Category Archives: Synthpop

Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2013

So 2013 then: what another great year for music! Especially if you’re a fan of synthpop, electropop, new wave and the like. From classic-era heavyweights releasing career highlights (OMD, Pet Shop Boys, Alison Moyet) through to expectation-defying returns to form (Depeche Mode, Covenant) and dynamite debuts (CHVRCHES, Vile Electrodes), this past year has shown that the long-form album is still king.

You can listen to what I thought were the best songs of the year here:  Pansentient Synthpop 2013 Spotify playlist. This 200-track playlist has been curated to cut the crap and only present the finest selection. Compare that to Pansentient Synthpop 2009, when it was a struggle to even come up with a Top 40!

There’s been so much great music this year that it was sometimes a struggle to keep up. But if you’re looking for an opinion from someone who lives-and-breathes this stuff, first have a read at The Electricity Club’s End of Year Review 2013, and then check out my choices for the Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2013 below!


It’s Not Synthpop But I Like It

Before we begin, I must mention a few still-electronic-but-not-synthpop albums that I really got into this year:

  • shpongleShpongle – Museum of Consciousness. The best Shpongle album in over 10 years, this is a fantastic journey around the world of dreamy, tripadelic, psybience with a brain.
  • Container 90 – Working Class League. I couldn’t have hoped for more from this: EBM certainly has its limitations and can easily get repetitive, but these Swedes are the only EMBers who can bring something new to the table. Progressing the genre, they mix up social commentary, fuck-you attitude, lashings of humour, and exhausting danceability; all while seeming to have such a bloody good time of it too. There’s even a John Lennon cover here ffs!
  • Benji Vaughan – Even Tundra. The second great Twisted Records album of the year (after Shpongle), this is a beautiful slice of electro-ambience (but not the kind that sends you to sleep after 10 minutes).
  • ivardensphereFront Line Assembly – Echogenetic. What a kick-ass return! Over the decades, FLA have always merged in elements of the sound-de-jour into their music, but the light touches of dubstep here are a stroke of genius. This song “Deadened” is a killer tune, it could well be my song-of-the-year.
  • iVardensphere – The Methuselah Tree. I file iVardensphere in my “Electro-Industrial” folder in Spotify, but tbh these guys defy all classification. This album has to be experienced, it’s an electro-tribal imperative. After every listen I come away feeling that I’ve just experienced something deeply profound, something serious as shit that puts everything else into sharp perspective. I can barely begin to describe it, so instead go read this fascinating and insightful interview with Scott of Ivardensphere over at I Die: You Die.


Top 20 Synthpop Albums

Here’s my first batch of 10 albums:

  • befBritish Electric Foundation – MQD3. Martyn Ware – the godfather of synthpop – teams up with a whole host of star singers for some more music of quality and distinction. Mercifully dropping the funk of earlier outings, this album strips things back to darker synthetics. Covering songs from the 60s to 90s, MQD3 makes you re-appraise songs you didn’t think much of first time round. Andy Bell’s cover of Kate Bush’ “Breathing” is one highlight, as are both Glenn Gregory’s covers. And Heaven 17’s other fine vocalist Billy Godfrey gives Jimmy Somerville a run for his money on Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy.”
  • Carved Souls – Dismantle. It’s been a bit of a hit-and-miss year for Conzoom Records, but this overlooked sophomore album from Carved Souls is definitely my pick of their 2013 releases. The band compare themselves to Assemblage 23 and Apoptygma Berzerk, but personally I think Carved Souls have delivered an album that easily beats those band’s recent releases.
  • spacemarchTorul – Tonight We Dream Fiercely. Slovenia’s Torul have been around for a few years now but haven’t really impressed me much in the past. They’ve definitely nailed it with this infectious and hypnotic album though.
  • Space MarchMountain King. While Parralox took a breather this year with a covers album, Australia’s other great synthpop band gave us a delightful “symphonic journey of retro-electro, classical and dream pop.” Mr. Vince Clarke gave this album a big thumbs up and I’m fully in agreement! “Someone Something Sunshine” is a highlight;  bright but tinged with a little melancholy. “Mastermind of Crime” has some great lyrics, while “Too Much Time on my Hands” is a lovely bleepy bleep song.
  • Social Ambitions – Hunger. I do feel I miss out sometimes by not speaking Swedish, and a fair few of the songs on this synthpop album are sung in that language. But ultimately good songwriting will always win me over, and Hunger has much to offer. A few songs don’t quite hit the mark for me, but the ones that do I can easily listen to again and again.
  • henricHenric de la Cour – Mandrills. This album has been creeping up my play list for a while now, the more I listen to it to more I like. I’ve read about Henric’s struggle with a rare illness, and there’s certainly a slightly foreboding feel to this album. This is introspective synthpop at a superior level, but no matter what the circumstances behind its production it fully stands up on its own merits. Henric’s duet with Susanna Risberg on “Shark” is another contender for single of year, and if you’ve not seen it check out the wonderful video!
  • MarsheauxInhale. I’ve always been a bit more critical of Marsheaux than most of my synthpop peers, but all my complaints are finally undone with this excellent album: I think its their finest work to date. Everything comes together perfectly, from the sharp production and catchy tunes to the vocals and lyrics. Standout songs “Self Control“, “Come on Now” and “Inhale” prove that Marsheaux sound like they’re finally having some fun, and I reckon they’re all the better for it.
  • depecheLittle BootsNocturnes. It sounds like a lot of synthpop purists were disappointed with this album, but for me it’s one that I keep on going back to. Like Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Make a Scene album from a few years ago, it’s the sheer quality of the songs that overrides any modern pop messiness. If anything, Nocturnes is a more consistent affair than her debut Hands ever was: this is the perfect summer party album.
  • Depeche ModeDelta Machine. Well finally! It’s about time Depeche Mode released a good album again, and while there is a bit of bloat filling up this album it’s definitely their best – most electronic – album in years. Of course to some, Delta Machine might be a great blues album ruined by bleeps and squeaks, but at this point in the game any Depeche Mode album that has that spark of genius we know they’re capable of is something to be thankful for.


