Archive for the ‘Electronic’ Category

New Zealand electronic '80s band Car Crash SetNew Zealand wasn’t known for producing many electronic acts in the eighties, and perhaps that’s why Car Crash Set slipped under the radar. It’s unfortunate, because during their short existence, from ’83 to ’86, the Auckland act turned out some pretty great music. Their sound has been described as experimental Human League with an occasional venture into “New Order-esque amalgamations of guitar and synths.” The song “Toys” is off the 1983 LP We’ll Do Our Best, a compilation of bands from New Zealand. It’s also included on the compilation LP Join The Car Crash Set, released in 2008.

1980 Daniel Miller electronic project - Silicon TeensThe Silicon Teens were a guise for a solo project of Mute Records founder Daniel Miller. After recording as The Normal (“Warm Leatherette”), Miller launched the electronic, synthpop project in 1980. The fictional group was comprised of four actors who gave interviews under the names Darryl, Jacki, Paul, and Diane. The lead singer, Darryl, was played by Frank Tovey, who some of you may know better as Fad Gadget. The song “Sun Flight” is off the only LP from the project, 1980’s Music For Parties. It’s one of the few original songs on the LP. The rest of the album is made up of synthpop remakes of rock & roll classics from the ‘50s and ‘60s, including a somewhat campy version of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.”                                                                                                                                                                                                              

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve only recently watched the Depeche Mode documentary 101 (must-see viewing for any Depeche Mode fan). Although I’ve been a Depeche Mode fan since the early ‘80s, looking back I really didn’t give them the attention they deserved. I had also never experienced them live in concert and the documentary was sort of a wake-up call. Since then I’ve been exploring their entire catalog and have gained a new appreciation for their earlier work. I’ve been especially, pleasantly surprised by A Broken Frame – their first post-Vince Clarke album. Released in 1982, it’s largely considered the group’s weakest effort but in my opinion, the LP continues to be unfairly dismissed. It saw the band moving from the upbeat pop of Speak & Spell  to a more dark and melancholy sound, and contains some real electronic gems.

With Clarke’s departure, songwriting duties fell on the shoulders of Martin Gore. And although Alan Wilder was recruited to take Clarke’s place, he did not contribute creatively to the LP. The band felt they needed to prove they could move on without Clarke so Wilder was relegated to studio work and touring musician. (For the record, my favorite DM period are the Wilder years). Even though there are some definite poppy moments, such as “See You” and “The Meaning of Love,” as a whole, the album has a more mature atmospheric and moody sound. By no means their greatest work, A Broken Frame provides glimpses of great things to come.

My favorite song off the LP is the last track, “The Sun and the Rainfall.” From the beginning haunting drumbeat to the lovely chorus, it’s a standout on the album. I’m surprised the song wasn’t released as a single or as a fellow DM fan pointed out, hasn’t been included on some compilation.

 

Another high point is the second track, “My Secret Garden.” It has a great bassline and catchy synth work throughout.

 

I wasn’t a fan of Devo’s in the early ’80s, probably because my older brother would play “Whip It” nonstop. It wasn’t until seeing the video for “Beautiful World” years later that things changed. I’ve since gone back and listened to their early catalog and count them among one of my favorite bands of the ‘80s. Released in 1980, Freedom of Choice was the band’s third and most successful album, reaching #22 on Billboard’s pop album chart. The album is made up of short, polished synth-infused songs. The 12 tracks clock in at just over 32 minutes. Although “Whip It” put the group on the map, I prefer the lesser-known songs off the LP like the electro “Snowball” and “That’s Pep!,” which sounds kind of like a new wave Hand Jive. In my opinion, the album is one of their best and ranks behind only 1978’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!.

The video for the title track has the group dressed as aliens singing about how ultimately freedom of choice is not what we want. It also has skateboarders, donuts, and Mark Mothersbaugh in a dog costume.

 

“Girl U Want” has the band performing in front of an audience of 1950s teenyboppers. Just as the video for “Freedom of Choice,” it’s quite a low budget affair and relies heavily on color saturation. I’m pretty sure they used up all their video production money on the video for “Whip It.”

 

Erasure is currently on tour in support of their new album, The Violet Flame. Having never seen them in concert, I decided to check out the show. I was expecting something over the top from the duo and I wasn’t disappointed. Andy Bell dominated the stage with slithery dance moves and lively interaction with the audience, while Vince Clarke took his stance out of the spotlight. Although a bit older and not able to keep the energy going through the entire show, Andy can still belt out a song, rarely missing a note. They led the concert off with “Oh L’amour,” the third single off their 1986 debut album, Wonderland. At the time, the song only reached #85 on the UK charts and the album was a commercial failure. A 2003 remix of the song, used to promote their best of album Hits!, would go on to break the top 20. It’s now considered to be one of their signature songs.

 

There were some bands I unjustly dismissed in the eighties. One of those bands was Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD). This was mostly due to the fact that I had little affection for the song “If You Leave” from the 1986 Pretty in Pink soundtrack. The whining vocals and the slow melody just didn’t resonate with me. After doing some research, I discovered that this was not the original song OMD picked for the John Hughes flick. After receiving negative feedback from test audiences on the ending of the movie (which had Andie choosing Duckie over Blane) and the song (“Goddess of Love”), they were asked to come up with a song for the new ending landing Andie with Blane. The new ending explains the bad wig Andrew McCarthy sported in the prom scene. They came up with “If You Leave” within 24 hours. The song reached No. 4 on the U.S. charts, their greatest U.S. success, and was pretty much all I knew of OMD until I came across their earlier material in a late night internet search for best synth-pop songs of the eighties.

In my quest for the ultimate synth-pop songs, I kept coming across OMD and their highly lauded first album. Surely this couldn’t be the same band I so easily rejected in the mid-eighties. I decided to give the album a listen and was glad I did. The self-titled album, released in 1980, was not what I expected and made me understand why they were hailed as synth-pop pioneers, influencing artists such as Erasure, Howard Jones, the Pet Shop Boys, Nine Inch Nails, and more recently bands such as Radiohead, The Killers, Glasvegas, and LCD Soundsystem. OMD formed in England in 1978 and founding members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were referred to as the Lennon-McCartney of synth-pop. They were considered experimental and intellectual, which didn’t fare well in the mainstream. Retrospectively, the band has received critical praise for their melodic and innovative sound.

“Electricity” was the first single off of the self-titled album released in 1980. It was originally recorded in 1979 but was included on the 1980 release. It’s a frantic swirl of synth-pop inspiration, and led one critic to call it the “perfect electro-pop number.”

 

My favorite song off the debut album is “Messages.” It features a prominent rhythm, emotional lyrics, and a great melody. This is the song that really grabbed my attention and made me eager to explore the rest of their catalog.

 

I’m also a fan of their later work, especially the single “(Forever) Live and Die.” It was the first single released from their 1986 album, The Pacific Age, and peaked at #19 on the U.S. charts. It’s a slower-paced song with a notable bassline, and harmonies that mesh so well with the lovely synth backdrop.