Interesting things happen when worlds collide. Sometimes the results are catastrophic and earth-shattering, sometimes they are unexpectedly compatible and beautiful. Forest Robots has always fallen into the latter category and this new album of electronic music used to describe the majesty of the natural world is no exception. Continuing where Super Moon Moonlight left off Timberline and Mountain Crest continues its mission to describe the world beyond the man-made in sweeping synth instrumentals, electro-classical grandeur and technological soundscapes.
Indie? Possibly not but their music is so weird, genre-hopping and changeable that I’m not really sure where it fits in so this is as good a place as any. Most of my postings in this category have been real blasts from the past so far but as these splendid people are currently on tour and they remind me at their most intense of things like The March Violets and James Ray’s Gangwar, that’s excuse enough to post them here.
Industrial strength synth exploring rock territory? A pop band armed with keyboards and a bag of amphetamine? A trio who don’t care about fad, fashion or where genres start or end? I suspect that they are all of the above.
Check out music and tour dates at – Siblings of Us
If this were a competition I would already be awarding additional points for the band having such a cool and interesting name. But this is a music review and as such things can’t be so easily measured but I can award interesting words. Words like strange, beguiling, hypnotic, exploratory perhaps even challenging, all meant in their most positive of applications.
Light Sketch is a mesmerising and musically left-field piece that combines spoken word with glitchy electronica that at once sounds like early synth experiments combined with a spaced out beat poetry performance but also a futuristic reappraisal of electronic music combined with a zen meditation class. Where it fits into the musical canon and what it is really all about is a pointless discussion really, it is so unique, so offbeat that it probably means something different to everyone who encounters it. Sci-fi jazz? Deep Space Avant-Gardening? Computers teaching themselves to write music? That would explain all the 11 11 business!
To be honest I don’t know what’s going on really, you don’t have to, that’s the joy of it. I just know that I like it. Let’s just call it just another mystery of the universe that cleverer people than me will one day be able to explain. Probably using Quantum Physics. Or perhaps drugs.
Land of Clouds is one of those songs that underlines the power of the digital music revolution. There was a time when synthesisers and samples, music created from non-analogue sources, sounds drawn from the ether rather than for physical dexterity of the player was viewed with suspicion, especially by guitar wielding, narrow-minded, nostalgia freaks. But that was their loss because the studio itself has become an instrument in its own right, one limited only by the imagination of the creator rather than the sonic limitations of the instrument at hand.
Thus we have artists such as Yaman Palak making songs which are wonderfully emotive, seem to be built as much on mood and atmosphere as much as they are on beat and lyric, songs which seem to encompass a strange blend of primal force and futuristic sound. The past and the present existing in one space. Land of Clouds is a mercurial blend of technology and soul, of ambient soundscaping and skittering, slow dance grooves, a glimpse of the future via sounds which resonate with familiarity. Music isn’t always about revolution, that rarely works, but evolution, that is much more effective.
Siblings of Us has always been one of those bands which confuses and bemuses in equal measure in music form. In video form they raise even more questions. How did I miss all of their cameo roles in such blockbuster movies? How come a band so draped in dance beats and synth-pop vibes has such poor dancing skills of their own? When did they sprout an extra member…hang on, that sounds a bit rude.
Anyway, the point is that Siblings of Us is not about pandering to the listener, it is about playing by their own rules. Rules which insist that they take industrial strength synth wave, slightly unhinged falsetto vocals, psychotic pop infectiousness, electronic-rock muscle, retro vibes and futuristic musical predictions, throw them against the wall and see what sticks.
And what sticks is brilliant, in a mad sort of way. Imagine if The Bee Gees had formed a hardcore band using gear stolen from Depeche Mode! Well, now you don’t have to.
There are times on We Are Fucked, gotta love an album title that honest, that it sounds as if someone has built a machine and programmed it with just the vaguest outline of how to make music and let it just work out the rest for itself. Whilst it follows the basic laws of melody and rhythm, of songwriting and musicality, the sounds it choses to work with owe more to the car plant than the music studio. Ever since that famous thought experiment where a violin was tied to a length of string and dragged down a gravel path, the argument about what music is, and more importantly what it can be, has been a heated place. Flesh Eating Foundation seem to prove that as long as you adhere to some of the most basic tenets, you can fill in the spaces between with anything you like. And if they chose to fill that space with fuzzed out guitars and glitchy electronica, crunching industrial noise and programmed beats, well, so much the better.
Following on from the uncompromising title, they run through a series of diatribes, observations and rants about the seedier and broken side of life. Punch Drunk is a sonic onslaught of searing psycho-synth and warped out interludes and the insightfully named Stand Up And Be Discounted sounds almost like Shakespearean textspeak put to dystopian pop music, possibly recorded using road repair tools rather than regular instruments. The End is a diabolic Vangelisian soundscape and the title track and opening salvo seems closer to synth-pop normality…but not much.
The album comes with some remixes of We Are Fucked and Having Fun which range from pushing the songs closer to the mainstream in the case of XSRY’s take on the former to speed fuelled industrial raves in the case of the Paresis lulz re-working of the latter. Bear in mind that here mainstream is a relative term and given the tricky and challenging ground that these songs start out in, mainstream here still might not be that close to the rest of the musical pack.