Top 10 Synthpop Albums

Ten great albums there – but here are my absolute favorites of the year!

Emika  Dva

emikaAfter her brilliant debut album, I thought things had gone awry for Emika with subsequent singles seeming a bit aimless and self-indulgent. So my expectations for DVA weren’t that great, and indeed the first track – an ominous orchestral number – made me think she’d gone the way of The Knife (i.e. up herself). How wrong I was though: since first listening, this album has really gotten under my skin, the sub-bass gone sub-dermal. DVA is an intense, maudlin experience, punctuated with uplifting resonance (“Dem Worlds“, “Sing To Me“) that highlight the superb sound design and production. You can keep your dubstep then: DVA is how I like to rattle my bones.


Noblesse Oblige  Affair of the Heart

noblesseAffair of the Heart is one of those pop albums that’s full of memorable songs. There may be a bit of live bass here and there, but this is most assuredly a synthpop record of the European kind. Highlights include the single “Runaway” (an unashamedly fun slice of synthpop), “Vagabonde” (Anne Pigalle-esque vocals to a disco beat and probably my favorite track on the album), and a cover of the Eagle’s “Hotel California” that, at eight-and-a-half minutes, never outstays its welcome and brings some appropriate electronic atmosphere (and Japanese koto strings) into the mix.



Covenant  Leaving Babylon

covenantI’ve been waiting for over 10 years for a worthy follow-up to 2002’s Northern Light. Both Skyshaper and Modern Ruin were OK albums, but both left me wanting. Now Leaving Babylon finally shows Covenant at their best: it’s full of broody scandi-synthpop, upbeat futurepop and pulsating electronic dance tracks. It may have taken a while to arrive in full on Spotify (I hate those “samplers” they completely ruin the flow of the album), but it was definitely worth the wait. Like VNV Nation, a Covenant song is always instantly recognisable; just this time it all gels together perfectly into one feature-length album that seems to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.


Pet Shop Boys  Electric

psbThe first of four “old order” artists on this list and what a fabulous surprise this album is! Last year’s Elysium album was about the dullest thing I’d heard all year, so I’d as good as written off the PSBs. But then the single “Axis” came out and I was bowled over. This is the Pet Shop Boys?? No way! A sublimely cool slice of pumping retro hi-NRG, it also acts as the perfect statement of intent as the album opener. Electric is a dance album through-and-through, even including Bruce Springsteen cover “The Last to Die.” Single “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct”  sounds like it was always a classic PSB song, while “The Last to Die” verges into VNV Nation territory. I honestly think this is the best album they’ve ever made!

Alison Moyet – The Minutes

alfAnother unexpected treat! Yazoo’s “reconnected” reunion tour a few years ago was an undoubted success, and it got me super-hyped for the possibility of some new material from Alf & Vince. That hasn’t happened (yet), but in a way that doesn’t matter: The Minutes is a magnificant return to elctronica, loaded with fabulous modern synthpop numbers (checkout “Filigree” for example). Collaborating with Guy Sigsworth has led to some of Moyet’s best-ever work: The Minutes fully deserves the acclaim its received in the mainstream press, and it was delightful to see Alison Moyet in the UK Top 10 Album charts again.


Karl Bartos – Off The Record

karlThe next-best thing to a new Kraftwerk album is always a new Karl Bartos album. And in the case of Off the Record, I seriously doubt Herr Hütter and current friends could have done much better. Although I tend to skip the opening track (and imo ill-advised lead single), from “Nachtfahrt” onwards this is just a glorious album. Playing out like an alternative The Mix, Off the Record feels like a Kraftwerk greatest hits package, with Karl expertly touching on the signature sound of Kraftwerk from Radioactivity onwards. It’s difficult to pick out favourites – so I won’t. Just start from Track 2 and enjoy this retro wonder of the future…


Northern Kind  Credible Sexy Unit

nkHere’s a band that’s very dear to my heart. For fans of the Vince Clarke-ian style of synthpop, a new album from Northern Kind will always be an event. From the off, Credible Sexy Unit lays down its template with “Yours“, a fantastic slice of jaunty sing-along synthpop. And taken as a whole, the songs that make up this album form exactly what you’d expect from Northern Kind: retro-amped chipper tunes, superlative singing, enduring song-writing, and a professional attitude that belies their indie sensibilities. Credible Sexy Unit will surely please any discerning synthpop fan, especially those seeking a bit of cheerful enlightenment. You can read my full review over at The Electricity Club!


CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

chvrchesWhat an amazing year it’s been for Chvrches. From the backwater streets of Glasgow to synthpop’s modern global megastars, this is the gateway band to persuade the masses about the joys of synthpop. Because what still astonishes me is that despite their now huge appeal, Chvrches are still 100% a synthpop band with an album-full of songs that I – single white male, wrong side of 40 – think are some of this year’s best musical treats (and I include the “blokey” songs in there too!) . All four superb singles are present and correct, as well as a host of achingly good tracks like “Science/Vision” , “Lungs” and “We Sink“. So aye, Chvrches eh: bloody hell, this is barry stuff but!


Vile Electrodes – The Future Through a Lens

vileMy most-anticipated album this year was always going to be the Vile Electrodes debut. It’s been over a two year wait, but boy was it worth it! On first listening, I found The Future Through a Lens surprisingly introspective and a little bit downbeat. But it’s not really a dance album: these songs demand attention and constantly reward careful listening.  Opening with a brilliant instrumental – a broody, John Carpenter-inspired number – the eleven songs that follow are all dazzlingly good synth songs. Lead vocalist Anais Neon controls the mic audaciously, dreamily crooning and weaving her way over the music. Highlights include “Drowned Cities” (which still reminds me of Front 242 but I think I’m alone there), “Proximity” (still superb despite its age), and the cybergasmically awesome “Damaged Software.” And album-closer “Deep Red” is surely the synthpop ballad of the year, a timeless epic that’s both melancholic and warmly optimistic.


