Matthew Morden of Bubblegum Octopus. It’s just some dude from New Jersey with a tiny fanbase but he doesn’t give up. He’s always touring and making ends meet doing what he loves and that’s absolutely inspiring to me.
How would you describe your music to people?
A – Catchy emotional insidious glitchy electronic pop.
T – I’ve always had the toughest time trying to explain my music to people. Lately I’ve been saying think of Lorde with a male vocalist and darker vocals but more instrument heavy.
What is your typical songwriting process?
A – I’m basically the provider of pop: song structure, lyrics, vocals, melodies, and harmonies. Travis is the devil for detail – beats, basslines, glitches and instrumentation. We really complement each other’s skills. For the first album, we chose songs that were originally part of our solo projects. So half of them started out as my songs, and the other half were Travis’s. I’ll rearrange the elements of the track and flesh it out then send it back to him to polish it up. While he does that I’ll write vocal parts and lyrics and I’ll record demos with my PreSonus Studio One mic and audio interface. Each song goes through countless iterations until we’re both happy with it, but many of them are just abandoned.
Once we have a decent backing track with lyrics, I’ll take it to Elba Audio Studios in Glasgow and work with the very talented engineer Phil Feenan, who helps me get the best takes of all the vocal layers I’ve written. I can have 20 vocal layers in one song so it can take days to complete. I used to be a shite singer but doing that definitely helped me improve my technique over the years! Once we have a finished backing track and vocal stems, we send everything away to Chris Graham in Columbus, where his team mix and master it.
I’ve seen your lyrics described as having “dark overtones.” Do you agree?
A – Haha, I totally agree. I’m generally a happy and friendly guy, but I guess my dark side comes out when I’m writing lyrics. The lyric part of songwriting can be quite cathartic and I suppose that’s one way I express and deal with those unpleasant emotions. Plus, I’ve always been attracted to music and art that taps into the darker side of the human experience. Black Mirror is my favourite TV show by far. Writing about going clubbing or falling in love or hating someone is fine, but it’s boring. I’m more interested in writing about the feelings I don’t feel comfortable talking about or about my views on society and humanity. I’m such an emo!
Your debut single “The Wilderness” is infectiously catchy and probably the first song I’ve ever heard with the phrase “molly-coddled” in it 😉 Is the song about or dedicated to anyone in particular?
A – Thank you! Everyone picks up on the “mollycoddled” lyric, I love it so much. ‘The Wilderness‘ is probably the first song I wrote where I really decided to express how I was feeling in a completely honest way. I actually feel very exposed and uncomfortable when people close to me listen to it because they know who it’s about. I wrote the music years ago, but only started on the lyrics last year during my first ever break up from a long term relationship. It’s hard to describe how scary it is being single at 24 when you’ve had the same boyfriend since you were 15, and how the process of finding yourself again is equally difficult and rewarding. Having to deal with the mixed feelings of regret, relief, abandonment, freedom, loneliness, hope, anger, and forgiveness in ways most people deal with for the first time as teenagers.
We don’t speak any more sadly, but I’m happy that we’ve moved on and I don’t hold any bad feelings against him. I held on to a lot of guilt and rage for a long time, and I’m glad I’ve moved past that. I probably won’t be ready for another relationship for a long time. I guess I’m still trekking through The Wilderness, paving my own way now though 🙂.
Where was the video for “The Wilderness” shot? How involved were you with the whole process and did you enjoy the experience? And who’s the girl?
A – The video was shot in Joliet, Illinois, where our director Dan Lotz is from. Michael Downing from Signal-to-Noise posted a link to his band’s music video and I loved it. I got in touch and asked if he’d be interested in doing the video for ‘The Wilderness’. Travis and I came up with the concept for the video and pitched it to Dan. We felt like we had won the lottery when he said yes!
So because I couldn’t get a cheap flight out to the States for another couple of months, Dan got his team together and started filming the story part of the video with the actors first (the fantastically talented Chelsea Rambo and Caleb Harris). They worked with cinematographer Noah Harris. The shots in the woods are stunning and both Chelsea and Caleb perform so professionally.
