Archive for December, 2010

The Softsynth 2010 playlist

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2010 by softsynth

Daunting is the idea of having to single out singles.

a) What do singles even mean in 2010? The digital age, the era of the pre-release leak, the lack of any physical “release” for all intents and purposes, the absence of any television presence where videos are played in any meaningful way – all have lead to a music world where a so-called “single” means no more than any other stand-out track on an album.

b) If breaking down the best albums in a particular genre is as daunting as it was in 2010, the idea of having to attack the mountain of meaningful electronic songs and somehow rank them in a consequential way is beyond the mental capacity of this blogger.

That said, each year there rises an honour roll of sorts, in absolutely no particular order at all, no “first”, no “last” . just those songs (yes, usually singles, but not always) that were constantly on the Softsynth playlist this year; those songs that resonated and rose above the conclave, the 30 “best” electronic songs of 2010. Continue reading

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Ho 2010

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2010 by softsynth

It’s that time again, as we settle into our pre-holiday stupor we’re reflecting back over the year in the music we all love and share.

It also happens to be the second anniversary of this blog. Feel’s like it’s been around forever but it was a mere two years ago today we kicked off this little hootinany after years blogging elsewhere. Connecting to members of the electronic music community has been a real treat this year as well as connecting with many of the bands about which we blog.

It’s been a busy year with the blog as the releases have come fast and furious. 2011 promises much of the same and we’ll be there every step of the way.

As we look back our corrections and mea culpas:

  • A few reviews weren’t as strong as they should have been. On further listening albums by Alice in Videoland and Jakalope while positive/sort of positive respectively, should have been more glowing as both have grown into real treats. Conversely, albums by Iris and sadly, O.M.D. were not reviewed rapturously and yet landed with an even bigger thud than we imagined. Aberrations we’re sure, and onwards and upwards for both.
  • For the first time we’ve had a few second thoughts about our top ten of the year. On further listening there’s no doubt albums by Method Cell and Parralox belonged among the best of the year. While it would seem cruel to remove anyone, we’ll just call it the top 12 of the year and be done with it.
  • While we enjoyed the debut album from Villa Nah enough, we just didn’t get it. A large number of the electronic music commentators we love and respect most considered this among the cream of the crop in 2010 electronic music, and we’re obviously missing something. We’ll try harder in ’11 to wrap our heads around whatever it is we’re missing there.
  • Saddest moments this year were the disbanding of our beloved Thermostatic, the weirdness of the maybe-end of Ashbury Heights and the very recent departure of Sarah Blackwood as the singer for Client.
  • The greatest treat of all this year has been the discovery of new bands who blew our socks off. Future/Perfect, Chew Lips, Muchuu, The Girl and the Robot, The Golden Filter, Ambra Red, Sunday Girl and Vile Electrodes all got added into our cauldron and stirred about to delicious results. It’ll be a blast to see what they’re all up to in the new year, as well as to see what’s new on the horizon to add further flavour to our stew.

Most of all thanks to you for taking the time to visit from time to time, sometimes even to share your wisdom. We can be opinionated (as can some of our commentators) but that’s the joy of these tubes we call the internets. The discussions have been often awesome. Our community is a rich one and Softsynth is proud to be a small part of it.

Happy Holidays to you and yours from Softsynth!

Vile Electrodes – Get these guys a record contract, stat!

Posted in Commentary with tags on December 21, 2010 by softsynth

We’ve been anxiously awaiting real product from the UK’s Vile Electrodes since we first caught wind of them some months ago. Thanks to Tweeter pteittinen, we’ve discovered the band have put up a pile of their tracks on Soundcloud and some of this is very cool stuff.

One glance at the band’s Facebook page tells us a lot about them. They describe themselves thusly: “We sound like beautiful noise. High heels on thin ice. Whip cracks on latex. Flickering neon signs. Car crashes on concrete overpasses. Long lashes behind dark glasses.” Yes. This. (Also, any band that lists its membership as not just the human principals but the various synths they use as well, is high up in our estimation.) Continue reading

The Softsynth flavour of the week – Method Cell

Posted in Commentary with tags , on December 19, 2010 by softsynth

We were remiss when writing about the best electronic albums of the year, in not mentioning one of our runners-up, one that would be on our list were we to do a top-15. 

Method Cell are a UK duo who bring it super-old-school. We’ve talked at length about the two sides of those bands that make the best electronic music on the scene – those who innovate and those who perfect. Both are welcome contributors to the electronic canon  and those who do what others have done before but do it exceedingly well make for some of the world’s best electronic  bands. Method Cell fit into this mold like a well-fitted glove.

Hailing from Nottingham, the duo of singer Apollos and musician Alex Herington have conjured up a tasty, catchy, dark-while-still-being-super-poppy concoction that song-for-song resulted in one of the more delightful releases of 2010. The album, Curse of a Modern Age, is chock-full of growers that once discovered won’t be soon forgotten. It’s terrific stuff highlighted by awesome songs like the title track, lead single “Scissors”, and best of all “Your Weakness”.