OMD – English Electric

omdAs the decades roll by, most bands are never able to repeat their creative glory years and instead rely on royalties from Greatest Hits repacks to pay the bills. Not so Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. While 2010’s History of Modern was (and still is) a great album, it always felt like a last-gasp sing-a-long reunion with The Best of OMD. But now with English Electric they’ve proved that musical genius sometimes never fades. Since its release in April, I’ve given this album countless playthroughs and it’s still a joy every time. Some thumping synthwork lies within, backed up with Andy McCluskey on peak form. At least half this album instantly screams “OMD classic!” while the rest demonstrates the no-compromise attitude of old. With hints of the  musique concrète that smothered Dazzle Ships, there’s nonetheless no filler on English Electric: even the abstract “Atomic Ranch” serves as a perfect bridge to the final song. Synthpop fans could not have asked for anything more: English Electric is a crowning achievement in the OMD catalog and my absolute favorite album of the year.



And Finally

So where’s Feathers, you’re wondering? Or Marniemr. kittyMapsSoft Metals or VNV Nation? All good electronic releases, but none quite caught my attention like the ones I’ve listed above. The Sound of the Crowd album arrived too late to my ears to give it a proper listen, and the brilliant Kite still steadfastly refuse to release an album. Other opinions are of course available! Check out Softsynth‘s Best Electronic Albums of 2013 and of course The Electricity Club‘s 30 Songs of 2013.

In 2013, synthpop fans have never had it so good: and with Spotify I’ve gorged myself to the max! Happy Christmas everybody, see you next year.


Schmoof Interview 2013

To follow on from my retrospective article about Schmoof over on The Electricity Club, here is a brand-new interview with Schmoof!


schmoofcoverLloyd and Sarah Schmoof: it’s great to hear from you both again! When I interviewed you last you were just about to release your second album, The Glamour and preparing for a UK tour to promote it. That album turned out to be my favourite release of 2007, but I think a lot of your potential fanbase either didn’t “get it” or just weren’t ready for your brand of analogue synthpop, retro ZX Spectrum visuals, and latex (there was a lot of latex).

 Just a couple of years after Schmoof there was a huge resurgence and interest in electropop – do you think Schmoof were just around too early, or do you think you were just a little bit too different from your contemporaries?

L: When we first started gigging in 2000ish, we found it really hard to get gigs. All venues seemed to expect four dirty blokes playing guitar…

S: …and most sound engineers didn’t understand how to mix us!

L: So we started running our Warm Electro club nights at the Water Rats. If you go out to gigs now in London, there are many electro duos. So either we were too late for the early 80s electro era, or too early for the current one. I still believe that using proper synths is really important. Most electro bands these days just press ‘play’ on their laptop and pretend to twiddle knobs on their mixer that isn’t plugged in – it ain’t live.

What was important to us was writing catchy songs that were actually about something. A lot of electro music today is dance music with bland lyrics about love. Some people thought we were a joke band because there was a lot of wit in our lyrics. It didn’t feel like a joke for us; music is all about entertainment and making people happy.

S: In this way we were different from our contemporaries; we were serious about making music but we didn’t take ourselves too seriously and had fun with the song-writing process and the performance in particular. Some people just didn’t get that. A lot of the electro-pop around at that time was very ‘cool’, both in terms of the timbres used in the production process, the lyrics and particularly the aloof style of performance. In many ways we were the opposite of that, hence Warm Electro. Perhaps people would have understood us better now, with people like Lady Gaga around who have fun with their performance.


Which Schmoof song are you most proud of?

 S: I’m really proud of the whole of our second album, The Glamour. It realised our musical aims with Schmoof; it’s all essentially electro but it doesn’t all sound the same, for example Backseat Driver contains rock elements and Hayfever has a country’n’western vibe. I also think it contains some of our best songs. In terms of songwriting, I’m particularly proud of Northern Line.

L: Chocolate Boyfriend was the single. That got a lot of press including Single of the Week in The Sun, beating Robbie Williams! The song is really simple musically, it’s mostly two chords. But for the musos out there, there are some odd chords in the pre-chorus and the middle 8. It sounds like a clean mix, but there are lots of distorted synths buried in the mix to add dynamic contrasts between the sections. I’m also very proud of the final section of Backseat Driver where Sarah’s voice morphs. Sarah wasn’t about that day so I got a bit carried away. I spent a whole afternoon trying to get the perfect take by running her voice through some crazy wirings through filters and ring modulators on my System 100 and twiddling the knobs going to tape. These days I could program something similar in Logic in a couple of minutes, but that would lack challenge and you wouldn’t be able to get it as wild sounding.



 Any special Schmoofy memories or moments you cherish?

 L: All of it really. I was so proud of the quality of what we were producing without a major label budget. I also loved our live shows; most bands at the time just turned up and played their instruments but we tried to stamp our brand on the venue. We had striking outfits and our projections helped fill the stage – the ZX Spectrum was the third member of the band. And everyone got a schmoof sticker during the gig.

One gig that I remember was in Bedford (I think). We weren’t expecting anything special – just a small venue, probably half empty; small town mentality. The place was rammed full of teenage metallers who had come to see the local 6th form metal band that were supporting us. We didn’t think that these metalheads would be into us and they would probably just leave after their mates band had finished. They stayed and partied hard. They loved our music and we sold loads of CDs and sold out of T-shirts!

