Help, I Am a Synthpop Pleb

I love abrasive music; Dubstep, Grime, Death Metal, ever since I heard Pantera‘s ‘Walk’ as a horrendously worked up 13 year old, I’ve been hooked on anything violent, filthy and nasty (musically, that is). More recently I’ve become a sad, wizened old man, tiring somewhat of ultraviolent syncopation, I’ve decided to take a short break and expand my musical taste to touch upon my other great love in music; synthesizers, fittingly I got Connor to recommend me 4 Synthpop albums (and seeked out two albums of my own) so I could make my first forays into the world of twee, synth driven pop.

richard 2 at size

The Knife – Silent Shout

Recommended Cause…Well you wanted good synthpop, and The Knife are pretty much the best, and hugely influential too, seriously so many Swedish, and non-Swedish groups (hi CHVRCHES), take from them. It’s indescribably brilliant, so I’ll let you digest this without me letting you know about it, enjoy it greatly. If you loved this, and you totally should, here’s a further recommendation – Fever Ray’s s/t debut, vocalist Karin Andersson’s solo project.

Richard’s Reaction: I really like this album, even though it’s >10 years old get with the program connor etc it’s wonderful, I really like the sound design, The Knife really utilise synthpop’s origins within electro are really prominent, as those crazy swedes drive along a neat and tidy proto-techno backing across the albums length. The synth design is great on this album, even within the slightly cheesy sound design(but I guess it is synthpop at the end of the day isn’t it) but it’s really richly mixed and spacey. I love these vocals, it’s like mildly engrossing pop music chatting absolute bollocks about fuck knows what but it totally fits.

Oh Land – Fauna

Recommended Cause…Oh Land is my favourite artist within this genre so I couldn’t leave her out. However, I’m not really convinced you’ll enjoy this, Oh Land’s vocals can really irritate people and, tbh, this isn’t even my favourite album of hers, but anything else she’s released would be stepping too far into obvious pop territory. But the reason I chose this is that it’s a subtly interesting look at how electro/synth pop artist can turn out when influenced by something well outside the genre, in this case orchestral music and opera. Also ‘Frostbite’ is a gorgeous song and it’s pretty goddamn cool how she uses a vocoder to duet with herself.

Richard’s Reaction: What is this I don’t like it, eeh it’s really jaunty it kind of reminds me of quirky pop music from ten years ago oh wait that’s exactly what this is, meh, it’s cool, not really many cool synths either, synthpop’s all about the synth for me, this is just kinda lame, I’m sure there’s someone out there who’ll love it but it’s not for me, this is just horrid. The vocals really rub me the wrong way. Where are the cool synths this is just lame fucking hell it’s just getting on my fucking nerves, GET OUT OF MY EARS. Gonna have to listen to acid techno for 12 hours to clear that one out fucking hell.

Purity Ring – Shrines

Recommended Cause…I‘m still in awe at this everytime I listen to it, pretty much everything about Shrines perfect to me. The hazy, vocal sample based, yet heavy-hitting production is somehow the perfect bed for Megan James’ saccharine vocals. Speaking of James, her twisted lyrics are pretty unique, expressing feelings of love through internal organ based imagery (“Cut open my sternum, and pull/my little ribs around you”) They’ve also collaborated with Danny Brown a couple of times, so, y’know, they’re goddamn cool.

Richard’s Reaction: I really like the artwork, I’ve already heard great things about Purity Ring, oh and the title track is wonderful, daaaaaaaaaaam purity ring back at it again with the awesome layering, both of the vocalists are really talented aswell. I can imagine popping a bunch of Valium or something and swaying around the room with my notional cool girlfriend, being all cool and wavey and shit. In all seriousness Purity Ring is probably one of my favourites, the production, the vocals, the synths; it does pop without being twee or annoying, a relaxing, inoffensive and richly rewarding listening experience.

Zhala – Zhala

Recommended Cause…Okay, I needed to pick something recent so I didn’t veer into dad-synthpop territory. I adore the really dreamy, reverby vocals on this and the production really suits it, especially on super cool songs like ‘Aerobic Lambada’ and ’Horoscope’. Plus, she’s signed to Robyn’s label and if you know anything about Swedish pop, that’s pretty much the highest endorsement you can receive.

Richard’s Reaction: At first I disliked this to be honest, it does veer toward the pop side of things(although the definition of pop music is at best a hazy one, but that’s a story for another time), I mean seriously that fucking lead melody on ‘Holy Bubbles’ is one of the most excruciating things I’ve listened to since A Better Tommorow.  This whole album just reminds me of somewhat more nuanced 80’s synth laden pop record, but without all the twee bullshit, made by people who actually genuinely love 80’s synth laden pop music. Awesome.

Richard’s Picks

Kaya – Lux

 Pigeons and places helped Kaya blow up a little bit earlier last year with Lux, a wonderful, bite sized EP of synthy goodness, just about totalling 20 minutes, ethereal, atmospheric soundscapes, backed up by Kaya’s impressive vocal prowess, whilst with both my picks, it’s not entirely synthpop, it’s the tone that really gives it away. Melancholy paeans to romance and lost love nestled amongst spacious guitar backed soundscapes bring this release to great effect.

Bobby Raps and Corbin- Couch Potato

Bobby Raps and Corbin’s 2015 release ‘Couch Potato’, is in my opinion, if not a straight up synthpop record, an excellent example of synthpop influence being utilised to great effect. Corbin’s haunting, soulful drones and Bobby Raps powerful, profound lyricism are perfectly complemented by Bobby’s reverb soaked, ice cold, but somehow quirky, synth laden production, easily one of the best albums of 2015.

I’ve learned a lot about a new genre I didn’t realise I loved, a journey through mostly awesome, accessible twee pop sounds and vibes. Having just listened to like 4 synthpop albums on repeat (which again wasn’t too bad) I am a convert, whilst some have regarded labelling more abstract/complex electronic music as synthpop as an insult I don’t think it is.

Words: Richard Lowe & Connor Cass
Illustration: Kitty Wilcox

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