2017 – The Year In Review

2017 has been an eventful year in the world of electronic music, particularly here in the UK which saw some of the classic acts back in action. But it also saw the emergence of some talented contemporary electronic acts as well. Here’s TEC’s review of the year along with our contributor’s lists of songs and albums that they rated in 2017…


2017 started off in a strange place for The Electricity Club as it found itself in a position to discard the accumulated baggage of many years and give the site a ‘soft reboot’. With an agenda that was focussed purely on music, it was a foundation that provided a sturdy structure for the months ahead.

January saw Austra make a triumphant return with their third studio album Future Politics. Along with lead single ‘Utopia’, the album was a reflection of our times as we entered into a turbulent period in global politics. TEC’s review summed up the album as “…a more intimate and personal approach than previous outings”.

TEC favourites Lola Dutronic also made a welcome return, first with a sequel to their classic ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’ (now updated to reflect some of the losses music suffered in 2016 such as Lemmy, David Bowie and Prince). We interviewed Lola Dutronic to get some gain some insight into how the globally distant pair produce their music. The duo also managed to bookend the year with a further release when they released the wonderful ‘My Name Is Lola’.

Vitalic came back with the stunning Voyager album. Pascal Arbez’s crunchy flavour of muscular beats and hook-laden melodies was present and correct on his new outing. Tracks such as ‘Waiting For The Stars’ suggested an unabashed nod to Arbez’s favourite ’70s and ’80s songs with a Moroder-esque beat driving this squelchy and engaging electropop wonder. Meanwhile, ‘Sweet Cigarette’ offered up a homage to The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’.

TEC’s Lost Album series delivered some eclectic choices from the vaults for consideration. This included U96’s Replugged, Kon Kan’s Syntonic and Gary Numan’s 1994 album Sacrifice, a release which Barry Page suggested held the keys to the future: “Whilst the album often suffers from its use of some rather unimaginative and repetitive drum loops, the album put Numan firmly back on track.”

Sweden’s Sailor And I, meanwhile, offered up brooding, glacial pop on debut album The Invention Of Loneliness. TEC also spoke to musician Alexander Sjödin, the brains behind the outfit, who summed up his methods thus: “I use music as a kind of meditation. I get into this mood where I turn everything else off and just run as far as I can every time”.

In March, Goldfrapp returned to the fold with new album Silver Eye. While it was a serviceable outing of the glam synth workings that the duo had traded on previously, it was also bereft of many surprises or challenges. A return to Felt Mountain glories seems overdue.

Throughout the year, we were won over by a whole host of emerging electronic acts that caught our attention. This included the “ruptured melodies” of Jupiter-C (a duo championed by the likes of Clint Mansell). The “multi-utility music” of Liverpool’s Lo Five drew our focus to the wonders of the Patterned Air label. Elsewhere, the electro-acoustic sounds of Autorotation provided their own charm while the crunchy qualities of Cotton Wolf also suggested an act worth keeping an eye on.

With the 8th March traditionally being International Women’s Day, we thought it was time to add a twist to it by suggesting an International Women In Electronic Music Day. While the commentary of the likes of Lauren Mayberry (Chvrches) and Claire Boucher (Grimes) had blazed the trail for a level playing field for women, it was still depressing to see tone-deaf blog articles that were essentially ‘Birds With Synths’ being offered up as support.

One of our choices for that esteemed list, Hannah Peel, managed to deliver two albums of note in 2017. The personal journey of Awake But Always Dreaming (inspired by her family’s encounter with dementia) and also the magical world of Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia – an album which our review summed up as “a testament to Hannah Peel’s seemingly endless abilities to craft new and intriguing ideas out of the ether. It’s a cosmic journey that delivers.”

Hopes were high that Basildon’s finest could deliver a solid return to form with their 14th studio album Spirit. But the album divided critics and fans alike on a release which TEC’s review summed up succinctly: “…as impressive as it is lyrically, it’s an often challenging and unsettling listen that doesn’t quite meet up to its billing as “the most energized Depeche Mode album in years.””

Despite the controversy, Depeche Mode still managed to put on their biggest ever UK show, with over 80,000 attendees at London Stadium in June this year.

Elsewhere, another of the old guard was also facing a productive year. Marc Almond released new compilation album Hits And Pieces, which spanned his extensive career from Soft Cell through to his more recent solo work. Although not as comprehensive as 2016’s Trials Of Eyeliner, TEC’s review suggested “…the new compilation offers a more concise selection of music that still manages to cover Almond’s extensive musical career in fine style”.

April saw TEC looking at the dark wave delights of Dicepeople, whose ‘Synthetic’ offered up “brooding gothic synth melodies against a burbling electronic background”. But their cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Strangelove’ showed the outfit could also deliver muscular electropop that still retained their own unique style. Speaking to Dicepeople’s Matt Brock in an exclusive interview, TEC discovered the band’s strong cinematic touchstone. “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).”

Marnie released her follow-up to 2013’s Crystal World in the form of Strange Words And Weird Wars. The album demonstrated the Ladytron member’s knack for tunes, which our review summed up as “…a solid album of contemporary electropop that listeners will find intelligent, engaging and yet also fun. Strange Words And Weird Wars is a continuing demonstration on why Marnie is one of electronic music’s most precious assets”.

The emerging generation of electronic artists kept producing new acts of interest throughout 2017. Pixx (who cropped up on our radar after supporting Austra) released The Age Of Anxiety, which our review described as “an album that offers up a combination of smart pop tunes married with thoughtful lyrics”. Hannah Rodgers, the talent behind Pixx, also addressed the surge of nostalgia and retro acts with a philosophical quote: “There are a lot of people who are just trying to recreate things that have already been done, because they’re almost scared of the way modern music sounds, but we do have technology now that allows us to make quite insane-sounding music. And… we are in 2017”.

Kelly Lee Owens was another emerging artist who released her eponymous debut this year. The TEC review summed it up: “At heart an electronic album, the tracks contained within dart between ambient soundscapes and beat-driven compositions”.

AIVIS, a new act that had come to TEC’s attention via The Pansentient League’s Jer White, delivered their debut album Constellate. As with acts such as Lola Dutronic, AIVIS consists of a duo located in separate countries – in this case Aidan from Scotland and Travis based in Ohio. Their use of harmonies and warm synths led us to conclude that “Constellate is a smooth collection of subtle electropop”.

Irish outfit Tiny Magnetic Pets had a good year in which they released a new album and went on to support OMD. The 3-piece unit had made their UK and European live debut back in 2015 championed by Johnny Normal. Now in 2017 they brought new release Deluxe/Debris to bear. TEC’s review gave the album an honest appraisal: “They’ve got the chops to push the envelope, but there are times on this album where, arguably, the band appear happier playing from a safe position. When they introduce their more experimental side, or opt for a more dynamic approach, Tiny Magnetic Pets shine brightest”.

Voi Vang’s powerful voice and dancepop sensibilities made her one of the star turns of 2017. Meanwhile, Twist Helix woke us up with their “dramatic tunes and big, euphoric vocal melodies”. Our Teclist reviews also had good things to say about Elektrisk Gønner, OSHH and Russian outfit Oddity.

Elsewhere, the classic synthpop acts still had a strong showing this year. Erasure released the downbeat World Be Gone, a more reflective album that was heavily influenced by the troubling political climate (a persistent theme for many other releases this year). OMD returned with the follow-up to 2013’s English Electric with The Punishment Of Luxury. The album wore its Kraftwerk influences on its sleeve for a lot of the tracks, while the title number offered a commentary on commercial culture.

German pioneers Kraftwerk brought their 3D experience back to the UK and TEC’s Rob Rumbell offered his thoughts on their Nottingham concert: “…sensory overload… which left you awe-inspired and breathless”.

Blancmange presented a superb compilation of their first three albums titled The Blanc Tapes which we summed up as “the perfect archive for Blancmange’s often-overlooked musical legacy.” Neil Arthur also delivered new studio album Unfurnished Rooms, which prompted an honest critique from TEC’s Imogen Bebb: “whilst as an album it isn’t always easy to listen to, it makes for a welcome new chapter in Blancmange’s ongoing story”.

Howard Jones also went down the compilation route with the comprehensive Best 1983-2017 which the TEC review suggested: “this 3-CD set will have a special appeal not only to loyal Howard Jones fans, but also perhaps a new audience keen to experience the appeal of this pioneering electronic musician”.

While there were bright moments in the year, the music scene also saw tragedy in 2017 with the loss of Can’s Holger Czukay, trance DJ Robert Miles and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi.

Barry Page provided some long-form features which took the focus to Norway’s a-ha, particularly the side projects that the likes of Morten Harket and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy have embarked on.

Speaking of a-ha, although the idea of an acoustic album by an electronic act seemed absurd, it was a concept that the Norwegian outfit embraced for Summer Solstice. The breath-taking arrangements for classics such as ‘Take On Me’ and ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ proved that a-ha still had the chops to surprise people.

Meanwhile, Midge Ure’s own orchestral-inspired approach for Ultravox and his solo numbers resulted in the release of Orchestrated later in the year. TEC’s Jus Forrest summed things up: “As an album, Orchestrated is diverse enough to pique interest. It’s contemporary enough to be relevant, and there’s enough classic tracks to reach out to fans”.

The soulful tones of Fifi Rong returned, this time with a bolder electronic sound on ‘The Same Road’. TEC’s review concluded that the new song “…demonstrates that Fifi Rong is capable of adding plenty more colours to her musical palette”.

Kasson Crooker, formerly of Freezepop, also provided some gems throughout 2017. There was the Gishiki album released under his Symbion Project banner – a release that we summed up as “one of the standout electronica releases of the year.” Meanwhile, he launched new outing ELYXR which was designed to be a collaborative project introducing different singers for each subsequent release. This included the warmth of ‘Engine’ as well as the punchier (and lyrically timely!) ‘Godspeed’.

2017 also delivered a diverse selection of electronic music events that showcased a multi-line-up of diverse acts. May saw Synth Club Presents, which included the ever-excellent Vile Electrodes as well as the sultry delights of The Frixion and the energetic pop of Knight$.

