Teclist: JIMMY URINE, COTTON WOLF and FEMM

This weeks tunes feature the analogue melodies of COTTON WOLF, the chiptune/electropunk of JIMMY URINE and the dancepop power of FEMM.

COTTON WOLF – Glosh

Cotton Wolf consists of Welsh producer Llion Robertson and classically-trained composer Seb Goldfinch. With a selection of EPs under their belt, a debut album Life In Analogue is out later this month.

There’s a crunchy quality to the rhythms of ‘Glosh’, offset with airy synth melodies. Meanwhile, vague and indistinct vocal elements drift in and out in ghostly fashion. As their album title attests, the duo are keen to retain a warm, human element to their music – or as they phrase it: “a symphony to the conflicted love of man and machine absorbed by digitisation and a soundtrack to modern living”. Either way, this is an engaging slice of electronica that suggests Cotton Wolf are an act worth keeping an eye on.

Life In Analogue is due out 28th April on Bubblewrap Collective.

https://soundcloud.com/bubblewrapcollective
https://bubblewrapcollective.co.uk/artists/cotton-wolf/


JIMMY URINE – Fighting With The Melody

Taking time out from electropunk outfit Mindless Self Indulgence, frontman Jimmy Urine has been dabbling in a solo effort in the shape of forthcoming album The Secret Cinematic Sounds Of Jimmy Urine.

Citing an interest in synthesisers, comic books and video games, ‘Fighting With The Melody’ pulls in all those pop culture elements for a zippy synthpop number that’s packed with hooks and electronic goodness. Penned for RPG game Metronomicon, Urine states: “I wanted to write it from the point of view of the boss you were fighting on screen. I wanted it to be like a crazy over the top Disney villain song. The game creators sent me some character art and animation and there wasn’t one specific character so I wrote it so it could be applied to any boss or monster; basically a boss in a video game is cocky and wants to fucking kill you and depending on how you play will probably kill you a bunch of times.”

Urine’s interest in comic book culture has led him to land a role in the upcoming Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, but meanwhile this synthpop/chiptune wonder will work its magic on your ears.

The Secret Cinematic Sounds Of Jimmy Urine IS due out 28th April via The End Records.

http://jimmyurine.net/
http://twitter.com/jimmyurine
http://www.facebook.com/msi


FEMM – Do It Again

Hailing from Japan, the dancepop duo of RiRi and Lula operate under the monkier of FEMM (Far East Mention Mannequins). Having cut their chops on the back of the K-Pop-esque ‘Fxxk Boyz Get Money’ in 2014 FEMM continue to make great strides in establishing a global fanbase.

Here, FEMM have teamed up with US singer-songwriter LIZ for the lush pop of ‘Do It Again’ along with some input from Lil’Fang (FAKY). The video adopts the ‘split depth’ technique to achieve its fake 3D effect and makes good use of its primary colour palette.

This method of teaming up J-Pop artists with western artists is a bit of a thing lately (see also Kyary Pamyu Pamyu teaming up with Charli XCX). With J-Pop often being perceived as a hard sell in the west, this approach appears to be a desire to make these acts more palatable for global audiences .

‘Do It Again’ is unashamedly pop, which isn’t going to win over everybody, but if you want to expand your musical horizons then the likes of FEMM and Japan’s own unique musical culture is a good place to start.

‘Do It Again’ is out 3rd May via Maximum 10. FEMM are also making their UK live debut on 23rd April in London. More details via our sister site www.jpopgo.co.uk

http://femm.jp
https://twitter.com/FEMM____
https://www.facebook.com/FEMMJP/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7Pp-ffsPH8ozLKFMdxOvFw


LIFELINES: The Side Projects Of a-ha

“There hasn’t been trench warfare between the two roles – which hat I’m wearing hasn’t been so important. I don’t write Savoy songs or a-ha songs – I write songs.” – Paul Waaktaar-Savoy

In an impressive recording career that has spawned ten studio albums since 1985, a-ha’s principal three members have also built up a considerable back catalogue of quality songs via an array of side projects. Whilst the reformed band continue to work on a new album of acoustic versions of some of their best songs, we take an in-depth look at the solo careers of a-ha’s triumvirate of talent, beginning with Paul Waaktaar.

a-ha’s hiatus in the 1990s was described on their Homecoming DVD as the ‘seven-year itch’. In truth, a-ha were still a working band up right until the summer of 1994; completing the recording of ‘Shapes That Go Together’ (a minor UK hit single) earlier in the year for the Winter Paralympics in Lillehammer, before concluding the Memorial Beach tour in June. a-ha reformed just over four years later, following an invitation to perform at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo in 1998.

If a-ha’s frontman Morten Harket had decided that a-ha had run its course by 1994, Waaktaar certainly didn’t know about it as he worked on demos for the follow up to 1993’s Memorial Beach. But it soon become obvious to him that Harket’s primary concern was a solo career, which had already been kick-started with the late 1993 release of Poetenes Evangelium, a collection of Norwegian-language collection of poems by various writers set to music. Harket had aligned himself with a-ha’s manager Terry Slater, signed a major recording deal with Warners, and started working with Håvard Rem on the songs that would eventually form the Wild Seed album. An unimpressed Waaktaar would vent his frustration in the song ‘Daylight Wasting’: “Singer was fair but got it wrong/ He never did justice to my songs/ He did more for me and that’s a fact/ When he went and stabbed me in the back”.

Now based in New York, Waaktaar formed a new band with his wife Lauren Savoy; both contributing guitars and vocals. They were joined by Frode Unneland, whose drumming with Norwegian band Chocolate Overdose had impressed. Norwegian tabloid newspaper Dagbladet reported in January 1995 that the new band was called Savoy and that they’d commenced work on their debut album, provisionally titled Fade.

Lauren Savoy had met Pål Waaktaar (as he was then known) prior to a-ha’s meteoric rise in the mid-1980s and the pair eventually married in December 1991 (Waaktaar presented the song ‘Angel In The Snow’ as a wedding present to Lauren and performed it at the ceremony in place of a speech). Lauren was something of a peripheral figure in phase one of a-ha’s career, not only co-writing the song ‘Cold River’ and directing the promo video for ‘I Call Your Name’ (both from East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon), but also producing and directing the tour video Live In South America, a document of the hugely successful East of the Sun, West of the Moon tour. Waaktaar already had some experience as a lead singer via the progressive rock band Bridges that he’d formed with Magne Furuholmen (they’d cut one self-financed album, Fakkeltog, in 1980). Whilst the syrupy vocals of Lauren Savoy would divide fan opinion, Waaktaar’s rougher vocal tones would prove the perfect fit for the new band’s blend of 1960s-influenced indie rock.


Savoy – Mary Is Coming (1996 album)

“Mary Is Coming was the total opposite of the a-ha records. It was just flesh and blood, very basic. Good songs, good lyrics.” – Paul Waaktaar-Savoy

Savoy’s debut album, featuring songs co-written and produced by the husband-and-wife team, was completed in 1995; but it wouldn’t be released until February 1996 (the Norwegian media speculated that the record company didn’t want the album to clash with Morten Harket’s Wild Seed).

The band’s debut single, ‘Velvet’, got the band off to a good start and it promptly hit the Norwegian top five. One of the slower numbers on the album, the track featured Simone Larsen from Oslo-based pop band D’Sound – her backing vocals, which ghosted in and out to great effect, provided the song’s memorable hook. ‘Velvet’ did not chart in the UK but it would prove to be a perfect fit for a-ha, and the song enjoyed a new lease of life as the third single to be lifted from 2000’s Minor Earth Major Sky.

Elsewhere on the album, the title track provided another tender moment, segueing beautifully into the unlisted twelfth track, ‘Fade’ (a lovely instrumental). Evidence that Waaktaar had lost none of his pop sensibilities was displayed on catchy tracks such as ‘Underground’ and ‘We Will Never Forget’, while the likes of ‘Daylight Wasting’, ‘Get Up Now’ and ‘Foolish’ demonstrated a new found sense of lyrical and musical bite, the latter being described by Waaktaar as his most aggressive song to date. Meanwhile, ‘Half An Hour’s Worth’ featured some pleasing McCartney-esque melodic touches.

