Monday, December 14, 2015

Genetic Engineering by OMD

1983's Dazzle Ships came on the heels of the most successful OMD album ever done, before or since.  The boys of OMD wrote some great stuff on this album, but they also sprinkled it with a bunch of odd tape looping, musique concrète stuff that utilized some early samples of weird stuff (like radar pings from a ship, time stamps from Czechoslovakia, and even weirder stuff.

Some of that feels relatively harmless now; it's kinda smug, self-absorbed, artsy stuff that isn't necessarily very memorable to listen to very often, but it's not terrible.  And what's occasionally forgotten is that there are actually some great tracks on Ships.  The song "Genetic Engineering" is, unsurprisingly since I picked it here, one such.

The band stated that they've specifically mimicked some elements of Kraftwerk's "Computer World"—but I'll let you be the judge of how obvious that is.  Personally, I don't see much...

Monday, November 30, 2015

Parece un Martes 13 by el Signo

Another Argentine dance song; this time "Martes 13" by el Signo.  There are other versions of this song (I have four in total) which aren't quite as dancy sounding, but this is clearly a synthpop New Wave song of the type that was popular in Europe and North America at the same time that this was being produced in South America (very early 90s.)

"Martes 13" means "Tuesday the 13th" in Spanish, but for whatever reason, Tuesday is their bad-luck day when paired with the 13th rather than Friday as it is in the English-speaking world.  The lyrics, for those of you who don't speak Spanish, are all about worrying about bad luck and stuff with some vaguely creepy details here and there; they're nothing special.  One of the interesting angles is the Argentine tango that makes up some of the backing rhythm.

In any case, The Sacados and el Signo were both primarily somewhat localized bands, so I doubt I'll revisit much of them in the future, but it's fun to see both a blast from my own past as well as a glimpse into what was going on in a section of the world that's normally a little removed from the pop music centers of Western Civilization.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Lollipop—Dulce Nada by The Sacados

My brother asked me about this song recently, so I thought; what the heck, let's feature it.  The Sacados.  They're an Argentine group, and a lot of Argentine pop music fits the "Rock Argentino" style.  A few groups were more electronic in nature, though: The Sacados are a kind of pop/house fusion, and El Signo were kind of a rock/synthpop fusion.  I should put one of their songs up one of these days too, right?

Anyway, here's "Lollipop/Dulce Nada."  I probably would prefer "Corre González" or "La Primavera" myself, but since my brother specifically asked about this one, here it is:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Das Omen by Mysterious Art

When the internet was still relatively new, and Youtube wasn't around yet, and getting mp3 files or used CDs of music wasn't something that you could log into Amazon or iTunes or whatever and just do, I was often led on a merry chase trying to find esoteric or obscure stuff.

One of the bands that I heard about in the early 90s as being a bit of a cult favorite in the late 80s was Mysterious Art.  They never got, as far as I know, any North American release, so they were already very tricky to find by the mid to late 90s when I was looking for them.  But they had a huge hit in Germany in 1989.

I did a post on a song of theirs earlier, but in my effort to not be too predictable, of course, I missed their most famous song.  They weren't exactly a one-hit wonder, but missing "Das Omen" is kinda missing the point, in many ways.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Daisy Cutter by Beborn Beton

Throughout the 90s, a major player in the German synthpop movement was Beborn Beton.  I highly recommend Tales from Another World, their "greatest hits" 2-cd Collection, which is available for free as an mp3 download if you're an Amazon Prime member, I just noticed (I actually bought it from Amazon earlier, but even if you're not a prime member, this is a good deal as a double album for only $8.99.)  Some of their great tracks like "Another World," "Mantrap - The Seduction" and their best song ever (in my never humble opinion) "Mantrap - A Wish Come True" are just absolutely great dark, energetic synthpop.  And check out that Ephemeral Rage remix of "Another World."

Anyway, Beborn Beton have gotten the band back together and have a new CD coming out a little later this year.  You can hear "24/7 Mystery" on their Youtube channel, and the amazing song "Daisy Cutter" is on their Soundcloud.  I think it sounds pretty much brilliant.

One challenge for bands who run for a long time, or who take a lengthy hiatus and then come back, is that they have to evolve their sound a bit, to not sound repetitive and deja vu to listeners, but they can't do so too radically, lest they alienate the fans of their prior material.  Long-running bands and kings of the synthpop scene during the 80s Erasure and Depeche Mode are, in my opinion, victims of these problems respectively: Erasure albums all start to sound too much like each other, making the release of another one an item of little excitement or interest at this point, and Depeche Mode sounds like a totally different band that has only a few vague connections to the Depeche Mode I used to love (with the exception a few years ago of Playing the Angel, a brilliant album that recaptured much of the glory of their golden years.)

Anyway, I think Beborn Beton manages to straddle the line well; this should certainly appeal to fans of their earlier material without sounding like it's merely rehashing their earlier material over again.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I Heart U [Expanded] by Parralox

A few years ago, I really got into Parralox, after discovering their debut single "Sharper Than A Knife."  Their debut album, Electricity, is a wonderful hybrid of throwback 80s synthpop and modern EDM, with clever lyrics and beautiful vocals and wonderful, soaring synths.