Culled from their 2016 album Ath.Lon, in June Greek duo Marsheaux unveiled a new video for ‘Now You Are Mine’.

Meanwhile, July delivered one of the bigger events of the year with Liverpool’s Silicon Dreams. Combining established artists with newer acts, this year’s event pulled together an all-star schedule featuring Parralox, Avec Sans, Future Perfect, Berlyn Trilogy, Caroline McLavy and Voi Vang. As TEC’s review stated: “The 2017 incarnation of Silicon Dreams serves not only as an evening of entertainment, but also as an example of the importance of grassroots electronic music events. By showcasing both up-and-coming talents alongside more established acts, it’s an event which demonstrates a legacy in action”.

August presented the Electro Punk Party which offered up some of the more alternative acts on the scene. This included Dicepeople, Microchip Junky, Hot Gothic, the dark surf guitar of Pink Diamond Revue and the anarchistic LegPuppy. In fact, LegPuppy demonstrated an impressive schedule of live performances throughout the year as well as releasing songs such as the wry observations of ‘Selfie Stick’ and dance-orientated ‘Running Through A Field Of Wheat’.

The regular Synthetic City event returned, this time at Water Rats in King’s Cross. The evening brought with it some superb performances from the likes of Hot Pink Abuse, Eden, The Lunchbox Surrender, Train To Spain and Parralox (marking their second UK live show this year). The weird and wonderful Mr Vast topped things off and the whole affair was superbly organised by Johnny Normal.

Susanne Sundfør, who released the superb Ten Love Songs album back in 2015, brought a much more challenging release in the form of Music For People In Trouble. The album weaved in acoustic touches, spoken word segments and often unsettling soundscapes. But the epic ‘Mountaineers’, featuring the distinctive voice of John Grant, had an almost physical presence with its hypnotic tones.

The mighty Sparks returned with new album Hippopotamus and delivered a superb live performance in London back in October. The same month, the 22rpm electronic music festival took place. Showcased by record label Bit Phalanx, the event featured the likes of Scanner, Derek Piotr, Digitonal, Coppe and a truly stunning performance from Valgeir Sigurðsson.

The Sound Of Arrows brought out their newest album since 2011’s Voyage. Stay Free offered a much more grounded approach to electropop than the dreamy moods of their previous release, but still managed to deliver some cinematic pop moments. Their pop-up shop to promote the album was also a nice touch!

PledgeMusic has proved to be a vital lifeline for many artists in recent years. It’s a funding option which delivered for everyone from Ultravox to OMD. Gary Numan used the platform to fund his 21st studio album Savage (Songs From A Broken World) which provoked critical praise and which Jus Forrest suggested delivered “a flawless production of intrigue; a soundtrack that brings together the atmospheric, the lonely, the eerie and, in places, the added drama of colourful crescendo”.

Empathy Test, an electronic duo from London, also chose the PledgeMusic route and achieved such success that they decided to release not just one, but two albums together. The stunning Losing Touch and Safe From Harm revealed a band that could combine mood and melancholy in an impressive collection of songs. TEC’s conclusion that compositions such as ‘Bare My Soul’ demonstrated a band capable of delivery that was both “mythical and melodious”, also showed the heights that contemporary electropop can ascend to.

As the year drew to its conclusion, there were still some gems to pop up on the radar. Canadian sleazy synth specialist TR/ST teased us with ‘Destroyer’, a nocturnal affair that (along with the year’s earlier release ‘Bicep’) paved the way for a new album due in 2018.

Scanner, who had delivered a stunning performance at the 22rpm event, also unleashed The Great Crater, an album of mood and often brooding unease. Our review’s final conclusion was that “The end result is less listening to a body of work and more being immersed into a physical experience”.

Curxes brought us the hypnotic delights of ‘In Your Neighbourhood’, which paved the way for new album Gilded Cage.

As the winter months drew to a close, we took a look at Parralox’s latest release ‘Electric Nights’, which proved to be a euphoric floor-stomper. Meanwhile, Norway served up Take All The Land, the debut solo album by Simen Lyngroth which TEC’s review summed up as a “beautifully well-crafted and intimate album”.

Perhaps one theme that 2017 demonstrated time and time again is that electronic music continues to evolve and thrive, particularly at the grassroots level where emerging acts are less focused on being a pastiche of the bands of 40 years ago. Instead, there’s a fresh and dynamic scene which has seen a genre looking to the future rather than the past.

This doesn’t scribble over the achievements of decades of previous electronic acts. That history and legacy continues to exist, but perhaps the idea that acts don’t need to be beholden to the classic acts is a concept that younger artists are more willing to entertain.


CONTRIBUTOR’S LISTS

IMOGEN BEBB

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
Gary Numan – My Name Is Ruin
Sparks – What The Hell Is It This Time?
Alphaville – Heartbreak City
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Never Alone

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris
Blancmange – Unfurnished Rooms
Superdivorce – Action Figures
Brian Eno – Reflection

Favourite Event of 2017

OMD at Liverpool Empire in October.

Most Promising New Act

Superdivorce


JUS FORREST

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Among the Echoes – Breathe
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Control Me
John Foxx and the Maths – Orphan Waltz
Gary Numan – My Name is Ruin
Gary Numan – Bed of Thorns

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Jori Hulkkonen – Don’t Believe in Happiness
Gary Numan – Savage (Songs from a Broken World)
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris
Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia
Richard Barbieri – Planets + Persona

Most Promising New Act

Spaceprodigi


BARRY PAGE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

OMD – Ghost Star
Waaktaar and Zoe – Mammoth
Depeche Mode – Cover Me
Simen Lyngroth – The Waves
Alexis Georgopoulos and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – The Marble Sky

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Waaktaar and Zoe – World Of Trouble
Simen Lyngroth – Take All The Land
a-ha – MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice
Empathy Test – Losing Touch
Sparks – Hippopotamus

Favourite Event of 2017

Depeche Mode at London Stadium, June 2017

Most Promising New Act

Simen Lyngroth

Best reissue

China Crisis – Working With Fire and Steel


JER WHITE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Tiny Magnetic Pets – Semaphore
2raumwohnung – Lucky Lobster (Night Version)
Sylvan Esso – Die Young
Pixx – I Bow Down
Vitalic (ft. David Shaw and The Beat) – Waiting for the Stars

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

2raumwohnung – Nacht und Tag
The Moonlandingz – Interplanetary Class Classics
AIVIS – Constellate
Jupe Jupe – Lonely Creatures
Vitalic – Voyager

Favourite Event of 2017

Kraftwerk in 3D at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh.

Most Promising New Act

AIVIS


PAUL BROWNE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Susanne Sundfør – Mountaineers
Empathy Test – Bare My Soul
Austra – Utopia
TR/ST – Bicep
Curxes – In Your Neighbourhood

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Empathy Test – Safe From Harm/Losing Touch
Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia
Austra – Future Politics
Susanne Sundfør – Music For People In Trouble
Sailor & I – The Invention Of Loneliness

Favourite Event of 2017

Synthetic City 2017

Most Promising New Act

Empathy Test


2017 – Albums Of The Year

This year saw a wealth of electronic music talent competing for the attention of the public. There was a good balance between classic acts that were still capable of crafting solid tunes – and also contemporary acts often taking electronic music in unusual and interesting directions.

Here are 15 albums that are not presented in any particular order (aside from our top choice), but as a whole were the standout long-players for The Electricity Club in 2017.


Album(s) Of The Year

EMPATHY TEST – Losing Touch/Safe From Harm

The blossoming of grassroots electronic acts in recent years has brought a lot of bright talent to the fore. London-based duo Empathy Test have attracted critical appraisal and also managed to smash their PledgeMusic goals to fund their debut albums.

The choice to release two albums rather than one was a topic that Empathy Test’s Isaac Howlett addressed in an interview with TEC earlier this year: “We… felt that the new material was too different to the old to be on the same album. We didn’t like the idea of a double album so we decided to create the album we should have put out in 2015 (Losing Touch) and the album we wanted to put out now (Safe From Harm), and release them both at once”.

If there’s one thing that emerges from Empathy Test’s material, its the chemistry between Howlett and Adam Relf that allows them to compose songs that sound so polished and captivating. Here, there’s a sense of mood and melancholy that’s as heartfelt as it is unique. Relf has also done a stunning job in not only crafting a smooth, engaging production for the albums, but the sleeve designs show that he’s got some artistic chops into the bargain.

On Losing Touch and Safe From Harm, Empathy Test have delivered not one, but two of the finest albums of the year. Standing as a testament to the heights that contemporary electropop can ascend to, Empathy Test suggests that the genre is in safe hands for the future.

TEC Review: Losing Touch/Safe From Harm


GARY NUMAN – Savage (Songs From A Broken World)

Without covering historic pastures, it’s fair to say that those who are familiar with Numan’s work in recent years will connect upon first listen. Savage is unmistakably modern-day Numan. Not only that, unsurprisingly, it has Ade Fenton DNA stamped all over it.

It’s a carefully calibrated mix; a formula that’s based on the sure-fire template previously witnessed on the highly acclaimed Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind), delivering a flawless production of intrigue; a soundtrack that brings together the atmospheric, the lonely, the eerie and, in places, the added drama of colourful crescendo. In summary, a sub-genre that’s more than suitable.

TEC Review: Savage (Songs From A Broken World)


HANNAH PEEL – Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia

Out of all the electronic music releases in 2017, Hannah Peel’s latest opus has to rank as one of the more intriguing albums to reach the ears of music enthusiasts.

Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia is a concept album of sorts that revolves around Peel’s alter ego of ‘Mary Casio’. Drawing from her influences of electronic pioneers Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, Peel’s back story for Mary Casio is as an elderly stargazing electronic musician. Her lifelong dream is to leave her mining town home of Barnsley in South Yorkshire and journey into space.

The album presents an aural journey of delights, its unusual approach to combining synths and brass managing to present something both accessible and unique. It’s also a testament to Hannah Peel’s seemingly endless abilities to craft new and intriguing ideas out of the ether. It’s a cosmic journey that delivers.

