The Best Electronic Albums of 2013

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2013 by softsynth

Such a different process of culling the best albums of the year without regular blogging beforehand. Without the regular reviews and check-ins it’s a more daunting, from-scratch process to paw through the various offerings from our genre.

And it’s been a cracker year. In some previous years our first cut narrowed the best of the best to 25-30 great albums, but this year numbers more than 40 in the first cut. Some notables that deserve a mention:

– Depeche Mode return with their strongest album in many years promising more life for the band. The kind of life even old school fans could learn to look forward to again.
– Erasure release a holiday album that turns out to be their best since Nightbird. Haunting Xmas tunes with terrific    originals, the likes of which we weren’t sure they could do anymore.
– Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark make good on the previously-mild promise of their comeback with a great return to form with English Electric.
– Technoir, one of Softsynth’s all time favourites come back without singer Julia Bayer, and with Steffen Gehring becoming “all of Technoir” for We Fall Apart and the results are uneven but surprisingly satisfying.
– Another Softsynth favourite, Diffuzion return with a fantastic EP that promises so much for their new album in 2014.
– Polly Scattergood ends the debate of “electronic, or no?” once and for all with her great album Arrows.
– Goldfrapp begin a debate of “electronic or no?” with a strangely unsatisfying new album.
– Vile Electrodes finally, at long last, released their debut full length album and it fulfilled the tremendous promise we knew the band had.

But what of the best? The cream of the electronic crop in this year of plenty? The choices were difficult but there were a “best”. To whit… Continue reading

Everything in it’s time

Posted in Observations on August 14, 2013 by softsynth

Five years ago when this blog began, it started with a promise that it would be a consistent presence on the scene. A good blog is one that consistently provides its readers with updates and new content. A poor blog is one that only connects periodically, losing any sense of momentum. In recent months it’s proved harder and harder to return to the well and it proves my own notion that the blog has run its course. I truly believe that a blog that is only an occasional afterthought is not a true resource, and it’s truly time to call it a day.

Allow me to drop the Softsynth moniker/persona just this once and write as myself. My name is Charles and I have been delighted to have been a part of the electronic community far more interconnectedly than I ever imagined I would be able to be. For a full five years. At the beginning there was a serious dearth of meaningful content on the electronic scene, save for the always present, always consistent Side-Line. Since then there have been many that have risen up and given depth to the scene, too many to name (though I would be remiss in not mentioning my daily stop at The Electricity Club).

I want to thank you for coming here to read either for the first time today or consistently over the past five years. I have endeavoured to provide some perspective on the electronic scene from a side of the ledger that enveloped the harsh to the sweet and everything in between. If the synth rules the song, it made its way here. That was my only rule.

One of the coolest things I’ve been able to witness was the normalization of electronic music as more and more artists from our stable have crossed over, had chart success and once again, as consistently rolling as the wheel of time, become “fashionable” again. It will fade and return many times over again but it was nice to be able to track its rise this time around.

Housekeeping – I will be posting through September as that month will see a ridiculous bounty of new Important releases from Goldfrapp to Chvrches, many albums I’ve been anxiously waiting for and some that are delightful surprises to hear are on their way. I would be remiss in letting this cycle pass uncommented-upon. I’ll also come back at the end of the year for our always-popular Best Electronic Albums of the Year post, but otherwise, this will be goodbye. Finally, I will be continuing the Softsynth Twitter feed. I will keep tweeting about developments on the scene and maybe even push a few microreviews so please keep your news and downloads coming and I will give them as much attention as possible, just in a different way.

Thanks again, was terrific getting to know so many of the artists I’ve written about and sorry to those bands who sent material for review I just couldn’t get to. There’s a lot of great material out there and above all, I’ll still be listening…

Review: Miss FD – Comfort for the Desolate

Posted in Review with tags on August 1, 2013 by softsynth

Miss FD, the erstwhile Frightdoll, has been a Softsynth favourite since the very beginning. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen with a critical ear, but more it suggests that distinction is earned as the result of continued extraordinary work. A consummate DIY artist, she has perfected the art of blending goth, industrial, and melodic pop together in her highly stylish cauldron. That’s not an easy combination to pull off without drifting into cliché or parody, but pull it off she does.  Continue reading

