SINESTAR – Singularis Launch Event

Bristol synthpop outfit release their debut album…

Sinestar all hail from the Bristol area and got together in late 2011, formed from the ashes of Jagged. Their debut I Am The Rain EP was released at a launch party at The Tunnels, Bristol in early 2012 and two years on, they’re back there to launch their long awaited debut album, Singularis.

Joining them on an entertaining and value for money bill are Cornwall’s Low Tide Theory, whose debut album, The Big Sky, attracted much radio play in 2013, and also Analog Angel, whose latest release was the well received Pride EP, which also proved popular on the airwaves.

And it’s Analog Angel kicking things off tonight, their dark synth tones going down well. Singer John Brown has a languid and confident stage presence borne of many gigs both here and in Europe and a catchy new song, ‘Shout’, goes down well, which bodes well for a planned release of new material in a month or two. They finish to great applause with the radio friendly favourite, ‘We Won’t Walk Away’.

Low Tide Theory’s lighter, more commercial songs provide a good contrast and demonstrate the range of material under the synthpop banner. A poor sound balance and monitoring issues didn’t help but they turned things around with members of the crowd joining in with ‘We All Fall Down’ and ‘Crash’ to close their set.

So, both bands were an enjoyable hors d’oeuvres for the main course about to appear. When Sinestar hit the stage, it’s clear how much they’ve progressed from what was already a good live band in 2012. Support slots for Mesh in Europe have allowed them to hone their craft in front of large audiences and the result is a tight, confident band who make a great noise… the best combination of live synths, vocals, guitar, bass and drums this side of Ultravox. Singer Iain Brownlie prowls the stage, rarely still, confident with just the right amount of cockiness, knowing how good the band is, how good the songs are, and how well he can sing. And he’s not wrong. Songs like ‘Hope and Prey’, ‘Rise and Fall’ and ‘Butterflies’ all have soaring choruses many singers in the synthpop world would struggle with. They demand a good vocal range and he delivers every time. Poor onstage monitoring did mean a brief problem as he struggled to hear himself but that was dealt with quickly and it was business as usual.

Despite this being the official launch of Singularis, they took the opportunity to showcase two catchy new songs and both go down well; a good indicator of the rich vein of material the songwriting partnership of Brownlie and keyboard player Mark Trueman are still uncovering, as they carry on where they left off after completing the album.

Singularis features 14 tracks in all. What is very much a modern album starts off with a very traditional opener… an overture! ‘Chrysalis’ is a short instrumental purely designed to open up proceedings, using the same chord sequence as ‘Butterflies’, the final track on the album, to link the two and thematically open and close the album (and if you don’t know how a chrysalis and butterflies are linked, go and look it up now).

Next up, a reworking of the lead track from their first EP. The original masters of ‘I Am The Rain’ not being available, the band took the opportunity to go back and do it again. The result loses something of the raw, “5 guys setting up and playing” quality of the original but that’s balanced against a far clearer, more polished mix. This version of the track incidentally, has also been been remixed by Mesh’s Rich Silverthorn and made freely available for download on the web and is well worth picking up.

Tracks like ‘Cry Like You Mean It’, ‘Without Glory’ and ‘Locked From The Inside’, set the pattern – upbeat, nagging riffs, catchy choruses, plenty of electronics blended with traditional band elements. And blessed, in Iain Brownlie, with a singer who can really sing. His wide range is shown on the impressive ‘Rise and Fall’, a song which has received much acclaim, and which, in parts, sounds like a second singer is being used. Rare indeed.

‘Lived For’ appeared on their debut EP and sounds like it’s been remastered to fit in with the rest of the album… which it does, it’s a majestic track and it would have been a shame if it had been missed off. Likewise, ‘Hurricane’ from that EP is here too, albeit in the remixed version, courtesy of Tenek’s Geoff Pinckney.

The gritty Undisputed ‘King Of The Tragedy’ is similarly hook laden, featuring call and response vocals and raw guitar alongside the usual synth lines. This song is perhaps more representative of Sinestar live, a raw yet polished and powerful live experience which has impressed many over the last couple of years. It’s an aggressive track which leads into the album’s finale.

‘Butterflies’ closes the album and is already gaining a reputation as a bit of a show stopper. Unlike their other output, it’s a ballad, complete with arpeggiated piano chords, strings, close up vocals… and a one word chorus with a soaring vocal which literally takes off, supported by strings. And which puts the hairs up on the back of your neck. More than one person has told this reviewer they reach for a hankie for this one! So simple and yet stays in your head long after it’s finished.