A few weeks later I flew from Glasgow and Travis drove from Columbus to Chicago, where we both met in person for the first time. That was really weird because we’d been working together for over 2 years, talking daily, we wrote an album together, and yet we hadn’t physically met! So we spent 5 days in and around Joliet and Chicago getting to know each other better, doing touristy things, meeting Dan and his friends, filming the studio parts of the video in Dan’s apartment, and then editing the video. It was strange because we were so used to working in different places at different times that we didn’t really know how to work together in the same place. We ended up mostly sitting on our own computers in opposite ends of the room working as we normally do!
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing a new band like AIVIS?
A – The main challenge is geographic. Because I’m in Scotland and Travis is in Ohio it’s just not practical for us to gig right now, which is super important for new bands to do. But, in fairness, we’ve always done things unconventionally and over the Internet. Perhaps there’ll be some way for us to virtually gig until we’re able to do live shows!
T – Definitely living on the other side of the planet from one another. It’ll put an extra challenge on us when we start playing live shows since we haven’t been able to practice sets together. Though on the bright side it gives us a wider audience. You know how people can be about their local bands.
Who was the last band or singer you saw live? All-time favorite gig?
A – The last gig I went to was Malcolm Middleton at the Art School in Glasgow. His latest album is great and I listened to ‘Music Ticks’ on repeat for weeks after it. I’ve been to loads of amazing gigs, but the standout one for me was probably CHVRCHES at the Hydro in Glasgow. I think it was just a very special gig because you knew it meant so much to the band. It was the largest venue they’d headlined at and it was in their home town. I may have shed a tear during ‘Afterglow’.
T – I saw Moon Hooch this last October with Honeycomb and a couple other beatboxers and it was a spiritual experience. It was definitely the best show I’ve been to yet. The energy was through the roof and it was just absolutely wild. Though I’m seeing Animals as Leaders soon and they’re one of my favorites so that may take number 1.
What can we expect from the album? Any particular themes or styles/genres? Any song you’re particularly proud of?
A – Hooks, hooks, and more hooks! The album is full of electropop earworms. Most songs touch on a dark theme but in a fun way, such as abandonment, envy, obsession, blind faith, or state surveillance (yes, there’s a song about state surveillance!). Others are more uplifting or nostalgic. I’m particularly proud of the track ‘Flick’ because it’s one of the first songs I wrote as part of my Little Flare solo project. I rewrote the lyrics and Travis completely reproduced the track for the album so it’s it’s definitely a cool throwback.
T – You can expect to feel happy, to feel sad, to feel reminiscent. There’s definitely a familiar theme to all the songs yet they’re all quite different. There’re lots of groovy basslines, sultry harmonies, glitches, and a tinge of 80s synthwave. I think the biggest accomplishment for me so far is the song ‘Record and Surveil‘.
Originally released in 2010, “Is That the 12″ Mix?” returns in this newly expanded edition for 2016 (and an appropriate moniker tweak).
With an exclusive introduction by Martyn Ware (Heaven 17), “Is That the 12″ Remix?“ narrates the history of the twelve inch mix and of the remix evolution in the early and mid-80s. The book also includes a chapter on obsessive fans of 80s music. That’s where I come in 😉
Before this blog, I ran a website (also called The Pansentient League) where I posted my remixes of Human League songs along with much better mixes from other (proper) remixers and bands. I also mucked about with creating videos, comics, short stories and fake sci-fi mythology, all centered on my favorite band. It’s quite mad you know. Rob interviewed me for his book (he calls me a fan that’s “a little more left-field” and an example of “just how obsessive some music fans can become“); you can read my contribution in the chapter about The Fan(atic)s. :p
Unfortunately, Spotify have switched off their Metadata API meaning that our New on Spotify page will not work without a rewrite. I currently do not have the time nor skills to do this – if you feel up to the challenge, please get in touch and I can send you the sources.