Without the recognisable voice of a-ha amidst their ranks, Savoy were unlikely to match the success enjoyed by Morten Harket, and their odds of global success were slashed considerably when Danny Goldberg, the man who had originally signed them to Warners, left the label. MTV had reported that he had been a “vocal supporter of artists’ right to express themselves as they see fit on their recordings”. Without Goldberg’s support, Savoy’s album soon disappeared from public attention, despite some promising sales in Norway. However, Savoy were nominated for two Spellemannprisen awards (the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy) in the spring of 1997, though lost out in both the ‘Best Band’ and ‘Best Newcomer’ categories. During this period, the band also signed a new recording deal with EMI.


Savoy – Lackluster Me (1997 album)

“An astonishing masterpiece: dangerously catchy and unpredictably intellectual in its gloomy, monumental beauty.” – Aftenbladet

Sessions for Savoy’s second album included bassist Greg Calvert, who had already bedded himself in on a new, almost unrecognisable, version of a-ha’s ‘October’ on the b-side of ‘Velvet’. The band played some festival dates in the summer of 1996, incorporating the likes of ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ and ‘Sycamore Leaves’ into the set lists. A more rock-based version of the latter track (from East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon) would later find its way on to the new self-produced album.

Featuring a creepy sleeve depicting the cracked face of a doll, Lackluster Me hit Norwegian record stores in October 1997. Whilst it lacked some of the pop hooks prevalent in its predecessor, it was sonically a much more satisfying album, and can be viewed as an ideal companion piece to Radiohead’s highly rated OK Computer (which had been released just months earlier).

The serviceable ballad, ‘Rain’, was released as the album’s first single, and became a minor hit in the band’s homeland. It was somewhat indicative of the largely downbeat feel of the band’s second album; the title track being a case in point (“Lackluster me/ Stands before you”). The bleakness continued apace with ‘Unsound’, with a grungey bass line complementing the biting lyrics (“No point asking me to stay/ I’d rather walk away”). Meanwhile, ‘This That And The Other’ featured some more indie rock grit, recalling Eels’ hit ‘Novocaine For The Soul’.

The recruitment of Calvert effectively freed up Waaktaar to utilise a broader sonic palette. Lauren Savoy was also afforded the opportunity to add a touch of art house pop to the mix with a daring double header: ‘Foreign Film’ saw the band experimenting with electronics and Mellotron sounds, while the more abstract ambient piece ‘Flowers For Sylvia’ served as an interesting tribute to the prolific Boston-born poet and novelist Sylvia Plath who’d committed suicide in 1963, aged just 30. Against a backdrop of unsettling sound effects, Lauren Savoy recited a selective list of Plath’s poems in a spoken word homage (later she would reference Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar, in 2004’s ‘Girl One’).

The album included several gems: the beautifully wistful ‘You Should Have Told Me’ rates as one of Waaktaar’s best ballads, while the faster-paced rock workout ‘I Still Cry’ was another standout. Another track worthy of note was ‘Hey Luchie’, a sequel of sorts to ‘Angel In The Snow’.

A promo CD featuring the non-album ‘Xmas Time (Blows My Mind)’ was given away with copies of Lackluster Me during the Christmas period. Whilst the album only enjoyed modest sales, critics were certainly impressed and Lackluster Me earned Savoy another Spellemannprisen nomination (for ‘Best Rock Album’).

As part of a Savoy reissue programme, the album was re-released by Apollo Records in December 2016, including a vinyl edition limited to 1000 copies.


Savoy – Mountains Of Time (1999 album)

“John Lennon would have been hailed as a god if this were his solo album.” – Dagbladet

“If the legendary Phil Spector had heard Savoy’s Mountains of Time, we would probably have seen tears behind that eccentric’s sunglasses.” – VG

The first half of 1998 saw the band performing some of their songs at showcase gigs in the UK and the USA. Waaktaar also busied himself with other ventures; firstly exhibiting a collection (titled Rammer) of his oil paintings at a gallery in Lillehammer and, secondly, producing a single by Norwegian band deLillos titled ‘Tyve Null Tre’. His only previous experience of working with other bands had been the Y Me single ‘Dance With The World’ that he’d remixed in 1985 (now a highly sought-after collector’s item).

Following an approach by the organisers of the Nobel Peace Prize concert to perform, the members of a-ha met during the summer to discuss their future. This would eventually lead to a full scale reunion, including a new album and world tour. Plans were also afoot for Savoy to release a third record, which meant that both acts would be working concurrently over the next few years; a move Waaktaar would later describe as “madness”.

Deciding which songs would work for which act wasn’t a problem for the prolific songwriter, as he later recalled: “It is easier to write songs for Savoy than a-ha, so there are Savoy songs that do end up with a-ha, for example ‘Mary Ellen Makes The Moment Count’ and ‘Barely Hanging On’ – I think they worked there, too”. And there was seemingly no dilemma when it came to choosing which new song to play at the Nobel Peace Prize concert either: “On Mountains of Time I gave Frode the choice between ‘Summer Moved On’ and ‘Man In The Park'”, he said. “He chose ‘Man In The Park’ and with that, ‘Summer Moved On’ became an a-ha song. Both songs are equally good, and I guarantee you that if a-ha had recorded ‘Man In The Park’, that would have been a hit instead.”

Following the departure of Greg Calvert, Waaktaar resumed bass-playing duties on the new album. Buoyed by the enthusiastic response to Lackluster Me, it was a confident band that entered the recording studio to cut their third opus: “The songs kept coming – recording it was easy,” recalled Waaktaar. “Lauren was pregnant. We were giddy and excited!”

The first fruits of these self-produced recording sessions arrived in July 1999 with the release of the single ‘Star (I’m Not Stupid Baby)’, which would earn the band another Spellemannprisen nomination. Featuring Lauren on lead vocal, it provided a portent of what was to come: well-produced songs with a catchier pop sheen; an antidote to the previous album’s more sombre inflections. Of the pacier tracks, ‘Any Other Way’ and the Revolver pop of ‘Grind You Down’ provided two bona fide Savoy classics, the latter featuring a memorable guitar motif. Other highlights included ‘Man In The Park’, which was inspired by the couple’s visits to Washington Square Park; ‘End Of The Line’, which is sumptuously imbued with the spirit of Burt Bacharach, and ‘Bottomless Pit’ which subtly evokes the melodic craft of Rubber Soul.

With both a-ha and Savoy running in tandem, both acts’ new albums inevitably ended up featuring some of the same musicians. Drummer Per Lindvall, a mainstay of a-ha’s recording and performing team in the noughties, guested on ‘Man In The Park’, while Savoy’s Frode Unneland featured on a-ha’s ‘Minor Earth Major Sky’ and ‘The Company Man’. Lauren Savoy co-wrote ‘The Sun Never Shone That Day’ and added a distinctive backing vocal to ‘You’ll Never Get Over Me’, while Magne Furuholmen added a gorgeous clavichord part to ‘Bottomless Pit’. Many of the tracks on Mountains Of Time were also enriched with strings, resulting in a euphonious listening experience.

The album, with a Lauren Savoy-designed sleeve that harked back to the 1960s, was released in July 1999, with initial copies including a bonus EP of exclusive tracks. Reviews were unanimous in their praise, and there were celebrations-a-plenty in the Waaktaar household throughout August and September 1999, with the couple announcing the birth of their child True August, and the album hitting number one in the Norwegian charts. The celebrations continued in February 2000 when Savoy were awarded a Spellemannprisen award for ‘Best Pop Group’. Later in the year, fans and critics alike would hail a-ha’s comeback album Minor Earth Major Sky, and it was no surprise when Waaktaar later described this period as one of the highlights of his career.