TEC Review: Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia


DEPECHE MODE – Spirit

For the majority of fans and critics choosing not to view Depeche Mode’s latest product through a Vince Clarke/Alan Wilder kaleidoscope, 14th studio album Spirit represented something of a return to form for the veteran synth-rockers. Whilst we weren’t as enthused about Spirit in our original review, there was still plenty to admire about one of the band’s most defining albums of recent years.

First single ‘Where’s The Revolution’ set out the band’s stall, exhibiting some more aggressive – and politically charged – wordplay. Despite its production flaws – ironed out during the Global Spirit shows in the summer – this was a serviceable enough slab of electro-blues. The more ambient ‘The Worst Crime’, meanwhile, spoke of “misinformation” and “misguided leaders” in a less cluttered arrangement. But perhaps the album’s definitive ‘call-to-arms’ statement was represented via the discordant and angry ‘Scum’, featuring some particularly vitriolic swipes from Gore.

Impressive album opener ‘Going Backwards’ had already provided a portent of what was to come, with main songwriter Martin Gore delivering some pretty harrowing lyrical concepts throughout. Gore himself sang the lead on ‘Eternal’, an ephemeral ballad in which the protagonist declares his eternal love in the midst of an apocalyptic horror. Elsewhere, Gahan consolidated his reputation as a more-than-capable songwriter with the Bowie-influenced ‘Cover Me’, while serviceable synth-pop arrived courtesy of ‘No More (This Is The Last Time)’ and ‘So Much Love’.

But, despite its high points, the album suffered from poor production and, disappointingly, featured tracks bordering on filler (see ‘Poison Heart’ and ‘Poorman’).

TEC Review: Spirit


AUSTRA – Future Politics

Many of the releases of 2017 seemed to reflect a troubling period in contemporary culture, particularly with politics providing a turbulent backdrop. Austra were one of those outfits and the release of their album Future Politics offered up some thoughtful insight into troubled times.

Casual Austra fans might be a bit glum that the baroque pop elements that the previous albums held so strong are less evident here. Electronic music enthusiasts will perhaps find Austra adding further colours to the particular musical palette that the Canadian outfit have carefully crafted since 2011’s Feel It Break. Certainly Future Politics offers up a more intimate and personal approach than previous outings, but as an album it still offers up rewards from patient listening.

TEC Review: Future Politics


THE SOUND OF ARROWS – Stay Free

When The Sound Of Arrows appeared to disappear following the release of their 2011 debut album Voyage, it seemed like one of the brighter hopes for electronic music may have gone forever. Stefan Storm and Oskar Gullstrand had brought an optimistic element to their widescreen pop that immediately stood them apart from their contemporaries.

Stay Free is a very different affair to Voyage with a much more grounded sound than the magicpop of old – an evolution in The Sound Of Arrows sound that was hinted at in the earlier Kids Of The Apocalypse output. As Storm suggests: “It’s less conceptual than Voyage and a little more about having two feet on the ground, maybe gazing up at the sky rather than floating up into space this time.”

There’s always been a desire for the outfit to develop and grow rather than repeat themselves and Stay Free offers a solid collection of songs that stands proud against a busy modern music scene.

TEC Review: Stay Free


SUSANNE SUNDFØR – Music For People In Trouble

While the success of her 2015 album Ten Love Songs managed to raise the profile of Norwegian musician Susanne Sundfør, new album Music For People In Trouble took Sundfør back to her singer-songwriter roots. Although the album boasts some fine electronic flourishes, there’s also more nods to jazz and traditional instrumentation.

But the album switches gear for compositions such as ‘The Sound Of War’. Here, it’s the sound of birdsong and rivers that open up a multi-part composition while Sundfør delivers some often grim words (“Leave all that you were/‘Cause you won’t need it where you’re going tonight”). There’s a more mournful quality to ‘No One Believes In Love Anymore’ as the title certainly implies with its thoughts cast on the topic of doomed romance.

‘The Golden Age’ features stunning immersive synth arpeggios and Sundfør’s mesmerising voice (“I wake from a dream/to be in another dream”). But the album’s crowning achievement is clearly the epic ‘Mountaineers’ which starts with the basso profundo voice of John Grant. Here, Grant’s sonorous delivery echoes from the depths. When Sundfør comes in, the song suggests a coming to the light from a great darkness, a sudden revelation and builds to a choral symphony that takes the breath away.

TEC Review: Music For People In Trouble


MARNIE Strange Words And Weird Wars

The release of the Crystal World album in 2013 demonstrated that Helen Marnie continued to display a talent for good electronic music, even while Ladytron were on an extended hiatus. Strange Words And Weird Wars features material penned over a 2-year period and showed a marked direction for the pop end of the scale.

The pulsing beats of ‘Alphabet Block’ was a good example – a track that Marnie herself described as “shoe-gaze electropop”. Similarly, ‘Bloom’ invites the listener to throw shapes on the dancefloor. “I’m in trouble again/in a no man’s land we’ll bloom” suggests Marnie on a track that boasts strong vocal melodies. Meanwhile, ‘G.I.R.L.S.’ with its cheerleading chants offers up one of the strongest tracks on the album. Equally, ‘Electric Youth’ invites the listener to reflect on nights of teenage abandon on a track that has a bright, airy quality to it.

The album ends on a high note with the rhythmic wonder that’s ‘Heartbreak Kid’, its bass-heavy arpeggios setting the scene for the emotional punch in the vocal delivery. But it’s the melodic flourishes and arrangement that gives this track the polished pop that’s such a central theme to the album as a whole.

TEC Review: Strange Words And Weird Wars


SAILOR & I – The Invention Of Loneliness

Swedish electronic musician Alexander Sjödin caught everyone’s attention in 2017 under the moniker Sailor & I. Debut album The Invention Of Loneliness bounced between icy pop and beats-driven electronica…

‘Chameleon’ has a subtle power to it that can take a few spins to appreciate. There’s a dark piano melody over which Sjödin’s yearning vocal offers hints of change or transformation. Meanwhile, a gradually-building slab of stark electronics gives the track a dark pop appeal. ‘Fire On the Moon’ utilises a lot of elements to arrive at the big, cinematic sound of the final composition. There’s a warmer feel on ‘Supervisions’ with its use of tribal chants and driving bassy synths.

The Invention Of Loneliness is an album that adopts a range of styles that include both the glacial pop of the likes of ‘Chameleon’, as well as more instrumental compositions such as ‘Supervisions’. There’s also a competent sense of production on this release that gives the material a vital humanity next to the icy thematic tunes.

TEC Review: The Invention Of Loneliness


VITALIC – Voyager

There’s a robust quality about the electronic tunes contained on this latest release by Vitalic, which appeared to signal a strong start for electronic music in 2017.

Voyager draws from a wealth of influences, including nods to the likes of Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. Certainly, standout track ‘Waiting For The Stars’ is an unabashed nod to Arbez’s favourite ’70s and ’80s songs. Featuring vocals from David Shaw, there’s a Moroder-esque beat driving this squelchy and engaging electropop wonder.

But Voyager also features an appreciation for classic synthpop too. Written as a tribute to ‘Warm Leatherette’ by The Normal, ‘Sweet Cigarette’ features similarly deadpan lyrics against machine-like rhythms. There’s also a wealth of hooks and melodies all over ‘Use It Or Lose It’. Elsewhere, ‘Nozomi’ takes its inspiration from the Japanese shinkansen trains. As a result, there’s a constant sense of movement at play driven by the relentless rhythms and the oddly off-kilter synths.

Those that are fans of contemporary electropop will not be disappointed by the contents of Voyager – it’s also a demonstration that decent electronic music can cross many boundaries.

TEC Review: Voyager


PIXX – The Age Of Anxiety

The themes on The Age Of Anxiety, not surprisingly, touch on elements of anxiety – a condition that Hannah Rodgers (aka Pixx) endured from a young age. In particular, she suffered from insomnia caused by persistent nightmares. Songs such as the bassy ‘A Big Cloud To Float Upon’ refer back to her being in primary school age 9 and watching the clock slowly count down. Every ‘tick’ represented one step closer to the dreaded time when she’d have to go to sleep.

Meanwhile, ‘Waterslides’ (which is one of the album’s finest moments) was inspired by an odd nightmare of being trapped in a waterpark surrounded by faceless figures. The song itself is structured around plucked melodies steering the listener to the engaging chorus: “Don’t follow me into my dreams you don’t belong here”. But the album boasts many gems, including the seductive charms of ‘Your Delight’ – an immersive dreampop world which entices the listener to be drawn in by its mesmerising melodies.

The Age Of Anxiety is an album that offers up a combination of smart pop tunes married with thoughtful lyrics, which at the same time presents an evolution of electronic music that suggests there’s still horizons to reach for.

TEC Review: The Age Of Anxiety


A-HA – MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice

It was something of a surprise when a-ha announced plans to release a live acoustic album, having resisted such offers for a number of years. The band had of course performed many of their songs in more pared-down versions during their career, but never on this scale. Further credence was added to the project with its subsequent MTV branding and, in the spirit of the original format, several guest artists were introduced during the shows (notably Ian McCulloch and Alison Moyet). Several locations were touted, but the band settled for Giske, a remote Norwegian island.

The subsequent MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice album was released in an array of visual and audio formats. The double CD version was a fine document of the two-day event, featuring stripped down versions of classic hits, alongside deep cuts and rarely-played songs. The band also performed two new songs (‘This Is Our Home’ and ‘Break In The Clouds’).

The band was also able to tap into its progressive rock past with a stunning version of ‘Sox Of The Fox’. Aka ‘The Vacant’, the song had originally appeared on the rare album Fakkeltog by Bridges, a Doors-inspired band that included Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen.

Arguably the biggest surprise of the show was the version of ‘Take On Me’, presented in a fresh, ballad-like arrangement. It created a huge online reaction, and the band eventually released a studio version of the track in December.

Whilst some of the arrangements are a little leaden and plodding, it’s a largely crowd-pleasing set, and a fine addition to the band’s impressive catalogue.

