Archive for Assemblage 23

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

The Best Electronic Albums of 2012

Posted in Commentary, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2012 by softsynth

The annual look back over the year is always so illuminating. Year over year we can see where the trends are, where the most exciting electronic music is coming from.

Last year harder-edged electro was quite prominent. From our choice for number one album of the year by Aesthetic Perfection on down, the industrial influence was riding high. When we compiled the initial rough list for this year it was dominated by albums more on the pop edge, particularly the more experimental quirky pop edge, but clearly melody was king.

It was a good, and more specifically, prolific year for electronic music. This year’s rough list was longer than any year previously and was duly difficult to whittle down.

As always, we know not everyone will agree with this list; if previous years are any indication there may be some heated, even extreme questioning of the choices, Such is the passion that rises from genre-specific music fans, the smaller and tighter the community, the more passionate.

There were some exceptional albums that didn’t quite make the grade for the top ten this year. Those include albums by Mari Chrome, Shiny Toy Guns (which, but for a last-minute switch would have been on this year’s list with their strong comeback, III), De/Vision, Sin Cos Tan,, The Presets, Carter Tutti Void, Passion Pit and Flux. Exceptional, sometimes joyously so, albums, the quality of which should be a good indication of how strong the top ten are. We also need to mention Metric’s 2012 offering. We referenced it when it came out and were somewhat meh on it at the time, while noting that the bulk of it couldn’t make any claim to being an electronic album, but no album has grown more this year on repeated listens, and if the “electronic half” of Synthetica were an album onto itself (“Dreams So Real”, “Lost Kitten”, “The Void”, “Clone”, “Nothing But Time”) it would easily have made our list. At a minimum, it deserves serious attention for it’s considerable strengths.

And with that, to this year’s best of the best… Continue reading

Review: Assemblage 23 – Bruise

Posted in Review with tags on June 20, 2012 by softsynth

For some time Tom Shear has been setting the gold standard for the darker hue of electronic music. Now he releases the latest treat from Assemblage 23 amidst a wave exceptional electronic releases from across the electronic spectrum that has made the genre fan start to feel rather spoiled. Where once we received many an email from angry fans or even bands themselves saying we were far too harsh in our reviews, one would think we had since been forcefully gentled, medieval-style, so happy and content have been our reviews lo these past weeks.

But we digress.

Suspense aside, this is another positive review, though every inch the well-deserved one. Shear has demonstrated he can produce this stuff in his sleep (and occasionally once senses a bit of an autopilot – in the hands of a lesser artist that would be a knock, not necessarily so in this case).  Continue reading

Alright 2012, whatcha got for us…?

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2011 by softsynth

So, 2011 is now on the way to the compost heap and we sweep the hearth clean in anticipation of what 2012 will bring. Lots of good stuff on the electronic music horizon, fortunately mostly slated for the early part of the year, which is a good thing as we’ll get to enjoy some good new music in advance of the looming apocalypse in the fall (or is it the spring? We get our apocoli confused).

Our list is topped by Assemblage 23’s Bruise (supposed to be out this fall, but we’ll take it whenever Mr. Shear wants to deliver it, so terrific was his last A23 album); and after hearing sensational advance tracks from Bunny Lake their The Sound Of Sehnsucht is also high on our anticipated list. But these two are far from alone. 2012 looks to be replete with potential awesomeness, to whit: Continue reading

Previews whet the Softsynth appetite

Posted in News with tags , , , on August 28, 2011 by softsynth

Almost in direct contradiction to the post of a couple of weeks ago decrying the loss of real anticipation of new releases, two of the gold standard, Softsynth-hall-of-fame bands have released teasers for upcoming albums that have us salivating.

To back up a bit, we are mere weeks away from one of those extremely rare occurences when three of the top bands advocated by this blog have brand-spanking new albums all within a week of one another – Assemblage 23, VNV Nation and Ladytron. Already pretty darn tooting exciting at that but we’ve been graced with teasers for the latter two of them (Come on Shear, give us a taste of the new A23 and make it a complete set!) that raise the excitement factor even further.  Continue reading

The Softsynth 2009 Playlist (songs of the year ’09)

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2009 by softsynth

So this will be the last in the long line of “lists” for the year. We had mused about doing up a “best singles of the year list”

and were both overwhelmed by the task at hand and felt persnickety about the notion of being limited to just singles.

The era of the single is definitely upon us what with the death of the CD as the last remaining form of “physical” music and the growth of iTunes culture, but damn it, Softsynth is a creature from the age of album appreciation and the best songs are so often not the tracks sent out to be appreciated by the masses, but those that remain buried in the outer confines of an album. (That said many of the best songs

released there were, indeed, singles, so we’re not limiting ourselves here). It’s what made for the great mixed tapes of yore. (And for those of a certain age, too young for the pure album era of the 70s, but older than those who know only the MP3 era, the mixed tape was a crucial part of our musical upbringing. we created our own playlists, as a kind of precursor to the era we increasingly find ourselves in today via one-off MP3 downloads, but with tracks culled from albums or singles as we saw fit, depending on our mood at a given time.)

This is literally the only time through the year that we open things up to acknowledge the best stuff from various genres, not just electronic music (and in our next post we will revisit the question of what exactly constitutes so-called “electronic music”).We will paint with a wider brush just to fully colour in the year. So away we go, the singles of the year, er, songs of the year, uh…no, the “2009 Softsynth playlist”…

Continue reading

The Best Electronic Albums of 2009

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2009 by softsynth

Finally recovered from the exhaustion of compiling the decade’s best electronic albums, we now turn our attention to the best of this year. Two changes to the initial plans. We had reported earlier we were going to do an all-genre-inclusive list, as we did last year on this blog and as we have in previous years in the earlier incarnation of the blog. Given the huge number of predominantly electronic albums that were released this year, or more specifically, the large number of great electronic albums, we have done an about-face and will stay true to the blog’s mandate and share what we think are the best of the year – electronic only. (The only two albums clearly effected by this change are the exceptional new works from The Dead Weather and Placebo, and we’ll hear from them elsewhere, see below…; and as always the definition of “electronic” is somewhat loose – see our own definition in an earlier post.)

Second change, we had also mused about doing a singles of the year list. Ha, we say. Ha! Overwhelmed with the sheer number of exceptional singles we throw in the towel. Simply too onerous. We will instead do the 2009 Softsynth playlist – all genres this time and not just singles but album tracks too. Despite the move to a singles society thanks to iTunes and the like, we still look to album tracks for some of the most interesting, challenging work out there. Those songs, electronic and otherwise that have blown us away or just kept us moving throughout the year will make up the official Softsynth playlist. We’ll get to said playlist soon enough, for now, the best in 2009 electronic albums… Continue reading