MESH – Automation Baby

The Way I Feel

Having been a fan since they first appeared on a music technology magazine cover CD in the early 1990s, I lost sight of Mesh a bit after a few years… more down to my tastes changing than any decrease in quality on their part. The new single released recently ‘Born To Lie’ was very much a statement of intent… “we’re back now and THIS is how to write a single” and has had me scuttling back to catch up on the last couple of albums. And now arrives the new album, the first since 2009.

Opening track ‘Just Leave Us Alone’ surprises a little with its rock guitar lead line…but the pulsing synths and chorus remind you who you’re listening to. Otherwise, it’s aggressive synths, heavy drums, mixed in with a fewer slower songs, all with epic chord changes…all the things you expect from a Mesh album. In fact the first few tracks are all “bang bang” – catchy hooks grabbing you by the collar and head butting the melodies into your brain, daring you to try and forget them. Takes some skill to write great melodies, never mind get the best from them. Finally on ‘This Is The Time’, the verse starts and you think… finally, this isn’t quite so immediate…then the chorus comes in and there you go, singing along again straight away… Perhaps Richard Silverthorn and Mark Hockings, who formed Mesh in 1991, have sold their souls to the devil in return for such a skill…

‘Born To Lie’ is here of course, with its harking back to the tribal, catchy Glitter Band drums and “heys” and in-yer-face synths. But of course, an album full of that would get a bit wearing and while ‘You Want What’s Owed to You’ ploughs a similar furrow to no little reward, there’s enough variety on Automation Baby to bring you back for many listens. Production values are incredibly high… pads shimmer, drums pound, lead synths squeal and squawk when they need to, Hockings’ vocals rise above everything… each sound has its space. ‘AB Incidental No.1’ is an instrumental and acts as a much needed come down after the opening salvo of energy before it. There is also ‘AB Incidental No.2’ later on, which, while more energetic, is far shorter and more like the little instrumental sketches Mesh have used in between songs before. The title track is everything a title track should be… catchy, epic, pounding… one of several instances where I was lost in the chorus, nodding away in time with the music…much to the bemusement of my fellow commuters on the train. Oh well… 🙂

I won’t mention every track by name but a stand out track is ‘You Couldn’t See This Coming’. An epic, beautiful slowie, accompanied by sparse, pulsing arpeggios, Hockings is on great form on lines such as “I need more time…to cross the ‘T’s and dry your eyes” …emotional and beautiful. The song builds until what sounds like the kitchen sink and a Morricone-conducted orchestra are thrown in on the next chorus to tug at those heart strings. Cliché? Maybe. But not one you find in synthpop very often and certainly not done this well. To their credit, a 6 minute ballad could have been a disaster… this is a mature, masterpiece arrangement.

Many bands peter out after one or two albums… Mesh’s material seems to get stronger. Once upon a time, they were seen as DM soundalikes. Hard to believe now – those days are very much long gone, as they developed their sound and matured as songwriters. If there is any justice at ALL, Mesh will eventually be rewarded for their perseverance and dogged determination to keep going over what is, by most standards, an extraordinarily long career. It would be nice to think Rich and Mark would be able to semi-retire to country piles and swimming pools in between the occasional album and Mesh would be a household name. Mesh are very much back and taking their place on the upper steps in the synthpop Pantheon once again.

Automation Baby is released by Dependent on CD, limited edition 2CD and download formats

Mesh play an extensive UK and European tour between March and April 2013.

Berlin Columbia Club (22 March), Erfurt HSD (23 March), Warsaw Progresja (24 March), Bristol The Fleece (30 March), Hamburg Markthalle (05 April), Gothenburg Brewhouse (6 April), Rostock M.A.U. Club (7 April), Hannover Musikzentrum (9 April), Cologne Live Music Hall (10 April), Bochum Matrix (12 April), Leipzig Werk II Festival (13 April), Munich Backstage (14 April), Vienna Szene (15 April), Strasbourg La Laiterie (16 April), Frankfurt Main Batschkapp (17 April), Newcastle Legends (19 April), Manchester Sound Control (20 April), London Islington O2 Academy (21 April)

Bristol date supported by Inertia.

Munich, Vienna and Frankfurt dates supported by Sinestar.

Newcastle, Manchester and London dates supported by De/Vision.

Flip Martian presents his Monday evening ’Selection Box’ show and a fortnightly Tuesday evening in concert programme ‘Live and Loud!’, both at 20:00 GMT on .