Archive for March, 2013

In praise (and memory) of the synth riff

Posted in Observations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2013 by softsynth

Was just listening to Book of Love’s “Enchanted” which came up on the iPhone shuffle and was struck by how cool the riff is. Book of Love were great at the synth riff, and employed it regularly throughout their all-too-short career. Not surprising as they were so brazenly modelled on Depeche Mode, as DM were as of 1985 when BoL made their debut. The Mode were champions of the synth riff. Think of the moments – “Just Can’t Get Enough” (or for that matter, every single song from Speak & Spell), “Get the Balance Right”, “Everything Counts”, “Master and Servant”, “People are People”, “Shake the Disease”, and many many more – some classics, most pretty special in their own way, and that just in the band’s first five years.

They were far from alone, think of the defining sounds of early synth pop from the golden era – O.M.D.’s “Enola Gay”, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”, aha’s “Take On Me”, Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance”, Gary Numan’s “Cars”, Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”, Yazoo’s “Don’t Go”…or “Situation”…or “Nobody’s Diary”…or you know, just any song from Yazoo. The list is far too long to write. One can reflect back to some of the finest moments of the genre and the riff was dominant. Some were particularly good at it – New Order did ’em great, few were better at it than Vince Clarke, Numan was terrific at it and of course Kraftwerk pioneered the trick. It was the stuff of iconic music moments.  Continue reading


Review: MESH – Automation Baby

Posted in Review with tags on March 29, 2013 by softsynth

We were pretty hard on MESH’s last album back in the day. As we wrote at the time, the bar is higher for a band that has produced so much terrific music over a long period of time and when they don’t reach it, even if their stuff would be considered great by another artist, it will receive a lukewarm review. When that band exceeds that admittedly high bar however, well, then we’re into the good shit.

On Automation Baby, MESH are into the good shit. Continue reading

Review: IAMX – The Unified Field

Posted in Review with tags on March 28, 2013 by softsynth

Chris Corner never makes it easy on his listeners, one needs to earn their place at the IAMX table. Listening to a new IAMX album requires patience, time and a keen attention to detail. Rarely does he bring forth straight ahead pop or accessible rock, instead a typical IAMX album is replete with thematically complicated anthems, dirges and operatic calls to action. And when it works it’s just this side of brilliant. On The Unified Field, it works.

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Review: Depeche Mode – Delta Machine

Posted in Review with tags on March 27, 2013 by softsynth

Crafty bastards, lowering the bar like that and then producing an album not half as bad as many were starting to anticipate.

Signs were not good. A mediocre-at-best fallow period for the band that ran from the dispirited, and ironically-named Exciter to the dull and forgettable Sounds of the Universe, seemed to continue with the four minutes of anticlimax that was “Heaven” and chatter was everywhere that we were in store for another dud. Yet this long time fan of the band (going back to 1984) can report that this newest effort is…not as dire as was expected. Faint praise? Maybe. But given the recent state of affairs, it’s not  a little thing.

Perhaps the most influential electronic band of all time, DM wrote many of the rules the genre follows to this day. For decades they were the epitome of cool. Martin Gore was an unequaled songwriter, Dave Gahan, as smooth a frontman as they come, Andy Fletcher, a hand-clapper extraordinaire. The list of brilliant, unforgettable songs too long to fit in the bandwidth we can access. Yet recently we’ve seen tired production and weak songwriting and a stale attempt to be a “rawk band” with increasing helpings of guitar and an ever-growing drum kit front and centre at concerts. What they’ve managed to do on Delta Machine is dilute some of their more recent judgement lapses and excesses with some of what reminds us of what once made them so great.
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Review: How to Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion

Posted in Review with tags , on March 25, 2013 by softsynth

We loved the first EP and all the early signs were this was an exciting project that was going to have a real impact. Then came the An Omen EP and things suddenly seemed to stall, matters became frozen in a dull stasis. So as we waited for the first full-length album we weren’t sure if the trendlines were all that promising. And in fact as we delved into the songs for the first, oh, 40 or so listens we still weren’t sure, but damn if there aren’t some lovely subtle, beautifully layered songs packed tightly into this mix. Continue reading

Review: Diorama – Even The Devil Doesn´t Care

Posted in Review with tags on March 9, 2013 by softsynth

Diorama are like that solid old car you have come to depend on over the years. It gets you were you need to go, you may not give it a lot of thought until you need it and it doesn’t hold a lot of surprises for you, it’s just reliable, unchanging and dependable. That’s the slightly more wordy version of: this latest from the German quartet is as-ever-solid, if unremarkable and they’ve delivered another strong effort that bears striking resemblance to what’s come before.

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