I think that our final gig, which was in London, was our best. We were really on it. It was a great venue in the heart of Hoxton chic; it was rammed. No-one knew it was our final gig except us.

 S: I think one of our best gigs was when we played Infest in Bradford. It was probably our biggest gig in terms of audience size – well over 1,000 I think – and it was one of the first times we had done a gig outside our home town of London and had several people calling out requests for our songs! That was a lovely feeling – we felt like proper pop stars for 20 minutes!


 Your album The Glamour seemed to make a sardonic comment on how life in a band might be anything BUT glamorous. What was the worst thing about touring? Worst gig?

Picture1L: In the early days there were some truly awful gigs. Small venues with limited sound systems. We were so dependent on the sound system because we didn’t have a drum kit and guitar amps. We did a lot of gigs in Glasgow. We know every inch of the M6!

Because all of our synths were analogue, in a live situation with hot lights shining on them, they always went out of tune. This was really hard to manage whilst still trying to make the gigs look effortless. The Roland SH 101 was the biggest culprit – sometimes it could be a few tones out of tune. It needed re-tuning for every song.

S: Yes when you’re a band releasing stuff on your own label, it aint that glam! I loved the gig part of touring but the travel and sleeping on random floors was tough. There’s a photo inside the album cover of us both lifting our massive super-heavy silver flight case, which contained most of our gear. We sometimes got to a venue and realised that we had to lift that flight case up four steep flights of stairs! But of course the worst bit was lifting it back down again at 6 in the morning when you are knackered and drunk! That bloody flight case…

One of our worst gigs (but also one of the funniest) was at a small club in Cornwall. We went on very late and the place was full of very drunk people. One audience member had to be held back by her boyfriend as she screamed rude names at me and a man asked me to sign his bottom when we came off stage! Bizarre…


What made you decide to call it a day with Schmoof?

S: We felt that we had taken it as far as we could. Our ultimate aim was to make music our entire life, so after The Glamour, when we were still having to support Schmoof through our day jobs, we decided not to continue. But I’m incredibly proud of everything we achieved and feel that we ended on a high with The Glamour.

L: And I wanted to surf more. Living in London was doing my head in.


What do you miss the most about being in a band?

L: Spending a lot of time with Sarah. We were so close as friends. We were so focused on the band. It was our lives – it was all we did. It’s really rewarding producing a product that people want to buy into. We did it all ourselves – we had no help from labels or management companies.

S: I agree that Lloyd and I became very close. Experiencing all the highs and lows of a band with one other person is very intense and we were like brother and sister. I really miss the song writing process – I would have loved to have written songs for other people but it is so hard to get a foot in the door. And I really miss playing live.


Any special Schmoof memorabilia you still have? What happened to the Schmoof synthesizers and home computers?

Picture2S: We still have the outfits! I haven’t tried them on since having children but I’ll probably keep them forever.

L: The synths are in my Dad’s attic or some of the better ones are lent out to musicians. It’s best that they get used because otherwise they stop working. Some of them are 40 years old now. If I were ever to record songs again, I would use the same studio gear. I see no reason to upgrade my Atari and my synths. I would like my music to sound individual – not like Logic Pro music as everything in the charts sounds like.


If you were to do it all again now, what (if anything) would you do differently?

L: Produce more records and sell them. Sometimes, I think we kept trying to make the music better instead of just getting it out there.

S: I would have spent less time trying to get a record deal/manager/agent and focussed on releasing our own records and building our label and fanbase gradually.


What did you make of all the female-fronted synthpop bands that came after Schmoof (La Roux, Little Boots, Ladyhawke etc.)?

L: Where are they now? They didn’t last long or do anything new. La Roux wrote some nice songs, but they aren’t classics that stand the test of time.

S: None of them quite worked for me. Of the three, I think Ladyhawke was best. I liked her voice but that’s probably because I love Stevie Nicks!


schmoofeotmcWhat music do you listen to now?

L: Daft Punk’s latest album is amazing. It sounds like proper music because they use proper analogue synthesisers; it doesn’t sound like it’s been recorded on Logic like everything else around at the moment. And Donna Summer’s disco stuff. Sarah and I listened to the 17 minute version of “Love To Love You Baby” last night.

S: I’ve always been a huge fan of 1980s pop music and still listen to all my old albums now. I rarely buy new stuff if I’m honest but recent stuff I’ve liked includes Arcade Fire, Janelle Monae and Haim. I wasn’t as convinced by Daft Punk’s latest album as Lloyd, although I did like ‘Get Lucky’ and was reminded how awesome Nile Rogers is – I’d kill for a career like his! I mentioned her earlier but I do love the humour and showiness of Lady Gaga. I also saw electro trio Midnight Juggernauts a couple of years ago and got really into their stuff.


What have you been up to recently? Do you still do anything music-related?

S: I’m now a mummy to two little boys! So my time is mostly spent running around after them. I’m also in the process of setting up my own business.

L: I run a music technology course. Some of my students go on to have chart success which is rewarding. I can hear stuff that I taught them in their recordings. I also surf most days. That is my new creative outlet.


 Any chances of a Schmoof reunion gig, or some solo material? Any unreleased Schmoof songs that might see the light of day sometime?

S: I’m afraid there won’t be any Schmoof reunion gigs. I did consider doing solo Sarah Schmoof stuff but I never find the time with two young kids and perhaps the moment has passed now (sob).

L: I have tapes and tapes (yes tapes, not mp3s stored on a computer) of Schmoof recordings that no-one will ever hear. The tapes have been in the attic for years – they might not even play now. It is good to reminisce about Schmoof – it’s been such a long time and has reminded me of another life. This has encouraged us to put the album up on YouTube with the original ZX Spectrum animations so people can see them on this modern thing called the internet.