Savoy – Reasons To Stay Indoors (2001 album)

“Reasons To Stay Indoors is undoubtedly a quality product, and opens with two staggering pieces of classical pop… but then the excitement levels out” – Dagbladet

“Paul Waaktaar-Savoy has a phenomenal instinct and basic understanding of good pop music. When he plays on his own without the friction of a-ha, the result is easy going and charming pop music which sounds contemporary” – Adresseavisen

Keen to sustain the momentum after the success of Mountains Of Time, the band wasted no time in commencing work on the follow-up. Paul told a-ha’s official website: “We started out doing seven songs that were left over from Mountains Of Time, finished those up, and that gave us a big boost! They sounded good… but then, as time went by, it was like: ‘Oh, we’ll have to have this new song there, and this one as well’, and in the end it [was] all new songs” Lauren added that “Paul was writing like a maniac!”

Still fully committed to a-ha in both a recording and performing capacity, the fact that Waaktaar was still able to churn out songs for both acts with such regularity was an impressive feat. However, the pool of songs that he presented to his a-ha colleagues for the Lifelines album wasn’t exactly met with an enthusiastic response. “They’re completely unrealised – they don’t have a chorus that goes anywhere,” claimed Morten Harket. “They can’t be taken any further. It was the way with all of them, except ‘Time And Again’ and ‘Did Anyone Approach You?'” There were certainly some speculation in the media that Waaktaar was squirreling his best songs for Savoy. When reviewing their fourth album, Dagsavisen quipped: “Reasons To Stay Indoors is an album that defines the personality of Savoy more than ever before, even when the title song is so anchored in a-ha tradition than one can’t help but wonder if Paul Waaktaar saves a few possible a-ha hits for his own band.”

What’s definite for sure about Reasons To Stay Indoors is that its roots are firmly planted in New York. The couples’ new found domestic bliss certainly crept into some of the songs; ‘Once Upon A Year’ being one obvious example: “Once upon a year we had a boy/ Our boy/ Once upon a road we took a drive/ To the seaside”. ‘Five Million Years’, meanwhile, found Waaktaar in a philosophical mood: “Hundred million years ago/ The dinosaurs that walked the earth were so slow/ Hundred million years ahead/ Luchie puts her sleepy son to bed”.

Inevitably, the album would end up drawing some comparisons with Double Fantasy, the final album by fellow Manhattan residents John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which had featured songs such as ‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’. And it probably wouldn’t have gone unnoticed that a certain Grammy Award-winning George Marino had mastered both Double Fantasy and Reasons To Stay Indoors.

The new album didn’t stray too far from previous long player’s template, though it did employ a greater use of strings this time round; particularly on the title track. There was, however, a change of bass-playing personnel with the arrival of Jørun Bøgeberg (who’d previously played on the Memorial Beach and East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon albums). There was another a-ha connection in the form of Anneli Drecker, who would later duet with Morten Harket on ‘Turn The Lights Down’ and perform with the band on the subsequent Lifelines tour. On Savoy’s album, Drecker guested on the quirky synthpop number, ‘Fear List’, which included off-the-wall lyrical couplets such as “It’s so itchy you have to itch/ It doesn’t matter if it bleeds.” Not one of Savoy’s greatest moments, but its inclusion proved that the band were still prepared to experiment. Far better was the more conventional ‘Paramount’, that recalled the mid-1990s indie pop of acts such as Lush and Garbage.

The album was preceded by the single (and minor hit) ‘If You Won’t Come To The Party’ in September 2001, and featured some lovely vocal interplay between the band. The album arrived in October and, once again, early copies included an EP of exclusive songs. Reviews were generally favourable, though the general consensus amongst critics was that the band had played it too safe. Certainly, tracks such as ‘I Wouldn’t Change A Thing’ occupied familiar Rubber Soul-like territory, but there were plenty of standouts. These included the epic title track, the brooding ‘Face’ and ‘Half Of The Time’, which saw Waaktaar ruminating on his well-documented shyness (“Half of the time/ I see no reason/ To say much”). “I like to keep in the background,” the sensitive songwriter once confessed in the Tor Marcussen book The Story So Far. “There are only certain kinds of people I can talk to [and] feel secure with… I’m definitely not the pop-star type.”

While the album didn’t quite meet expectations, it was certainly a worthy addition to Savoy’s increasingly impressive body of work. And the bands’ hard work paid off with yet another Spellemannprisen award for ‘Best Pop Group’.


Savoy – Savoy (2004 album)


There would be a wait of almost three years for the next Savoy album as Paul Waaktaar was fully committed to a-ha and the promotion of Lifelines throughout 2002.

Tensions had been fraught during the recording of Lifelines, which involved the three principal members of a-ha battling to get their new songs on the album. Magne Furuholmen had his own view of the sessions: “For me, Lifelines was about not giving a shit about the others in the band and only working with those who were interested in working with my material.”

Waaktaar’s own contribution to Lifelines was still fairly substantial, but the experience was not a happy one for the prolific writer, and he would later vent his creative frustrations on ‘Is My Confidence Reeling?’. Amongst a musical backdrop that evoked John Lennon circa 1970, Waaktaar asked: “What’s the point of writing songs that no-one hears?/ Little waves of sound falling on deaf ears”. Waaktaar was certainly grateful to return to the more receptive and amiable Savoy set-up. “Things were extremely uncomfortable at that time,” he confirmed. “So it was probably a matter of wanting to be in a band in which everything was free and friendly, where everybody wished the best for one another. It was a natural reaction, a yin/yang thing.”

Savoy’s fifth album would employ a more organic, back-to-basics approach and something of a return to the melancholic intonations of Lackluster Me; not just in terms of its musical content but also its presentation. The album was simply titled Savoy and released on their own Eleventeen label, while the sleeve featured (barely legible) handwritten lyrics and credits. Further emphasizing the band’s solidarity, Lauren Savoy was given a greater share of the lead vocals. Frode Jacobsen (from the successful Norwegian rock band Madrugada) was drafted in to help produce the album.

Such was the wealth of material available during this period the band briefly considered releasing a double album, before opting for a standard 12-track set. Some songs that had been earmarked for Lifelines, but later rejected, were considered for inclusion on Savoy. These included ‘The Breakers’, which featured a vocal from Waaktaar’s friend Jimmy Gnecco (frontman for the rock band Ours). Also included on the new opus was the stunning ‘Whalebone’, a song which had been written for the Norwegian film Hotel, Oslo – it also served a dual purpose as the album’s first single release in August 2004. ‘Whalebone’ was also notable in that it recycled, to great effect, the “O weeping night/ O grieving sky…” lyric from a-ha’s ‘Locust’.

Like the previous album, Savoy was not short of New York references: There’s the wonderful laid-back vibe of ‘Girl One’ with its South Street Seaport setting and Byrds-like guitar, while the gorgeous snow-covered ‘Watertowers’ harked back to the White Album stylings of Lackluster Me.

By the time of the album’s recording, New York City was still coming to terms with the events of 9/11 and there’s a pervading sense of despair on the album; evident on tracks such as ‘Shooting Spree’, a Lennon-inspired narrative about a gunman who “Kills everyone that gets in the line of him and his gun/ Then shoots himself when he’s done”. And then there’s the brooding, funereal closer ‘Isotope’ which saw the band ruminating over environmental affairs against a soundscape of guitars, electronics and backwards effects; permeated throughout with some chilling death bells. Tensions were eased with the McCartney-like playfulness of ‘Bovine’ (“You have to be gifted/ To get me out of bed”) but Savoy’s ‘brown’ album was a largely sombre affair. There was no doubting the quality of the product, though, and the band deservedly received another Spellemannprisen nomination.

The album was dedicated to Lauren’s sister Deborah who had sadly passed away, and was released in Norway at the end of August 2004. The band toured there throughout September with new bassist Maya Vik, but Waaktaar’s attention was about to swing back to a-ha once more, with the recording of Analogue commencing in the spring of 2005.


