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.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hiroshima Mon Amour by Ultravox!

John Foxx, who was the lead singer, front-man, and main song-writer for Ultravox before he ditched the band, left it in the hands of Midge Ure (who took it to considerable commercial succes) has said of "Hiroshima Mon Amour" on their 1977 album Ha! Ha! Ha!, that it was the first synthpop song in history and that he thought nobody else had done a song like that before.  Of course, Foxx was a strange guy.  A former hippy and mod kid, he decided and declared his intention to live a life without any emotion in the mid-70s.  He wrote that sentiment into the track "I Want to Be A Machine" on Ultravox!'s first album.  A huge fan of J.G. Ballard, and grandiosely imaging himself as the "Marcel Duchamp" of electronic music (at a time when Kraftwerk was about the only game in electronic music town) he is known for being rather influential, even as he was never actually very popular.

I'm a fan, of course, of some of his early Ultravox work and especially his first solo album, Metamatic from very early 1980 (literally just squeeks into the 80s by less than three weeks) and I've talked about both here before.  Ironically some of his imitators (like Gary Numan) who were very upfront about citing the John Foxx era Ultravox as one of their main inspirations, went on to not only precede Metamatic, making it sound almost like a copy-cat (ironically) as well as achieving considerably more mainstream success and attention.  Foxx's declaration might have been a bit self-serving; synthpop certainly evolved out of a collage of experimental electronic music experimentation going on all over the place in the 70s.  Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Tomita and Giorgio Moroder had been kicking around for years making pop music with minimoogs and other early synthesizers that are not really very distinguishable from synthpop.  OMD ditched their guitars in 1975 (although they didn't release anything early enough to beat Foxx, I suppose.) When exactly did some early pioneering electronic pop music cross some arbitrary line to become synthpop?  I dunno, but according to Foxx, and many in the music press accept this, "Hiroshima Mon Amour" was when this happened.

If so, it's probably a little bit belated of me to actually put this one up.  Sure, it came out before the 80s, but it was the root of the 80s sound in many ways.  It's actually a bit poppier than even stuff that came out later and was more popular—Gary Numan's work in particular (as well as Metamatic and some early Human League, for example) was really cold, distant, and cyper-punk-like.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Sunset by The Midnight

It's curious that as I dig more and more into the synthwave movement (a little belatedly discovered.  Of course.  Then again, it's indie, so that's the point.) I'm feeling a little thoughtful about labels.  The synthwave stuff that is instrumental, down-tempo, and sounds like the backing track for some soundtrack of an 80s movie I get well enough—but there's quite a bit of it that has vocals.  What's the difference between this stuff and synthpop?  Sure vocal synthwave is more overtly nostalgic and 80s-influenced, but it's fair to say that synthpop itself is an 80s genre that hasn't evolved that much since it's birth in the 80s itself (or very late 70s if you want to get technical. It's generally accepted that the label synthpop first applies to the Ultravox song "Hiroshima Mon Amour" from their 1977 album Ha! Ha! Ha! and even more broadly to their entire album Systems of Romance from 1978.)

In any case, it's been quite a while since I opened up "on topic" blog posts to songs that were released since the 80s, as long as there was an obvious evolutionary link to the 80s synthpop that I started blogging about in the first place.  If synthwave doesn't qualify, I have no idea what does; it's arguably much more on topic than most of the stuff I've posted in the last few years as it is, since at least it's very overtly and blatantly retro-80s in style.  The vocal stuff is very hard to distinguish from synthpop; heck, I noticed on FM-84's bandcamp page that they even call themselves synthpop as a label.

The Midnight's "Sunset" is probably my new favorite song, though.  For now.  As they themselves say: "There is a Japanese term: Mono no aware. It means basically, the sad beauty of seeing time pass - the aching awareness of impermanence. These are the days that we will return to one day in the future only in memories."  If that isn't an expression of outright nostalgia on par with Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69" I don't know what is.  And the sound of the song, a dreamy, yearning, almost melancholic nostalgia (combined with the kind of soaring electric guitar solo that hasn't been in vogue since the mid-80s) is just absolutely perfect.