Pretending To See The Future #1
by Oliver Rose
Note From The Editor: With our exciting crop of new writers now settled into their PearShaped roles, we bring to you the latest columnists, Oliver Rose. Already and established presence in the magazine and our only first year columnist thus far, Oliver will be gracing us with this weekly column which he describes in his own words below.
I love synthesiser music – the complex melodic patterns, the fat, squelchy rhythms, the sci-fi technology that creates these magical noises. I’ve researched, collected and enjoyed new wave and synthpop records for some years now and, most recently, even tried to teach myself the now-waning art of analog synthesis. I hope, by way of these weekly installments, to share with you all my favourite sounds from the new age and beyond. So sit down, plug in and join me in pretending to see the future.
March On Down The Line – Erasure (1986) B-Side of Oh L’amour, from the album Wonderland
Few synsthesiser artists can compare with the mighty melodic genius of Vince Clarke whose double-team with vocalist Andy Bell in the mid-‘80s brought into being the unstoppable Erasure. Clarke’s analog keyboards are tight, hard-hitting and gorgeously rich, imitating on this track, the springy timbres of harpsichords and organs. Bell’s vocal is a camp and theatrical yearn, his syllables drawn salaciously over the electric snares and bass. One also can’t help but crack a smile at the homoerotic appropriation of the Rev. W. Awdry’s Railway Series’ characters on the artwork (it’s really no wonder that this sleeve was recalled). Much of Erasure’s B-Side material was as danceable and noteworthy as that which made their album track-listings (such as A-Side here, Oh L’amour). Also worth mentioning is the superb quality of the remixes from this period – the 12” extended version here embellishes the track with elongated sections of music rather than hideously transmogrifying the instrumentation as a modern remix might.
Converted – Univaque (2004) Single from the album Lost in a Maze
There are several hundred amateur synth artists out there and (it has to be said) they’re not all good. Rule of thumb: the lesser-known, the less you can expect. But then there are curveballs like this. Univaque, a British collective based in Sweden, wrote and recorded a solitary LP in 2004, released on the SubSpace Communications label; it was barely heard on release and, to this day, remains relatively unknown. As fans of 1980s synthpop will appreciate, the band demonstrates nothing short of utter devotion for squelchy Mute artists such as Yazoo and Fad Gadget. Their lyrics are gleefully meaningless and the untrained vocal is a shameless copy of Dave Gahan, the baritone singer of seminal British synth-act Depeche Mode. The single loveliest part of this little-known homage however, is the affected Essex accent with which the words are sung; Mark Welbourn’s lazy pronunciation of “er” sounds (“so you say you wanna live forevaa”) is an excellently observed and perfectly Depeche-esque touch.
JC Hates Faggots – John Grant (2010) Track from the album Queen Of Denmark
Frontman with Denverite alternative rock group The Czars from 1994-2004, John Grant received universal acclaim when this, his debut LP, dropped in 2010. Backed by Bella Union labelmates Midlake, he spends the album’s run-time growling cynical lyrics over fuzzy alt-rock textures and sparing few details, be it his pained longing or scathing criticisms. On JC Hates Faggots, the instrumentation takes a twinkling and dotty electric form, underpinned by fat, orchestral synths that prowl in a gracious, baroque ‘n’ roll staccato over the most sublime chord progression. Atop this voltaic arrangement, Grant wryly laments his suicidal homosexuality, recalling unjust fables he has learned from the perspective of his teachers: “Jesus, he hates fruit loops, son / We told you that when you were young.” According to Grant, the song doesn’t address the actual Jesus’ opinions of gay culture, but rather the unfounded prejudices of his modern followers: “People saying, ‘I hate forks, so Jesus hates forks…”
White Foxes – Susanne Sundfør (2012) Single from the album The Silicon Veil
Susanne Sundfør is my favourite voice in contemporary music. Her eclecticism is totally unparalleled and her pop-sensibilities are frankly scientific in their purity. A considerable shift from her acoustic records prior, White Foxes sees Sundfør utilise earth-shattering chord changes and gargantuan synthesiser melodies on a track that is unmistakably Scandinavian, bearing the cold lyrical character that epitomises the dark temperate of northern Europe; a synthpop Beowulf. This plodding number begins with a ghostly ticking, upon which a piano jaggedly spits before deep, resonant synthesised bass notes loom overhead. An arpeggiated, saw-wave stab tears through the pre-chorus as the singer’s gentle moan escalates to a magnificent banshee’s wail that is bone-shaking, precise and emphatically powerful. When the chorus finally hits, a magical cascade of sweeping notes guides the listener through unexpected chord changes and piercing melodies. It’s the iciest, most electrifying synth music there is.
Empty Threat – Chvrches (2015) Track from the album Every Open Eye
Chvrches’ sophomore effort was largely disappointing insomuch as it delivered their finest songwriting yet, but using a tonal aesthetic that had long since grown stale. Fortunately, outside of the album format, and indeed the band’s wider discography, these songs stand as titanic monuments of irredescent electronica. Lauren Mayberry’s razor-sharp vocal delivers marvellous, strong-armed feminism in a fashion that is neither aggressive or half-hearted, but perfectly dominant and welcomely relevant. Her gentle Scottish brogue begins instantaneously, backed by a flickering arpeggiator and kick-drum pattern that leads the way toward a huge, anthemic chorus; here, the sweet façade is abandoned and Mayberry’s punchy confidence dances like roaring, naked flames before the throbbing enormity of the shimmering, electric backdrop. Chrvrches are, in my opinion, the undisputed masters of dance-floor intelligentsia, and Empty Threat, whilst clearly indebtted to the electric ‘80s, shows something rather unique