Radioaktivität – Kraftwerk (1975) Single from the album, Radioaktivität
Kraftwerk were the de facto pioneers of synthesiser music. Their fifth studio LP, Radioaktivität is a landmark in the golden age of electronic krautrock, forming dense, luscious soundscapes in analog squelch whilst the UK was primordially enjoying the likes of David Essex (sorry, but Ralf Hütter and co. were seriously original). Listen, agasp, to the bouncy motif of Radioaktivität, bubbling over a thick layer of throbbing bass – anti-dance dance music for the progressive rock generation. Their innovation was not just musical however; morbid lyrical pre-occupation with radiation and intercepted sound-waves pre-dates the nuclear disasters of the 1980s and captures the miserable Cold War anxieties of Europe without even a hint of cynicism. It’s gorgeous stuff.
Einstein à Go-Go – Landscape (1981) Track from the album, From The Tea Rooms Of Mars
A jazzy punk-band famed for appropriating the name of Hitchcock antagonist Norman Bates as a part of their music and image, Landscape were, quite frankly, strange. Einstein à Go-Go is a zippy, boinging synthpop track featuring minimalist instrumentation, apocalyptic lyrics and a bizarre opening sequence of recorded telephone calls, one famously involving a gentleman who is trying fervently to reach President Carter’s line directly (oh, how dated). This zany, avant-garde ditty expires in a mere three minutes, its brevity highlighted by a sparse arrangement of thumping electric toms and violently spasmodic synth-bass that thrashes about like a suffocating electric eel. There’s also a middle-eight that unashamedly rips off David Bowie, which is never a bad thing…
Watching Trees – Eleven Pond (1986) Track from the album, Bas • Relief
Eleven Pond are enjoying a revival currently, thanks to Veronica Vasicka’s Minimal Wave label. Responsible for the reissue of obscure synthpop releases, Minimal Wave haven’t actually been involved in bringing Bas • Relief beyond it’s extremely limited 1986 pressing of 500 copies – however, thanks to a renewed interest in minimal synth generally (which they’ve definitely helped along), the fat, bounding arpeggios and moaning modular ambience of tracks like Watching Trees live once more! Hailing from Rochester, New York, Eleven Pond have all the darkwave pretence of the British new romantics and the minor-key miserablism of European electronica. Check out the ‘bedroom demo’ of this song if you can – it ages the track about eight years…
Love Is a Luxury I Can No Longer Afford – Future Bible Heroes (2013) Track from the album, Partygoing
Along with The Gothic Archies, The 6ths and, of course, The Magnetic Fields, Future Bible Heroes is yet another of the monikers used by American singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt – it’s also one of my favourites. Comprising the man himself, Claudia Gonson (his pianist chum from the Fields) and close acquaintance Chris Ewen (formerly of Figures On A Beach), the band specialise in cynicism, wit and irony, in servings so drenched in analog synthesis, that they instead resemble new wave clichés. Love Is A Luxury I Can No Longer Afford is one such pretentious oddity, deprived of a real chorus, save for the titular refrain which is intoned dryly over a percussion-less segment containing a whining, Mesopotamian melody. Perhaps equally as charming as the exotic aural splendours on show here, are Merritt’s idiosyncratically clumsy rhymes; you can practically smell his Clement Wood dictionary.
Cascades – Metric (2015) Single from the album, Pagans in Vegas
Metric have been one of my best discoveries of 2015. The Canadian indie-rockers began somewhat derisorily in 2003 with Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? and have continually electrified their sound over the last twelve years to a point of almost total-immersion on this year’s Pagans In Vegas. Cascades, for example, features no sign of a guitar, pulsating artifically from the off. For the real deal, jump to 3:25 and you’ll slip inside a whirlpool of trickling synth melodies and lurching, electronic bass-lines, programmed expertly by frontwoman Emily Haines and guitarist cum producer, James Shaw (some of the effects achieved here rival those on the Human League’s Travelogue, arguably the best performance of Roland System 100 ever). Definitely check out this band if you haven’t – their fondness for synths is heartwarming, and they might just represent the new new wave that we’ve been waiting for.
Check out our Spotify Playlist for Pretending To See The Future #6.