Synthpop

Doll Klaw ‘Thorns’

In an increasingly atomised society still hopelessly wedded to the ‘cult of the individual’, the unifying spell of introspection wrought by a world in lockdown and existential uncertainty seemed to dismantle the cast-iron doctrines of unbridled individualism and competitive strife. As fragments of the social contract were rekindled and repaired, clarity, perspective and priorities were realised in the great fog of rumination that followed Capital’s grinding halt.

“Everything I need is right inside of me” is as bold and self-affirmative a statement can get among the global wave of epiphanies, succinctly promoting self-worth in a milieu of encouraged, consumer insecurity. Being the chorus of last year’s ‘Inside’, Doll Klaw teased the release of her new EP with a taster of her new sonic direction and spirit of reclaimed empowerment. The alias of L.A. artist Jessica Caro, Doll Klaw moves away from the caustic post-punk of 2018’s Battery Tongue in favour of shimmering, rich production and deeper excavations of her soul.

Despite being written and recorded before the global pandemic, Thorns feels uncannily born from the contemporary contemplation that haunts the air. Caro opens the EP with a paean to personal growth on the wistful ‘Vermin’, a pensive reflection on the difficult journey to better oneself shrouded in glimmering dream pop textures. Lament and sorrow drift into the second track ‘Angelica’, a mournful mediation of the painful loss of a childhood friend that’s given ethereal ascendency by rich, baroque arrangements straight out of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Architecture & Morality, its romantic waltz also colouring the stinging ‘You Said’.

Caro can cut a lean strip of strutting menace when necessary. ‘Inside’ is expert, darkwave synthpop, a restless swagger of electro-stomp and pulsing keys scoring the emphatic extolling of invigorated purpose unobstructed by dead-end boyfriends, and an obvious choice as lead single. The title track takes an even crunchier turn, gritty synth basslines lifted from classic Depeche Mode immersed in choral washes, an intriguing clash of serene verses and ominous detours that end the EP on an aural and thematic note of trepidation that’s never too far away from discovery.

In a crowded synth scene that can often be clogged with generic derivativity, Doll Klaw firmly places herself on the crest of new wave pop that’s vital and bristling with ideas. Thorns is a thrilling and majestic statement from an artist that looks set to cast L.A. under her spell and speaks to the ruminative climate with moving prescience.

Sistema de Entretenimiento ‘Sistema de Entretenimiento’

“I think they prefer to see us die” is a statement that feels lifted straight out of some sci-fi, B-movie thriller. Are ‘they’ the evil, faceless corporate giant that rules over the future fascist state, marvelling at their profit margins as the citizens breathe in the polluted fumes of its mega-factory? Perhaps it’s the roaring crowd of a dystopian gladiatorial arena where contestants fight to the death for a cash prize? A lesser, more blunt line would simply have been “we’re all gonna die!”, but the subtle twist of evocation adds an infinitely more mysterious dynamism.

Sci-fi at its best works when holding a mirror up to society and revealing our collective anxieties and fears for the future. “I think they prefer to see us die” could just as easily be speaking to the crumbling economic order which would sooner ferment fascism than risk its capital, and the increasing sense of a civilization nearing collapse is potent to anyone paying attention. El Prat artist Victor Echeverri seems to know well enough. Opening his latest EP for Spanish synthpunk outfit Sistema de Entretenimiento with the track ‘Creo que Prefieren Vernos Morir’, the arcade electro trio (including Guixi and Anna Bananna) have beamed a pulpy, comic book of an EP depicting tales of virtual suicide, lunar warriors and robots.

The self-titled EP takes cues from the rich heritage of synthpunk from Aviador Dro to Sigue Sigue Sputnik (the sleeve striking similarities with their ’86 debut Flaunt It) but inject the pacing of hardcore to create a frenzied, ticking bomb of fizzy keyboards and stinging drum machines. Errechevi’s (or to give his alias, Spiker) snotty vocals against the chewed bubble-gum production ensures that the tech-noir doesn’t teeter into total nihilism, and its choppy eleven minute length means the electro-snot whizzes past with ephemeral urgency, never outstaying its welcome. Lean, sinewy, and glowing with radiation, Sistema de Entretenimiento is a feverish and gloriously trashy little piece which wields a sci-fi front to channel the uncertainty of tomorrow.