Savoy – Savoy Songbook Vol.1 (2007 album)

“Savoy’s music lacks drama and ambition, the creative tension that characterizes a-ha at their best seems to disappear when the Waaktaar-Savoys are working in their home studio.” – Dagsavisen

“The new songs fit well together with newly arranged, but well-known, Savoy songs like, and make this ten-track album into a complete, but at times boring album.” – Dagbladet

“Pop with correction fluid – Savoy are more concerned about correcting old mistakes than risking potential new ones.” – Aftenposten

With Paul Waaktaar committed to a-ha for the next years, Savoy effectively went into hibernation, before re-emerging with the Savoy Songbook in 2007. Lauren Savoy’s only recording during this period had been a contribution to Anneli Drecker’s second solo album, Frolic in 2005 (a vocal part on the Blancmange-sampling, ‘The Monkey Trap’). Waaktaar also found time to add a vocal to ‘Goodbye Sweet Sorrow’, a track that features on the 2006 album Piece Of Paradise by Maya Vik’s band Furia.

Savoy’s next release represented something of a misstep for the band, a somewhat confused retrospective featuring an album of seven re-recordings and three new tracks, plus a second disc of previously released band favourites. Guest musicians included Rob Schwimmer, who would later contribute a theremin part to a-ha’s ‘Under The Make-up’.

Co-produced by Michael Ilbert, the album was recording in a highly productive two-week period at Loho Studios in New York. According to Waaktaar: “We recorded about 18 songs… we took the songs that we thought worked the best.” Lauren Savoy, however, had to be convinced about the inclusion of ‘Lackluster Me’ and pushed for more uptempo material to be included: “That’s how it’s always been with Paul,” she told NRK Radio. “He writes ballads, and then others have to convince him to increase the tempo. That’s what happened with a lot of the a-ha songs as well. ‘The Sun Always Shines On T.V.’, for example, started as a ballad.”

Arguably, a single CD compilation may have served as a better introduction to the band, who were using the opportunity to present their blend of melancholic indie pop to a wider audience. Of the new tracks presented, ‘Karma Boomerang’ impressed the most. Another New York-inspired track (the Grey Bar coffee house in Carmine Street), the catchy pop song was redolent of their Mountains Of Time period and duly released as a single in April 2007. Sadly, the somewhat leaden re-recordings rarely improved on the original tracks and the album attracted some mixed reviews when it was released (on the Universal label) in August 2007.

In May 2008 the three members of a-ha came together to showcase their side projects at some unique shows in both Oslo and the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London. Both Morten Harket and Magne Furuholmen had released new albums that month (Letters From Egypt and A Dot Of Black In The Blue Of Your Bliss, respectively), while the Genepool label had picked up the Savoy album for release that month. A dream ticket for a-ha fans, the three members each performed individual sets before coming together for songs old and new. Sadly, the Savoy Songbook wasn’t a big seller in the UK, and it remains to be seen whether there’ll be a second volume.

The next few years would see the release of a-ha’s ninth studio album Foot Of The Mountain and a new compilation album, appropriately titled 25. The band also embarked on the Ending On A High Note tour, a title which would prove something of a misnomer several years later!


Weathervane – Weathervane (2011 single)

“The beat is fierily electronic, the piano plays along resignedly, the tone is grandiosely sad… everything is as it should be in Waaktaar’s anxious universe.” – VG

In June 2011, Waaktaar released the Weathervane single, another collaboration with Jimmy Gnecco. Following a-ha’s farewell shows in December 2010, Waaktaar had been approached by filmmaker Morten Tyldum, who had been looking for a song for his new movie Hodejegerne (Headhunters). “At that point I had actually just written this song,” Waaktaar told VG. “This chance to front a new project again was just too good to let go. I like the way this has evolved. Weathervane hasn’t been put together on a whim – we have known each other for a long time and Jimmy has just the right vocal range that my songs need to reach their full potential.”

Musically, the single was an extension of the synthpop direction that had informed a-ha’s Foot Of The Mountain album and swansong ‘Butterfly, Butterfly (The Last Hurrah)’. Beginning with some lovely Elton John-esque piano and featuring a typically soaring chorus, the song would have been perfect for a-ha. The songs’ lyrics were steeped in melancholia, and detailed a scenario in which Waaktaar had been left at home for a week while Lauren Savoy holidayed in London: “So you’re going for a week to sort out your head/ So you left me here to keep things going”.

During interviews to promote the single, Waaktaar had hinted that the project with Gnecco would stretch to an album, but this never materialised. The next few years would see Waaktaar stockpiling songs for Savoy and other artists. In 2012, Waaktaar and Lauren Savoy helped out their studio engineer Eliot Leigh (who was using the pseudonym Infuze) on a dubstep recording titled ‘Far Away’, supplying lyrics and a guide vocal melody. Waaktaar also produced a song for Scent Of A Woman, a short film that Lauren Savoy had directed in 2013.

Waaktaar wrote and produced three songs for Linnea Dale’s 2014 album Good Goodbyes, namely ‘Better Without You’, ‘Sweet Life’ and ‘With Eyes Closed’. Waaktaar was certainly impressed with this particular project: “I loved her voice from the first moment,” he told VG. “This is the first time I’ve done something like this, and I liked it. It felt good; a different perspective.” Dale was a former Norwegian Idol finalist who had been mentored by Morten Harket. She also guested on synthpop act Donkeyboy’s album Caught In A Life, later performing with them as a support act for a-ha on the Foot Of The Mountain tour.

Waaktaar also appeared on Hågen Rørmark’s album Alt Eller Ingenting, performing drums on ‘Ensom Leter’. Rørmark had previously played harmonica on Savoy’s ‘Is My Confidence Reeling?’ and co-wrote ‘Undecided’, a bonus track on Morten Harket’s Out Of My Hands album.


Waaktaar – Manmade Lake (2014 single)


Another song that would have been perfect for a-ha was ‘Manmade Lake’. It had originally been pencilled in for release on Foot Of The Mountain, and Waaktaar surprised fans with a free download of this distorted oddity in February 2014. Waaktaar was certainly impressed with his lo-fi production: “It’s been a favourite of mine for a while,” he told a-ha.com. “It was written around the overdriven guitar riff in the outro and I’ve been looking for a way to present it. The voice is run through a guitar amp which I thought strengthened the mood and related to the words, particularly in the second verse. Sort of like a ground-to-air type voice.”

Plans to release an album under the Waaktaar name were aborted when a-ha announced a new album and tour in the spring of 2015. Following a-ha’s 2010 break-up, Paul and Morten had kept in touch and worked on new material… they just needed a reluctant Magne to green-light a reunion. The band eventually released their tenth studio album Cast In Steel in September 2015 and the project would keep Waaktaar busy until 2016.


Waaktaar and Zoe – World Of Trouble (2017 album)


With his a-ha commitments completed (for the time being at least), Waaktaar was able to turn his attention to the completion of both a new Savoy album (due later this year) and an album with singer Zoe Gnecco, released in February. Waaktaar discussed the origins of the recording of World Of Trouble during a Facebook Q&A: “The collaboration started when a-ha did its big goodbye tour in 2010,” he said. “I thought I would make a batch of songs that I could present for other artists to sing. I wrote about 13, 14 songs and asked Jimmy Gnecco if his daughter Zoe would be interested in singing a guide vocal on the demos. During the previous tour he had played me a snippet of her singing from his phone and I thought she had an absolute killer voice. The second I heard her voice on the tracks I felt she owned them.”

From the pool of songs that the New York-based duo recorded, some would eventually be reworked on a-ha’s Cast In Steel album, as confirmed to Superdeluxeedition recently: “The two albums were overlapping a little bit, so there are a few songs from that last a-ha album – ‘Under The Make-up’, ‘Cast In Steel’ and ‘Open Face’ – that Zoe sang first.”

Whilst Waaktaar had played most of the instruments on the album, a few musicians were drafted in to play on some of the tracks, including ‘Open Face’. Kurt Uenala, who has collaborated with Dave Gahan on recent Depeche Mode releases, including Spirit, played a synthesizer part on the track, giving it a pleasing commercial glaze. The album’s most electronic track, third single ‘Open Face’ certainly sounds like an a-ha song and it’s puzzling that it was overlooked in favour of inferior cuts such as ‘Door Ajar’.

