Archive for the Observations Category

Everything in it’s time

Posted in Observations on August 14, 2013 by softsynth

Five years ago when this blog began, it started with a promise that it would be a consistent presence on the scene. A good blog is one that consistently provides its readers with updates and new content. A poor blog is one that only connects periodically, losing any sense of momentum. In recent months it’s proved harder and harder to return to the well and it proves my own notion that the blog has run its course. I truly believe that a blog that is only an occasional afterthought is not a true resource, and it’s truly time to call it a day.

Allow me to drop the Softsynth moniker/persona just this once and write as myself. My name is Charles and I have been delighted to have been a part of the electronic community far more interconnectedly than I ever imagined I would be able to be. For a full five years. At the beginning there was a serious dearth of meaningful content on the electronic scene, save for the always present, always consistent Side-Line. Since then there have been many that have risen up and given depth to the scene, too many to name (though I would be remiss in not mentioning my daily stop at The Electricity Club).

I want to thank you for coming here to read either for the first time today or consistently over the past five years. I have endeavoured to provide some perspective on the electronic scene from a side of the ledger that enveloped the harsh to the sweet and everything in between. If the synth rules the song, it made its way here. That was my only rule.

One of the coolest things I’ve been able to witness was the normalization of electronic music as more and more artists from our stable have crossed over, had chart success and once again, as consistently rolling as the wheel of time, become “fashionable” again. It will fade and return many times over again but it was nice to be able to track its rise this time around.

Housekeeping – I will be posting through September as that month will see a ridiculous bounty of new Important releases from Goldfrapp to Chvrches, many albums I’ve been anxiously waiting for and some that are delightful surprises to hear are on their way. I would be remiss in letting this cycle pass uncommented-upon. I’ll also come back at the end of the year for our always-popular Best Electronic Albums of the Year post, but otherwise, this will be goodbye. Finally, I will be continuing the Softsynth Twitter feed. I will keep tweeting about developments on the scene and maybe even push a few microreviews so please keep your news and downloads coming and I will give them as much attention as possible, just in a different way.

Thanks again, was terrific getting to know so many of the artists I’ve written about and sorry to those bands who sent material for review I just couldn’t get to. There’s a lot of great material out there and above all, I’ll still be listening…

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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

Three artists we’re digging this week

Posted in Observations with tags , , on October 9, 2012 by softsynth

We’ve been awash with all the news of some of the biggest acts in electronic music queuing up new albums for 2013 (MESH, IAMX, Depeche Mode, Goldfrapp, HTDA) and are jazzed about some other great bands with upcoming new releases, like Chew Lips or Shiny Toy Guns, but meantime there’s a steady stream of great stuff on the go. A few we’ve been particularly digging this week include…

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And One take a most interesting zig

Posted in News, Observations with tags on September 19, 2012 by softsynth

And One are a funny bird; they have been remarkably consistent act over their many years in the biz, with an almost-uniform output album after album with some peaks (like their remarkable Bodypop album) and some serious valleys (pretty much everything since that release). But now they bring us something that may mark the first genuinely different effort we’ve seen…maybe ever since the advent of the band.

Their newest song is the lovely ballad “Aigua” and it literally sounds nothing like And One, not just for the absence of Steve Naghavi on vocals (which are carried out by guest Vivi), but for the soft, drowsy and thoughtful melody. It’s the first genuinely “sweet” And One song one can recall. We had fallen deeply out of love with the band in recent years. A few too many misogynistic lyrics, a few too many songs that sounded exactly like every other And One song (and we don’t toss that off cavalierly, this is the band that is our 23rd most listened to artist on LastFM out of nearly 1000 artists), a few too many tantrums aimed in the direction of former band members. But this delightful track makes us take another look. Does this signal a new experimental direction or simply a refreshing palate-cleanser of a one-off? Either way, what a nice little aperitif. It’s an appreciated moment.

Watch: Aigua

Spotlight on…a bunch of artists you probably haven’t heard of yet but hopefully will soon…

Posted in Observations with tags , , , on September 2, 2012 by softsynth

Pretty much every day we receive a track, or album, or preview from an up and coming electronic band. The sheer volume of this material makes it almost impossible to provide the coverage this material deserves (though anyone, emerging or established band alike, should feel free to use our Facebook page to share the wares directly). Here are a handful that caught our ear and deserve a wider listen:

Belgian act Calfskin is a nice, hard to label electro act with a lot of interesting layers and a clear darkwave influence. It’s among the best stuff we’ve received recently and it really stands up to repeat listens. The Standing Eight EP is a really nice piece of work.

Toronto’s Pale Eyes brings us something really unique, a funky, rough-hewn electro-bop that feels really refreshing (and helps us work toward that place of trying desperately to find good Canadian electronic music). Very analogue, very fun.

Loving Brooklyn/NJ-based band Nova Social. Softer feel but really, really well-produced material that combines an electronic feel with a serious funk beat (two funk references in one blog post! bringing our blog-wide 4-year total to…two). Really fun listen. “The Hard Part” reminds one of Hot Chip back at their peak. Seriously – check it out.

Peachcake is an extremely promising synth pop artist with a lot of depth. Their album Unbelievable Souls is due out later this month and their track “The World is Our Platform to Mean Something” is a very good start…

This just scratches the surface but is a good sampling of some of the neat stuff crossing our tastefully decorated threshold. Keep it coming, thar’s gold in them thar hills…

Bands we miss – Bunny Lake

Posted in Observations with tags on August 29, 2012 by softsynth

How soon is too soon to start “missing” a band? In the case of Austria’s Bunny Lake not soon enough. Like, “they’re still winding down their final live dates before officially calling it quits” soon. But that said, words fail as to how much we’re going to miss this band.

We speculated last year about how much we were looking forward to their upcoming album, The Sound of Sehnsucht, and wondered if it would be the best album of ’12 so encouraging were the early snippets and first singles. Truth of the matter it might just be. At a minimum it’s certainly going to be in that mix. We were about to get our review copy of the album in the mail and then that week passed…and then another…then one more. And suddenly they announced on their Twitter feed they were calling it quits (was it something we said? Was our request for the review copy what pushed them over the edge? Horrors! Lost sleep for thinking of it!).

Truth be told they site creative differences and are simply winding down the Bunny Lake machine and the electronic music scene is much the worse for it.

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Why we never quite got around to reviewing that Metric album

Posted in Observations with tags on August 15, 2012 by softsynth

There are times we find ourselves heading down that road of wondering “is this electronic music”, and our default is usually toward the “yes if it’s got synths up front as the dominant instrument” end of things, but sometimes it’s still very unclear.

One of the albums we’ve reviewed that had readers up saying, “that ain’t part of the club, it doesn’t belong” was Metric’s terrific Fantasies which was our #5 electronic album of the year on our year-end best of list in 2009. It was around that time that some started suggesting Softsynth considers anything with a keyboard in it electronic music. And while it’s true we cast a wide net to inclusively open the definition, there are albums who play in our yard without being invited inside the house.

Bottom line, when we listened through Metric’s new album Synthetica, which we did an awful lot, one could not help but be struck that this was very much a middle-of-the-road rock album with some keyboards prominently used here and there. So we didn’t review it here (short version if we had – a little soulless and doesn’t pack the punch of the last album but with a few notable highlights). There are a few tracks we could have pulled out to review in isolation (which not coincidentally are among the strongest tracks of the album like “Dreams so Real” and “The Void”) but that’s not how we approach albums around this here place.

So some asked who no Metric review. That’s why.