"I Heart U" was one of my favorite songs from that bygone era.  But now, John Von Ahlen, the main man behind Parralox, has re-released it in "expanded" form; every single track expanded into an extended remix.

Here's the expanded version of "I Heart U."  Yeah, the "No!" and "Yes!" exclamations are a little weird.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Send Me an Angel by Real Life

I mentioned briefly not long ago that Real Life had also done a cover album recently with a bunch of 80s tracks.  I looked up what I had blogged before from Real Life, and realized that I'd only ever done one of their tracks, and it isn't the one everybody knows.  I know, I know... sometimes I like to avoid the obvious and do something different, but missing "Send Me An Angel" seemed somehow wrong, so I've added it to the list.  To be just a little bit different in a minor way, I've added the 2009 version, which was re-recorded for this compilation.

Real Life seldom had much of a break (other than this song, actually)--they're a talented, albeit seriously 80s outfit, who had done a bunch of work long before they had a major hit.  In fact, they released "Send Me An Angel" as far back as 1983, although it made little impression that far ago, and in the US at least, it was hard to even find much of their material.  Wikipedia will tell you that Heartland at least was readily available, but I never really had much luck tracking them down until Best of Real Life: Send Me An Angel came out in 1989.  Heck, I couldn't even find anyone who could accurately tell me who sang "Catch Me I'm Falling" for years.

"Send Me An Angel" got picked up for some movie soundtracks in the 80s, though, and due to that, the band made a bit of a come-back.  I picked up their greatest hits compilation in 1989, and their Not Quite Greatest compilation Let's Fall in Love as well, and shortly after, Lifetime which had a few minor Billboard Dance chart hits, like "God Tonight" and "Kiss the Ground."

About this time, I put two and two together and realized that a song that I remembered liking years ago ("Catch Me I'm Falling") was actually by them and not A-ha, and I became a fan.  But I never saw their original releases available anywhere in any format.

After the synthpop crash of the early 90s, they continued on, becoming briefly more industrial sounding on Happy.  I never even got Imperfection, so I can't tell you much about it but both it and a remix version are available on Spotify.

I did pick up their cover album, however, where they also covered themselves and re-recorded "Send Me An Angel" one more time.  It's a good version, although it's not really too noticeably different from the 1989 version.  It's hard for me to say that I prefer one to the other.

As I said earlier on the Parralox cover album, it's interesting to see who a band decides to cover and why.  In this case, Real Life specifically limited their offerings to 80s "synth essentials"--per the subtitle of the album.  Anyway, the tracklist is as follows:

  1. "Send Me An Angel" 2009 version - originally recorded by Real Life
  2. "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" - originally recorded by The Eurythmics
  3. "Cars" - originally recorded by Gary Numan
  4. "Fade to Grey" - originally recorded by Visage
  5. "Everything Counts" - originally recorded by Depeche Mode
  6. "Blue Monday" - originally recorded by New Order
  7. "Primary" - originally recorded by The Cure
  8. "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime" - originally recorded by The Korgis
  9. "Shout" - originally recorded by Tears For Fears
  10. "Nowhere Girl" - originally recorded by B-Movie
  11. "I Melt With You" - originally recorded by Modern English
  12. "Tainted Love" - originally recorded by Soft Cell
  13. "The Model" - originally recorded by Kraftwerk
  14. "Send Me An Angel" 1983 remix
  15. "Send Me An Angel" 12" remix
The last two tracks are no doubt tacked on just because they can be; they have a primitive feel to them, and I do not prefer them to either the 1989 or the 2009 versions.

You'll also notice based on the tracklist that several of those original artists aren't necessarily "synth" artists, meaning that calling this collection "synth essentials" is a little bit odd.  Certainly the new versions by Real Life are synth driven.  There's a few Easter eggs in their two; the noise that opens "Cars" is actually the noise that opens their earlier song "Girl Jesus" but it sounds close enough to the Gary Numan version that I can see why they used it as a bit of an in-joke.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Quiet by Harm Joy

Harm Joy is a literal translation of the German term schadenfreude which we already use in English quite a bit to refer to laughing at someone else's misfortune.  I've just discovered them recently; they're an electroduo that makes synthpop with a strong darkwave or coldwave influence.  Darkwave and coldwave, as you might expect, tend to be on the darker and colder end of mood and tone for synthpop (and other post-punk new wave too, for that matter) and are overtly associated with the goth movement.  While I'm not goth myself, I'm sympathetic to, and in fact a big fan of, a lot of outfits that later became foundational to goth music; Depeche Mode, Clan of Xymox, The Cure, Cruxshadows, etc. in particular.  So as long as the goth isn't too heavily applied, or degenerates into self-parody, which isn't all that hard to do, I appreciate a bit of that vibe.  Harm Joy has just about the right amount of it without going over the top.  Great vocals too, although you can tell that they're not native English speakers on occasion due to awkward sentence structure or vocabulary.  Nothing that Germans like Camouflage or De/Vision wouldn't do on occasion.