The origins of ‘They To Me And I To Them’ could be traced back even further, to the early days of a-ha when titles like ‘She’s Humming A Tune’, ‘We’re Looking For The Whales’ and ‘Touchy!” formed part of a provisional list of debut album contenders. Some of the lyrics to ‘Beautiful Burnout’ stemmed from a demo version of ‘Foot Of The Mountain’, while ‘Winter Wants Me Empty’ was actually a cover of Savoy’s ‘Unsound’, with some lyrical tweaks. Meanwhile, the more politically-charged album closer, ‘The Sequoia Has Fallen’, had originally been inspired by a trip to the Redwood National Park in California in the early 1990s.

Whilst on paper World Of Trouble sounds like a collection of outtakes, it’s a actually an impressively cohesive album; with a production that often calls to mind Phil Spector. Certainly there’s a lovely 1960s feel to first single ‘Beautiful Burnout’, with its gorgeous strings and easygoing West Coast vocals. Gnecco certainly has a beautifully pure voice, boasting a maturity that belies her young years. And it’s a voice that’s perfectly suited to Waaktaar’s melancholic style of writing. “From the very first session I really just loved her voice and that super rich mid-range,” he told the BBC. “She was also very good at just zoning into the mood of the song, which I’m super sensitive to. I could see for every take we did, she would get closer and closer to where she needed to be. For me that was such a kick as a songwriter, because a lot of the times you have to make that up in the arrangement.”

“Here we are/ Hamsters in a wheel” sings Gnecco on the equally-impressive second single ‘Tearful Girl’. Her versatile voice is this time deployed in a more ethereal style, and there’s an effective use of toy piano and funky guitars. ‘Mammoth’ is as epic as its title suggests and features another of Waaktaar’s trademark soaring choruses, replete with some lovely harmonies. ‘They To Me And I To Them’, meanwhile, showcases Waaktaar’s considerable guitar-playing skills, and there’s some captivating imagery in the lyrics (“Monochrome-like pictures/ Adorn the entrance hall/ Floor-to-ceiling walnut shelves/ Embrace the wall”). Many fans will of course view this as a stop-gap release while they wait for new a-ha and Savoy releases; which is a shame, because World Of Trouble is an album that deserves to stand on its own merits and reach a wider audience.


http://waaktaar.com/
https://www.facebook.com/waaktaarpal
https://soundcloud.com/waaktaarpal
https://twitter.com/WaaktaarZoe

a-ha.com
https://www.facebook.com/officialaha/

Thanks to a-ha.com and Jan Omdahl, whose book The Swing Of Things was an invaluable resource during the writing of this article. Thanks also to a-ha-live.com for correcting some errors.

Special thanks to Sara Page.


Teclist: AIVIS, DUCKS! and DALHAM

This weeks tunes of choice alternate between the smooth synthpop of AIVIS, the lo-fi charms of DUCKS! and the analogue electronica of DALHAM.

AIVIS – Sky

Consisting of Aidan and Travis, the former from Scotland and the latter from the USA, the duo that make up AIVIS had a bit of an issue with geographical distance to contend with. This didn’t stop the pair working together over the internet, a collaboration that delivered the smooth synthpop warmth of ‘The Wilderness’.

Now a new song has been unveiled by the pair in the form of ‘Sky’. The accompanying video for the song is a sort of travelogue, which shows Aidan in the US as Travis takes him around Chicago and the pair share cultural exchanges (such as introducing Irn-Bru to America). As for ‘Sky’ itself, it continues in the tradition that AIVIS have been cultivating with a particular electronic warmth topped out by a smooth vocal delivery from Aidan. The track has an effective and polished production at its heart, which delivers a crisp slice of electronic pop. In an interview with The Pansentient League website, Aidan described the music of AIVIS as “Catchy emotional insidious glitchy electronic pop”, which sums things up nicely.

‘Sky’ is available via Spotify https://goo.gl/M8quTy, iTunes https://goo.gl/J0mW5J and Amazon https://goo.gl/L3lXva

http://aiv.is
https://www.facebook.com/AIVISofficial/


Ducks! – Giant World

Ducks! consists of Lani Bagley and Craig Schuftan, Berlin-based Australians who have been crafting their own style of electronic music since 2014. The pair released their debut album Ding Ding Ding last year and have also recorded music for art-world memoirs and surrealist radio adventures.

‘Giant World’ has a crunchy, lof-fi quality to it. It’s a track with a beguiling combination of electronics and indistinct elements that lend the whole composition a certain charm.

‘Giant World’ is taken from their new album Nak Nak which the duo describe as an album that will “explore the life aquatic, from tiny ponds and rock pools to great, dark oceans; from the imaginary childhood sea of blue crepe waves and paper fish hung from coat hangers, to the real thing; huge, teeming with life, but so alien to the everyday world of humans that it might as well be outer space”.

https://soundcloud.com/ducksmakemusic
https://www.facebook.com/ducksmakingmusic/
https://twitter.com/Ducksmakemusic


Dalham – Waves

Waves by Dalham
There’s an oddly unsettling tone to Dalham’s cinematic soundscapes. An electronic producer who cites influences ranging from from science fiction scores, late ’90s era Warp and modern hip hop, debut album Waves will appeal to fans of the likes of Boards Of Canada.

Gems such as ‘New Sun’ and ‘Prism’ offer up an immersive ocean of analogue delights, while ‘DXX’ is an oddly hypnotic, discordant affair.

https://dalham.bandcamp.com/album/waves


LO FIVE When It’s Time To Let Go

Exploring the landscape soundtracks of Lo Five…

Described by its creator, Neil Grant as “deep landscape electronics” and “an album of wild spaces and intimate rooms”, the sentiments behind this debut album will not fail to resonate with the listener.

The slower tracks lend themselves to a meditation routine. An abundance of wind chimes soothes away the strains of the day and transport you to a place that moves to the beat of a slower drum. This album could quite easily form a natural soundtrack down at Ibiza’s Cafe del Mar, reminiscent of the Jose Padilla years.

‘Infantile progenitor’ kick-starts this debut album into life with its toy piano and chimes or could they be ice cream van chimes? You decide, but it is a given it will stir up childhood memories of summers past.

Natural sounds are woven into layers of electronic sound bites throughout the album. Seagulls on the Dee Estuary and a mandolin open up the ‘Cadaver trap’ conveying an immediate sense of loss. Halfway through, a burst of birdsong again fuses with a musical box that is being wound up before being fed into a constant steady electronic rhythm.

‘Interdependents’ unites a harp with a xylophone, clinking and glinting away like sunlight through glass. ‘Mental formation’ from the first bar has a repetitive, simple beat conjuring a racing mind from the outset and is sure to keep the electro purists happy.

‘Sabre Confusion’ is the stand out track. Fuzzy and distorted at first, with the sound of clinking glass underpinned with a heavy bass line. I was fortunate to witness this track played live at a fashionable hang out in Neil’s home city of Liverpool earlier this year. The music blended perfectly in the minimalist venue and certainly captured the audience’s attention.

‘Pivotal moment’, opens with wind turbines out in the Irish Sea, before the mood changes, taking on a sinister tone. There is distortion, much crackling, like a vinyl record about to spring into life. This could very easily be transformed into a piece of incidental music in a film where we are about to bear witness to some terrifying scene.

‘I’d like to be’, sets off with a slow drum beat and tiny, clinking bells like temple music in some far flung destination complete with distorted dialogue and laughter. It’s a day dream about yearning for Goa as we sit in our workplaces huddled over our computers chasing deadlines.

‘Death to innovation’ has a metronomic quality to it, beating and clanking away methodically, something to regulate a racing heart after exercise or perfect come down music after a night out. ‘Machinations of the world’ starts with rain cascading down and merges seamlessly with the percussion section and piano into a gently flowing harmonious river of sound.

‘Leave you alone’ is interwoven with ghostly voices trying to communicate via a telephone leading into penultimate track, aptly entitled ‘Almost’, which combines dramatic bursts of piano interspersed with computerised voices.

‘Emergence of something familiar’, evokes feelings of a happy ending. We have emerged the other side, stronger and wiser, feeling euphoric.

This album is all about taking us on a journey. Different stop off points evoke different memories and emotions. It is a multi utility piece of music. It is music for discussion, late night around a coffee table with friends or to relax to alone through headphones. One thing is certain, it is something the likes of which you will not have heard anywhere before.


