Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Obsession by Michael Des Barres

Most people are aware of Animotion's big hit (to the extent that they could fairly be called a one-hit wonder) "Obsession" from November of 1984.  What is actually not known by very many is that Animotion were actually covering the song; it was written by Michael Des Barres and Holly Knight and recorded at least a year earlier.  As near as I can tell, the single was only ever a promotional release in the US (so I don't know exactly how you were to get a hold of it as a general consumer) although there was a UK 12" release that appears to be a general release, and it was also on the soundtrack of the big flop of a movie A Night in Heaven starring the guy from The Blue Lagoon as a college aged stripper who has a fling with his professor, who's own marriage is struggling, blah, blah, blah.  The movie was a big flop, hardly made any money, neither critics nor audiences liked it, but it did give us...

Brian Adams' hit song "Heaven"—a full year and a half before it was added to his own mega-hit album Reckless and was re-released as a single.  And, of course, the original version of "Obsession."  Which, when I discovered this, I had to hear immediately, of course.  At first, compared to the much more famous Animotion version, it sounded odd and weird, but it grew on me quickly.

This video below isn't the original version.  Oh, it's the original songwriter and performer, but this is a completely re-recorded version.  Instead of being a duet with Holly Knight—which it was the first time around—it's with Teal Collins Zee, otherwise known from the Austin, TX music scene as part of the country music band Mother Truckers (originally from Marin County CA, apparently.)  Seems like an odd choice, but she does a good job.  I really like this remake by the original artist.

As an aside, there are lots of versions of this song out there.  It's been covered many times, and is clearly an important component of mid-80s pop culture.  For some more overtly synthpopy versions than Michael Des Barres and Holly Knight's original, check out the version by The Azoic, Electric Six or Glitch Factor.  For weird, creepy versions, check out versions by Golden State or Karen O.  And there are even heavy metal versions (Terminatryx) and other pop-rock versions (Just Kait with School Boy Humor) and even a pseudo-chiptunes version of it by Detour Zero.

And, of course, don't miss the Animotion version.  I like the "extended" version (which on my old cassette tape was just the album version) which has a minute and a half or so of guitar solo outro.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

So Electric by Lifelike

Ok, no... this is clearly my favorite synthwave song that I've heard yet (probably closely followed by either "Early Summer" or "Elevator of Love" by Miami Nights 1984... but that gives me something else to post later.)

Lifelike is a French artist (with a German last name) which seems to be particularly common in the synthwave movement.  But this song is just brilliant.  And whoever it was that thought of adding the William Powell dialogue and the Xanadu dance scenes is a genius.  Olivia Newton-John was still pretty hot in 1980, wasn't she?  And holy cow, that's Gene Kelly on roller skates there!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Under Your Spell by Desire

Thanks in part to the popularity of shows like the Netflix original Stranger Things, a formerly quiet movement in electronic music called "synthwave" is starting to get mainstream attention.  It had also been featured in the soundtrack to 2011's move Drive although that wasn't quite big enough to have come to my attention, at least.  "Under Your Spell" by Desire is from the Drive soundtrack.  Prior to that, Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy soundtrack seems to have foreshadowed the growing importance of the genre.

Synthwave, basically, sounds like 80s music soundtracks.  It's not just like the odd retro-sounding, analog synth-using synthpop band; although a few tracks kind of lean that direction.  Most of the artists operating in this space do not have any vocals, and write instrumentals.  Their official music videos either feature very old-fashioned 80s-looking video game graphics, or pictures of cars that were popular in the 80s like old Lamborghini Countachs or Ferrari Testarossas, or 80s style Trans Ams.  Much of it is kind of downtempo, although certainly not all of it.  It's not as extreme a version of nostalgia-indulgence as the chiptunes genre, where the main instrument is literally the musical chip from an old Sega Genesis or Nintendo NES or something like that, but at the same time, the idea that this is all some kind of "lost" 80s music soundtracks is integral to the genre.