I would have liked to find a lyrics version of "The Quiet," probably my favorite song of theirs, but I couldn't so you'll have to watch the official video.  I've noticed, in at least two or three official videos, that they have a very odd tendency to make videos where they are abusing goth girls in their underwear, so I recommend being wary; you may want to listen to the song without actually watching much of the video.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Eye in the Sky by Parralox

You can tell a lot about an artist by who they cover when they decide to do tribute albums.  Two of my favorite Australian synthpop artists recently both did tribute albums; relative newcomers Parralox and still-chugging old-timers from the 80s Real Life.  Here's the tracklist for the Parralox album, according to Discogs:

  1. "In the Night Two" (originally by The Pet Shop Boys)
  2. "Eye in the Sky" (originally by Alan Parsons Project)
  3. "Headhunter" (originally by Front 242)
  4. "Touched by the Hand of God" (originally by New Order)
  5. "Kebabträume" (originally by DAF)
  6. "A Forest" (originally by The Cure)
  7. "Somebody" (originally by Depeche Mode)
  8. "The Day Before You Came" (originally by ABBA)
  9. "Blind Vision" (originally by Blancmange)
  10. "Physical Attraction" (originally by Madonna)
  11. "Silent Morning" (originally by Noel)
  12. "A Little Respect" (originally by Erasure)
  13. "The Model" (originally by Kraftwerk)
  14. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (originally by Joy Division)

When I bought it from Amazon as an mp3 download, I had a slightly different tracklist; it also adds "Heaven" (originally by Depeche Mode), "The Number One Song in Heaven" (originally by Sparks) and "I Love You Too Much" (originally by The Bee Gees) but lacks "Kebabträume", "A Forest", and "The Day Before You Came."

Either way, one thing that's fairly obvious is that their influences, and those whom they chose to cover, represent a fairly broad and somewhat eclectic mix of artists from the 70s, 80s and 90s.  Many of the old-fashioned 80s New Wave synthpop artists are not unexpected, but some of the other 80s pop (Madonna, Alan Parsons Project, etc.) are a little surprising, and songs by artists like Noel and Sparks are a bit on the esoteric side.  It's interesting to see what they did with the songs too; even though the original of "Eye in the Sky" is not a synthpop song, or even an electronic music song of any kind at all, for that matter, it still sounds surprisingly faithful, for instance.  "Headhunter" on the other hand, is toned down a bit; rather than sounding like a harsh EBM track, it is rendered as a danceable synthpop song.

Although John von Ahlen has done vocals before for Parralox, he does quite a bit more than normal on this album, and regular vocalist Amie Mann (who, given the release of the new single "Crying on the Dancefloor" may have parted ways with John and left the band, from the looks of things) appears more as a cameo than anything else.

Anyway, I'll talk about the Real Life cover album another time (this post is already getting lengthier than is my wont for music posts) but for now let me just say that it's a bit more focused on a time-frame and genre than the Parralox album, although there is certainly a fair bit of overlap in terms of artists covered (Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order, etc.) although they also have a few surprises, and interestingly, they both cover Kraftwerk's "The Model."  They also covered themselves and released a new version of "Send Me an Angel" which is pretty good, although not really substantially different from the 1989 version, really.  The album also features the 1983 version, though, which is otherwise a bit tricky to rundown in the States.

For now, here's "Eye in the Sky" by Parralox.  Sadly, this version doesn't feature the "Sirius" opener, which Alan Parson's Project sometimes did.  Parralox has a version of the song that does.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Adjust Your Set by Mesh

Alright; one more for today.  After doing a number of 80s one-hit wonders (for relatively loose definitions of "hit") it occurs to me that I'm going to someday, and maybe not that far from now, run out of bands to highlight.  Sure; I have a lot more music than is highlighted here, but does anyone really want me to highlight 30-40 different Depeche Mode or Erasure songs?  This is part of the reason I branched out beyond synthpop into italo-disco and EBM, etc., and why I branched out beyond the 80s to music that is more recent, but firmly rooted stylistically in the synthpop and new wave movements of the 80s.

Mesh is a band that hasn't really had its due here on my blog.  I only have one Mesh post (not counting this one, which I'm adding now.)  It was originally a video of "Confined" but when the video crapped out, I replaced it with "Crash."  I later found another copy of "Confined" on youtube, and added them both.  However, this rather inauspicious history belies their importance.

Mesh is cursed with very bad timing.  Forming in 1991 and active throughout the 90s and beyond, they've never been able to enjoy the mainstream synthpop boom that they really should have been entitled to.  Then again, they've also moved in and out of a "pure" synthpop sound over the years.

Their earliest material (although not released early) is found on Original 91-93, which naturally suggests the vintage of those tracks.  These songs are synthpop.  However, Mesh's first actual release was Fragile in 1994 sounds like slightly more melodic Nine Inch Nails.  They then went on to sound like classic line-up Depeche Mode for several albums in a row, before branching off into a kind of "synth rock" sound that can honestly be called somewhat unique.

To be fair to Mesh, they also really pounded the pavement in the 90s.  Back then, the synthpop scene was much smaller and more insular, and yet Mesh (along with De/Vision) emerged as real superstars in that scene.  For that matter, Mesh also did a bunch of remixes, including for De/Vision, from time to time.

I've been a fan, although I'm not always as sold on their style as I could wish.  One of my absolute favorite of their songs, "Confined" is from relatively early In This Place Forever, but in general I prefer The Point at Which It Falls Apart and Who Watches Over Me?, which are also the most Depeche Mode-like of the lot.  We Collide and on features a much more layered, intense production, and a grittier rock-like sound.  It was also produced by Gareth Jones, which is interesting.  It also has some of my favorite tracks, although I'm a little bit more skeptical in general about the style.