When It’s Time To Let Go is available now from Patterned Air.

http://patternedair.com/lo-five/

Neil Grant is the curator of ‘Emotion Wave’, a platform for performing electronic artists which meets bimonthly at 81 Renshaw Street, Liverpool. For further details of forthcoming events please follow Lo Five on Facebook and Twitter.


An Interview With MATT BROCK of DICEPEOPLE

Delving into the darkwave secrets of one of London’s electropop delights…

The release of their Synthetic EP caught our ears recently, but DICEPEOPLE have been putting out their own brand of dark electronic pop since 2013. Consisting of Matt Brock (musician, songwriter and producer), Atashi Tada (vocalist) and Rafael Filomeno (visual artist), the outfit have also dazzled audiences with their compelling live performances.

Dicepeople have a special gig in London coming up this month when they perform at Electrowerkz alongside Das Fluff and Healthy Junkies. Matt Brock kindly took time out to chat to The Electricity Club about the inspirations behind Dicepeople’s concept and also about their particular approach to live performances…


There’s a cinematic quality to much of your music and you cite the likes of David Lynch and David Cronenberg as influences. Are there any films in particular which sum up the ethos of Dicepeople for you?

I’m often told that Dicepeople music feels like the soundtrack to something, and indeed I aim to create an intense filmic atmosphere in our songs. Rafael (our visual artist) and I are heavily influenced by cinema for our sounds, visuals and concepts. Lynch’s Lost Highway is a fantastic example of a film fusing strong imagery with sound and music to create an extremely immersive experience. Cronenberg’s Videodrome is another huge influence for us with its exploration of very dark themes involving control, voyeurism and the nature of reality as shown via layers of screens (a recurring theme in Dicepeople).

How important are the visual aspects of your shows?

Visual projections tend to be an “add on” for many bands, and often that works well and there’s nothing wrong with that, but for Dicepeople the visual aspects are a core part of what we do. We rarely do a performance without the visuals, and for our live shows just as much planning goes into the visuals as the music. We aim to bring together a true audiovisual show featuring synchronised music and images, with us as mysterious characters onstage summoning up the immersive music and images through the smoke and darkness. We also like to dress onstage in various interesting ways to further enhance the experience and put on the best show we can for the audience.

Are there significant technical challenges in prepping for performances?

Incorporating the visual aspects definitely makes things a lot more complex, as we need to figure out what kind of imagery to fit with the music and how best to sync the two together. In addition to the regular rehearsals which most bands require, we also need a significant amount of time to work through the technical aspects and test that it all works together as intended. It adds many variables to the live environment, which are also highly dependent on the location since each venue is different, so getting everything set up for our live performances can be quite challenging. Many venues provide screens and projectors we can use, but quite a few don’t, so in those situations we need to factor in setting up our own screens and projector. It’s good to have these challenges, and we always learn something new each time.

What sort of gear setup does the band employ for live shows?

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For a while on the musical side I broke down each song into individual clips onto twelve tracks in Ableton, then I used Launchpad controllers to basically control the entire arrangement in real time, which allowed us to restructure each song on the fly. It was a very interesting way of doing things, but I ended up missing the performance side so now I use a controller keyboard to play musical parts and trigger samples.

Before a gig I spend quite a bit of time creating the backing tracks specially, which are often quite different to the original versions of the songs. These backing tracks are triggered in Ableton along with MIDI sequences and the live keyboard parts, which in turn I can process in different ways using my controller keyboard. Rafael uses Resolume with a MIDI controller on the video side, with his laptop connected to the projector. We generally set up an ethernet network onstage so we can transmit MIDI data back and forth to synchronise audio and video parts.

I also program the sequences for our stage lights in Ableton which are converted into DMX data using various plugins and sent over ethernet to the DMX controller to trigger the lights as needed. When Atashi Tada is performing vocals with us, she uses her own microphone and multi-effects box, so her side of things is relatively straightforward.

What are your immediate plans for the future of Dicepeople?

We’re trying out a new visual concept at our Electrowerkz show on the 22nd. I won’t give away what it is, but we’ve been posting some clues on our Facebook page! We’re working hard on that now and I hope it’ll be a really interesting performance which the audience will love. We’ll be looking to incorporate some of these ideas into future performances.

There are discussions in the works for future shows involving some other really great artists, and we’re working on a new album which will hopefully be out later this year. We’ve also recorded a cover of a Depeche Mode track for an upcoming compilation of Mute Records cover versions. It’s been a very busy year so far with the release of the Synthetic EP and video, plus various London gigs, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of things slowing down!



Dicepeople will be performing live at Electrowerkz on Saturday 22nd April alongside Das Fluff and Healthy Junkies.

Tickets available via http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/272919

http://dicepeople.com

https://dicepeople.bandcamp.com/track/synthetic

http://www.facebook.com/dicepeople

http://twitter.com/dicepeople

 

 

 

 


EMPATHY TEST Bare My Soul

Atmospheric synthpop touches the soul…

The dulcet tones of EMPATHY TEST are keeping an industrious schedule following on from the polished perfection of ‘By My Side’. Now the electronic outfit return with a new tune in the form of the scintillating synthpop of ‘Bare My Soul’.

We’re not quite sure if the duo of Isaac Howlett (vocals) and Adam Relf (production) have a masterplan at work behind the scenes, but it’s clear that with the latest release they’re raising the bar in terms of their songwriting craft.

Here on ‘Bare My Soul’, the soaring melodies and heartfelt lyrics have a particular power that manages to undo all those tired old tropes about synthpop being cold and unemotional in one song.

The lyrics offer up brief vignettes, each of which manage to elicit the idea of something being both “tragic and beautiful”. At the same time, there’s a subtle building up of layers of electronic elements that culminates in a powerful delivery that’s both mythical and melodious.

‘Bare My Soul’ and ‘By My Side’ both follow on from from the 2016 double A-side single ‘Demons’/’Seeing Stars’. These tunes are all culled from Empathy Test’s forthcoming album release, titled Safe From Harm, which is due out this June. The album is being supported by a PledgeMusic campaign and will be accompanied by a new single release, which will be the album’s title track.

Empathy Test continue to deliver warm, evocative synthpop that manages to cross many boundaries. There’s a cinematic quality to their material married with an emotional impact, offering a rare quality in the current music scene.


‘Bare My Soul’ is out now. Safe From Harm is released 23rd June.

EmpathyTest.com
Soundcloud.com/EmpathyTest
Facebook.com/EmpathyTest
https://twitter.com/empathytest


An Interview With CAROLINE McLAVY

The emotive electropop of CAROLINE McLAVY will be one of the treats for the forthcoming Silicon Dreams event this July. The Electricity Club sat down with Caroline for a few questions about her life, music and plans for the future….

Tell me a little about your music background in running rehearsal rooms in Leicester. What did that involve?

Still very much involved in providing rehearsal space for bands in Leicester. We have 9 fully equipped hourly rooms. Most of my time is taking up managing the rooms and equipment and dealing with boys in bands!

What bands or artists have had the biggest influence on your tastes in music?

Pet Shop Boys have been a big influence. I was able to attend the NME Awards this year to see them win the God-Like Genius Award. Other influences would be bands like New Order and Faithless. I feel a great reverence to synthpop forefathers like Gary Numan, Human League and Eurythmics; it was first hearing those timeless classic synth sounds on the radio that really embedded into my DNA.

How did the process of writing and recording the songs for Electrostatic get started?

I’d been ‘song writing’ as a teenager, where I would write lyrics and melody simultaneously. I knew at the time that the songs I wanted to produce were synth and electronic based, so I found a cupboard at work (it was literally my arm span in width and depth) and built a little studio. My friend at the time, Mark Spivey, who was a DJ and had produced and engineered various artists in the ’90s, worked with me as an engineer to create the bones of Electrostatic. I then finished the album with Richard Henderson in his studio, where we produced the end project.

At times, there’s a focus on darker, personal topics on some of your songs, but the tracks on Electrostatic, on the whole, have an up-tempo dancepop approach to them. Was this a deliberate contrast of styles and approach?