TEC Review: MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice


GIRL ONE AND THE GREASE GUNS – Night Of The Living Electrical Appliances

Proving that there was life beyond a series of eclectic 7″ singles (neatly compiled on the album The Strange Little Lines That Humans Draw In The Dust), Girl One And The Grease Guns returned with their first proper album earlier this year.

Stating that the material on Night Of The Living Electrical Appliances was aiming to be “pure electro-pop with more experimental, darker sounding tracks”, the outfit have delivered an album that certainly boasts pop elements on tracks such as ‘He’s A Replicant’, ‘She’s A Calculator’ and ‘Emergency (Dial 999)’. But their more experimental side is evident on the likes of ‘Telegraph Street’, ‘Mute Your Gums’ and the eerie album closer ‘(She Sits) In The Freezer’.

As ever, the enigmatic outfit’s love for ’60s girl groups, combined with a ‘garage punk’ aesthetic, delivers an album whose raw energy weaves a particular magic on the listener’s ears.

TEC Review: Night Of The Living Electrical Appliances


KELLY LEE OWENS Kelly Lee Owens

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. It’s not a million miles away from the the sounds crafted by the likes of Japanese musician Sapphire Slows in its mesmerising electronics.

The gauzy ambience of opening track ‘S.O’ manages to drop the listener into a warm, immersive cocoon. ‘Arthur’ (a tribute to avant-garde composer Arthur Russell) opens with a soundscape of birdsong and nature sounds. Later, it weaves in subliminal beats combined with a breathy, indistinct vocal. Meanwhile, ‘Anxi.’ (featuring Norwegian artist Jenny Hval) is an intriguing dreamlike composition featuring an amalgamation of dreampop, spoken lyrics and glitchy electronica.

Kelly Lee Owens, as an album, drew critical praise from a range of commentators this year. 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.

Further reading: Kelly Lee Owens


LO FIVE – When It’s Time To Let Go

Wirral-based electronic musician Neil Grant (aka Lo Five) describes debut release When It’s Time To Let Go as “deep landscape electronics” and “an album of wild spaces and intimate rooms”. It’s an apt description for an album of reflective reveries that both challenges and surprises the listener.

Peppered throughout with evocative chimes that suggest some lost ice cream van song, there’s also a plethora of natural sounds weaved into the mix. Compositions such as ’Sabre Contusion’ have a raw electronic component combined with a fractured production. There’s a more reflective element to ‘Machinations of the World’ with its rainfall effects and soothing tones. While ’Leave You Alone’ offers up haunting qualities with a dub-like approach to synth tunes.

Closing track ‘The Emergence Of Something Familiar’ has a suitable downbeat finality to it with its stark piano and nocturnal atmosphere.

Lo Five presents a sound that’s quite tough to easily categorise. When It’s Time To Let Go throws up plenty of challenging compositions, yet at the same time has the comforting allure of the familiar.

Further reading: When It’s Time To Let Go


2017 – Songs Of The Year

Electronic music in 2017…

If 2017 proved anything it was that the field of electronic music is a broad one. A lot of songs grabbed our attention across 12 months of intriguing, captivating and often challenging music. While many classic synthpop acts proved that they could still hold their own, the next generation of electronic artists also demonstrated that they could craft unique tunes that didn’t rely on the past.

Here are 25 songs that are not presented in any particular order, but as whole were the standout tunes for The Electricity Club in 2017.


GARY NUMAN – My Name Is Ruin


The release of Gary Numan’s 21st studio album Savage (Songs From A Broken World) marked the synthpop pioneer’s highest charting album since Telekon back in 1980. This latest body of work transmited a thoughtful concept, centred around the modern-day issues that would seemingly put into question the survival of the planet.

‘My Name Is Ruin’ was the first single to emerge from the album. It gives Numan himself something to be especially proud of, given his daughter, Persia, provides the unique backing vocals on the track. The results – an eclectic mix of the angelic-like choral tapestry set against robust dance-driven beats.

Further reading: Savage (Songs From A Broken World)
http://garynuman.com/


VITALIC (ft. David Shaw and The Beat) – Waiting for the Stars


There’s a robust quality about the electronic tunes contained on this latest release by Vitalic, which appeared to signal a strong start for electronic music in 2017.

Vitalic, aka Pascal Arbez, had been operating since the late 1990s as an underground artist, but achieved a larger profile with the release of his debut album OK Cowboy in 2005. New album Voyager draws from a wealth of influences, including nods to the likes of Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. Certainly, standout track ‘Waiting For The Stars’ is an unabashed nod to Arbez’s favourite ’70s and ’80s songs, which in places is deliberately out of tune. Featuring vocals from David Shaw, there’s a Moroder-esque beat driving this squelchy and engaging electropop wonder.

Further reading: Voyager
http://www.vitalic.org/


AUSTRA – Utopia


Many of the releases of 2017 seemed to reflect a troubling period in contemporary culture, particularly with politics providing a turbulent backdrop. Austra were one of those outfits and the release of their album Future Politics offered up some thoughtful insight into troubled times.

The familiar bassy synth tones that Austra’s Katie Stelmanis has crafted as part of the classic Austra sound provided the foundations for ‘Utopia’. This rumination on the “collective depression”, that Stelmanis suggests is a result of city living, has strong hooks and melodies as some smart percussive frills keep the song moving along.

Further reading: Future Politics
http://www.austramusic.com/


EMPATHY TEST – Bare My Soul


London-based duo Empathy Test took us by surprise this year with each successive song. 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.

Further reading: Bare My Soul
EmpathyTest.com


TR/ST – Destroyer


One of Canada’s electronic music gems re-emerged earlier this year with a new song and talk of a new album. ‘Bicep’ delivered the trademark sleazy synths and unsettling sounds that made TR/ST (aka Robert Alfons) such a captivating act over the course of 2 previous albums.

‘Destroyer’ shows a departure of sorts here for Alfons, with a much more restrained composition. It’s a more nocturnal affair peppered with reedy intermissions, although Alfons’ grimy vocals are present and correct. The video itself is produced by, and stars, choreographer Ryan Heffington (Sia, Lykke Li, Florence and the Machine, Arcade Fire). It charts a journey through a late night streetscape which is interspersed with oddly unsettling choreography.

Further reading: Destroyer
https://www.facebook.com/dressedforspace


OMD – La Mitrailleuse


Culled from their 2017 album The Punishment Of Luxury, ‘La Mitrailleuse’ takes its inspiration from a painting by the artist CRW Nevinson (regarded as one of the most famous war artists of World War I). Nevinson was deeply affected by what he saw in France during World War I, which had a profound effect on the paintings that he produced at the time. This included the 1915 work La Mitrailleuse, which translates from the French as “the machine gun”.

In the hands of OMD, ‘La Mitrailleuse’ is composed of a mesmerising droning intro which leads to a rhythm track designed to emulate explosions and, in particular, machine-gun fire. Meanwhile, Andy McCluskey intones “Bend your body to the will of the machine”. It’s the perfect companion to Nevinson’s work which sees the style of the soliders rendered in angular shapes, suggesting a merging of man and machine – a theme carried over in the video, which again features the distinctive style of Henning M. Lederer, who previously worked on videos for OMD’s English Electric album.

Further reading: La Mitrailleuse
http://www.omd.uk.com
www.omd-messages.co.uk


SUSANNE SUNDFØR (feat John Grant) – Mountaineers


While the success of her 2015 album Ten Love Songs managed to raise the profile of Norwegian musician Susanne Sundfør, new album Music For People In Trouble took Sundfør back to her singer-songwriter roots. Although the album boasts some fine electronic flourishes, there’s also more nods to jazz and traditional instrumentation.

The album’s crowning achievement is clearly the epic ‘Mountaineers’ which starts with the basso profundo voice of John Grant. Here, Grant’s sonorous delivery echoes from the depths with its lines about “Jumbo jets spiralling down like vultures of the stars”. It’s suggestive of the type of composition that This Mortal Coil were noted for with the emphasis on the voice to provide an compelling hypnotic effect.

When Sundfør comes in, the song suggests a coming to the light from a great darkness, a sudden revelation (“What it means/Now I know”) and builds to a choral symphony that takes the breath away.

Further reading: Music For People In Trouble
http://susannesundfor.com/


DEPECHE MODE – Cover Me


Released in March this year, Depeche Mode’s 14th studio album Spirit has proven to be one of the most divisive collections of new songs in their 37-year career. A sonically-challenging (and often unsettling) listen, the album has certainly divided fans; many of whom haven’t gotten over the fact that Alan Wilder left the band 22 years ago. By contrast, most music critics were united in their affection for the new album, praising the band for their aggressive and new approach, and also for Martin Gore’s politically-charged wordplay.

Like ‘Broken’ on Depeche Mode’s previous album Delta Machine, singer Dave Gahan once again provided the album’s best track in ‘Cover Me’, a slow-building, other-worldly electro-ballad with a Bowie-inspired lyric: “It’s about a person who travels to another planet only to find that, much to his dismay, it’s exactly the same as earth” Gahan explained to Rolling Stone magazine. Featuring some sinister electronics and a beautiful coda that recalled ‘Clean’ from 1990’s career peak Violator, this was space-aged synth rock at its finest.

Further reading: Spirit
http://www.depechemode.com/


LOLA DUTRONIC – My Name Is Lola


As Lola Dutronic, the Toronto/Düsseldorf electronic duo of Richard Citroen and Stephanie B have carved out an impressive career of engaging pop tunes. They jumped back in earlier in the year with a sequel to one of their best known tunes ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead, but it was their love letter to Berlin later in 2017 that stood out for us.

Continuing the duo’s talents for crafting accessible electronic pop with engaging melodies, ‘My Name Is Lola’ is a track that Richard Citroen describes as “a bit of a departure from our usual ‘Wall Of Sound’ approach, we’ve taken on some of Alle Farben & Robin Schulz’s colours”. It’s a quirky pop tune that’s a lot of fun and includes shout-outs to all of the duo’s favourite Berlin haunts.

Further reading: An Interview With Lola Dutronic
https://www.facebook.com/lola.dutronic


DICEPEOPLE – Synthetic


Dicepeople, an electronic outfit from London, had a very busy year with several live performances and also a muscular cover version of Depeche Mode’s ‘Strangelove’. The group have an emphasis on strong visuals as part of their live shows and they draw inspiration from the likes of Depeche Mode, John Carpenter, Siouxsie Sioux, Front 242 and all points inbetween.

‘Synthetic’ is pretty much on-point with its brooding gothic synth melodies against a burbling electronic background. Atashi Tada’s vocal lead is tweaked and distorted and lends the whole affair a cyberpunk aesthetic.

Further reading: Synthetic
An Interview With Dicepeople
http://dicepeople.com/


LEGPUPPY – #Selfie Stick – Narcissistic Prick


Electro punk outfit LegPuppy have a knack for cultural commentary. Take ‘Selfie Stick’, which the 4-piece outfit released earlier this year. There’s a brooding quality to the song; a prowling tonal mood with cynical synths that provides the foundation for a lyrical dragging on Instagram culture (“Instagram that pic/Snapchat me a vid/I’ll show you my dick”). It’s a timely theme in a world where people are measured on the number of followers they have on Twitter or the belief that 17,000 ‘Likes’ can provide a fig-leaf of sorts for an empty, shallow soul.

Or as LegPuppy themselves put it: “Welcome to the Age of Narcissism where our future leaders are more interested in how many likes their stupid selfie gets on social media. Where their heroes and inspirations are Reality TV stars.”

Further reading: Selfie Stick
http://legpuppy.net/


ELYXR (feat Naoko of Princess Problems) – Godspeed


Seattle-based electronic musician/producer Kasson Crooker put together a new project for 2017 which sought to include his particular take on electronic music with a diverse range of singers.

‘Godspeed’ marked one of these releases, with the vocals coming care of Naoko Takamoto (Princess Problems). There’s a raw energy at work on a busy composition that also seems to elicit a sense of unease. Despite this, there’s a kinetic quality to the electronic melodies threaded through the piece. Conceived before Trump’s US victory, ‘Godspeed’ was penned as a reverie on the concerns such a presidency would bring. Lyrics such as “gather up your belongings/’cause he’s coming” pretty much seals the deal.

Further reading: Godspeed
http://www.symbionproject.com/


CURXES – In Your Neighbourhood


When Curxes first made their presence known several years back, they brought with them a very different approach to electronic music that presented one of the more captivating acts on the scene. Pulling from a variety of influences, the Curxes unique sound of stark pop ran through songs such as ‘The Constructor’ and ’Creatures’.

Describing themselves as “a decorative set of bones, channeling the ghosts of Discothéques past”, Curxes were a perfect fit for the first Electricity Club event staged in 2011. But it was a journey that also saw them later remixing the likes of Chvrches on the Scottish trio’s 2013 Recover EP.

‘In Your Neighbourhood’ (taken from new album Gilded Cage) shows Roberta Fidora opting for a much more languid style of singing combined with a warm, engaging layer of electronics. Meanwhile, the video is a strange amalgamation of a lost children’s puppet show and a TV repair shop.

Further reading: In Your Neighbourhood
www.curxes.com
www.robertafidora.com


THE SOUND OF ARROWS – Beautiful Life


‘Beautiful Life’ marked the welcome return of Swedish synthpop outfit The Sound Of Arrows in 2017. It’s a composition that continues the electronic duo’s talent for cinematic pop, but there’s also a more organic element with big string arrangements prominent in the mix. “Turn up the music and bring down the rain” suggests the dreampop lyrics atop subtle synth rhythms. Meanwhile, the track is given plenty of epic sweeps courtesy of the strings section.

The band later released new album Stay Free, presenting a more grounded take on the classic Sound Of Arrows formula.

Further reading: Stay Free
http://www.thesoundofarrows.com/


PIXX – I Bow Down


Taking her name from a nickname associated with her grandmother, Hannah Rodgers embarked on her musical career as Pixx in 2015. A former Brit School student (where the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse had their roots), Rodgers signed to the 4AD label at the impossibly young age of 19.

Debut album The Age Of Anxiety, presented a collection of songs that offer up electronic music that’s both accessible, yet also has a sense of quirkiness and charm. ‘I Bow Down’, for instance, starts from simple foundations before building an insistent beat that works its magic. The video, with its strange visuals, also keeps things interesting.

Further reading: The Age Of Anxiety
http://pixxmusic.com


FIFI RONG – The Same Road


The soulful, beguiling style of Fifi Rong has been winning over both the press and the public for many years via releases such as Next Pursuit and Future Never Comes. It’s an impressive catalogue that also suggested that the London-based musician had carved out her niche and was happy with heading in that particular musical direction.

However, her new release ‘The Same Road’ sees Fifi do a left turn with a tune that’s distinctly more electropop-orientated than previous outings. Here, the lush soundscapes are put to one side for a cleaner, sharper approach to song arrangement. Electronic melodies echo through the song, augmented by Fifi’s familiar mesmerising vocals. At the same time, this is a tune crafted in the form of contemporary electronic music, rather than as a pastiche of ‘80s synthpop, which is always a bonus.

By bringing onboard the mixing talents of Max Dingel, who previously worked with the likes of Goldfrapp (as well as White Lies and Muse), the dynamic qualities of ‘The Same Road’ presents an engaging number that’s likely to surprise long-term Fifi Rong enthusiasts.

Further reading: The Same Road
http://www.fifirong.com


WAAKTAR & ZOE – Open Face


With much of the attention this year centred around a-ha’s new acoustic project, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy’s collaborative album with singer Zoe Gnecco, World Of Trouble, passed by almost unnoticed earlier this year. Which was a shame because this was as good as – if not better than – a-ha’s last studio album Cast In Steel. In fact, one such track, ‘Open Face’, almost made it on to a-ha’s 2015 comeback album, but was overlooked in favour of inferior cuts such as ‘Door Ajar’.

Released as a single in April this year ‘Open Face’ is certainly the most electronic track on the New York-based duo’s album, and boasts some fine Kraftwerkian synth work from Kurt Uenela, who has also collaborated with Dave Gahan on some of Depeche Mode’s recent releases (including this year’s Spirit).

Further reading: Lifelines: The Side Projects of a-ha
http://waaktaar.com/


THE RUDE AWAKENING (feat Brooke Calder) – Let Nothing Take Your Pride


When he’s not promoting the likes of the Synth City event electronic music event, Johnny Normal also spends time on writing and composing under his own steam.

Under the banner of The Rude Awakening, which sees Johnny bringing onboard the talents of Brooke Calder (Lolly Pop, A*O*A, POP INC), new release ‘Let Nothing Take Your Pride’ offers a reflection of our times in its themes. There’s a defiant tone to the track which deals with anyone who’s come under fire from life: “Struggling with your conscience I try to make you see/but all around your friends surround taking a piece of me”. Revolving around themes of resilience and fighting your corner, the song could be said to be a rallying call for those that have been beaten down.

The track (which also saw its live premiere at September’s Synth City event) draws from the classic synthpop template with an anthemic pop approach peppered with synthetic brass stabs. With some polished backing vocals by long-time friend and collaborator Brooke Calder, ‘Let Nothing Take Your Pride’ presents an electropop tune with some whack.

Further reading: Let Nothing Take Your Pride
www.abnormalproductions.rocks


PARRALOX – Electric Nights


Johanna Gervin once again demonstrates that she’s one of the finest voices in the world of electropop with her vital vocals on ‘Electric Nights’.

It’s a euphoric floor-stomper crafted in the style that only Parralox can pull off. ‘Electric Nights’ also comes with a suitably dynamic video packed with visual delights. It’s an explosion of primary colours and effects that lends the whole affair a dayglo sheen. The composition actually dates back to 2002, back when Roxy was part of the Parralox line-up (she also co-wrote the song). The tune was submitted to the Australian Independent Music Awards – and apparently won Best Dance song in 2003, but plans to release it seemed to get delayed due to Parralox’s hectic schedule.

Further reading: Electric Nights
www.parralox.com


BRUCE WOOLLEY & POLLY SCATTERGOOD (with The Radio Science Orchestra) – Video Killed the Radio Star


When it comes to pop tunes, there’s a select few that manage to be immediately recognisable regardless of whatever decade they were recorded in. So the iconic opening bars of The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ have been so impressed on popular culture that it’s difficult to imagine that there’s anyone unfamiliar with the tune anywhere on the planet.

The song was reimagined earlier this year care of one of the tune’s original composers – Bruce Wooley – in collaboration with dark pop chanteuse Polly Scattergood. The new version (which carries the subtitle of ‘Dark Star’) opts for a radical deconstructed adaptation of the song in conjunction with the Radio Science Orchestra (a project established by Bruce Wooley). As a result, Polly Scattergood’s laconic vocals in tandem with the orchestral arrangement lend the song an intriguingly evocative sound that still manages to lose none of the original composition’s power.

Further reading: Video Killed the Radio Star
www.radioscience.com


MARNIE – G.I.R.L.S


The release of 2013’s Crystal World album demonstrated that Helen Marnie continued to display a talent for good electronic music, even while Ladytron were on an extended hiatus.

Drawing comparisons with the likes of Ladyhawke and Goldfrapp, Marnie’s latest album Strange Words And Weird Wars has opted for a much more electronic palette on this release, which also throws a nod or two to synthwave. ‘G.I.R.L.S’, with its cheerleading chants, offers up one of the strongest tracks on the album. It’s Pop with a capital ‘P’.

Further reading: Strange Words And Weird Wars
http://www.helenmarnie.com/


TWIST HELIX – Little Buildings


There’s an energy to Twist Helix that definitely leaves an impression. Hailing from Newcastle, Twist Helix consists of singer and synth player Bea, bassist Michael and drummer James.

New release ‘Little Buildings’ (taken from forthcoming album Ouseburn) has a solid sound to it which is helped by their willingness to embrace a variety of instrumentation, including guitar and live drums. The result is a robust tune which is topped off with Bea’s powerful vocals.

Further reading: Twist Helix
https://www.twisthelix.com/


SIMEN LYNGROTH – The Waves


Simen Lyngroth is a Norwegian singer-songwriter with a distinctively soft and crystalline voice, who is currently enjoying a dual career; as both a member of folk-pop trio Ask and as a solo artist exhibiting more electronic influences.

Awash with snowcapped melancholia, debut solo album Take All The Land is strongly influenced by Radiohead and features a number of fine jazz-infused electro-ballads. Arguably, one of the album’s most immediate and commercial cuts was ‘The Waves’, and it was duly released as a single in October. Deviating from the formula slightly with its use of programmed electronics, this was a standout track from one of this year’s most exciting new releases.

Further reading: Take All The Land
http://www.simenlyngroth.com/


SAILOR & I – Chameleon


Swedish electronic musician Alexander Sjödin caught everyone’s attention in 2017 under the moniker Sailor & I. Debut album The Invention Of Loneliness bounced between icy pop and beats-driven electronica…

Nestling among the tracks on the album, ‘Chameleon’ has a subtle power to it that can take a few spins to appreciate. There’s a dark piano melody over which Sjödin’s yearning vocal offers hints of change or transformation. Meanwhile, a gradually-building slab of stark electronics gives the track a dark pop appeal.

Further reading: The Invention Of Loneliness
http://sailorandi.se/


VOI VANG – Mirror

As one of the artists performing at last summer’s Silicon Dreams event, Voi Vang made an impression as someone to watch.

‘Mirror’ demonstrates her knack for dancepop with an electronic flavour. The track starts out with a plaintive piano melody before transforming into a much more dynamic outing. Bouncing between pop and EDM elements, there’s a captivating use of rhythms and melodies to produce a powerful dance floor filler. It’s also a track that reveals Voi Vang’s impressive vocal range, which has a punchy, direct power that sits in tandem with the driving electronic beats.

Further reading: Voi Vang
https://voivang.bandcamp.com/releases


Text by Paul Browne and Barry Page.


AUSTRA at Village Underground

Toronto’s finest pay a visit to London…

Austra’s Future Politics album was a timely release that explored themes of human nature, politics and the environment. In a particularly turbulent time, Katie Stelmanis outlined a manifesto of sorts in which everyone has to play a part to battle against the “approaching dystopia”.

The album had largely been a solo effort with Katie penning much of it on her computer, stepping away from the studio sessions that had produced 2013’s Olympia. As a result, there’s perhaps a more intimate nuance to the material on the new album. Adapting those songs for a live performance must have provided a few challenges, but what’s interesting is the way much of the Future Politics songs (as well as earlier material) gets given a much heavier, dance-orientated adaptation for the live stage.

Meanwhile, support act Pixx seem to be a fine compliment to Austra. There’s a solid collection of songs with, at times, a similar baroque pop approach to our Canadian chums. Hannah Rodgers has a confident stage presence, while there’s a beefy, percussive feel to much of the material rolled out for the live show.

Prior to Austra arriving on stage, a playback of ‘Deep Thought’ (the brief plaintive instrumental from Future Politics) is given up as an overture of sorts before Katie and co. file out to their respective places.

The sound for Austra’s performance is also heavily weighted towards a much more bassy end of the spectrum. At times, this threatens to drown out the vocal elements of some tracks, but it also means that some songs take on a much more robust delivery than on record, such as ‘When We Were Alive’ and ‘Future Politics’ itself.

‘Utopia’ comes surprisingly early in the set and, again, has a particularly bass-heavy sound to it. To emphasise this, Dorian Wolf switches over from synths to bass guitar for the song.

In fact it’s only later that you realise the setlist opens up with the first tracks from Future Politics in sequence. This includes ‘I’m A Monster’, which offers a more reflective element to the live show with Katie’s operatic vocal delivery on-point.

Despite the small stage, Katie also makes an effort to come stage-front and wanders from left to right at moments. It’s perhaps a little disconcerting to have her literally inches away from everyone at the front – and at times there was a worry that she would misjudge the edge of the stage.

The band take a step back as Katie takes a solo spot on the piano for an emotive ‘Forgive Me’, but things step up a gear for a powerful version of ‘The Choke’. This gradual increase in a more emphatic performance of Austra material steps up again for a thumping rendition of ‘Freepower’.

Maya Postepski is in her element here, giving the drum kit a thorough workout. Meanwhile, Ryan Wonsiak becomes MC for the evening, leading the audience on with expressive gestures with his arms.

There’s a welcome response from the crowd for a fetching version of Olympia’s ‘Home’ before Katie begins to have a little boogie on stage for the opening bars of ‘I Love You More Than You Love Yourself’.

The stage is bathed in red for a spectacularly energetic ‘Beat And The Pulse’, which also sees Katie headbanging at one point! This is followed up by a percussive live take on ‘Lose It’ before the band launch into the final song, which is ‘The Villain’. Arguably one of Austra’s best recorded songs, lately it’s been elevated to an energetic club-orientated thrash live version.

The band file back on stage for the encore, which includes the trance-like rhythms of ‘Habitat’ and ends with a particularly heartfelt ‘Hurt Me Now’. The audience give a final loud burst of applause as the final notes seem to echo in the cavernous location of Village Underground.

Austra have demonstrated that they’re a formidable live act who can still offer up surprises. But perhaps the most important thing is that they’re a band that are thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage. Katie Stelmanis continues to also prove that her particular talent for melodies and arrangement, matched with thoughtful lyrics, isn’t in danger of deserting her any time soon. As Austra depart London for the next leg of the Future Politics tour, we can only wonder what future sounds have yet to be explored.


www.austramusic.com


INTERNATIONAL WOMEN IN ELECTRONIC MUSIC DAY

On International Women’s Day, a showcase for those women who work in the world of electronic music…

International Women’s Day, which falls on 8th March each year, has become an opportunity to not only recognise the achievement of women throughout history, but to also raise awareness of issues such as gender equality, violence, women in science & technology and to promote the aspirations of girls and women worldwide.

On the basis that women have made a significant impact on the world of electronic music across decades, with people such as Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Wendy Carlos and Laurie Anderson being pioneers in their own distinct ways, we thought that we’d celebrate in our way with an International Women In Electronic Music Day.

It’s not always been an easy time for women in music and even today there are challenges and problems that have made the path difficult for some musicians. Lauren Maybery of Chvrches has spoken at length about the rise in misogyny, particularly in online commentary. Equally, Claire Boucher of Grimes fame has had to address issues within the world of music production (which ironically led to some misinformed writers to conclude that Boucher was flying a flag for militancy). It’s also something that Katie Stelmanis of Austra has addressed more recently.

To celebrate the contributions that women have made to electronic music, we thought it made sense to flag up some of the musicians, composers and singers that TEC has championed in the past. This selection is by no means definite and certainly isn’t designed to present a complete picture of women in electronic music, but is purely a sampling of the broad range of electronic music that women are active in.


Princess Chelsea

If there’s one particular star on the electronic music scene that’s been on the ascendant in recent years, it’s New Zealand’s Princess Chelsea. Scoring a cult hit with the indie charms of ‘The Cigarette Duet’, her 2011 album Lil’ Golden Book also demonstrated a fine talent for wistful electronica and tales of growing up in Auckland.

Her 2015 album The Great Cybernetic Depression cranked the electronic elements up to ’11’ and showcased songs that had a much more raw and personal edge. There was also a concept album approach which La Chelsea herself described as: “it represents a personal and societal depression due to social change triggered by technology.”


Hannah Peel

The varied musical career of Hannah Peel has presented a musician and composer with a particular ability to craft evocative melodies and compelling lyrics. Her most recent release Awake But Always Dreaming was assembled from the singer’s own encounter with the debilitating effects of dementia in her own family.

‘All That Matters’ combined fine electronic pop elements with a sweeping, uplifting quality to it. Released as a single, the track employs a combination of synth hooks and strings measured against Peel’s haunting vocal.


Marsheaux

Hailing from Greece, Marsheaux combine the ethereal vocal style of Sophie Sarigiannidou and Marianthi Melitsi with distinctive percussive rhythms and unashamedly electronic melodies. Their 2003 debut album E-Bay Queen and 2006 release Peekaboo demonstrated both an ability for original synthpop married with a smart choice of cover versions (such as The Lightning Seeds’ ‘Pure’ and New Order’s ‘Regret’).

Their most recent release was Ath.Lon although, arguably, it was their phenomenal 2009 album Lumineux Noir that set the bar. That album demonstrated a clear linear progression from their early material through to the bold, impulsive electronic masterpiece that few contemporaryacts have managed to emulate.


Kid Moxie

Originally from Greece, but now resident in LA, Kid Moxie is the musical moniker of Elena Charbila. Kid Moxie’s music is a blend of powerful beats, pop sweetness and haunting melodies. She’s collaborated with the likes of Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti and Clint Mansell and more recently released the excellent Perfect Shadow EP.


Susanne Sundfør

Susanne Sundfør’s musical career set a particularly high standard with the release of her 2015 album Ten Love Songs. The Norwegian musician’s glacial landscapes of electronic melancholy had a very particular personal touch and it’s small wonder that the album received critical acclaim.


Austra

Katie Stelmanis was another Canadian musician who made an impact in the world of electronic music on the back of several releases by Austra. From 2011’s Feel It Break through to the most recent album Future Politics, Stelmanis has brought to bear not only a stellar talent for tunes, but on the latest release a more pronounced commentary on politics.

The familiar bassy synth tones that Stelmanis has crafted as part of the classic Austra sound provide the foundations for ‘Utopia’. This rumination on the “collective depression”, that Stelmanis suggests is a result of city living, has strong hooks and melodies as some smart percussive frills keep the song moving along.


Grimes

The phenomenal success of her previous album Visions clearly caused something of a dilemma for Claire Boucher. The album had, in many ways, been a gear change from her earlier work in opening up the often cryptic soundscapes that had been the trademark sound of Grimes previous.