For today's, I've picked one of their most recent songs, "Adjust Your Set."  The mix is by Rob Dust, and he certainly brings his own style, but the Mesh produced original isn't as different as you'd think in sound.

Sister Marie Says by OMD

One final entry for today.  This song was actually originally written in 1981 by OMD which, of course, I've talked about here already before.  It wasn't recorded until much later; after the classic line-up had broken up following "If You Leave" and "Dreaming", and after Andy McCluskey had run with the name for a number of years, issuing the largely excellent Sugar Tax album, and then a few other largely forgettable ones.  McCluskey gave up in the mid to late 90s with the name and let it rest.

In the mid-00s, Humphries and McCluskey got to talking, they were invited to perform in Germany, and the legal issues with the name OMD itself were largely sorted out, and... well, they got the classic line-up band back together, and came out, in 2010 with the excellent History of Modern.  There's a lot of good tracks (although a lot of weird ones too) on History of Modern, but my favorite is this old one, reworked decades after the fact, but still sounding pristine, as if it belongs firmly to the 80s.

Although one curious side effect.  McCluskey often has odd pronunciation.  Although the title of the song is "Sister Marie Says" it usually sounds like he's saying Sister Mary.  Sometimes it sounds like he's saying Sister Murray.

Dancing In Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop) by Q-Feel

Another one-hit wonder of the early 80s with a song that mentioned heaven prominently, Q-Feel was actually making a rather cheeky song about dancing in space.  It would probably be completely forgotten (instead of merely mostly forgotten) except that it was added to the soundtrack album of Girls Just Want To Have Fun.  The song was released originally in 1982, but had a re-release in 1989.

Again; I heard it for the first time in the 90s on an 80s compilation, but then again, I never watched Girls Just Want to Have Fun when it was new, or even for several years afterward.  It's not that great of a movie, and frankly it's more fun just to see Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt playing teenagers when they were young enough to pull it off (although that novelty wears off very quickly.)  I also remember being pretty disgusted when her love interest sucker-punches a much larger rival and then runs away, and that's portrayed as a romantic moment.  What a loser!

Anyway, it's still a fun, albeit extremely silly, song.  By the time I saw the movie, I did know the song, and thought it was fun to see it in the finals.

(Feels Like) Heaven by Fiction Factory

I first heard of Scottish Fiction Factory and their one hit, "(Feels Like) Heaven" on one of those Rhino Records 80s compilations.  This was a major hit in some markets, but I can't see any evidence that it was actually released in North America at all, meaning that there isn't really any way I could have heard it until it was compiled.

Fiction Factory apparently only ever had two albums period, and broke up later in the mid-80s.  Band leader Kevin Patterson apparently still gets together for revival concerts and whatnot on occasion, but he's left the music industry entirely and works in IT for a university in Scotland.

I wish I'd heard this song earlier, but I suppose by the mid-90s when I got it on the Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the 80s compilation series was early enough.  It's a hauntingly beautiful little song.  I also regret that I never finished getting all of the volumes of that compilation, although I have most of them.  The're not easily available anymore.  Apparently Rhino had rights issues with the series and had to discontinue it for that reason, with no plans to re-release.  However, you can get them as used CDs from Amazon at, mostly, relatively decent prices.  Although pricing and availability vary by volume.

Curiously; and I just looked over the tracklists to double check, but none of the volumes have the Depeche Mode song "Just Can't Get Enough" on them.  In fact, there aren't any Depeche Mode songs at all, which seems like a glaring miss, but again--probably due to rights issues.  I can't believe given the choices of songs that they did pick, that they'd have deliberately left off songs like "Just Can't Get Enough," "New Life," "Dreaming of Me," "Leave in Silence" and even "People Are People."  In general, the compilations earliest volumes start at about 1979 or so, and volume 15, the last, had tracks from about 1985.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Secret Place by Marsheaux

Greek gals Marsheaux have just released a Depeche Mode cover album; they've essentially covered the entire A Broken Frame album song by song.  I've been a fan of theirs for a number of years, and I have most of their releases to date, including having just picked this one up.  I double checked my posts here, and it looks like the only time I've put Marsheaux on the board is when I added a completely different Depeche Mode cover (of "New Life" that time) so it was high time that I gave them some credit for their original work.  Marsheaux is very rooted in the 80s, and have in fact covered a lot of 80s material, including (obviously) Depeche Mode, When in Rome, Billy Idol, OMD, New Order, and actually quite a few more.  But they are really quite good on their own.  Their lyrics are often kind of strange; I chalk that up to them not being native English speakers.  But that doesn't really matter that much; what they do really well is evoke mood and tone with their songs, where the dream-like vocals become simply yet another instrument for them to work with.

I actually think Marsheaux has made some of the most romantic synthpop I've ever heard.  I don't mean that in a kind of bodice-ripper type sense, a la the romance genre of novels or the rom-com genre of movies.  But with an extremely airy, wistful, dream-like quality to much of their music, it reminds me, in mood at least, if nothing else, of the best of Book of Love's output (a point which I believe I mentioned last time.)

