Archive for June, 2009

Assemblage 23 finding their way back with “Compass”

Posted in News with tags , , on June 28, 2009 by softsynth

Softsynth is delighted to hear of concrete plans for Assemblage 23 to return with a new album, two and a half years after their spectacular Meta. Compass, to be released in “late October” will be preceded by a new single, “Spark”, to drop in “late September”. Tom Shear has taken the project in new directions with each successive album, adding more vocal tracks, more melody, more song-craft with each release so hopes are high for the newest, his/their 6th…

Fascinating Vince Clarke interview

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2009 by softsynth

On Red Bull Music Academy Radio Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yazoo, The Assembly, Erasure, Clarke/Ware project) does an hour-long interview segment that is a must-listen to Clarke fans. Clarke is Softsynth’s musical idol so this is a real treat (thanks to Side-Line for the heads-up). Clarke waxes poetic about his musical journey through his various musical incarnations (sadly leaving out mention of The Assembly and his very worthy one-off single with Paul Quinn). The piece, one of Red Bull’s Fireside Chats, includes a number of Clarke songs and a nice treat in the form of Clarke’s awesome remix of Franz Ferdinand’s “No You Girls”.The piece also hears Clarke discussing his very interesting work with Martyn Ware (Human League, Heaven 17), news of a new Erasure album to be recorded in the fall (and one can only hope it’s an improvement on the dreadful Light at the End of the World), and Clarke explaining why he has been using softsynths but now has his analogue library back together which should bode well for the next album. Even the casual electronic fan should check it out.

Review: Empire State Human – Audio Gothic

Posted in Review with tags , on June 20, 2009 by softsynth

Perhaps the worst thing an electronic artist can be is dull. The temptation is there, given the inherent structure of electronic music. The metronomic programmed drums, the pulsing sequenced backdrops, the always-moving-forward patterned chugging that has been the signature of electronic songs since “Popcorn”. So the truly great electronic artists are those who transcend the worst trappings of the genre and give it a little something extra. We think of a band like Sweden’s Backlash who manage to jam more notes into a standard beat than any artist the genre knows; or Client who bring the dirty and the sleazy to the party to counter the sometimes staid rythyms and compel the listener differently; or IAMX who pack so much emotion into the vocal delivery it sounds the perfect counterpoint to the cold electronics, thus bringing out the very best from the machines. On the flip side there have been electronic artists since before the Golden Era who don’t do anything to the basic formula and thus, fail to distinguish themselves. They become so much white noise and only exceptional songwriting can save the day (Flock of Seagulls and Howard Jones were early examples of electronic artists who brought nothing new to the formula but who were able to write compelling songs to such a degree it didn’t matter).

Softsynth has tried to enjoy Ireland’s Empire State Human over the years but it has often been a struggle. With little to distinguish the music and songwriting that doesn’t lift the soundscape to any notable levels they fade into the walls, like a coat of paint applied several years ago. It’s just not top of mind and doesn’t really reach out and remind you it’s there. Continue reading

MESH plan for “A Perfect Solution”

Posted in News with tags , on June 16, 2009 by softsynth

Softsynth has been hungrily checking the Mesh wesite every day for news of their upcoming album and now, finally, news! The band will release their fourth album, A Perfect Solution on Metropolis Records in October. The album will be preceded by a new single, “Only Better” in September. Softsynth is most excited at the news. (The band will be tweeting ongoing album news at their twitter account.)

Review: Paper Route – Absence

Posted in Review with tags , on June 15, 2009 by softsynth

It took Softsynth many weeks to figure out how to review Paper Route’s debut album. It’s one of those tricky customers that crosses genres and defies easy classification. Similarly the same track may sound deathly dull one listen, then full of hidden mysteries the next and then on the third you wonder what you thought you ever heard in there in the first place. 

The Nashville quartet is one of those strange creations that live are your standard guitar/bass/drums/vocals operations but on record they transform into an experimental electronic act that really know their way around a sampler and a good hook. They mostly deal in slow, languid pop dirges but occasionally bust out something with a little more energy like lead-off single “Carousel” (“On and on and on we go/ Just like a carousel that’s lost control/ We don’t know why, we don’t know why/ We go, we go, we go in circles.”) that sometimes feels a little too florid but still land nicely as lead singer J.T. Daly rolls along through thoughtful, sometimes evocative lyrics and the rest of the band wrap up all the sonic experimentation into  a neat bow. Often compared to Postal Service, Paper Route has many of the same overall sweep to their sound minus some of the more twee qualities of the Ben Gibbard side project.

There are some sweet tracks here. The entirely digital, almost metronomic “Gutter” that swells beautifully into the chorus before moving to a crunchy bridge; the ballad, “Dancing on our Graves” that builds from somnambulant to huge over the course of its five minutes and 57 seconds; to the album opener , “Enemy Among Us” that is not only a great sleeper song, but samples Daly’s voice into a sequenced instrument itself. It’s a stand-out song. 

It’s not all great. Many of the songs feel like filler, and even more gratingly, sound strikingly like Coldplay in a slightly experimental mood (listen to “Good Intentions” and tell us you’re not actually in some kind of twisted Coldplayian nightmare).

But all in all, this is a nice, albeit oft-confusing record. Equal parts strikingly original and eye-squintingly derivative, at a minimum they’ve shown us a band bringing something most welcome to the scene, the kind of album Softsynth is guessing we’ll see more of as the lines between trad-pop and electronics continue to blur. And in this case a band with the songwriting chops to grow into something most cool…

Watch: Carousel

Bands we miss – Yazoo

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , on June 13, 2009 by softsynth

I’ve often been asked, “what’s your dream concert? Who would you kill to see/to have seen?” The answer has always been immediate and without hesitation – Yazoo. They only properly toured once and never in North America, plus they disbanded in 1983. Yet, this odd mixture of Vince Clarke’s propulsive, driving electronics with Alison Moyet’s big soulful, bluesy voice worked as few acts have since, electronic or otherwise. Continue reading

Review: Little Boots- Hands

Posted in Review with tags , on June 7, 2009 by softsynth

A sign of the blurring of lines between mainstream pop music and “pure laine” electro music is the difficulty Softsynth has had writing certain reviews lately including this one and another coming shortly. As we listen to this album the question that keeps arising is “what the hell are we listening to”? Not in a bad way per se, but in a “where are the lines drawn anymore” manner.

On the face of it Hands is a producer-heavy mainstream pop album, though a very good one. But dig a half-inch down and you see something darker, something more interesting, something more challenging. What one finds is a crystalline example of the cross pollination between genres we’ve written about a fair bit lately. A pure electronic, no compromise, take no prisoners, make no excuses synth-heavy album that aspires to be talen seriously as a chart contender. And it sounds utterly fresh and clean. Little Boots, aka Victoria Hesketh have given us a gem. Continue reading