Even More Favorite Albums of 2013

While waiting for albums from CHVRCHES, Covenant, Northern Kind, Vile Electrodes, and VNV Nation (all due this year!) here’s another selection of excellent electronica from the past month or two.



Iamamiwhoami – Bounty

Marnie – Crystal World

Pet Shop Boys – Electric

Slave Republic – Quest for Love

Zynic – Blindsided



Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

Pouppée Fabrikk – The Dirt

SIGNAL AOUT 42 – Inspiration



Phaxe – Calm Under Pressure

Shpongle – Museum of Consciousness

Benji Vaughan – Even Tundra

Ovnimoon – Trancemutation of the Mind

Nevarakka – The War Is on!



Eat Lights Become Lights – Modular Living

Warm Digits – Interchange

Five Years of Top 20 Albums

I’ve been posting “Best Albums of the Year” lists for some years now, originally on MySpace then on this site. Feeling all retrospective, I thought I’d put together a quick “list of lists” to help keep track of them all. Unfortunately some of the older lists have gone AWOL: Wayback Machine has a few snapshots of my old MySpace homepage, but alas the blog posts were not archived. Google’s cache does have a fragment, but only goes back to 2009. Still, there’s still five years of top albums to re-visit!


2005 – 2007

Top 10 lists posted on MySpace but now lost in the mists of time… I do remember my album of the year for 2007 though:


Damn I miss Schmoof!.


Top 10 Albums of 2008” – fragment retrieved from MySpace:

10. Vibrasphere – “Lungs of Life
09.  Deadmau5 – “Random Album Title
08.  Thermostatic – “Humanizer
07.  Ticon – “2AM
06.  The Presets – “Apocalypso
05.  Gentle Touch – “In Memory of Savannah
04.  Zeigeist – “The Jade Motel
03.  Padded Cell – “Night Must Fall
02.  Kelley Polar – “I Need You to Hold on While the Sky Is Falling”
01.  Parralox – “Electricity







.The Human League - Credo




  • Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2013 – coming in December!

Pansentient Synthpop 2013

psl-sp2013-200Pansentient Synthpop 2013 is our latest annual Spotify playlist containing an ever-expanding collection of the best new synthpop and electropop releases of the year. Featuring over 100 songs from over 100 artists, this playlist is the ultimate modern sampler for every discerning synthpop fan!

Updated weekly with additional suggestions from The Electricity Club, Brutal Resonance, Electronic Magazine and Bop 2 Pop.




Alison Moyet, Analog Angel, Arachnophobias, Austra, B.E.F., Bloodgroup, Carved Souls, Chateau Marmont, CHVRCHES, Cinemascape, Click Click Drone, Clubfeet, College, Covenant, dAVOS, Daybehavior, Depeche Mode, Digits, Electro Spectre, Eleven:Elevene, Emika, Etage Neun, French Horn Rebellion, Future Perfect, Gazelle Twin, Ghost Capsules, Hjärta, HNN, Hot Chip, Hurts, Hyperbubble, Jenn Vix and Dirk Ivens, Juveniles, Karl Bartos, Kavinsky, Kid Moxie, Kite, Kontravoid, Lindstrøm, Little Boots, Lust For Youth, Marnie, Marsheaux, Melotron, Mesh, Miss Kittin, mr. kitty, Neutral Lies, Noblesse Oblige, Oppenheimer Mk II, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Parralox, Pet Shop Boys, Planet R, Polly Scattergood, Pyrroline, Quelles Paroles, Raggedy Angry, Rubber Dots, Sad January, Sally Shapiro, Selected Area, Sensual Harassment, Sin Cos Tan, Skinny Puppy, Slave Republic, Social Ambitions, Soft Metals, Soldout, Sound of Science, Space March, Spacebuoy, Spleen United, Sykur, Syrian, Tenek, The Emperor Machine, Titans, Topgun, Torul, Vanbot, Vanguard, Vaylon, Vile Electrodes, Visage, Vision Talk, Vive La Fête, Vivien Glass, Vulgar Fashion, Zynic… and more to come!

More Favorite Albums of 2013

Here’s another selection of great new albums on my Spotify rotation. These dozen or so slabs of prime electronica made the cut and should keep you going for a few weeks!



BEF – Music of Quality & Distinction Volume 3 – Dark

Feathers – If All Here Now

Ghost Capsules – Ghost Capsules

Noblesse Oblige – Affair of the Heart

Social Ambitions – Hunger

Vaylon – Primus



Austra – Olympia

Emika – Dva

HNN – Pièce Radiophonique (Extended Version)

Torul – Tonight We Dream Fiercely



Comaduster – Winter Eyes

Container 90 – Working Class League

Frontline Assembly – Echogenetic

Funker Vogt – Companion in Crime

Skinny Puppy – Weapon

Some Favorite Albums of 2013 (so far)

Here’s a selection of new albums I’ve been enjoying this year, mostly synthpop but a few others in the mix too.

Karl Bartos – Atomium

Depeche Mode – Welcome To My World

Marsheaux – Inhale

Kavinsky – OutRun

OMD – English Electric

Space March – Mountain King

Little Boots – Nocturnes

Alison Moyet – The Minutes

K-X-P – II




New Spotify playlist! 42: SINTHETIC SOURCES for ANALYSIS v1.x features a range of Favorites In Selected Electronica Sub-Genres, spliced together with brutish determination and saving grace.

Contains 10 million volts in the form of: electro-industrial, psytrance, industrial metal, hauntronica goth, hybrid krautrock, Neuromancer dub, soundtrack, glitch and a whole load more.

This is a live snapshot of 42 reference points (possible variable content nodes, one potential anomaly identified). Use Wisely.

Top 20 Electronic Albums of 2012

2012 has felt very much like a transitional year for electronic (and in particular synthpop) music: the 2nd golden age of synthpop drew to a close, and its former key players took leave to write new material and make way for a new new generation. Consequently there weren’t quite as many stunning albums this year compared to previously, and this list of my 20 favorites fell into place relatively easily.