Marsheaux has been relatively productive; six original albums in 11 years is slightly better than one every other year, but they've also put out remixes, compilations, EPs, singles, and more.  I especially like that they sound different than the majority of my collection.  As much as I like De/Vision or Mesh, for instance, I have to admit that they're largely retreading (albeit very well) trails already blazed by Depeche Mode long before.  Depeche Mode casts such a long shadow over the genre that many bands, honestly, struggle to do anything that doesn't sound at least somewhat derivative.  Normally, I'm OK with that, since I'm a huge fan of classic line-up Depeche Mode (y'know, when the music that they made could still fairly be called synthpop instead of something else by a band that used to make electronic music back in the 80s and early 90s.)  I don't mind stuff that treads that same trail.  But because of that, I do really quite like the material that is more unique.  Marsheaux is cementing themselves as one of my favorites that does their own thing, seems to still be going strong, and has enough output to not be considered a flash in the pan.

I've got a lot of material that I could have picked for this particular entry, but I decided to go with probably my favorite song of their recentish (2013) Inhale release, "Secret Place."  This nicely encapsulates everything I've said about the band, I think, in one single track.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Quiet Life by Japan

Japan was an interesting band, that had been wandering around doing art-rock funk and glam-punk and other stuff for a number of years already when the 80s rolled around.  They got binned with the New Romantics due to a similar sound and look.  They've denied it, which many other outlets (including Wikipedia) seem hell-bent on pointing out, but honestly; I don't think that's a call that the band gets to make.  Japan has also said, and this is probably more honest and interesting, frankly, that they had been doing what they were doing (in terms of look, at least) for a long time, and kept doing it after the New Romantic movement came along.  The fact that they intersected briefly with a faddish movement was more coincidence than anything by design.  What lead singer David Sylvian said, to be exact, in 1982 was, "There's a period going past at the moment that may make us look as though we're in fashion."  Clever self-deprecation humor.  How very British. Which is the main reason they deny association with the New Romantic movement, and in that respect, that's fair.  To the degree that it's accurate, of course.

See, they sounded dramatically different with a totally different vocal delivery style on the part of the vocalist David Sylvian, and a major increase in Giorgio Moroder-style synthesizers.  This really was a major change in direction for the band in the same direction as New Romanticism that was happening at the same time.  I'm not 100% sure that I buy Japan's avowal of dissociation with the label.  And like I said, I'm not sure that they get to decide that too.  If they look like a New Romantic and sound [quack] like a New Romantic, and they do so at the same time as the New Romantic movement... you don't get to claim that you're not a New Romantic just because the label in the intervening years acquired a rather silly connotation.

The album Quiet Life was released either in December 1979 or January 1980 depending on the region.  It wasn't initially successful, but after their subsequent releases (which continued the New Romantic sound) were more successful, there were some subsequent and belated single releases, including the song "Quiet Life" itself in August of '81.  It had actually been released 18 months earlier only in Japan (which is oddly coincidental, since the band name was a place-holder that stuck, and the band themselves never professed any particular affinity for the country particularly (although they did record a track called "Life in Tokyo" which actually was produced by Giorgio Moroder.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mexican Radio by Wall of Voodoo

A big part of the earliest synthpop scene in the late 70s and early 80s (and, to be fair, beyond as well) was the prevalence of novelty one-hit wonders.  One such outfit was Wall of Voodoo, who had a strange hybrid style of making spaghetti western-style songs with synthesizers (and more traditional pop/rock instruments too.)  They have, for example, an odd cover of "Ring of Fire".  They're mostly known for "Mexican Radio" of course, which came out in 1983.  Although L.A. based, the song was a bigger hit in much of the rest of the world than in the US, but it got some pretty decent coverage on early MTV, because that was the format that they most often covered in their early days.

Of course, in 1983 I was only 11 years old, and I lived in a relatively small town that had country and top 40 and oldies stations (at least, those were the only radio stations I remember from that long ago.)  We didn't have cable in 1983--wouldn't for a few more years yet--so I couldn't have watched MTV when it was heavy in its New Wave stage even if I had wanted to.  I mostly discovered Wall of Voodoo some ten years (or maybe even more) after the fact on 80s compilations.  Which, at least, were fairly common in the early to mid-90s.  Which I find to be an encouraging sign; while record company execs were sure that we had all "moved on" to Grunge and Neo Punk like Green Day, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Collective Soul, etc. in reality there was a big demand for 80s style music.  And if we couldn't get 80s style music, then there was a big demand for actual 80s music, even of (maybe even especially of) the New Wave electronic type stuff.

Eh, I dunno.  Maybe I'm reaching.  It's certainly a moot point now, in the days of itunes, Amazon mp3 downloads and label-less artists.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Plastic Heart by De/Vision

I'm probably a little too circumspect in describing how much I like De/Vision material.  I admit that my prior posts on them seem a bit ambivalent.  De/Vision didn't really get consistently good until their fourth album, and I do have to admit that there's a lot of filler in all but two of their albums (Monosex and Popgefahr) but since they have twenty albums available (if you count remix albums, that is--if not, you've still got 14 or so) there is a lot of really good material out there.  A casual glance at the audio files on my memory card on my Android will indicate that other than Depeche Mode tracks, I have more De/Vision than any other single artist.  Probably by quite a long shot, in fact (although Erasure, Mesh, Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys, and several others have a pretty respectable number of tracks too.)  Some of their tracks are among my favorite synthpop tracks--80s or otherwise--that I turn to over and over again, and have done so for years.

