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
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)
- Gary Numan – I do like this a lot, but other sites have got his back and I always was a bit of a Numanoid-lite (I’ve still not seen him live)
- LCD Soundsystem – I should probably have listened to this more
- Zynic – I should probably have listened to this more too
- <YOUR FAVORITE> – sorry, we probably didn’t hear it! 🙁
Also highly recommended albums from 2017
- Arcade Fire – Everything Now
- Burning Hearts – Battlefields
- Die Form – Baroque Equinox
- The Hempolics – Kiss, Cuddle & Torture Volume 1
- KMFDM – Hell Yeah!
- Rheingold – Im Lauf der Zeit
- X Marks The Pedwalk – Secrets
Thanks for visiting this site, I hope you have a fabulous synthpop christmas and electronicful new year!
Jer aka Afront
Pansentient League chief editor.