Aigue Morte ‘Aigue Morte’

The historic commune of Aigues-Mortes in the Occitanie region of Southern France has inspired writers from Boccaccio to Hemingway, its centuries-old fortifications circling the city and the towers still standing from the days of Charlemagne relics of medieval heritage imbued with a special, arcane energy. The original fortress entrance, the Carbonnière Tower, is surrounded by salt marshes and swampland, ‘Aquae Mortuae’ Latin for ‘dead water’ and the etymological source of the city’s name.

Taking her name from the quagmires of the region is French ’emo pop’ artist Marie Barat. One half of ‘triste’ duo Palavas, Barat has been crafting a hazy and introspective string of swamp-pop cuts as Aigue Morte on SoundCloud before finally releasing her debut EP with Metz label Le Syndicat Des Scorpions, an intriguing eponymous tape of lo-fi synths and bedroom production which feel drifted ashore along the stagnant canals of the Rhône à Sète.

Aigue Morte harmonizes the dreamy and warm electronica of acts like Group Rhoda with an air of melancholy contemplation that injects a subtle trepidation to her sonic enrapture. ‘Carrément’ is a perfect example of this enveloping traverse, muffled drum machines and weathered bass ripple around Molly Nilsson like xylophone that softy lulls into you to a meditative state, its reflective mood serving the ‘mirror’ theme aptly. Barat’s flair for post-punk adds a touch of grit to the vaporous, instrumental ‘Bermuda’ wouldn’t feel out of place as an early Cure instrumental on Faith or Seventeen Seconds, whereas ‘Fantoir’ takes melodic cues from Joy Division’s ‘Decades’. Moments of drama pull you out of the languid fog in thrilling detours, ‘Fruit Show / Waiting Room’ a choral reach for divinity powered by propulsive electro before the EP finale of ‘Choco Pie Shy’ soaks up some of the mystical residues of the namesake town with ethereal strings and haunting keys to a stirring conclusion.

Every one of Aigue Morte‘s eight songs are expert exercises in celestial expanse yet refined with a pop rigour that anchors the tracks and avoids floating off into a pointless meander which can befall her bedroom peers. Enchanting and pensive with a sombre wistfulness at its heart, Barat has delivered a promising debut which soundtracks the collective rumination and uncertainty that plagues the confused contemporary.

Martial Canterel ‘Horizon Ltd.’

Algorithms are only reflective of the society which creates it. The nations biases and presumptions of class aptitude revealed dramatically in the U.K. school results fiasco, whereby the flawed predictive model used by the examinations regulator Ofqual to assign grades to students unable to take their exams due to COVID scored pupils from public school higher than the majority in state comprehensives. Similarly, the plethora of data-dictated playlists vying for attention on streaming sites like Spotify are, as consistent with the increasingly marketised world, pushing for perennial consumption over the authentic discovery of underrepresented artists. There is no risk in the world of voracious capital, and as the ubiquity of automated culture grows greater, our scope for a truly alternative community or movement fades into further artifice.

“…the dissolution of space and time, the emptying out of the future – the narrowing of our collective Horizon.” There’s always been a cerebral rigour to Martial Canterel‘s work. Initially studying philosophy before being taken by the synthesizer in his college music lab, Brooklyn based artist Sean McBride began crafting a thoroughly chilly take on synthpop anchored by a veneration for live analogue hardware and heady examinations of existentialist themes. Finding greater fame as one half of Xeno & Oaklander, McBride has steadily been releasing a string of work under the Martial Canterel moniker which continues his immersion of the coldwave heritage and provides a crunchier, industrial menace in contrary to the more glacial and ethereal electronics of his collaboration with Liz Wendelbo. Latest EP Horizon Ltd. sees McBride explore the eroding space and vision for the mistakes and variables which encourage art and the creative process.

