Archive for July, 2009

“Letters & Signs” Spell Northern Lite Return

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

German electro-rock band Northern Lite are back with a new album  – Letters & Signs Part I – due September 18, preceded by a new single, “Letters & Signs”. It’s the most purely guitar-based we’ve yet heard the band as they offer up a pretty mainstream rock song but Softsynth is still digging it.

Hear for yourself:


Listen to MESH’s “Only Better”

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

Posted with little comment: MESH, Softsynth’s “second favourite band” have posted a video of the boys talking about the new album and tour and we are treated to a sample of the forthcoming new single, “Only Better”. On first listen it doesn’t exactly pop but it seems a serviceable, workmanlike MESH song and we consider our appetites whetted…


2009 Mercury Prize nominations in

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2009 by softsynth

We’ve often found the Mercury Prize – the UK’s de facto “best album” award – quite interesting and often of real quality, with electronic artists regularly recognized with a shortlisting, if not the prize itself (Portishead’s win in 1995 an exeption to the rule); when Maps were shortlisted two years ago for their debut album We Can Create, Softsynth had to doff its metaphorical cap in appreciation – an awards process that includes the likes of the awesome Maps is one Softsynth can get behind. (Worth noting the prize has included some downright bizzare nominations like the Spice Girls in 1997, but overall, for a mainstream award, the quality has been consistently solid.)

This year it’s nice to see two of the nominations in particular, self described electropop duo La Roux for their high-quality self-titled album, and particulartly hybrid artist Bat for Lashes (aka Natasha Khan) for their (her) awesome, awesome album Two Suns. We haven’t yet written about Bat for Lashes on this blog to our great shame but suffice it to say it ranks very highly in our “what will make the Softsynth Top Ten Albums list this year” discussion and would be our pick for the prize this year. Good on the Mercury folks for recognizing the good stuff, no matter the genre.

Full nominations:

Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
Florence & The Machine – Lungs
Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires
Glasvegas – Glasvegas
Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
La Roux – La Roux
Led Bib – Sensible Shoes
Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew
Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy
Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men
The Horrors – Primary Colours
The Invisible – The Invisible

Goth and Industrial going down; “electro” going up? So says Google.

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , on July 17, 2009 by softsynth

We link to this fascinating post on Side-line with little comment except to note a couple of brief points. One, interesting to note that the music consumers seem to be pursuing less material that sub-niche-labels itself; two, it shows health in the overall electronic scene (though one wonders how much this shift is accounted for within the mainstreamization of many forms of electronic music which Softsynth has blogged about ad nauseum {check back through earlier ranty posts}); three, we meant to get into this earlier when Softsynth was called out for using the term “electro” to describe VNV Nation, not in the sense of early-80s worldbeat of course, but as an increasingly acceptable umbrella term for electronic music. It’s a semantic shift, not an attempt to classify certain bands within a sub-genre to which they clearly do not belong. This piece touches on it. Check out the article, definitely worth a read and definitely interesting…

What makes for a good live electronic act?

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2009 by softsynth

After watching clips of the new Anne Clark live DVD and finding ourselves most impressed with the lineup and the sound she and her band achieve, Softsynth is flashing back to the concert of a lifetime – Depeche Mode, Toronto, 1988, just days before their legendary “101” concert at the Pasadena Rose Bowl. It was a lineup that embodied the best of electronic music, three keyboards, Martin Gore making his first fawn-like tentative journeys to the front of the stage to play guitar before retreating to the comfort of his synth downstage, and a charismatic lead vocalist who carried the energy of the show on his shoulders. Since that time we have seen every variance of live set from myriad electronic bands, some of which work nicely, others bring a degree of shame to the genre. in 2009 what kind of set should we come to expect from the leading electronic bands of the day?

For the more conventional rock band setup, this is a trite and obvious question. You strap on the guitar, the drummer sits down at the kit and you rock it out dude! The standard guitar/bass/drums/vocalist lineup, while inherently dull to this blogger, is the mainstay of a live rock set and there is little question of what the lineup will look like (maybe some question of a keyboard player or horn player being invited to sit in, or for the more prog-rock or enjoyably pretentious, perhaps a small string or brass section, or extra precussion unit, but these are extras to the main deal). But for an electronic band there are many questions that must be queried. Laptops or keyboards? Live percussion or programmed? Guitar or no? Full-on trad-rock lineup or something a little closer to the purity of the electronic set? This is one of those rare posts where we solicit your thoughts. What works for you. What drains the essence of what made the band special in the first place?

Our thoughts: it depends on the band in question. Full disclosure – Softsynth is most fond of performance. We have little interest in watching folks stand behind laptops all by their lonesome, occasionally pushing a button (see And One, Erasure, Venus Hum, Chemical Brothers); while a charismatic lead singer (see Erasure, Venus Hum) can carry a show on their shoulders, it’s nice to see the rest of the band occasionally working up a sweat, or at a minimum, playing a fews keys here and there. Continue reading

(mini) Review: Backlash – Quiet Men EP

Posted in Review with tags , on July 14, 2009 by softsynth

In reviewing a 3-song EP how much space should be devoted to the subject at hand? In the case of this startlingly interesting and powerful EP, as much as it damn well takes.

A tribute of sorts to classic John Foxx-era Ultravox, the Swedish electronic band take the title track and Slow Motion by the electronic pioneers and update them beautifully, in fact, in some respects improving on the originals (and how often can we say that about classics?), giving them a punch and power the originals never knew and for that matter a punch and power we’ve never seen evidence of in Backlash before.

Softsynth has written about our fondness for Backlash and their wholly original approach to electronic music, but even at that, this small collection surprises. For the first time, Backlash has shown they have serious balls. The two Ultravox covers are heavy with bass and abrasive, screeching synths that drag their fingernails across a sonic blackboard to beautiful effect. For good measure they also throw in original, “Lipstick” which every bit as strong, heavy and intense as the Ultravox tracks, giving us a glimpse into what the next Backlash album might sound like. If so, sign us up, ’cause this is the good shit.

Ultravox hasn’t sounded so fresh in 25 years and Backlash has never sounded so gutsy and strong. The marriage is one made in heaven.

Seven years on Claire Voyant return

Posted in News with tags , on July 12, 2009 by softsynth

Softsynth has to confess we thought California-based electronic trio Claire Voyant had become an ex-parrot when seven years flew by with no new product but back they are with a new album, Lustre, due on September 22nd on Metropolis Records. We’re excited to hear the latest from Victoria Lloyd and co, following on the footsteps of their very strong 2002 release, Love is Blind.

Track listing is as follows:

01. Lustre 02. Shine 03. Into Oblivion 04. Another Day (The Subtle Thief of Youth) 05. Mercurial 06. Painted Gold 07. Lost 08. Flicker 09. Broadcast 10. Washaway

Watch: preview for Lustre: