Wednesday, February 8, 2017

We Are Number One But It's Synthwave by Florian Ollson

This is an odd entry.  Yeah, yeah... the whole "We Are Number One" thing is a jokey internet meme.  But one guy decided to turn it into a synthwave track and... well, it's actually really good.  Keep in mind that a lot of these early synthpop artists (and this is even more true for the italo-disco artists) were essentially a cottage industry of electronic garage bands, and that a lot of really interesting stuff comes out of the crowd-sourced, amateur or semi-amateur markets.

Anyway, here is, for your enjoyment, "We Are Number One But It's Synthwave" by Florian Ollson.  You can get it on Soundcloud, but I'm posting the YouTube version, because I like the fake 80s effects.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Ascend by Shelter

Who doesn't love a classic British electro-duo singing catchy, soulful synthpop?  Not me.  It may have indeed been many years since the early years of Blancmange, Soft Cell, Erasure or the Pet Shop Boys, but the trope remains current nonetheless.

One group that I only recently became aware of is Shelter.  They have a very (deliberate, no doubt) Erasure-esque sound, and their hit "Ascend" shows that quite well.

They've been around for a little while; this is their second album, it looks like, and they've even done some work with Andy Bell.  But they're new to me, and this song is the apex (to me, anyway) of their output as far as I can tell.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sherlock by Hive Riot

I'm discovering new music at a fantastic pace lately.  Hive Riot comes from a retrospective of the best synthpop albums of 2016 by some blogger, and certainly I think he's on to something.  These guys are fun, poppy, light and pretty classic.

He said they were L.A. based on his blog, but that's clearly not true; it's a duo and the woman and main vocalist is married to the older brother of the instrumentalist and backing vocalist.  They met as youngsters in Provo, UT, and she (it appears) still lives there, while he has a day job in NYC.

They seem pretty fun, and this song certainly is so.  This is the official music video, and it makes me chuckle, not only because it's pretty fun, but also because it's just about the gayest music video I've seen since watching older Jimmy Sommerville and Soft Cell music videos.  For many years, I rejected, and was in fact even offended, by the suggestion that my favorite music was favored by the gay community, but I've had to finally reluctantly agree that it certainly seems like it's true.

On the other hand, synthwave has been declared (tongue in cheek, but still) as the pop music of choice of the Alt-Right, and an expression of truly European, white pop music, and if that's true for synthwave, the all non-hip-hop electronic music has to fit into the same mold to some degree.

Of course, many self-hating white people think that that's nearly as terrible as being the anthems of the gay community, if not even moreso, so there's that.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Paper Thin by Mesh

Mesh has a habit of ripping some absolutely brilliant b-sides on their singles, which makes picking them up even cooler (the remixes tend to be pretty good too.)  From their most recently released single, "Kill Your Darlings"—a phrase that originated among writers not getting too attached to their work that wasn't up to snuff—"Paper Thin" is another one of these great b-sides; on par with "Let Them Crush Us" and "From This Height."


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Coming Home by Visitor

I've already discovered another new favorite.  There is such a wealth of material to be discovered, hiding under the relatively obscure label of synthwave, that I could be doing this for a long time.  Right now, this is one of my favorite songs.

Visitor is a band that just popped on my radar recently, and although I got one of their songs after hearing it on a synthwave set-list, it took me listening again to really notice it.  I can't find much about them; they appear to be two guys from London, who've released all of... one maxi-single so far.  Hmm...

Anyway, "Coming Home" is a great song, with several great remixes.  I've chosen to play the Viceroy Remix today instead of the original, just because it's a little bit more electronic than the original.  The FM Attack remix is even moreso.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Don't be Afraid by Anoraak (feat. Sally Shapiro)

I've seen a few artists who describe themselves as "dreamwave."  I don't think that that label has quite enough currency to be recognized widely, but on the other hand, it's fairly obvious what it means—"new wave" music in the US later 80s sense of what otherwise might be called "synthpop" music that has a dreamy tone or mood; sometimes more downtempo (but not necessarily) and much of it has a kind of ethereal wispiness or fragility to it.  Most of the guys I know who use the label come out of the lighter, dreamier side of synthwave (as opposed to the action video game soundtrack darker approach) and a lot of the work of artists like Electric Youth, Timecop1983, Futurecop!, College or Anoraak, etc.