This selection is one of the more stand-out tracks; my exploration of synthwave recently has convinced me that most tracks are not.  Rather, they best serve when linked together and played in the background rather than listened to as if they are really "hit single" capable.  To get a good sense of the genre, search up youtube for synthwave.  Most of your hits will actually be big sets of a bunch of songs put together into a single video—and this is probably the best way to listen to it, actually.  While there's lots to choose from, I got my initial sampling of what the genre meant in particular in the "Best of Synthwave and Retro Electro" in two hour and a half long parts, and "Best of Synthwave - Enjoy the Summer Mix" in three hour and a half long mixes.

But in the meantime, here's "Under Your Spell" by Desire.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Special Feeling by Spektralized

I continue to discover more and more indie (usually European) synthpop and futurepop outfits.  Often, I discover them through remixes; i.e. some outfit remixes a song by someone I know, and then I search the remixer up to find out more of what they've done.  I had a Mental Discipline remix of a De/Vision song that was pretty interesting, so I searched Mental Discipline and found this song.  This is actually another remix, or Norwegian futurepop outfit Spektralized.  Mental Discipline is himself a single guy from Russia who rarely performs his own vocal work, so he "features" a lot of other bands and/or individuals in his work anyway, meaning that it's kind of a spectrum from remix to collaboration to the work of an individual.

Anyway, this is a great song, and it's the best version of it.  The synth line at about 3:05 (and again at the end) is my favorite part.  I was reminded of the KMFDM song "Juke Joint Jezebel" which I first heard on the Mortal Kombat.  What I didn't  realize is that I was hearing the Giorgio Morodor Metropolis Mix.  Well, I did, but I didn't really think about it.  It was many years before I heard the original, and I was surprised at how much I really missed the synthline that runs through the entire Metropolis mix; in the original mix, it's only a very small part of the song at the very end.  Morodor wisely saw that as the most interesting single element that needed to play a much larger role.

I think the same thing about the synthline at 3:05 on this mix, though—if I had the original source files, I'd try to integrate it as a subtle (but not too subtle) subtext throughout most of the entire song.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Leave in Silence by Marsheaux

Marsheaux is one of my favorite bands these days, and have been for a couple of years now.  They do have an interesting habit of recording a lot of cover versions of 80s songs.  In fact, they are so into recording cover versions of 80s songs that they actually recorded a cover version of an entire album; Depeche Mode's A Broken Frame.  In fact, they apparently enjoyed this so much, that they covered three versions of it: one that's a "straight" version (UK tracklist, so it doesn't have "Further Extracts From: My Secret Garden") but then they also issued an instrumental version, and an Extended version with all extended remixes, plus the two b-sides that came out during that era by Depeche Mode.  Although the instrumental seems to have been a very rare promo release.

I thought about tagging Depeche Mode in this too, given the nature of this particular cover album, but I thought better of it.  This is Marsheaux's extended version of "Leave in Silence."

Friday, March 18, 2016

Don't Wait by Night Vision

Since discovering Æon Rings while searching for cover versions of "But Not Tonight" I've been very pleasantly surprised with what I've found.  They have one 5-song EP available on Amazon, and they have some tracks that are on Soundcloud that you can download, although it appears that they were using the band name of Night Vision at the time.  On Youtube, the selection is often a bit confused; I discovered today's selection billed as a track by Æon Rings but on their soundcloud page, it's credited to the earlier band name.  The other song "Keep Moving" is also billed as such.

Æon Rings is called a dark wave band in many reviews, but these songs certainly are more "bright and polite" synthpop.  Maybe that's the reason for the two band names; they're meant to be different in style?  Either way, it's the same two guys, and the tracks are great.  You can download all five of the tracks directly from Night Vision's soundcloud, and I especially recommend "Keep Moving" and "Don't Wait."  Heck; "Don't Wait" is my new favorite (for the moment) favorite song; although "Time to Run" from the Æon Rings branded Floods EP is also a contender.

I can't figure out where they've released "But Not Tonight" anywhere; I've only ever seen it as that youtube video I linked to last post.

