Archive for November, 2009

Top 25 electronic albums: 2000-2009 – Part I

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2009 by softsynth

As the decade draws to a close, blog after blog and magazine after magazine have been publishing their end-of-decade best-of-the-aughts music lists. Allow Softsynth to dive in to that crowded pool.

It’s been a busy and exciting decade for electronic music after the dry-ish decade of the 90s that saw a genre in transition, unsure of what was to come next as the golden era of the 80s passed by and the resurgence was yet to come. Since 2000 we have seen ups and downs among the subgenres with some of the most interesting music those subgenres have ever produced bubbling up this decade. In the coming weeks we will share our annual best of the year list – the only time we break from the declared mandate of this blog and we include what we thought were the best albums of 2009 regardless of genre – but for now, we share part of the best of the decade in electronic albums.

We have spent more time than usual preparing this list, one that is as subjective as any other (and we have seen some electronic best-0f-the-decade lists that have swung wildly across the spectrum – to the AV Club you would swear that “electronic music” consisted of little more than the DJ community, for example) based on our own tastes but we try to be as inclusive as possible, knowing that 50 fans of electronic music will come up with 50 different permutations. We started with nearly 100 of the most notable electronic albums of the decade with the various electronic subgenres and whittled it painstakingly down to 25. Some released this year may well stand the test of time but haven’t marinated long enough – including new work from Venus Hum, and Assemblage 23. Only two 2009 albums have made it to this list, and both were releases at the very top of the year. On further reflection we may wish to have added the 2009 offerings from the above two or others (and it would be a safe bet that each will be in our best of ’09 list so stay tuned). For better or worse, here’s the best of the rest: Continue reading

(Mini) Review: Pet Shop Boys – Christmas

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

Well, we’ll say this, after ranting this time last year about the dearth of electronic music for the season, good on the PSBs for doing their part. The problems are the same as with their last album Yes, there’s nothing new here. It’s the same synth sounds, the same melodies, the same Neil Tennant unaltered, undeveloped vocal. Ultimately – a little boring.

The main raison d’etre here is the song, “It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas”, and it’s much what you’d expect. Seasonal choir effects, references to Bing Crosby, a snippet of Hark the Herald, et al, but essentially it sounds like every other PSBs song with a seasonal flare only trying a little too hard. Little new here. And it’s the only seasonally themed track here. In fact the whole EP is a retread, the lead song was a fan club track from a few years back, there’s a not-half-bad version of Yes track “All Over the World”, and a terrible retread of “Domino Dancing” mixed with Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida”. The only thing that’s “new” is a dull-as-dirt version of Madness’ “My Girl”.

The whole thing feels a little cynical and pointless, but that said always nice to hear some electronic bands getting into the spirit of the season, whatever they may celebrate. We just wish a little more imagination went into it…

OMD return!

Posted in News with tags , , , on November 26, 2009 by softsynth

So honestly, we assumed this was never going to happen but Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are blazing back with new material. 2010 will see a new album from the fully reunited band as Andy McClusky and Paul Humphries will collaborate on new material for the first time since 1988 with the new album, The History of Modern.

Our fingers are twitching with excitement as we type. Why? Well, while the three albums that McClusky released on his own through the 90s were a serious case of the law of diminishing returns, the fully intact O.M.D. was one of the most important bands in the history of electronic music, not to mention one of the most consistently creative. And now we have “Sister Marie Says”, a new track from the forthcoming album to prove that yes, there really is new material on the way and it’s very much in the classic O.M.D. vein both musically and (especially) lyrically. Between this and a new album from Kraftwerk on the way we can truly party like it’s 1979…

(download “Sister Marie Says” for free at the O.M.D. website)

Nitzer Ebb finally confirm new album title/release date

Posted in News with tags , on November 26, 2009 by softsynth

After one of the most interminable waits for a new release ever, Nitzer Ebb have finally set the date. Their long long awaited follow up to 1995’s Big Hit will hit the world January 22nd. The album will be titled Industrial Complex. The boys will also soon embark on a tour with Depeche Mode as opening act, reprising a scenario from 1988. Can’t wait.

Bands we miss – I Start Counting

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 25, 2009 by softsynth

We’ve written before about the enormous influence discovering the Mute Records catalogue in a mid-80s Depeche Mode 12″ import had on shaping Softsynth’s musical boundaries. Never has this been more true than in discovering I Start Counting. As obscure as any Mute band, this UK duo sounded interesting from their band name to the song titles, to the photos that made them look like the prototype synth-nerds. We were intrigued. On first listen to their 1984 single “Letters to a Friend” and their 1985 single “Still Smiling” we were hooked. It was straight-ahead synthpop with an eclectic edge. Kraftwerk influences were apparent but they were oh, so British in their manner and vocal delivery.  On b-sides like “There is Always the Unexpected” we saw their more experimental side, and while it wasn’t always pretty to listen to, you heard a band pushing at its outer edges, trying to find its way. Continue reading

So the Auto-Tune…yeah, it’s not cute any more

Posted in Commentary with tags , on November 24, 2009 by softsynth

So, while listening to the Owl City album recently (and truth be told it gets more and more grating with each listen) we were struck by the overuse of Auto-Tune throughout. We think it’s officially time to say: enough. No, seriously — ENOUGH. It’s become so ubiquitous you’d be hard pressed to find an album that doesn’t abuse the tool. And while it’s convenient to blame T-Pain (and yeah, we kinda do), the tool goes back a long way, well before Mr. Pain (or “T” as we call him; we’re tight). The glorified vocorder, in fact, goes back decades before T and Lil Wayne and their like. The Auto-Tune variant of the vocorder has been used for a number of years as a vocal correction device (we noticed it first when listening to Britney Spears’ “Lucky” on the radio while it was on the charts a yonk’s age ago, it seemed odd how…”robotic” her vocal sounded when you actually listened to it). And all power to those who used it in the studio as a corrective. The studio is all about trying to get the best sound you can, and whatever tools are at one’s disposal should be employed. Electric Light Orchestra used a similar effect and it became an integral part of their sound (Listen to “Alive” or “Calling America” and hear in all its glory). But since “T” and “Lil” began using it like oxygen it’s been everywhere. Bands of every genre have been breaking it out and putting it front and centre and it’s time to declare: we’re done. When every god-damned song from every god-damned artist across the board is using the damn effect like some kind of desperate crutch it’s no longer unique, or clever, or fun. It’s just enormously tired.

Just stop it already.

(For great perspective on the tiring phenomenon…)

Ellie Goulding Softsynth’s newest flavour of the week

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on November 14, 2009 by softsynth

Great Britain’s Ellie Goulding has been a lovely addition to the Softsynth library of late. Still bubbling under the surface we expect to be hearing a lot more from her. Her new single, “Under the Sheets” is now out, along with her first proper video and it’s a bit of a new direction from her. Most of her work has a folk influence while this one is pretty straight forward electro-pop but she does it oh so well. She’s opening for Little Boots on tour currently and we look forward to hearing lots more from this enjoyable new addition to the electronic family…

Watch: Under the Sheets