So that was 2015 then: what another great yeat for synthpop! But I nearly didn’t manage this year’s Pansentient Top 20 Synthpop Album rundown, as I was busy writing a book- please check it out, it’s a geeky techno-savvy modern fable (with embedded Spotify playlists 😉 )
While writing my book, I of course listened to A LOT of music – and a lot of that was NEW SYNTHPOP. I have a Top 20 for you below the fold, but before that, bookmark these special non-synthpop Pansentient playlists from 2015:
One final note before we begin: PSL’s Top 20 list is traditonally SYNTHPOP ALBUMS ONLY – this had restricted things in the past (hello, Kite and your EPs) so this year we are a little bit more open (also provides a dash of Krautrock, futurepop maybe – still probably no guitars though ;).
Another final note: this year’s commentary is shorter than usual due to circumstances fully under our control.
Cheers, let us know your own favorites below & have a great New Year 2016!
Jer aka afront
Pansentient League’s Top Synthpop Albums 2015
20. Kosmischer Läufer: The Secret Cosmic Music of the East German Olympic Program 1972-83: Volume 3
The third long-player in Kosmischer Laufer‘s excellent series of synth-mellow krautrock instrumental albums. Perfect dreamy and inspirational retro-synth music to get lost in, Kosmischer Laufer were frequently my go-to band for early-morning/late-night listening in 2015.
The reason this one is only Number 20 is because it’s just out and I’ve not heard it much yet. The previous two I’ve played A LOT though, they’re brilliant!
File next to: Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarre, Neu!, Warm Digits
A solid debut from Sweden’s Rainmode, Onis synthpop aimed at the modern masses. There’s a few tracks I’d skip (like “Seizures“) but gutsy chart-friendly synthpop deployed on the likes of “The Foghorn” make On well worth repeat listens. And who else can hear early Duran Duran in the deliciously smooth “Ballroom Barricades“?
You can keep your Grimes – For me, Purity Ring‘s second album is by far 2015’s superior slice of glitchy withchy synthpopery. The three singles are a good taster for the whole album: you’re assured of consistency, as Megan James (vocals) and Corin Roddick are purely synergetic. It is all of course a bit goth – just a bit – so not to everyone’s taste. Me, I love it obvs.
I’ve been a huge fan of Parralox since their beginning, but synth-masetro John von Ahlen seemed to run out of steam a couple of years ago, releasing perhaps one cover song too many. Luckily, “Aeronaut” is a big return to form: John’s got his songwriting mojo back (although I do wonder why this wasn’t released under his Empire State Human moniker, where JVA also takes full lead-vocal control. I miss the girls 😉
This really shouldn’t work at all: a synthpop covers album of a lesser-known synthpop classic. Song by song. But dammit it DOES work, and very well too! Marsheaux‘s Greek-inflected vocals are perfectly suited to the songs on this not-for-everyone’s early Depeche Mode album. Couple that with some tight, modern production and what you get is one of the surprise synthpop delights of 2015. I’ll try not to be so dismissive of covers in the future, Σας ευχαριστώ για το μάθημα , κυρίες 😉
Carpenter Brut‘s Trilogy brings together his three EPs into one killer synthwave long-player. The Giallo-flavored 80s soundtrack schlock still reigns supreme, but there’s also some jaunty, uplifting numbers here (and a surprise non-instrumental in the form of “Anarchy Road“). So it’s not all sci-fi horror-movie synthwave, just mostly. Pour les Pervs.
File next to: Perturbator, Kavinsky, John Carpenter
I have some catching up to do if this, Northern Lite‘s tenth album, is anything to go by. Masterfully put together, TENhas 10 bright futurepop club songs, each perfectly paced with vocals coming from somewhere between Dave Gahan and Eskil Simonsson. If futurepop is still a thing, this album must surely be its new gold standard.
File next to: Covenant, And One, Depeche Mode, LCD Soundsystem
I’d been keeping an eye on this band for a while, as earlier releases showed a lot of promise. The new long-player doesn’t disappoint: single “Laws of Motion” (with vocals from Morgan Kibby) is a highlight, and “Catfish” has a great housey vibe to it. The album includes a cool cover of The Beloved‘s “Sweet Harmony” (now there’s a band I would LOVE to see return!)