EDIT:  Found it:

Apparently you can get that for free too.  I'm looking into the rest of the collection as we speak.  Sadly, nothing seems to be nearly as good as "But Not Tonight" so far.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

But Not Tonight by Æon Rings

The year is 1998 or 1999.  America's ill-advised flirtation with a rejection of the pop music model that had served it well for decades via the grunge, slacker-rock "Seattle sound" was winding down, but a few years of it had ruined the popular music scene.  Having found my preferred style of music was nearly stamped out, I had wandered into a few somewhat similar scenes; I focused on bulking up my back-catalog collection of 80s New Wave synthpop artists, including some that were more European and hadn't been widely disseminated in America, like Ultravox and Visage, for example.  I spent a bit of time exploring Eurodance outfits like C&C Music Factory and The Real McCoy, although I ultimately found that particular genre somewhat shallow and unsatisfying compared to what I really wanted more of.  I wandered a bit into electronic industrial—I'd already discovered Front 242 earlier, and a few others, but I wandered more into Frontline Assembly, and Sister Machine Gun, and Foetus and other more esoteric (and often considerably harder) outfits.  This was a decent time for that, actually, as Nine Inch Nails was making electronic industrial somewhat mainstream with Pretty Hate Machine, but I still didn't prefer this to synthpop.

Luckily for me, around that time I discovered A Different Drum, an indie label, store and email list-serve that catered to the underground market for synthpop very much like the kind that I had grown up with.  In the years since, even indie labels for music have become superfluous, where bands can record in a bedroom instead of a professional recording studio, and can self-release their own music and sell it via Kickstarter or even just stick it up on Amazon and iTunes.  This has led to a major wealth of selection and options, but in 1998 and 1999 the breadth of the genre was more limited.  I recall very specifically asking on the list-serve if anyone had any theories as to why there weren't more female vocalist synthpop acts—and someone responded somewhat flippantly because female singers don't sound enough like David Gahan.

It's impossible, even now, for the genre to step out of the enormous shadow of Depeche Mode.  Even for me, I evaluate synthpop by how good it sounds compared to the "golden years" of DM—by which I mean the early albums of the classic four-man line-up: Some Great Reward, Black Celebration, Music for the Masses, and although I differ from most in starting to see the decline in this one, Violator.  By the end of that run, Depeche Mode wasn't even making synthpop anymore at all, and more recently, it's a stretch to even call it electronic music that they produce, but they did, at one point in the mid and late 80s, quite literally define the genre to such a degree that vocalists had to attempt to sound like David Gahan to be taken seriously.  That was a semi-flippant response, but only semi-flippant, after all.  The album of that period that seems to have garnered the most serious critical acclaim over the years is Black Celebration.  I was quite surprised to learn, many years after I had been listening to it over and over and over again as a teenager and even beyond, that the ultimate track, the crowning achievement, the catharsis at the end of the symphony of despair, "But Not Tonight" was never actually intended to be released on the album at all, and was only done so for the American release at the American label's insistence, and against the wishes of the band itself.  The song was picked to accompany the movie soundtrack of a rather obscure comedy Modern Girls, and because the label thought that that meant it might be a hit, they prioritized including it.  The band itself was annoyed with the song, which they wrote and recorded in very little time, and considered it a throwaway pop song, not worthy of serious consideration (the non-album song that they liked much better, but which didn't really fit with the tone of Black Celebration as it evolved, was "Shake the Disease.")  Because the band never really cared for the song, getting remixes of it was challenging.  I bought an import single of "Stripped" from Germany because it included a remix as a b-side, although it was a simple extended version that added very little other than length to the song, by Robert Margouleff.  In the years since, I've not found anything else, even in the world of bootleg mixes.

That said, the song—in spite of the band's opinion of it—is clearly a classic and popular one.  What I've discovered is that although remixes are very scarce, cover versions are not.  Scott Weiland, vocalist for Stone Temple Pilots, made one of the most distinctive ones, but the one I've found for today is from indie-synthpop duo Æon Rings, from New York.  I've also got a cover version by Paradigm that appeared on the Your World in Our Eyes compilation, I've got a nice one by Jimmy Somerville, and one by Elegant Machinery.  I'm sure my collection of "But Not Tonight" covers is not complete, however.  I believe Color Theory did one as well.  Many of these add very little to the original, but the Æon Rings version is somewhat different; it's considerably more ethereal and dreamy than even the original.  It's a good cover.  One of my favorite right now, actually.