Archive for October, 2009

Review: Assemblage 23 – Compass

Posted in Review with tags , on October 28, 2009 by softsynth

Assemblage 23 have been on an interesting journey, one that oddly parallels rivals VNV Nation. Once a minimalist, stripped down electronic band with clear industrial and EBM influences, they (by which we mean Tom Shear, another of the legion of elecrtronic “bands” that are basically one person [see: Maps one post down]) have been increasingly moving to a more melodic, dare we say pop-based ethic. We saw this take a big step on 2007’s Meta, but Compass has taken the notion even further. How much you enjoy this album will depend much on how you feel about this increasing departure from the roots of the band (an almost identical journey we’ve seen from VNV Nation culminating in their most own most melodic, pop-EBM hybrid 2009 album,¬†Of Faith, Power And Glory. Continue reading

Review: Maps – Turning the Mind

Posted in Review with tags , on October 27, 2009 by softsynth

Maps, aka Brit James Chapman are (is?) back with another go around of sweet, slightly syrupy electro drone following on the heels of their (his) critically acclaimed 2007 Mute Records debut, the Mercury Prize nominated We Can Create. That album was among the most somnambulant albums of all time, but beautifully so.

Now Maps are back with something a little different. Does it pass the sniff test? Answer: sort of.

We Can Create was a piece of art. Beautifully constructed, lush, meaningful with lyrics that made you sit back and sort out what they meant. It was also sleepy. Like, comatose sleepy. One could appreciate the care that went into the album’s construction without, you know, actually “enjoying it” (full disclosure – Softsynth did…in the right mood). Continue reading

In defence of the lowly drum machine

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2009 by softsynth

“This next band…doesn’t have a drummer!!” So intoned a breathless Dick Clark in 1984 during a broadcast of his American hot 100 countdown radio show. We were transfixed. What could that mean? To a 13 year old who was just discovering music and for whom pop or rock music meant a guitar, a bass, drums, a singer and maybe a keyboard. What was this non-drummer lunacy?? As it turned out he was talking about Depeche Mode who were enjoying their first North American mainstream success with “People are People”. Clark was positively verkempt at the notion. To young teen Softsynth’s ears it sure sounded like they had drums in there, perhaps Clark was simply insane. It seemed a reasonable conclusion. Continue reading

a-ha to call it a day

Posted in News with tags on October 19, 2009 by softsynth

Many on the North American side of the Atlantic may be forgiven for thinking Norway’s a-ha disappeared decades ago. After the synthpop confection of “Take on Me” and to a lesser extent, the ballsier “The Sun Always Shines on T.V.”, which saw them reach the pinnacle of the music business (nominated for a Grammy award for best new artist, nearly going double platinum with their debut and scoring a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 ) in 1985/86 they never again cracked the mainstream in the North American market. However, the band continues pumping out albums, some awesome, some more forgettable but they never went away. Like many, Softsynth enjoyed their first album, Hunting High and Low (with “Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale” ranking as one of our all-time favourite electronic songs) even if we found “Take on Me” a bit cloying (which was more than made up for by their breakthrough rotoscoped video, recently made into a masterpiece as the best “literal interpretation” of the Funny or Die series) and also its follow up Scoundrel Days, but after that forgot about the Norwegian trio for some time. Continue reading

Review: Northern Lite – Letters and Signs Part One

Posted in Review with tags , on October 17, 2009 by softsynth

Germany’s Northern Lite are notoriously hit or miss. Sometimes they reach a level of pretension that’s hard to fathom, other times they hit on a melody or hook that is equally mind-blowing. Their newest effort, Letters & Signs Part One is an interesting leap for the band with some unfortunate signs but a lot of positive ones.

A band built in the classic hybrid image – drum machines abound, synths burble and guitars and bass thrum confidently through the mix, they have now taken a turn for the rock and thrown something of a knee to the groin of their electronic side. And the new ballsy Northern Lite actually works pretty well.

What’s key to this new effort is their gift for a good hook remains unchallenged. A band that has more often than not sounded like pretty straightforward electronic rock now sounds more like an early 80’s rock band with an electronic influence. Normally this would be a bit of a dark cloud for Softsynth but these guys manage to make it work on the strength of rock-solid songwriting. The title track was a harbinger of the album to come. A tight rock song with a few synths thrown in for atmosphere it was a sharp right turn for the band into new territory. The hook works and while the song may be a little forgettable after the fact, for those three minutes and two seconds they have you, like it or not. Track after track it’s the same story. None of the memorable moments we’ve heard from the band in previous songs like “Gone”, “Treat Me Better” or “Reach the Sun” but a lot of pleasant melodies make for an enjoyable listening experience. Continue reading

Quick trip around the interwebs: Covenant album on hold

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2009 by softsynth

Every few months Softsynth takes a trip around about 100 web sites for our favourite bands, especially those who have been quiet for a while. We learned today that Sweden’s Covenant have put their new album Modern Ruin on hold as their label reorganizes. Sad news as it could be another six months (!) before we see what has been shaping up to be a very promising new work. Meanwhile their US tour will go ahead even without the new album to promote. Hm. Continue reading

Review: Venus Hum – Mechanics and Mathematics

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

On a few occasions this year we have feared the worst from high profile electronic releases – sometimes irrationally – and been delightfully surprised. This as the result of a series of underwhelming releases from many of Softsynth’s favourite acts including Shiny Toy Guns, She Wants Revenge, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Apoptygma Berzerk, and Goldfrapp, not to mention troubling advance buzz around some of these follow-ups.

And yet IAMX, Imogen Heap, Dragonette and now Venus Hum, to name just a few, have delivered awesome new discs this year causing us to at first to breathe easier, and later to revel in the quality material these bands continue to produce. Continue reading