Somehow Rodney Cromwell‘s debut album is both fresh and familiar at the same time. A new wave album for sure, Age of Anxiety dallies with minimal synthpop but with a quirky heart instead of a frozen one. The brilliant “Black Dog” is New Order‘s “Temptation” reduxed, while “Cassiopeia” is the sweetest little synth ditty I’ve heard all year. No wonder Rodney Cromwell was voted to top “best newcomer” by The Electricity Club’s editor-in-Chief.
File next to: New Order, Blancmange
11. Gateway Drugs – Dare Tonight
South Africa’s Gateway Drugs are my secret find of 2015: it seems so anyway! Others may disagree, but I reckon Dare Tonight is the perfect summer synthpop album. The album cover might suggest synthwave, but this is really more like something the Human League might have put out in the mid 1980s (I think “Louise” must be a particular Gateway Drugs favourite). That’s not to say this album is for everyone: some synthpop pals reckoned this was a bit too cheesy and twee for them, with all its youthfully jaunty pop songs and perceived lack of substance. But hey, sometimes all you need is a little bit of cheery pop and these boys deliver it to your room with a cherry on top.
File next to: Human League (Hysteria-era but without the politics)
Since it’s Christmas(ish), this year I am letting Kite into this usually ALBUM-ONLY rundown. After six fabulous EPs, it would be rude not to after all. And amazingly, number VI is quite probably Kite‘s finest EP yet. Synthpop with poignancy is how I think of Kite: their Nordic blend naturally reflects the colder seasons, and you can hear the proto-industrial creeping in to the epic opener “Up For Life”, another progressive synthpop track (just without the orchestrals).
File next to: The Knike,a-ha, Tikkle Me, Prince, Trust
Much like their contemporaries OMD, Blancmange returned from the wilderness with a new “sounds-like-greatest-hits” album a few years ago, then followed it up with a career-defining release of new songs. For OMD, that was English Electric. For Blancmange, Semi Detached is surely destined to become a fan favourite. A Synth Britannia album through-and-through, the song-writing and especially the wonderful lyrics elevate this album above most this year. NEVER write off the original versions!
File next to: OMD, Ian Dury, Frazier Chorus, The Fall
So firstly, yes: John Grant sounds a like the Divine Comedy‘s Neal Hannon. But you maybe knew that already: Mr. Grant has some notoriety, and I’m not just talking about his sweaters. There’s also a fair bit of guitar on this album, and fretless bass, etc. But there’s enough synthpoppynes to warrant the inclusion of Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. Check out tracks like “Sung Slacks“, “You & Him“, or the wickedly THL MKI-ish”Black Blizzard“). I know that once I get into the lyrics, I’ll find more treasures (yay Spotify again btw: click the Lyrics button et voila). Everything But the Girls‘s Tracey Thorn duets with John on “Disappointing” – so good to hear her again!
File next to: Divine Comedy, I Monster, The Associates
Sweden’s Johan Baeckström has featured on our EOY lists before: as half of Daily Planet in the Pansentient League’s Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2014. He follows that up with this blinder of an album. Daily Planet rules still apply: if you like your synthpop Erasureseque, then this album’s for you. I love that vibe, and Johan totally nails it here. While Dancing With Ruby flirt with something different (see below, and their remix of Baeckström’s “Starlights“), Like Before targets one sound throughout. This could be risky, but Johan’s songwriting chops are first class: track-after-track, another electro-earworm. That little synthy bit on “Come With Me” – this was with me for weeks!
06. Electro Sensitive Behaviour w/Perry Blake – Modern Love
So firstly, yes: Perry Blake also sounds kinda like the Divine Comedy’s Neal Hannon (cf. John Grant above). That is of course a good thing. And like Hannon, the lyrics on this albumare wonderfully quirky and inventive. But Electro Sensitive Behaviour are true to their name: Modern Love is perfectly synthpop; sequenced so the listener never gets bored, and some great wry Hannon-esque humor to keep you involved. It’s great to hear some fun and cheekiness sometimes, and this album is filled with it.
