Cardboard Lamb – Crash Course in Science (1981) Track from the EP, Signals from Pier Thirteen
Quintessentially minimal wave, Crash Course In Science (pictured above) are rare for perfecting simplicity in both the arrangement of their instruments, and in their sparse melodic structuring. Cardboard Lamb consists of a single chord, arpeggiated over the song’s two-and-a-half minutes as metallic samples scrape and swish around the mix like nuts and bolts in a bucket. Mallory Yago’s surreal lyrics inject unispired humanity into this debris field of electronic din in a deadpan, Flying Lizards-type way, drenching the song in an uncomfortable other-worldliness. Crash Course only put out a 7” single and this EP before disbanding, but their archived debut LP has finally seen release in recent years – check it out for more fat-sounding synths and despairing dance vibes.
Serenade – Ultravox (1982) Track from the album Quartet
Of all the artsy New Romantics there were none quite so pretentious as Ultravox, led initially by avant-garde antihero John Foxx and later, into popularity by the grandiloquent Midge Ure. This, album number three under Ure, is teeming with post-war European anxiety and theatrical disdain, and whilst the whole album is certainly worth a listen, it’s Serenade that best showcases Ultravox’s highfalutin’ pomp, with winding, discordant piano arpeggios and vocal melodies that drift into sharp keys to sound clever. As ever, it’s laughably serious (“Youth runs wild with the beat in their hearts”) and Ure’s enunciation is overly-convicted – but, these elements mixed with clean production and razor-sharp bass synths make for enjoyable pop, however hopelessly dated.
Mandrill – Patrick Colby (1985) Standalone single
I’m not sure I advocate the violently phallic connotations of this track’s title, or indeed the misogynistic overtones of the artwork… However, what we have here is some exemplary Italo-Disco, complete with brassy synthesiser melodies and badly written lyrics – thank goodness indeed for Italian producers with a knack for dance anthems and an infamous reputation for ropey translation. Over the course of its endearing six-or-so-minutes (depending on the mix you choose), Mandrill is unmistakbly mid-80s and, consequently, a thumpin’ mover; from the exotic bongo-beat in the opening bars, to the sequential bound of the bass-synth, it’s a truly explosive dance track, with a zesty, euphonic chorus and pattering vocals to charm discos the world over.
Untrust Us – Crystal Castles (2007)
Track from the album Crystal Castles
From the gaily European to the miserably Canadian now, as Crystal Castles burst into being in the opening seconds of their debut LP with Untrust Us, an upbeat melody that is dragged to the ocean floor by organ loops, droning vocal samples and sequin-curtains of synth noise. Over three LPs, the band perfected their synth-punk aesthetic before Alice Glass’ deeply personal and explosive departure in 2014 – their music is visceral, distorted and uncomfortable to endure, with Frank Black-esque themes of rape and death, that lack the playful dynamic of a band like the Pixies to neutralise the acidic substance; here, the grot is simply brazen, and we sense it in the lyric, sampled from Death from Above 1979: “La cocaina no es buena para su salud / La cocaina is not good for you.” Apparently, cocaine is bad for you – but then the song is called Untrust Us… Maybe you ought to decide…
True Affection – Father John Misty (2015) Track from the album I Love You, Honeybear
It’s my album of the year for sure, and certainly one of the funniest, most-heartwarming and musically adept constructions in recent folk-rock. I Love You, Honeybear is a titanic landmark in the world of indie cynicism, and I’ll bet Bella Union are chuffed to have Misty on a rosta that already included top sarcastic motherfucker John Grant and experimental psych-rock screwballs The Flaming Lips. True Affection is the LP’s third track, and its strangest; Misty pleas with his beloved that they abandon digital messaging and embrace a truer, more physical affection as a swirling backdrop of ticking drum machines and ethereal keyboards dance ecstatically behind him. In every way, Misty is dry and ironic; his mystique is in his apparent lack of sincerity and joking glances – in that respect, he’s watched better than he is listened to. Regardless, if you’ve not tried this guy out yet, do – he’s absolutely superb.