But Art Angels delivered a much more commercial vehicle for Grimes that could have swayed fans had it not been for the quality of the material on the album. Grimes goes electropop for ‘Kill V. Maim’ with its harsh percussion and insistent bass beat, sounding as if Hooky had dropped by the studio for a session. Again, it’s a fine example of the natural evolution of the Grimes sound. “I’m only a man/do what I can” intones Boucher on one of the more memorable tracks on the album.


Marina And The Diamonds

Marina Diamandis has consistently produced top tunes under the guise of Marina And The Diamonds, but also manages to switch gear on every subsequent release. The intimate Froot was an example of the talent that the Welsh musician can bring to bear.

‘Forget’ was one of Froot’s hidden gems with catchy hooks and a euphoric chorus. It’s lyrical themes of regret and moving forward utilise Marina’s smart wordplay as she regrets the times spent chasing rabbits when “I was born to be the tortoise/I was born to walk alone”.


Polly Scattergood

There’s a good combo of the ethereal with the more intense part of the electropop spectrum in dark pop chanteuse Polly Scattergood’s material. Her 2013 album Arrows received critical acclaim and Scattergood describes herself as a storyteller: “I write about emotions and moments, not all are biographical”.

More recently Scattergood lent her vocal talents to a reworked version of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’.


Christine And The Queens

French outfit Christine And The Queens managed to make an impact in 2016 via the subtle electropop touches of album Chaleur Humaine. Founder Héloïse Letissier, who has described Christine And The Queens’ sound as “freakpop”, managed to bring a Gallic charm to electronic music alongside visually arresting choreography for live shows. Huge in France, Christine And The Queens gained a broader audience through a 2015 US tour with Marina And The Diamonds.

2016 brought us the UK release of ‘Tilted’ whose oddly effective ‘reversed’ melodies and engaging beats helped pave the way for Chaleur Humaine. ‘Tilted’ represents an approach that slips easily into accessible commercial pop, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a catalogue of work that features an intriguing talent at work.


Princess Century

Occasionally on percussion duties for Austra (and formerly part of TR/ST), Maya Postepski has also carved out her own singular electronic music path under the guise of Princess Century.

Dipping into “minimalist cosmic disco psychedelia” as well as the “weird Krauty EDM vibe” of recent material, there’s something oddly compelling about Postepski’s unique electronic explorations.


Lola Dutronic

The trans-global duo of Lola Dutronic have been pushing out quality electronic music since 2004. From adaptations of 60s French pop through to musings on modern pop culture, the outfit’s finest moment to date is arguably their 2015 album Lost In Translation album.

One of the strongest components of Lola Dutronic is the sultry vocals of Germany-based singer Stephanie B – here working wonders on a sequel to one of their best songs.


Goldfrapp

The collaborative duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have charted an intriguing career arc following on from debut release Felt Mountain in 2000. It included dips into ‘folktronica’ evidenced on 2008’s Seventh Tree and the synth optimism of Head First in 2010. Meanwhile, 2013’s Tales of Us was considered by some outlets as a return to form (as the phrase goes).

Forthcoming album Silver Eye has been in development for some time and appears to be cast firmly in an electronic mold.


Marnie

Better known as being part of electropop outfit Ladytron, Helen Marnie has been keen to pursue a solo path in recent years, which led to 2013’s Crystal World album.

Marnie’s distinctive vocal style leaps out from any tune that she puts her hand to. With the reveal of new song ‘Alphabet Block’, she also announced details of a follow-up to Crystal World in the shape of the forthcoming Strange Words And Weird Wars. The official stance on the album is “soul crushing synths are wonderfully accented by hook-laden choruses as Marnie boldly explores up-tempo electro dream-pop”. Which we certainly can’t argue with.


Fifi Rong

Originally hailing from Bejing, Fifi Rong’s beguiling music encompasses a broad range of influences, including electronica, dub and hip hop. It’s a sound that’s continued to captivate both the music press and fans alike since her 2013 debut ‘Over You’. Or as Fifi herself once put it: “It’s a very individual and intimate language that I speak, with unfiltered and naked feelings of my own, for those who want to join me and listen to something real.”

‘Future Never Comes’ gives her sultry vocals a cinematic soundscape. “’Future Never Comes’ is by far the most epic-sounding track I’ve made” says Fifi, “with a lyrical theme going back to my initial breakthrough of the fear for pursuing my dream and answering my calling. Making this track as a collaboration feels like taking a glorious vacation away from being immersed building my own island.”


Learn more about International Women’s Day via www.internationalwomensday.com


AUSTRA Future Politics

AUSTRA return with a topical third outing…

Offering a statement on the themes and approach of Austra’s latest album Future Politics, Katie Stelmanis suggests “a commitment to replace the approaching dystopia. Not just hope in the future, but the idea that everyone is required to help write it, and the boundaries of what it can look like are both fascinating and endless. It’s not about ‘being political,’ it’s about reaching beyond boundaries, in every single field.”

It’s a timely concept with last year marking a particularly turbulent year in politics in the US (Future Politics is released the same day that Trump takes office) and other assorted political turmoil springing up around the globe. But Austra’s new album encompasses not just the politics of the title but also touches on themes of the environment, the human condition and the idea that a Utopian ideal is achievable.

So how do these weighty topics stack up against the composition of the album’s songs themselves? At this stage, many bands and artists could be forgiven for exhausting their individual creative wells. Austra are now on album No. 3 which ramps up the pressure to deliver a worthy successor to both Feel It Break and Olympia.

Opening track ‘We Were Alive’ has a dreamlike fugue to it and also a curious sadness that sets the tone for the album proper. There’s an intimacy here in Stelmanis’ queries on whether there’s “a cure for apathy” while sweeping strings underpin the composition as a whole.

Meanwhile, title track ‘Future Politics’ has a throbbing disco beat accompanying ruminations on a dystopic world. “I’m never coming back here” suggests the lyrics, which also offer some hope in later lines such as “I’m looking for something to rise up above”. Meanwhile, the song title is hammered out in a repetitive manner against the slightly disconcerting rhythms.

The familiar bassy synth tones that Stelmanis has crafted as part of the classic Austra sound provide the foundations for ‘Utopia’. This rumination on the “collective depression”, that Stelmanis suggests is a result of city living, has strong hooks and melodies as some smart percussive frills keep the song moving along.

Stelmanis’ operatic background really gets a workout on ‘I’m A Monster’ which opens with a minimal arrangement focusing on mesmerising vocals. An ethereal refrain is ladled out: “I don’t feel nothing anymore” as subtle electronic washes weave in and out of the song.

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Similarly, there’s a simplicity to the arrangement of ‘I Love You More Than You Love Yourself’ which is augmented by some well executed melodic lifts.

The writing and recording of Austra’s 2013 album Olympia saw Stelmanis and the expanded Austra team assemble in the studio for a group effort. For Future Politics, Katie opted to write the album as a solo endeavour. As she described at her recent London showcase performance: “It was something that I wanted to do it all myself because I wanted to be in control of all parts of it and I also just wanted to be able to get really deep with it”.

It was an approach that Stelmanis had also adopted after having to deal with both the pressures of time and money in working in a studio (as well as the pressures of third parties in the studio trying to foist their own concepts onto the recordings).

As a result, there’s more of a personal touch to the songs on Future Politics, as evidenced in the hypnotic tones of songs such as ‘Gaia’. “The physical world is the only world” becomes something of a mantra throughout the composition, echoing environmental concerns.

‘Freepower’ has a casual, languid aspect to it. Elsewhere, ‘Beyond A Mortal’ dips back into a deep dreamscape while ‘Deep Thought’ offers an interlude of sorts (it’s the brief piece that’s heard on the start of the ‘Utopia’ video) with its electronic glissandos.

Closing track ’43’ has a slightly more ominous feel to it, inspired by a particularly harrowing event in Mexico in which 43 students were abducted. This incident had a particular effect on Stelmanis when she visited the country during the writing of the album. “…I wrote this song from the perspective of a mother singing about her lost son. And I felt it was also relevant in terms of the lot of the police brutality stuff that we’re dealing with in the US and Canada and I think here too”.

Casual Austra fans might be a bit glum that the baroque pop elements that the previous albums held so strong are less evident here. Electronic music enthusiasts will perhaps find Austra adding further colours to the particular musical palette that the Canadian outfit have carefully crafted since 2011’s Feel It Break. Certainly Future Politics offers up a more intimate and personal approach than previous outings, but as an album it still offers up rewards from patient listening.


Future Politics is released 20th January 2017 on the Domino label. The album is available to pre-order on Amazon.

www.austramusic.com


PRINCESS CENTURY Rendezvous

PRINCESS CENTURY offers up a bonus selection of electronic delights…

With the release of 2015’s Progress, Princess Century (aka Maya Postepksi) had successfully stepped up from her debut album Lossless as well as demonstrated that the Toronto musician’s work with the likes of Austra and Trust weren’t the sole limits of her talents.

The tracks on new EP Rendezvous were recorded during the original Progress sessions, but had been shelved from inclusion as they didn’t quite fit the vibe of Progress. “The tracks didn’t quite work on the album” according to Maya, “but I felt they shared a weird Krauty EDM vibe…I love the concept they tied in with the single, Rendezvous: a meeting with someone that is arranged for a particular time and place and that is often secret.”

‘Robber’ employs buzzy electronica as the foundation for a starkly disconcerting slice of electronica. As with other Princess Century material, the music can offer up a cryptic – at times sinister – feel to them and ‘Robber’ is no exception.

Meanwhile, the warmer tones of ‘Wet’ delivers a more abstract approach with its squelchy synths and layered electronic appeal.

The title track actually has a slighter older heritage than the Progress material, having originally appeared on a Stellar Kinematics compilation back in 2013. Underpinned by a driving synthetic bass, ‘Rendezvous’ has a percussive appeal that offers a nod to the bassy tones of Austra, while also weaving in the sweeping electronic washes of the likes of Jean Michel Jarre. It’s new guise also drops in some additional reedy synth fills to give the tune a much more expansive feel.

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To accompany the EP’s release, a new video for ‘Rendezvous’ has also been released directed by Patricia Aldridge (who previously worked with Maya on videos for the likes of ‘Discoset’ and ‘Sunscream’). The psychedelic qualities of the video have a science fiction quality that Aldridge herself describes in part as Maya having “intercourse with the universe”. It’s wild, it’s trippy and it’s brilliant.


Rendezvous is released by Paper Bag Records and is available now.

You can stream the Rendezvous tracks on the Brooklyn Vegan website.

http://princesscentury.com

This article originally appeared on the Wavegirl site.


PRINCESS CENTURY Lossless

You’d think that between TRUST and AUSTRA, the talented MAYA POSTEPSKI would have all her free time accounted for. So it was somewhat surprising to learn that she’s also embarked on a solo project titled PRINCESS CENTURY…

Releasing a vinyl-only album titled Lossless in April 2013, Postepski demonstrated a flair for the experimental. Those expecting Lossless to be retreads of Austra/Trust material are probably going to be disappointed. Instead, this is Postepksi exploring sound and composition.

Lossless (inspired in part by the Charles Manson murders) shows Maya experimenting with a variety of approaches to electronic music and mixing, often with dark overtones. ‘Le Rayon Vert’ pulls in video game tunes and acts in some ways as an overture for the album, while ‘Palace’ gives us a brooding drum machine-driven track augmented with vague vocals.

It’s clear that Maya is less interested in conventional song composition and more interested in exploring sound forms and styles. As a result, many of the vocal elements tend to be obscured in washes of echo (as with ‘Twin House’) or used for rhythmic effect (such as on the ominous tones of ‘PiG’)

A clearer take on Maya’s pipes is evident on ‘Giving It Away’ while ‘Love and Money’ (a collaboration with Danish electronic musician Heidi Mortenson) presents a track featuring the metallic-sounding percussion that Maya uses to great effect on Austra material.

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Meanwhile, ‘Crummy Bones’ is more of a lo-fi percussion-driven track with brief synth interludes. ‘Das Schlimmste’ paints a soundscape in battleship grey for an electronic composition that hints at menace. The synthetic soundscape and beats of ‘Heaven Rock’ presents one of Lossless’ finest moment with its electronic melodies and dreamlike moods. At times it sounds like Kraftwerk playing with triphop!

While no precise details about where Princess Century will be going with the new album, a contribution to a recent Stellar Kinematics compilation suggests a much tighter approach to future material. The track, titled ‘Rendezvous’, offers up a percussive number that could almost be Austra meets Jean Michel Jarre.

A follow-up album (as yet untitled) is scheduled for release in the spring


http://princesscentury.com
http://soundcloud.com/princesscentury/sets/lossless-1


Text by Paul Browne
2nd January 2014

AUSTRA Live at Koko

It takes a lot to draw us out into a chilly November evening, but Austra provide a suitably attractive prospect. Following on from the release of critically-acclaimed new album Olympia, the sold-out Koko in Camden is proof of the Canadian outfit’s continuing popularity.


Along for the ride tonight are two support acts, fellow Canadian outfit Diana and Welsh guitar band Deaf Club. Diana deliver serviceable pop numbers, but surprisingly it’s Deaf Club that manage to stand out. Eschewing the rote retro approach employed by many contemporary guitar acts, Deaf Club present a shimmering layered wall of sound augmented by the dreamlike vocals of Polly Mackey. The finest moment has to be the epic tones of final song ‘Postcard’, which bring to mind the ethereal washes of Slowdive.

At this stage we have to pause to comment on the sound mixing at Koko for the evening’s entertainment. It may have been simply the unfortunate positioning of myself being next to the right hand speaker stack, but at times the level of bass was not unlike having socks forcefully stuffed in your ears.

Certainly, Austra’s entry to the stage to the delicate tones of ‘What We Done?’ is given all the charm of a foghorn being let off at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Despite this, the carefully layered elements of the track build to an electropop stomper. The muddy sound also took the edge off solid Austra classics such as ‘The Villain’ – normally a high point of Austra’s live arsenal.

Not that this prevents the ever-professional Katie Stelmanis from delivering a sterling performance – with a surprising amount of energy as she bounds back and forth from synth to microphone, simultaneously dancing to each end of the stage throughout the set. Kitted out in a ghostly white dress and precariously large platform shoes, her distinctive soaring vocals power out across the stage.

Austra’s live unit has been trimmed down lately due to the Lightman twins taking time out to form their own musical outfit. It’s an absence that does have a notable effect on some songs, particularly the dreamlike ‘Painful Like’ and the evocative moods of ‘Reconcile’. But there’s still a good chemistry at work with the band tonight with Maya Postepski’s percussion, Dorian Wolf’s bass and Ryan Wonsiak’s synth all providing a solid backing to the talents of Miss Stelmanis.

‘Home’ is given a much more robust live delivery – and also elicits one of the most euphoric responses from the packed venue. Meanwhile, the infectious choral qualities of ‘Lose It’ also get the crowd jumping up and down, with Katie encouraging the audience to sing along.

‘Beat And The Pulse’ is turned into a frenzied blizzard of force on stage. Maya Postepski’s frantic drumming giving this popular slice of Austra’s catalogue a fresh energy.

Austra encore with the funk-infused ‘Annie (Oh Muse,You)’ and a superb rendition of the brooding ‘Spellwork’ which never fails to raise the hairs at the back of your neck.

Finally, the ominous tones of ‘Hurt Me Now’ bring proceedings to a close, serving as a reminder that Austra appear to be uniquely qualified to serve up brooding, dark material that nevertheless has an optimistic and at times euphoric feel to it.


Olympia is available via Amazon.

www.austramusic.com


Text by Paul Browne 1st December 2013

AUSTRA Olympia

Commenting on Canada’s largest city, the writer Margaret Atwood once made the joke “First prize a week in Toronto, second prize two weeks in Toronto”. Times change and a now thoroughly cosmopolitan Toronto is the city that’s produced the captivating tunes of baroque electronic ensemble AUSTRA.

Austra’s critically acclaimed 2011 album Feel It Break showcased the unique vocal style of Katie Stelmanis, a classically-trained musician originally part of pre-Austra outfit Galaxy (alongside fellow Austra member Maya Postepski). There was much noise made at the time regarding the sexual politics of Austra given that Stelmanis and many of the band members were gay. It’s an issue that’s largely become irrelevant in Austra’s developing career as Stelmanis has previously stated that she considers herself as a musician first. Although she considers her sexuality to be a factor in music writing, it’s clear that Austra is not an outfit that feels the need to take on a political stance.

Now Austra’s second album Olympia arrives after a lengthy period of touring and promoting Feel It Break. Olympia’s evolution took place during a year of writing and recording in a period in which Austra’s line-up expanded from its core unit of Stelmanis, Postepski and bassist Dorian Wolf to a full 6-piece band.

Curiously, Austra’s record label Domino have gone to great pains to state that although Olympia is “filled with electronic and synthetic sounds”, the album is also “free of programming and loops” while also confirming that the album was recorded live. It reads almost like an apology for a band having the audacity to use electronic instruments to begin with – a criticism that could be read in many thinly veiled comments from a portion of the writers covering Austra’s rapid career rise (including a reviewer who once dismissed Austra’s use of “dated synths”).

For Stelmanis, there’s no controversy and the evocative moods and drama of Feel It Break emerged from embracing electronic music rather than dismissing it. That said, Olympia certainly appears to be a much more organic collection of songs and, witnessing the chemistry of the band on stage, it’s perhaps understandable that there’s an urge to see if that live dynamic can be caught on record. If there’s a downside to this it’s that the album does appear at times to lack the idiosyncratic style of its predecessor.

At the core of the album is Katie Stelmanis’ distinctive voice which soars and swoops through the tracks on Olympia always commanding attention. The often ambiguous nature of the lyrics challenges the listener to use their imagination to fill in the gaps, but there’s always an emotional weight behind much of the percussive rhythms and melodic tones of the material to suggest themes of joy, loss, regret and reflection.

Opener ‘What We Done?’ builds on a fragmented intro with elements of sub-bass and melodic flute-like tones heraldling the arrival of Stelmanis announcing “Come back to me, you’re seventeen”. It builds into a crescendo of driving electropop and emerges as a highlight of the album.

‘Forgive Me’ builds on the regimented bass of Dorian Wolf for a track that makes use of open spaces and subtle electronic effects. The subtle dance beats of ‘Painful Like’ paint a reflective soundscape augmented by brief dub effects as Katie’s swooping voice soars above it. There’s a generous use of harmonics on Olympia (usually courtesy of Austra regulars Sari & Romy Lightman) which is evident on tracks such as ‘Fire’ with its rustic tones, wood percussion and subtle washes of white noise.

‘Home’, which was also released as a single ahead of the album, is a superb heart breaking song with its simple piano stabs and subtle electronic rhythms providing the ideal foundations for Stelmanis’ trilling vocal dramatics. ‘I Don’t Care (I’m a Man)’ is perhaps one of Austra’s most non-ambiguous songs with its commentary on domestic violence. The lilting Caribbean beats and rhythms on ‘We Become’, meanwhile, expands Austra’s musical palette.

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There’s an appealing charm to the arpeggio-led ‘Reconcile’ which also makes fine use of echo on the vocals, augmented once again with the Lightman sisters, to give a haunting delivery. The club-orientated rhythms of ‘Annie (Oh muse, you)’ wears its dance beat influences on its sleeve. Meanwhile, ‘You Changed My Life’ offers up another icy intimate moment with its isolated vocal/minimalist piano before giving Maya Postepski an opportunity to shine with its percussion-driven second half.

‘Hurt Me Now’ manages to combine sparse percussive effects with broody synths and samples to craft a dramatic tune of yearning and melancholia. It’s a fine song to close proceedings with.

Olympia continues to carry the torch for Austra’s particular flavour of electronic music, although it never quite seems to scale the heights that Feel It Break achieved. It still boasts the brooding drama and compelling electronic moods that Austra have made their own, but there’s a danger perhaps that in future the band may feel obliged to strip away those very elements that make Austra sound so special.


Olympia is available via Amazon.

www.austramusic.com


Text by Paul Browne
18th June 2013