EP opener ‘Remake the World’ establishes the mission statement succinctly and with dramatic urgency. A call to arms against the forces of passivity and the derivative with harsh drum beats and foreboding melody bristle against McBride’s distinct mastery of cascading sequencers and volatile frequencies. Caustic grooves slither with a weird carnal strut on the robotic swagger of ‘Melegseg’ (meaning ‘warmth’ in Hungarian), an irresistible blend of abrasive but funky percussion and cutting synths that slink and glide like the singing keys on Depeche Mode’s ‘Leave in Silence’Excavating his back-catalogue to rework 2007’s Other Half, the austere sting of the original is given greater sonic expanse of frenetic angst which recalls the aggressive dissonance as heard on Gyors Lassú, before the title track hits you with expert punchy basslines and metallic clangour which demonstrate McBride’s masterful ability to fuse seemingly difficult textures with dancefloor energy.

The corporate death grip of our collective horizon has been expertly articulated in another fantastic entry to a body of work which has been establishing itself as one of the most forward-thinking and pioneering in contemporary electronic music. Cutting the iciest and most fascinating examples of minimal-synth, Horizon Ltd. shows clearly that Martial Canterel is still full of ideas and retains a clear voice in the crowded synth scene filled with ‘imitations of imitations’ he no doubt inspired.

Glaciers Noods Radio #19

The 19th Glaciers show hit Noods Radio last Wednesday, another hour of the usual chilly post-punk and ice-wave vibez but spiked with a little arcane magick for good measure! Check it!

Syzygy ‘The Pendulum’

“Any two related things, either alike or opposite”. Amid an aggressive socio-economic homogeneity, where any slight deviation of rabid capitalism’s ever closing peripheries of permissible discourse is crushed by a compliant media, the yearning for some elemental, binary pull only grows greater. The political pendulum which conventional wisdom tells us is forever swinging across the spectrum is currently stuck on Right, and perhaps the vital forces of syzygy need to be conjured to haul the lever back down, crashing through the dull certainty of the modern age.

Structures and balance are explored in Rebecca Maher and Gus Kenny’s new synth project Syzygy. Swapping the cyberpunk confrontation of prior band Spotting for shimmering electropop, the Melbourne duo injects the genre’s chilly aesthetics with a warm beating heart of rich melodies and bright analogue production. Preceding their debut EP with an inclusion on the excellent Blow Blood Records compilation A Long Time Alone, new release The Pendulum sees Syzygy’s search for duality in the form of four expert synthpop tracks.

The urgent title track opens the EP with dramatic heft, a great joyous hammering of jabbing basslines and glossy keys that strikes together radiantly, Maher maintaining a strong yet understated vocal delivery throughout. The crunchy ‘Social Fence’ retains their former punk snarl, a climactic frenzy of John Foxx style synth leads and punchy drum machines, while ‘Memory Distortion’ drops the tempo to a glacial groove, Maher’s icy detailing of blurred recollections and fragmented thoughts given an ethereal edge. Finale ‘(I’ll Just Be) Unfulfilled’ is an utterly infectious slice of euphoric heady dance which belies its lyrical resignations to a life of rigid, societal claustrophobia, the song takes off halfway in soaring and rousing lift of twinkling arpeggios and celestial sequencers to a thrilling, conclusive ascension.

The energy that fuels The Pendulum is effervescent and electric, an EP of bristling pop vigour bursting with life and a wonderful precariousness that hides underneath the assured front, the subtle forces that tantalisingly threaten life’s cohesion and harmony baring its teeth if you look close enough.