Yeah, I do have a fondness for an upbeat tune with deeper more complex or darker lyrics. I think it allows the listener to feel the song in their own way. As a surface dance pop song in a club or more meaningfully in headphones. It’s about personal interpretation and I like that in a song.

‘Miss Perfect’ is one of the standout tracks on the album. It’s apparently inspired by housemates in the past. Are there any funny stories you can recall from those days?

Thank you. Yes, it is inspired by people who I have lived with or generally had to deal with in my life. It’s easier to stand back and put a mirror up against someone else’s life than it is your own. The song describes several different ‘Miss Perfects’ and I would often find myself thinking; ‘Man, if I was as pretty as you/had your job/had your opportunities/had your boyfriend, I would handle things in a completely different way.’ But then I suppose they would say the same thing about me if they ever bothered to have that thought process.

What are your thoughts on performing live?

I feel it’s important to me to get out there and play live as much as I can. Often electronic music has a human disconnect by its nature that playing live can put back into the music. It puts blood into the veins of the songs – if that makes any sense.

Are there any contemporary electronic acts that you’ve been impressed by recently?

Recently, I discovered Future Islands, I love their passion and sentiment. Other bands I find myself going back to regularly are Hurts, Owl City, The Killers – I’m a real fan of Brandon Flowers solo albums. I’m so looking forward to playing with Parralox and Future Perfect at Silicon Dreams in July.

What’s next for Caroline McLavy?

I have some more live shows coming up but generally next I’m working on some new material. It’s early days, but I’ve been back in the studio with Rich with some new ideas. I’m still feeling the approach of this next album and it’s very exciting for me to be writing again.



http://www.carolinemclavy.co.uk

Electrostatic is out now and available from Spotify, Deezer, iTunes, GooglePlay and Amazon.

Caroline McLavy will be performing live at Silicon Dreams Festival 8th-9th July 2017.

Silicon Dreams is an electronic music festival taking place at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall Music Room and will feature performances from Parralox, Avec Sans, Future Perfect, Berlyn Trilogy, Caroline McLavy and Voi Vang. More details: www.silicondreams.org.uk.


MARNIE Lost Maps

Smooth contemporary synthpop both strange and weird…

With the release of her first solo album Crystal World back in 2013, Helen Marnie demonstrated that she was just as adept at operating under her own steam as working within the group dynamic of Ladytron. Keeping to a tried and tested template of solid electronic compositions, the album nonetheless provided Marnie with a fresh canvas to paint on.

Now a new Marnie release is scheduled for release in the form of Strange Words And Weird Wars. In development for the past 2 years, the album features 10 new tracks which take up the story from Crystal World.

Influenced by life, love, loss, politics and all things ’80s pop, Strange Words And Weird Wars has been described as a contemporary pop album with an intelligence and depth.

The first track to surface from the new album was the sublime electronic goodness of ‘Alphabet Block’. An accomplished slice of synthpop and smooth percussive beats, the new tune was described by Marnie herself as “shoe-gaze electropop”.

‘Lost Maps’ is the latest track to be unveiled from the album and treads a similar path. There’s a muscular crunchy synth bed to the song which is interleaved with layers of electronic effects beneath a confident vocal from Marnie herself. Meanwhile, the promo video takes the idea of being lost and searching for something and transforms it into an intriguing narrative (featuring Marnie in a cameo role).

A further pre-release track ‘Electric Youth’, which is reckoned to be “channeling ’80s mall pop”, drops on 12th May.

The forthcoming release might have some Ladytron fans concerned about future releases from the electropop 4-some, although Marnie has been at pains to insist that more Ladytron is on the way in the future. Meanwhile, the arrival of Strange Words And Weird Wars this summer will keep fans of contemporary synthpop happy for a while yet.


Strange Words And Weird Wars is released 2nd June 2 2017 on Disco Pinata.

Pre-order the album on iTunes here (http://apple.co/2nHdZh9) and receive ‘Alphabet Block’ and ‘Lost Maps’ immediately and ‘Electric Youth’ on 12th May.

www.helenmarnie.com


KELLY LEE OWENS Kelly Lee Owens

Fragmented aesthetic tunes offer intrigue…

Perhaps the most striking thing about the debut album from Kelly Lee Owens is its fractured nature. At heart an electronic album, the tracks contained within dart between ambient soundscapes and beat-driven compositions.

Owens, who originally grew up in Wales, has been a fixture of the London music scene since becoming bassist for The History Of Apple Pie. She’s also worked for Pure Groove Records, Rough Trade and, in more recent times, Sister Ray. It was during her Pure Groove stint that she met Daniel Avery, who asked her to supply vocals for his track ‘Drone Logic’. That led to co-writing some of the tracks that later featured on the album of the same name.

Having found the confidence to start producing music on her own, it was a short step for Owens to start writing and composing her own material. The result is her eponymous debut, which manages to elicit a range of responses depending on which tracks you’re playing.

Take the gauzy ambience of opening track ‘S.O’ which manages to drop the listener into a warm, immersive cocoon. ‘Arthur’ (a tribute to avant-garde composer Arthur Russell), on the other hand, opens with a soundscape of birdsong and nature sounds. Later, it weaves in subliminal beats combined with a breathy, indistinct vocal.

So far, so atmospheric. But when the fragmented ‘Anxi.’ starts up, there’s another gear change of sorts. Featuring the talents of acclaimed Norwegian artist Jenny Hval, ‘Anxi.’ is an intriguing dreamlike composition featuring an amalgamation of dreampop, spoken lyrics and glitchy electronica.

It’s an album that certainly has no problem switching up the rules for song writing. In Owen’s eyes, some of her work passes as ‘songs’ (compositions with a traditional arrangement) through to ‘tracks’ that are more loose, dance-orientated tunes and ‘hybrids’ which merge the two together.

‘Lucid’ is one of Owens’ earlier compositions, one which falls into the camp of ‘hybrid’. The evocative strings that underpin the track gives it a strength that makes it one of the standout cuts from the album. It also suggests that Owens can work on a broader musical palette if the mood takes her.

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‘Evolution’ opts for a journey into the throbbing bass territory with a minimalist glitch approach. Meanwhile, ‘Bird’ returns to the use of strings, overlaid here with an oddly hypnotic music box melody. The track builds up as it goes, adding on bass rhythms to give it a low-rent techno appeal.

There’s definitely a callback to early Grimes for ‘Throwing Lines’ whose ethereal layered vocals over spacey electronics sounds like it could have been drawn directly from albums such as Halfaxa.

‘CBM’ has an hypnotic, dubby feel to it as electronic beats underpin a slightly fragmented vocal. Elsewhere, there’s an airy quality to ‘Keep Walking’ which at times sounds like something that’s escaped from a 4AD release.

Album closer ‘8’ is an epic, hypnotic soundscape of drone and gossamer vocals that take on a choral quality.

Kelly Lee Owens, as an album, is drawing critical praise from a range of commentators. Certainly there’s a lot of interesting things going on here, although it’s probably too loose and fragmented to be a completely cohesive body of work. But Owens is clearly someone with a voice and with an interest in exploration. Her debut album provides an intriguing foundation, but it’s what comes next that’s going to convince us to continue exploring with her.


Kelly Lee Owens is out now on Smalltown Supersound

kellyleeowens.bandcamp.com/
www.facebook.com/kellyleeowens/
www.smalltownsupersound.com


Ikutaro Kakehashi 1930 – 2017

The passing of Roland’s founder marks the end of an era…

Ikutaro Kakehashi was a visionary whose work in the world of electronic music has helped to shape and hone it into a revolution that continues into the modern era.

Born in Osaka in 1930, Kakehashi grew up in Japan’s turbulent pre-war period. His childhood was marked by tragedy when his parents passed away when he was just 2-years-old. In his teenage years, he divided his time studying engineering while also working in Japan’s shipyards. Health issues unfortunately prevented him from enrolling in university and in 1946 he relocated to Japan’s southern-most island Kyushu where he took up employment as a geographical survey assistant.

Kakehashi had a keen interest in music and technology, which he explored as a sideline to his new business venture in watch repair. Working with short-wave radios meant that he could receive foreign broadcasts – and he also helped to repair radio sets as part of his business.