Part of this is the collection of stunningly fabulous remixes of De/Vision songs that I have, though, I should admit.  Not only do they have singles with remixes (like anyone else) but they also did something that was somewhat unprecedented, and which I can't remember ever seeing anywhere else.  They took 2010's Popgefahr, as I mentioned above, already tied for best of their albums ever, with essentially no real filler tracks, and opened up a remix contest.  The intent was that they'd release an all new Popgefahr remixed, with all ten tracks, in order, remixed by an outside source.  In point of fact, they did considerably more.  They released a double-CD with all ten songs remixed twice.  They then put out another release for the North American market, also a double CD, but with all new remixes that are not the same as the European remixes (with a small number of exceptions, which are duplicated.)  Because out of 40 remixes, only three of them are repeats (for a total number of unique remixes of 37) you really should, if you like De/Vision remixes, track down both double-CD releases.  Neither the US nor the European release is qualitatively better than the other (both contain some of my favorite versions, as a matter of fact) you're missing out on great material if you don't get both of them.

Then they went and released yet another limited edition remix album with ten completely different remixes of all of the same songs.  Counting the original, that means that there are six versions of the Popgefahr album, and with very few exceptions, all of the tracks are unique.  On top of this, the album did also spawn two CD singles, both of which have at least some other remixes from the album other than those released on the remix album.  This remix frenzy is really quite unprecedented, and it is fun to see it, actually.  It also contributes greatly to the amount of De/Vision sound files that I have on my phone.  I probably have almost as many Popgefahr tracks, in one version or another, as I do all of the other De/Vision tracks put together (on my phone that is.  I actually have all of their albums now, so far, and many of their singles.)  This is, in part, due to the extremely high quality of the songs themselves, but also due to the extremely high quality of many of the remixes.

Sadly, one of my favorite of the tracks, "Twisted Story" only has three remixes, one by Vasyl Tkach and one by Rob Dust.  These two tracks are repeated on both the German and US version of the remix album (the limited edition 3.0 mix has a third remix) and both of them are also on the "Twisted Story" CD single. I would have expected to see more, and given that it was one of my absolute favorite tracks on the original CD, I'm disappointed not to see it out there.

However, one of my other favorite tracks, "Plastic Heart" has all unique remixes, and some fan remixes of nearly equal quality abound on youtube and elsewhere.  I, in fact, have nine versions on my phone, and I'm aware of at least a couple other bootlegs out there here and there.

In fact, I'm going to specifically highlight one of these bootlegs today, but I have to reiterate; this Popgefahr stuff is really good.  Tons of good tracks, tons of good remixes.  I don't love every single remix, of course (a few are totally not my style) but I really do like most of them.  You can buy everything except the US version as a Popgefahr Collection 4-cd from Amazon for less than $40--it includes the two German remix albums, the 3.0 remix album and the original.  You can also buy the US remix albums as an mp3 download (or CD) fairly easily too.  For about $50, you can get six albums with better than 70% (in my opinion) of the tracks being incredibly excellent.  That leaves, if you're somewhat math impaired, only about three versions of any song per album that I could kind of take or leave, or otherwise don't like.  That's an extremely good ratio; better than almost any other album I could name across any genre.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Limelight by Rename

I've spent the last several posts talking nostalgically about synthpop from the 80s.  Yes, I know--that's the stated purpose of this blog and all, but I've long since expanded the scope to cover other electronic music that I like; the majority of which that isn't 80s synthpop being, of course, subsequent synthpop.

I have, currently a little over 2,000 songs on the memory card of my Android, and I usually just  put it on shuffle and let it play while commuting, jogging, working out, hiking, doing chores, etc.  Without doing any kind of systemic count or survey, I'd break up my collection into four areas, with a rough estimate as to how much of my collection it makes up as follows:

  • 80s New Wave - i.e, the primary source material for this blog.  30-35% or so.
  • More recent electronic music; mostly synthpop and futurepop from the 90s, 00s and 10s, but with some techno, acid, house, etc. mixed in to keep it a little bit esoteric.  45-50%, I'd guess.
  • 80s pop music that isn't New Wave.  It's usually top 40 stuff, and a not inconsiderable portion of it is hair rock like Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Ratt, Motley Crue, Skid Row, etc.  10-15%, roughly.
  • A few modern pop songs that I've picked up here and there, but don't really fit the profile.  Modern being a relative word, of course; mostly meaning "since the 80s."  This could vary from stuff like Imagine Dragons, Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand, Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Onerepublic, etc.  No more than 5%, probably.
Hence my shifting of the focus.  And of course, it's also the fastest growing portion of my collection (for what it's worth, this only music on my phone, not music that I own in other formats. And it does absolutely nothing to account for my vast collection of classical music, orchestral movie soundtracks, video game soundtracks, New Age music, and other weird esoterica which I also own.  Just about the only thing that I don't have any appreciable quantity of in my collection is so-called ethnic music and country.  Although I do have small smatterings of both here and there.  Oh, and hip-hop.  I don't have any of that.)