Glaciers Noods Radio #18

The latest Glaciers is up! Another exquisite traverse across chilly synythscapes and new wave tundras! Make sure you head to Noods Radio for the next hour of all things icy, ethereal, and glittering! 🎹 ❄️ 👌

Glaciers Noods Radio #17

The chilly punch of Glaciers hit Noods Radio once again, another hour of minimal synth and frosty vibes. Cracking cover of ‘Rhythm Is a Dancer’ too! Check it!

Glaciers Noods Radio #16

Another blast of icy vibes and chilly tundras with an extra dose of post-punk drama at its heart hit Noods Radio yesterday! Wrap up warm and stay safe! 🎹 ❄️ 👌

Armitage Shanks ‘Casual Employment’

Does any other brand have greater ubiquity in the British cultural landscape than Armitage Shanks? Usually lost under a film of days old piss, green lime build-up and a sprinkling of old pubes for good measure, its flourish logo has an unrivalled corporate authority and near-monopoly on our most base needs. It’s fitting too. The capitalist pretence that market reward is there for the taking should you have sufficient tenacity and drive is a cruel joke to every overworked and underpaid worker expected to give maximum labour for minimal wage. We all feel it, that the world is broken and geared to serve billionaire wealth hoarders, and that society is slowly swirling down a toilet of creeping fascism, environmental catastrophe and grotesque wealth disparity. If Tory, austerity Britain has a sponsor, it’d be the U.K.’s leading bog manufacturer.

“I’d have a hard time caring on minimum wage so I certainly won’t do it for free!” yelps Maisie Gilchrist on the rallying ‘I’m Not Here For Small Talk (I’m Here For A Latte)’. Armed with Marxist resolve, Gen Z defiance and a cheap synthesizer, Aussie ‘Trotpop’ duo Armitage Shanks scores their yearning for class war with spoken-word style poetry and minimalist electronics attacking the miasma of neoliberal stagnation we’re all forced to participate in. The title of their debut tape Casual Employment states firmly where their solidarity lies and whose in the firing line of their cutting satire.

The bite that lurks within the observational jest across the 7 tracks (final track ‘School Boycott’ a bonus for fee-paying supporters) stings with familiarity. The choking busyness of the modern age, liberal hypocrisy, exploitative bosses, customer meltdowns, and the yearning for some basic fucking infrastructure all deeply felt and experienced symptoms of the failing social experiment which Gilchrist and fellow keyboardist Angus Clarke explore succinctly and savagely. Their lyrical attack is at their most hilarious and pugnacious on the piquant ‘I Hate Every Vegan Except Myself’, tearing apart the feeble futility of ‘green capitalism’ aided by Sleaford Mods style languid bass and hazy keys, Gilchrist’s sneering opine “if only you cared about refugees as much as vegan cheese” dripping with acidic accuracy. The aforementioned ‘I’m Not Here For Small Talk…’ is a paean to every stressed hospitality employee navigating a quagmire of low-pay, ‘low-skill’ attitudes and nearing explosion, the rising blood pressure spurred by punchy, tight drum machines.

Occasional detours into surreal eccentricity provide different avenues to explore their progressive musings. The politics of space and the questionable judgments of what is ‘problematic’ within it are explored on the contemplative ‘The Pigeon Song’, muffled, buoyant synths jump and dart against an account of a pigeon’s extermination due to the fickle criteria of ‘public nuisance’. Their catchiest track, ‘Bug Beat 02’, is also their most puzzling: a curious declaration of affection for ones pet stick insects atop cool drum breaks and a simple yet infectious synth melody. These beguiling diversions create moments of evocations that stimulate the cerebral side while still retaining their sharp humour.

Novara Media‘s Ash Sarkar lamented the ‘dour cultishness and pomposity’ that plagued the public perception of the left for years, and that the road to communism needn’t be dominated by Soviet-style authoritarianism and grey edifices of bureaucracy, but that liberating people from the material and psychological shackles of rabid capitalism can and should be ‘joyful and exuberant’. Armitage Shanks’s Casual Employment tape demonstrates this perfectly: that Marxist rigour and class struggle can be colourful, freeing, and most importantly, fun.