Pretending To See The Future #3

by Oliver Rose

The Number One Song In Heaven – Sparks (1979) Track from the album No. 1 in Heaven

Of the six tracks produced by pop-pioneer Giorgio Moroder and featured on the LP No. 1 in Heaven, this song is one of three that would become top 40 singles. Best-known in its three-minute 7” incarnation, the full-length cut of this track opens with ghostly-chorale multitracking of Russell Mael’s vocal and the steady throb of lapping saw waves. At the 3:30 mark, that gentile ethereal choir is swapped for hi-NRG disco pulse, kick-started by the famous drum fill that opens the 7” version of the record. Sparks’ dynamic here is as much Moroder’s as it is their own; the sharp tonality of the synthesisers mirrors Moroder’s work on Donna Summer’s I Feel Love – and yet the absurd subject-matter and crazed falsetto are undoubtedly the doing of the brothers Mael.

The Number One Song In Heaven

Ice Machine – Depeche Mode (1981) B-side of standalone single Dreaming Of Me

Vince Clarke’s brief tenure with Depeche Mode produced some of the most anomalous work in their catalogue. But whilst some of his contributions might seem embarrassingly gay next to the mammoth miserablism of the band’s maturer late-80s cuts, Ice Machine is a rare slice of new wave that, whilst typically pretentious, carries with it a profound melodic sadness to transcend the tongue-in-cheek glum of early Human League or Ultravox. Clarke’s crystal arpeggios are rendered in a shimmering curtain of fatly produced synth layers, with several melodic tracks working gorgeously in unison after the 2:15 mark, a menacing reverb cloaking the click track, and Martin Gore’s nonsense lyrical whimsy delivered in faultless baritone by a floppy-haired Dave Gahan.

Depeche Mode Speak & Spell

Save A Secret For The Moon – The Magnetic Fields (1996) Track from the album Get Lost

From a whirlwind of toy keyboards and delay-laden drum machine clicks comes the voice of a bemoaned angel: “I know all the saddest people / Most of them are dead now”. This is Stephin Merritt; without doubt the most overlooked singer-songwriter of the last 20 years. I discovered the Fields via the eclectic twee-synth textures of 1993’s Holiday, and here, on follow-up Get Lost, that sound evolves. Merritt’s tear-jerkingly perfect cocktail of cynical poetry and heterogeneous musical influences underpins this wet, plodding synth number, cantillated in his signature bass vocal tone and brimming with bizarre aural weaves. Your challenge then, is to find me another artist who has so electrically advocated the exchange of intimacies via astronomy – you may just struggle…

The Magnetic Fields Get Lost

Sing Once For Me – Joy Electric (2001) Track from the album The White Songbook (Legacy, Vol. 1)

For his fifth album, South-African Christian rocker Ronnie Martin decided to use just one synthesiser alone, a trend he has continued through into successive LPs. By chance I suppose, he began with my favourite synthesiser of all time – the late Roland System 100. This is a late-70s analog synth famed for its very particular filter, sequencer and patching capabilities and was used most famously by the Human League on their first two albums, where it was also the primary instrument. Here, in a clear, modern mix, it’s juicy as ever; a complex swathe of arpeggios blends elegantly with Martin’s soft runs in a trance-like mist of noise, breaking at 3:19 for a heartstring-tugging foray into the unpredictable world of analog oscillation. This is truly sublime synth music.

The White Songbook

Lanzarote – Lindstrøm & Todd Terje (2013) Standalone single

Both Lindstrøm and Todd Terje have had recent successes in their solo work with analog synths. Lindstrøm’s 2012 LP Smalhans received critical acclaim across the board and Todd Terje even crept up to #23 on the UK albums chart with It’s Album Time, which, for an album of ’80s-indebtted synth-jazz is no small feat. Lanzarote is then, their salaciously squelchy get-together, combining Lindstrøm’s pop-sensible chord structures with Terje’s rich consistencies. A simple but thick-sounding dance-track, the thumping groove of this number is definitely best appreciated in the progressive form of the full 8:39 12” cut, though the radio edit is a fun comparative listen, with arpeg flourishes that seem more sharply-produced. Oh – and the closing vocal is hilarious.

It's Album Time

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