Continue reading

The Best Electronic Albums of 2010

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2010 by softsynth

Is it that time already? Hard to fathom a year has passed since we crowned IAMX as having had the best electronic album of ’09, but here we are. It’s been a very different year for electronic music than last. In 2009 we saw a handful of albums (four at least) that were spectacular, and opened up a wormhole in the genre that led us to incredible new places. For balance we also had a great number of albums that were simply “great” to round out our ten. This year is markedly different. There wasn’t a single release that would qualify as transcendent in the way that handful were last year. What we had instead were a much larger pool of “really good, really enjoyable albums”. That makes the art of building a best-of list that much more challenging. A whole lot of good instead of a select few greats makes for a big pot of soup and that’s a harder thing to differentiate. Still there were a number that floated to the top.

When we build a list such as this we are looking for quality lyrics, well-constructed songs and above all, a sense of true resonance – songs that stay with us and stay fresh. There were albums we gave strong, positive reviews to that within months felt stale, and others that received luke-warm reviews that grew stronger with each listen. This made for a very different list than we might have predicted in the summer or early fall.

Need to say it up front: people love lists. Softsynth is no exception, and accordingly a lot of thought goes into ours. Last year at chart time our readership quadrupled and we’ve had emails and tweets asking when the top 10 is due this year, so we know there’s interest in these posts more than any other through the year. Accordingly we get more debate and even the occasional angry post questioning our choices. How could you choose that, how could you exclude this, and the ever-popular, I can’t believe you consider that to be an electronic album!! It needs saying: this is subjective, as are all of our posts. Debate is awesome and most utterly welcome, but the caveat still needs stating.

It was a big enough challenge breaking it down to a top 25. Going deeper to a top ten harder still. There were a number of great, enjoyable albums that we celebrate outside our top ten from across the genre including Nitzer Ebb, Kant Kino, Hot Chip, Tikkle Me, Cindergarden, Ellie Goulding, Psy’Aviah, Goldfrapp, Ego Likeness, tenek, Hungry Lucy, Ambra Red, Android Lust, The Golden Filter, Alice in Videoland, Diorama, Edge of Dawn, How to Destroy Angels (which was such brilliant work, but after going back and forth we decided a five-song EP shouldn’t be in the mix as the best of the best, but we look forward to a full-length very much), De/Vision and our toughest drop, Parralox (and we know full well with the passage of time this is one we may regret not including in the 10, as its recent release may just have not given us enough time to sit with and properly get to know it over a glass of wine in front of the fire, learning each other’s deepest secrets). Each one of the above albums was terrific and made 2010 a solid, enjoyable year for electronic music, they stayed fresh, and displayed songwriting and performance chops and would have been on a longer list. But this is about the best of the year, the best of the best, the top 10 best electronic albums of 2010. To whit… Continue reading

Review: Alice in Videoland – A Million Thoughts and They’re All About You

Posted in Review with tags on December 10, 2010 by softsynth

We’ve noted before we have a super-soft spot for Alice in Videoland. Despite the sometimes-cheesy posing, the overly affected sense of “we’re bad, we’re naughty, we’re punk, despite the synthesizers”, we love AiV for the niche they so expertly fill. At first listen we were sorely disappointed with this album. It felt too glammed, too glitzy and the edgier side of the band seemed left behind altogether. But on repeated listens we’ve become entranced by this collection. Now we’re full-on digging the album. Continue reading

Electronic music for the holidays, 2010 edition

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 7, 2010 by softsynth

Tis the season and all that. Each year Softsynth, like so many, starts to slowly get into the holiday spirit and accordingly, we get the hankering for a little seasonal music. Last year we saw a few holiday-related songs get added to the pile, like Pet Shop Boys merely okay “It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas”, Tori Amos’ lovely seasonal album, Midwinter Graces, Liquid 360’s “Change Has Come (For Christmas)”, Rush Coil’s kind of neat 8-bit holiday album, 8-Bit Christmas and thanks to reader Michael we got our hands on a copy of the late, lamented Book of Love’s weird, and thoroughly enjoyable take on “We Three Kings”. This year we’re very much enjoying The Golden Filter’s fantastic “White Nights”, a Psychic TV cover that’s made for a lovely holiday tune (and available for free download at their web site). There’s also Hurts’ brand new seasonally-cheesy but still kind of nice “All I Want For Christmas Is New Years Day” and we’re very excited to hear Saint Etienne’s new Christmas album, A Glimpse Of Stocking. But other than the above, a handful of songs helpfully suggested by our readers last year, and stand-bys like Venus Hum’s always great Switched on Christmas, the “old faithful”, Electric Fantastic Xmas (a must-own for electronic fans), and of course Erasure’s Crackers International and Crackers International Part II, and not a whole lot more from our genre. The self-serious electronic community rarely deign to throw out holiday-themed songs – once a fan club staple for many bands in days gone by – as it is often seen to compromise the cred they’ve spent years trying to build.

So our annual holiday lament: if we want to get into the holiday spirit, whatever you celebrate, the only refuge from the traditional standards remain the small handful of tracks spun out from within our genre, and occasional dips into the South Park Christmas album and of course the umpteenth playing of “Do They Know It’s Christmas”…

(Anything else new out there in the way of electronic holiday tunes…?)

Watch: All I Want For Christmas Is New Years Day