I've kind of lost track of "the scene" in recent years, in part because it's just gotten to big to keep track of anymore, and in part because I'm OK with stumbling across new stuff by accident; my collection is busy enough to keep me pretty busy as it is.  I don't tend to get "tired" of music and retire it, so I don't always need something fresh to occupy me.  I'm as likely to feel like listening to a 30+ year old track that I've had in hand since it was new and find it surging to the front of my consciousness as I am something that I literally just discovered.  That said; of course, who doesn't like finding something new from time to time?  In this effort, the real leader has long been Todd Durant and his business A Different Drum, which sadly closed its doors recently.  Not only did he maintain the premiere label for synthpop through the 90s and 00s, but he also was the best distributor/shop for the stuff.  Of course, now that Amazon makes self-distribution rather easy, I suppose the place in the world for that kind of thing has dried up, and that's OK... although somewhat unfortunate, I suppose.  

Not only was it the place to buy synthpop, but it also was occasionally the place to sample synthpop, and I admit that I often would download legitimate mp3s of A Different Drum releases from his site, Electrogarden, or even on Amazon back when they used to have mp3 samples designed to spark sales.  Sometimes they did, in fact, spark sales, but sometimes I took the samples, was happy with them, and then never actually bought anything from the artists I was sampling.  Even when I really liked the samples.

One example of a band of this latter category would be Germany's Rename.  I've always meant to pick up more, considering how much I loved the two sample tracks I picked up, but I just haven't managed to get around to it yet.  Maybe this post will help prompt me to get off my lazy behind and see what I can find by the band and investigate further.  If not, maybe at least it will do so for you.

Besides a few CD catalog of their own material for me to investigate, I also have a Rename remix of a De/Vision track that I really, really like (and have had for several years--"Turn Me On".  Check it out) as well as some Mark Oh and Rename collaboration where they remade Visage's classic "Damned Don't Cry."  Same vocalist.

It looks like there was an anniversary release of their debut album, with double the tracks.  Both are available as mp3 downloads from Amazon, as well as a sophomore album.  According to discogs there's a third album that's been self-released, but I don't see it on Amazon, sadly.

My favorite of the sample tracks was the dreamy and catchy "Limelight" which I like for much the same reason that I like guys like OMD or Book of Love.  While I think it's fairly representational of their sound, I think much of the rest of Rename's output does tend to be more overtly clubby than this particular track.  Not that you can't easily dance to this, of course.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Let Me Go by Heaven 17

I've never been a huge fan of Heaven 17 myself, especially since the first song I heard of there's was the execrable (and frankly, really stupid and insulting) song "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang."  Of course, that's probably unfair to the group, who have been cited as very influential for quite some time.  The group itself is the original core of The Human League.  They really wanted Glenn Gregory as lead singer, but he wasn't available, so they went with their next choice Phil Oakey.  In many ways, they were more influential on New Wave music in this incarnation than in later ones, but they failed to find mainstream chart success, and the group broke up in the early 80s.  Phil ironically was left with the name, which he went on to do amazing things with when he released Dare, which is still one of the biggest early New Wave albums of all time, especially with its massive hit "Don't You Want Me."  The rest of the group managed to get Gregory after all, and changed their name to Heaven 17 and went through the rest of the 80s with more modest success.

In America, their best known song is "Let Me Go" which was ironically not all that popular in the UK (there, their biggest hit was probably "Temptation.")

I actually missed Heaven 17 entirely the first time around, and when I discovered them later, I found that I really only liked (of the material I heard, anyway) "Let Me Go."  And I only discovered that because it was covered by the ill-fated late 80s synthpop band T-4-2 (sometimes spelled T42, although that's not how I did it when I spotlighted one of their songs a number of years ago.)  I should do more with T-4-2; they briefly made a big impression on me when they were poised to be another Anything Box.  Sadly, they didn't live up to their promise.  But they did lead me, eventually, to this song by Heaven 17, which I do have to admit is pretty cool.  Even if Heaven 17 was never really one of my favorites of the 80s.

Shout out to the guy who commented a long time ago saying that Heaven 17 was one of his favorites that he missed seeing here.  Well, now their on the board.  I can't imagine that I'd put anything else of theirs on; this is really the only song of theirs that I really liked, and I discovered it very belatedly.  Oh, well.

In Memoriam: Steve Strange

Last week, Steve Strange died of a heart attack at the relatively young age of 55 in Egypt (I'm not sure what he was doing there either, no.)  Steve Strange, a.k.a. Steven John Harrington, is the front-man and most visible founding member of Visage, of course, which was the leading edge of the New Romantic movement in the very late 70s--although none of his music was actually released until 1980.

I've talked about it before, but I was led on a merry chase after Visage's eponymous first album on CD (only to have it appear, re-released and with bonus tracks just a few years later).  It's fairly sad; after years languishing as a former pop star, Strange got the name Visage back together again, with a few of the original musicians and a few new guys, and released the album Hearts and Knives in 2013, which has at least a few great tracks.  Actually, just two or three months ago, he released a new album, Orchestral, where he reworks a number of Visage tracks as, as you'd expect from the title, orchestral songs with vocals.  For this In Memoriam post, I thought of posting "Shameless Fasion" or "Dreamer I Know" from this more recent material.