The quantity and quality of singles and EPs from new bands in 2012 has been exemplary: check out the Pansentient Synthpop 2012 Spotify playlist for proof!  And with bands like Chvrches, CurxesSeverinStrangers and The Voyeurist all making hybrid-synthpop waves towards the end of the year, there’s ample evidence that 2013 will be another excellent vintage.

While the electropop sub-genre de-jour of 2011 was hauntronica, this year saw the rise of minimal wave: that post-punk style of cold electronica with its DIY feel and 3-minute “pop” songs. You’ll see this reflected in the list below, with perhaps as many 7 of the picks fitting into this area.

Here then are my Top 20 Electronic Albums of 2012, covering synthpop, minimal wave, electro-industrial, hauntronica and all the synthetic sounds in between. Each has links to listen to the album on Spotify: enjoy!


20. Grimes – Visions

Everybody seems to love this album, and in parts that’s justifiable. Claire Boucher’s popularisation of witch house has required a lot of edge-smoothing but traces of hauntronica remain (including a skull-tastic album cover). Second track “Genesis” is sublime and contender for single of the year. “Visiting Statue” is beautifully sharp and Dead Can Dance gothic.  But there’s quite a bit of filler to found on Visions – too much filler for my critical ears – and so Grimes just scapes into this Top 20 list.

Read about Grimes live here at The Electricity Club.


19. Jonas Seltsam – Eisberg Voraus

This album is one of those random finds that occasionally pop up on my radar (in this case, a search for “EBM” on the New on Spotify page) that end up becoming a firm favorite. Despite the cheap-looking album cover, Eisberg Voraus is a very well made album full of chirpy germanic synthpop. It’s not quite futurepop, nor is it  electro-industrial; this has an oldschool bleep-bleep feel, and the German vocals are perfect for this kind of music. There’s even a hint of Trio‘s Da Da Da in there! Check out track 2 “Im Schnee” (“In the Snow”) for a good representative sample.

Read this review on


18. Led Er Est – The Diver

Led Er Est provide coldwave minimal with a mission. Released on Sacred Bones Records, it seems that for minimal post-punk electronica New York is the place (it’s also home to Veronica Vasicka’s brilliant Minimal Wave label and project). This album perhaps less focused than Lust For Youth’s release (see below), but that does mean there’s room for variety through experimentation. Third track “Kaiyo Maru” is one of my favorites, proudly wearing a synthpop sensibility that might be overlooked by some electropop purists (see also Agent Side Grinder below).

For more, see this review on Prefix Magazine.


17. The Pain Machinery – Restart

Complete Control Productions is a new Swedish label that’s gained a fair degree of acclaim in the past couple of years (they released the wonderfully retro-industrial Severe Illusion album No More Alive Than You Deserve last year). Restart is The Pain Machinery‘s seventh album and I think it’s their most rounded release so far. Comparisons with Nitzer Ebb are inevitable, thanks to Jonas Hedberg’s soundalike vocal work and the general “hard rhythmic machine funk” style. This album’s short but perfectly formed, acid-EBM at its best.

For more, read this excellent review on I Die: You Die.


16. Lust For Youth – Growing Seeds

The monochrome cover of Growing Seeds (“an LP recorded in 2012”) befits the music perfectly: this is classic minimal wave that sounds like it should have been recorded in 1982. The vocals echo plentifully, the synths sometimes sound slightly out of tune and each song never outstays its welcome.

For more, check this in-depth professional review on The Quietus.




15. Schramm – Schramm

Schramm are another band I stumbled across after a random  New on Spotify genre search. The album cover album meant that I just had to give it a listen, and was delighted to find something that mixed the electro-industrial of Funker Vogt with the vocal stylings of Rammstein. Most of the EBM/electro-industrial blogs I follow seem to have missed this one which is a real shame, as this album offers a great mix of electro-industrial and EBM both old-school and new.

See the review of the preceding EP on Brutal Resonance.


14. Soviet – Life Begins At Rewirement

I love some of the short movies you find on sites like Vimeo and Futurestates, which specializes in thoughtful science fiction. I was particularly moved by the film “Life Begins At Rewirement,” where a middle-aged man struggles with his decision to commit his elderly mother into a revolutionary nursing home alternative that has solved the rapidly growing Senior Citizen overpopulation by “uploading” them into virtual realities. What made the film particularly poignant was Soviet‘s beautiful soundtrack. Ethereal and ambient (but with inexorable purpose), the soundtrack takes you on a journey from realization to download and eternal bliss. Watch the full film on!


13. (((S))) – The Moon Is My Sun

Nils Lassen is (((S))), a one-man-project from Copenhagen. This excellent album passed me by until Petri Teittinen sent it to my Inbox on Spotify with the message “How’s this?” After a few listens I was hooked on this Danish minimal wave synthpop. Track 3 “Shadowboxing” is up-tempo stripped-back electropop of the finest classic kind; track 4 “Truthdrug” is an addictive new-wave ride. A few songs have New Order guitars, a female backing vocalist, a bit of Moroderisms… but essentially this is an album with an authentic pre-digital 16-track pop sound.  Here’s the only review I could find, on (in German).


12. Ultravox – Brilliant

If I’m honest, a new album from Ultravox was not something that got me as excited as some of my musical contemporaries. Sure I’d quite liked them back in the 80s (the 1980s), I bought some of their records, loved all the  singles but was never a huge fan. But the more I’ve listened to Brilliant to more I’ve liked it, and that’s kinda taken me by surprise. All history aside, this is a really good album. And much like OMD did with last year’s History Of Modern, Ultravox have made what’s akin to a “Best Of” album but with all-new songs. Each track has a familiar Ultravox feel to it, but each sounds fresh and new at the same time. Songs like “Rise” and “Live” show that Ultravox can still write a killer pop song, and while it’s no “Vienna,” “One” is one of a few good ballads that round off the album. For an in-depth review, check out this one on Softsynth.


