Posts Tagged ‘Synth Pop’

Christopher Nosnibor

Leeds synth-led post-punk outfit FEHM have mellowed a fair bit since they first burst onto stages in and around their hometown three or four years ago. New single, ‘Scarborough Warning’ may lack the abrasive edges and wild, wide-eyed bass-driven gothy mania of early songs like ‘Sinking Sands’, but that isn’t to say this more commercial sound is without edge.

This means that while Paul Riddle’s frenzied holler has softened to a brooding croon, and the instrumentation sounds less like X-Mal Deutschland and more like early Human League with a hefty dash of The Cure in the mix, not to mention a lead guitar part that’s pure (early) New Order, there’s a dark, melancholy edge to this slice of disco-pop. It’s heavy on reverb and imbued with a nagging wistfulness, and it’s also still deeply rooted in the first half of the 1980s.

I dig.

AA

AA

FEHM will also be playing a handful of dates in August support of the release:

2nd: The New Adelphi, Hull

3rd: The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds (With full supporting line up including Drahla)

9th:The Underground, Newcastle

10th: The Castle, Manchester

11th, The Shacklewell Arms, London

FEHM

Advertisements

Dependent /Amped – 26th January 2018

It would be easy to criticise Kirlian Camera’s new album for being a genre stereotype, entrenched in darkwave clichés of thumping disco beats propelling shuddering sequenced bass undulations and chilly, inhuman synth sweeps. But having formed in 1980, the Italian act, having mutated from pedalling synth-pop to progress into darker territories as the 8s progressed, are part of the first wave of bands to fore the style.

As maligned and misunderstood as it is, goth and its subcultures and musical substrains have endured, impervious to fashion, and any ebb and flow which has witnessed an upsurge in popularity has seemingly been coincidental.

I’ve no aversion to electronic music, but as a general rule, dark wave / cold wave music leaves me, well, cold. It’s not that synths and carefully produced vocals can’t convey emotional depth and that there is nothing to connect with, but as a style, it tends to lack humanity and consequently resonance. There’s music you hear, and music you feel. The electronic strains of goth all too often tend to be heavily stylised, entrenched in the well-established tropes.

As a listener and critic, I’m in no position to judge or undermine the actual emotional content of the lyrics or to question their sincerity. I am no-one to challenge how strongly any individual feels something, and I’m the last person to deride a so-called goth for being sensitive. It’s a matter of articulation: eternally drawing on a limited bank of metaphorical references and stock-phrase imagery, it feels more like the feelings are pulled tightly into a corset or genre conformity than a true release of pent-up, innermost pain. Moreover, the drama-focused delivery feels to careful, too meticulous in its presentation.

Despite a shifting line-up over the years, Elena Fossi has covered vocal duties since the turn of the millennium, and her melodies are excellent, strongly delivered with grace and nuance. So what’s the issue? It’s certainly not technical or compositional. It’s not about lack of range in terms of tone or tempo, either: ‘Helium 3’ goes all swampy, with whiplash snare and a stark, minimal synth chord sequence reminiscent of The Human Leagues ‘Being Boiled’ overlaid with creeping fear chords, atmospherics and samples. ‘Kryostar’ brings robotix vocals and a pounding technoindustrial beat, and a relentless juggernaut groove paired with soaring, choral operatics.

But whether it’s rolling piano and breathy vocals building the drama, as on ‘Traveller’s Dream’, or bombastic synth explosions, Hologram Moon feels very stylised, controlled. And thus we return full circle. It would be easy to criticise Kirlian Camera’s new album for being a genre stereotype, but however well-crafted, well-performed and well-produced, it would be difficult to compliment it for being anything more.

AA

Kirlian Camera - Moon

Dependent

Christopher Nosnibor

Bristol synth-pop duo Mesh are a classic example of an act underappreciated in their domestic territory but who have found a fan-base in mainland Europe and who are particularly appreciated in Germany. It may be that there’s a sense of the grass being greener, but even taking into account scale and catchment, I can’t help but feel that Germany has a better appreciation for certain strains of ‘alternative’ music. For example, can you think of anywhere else that The Sisters of Mercy still regularly headline festivals? And so it’s in this context that Mesh performed a one-off with the Philharmonie Zielona Gora to a sold-out audience at Neues Gewandhaus in Leipzig. Live at Neues Gewandhaus Leipzig is a document of the occasion, augmented with three new orchestral-based compositions

‘Just Leave Us Alone’ from 2013’s Automation Baby is the first song of the orchestral set, and it’s striking just how Depeche Mode it feels. The soulful richness of Mark Hockings’ voice is the key, but what’s equally striking is just how subtle and nuanced the arrangement is. The 65-piece orchestra contrive to build drama without at any point overstretching into extravagance.

They reach further back into to catalogue for ‘Only Better’, here led by a skipping piano and plucked strings, and the vocal harmonies work well alongside the layers of brooding theatricality, while ‘Save Everyone’ is simultaneously deep yet sparse. The fact the live orchestral show featured just five songs and ran for half an hour – and is captured in its entirety here – is admirable. So many acts, when presented with the opportunity to perform with an orchestra, will splurge, with overblown renditions and overlong performances. That Mesh keep it concise and keep a tight rein on the material, which, if anything, intensifies the effect and the emotional layers imbued therein. ‘Taken for Granted’ is the last of the live songs, and it broods through dark tension and builds to a soaring finale which utilises the dramatic and layered instrumentation to the max.

As a necessary aside, the audio quality is exceptional, and does the performance justice. Every detail is perfectly captured, as it should be. And there is a lot of detail; the songs are played with real nuance, and while the performances are powerful, there’s a palpable emotional depth that’s intrinsically linked to the subtlety and multi-dimensionality of the instrumentation.

The three new studio tracks compliment the live set very nicely indeed: recorded with a stripped-back orchestra, they still explore the same emotional terrain as the material chosen for the live set, and because the sound quality of the live recording is so god, they flow into one another rather than feeling like appendices which have been bolted on.

There isn’t a weak song in the new recordings, although ‘Can You Mend Hearts’ is a standout, being delicate and fragile, the surging builds bringing depth and resonance to Hockings’ affecting vocal delivery.

Live at Neues Gewandhaus Leipzig is one of those albums that could so easily be a drag, and fall to cliché, but instead offers a set of strong reworking of songs which lend themselves to the orchestral treatment, and as such, it’s not only successful, but an impressive release.

AAA

Mesh - Live