File next to: Divine Comedy, John Grant, Sparks, Neosupervital
05. Dancing With Ruby – In the Interest of Beasts
I reviewed Dancing With Ruby‘s brilliant In the Interest of Beasts over at The Electricity Club. Suffice to say, this is a superb “debut” album (like Parralox, DWR aka Northern Kind recruited a new vocalist in the form of the wonderful Charlie Sanderson). Deceptively deep and socio-ecoligically aware, Charlie’s co-songwriting is a shot in the arm for imagineer Matt Culpin.
At its heart though, this album’s crisply produced synthpop beat just rocks. Take a listen to “Spider” or “Still Waters“. Then album closer “Dance Move Feel” – the summery synthpop song of the year. I can’t wait to hear more from them!
File next to: Usual and some unusual suspects
04. IAMX – Metanoia
Me and Chris go way back. Back to the start of the Sneaker Pimps. But then we went our ways. His solo stuff – I liked it, don’t get me wrong, it just never had that zazz I’d heard in the ‘Pimps. I checked out his new albums but so-so I thought until: wham! Metanoiacomes out this year and it’s fu*cking genius, there’s no other way to describe it. If I wasn’t in such a happy mood, this album would probably rank even higher. Wickedly infectious, IAMX take the listener into a personal space that some may think should be left alone. Not me though: Metanoiais just too good not to listen to repeatedly!
File next to: Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Apoptygma Berzerk
03. Black Nail Cabaret: Harry Me Marry Me Bury Me Bite Me
Black Nail Cabaret‘s second album is an essential box of electro-goth tricks and synthpop-cabaret delights. Hungarian duo Emese Illes-Arvai (vocals) and Sophie Tarr have crafted an album that gets under your skin, much like IAMX above but with feminine curves. The vocals are gorgeous throughout, both enticing and haunted. You’ll be mesmerised, especially on tracks like “Hair“, “Satisfaction” (slow Kylie!) and “Down Again“.
File next to: Client, Antony and the Jonsons, Vile Electrodes
This came out at the start of the year and it still sounds as fresh as that first day of listening. Championed by everyone who’s heard it, this beautiful album of Ten Love Songs has everything a music fan could want. The fact that it has a synthpop backbone is a bonus for us long-term listeners. I chose “Delirious” as my song of the year on The Electricity Club, but it could have been almost any song on this album. The central masterpiece: “Memorial” is a truly epic 10 minute song: progressive synthpop that proves once and for all that love can be unbounded from both time & synthesiser. The wash of orchestra must have cost a bob or two but it’s worth it: as I said, this album has a song for everyone.
File next to: Anywhere really but try Goldfrapp, Depeche Mode, Divine Comedy, Fever Ray, Tori Amos
These three wise Scots, they’ve only gone and done it again: picking up from where Bones… left off, Every Open Eye just says nyah to the naysayers and instead sticks with the winning formula of pure synthpop. Except this time it’s EVEN BETTER THAN THE LAST TIME! I cannae say how delighted I am that this album is so good. Every track is pure dead brilliant: even the blokey song is pretty good (you need to see him dancing to it). “Clearest Blue” is of course my other song-of-the-year, listening to it is like pressing the “spine-tingle” button on-demand. Absolute barry stuff guys, thank you!
I saw these cats a while ago in a wee Edinburgh basement bar gig below an art gallery: now they’re all over American prime-time TV and suchlike, carrying the synthpop sound back to where it belongs: as music for the masses. G’an yersel, Churches!
Our popular Spotify playlist below features all the above artists, and many more besides. These playlists are curated throughout the year then pruned in time for the winter. Synthpop satisfaction guaranteed!
Trailer: The Turtle at the Bottom of the Garden
My other project this year was this daft wee geeky book for kids (small & big) called The Turtle at the Bottom of the Garden.
“A funny, loopy story for kids about a boy jumping from turtle to turtle. He doesn’t care that it’s turtles all the way down…”
Set in near-future Scotland, Jer White’s The Turtle at the Bottom of the Garden is a quirky, modern kid’s book with built-in re-readability, a geeky glossary, Spotify playlists and other treats. With every chapter beautifully illustrated by Edinburgh artist Adam Howie, The Turtle at the Bottom of the Garden is available now as a 160-page paperback or soon direct to your Kindle!