11. AlterRed – Dollstown

With intelligent lyrics, grandiose arrangements and vocals that channel mid-80s era Midge Ure, Dollstown keeps on getting better with every play. At first I thought it was lot like IAMX, but whereas Chris seems to have written himself into a self-repeating Corner, AlterRed show a flair for invention and creativity that the electronic genre is much in need of.

Here’s a good review of Dollstown on Goth Times.



10. Flux – Motivational Chants

Finnish trio Flux offer excellent European-style synthpop, and for me Flux are the jewel in label Electric Fantastic Sound’s roster. I’ve followed them for a while now and was suitably impressed by this their 3rd album, packed with memorable (and melancholic) synthpop. With beautiful vocals, mature songwriting and tight production, my only complaint is that the album is too short! Luckily the singles include some excellent mixes, such as the Free Pussy Galore mix of “Defences” (under the band’s new moniker of Flux Fin).

For more, check this review on Side-Line Magazine.


09. Oblique – Refraction of Light

Oblique have been cutting their own path through intelligent europop for almost a decade now. In that time they’ve gone from strength to strength, becoming bolder with their songwriting and not being afraid to mix things around a bit. The nine songs on this album demonstrate these Spaniards are in full control of their electronics, and strings too;  Refraction of Light sees them move further into New Wave territory with guitar and bass higher in the mix to bring in memories of New Order and the like. My favorites include “Changing” and “Light Will Pass Through the Thickness” so if you’ve not heard this album yet then start with them!
Leer esta revisión excelente sobre Sonographica (en español).
08. Titans – For the Long Gone 

Titans are masters of the edgier side of synthpop. There were quite a few bands releasing this kind of music in 2012, but what rose Titans above their peers is Dan Von Hoyel’s incredible voice. While most electro acts have serviceable but often similar-sounding vocalists, Von Hoyel is unique: he almost croons his lines, displaying “phonaesthetics” rarely heard in this genre (yes, track “Apex Predator” does even feature the phrase cellar door!).

Check out this review on the excellent Blackvector Magazine.


07. Dead When I Found Her – Rag Doll Blues

If you liked the Mommy Hurt My Head album from a few years ago then you’re gonna love this. Track 1 “No More Nightmares” has the best intro of any song I’ve heard this year, starting with just a piano, then adding some eerie fx and spooky samples before letting rip into full-on 1990s Canadian style electro-idustrial. Rag Doll Blues is littered with horror film samples, just like a Front Line Assembly or Skinny Puppy album from back in the day. The vocals here are softer and less distorted than has become the norm, and there’s a good degree of variety among the 12 tracks that make up this album. Closing track “Stainless” builds  into a superb piece of dark synthpop; a wonderful, chilling album closer. Read this superlative review on I Die: You Die.


06. Metroland – Mind the Gap

It’s going to be impossible to talk about this superb album without mentioning the K word. From Mind The Gap‘s concept through to its songwriting and execution, Metroland have created the best tribute to Kraftwerk I’ve ever heard. Released on Alfa Matrix (a firm favorite label of mine, but typically more known for their hard electro-industrial releases), Belgians Metroland have come up with one of the suprise delights of 2012. Chronicling a trans-european train journey, this album is full of authentic klingklangian treats (and you’ll also learn a thing or two about luminaries like Harry Beck). Read Johan Wejedal’s review over at The Electricity Club.


05. Chromatics – Kill For Love

Starting (somewhat unexpectedly) with a cover of Neal Young’s “Into the Black,” Chromatics finally produce the masterpiece they’ve been threatening to make for some time now. Track 2 “Kill For Love” returns us to the Drive soundtrack and the faux-retro-electro vibe that Chromatics themselves pioneered five years ago. I nominated this as my song of the year over at The Electricity Club, but it could so easily have been any number of songs from this album. Stylistically the Chromatics palette mixes in a bit New Order, The CureJohn Carpenter soundtrack music and even the Rocky theme (“These Streets Will Never Look The Same“). But it’s the pulsating electro-heart that keeps this lengthy album on-track and on mission. Definitely worth the wait! Here’s a fine review from Alex Denney at the BBC.


04. Continues – Continues

Another band with a hard-to-google name, but despite that it’s well worth tracking down this most excellent album. Continues is Dan Gatto, L.A. USA resident who sent me a copy of his album back in June. The cover art intrigued me and I always give whatever’s sent to me at least a cursory listen… and I found I really liked this, I liked it a lot! The style is minimal (but generally upbeat) synthpop, with husky vocals that remind me of someone I can’t quite put my finger on (Richard Butler from Psychedelic Furs?) No matter, this is a unique piece of work and a prime example of superior American synthpop. Check out this interview with Dan Gatto at I Die: You Die.


 03. Digits – Death and Desire

I featured Digits’ single “Lost Dream” on my Synthpop 2011 playlist last year: an excellent track, but it only hinted at the quality of this album. Moody and brooding, there’s something intoxicatingly late-night about the tracks on here. Similar in places to Kelley Polar, the synthesized introspection has a distinct North American flavor which might appeal to the growing army of fans of the Drive soundtrack. The tempo varies across the album (and at times reminds me of Shakatak), but even at its highest BPM this is an album to listen to properly rather than have on in the background. The occasional duet (courtesy of Bad Passion) adds some variety and dispels the loneliness. Here’s what Paul Lester at the Guardian had to say.


