Archive for Kraftwerk

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

Music by the numbers vs. a touch of soul

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on August 11, 2011 by softsynth

For decades electronic music has been accused of being “soulless” yet so much of the best electronic output has been chock full of the strongest emotional appeal and soul dredged up right from the gut. Instead it’s some of the most popular mainstream music that has had every ounce of soul or meaning sucked from its’ marrow.

Softsynth has recently read illuminating articles on Dr. Luke (in Rolling Stone) and Black Eyed Peas’ Will i am (in various wire stories) where each practically reveled in their absence of heart and/or soul. The former sees creation of a good song as a science, the latter as part of some mathematical equation. In neither case is there any room for deeper meaning either in the chord structure or lyrics.

One of the more frustrating things about the knock on electronic music is its lack of any emotion beneath the surface, behind the machines. The implication being, music made by machines rather than by bashing a fretted or skinned instrument cannot, by default, possess heart, soul or feel. Bullshit, says we. Continue reading

In defence of the lowly drum machine

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2009 by softsynth

“This next band…doesn’t have a drummer!!” So intoned a breathless Dick Clark in 1984 during a broadcast of his American hot 100 countdown radio show. We were transfixed. What could that mean? To a 13 year old who was just discovering music and for whom pop or rock music meant a guitar, a bass, drums, a singer and maybe a keyboard. What was this non-drummer lunacy?? As it turned out he was talking about Depeche Mode who were enjoying their first North American mainstream success with “People are People”. Clark was positively verkempt at the notion. To young teen Softsynth’s ears it sure sounded like they had drums in there, perhaps Clark was simply insane. It seemed a reasonable conclusion. Continue reading

Ten essential electronic albums – Part I and II

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , on February 20, 2009 by softsynth

There are several key benchmarks in the history of contemporary electronic music. Each one moved the genre forward an inch (or in some cases, a mile) and stands up today. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds, perhaps thousands of incredible electronic albums over the years and it’s almost impossible to pick out ten guideposts but a few would make anyone’s list, a few more would strike many as odd (and feel free to chime in with those you think were shockingly omitted). I do this list chronologically instead of in preferential order because to rank the best of the best is a mug’s game.

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What exactly constitutes “electronic” music?

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

I have been asked following my posted review of Lily Allen’s great new album, what do I consider electronic music? Where does the line get drawn? Why is it that many bands lumped in as part of the electro universe only possess a tentative link at best? There are obvious rock bands that some consider part of that universe and other artists that clearly find themselves driven by electronic soundscapes but would never be considered part of the electronic scene. What gives? Continue reading