Of course, I already really liked a few songs and artists who don't necessarily come from the synthwave tradition per se, but which also trade in this same vibe.  A lot of the work of Book of Love or Marsheaux certainly fits, for example.

I decided to create a playlist on my phone that I call "Dreamwave" and I've got a first pass at it of about 90+ songs, although it'll probably see some pruning, and then some stuff that I've missed will get added.  I like some of the instrumental music from the synthwave movement, but the pop songs of the synthwave movement are usually my favorites, as you can probably tell by what I've chosen to highlight here so far.  My own Dreamwave playlist doesn't worry too much about pedantic genre purity; I actually think at some point that becomes much more of a bug than a feature.  So, I've got stuff as diverse as Chris and Cosey ("October Love Song"), a bunch of Marsheaux (although I've focused on their "softer" songs; so while the Fotonovela remix of "Breakthrough" is one of my favorite Marsheaux songs, it doesn't really fit, whereas "Destroy Me" is the epitome of what I'm looking for) and a bunch of synthwave.

Speaking of lack of genre purity, I've seen a number of folks who have decided that if a synthwave artist, like Silent Gloves or Lost Years remixes a synthpop song, then it becomes a de facto synthwave song.  Again; I don't really have an opinion on it; since I like synthpop and synthwave, and can't really tell for sure where the line is between them on synthwave that has a vocalist, I don't see any point in trying to arbitrarily draw a line between the two anyway.  Maybe I'll get some of that stuff going here soon as well...

But for today, here's one of my favorite recent discoveries.  I've seen the same song credited differently depending on who's album it appears on, and it appears on albums by both Anoraak and Sally Shapiro (where it's presented as a song by the artist who's album it is, featuring the other artist.)  I don't know which one has precedence, so I'm just going with how I saw it first; an Anoraak song featuring Sally Shapiro.  Anoraak is an odd name, but the guy's a French house musician (as are many of the founders of the synthwave scene) with the real name of Frédéric Rivière.  My first thought on seeing a picture of Sally Shapiro was; "she doesn't look very Jewish" which turned out to be true; she's not.  In fact, nobody knows what her real name is, and it's just a pen name for both her and her partner; they're two Swedish electronic musicians.  (She does look Swedish, on the other hand...)

Lost Years does the remix of this particular version; another Swedish synthwave group, that did some of the music for the Swedish homage to the 80s, Kung Fury (along with also Swedish Mitch Murder.)  Seems like the Swedes are well represented here.


Monday, October 17, 2016

The Best Thing by Electric Youth

Although much of the synthwave genre is instrumental "movie music" type stuff, much of the best of it, of course, has lyrics, and just sounds like synthpop, except with a very overt retro-80s vibe to it.  One of the better of these outfits is Electric Youth, a classic electro duo of the kind made famous by Blancmange, Soft Cell, or given the female vocalist, maybe the better comparison is Yazoo.  They're a young couple from Toronto, and sadly, they claim that their name is not cribbed from the Debbie Gibson album of the same name.

Electric Youth makes stuff that is sometimes labeled "dreamwave"—new wave or synthwave with a nostalgic, ethereal quality to it that makes it sound somewhat dream-like, I suppose.  To be fair, most of the synthwave stuff that I've liked best comes from this "half" of the genre.  This is maybe a bit surprising; I like a lot of hard-style electronic music, and some of the harder synthwave stuff seems like it would be more up my alley than the dreamwave stuff.  And yet... I prefer the dreamwave.  That may be because it's rarer; I rarely found anyone at all that really sounded like Book of Love, and even in the newer synthpop scene, only Marsheaux really consistently delved into that particular mood.  But now I'm finding, of course, that there is much more of it than I knew, although it bears—maybe somewhat arbitrarily—a different genre label.

There's a lot more of this stuff that I'll be exploring in the coming months.  I'm still a newcomer to the synthwave scene, but I'm finding lots to love in it.

Electric Youth have put out a number of works, but only one full album (that gathers a lot of their songs from other sources, sometimes.)  I could probably post most of it as credible and desirable tracks, but of course, only one can make the cut at a time.  Here's "The Best Thing."  But I absolutely encourage you to look for more.  Electric Youth is one to watch, certainly.