But I won't.  Instead, I'm going to post "Fade to Grey".  You kind of have to, right?  It's by far the biggest hit and best known legacy of Visage.  The song has actually had three singles releases; the first time, as a lead-single, released at the exact same time as their debut album Visage.  This one charted in the top 10 in the UK, and #1 in some continental markets.  It was released again to support a 1993 Greatest Hits compilation.  I have this CD single, although frankly, the Bassheads remixes that it showcases are total bollocks; they're just terrible remixes.  What can you say?  It was 1993.  Club music was going through a real nadir right then.  This also featured the original version of the song (whoop-de-doo, since I also have it on the original CD, on the Greatest Hits CD, and on another 80s compilation too) but I still hold on to it because of the so-called 7" Remix.  This at least sounds like "Fade to Grey", unlike the Bassheads abominations, but with a very notable difference: it trades out the beautiful fragility of the original for a thumpy "club nazi" approach.  I quite like it, actually, but I have to admit that it absolutely does not replace the original; it's just an interesting alternative take on the concept.  It was also re-released more recently as an orchestral single to support the Orchestral album.

The version I'm going to showcase today is actually a bootleg remix by Rob Dust.  If the 7" Remix is a thumpy club nazi version, this one is even moreso, but I have to admit, I really love Rob Dust's trademark very lush and layered aggro remix style.  I discovered him a few years ago with De/Vision's Popgefahr remix albums, where he did remixes for "Ready to Die" and "Twisted Story."  His remix of the latter is possibly my favorite version of any song from that entire affair (although Renegade of Sound's "Plastic Heart" and the Melancholic Mix of "Flash of Light" are up there too.)  He's also done some great bootleg Depeche Mode remixes, and some remixes of some German bands, most of whom I haven't heard of--but because they have Rob Dust remixes, they're among my favorite clubby dance tracks right now.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Life in a Northern Town by Dream Academy

While not technically synthpop, the "dream pop" label, which was kind of an early prototype of what later came to be known as "shoegazing" has some commonalities with elements of synthpop.  A lot of synthpop really celebrated their synthesizers; while others used the synthesizers to emulate real instruments in many regards.  This is why it's hard to separate sometimes: in Dream Academy's one hit, "Life in a Northern Town," how much is synthetic and how much is a real instrument, albeit one not commonly associated with the pop music scene?

I remember thinking this in particular about Camouflage and their 1989 album Methods of Silence with it's dance chart hit "Love is a Shield."  I remember particularly reading a review in which the reviewer claimed that in attempting to not sound like a synthie-pop knock-off of Depeche Mode, they introduced a real oboe sound, which ironically sounded even more like a synth-line.

"Life in a Northern Town" also prominently features an oboe, background strings, backing piano lines, and a lot of overdub and other effects, which is why it fits nicely in with the synthpop scene, even though the use of synthesizers by Dream Academy was somewhat limited.  To the casual listener, this was simply a somewhat dreamy and Romantic (in terms of the literary and music movement moreso than with regards to the genre of literature famously read by women, although it could qualify to some degree under both definitions) new wave song not too unlike a lot of synthpop ballads.

It's not clear what northern town is being referred to in the title.  The song is dedicated to late guitarist Nike Drake, who was from Tanworth-in-Arden, but the two music videos featured scenes mostly filmed in Hebden Bridge and Newcastle Upon Tyne respectively.  Then again, maybe you're not really supposed to think that much about it anyway.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Perfect Wine by Shades of Grey

I've mentioned before that one of the things that has often made me appreciate music more was the hunt that I had to undertake to find them, back in the day prior to the internet, Youtube and more.  These days, this really isn't much of a thing.

But, I'm going to do something a little different and highlight a song that I can't find on the internet anymore.  It's not on Spotify (at least the original, unremixed version isn't, although a more danceable remix is.)  It's not on youtube.  The label that released the CD is defunct and the website is long gone.  I can't find it for sale on Amazon, iTunes, eBay or anywhere else.  Heck; even is missing this compilation (although here it is on allmusic.)

Rather than listening to the track, you're going to have to actually go and find it.  And it'll be challenging.  I can't find it.  But then again; I don't have to.  I bought the actual CD that it was originally released on back in 1998 or 1999 or so.  (As an aside, it just came up on my shuffle play on my phone while commuting today, which is what made me think of it again.)

In fact, since 50 Shades of Grey was released after this group had already stopped working, Google isn't even particularly helpful.  You'll get all kinds of wrong results.  Good luck!

Shades of Grey was a southern California team made up of two brothers.  I actually have not only this song, a Synthphony Records compilation called The United Synthpop of America Vol. 1 (of 1, as it turns out, although there was also a United Synthpop of Europe release) but both their one album and their one EP.

The vocals are a little pitchy, but it's almost as if that was a deliberate stylistic choice.  "Perfect Wine" is a beautiful, hauntingly melodic and even romantic track, and is largely considered; or at least it was so back when the synthpop fan scene was smaller much smaller--probably the best song of the group.  Although Shades of Grey always seemed to have pretty good buzz in the scene, they weren't very prolific, and they've been gone for a long time now, it seems; 2001 was their last release that I can find.