More misfortune struck him when he contracted tuberculosis, which left him spending many years in convalescence. Despite the poor prognosis for his future, Kakehashi was selected for treatment with a new drug which restored him to health and enabled him to return to Osaka.

Keen to expand his accumulated knowledge about electronics, he set up a new business dealing with electrical repair work – a business that later became Ace Electrical Company. Ace provided him with the platform to start exploring musical applications for his skills, particularly the idea of electronic instrumentation.

Although this work initially featured the design of organs and guitar amplifiers, the first real fruits of his labour consisted of the development of the Ace Tone FR1 Rhythm Ace. With 16 preset patterns and the ability to mix those rhythms, this unit laid the foundations for the rhythm units that would be later be part of Roland’s legacy.

Kakehashi was also keen to take his products overseas, which meant having a presence at the NAMM trade show in the US. He also established a business relationship with Hammond Organs, which proved a valuable partnership and helped to establish Kakesahsi’s products for a global market.

In 1972, due to a business issue in which Kakehashi found himself as a minor shareholder in his own company, he decided to strike out on his own with a new venture.

Still focussed on expanding globally, Kakehashi was keen for the new company to have a name that was easy to pronounce for foreign markets. The simple 2- syllable word “Roland” (which was taken from a telephone directory) suited Kakehashi perfectly.

Roland’s legacy in the world of electronic music is a lengthy record that’s not easy to sum up in one article. But it’s a business that’s marked with several significant developments that, in some cases, have had a revolutionary impact on the music industry.

1973 marked the release of Roland’s SH-1000, which was one of Japan’s first synthesisers. Although crude by modern standards, this monophonic analogue synth proved popular with the likes of Vangelis and The Human League.

The mid 1970s also saw the development of Roland’s first modular synths. Although this started out with the classic semi-modular System 100, Roland later introduced the System 700. Looking more like something at home on the set of a science fiction film, this modular unit was a truly professional bit of kit that required a very knowledgeable hand in order to get the best out of it. Producer Martin Rushent had one, as used for The Human League’s Dare album (which also used Roland’s Jupiter-4 and an MC8).

Roland’s ventures into the effects market is also significant. Their work on tape-echo units paved the way for the classic Space Echo series. Meanwhile, Kakehashi formed a subsidiary company, which later became Boss – a name that would later become synonymous with effects units.

Roland also moved into the field of sequencers, with the MC-8 MicroComposer being one of their early products. Technopop outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra were one of the first bands to utilise the MC-8 (which was programmed by “fourth” YMO member Hideki Matsutake). The MC-8 had a whopping 16k of RAM(!) which allowed it store over 5,000 notes. Data could also be saved to cassette. As well as bands such as YMO, synthpop outfit Landscape were also an early adopter of the unit.

YMO also made use of Roland’s VP-330, a vocoder-enhanced synth, which can be heard on the robotic intro to ‘Technopolis’.

In 1978, Roland released the CR-78 CompuRhythm, a programmable drum machine whose range of presets and ability to change sounds brought it into the favour of many bands of the late ’70s and early ’80s, including Blondie, Gary Numan and Ultravox. John Foxx utilised it for his Metamatic album, but the sound of the CR-78 is perhaps best typified by OMD’s classic ‘Enola Gay’.

But perhaps Roland’s most well known product is the TR-808 Rhythm Composer. Released in 1980, this programmable drum machine was a commercial failure on its release (and was actually discontinued in 1983). However, that didn’t stop the 808 achieving cult status.

Originally developed as a competitor to the Linn LM-1 drum machine, the 808 didn’t do a great job at reproducing traditional acoustic percussion sounds (unlike the Linn which actually used samples of real drums). Instead, the 808 was notable for its futuristic, synthetic sounds – particularly the powerful bass.


Naturally, YMO were one of the first bands to get to try the 808 out. Their track ‘1000 Knives’ (actually a re-recorded version of a track that Ryuichi Sakamoto had recorded for his solo album) was the first studio recording to make use of the 808.

Listening to a lot of YMO’s material at the time, it’s not difficult to isolate the use of the 808 and see the elements that would be adopted by much of the hip-hop and dance outfits of the 1980s.

The 808 was used by the likes of Marvin Gaye (‘Sexual Healing’) and, in particular, Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force for ‘Planet Rock’. ‘Planet Rock’ is considered to be one of the foundations of modern hip-hop as well as popularising the use of the 808 (its use of Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ also demonstrated the reach that electronic music was having).

Meanwhile, the 808 went on to be used by the likes of Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy. It was also used by the likes of Depeche Mode, Howard Jones, Trevor Horn, Talking Heads, New Order, Blancmange, Jean-Michel Jarre (Rendez-Vous) and Cocteau Twins.

In 1981, Kakehashi proposed the idea of standardising a system by which synthesisers could “talk” to one another. The likes of Oberheim and Sequential Circuits found merit in the idea and the suggestion was then expanded to include all of the major manufacturers at the time, including Korg, Moog, Yamaha and Kawai.

The result was the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI. It revolutionised electronic music because it allowed one device to be controlled from another, cutting down the amount of kit that bands required. It also saw a boost in technology to take advantage of this new standard, particularly for home-based musicians. Later commenting on MIDI’s impact, Kakehashi said “It’s already been 30 years since the debut of MIDI protocol in 1983, but it seems to me that those years have passed so quickly. Electronic musical instruments have become very popular all over the world through this time, and it is my great pleasure that MIDI played a significant role in their prevalence”.

But synthesisers were also still part of Roland’s developments, including synths such as the SH-101. Introduced in 1982, this 32-key monophonic synth became very popular among a wide variety of synthpop artists. Because it was portable, it was also possible for artists to perform with it on stage by use of a strap and neck grip. It’s a synth that’s been used by Vince Clarke, OMD (The rolling bass sequence on ‘Locomotion’ is down to the SH-101) and Apollo 440. Even today, contemporary electronic artists such as Boards Of Canada still use it.

One of Roland’s first polyphonic synths was the Jupiter-4. Launched in 1978, this synth went on to be used by Tangerine Dream, Gary Numan, Thomas Dolby, Depeche Mode, The Human League and David Bowie. This series continued in the form of the Jupiter-8, an 8-voice polyphonic synth that arrived in 1981. It was a standard synth for OMD throughout the Junk Culture and Crush eras having first been introduced to the band by Howard Jones. It also saw use from Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Tony Visconti and appears on Roxy Music’s Avalon.


The mid-1980s saw some particularly significant changes in music technology, particularly the arrival of digital synths – heralded by the likes of Yamaha’s ubiquitous DX7 and, later, Korg’s M1.

Stepping into this competitive market, Roland’s D-50 was a 16-voice digital synth which had the advantage over the DX7 as being easier to programme. The D-50 also employed Roland’s Linear Arithmetic Synthesis (better known as LA Synthesis), a method of giving digital sounds a much more authentic feel. Ultimately, Roland lost this particular battle to the Korg M1, but demonstrated that as a company they could evolve and keep pace with the competition.

Takehashi’s philosophy was summed up in a book he penned called I Believe In Music, but he was also known for his wisdom in interviews and other book contributions, such as his comments for the 2005 book The Art Of Digital Music: “There are two types of musical artists. One type – for example, classical musicians – tries to recreate music. They follow the score exactly, as if they wanted to reach a target. But other musicians want to create something new. Electronic musical instruments are perfect for them. One group wants to escape the fixed mind, and the other is chasing ‘What is the best music?’ Both are very pure people [laughs], but different ones.”

In 2001 Kakehashi relinquished the role of chairman with Roland, instead taking a consultancy role to the company. His achievements were honoured by being awarded a Musikmesse International Press Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He was also given a Technical Grammy Award (alongside Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits) in 2013.

Without Ikutaro Kakehashi’s vision and his captaincy of Roland, the state of the music industry would have been a very different landscape indeed. His legacy is marked by the countless bands, artists and songs that have employed the gear that Roland developed – and it’s a legacy that’s still very much in effect for modern electronic music today.


www.roland.com