Review: Marnie – Crystal World

Posted in Review with tags , , on July 31, 2013 by softsynth

Shortest review ever – fucking. extraordinary. Continue reading

Review: Feathers – If All Here Now

Posted in Review on June 17, 2013 by softsynth

Love them or hate them it’s hard to deny just how influential Depeche Mode have been on the world of electronic music lo these last few decades. So much so that rare is the new electronic band that isn’t at some point described by how they compare to some era of DM. We remember back in the mid-’80s when Book of Love were often compared to DM, more specifically as the “Female Depeche Mode” (assisted by opening for the Mode on a couple of tours, including one gig where the crowd was a little hostile and lead singer Susan Ottaviano tried to placate the crowd by noting they were “Depeche Mode’s girlfriends). We’ve been thinking of Book of Love and their place as the Female Depeche Mode because we can’t help but listen to the incredible debut album from Austin, Texas’ Feathers, and think, now *this* sounds like the Female Depeche Mode, specifically the sainted Violator-era Mode.

That’s not to oversimplify what this band has pulled off, because trite comparisons to other bands aside, If All Here Now is about as good a debut as we’ve heard in a yonk’s age. Continue reading

Review: Marsheaux – Inhale

Posted in Review with tags on June 13, 2013 by softsynth

When we reviewed Greek electro duo Marsheaux’s last album, Lumineaux Noir, a full four years ago, we were pretty hard on it. We were lukewarm at best, largely because it didn’t build on what had come before and it seemed to disappointingly fade into the background. (That said, the album has had remarkable staying power and still sounds pretty fresh.) What a difference an album makes.

Flash forward four years and without any kind of major makeover, the ladies have produced an album that is anchored in stellar songwriting and a stark awareness of what makes for a meaningful, smooth electronic musical experience. It’s an album that borrows heavily from the genre’s roots but in a reverential way, not a gimmicky or lazy manner. When someone can bottle the sound of the Golden Era of electronic music and reproduce it in a thematically-relevant way in 2013, they’ve stumbled upon the Good Shit.

Inhale is chock full of the Good Shit. Continue reading

Review: Ayria – Plastic Makes Perfect

Posted in Review with tags on June 12, 2013 by softsynth

As a Canada-based blog it’s always a delightful surprise when a Canadian electronic artist rises from the cold to make a stake in the firmament. It’s all-too-rare, but a nice treat when it comes along. Jennifer Parkin aka Ayria has been a consistent presence on the scene over the years and she has only gotten stronger with each release.

An unbelievable, heart-rending, five years since the release of her last album, Hearts for Bullets (which was on the first Softsynth best of the year list in ’08), she’s come back strong.  Continue reading

Review: Love and Radiation – You Will Know Me

Posted in Review with tags on April 20, 2013 by softsynth

While we loved the first two singles we heard from this Chicago duo, we were nervous that they wouldn’t be able to sustain a full album’s worth of material and keep the songs distinct or interesting. We needn’t have worried. The whole thing kicks serious, genuine ass.

What sounds at first listen like pretty standard synthpop is actually so much more. Members Lakshmi Ramgopal and Adele Nicholas have crafted something with a lot of layers and something strangely original while still drawing the best from the familiar tropes.  Continue reading

Review: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – English Electric

Posted in Review with tags , on April 20, 2013 by softsynth

This is more like it. When the “classic” OMD lineup reunited a couple of years ago to record new material for the first time since 1988 it was with bated breath fans of olde waited for the inevitable genius therein but instead we were treated to a lukewarm collection that felt more like the late-era McCluskey-only projects instead of what we remembered. But this time Paul Humphries seems to have been given more reign and this one is a keeper.

So, this out of the way first, it ain’t perfect. Not enough of the songs really pop and the memorable hooks could be in greater supply, but on the whole, this is the album we’ve been waiting for. There are so many delightful quirks and crannies it’s hard to know where to start.  Continue reading

“Electronic Sound” gives new voice to electronic music

Posted in News with tags on April 17, 2013 by softsynth

Reborn from a one-issue print version, “Electronic Sound” is now a tablet-publication highlighting the best of electronic music.  It looks great and covers a wide swath of our genre and is a much-needed resource. Very exciting mag and needs your support. Now it’s available all over, not just in the European confines that limited distribution of the print version.

Check out details at The first issue of this incarnation features Karl Bartos, Depeche Mode, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Gary Numan, Dave Clarke, Marsheaux and Mesh.