Archive for October, 2010

Review: The Birthday Massacre – Pins and Needles

Posted in Review with tags , on October 22, 2010 by softsynth

Canadian electronic rock band The Birthday Massacre are one of those bands that are hard to pin down. Take for existence, their newest album, Pins and Needles. Now, we’re mentioned this in the past but sometimes we review albums after a few listens, quick and dirty; other times we sit on an album for longer and let it gestate. That we did in this case, waiting weeks, listening to it over and over before we came before you, bearing our wares. Did we do so because we loved it that much? Well, no, not exactly. It’s more a case of trying, desperately to form an opinion – any opinion – on this familiar-sounding, competent, but somewhat uninspiring album.

The Birthday Massacre are one of those bands which Softsynth is very sweet on. They’re what we call a 360 band – like certain other bands, like Sweden’s Alice in Videoland, we dig everything about them, from the inherent sound, to the (admittedly sometimes trying-too-hard) image, to the fetching lead singer, Chibi – we really love the band. So why does this album feel underwhelming. Largely this seems due to the fact that the band is very fond of recycling a sound. After listening to this album so often for so long we realized just how much their entire catalogue has a similar feel to so much of the rest of said catalogue. The guitars are as ever rocking hard (maybe a little more than usual vis-a-vis the accompanying electronics), the synths, as ever, plinky and spooky. Chibi is, as ever, lovely. They have a sound and boy, are they faithful to it.

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Ashbury Heights call it “quits”

Posted in News with tags on October 13, 2010 by softsynth

Ashbury Heights, who have given us one of the best electronic albums of 2010 thus far reportedly have called it a day. Though there is a bit of a caveat. There is a strong suggestion that this is something of a Prince-like bargaining chip.

Seems that the band have reached the end of their rope in their well-known struggle with their record company (Out of Line Music) and tired of being constrained by the company would rather walk away from it all rather than continue the Out of Line relationship.

There is a petition to “free” the band from their contract with Out of Line so that they may “reunite”. Gamesmanship aside, this is a band with a great deal of potential and Anders Hagström has been extremely loud in sharing his issues with the label, so this comes as no great surprise. Hagström has clearly been in a state for some time, judging by his MySpace blog and twitter account and the situation must have been so bad it became panic-inducing. We feel for him and the band and do hope they find a way to continue to make music.

The Human League – Trolling the prehistoric era of electronic music

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 5, 2010 by softsynth

With new albums from O.M.D. and The Human League hitting this year we’ve observed some of the old debate resurfacing – which was the greater influence on the electronic movement. As we noted in our recent review of History of Modern we were on the O.M.D. side of the divide, but seeing folks discussing the issue again we were reminded of when we first discovered the first two Human League albums and the revelatory moment we experienced upon hearing them for the first time. If there was any doubt about the power of this band one need not look to the more obvious Dare or “Don’t You Want Me”, but dare to cast your eyes back a couple of years earlier to a pair of the most important electronic albums ever recorded.

Before the Human League most folks know (with the omnipresent female back-up singers), the band was a four-piece traditional electronic outfit. In addition to singer Phil Oakey, the original line up consisted of Adrian Wright, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh. The material was dark, experimental, supremely odd, confused as to sound, direction and tone, utterly unsuccessful commercially and totally brilliant. These two albums are as important to the history of electronic music as any other and deserve a few moments’ attention.

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Bands we miss: Techno Squirrels

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 2, 2010 by softsynth

Usually the “bands we miss” series features bands that have disbanded and are thus, “missed” (see how that works?). Today, though we feature a band we are left wondering about that appears to be together but has been off the radar for far too long.

Techno Squirrels are a California-based duo whose music can (and has) been described as everything from synth pop to trance to lo-fi. Difficult to categorize, the band has managed to create a sound wholly unto themselves. Lisa Eriksson and Ryan Harlin are both accomplished electronic artists, eschewing the traditional male instrumentalist/female vocalist/with strict siloing in-between model. They first came to Softsynth’s attention in 2006 when we stumbled upon one-off track “Mute” (as we recall it may have been through the iTunes free download of the week; memories fade but we know it was entirely serendipitous at the time). The song is  work of art that is still played on the Softsynth iPod with great frequency, even all these years later. A poignant lyric over a cloying, hypnotic beat, it’s downright beautiful. Continue reading