02. Agent Side Grinder – Hardware

A collaboration with Henric de la Cour (on single “Wolf Hour“) put me onto this album from Agent Side Grinder at the start of 2012. Eleven months later and it’s still one of my very favorites of the year: this is synthpop with a post-punk attitude, probably too gritty for some (although songs like “Rip Me” sound they came straight from a Blancmange album) but for me Hardware is a pitch-perfect album full of wonderful, moody music. Vocally styled like Nick Cave (Nick Cave and the Bad Synths?) for most songs, the prevalent edginess does sometimes give way to more pop moments: Hardware has depth and variety. It may only have 8 tracks, but each brings something different and makes for absolutely intoxicating listening. Here’s a blinding review from I Die: You Die.


01. Light Asylum – Light Asylum

My god, that voice! When I first heard the Light Asylum album, I genuinely thought they had three different singers. There are three photos of singer Shannon Funchess on the album cover, and this neatly reflects the three different vocal styles displayed within. Not since Alison Moyet have I heard such a powerful, emotive female voice on a synthpop album. For while a punk aesthetic forms the veins of this album, its outer skin is gloriously electronic.

I’ve played this album multiple times this year. The first two songs are probably the weakest (and placing them at the start is Light Asylum‘s only mis-step), but from “IPC” onward all I want to do is keep on turning up the volume. “Heart of Dust” and “Sins Of The Flesh” show Light Asylum’s goth-electro side; “Angel Tongue” has Kraftwerk overtones fronted by more amazing vocal dexterities, and on “Shallow Tears” – I think this is my favorite on the album – Shannon’s voice is truly stunning:  it sends shivers down my spine every time!

This is a truly wonderful electronic album full of light and dark soul: my Album of the Year.



Missing In Action

Here are a few albums you might have expected to see above:

  • Daybehavior Follow That Car. I’d hoped this album would show up Spotify, but alas there’s no sign of it. But check out this review on one of my favorite music blogs, Bop2Pop!
  • ComputeThe Distance. Some of this I absolutely love (especially lead track “Dawning Days“). But to me the album’s a bit inconsistent. I fully expect their next album to be superb!
  • Future Perfect – Escape. As above: it’s not on Spotify so I only got to hear this album once. Check out Petri Teittinen’s favorable review at Authentic Synthetic though.
  • Pet Shop Boys – Elysium. To my shame I never really got much of a chance to listen to this. Who knows, maybe it’s the best thing they’ve ever done. Probably not though.
  • Hot Chip – In Our Heads. I didn’t really like Hot Chip until the brilliant One Life Stand album in 2010. Unfortunately, this new album takes them back to my “meh” category.
  • iamamiwhoami – miniKin.  A few good tracks on here, but ultimately for me this wasn’t that good an album. The Electricity Club liked it though!
  • Social AmbitionsAnticipation. I really liked this, but at only 5 tracks it’s more of an EP than an album so reluctantly excluded above.
  • Vcmg Ssss..hit. Sorry guys, but I think this Clarke/Gore collab is just awful bland techno.


Bonus Beats

A few not-so-electronic albums really caught my ear this year. Here’s my Top 5:

  • The Soft MoonZeros. Brilliant dark post-punk guitar music, shades of The Cure and Joy Division.
  • Anyplace – Dark Fantastic. Fun punk-pop with synths. I love the Freezepop-like track “I Am A Robot” and there’s lots more good songs here too.
  • Cold Showers – Love and Regret. Brooding indie fill to make up for the lack of albums from The Editors and Interpol.
  • SoulsaversThe Light The Dead See. Best thing Dave Gahan has done in a very long time, superb soul-searcher of an album.
  • Claudia BruckenThe Lost Are Found. After her star-turn in videogame smash L.A. Noire, Claudia returns with an album full of melancholy covers. See this review at The Electricity Club.

Until next year!

Pansentient Synthpop 2012

Pansentient Synthpop 2012 is a Spotify playlist containing an ever-expanding collection of the best new synthpop and electropop releases from 2012. Featuring over 100 songs from 100 artists, this playlist is the ultimate modern sampler for every discerning synthpop fan!

Updated weekly with additional suggestions from The Electricity Club, Brutal Resonance, Electronic Magazine and Bop 2 Pop.




3 Cold Men, Agent Side Grinder, Aidan Casserly, Alexander Geist, AlterRed, And One, Antiscion, Anyplace, Ashbury Heights, Assemblage 23, Atari Cowboy, Bioassay, Calfskin, Carved Souls, Cassette Electrik, Chew Lips, Christianoshi, CHROM, Cinemascape, Color Theory, Compute, Computer Magic, Continues, Cosmicity, Curxes, De/Vision, Dead Eyes Open, !Distain, EGOamp, Electric Youth, Electro Spectre, Electrobelle, Eleven Pond, Empire State Human, Erasure, Even More, Evokateur, Father Tiger, Flux, Foretaste, Fox Hunting, The Golden Filter, Grimes, Haberdashery, Happiness Project, The Hundred In The Hands, Huski, Iamamiwhoami, Indefinite Cure, Jonas Seltsam, Karin Park, Kontravoid, Led Er Est, Light Asylum, Lola Dutronic, LorD and Master, Lovelock, Marina and The Diamonds, Maxwell’s Complex, Metroland, Moon.74, My Woshin Mashin, The Mystic Underground, Nicolas Makelberge and Friday Bridge, Norator, Ny Fan, Oblique, …of Diamonds, Optic, Ostrich, Parallels, Parralox, Pet Shop Boys, Planet R, Polaroid Kiss, Purity Ring, Retropop, Scarlet Soho, Sleekey, The Slow Waves, Social Ambitions, The Sound Of The Crowd, Strangers, Substaat, Suicidal Romance, Supercraft, Synthetic Division, Tesla Boy, This Mono Galaxy, Tiger Tea, Toxic N Blue, Trans-X, Ultravox, Underwater Pilots, Vainerz, Vanguard, Vaylon, Wave in head, Willy Baxter, Xylos… and more to come!