Japanese Boy – Aneka (1981) Single from the album, Japanese Boy
Kick-start your new year with this throbbing new wave banger, brimming as it is with clichéd pentatonic riffs, a borderline-racist oriental accent and the heartbreaking story of the bastard Japanese chap who abandons his partner, the seemingly innocent Aneka (pictured), while she sleeps. It’s very early-eighties, but that ought be no detraction – the sequential synthesisers on this pop number are gleefully fat, galloping furiously for four minutes over swirling atmospheric chords that modulate gently, to make this a gallavanting post-disco dancefloor-filler. With a stellar chorus and excellently wet electronic percussion, Japanese Boy was a huge hit on release in 1981, climbing to UK Number 1. The US 12” release featured a rarer extended mix of the song, which is somewhat bassier and a whole lot more rhythmic than the original, entitled “An Endless Music Mix”.
For Germans – Images In Vogue (1982) Track from the EP, Pre-Release
Images In Vogure are a new discovery of mine. A Canadian new wave group from the early 1980s, this is the first of four EPs released by the band prior to their 1985 full-length debut. For Germans, the final track on the 7”, is far and away the best. An entirely instrumental number, it’s underlayed with a scampering sequencer-based rhythm section, on top of which the various layers build – a gently climbing reverb-laden haze; Giorgio Moroder-esque modulatory wobbles; razor-sharp saw-wave lead synths. All the hallmarks of excellent new wave music are right here on this track and it doesn’t disappoint on any of them – including the pretentious, European-indebted title, a perfect homage to the avant-garde rhetoric favoured by UK new romantic counterparts Ultravox and Japan.
A Walk In The Park (1987 Production) – Nick Straker (1987) Standalone single; remix of A Walk in the Park (1980) – Nick Straker Band
On first hearing the PWL remix of the Nick Straker Band’s funky disco number, I assumed it to be the original – this is due in part to the fact that I was listening to a playlist of songs from 1980. (Turns out, you can’t trust the carbon dating capacity of most playlists…) However, knowing it hails from the Stock, Aitken and Waterman-dominated pop-charts of the latter 1980s, I can hear early Kylie in its extravogant orchestral hits, acid-house in its aggressive opening stabs and…well…a digital cowbell. It must be 1987. This remix features some of the best synth sequencing ever, in particular, a perfectly programmed bass-synth with occassional intended missteps that have a glitchy rhythmic effect absent from the polished, R&B influenced original. Again, for the full effect of its digital danceable algorithms, hit up the 12” extended mix – it’s grand.
Sin – Nine Inch Nails (1990) Track from the album, Pretty Hate Machine
I’m a latecomer to Nine Inch Nails – and if you are too, now is not too late. If nothing else, Trent Reznor’s 1989 debut has helped me exorcise some unfounded prejudices I had against American industrial, shaped largely by the grimy hypersexualised antics of the legendarily rib-lacking Marilyn Manson. Sin, the centrepiece of the Pretty Hate Machine LP, is a ridiculously sharp-sounding industrial synthpop song, dominated by buzzing metallic sound effects, thickly produced oscillators and Reznor’s pained poetry. If you love this track, it’s definitely worth experimenting with the plethora of alternate mixes available. The album version, arguably the song’s definitive cut and the one I refer specifically to in this article, is very different from the 7” “Short” version, itself a half-edit, half-rework of the 12” “Long” version – to confuse matters further, the 12” is backed with a further “Dub” mix. Fear not – they’re all fantastic.
First Bloods – Dan Sartian (2015) Track from the album, Century Plaza
There’s something quite profound about this new track from onetime White Stripes opener Dan Sartian, an experimental indie-linchpin in the States, and the artist behind the apparently all-synth Century Plaza, due later this year. What then, is a howling Van Halen-style guitar solo doing in the middle of this track? It is the LP’s one concession to the instrument, according to Sartian – a brave choice then for lead single from your all-synth LP? The one track featuring a guitar? Above the music, Sartain, in musing over the immense and incomparable pain of that well-known first heartbreak, is refreshingly frank – “Think back to your first love baby: nothing was worse”. This honest lyricism, packaged with exceptionally juicy analog synths and mysterious neo-noir LP artwork was, I felt, an excellent, flailing end to 2015, a year now defined perhaps, by its precursory relation to this new one. Roll on Century Plaza – I reckon it’s going to be a corker.