It’s a collection of songs which sit on the periphery and hold a mirror up to pop music. But, to be honest, it is a mirror that they have previously shattered, glued back together, sprayed with blotches of black paint and then shot with a Kalashnikov. But a mirror none the less.
If you can tell the character of a person by the company that they keep, you can tell a lot about a band by who they ask to re-mix their music. With the likes of Daniel Ash, Assemblage 23, Rodney Anonymous, Mindless Faith and Gost Remix II all working their magic, or at least re-working it, on the band’s 2016 single it is obvious that …And We All Die move in some very rarefied circles.
It would be easy to be suspicious of a release which is effectively 10 remixes of the same song, but unlike the usual pop trend or commercial dance fad of giving a single a few pointless re-tweaks and changes of beat, and passing it off as a new incarnation, here the various collaborators bring much more to the table. They bring their own personality.
This is no mere make over, this is musical gene splicing, often the complete deconstruction and rebuild of the materials at hand to produce a chimeric facsimile of the original, a whole new sonic beast. Ben Weinman’s take on the song is the perfect example of how far things are taken as he crashes glitchy industrial techno into strange dystopian symphonics and seemingly delivering the whole thing through a broken short-wave radio.
Daniel Ash casts a straighter, darker and brooding spell on the song, a mix of the terrifying and the groovesome, the danceable and the distressing. The Rain Within remix feels like the missing link between post-punk dreams and post-everything futuristic nightmares and Gost Remix II brings a strange mix of clubland vibrancy and synth-wave poise to these dark visions.
Considering this whole album is based around one song, it is amazing how varied, how eclectic and how imaginative this is, but then I guess this is less a collection of remixes in the conventional sense and more in the style of variations on a theme of Modern Day Privateers. As a concept in its self it is destined to return some interesting results, but when you have the best in the game re-imagining, re-inventing and re-building the song, then the quality of the results were never in any doubt.
A message can be a powerful thing, connecting and resonating far beyond its intended destination. And so this debut album from Forest Robots may have started as a love letter to the daughter of the man behind the music but now it is out in the wider world it is sure to reach and effect a new swathe of listeners. It is an album which uses orchestral sweeps, synthesised instrumental layers, electronic textures and skittering dance beats to create its soundscape, one designed to reflect on the beauty and delicate harmony of the world around us.
Even the titles evoke the majesty of our natural surroundings, Shapes Shift in The Distant Shadows explores the dark corners of the outside world, a shaded and brooding piece but one driven by a vibrant beat and While Birds Dream of Dawn and Wind reminds us that the world is populated by myriad creatures all with their own instinct and thoughts. Do birds dream of the early light and a wind that will carry them to new climes? I like to think so. My favourite is Mandlebrots in Winter, perhaps a reminder of the ultimate complexity, circles within circles, of the world at large.
Super Moon Moonlight is less about individual song and more a suite of musical pictures and is best treated as such. Whilst any individual track can be taken on its own, this record is much more than the sum of its parts, a reflection of the world around us, a majestic sonic re-interpretation of the yet unspoilt beauty of our world and a prayer that it remains so.
Music too is a powerful tool and this suite of delicate yet potent moods and thoughts is perfect to induce thoughts about the damage we do to our home planet. It seems at a time when man is ever more driven by his own desires and material needs and the considerations for the havoc we reek less and less important, this meditative piece couldn’t have arrived at a better suited juncture.
They say never judge a book, or in indeed a record, my its cover, but occasionally it is exactly the right thing to do. Take the cover of Wild Insane where we see, presumably one of the duo, looking like Nick Cave striking an Andrew Eldritch pose through that visual balance of futuristic gloss and dystopian intrigue that Gary Numan revelled in. And that isn’t a bad place to start. It conjures a sense of digital modernity meeting dark post-punkery, something both emotive yet clinical, human yet…other. That is pretty much what Vandal Moon deliver, so books and covers…yeah, sometimes it works.
It is very easy when writing about such bands to constantly use the 80’s as a reference point, and whilst based on the sounds emanating from this album you could have a pretty good stab at what’s in the band’s record collection, this is no mere wistful backward glance. After the punks had kicked down the barriers they moved on, the rules were gone and people were looking to create a new musical future. Vandal Moon are the heirs to that vision, not slaves to its history.
Wild Insane is fiercely of its time, this time, and though it is easy to see where it comes from, where it is going is the real point here. It is wonderfully forward-facing, its glamorous sleek minimalism, pristine synths, alternative disco reclamation, shimmering and chiming riffs, and clinical beats all pointing to a new way of approaching dance music. The Bomb being the perfect blend of past, present and future, modern and brooding pop standing on the shoulders of giants and reaching for the digital stars and Computer Loves reminds Depeche Mode that life isn’t so dark after all..okay it is but maybe all the drugs and alcohol didn’t always help their cause.
Vandal Moon is the musical lingua franca for anyone trying to marry commercialism with creativity, past with future, darkness with euphoria. Contradictions are only a problem when they don’t sit well together, here the opposites attract and it all makes perfect sense.
It’s funny how music so much of the here and now, can at once sound both futuristic and retrospective, but that is the conundrum which Rodney Cromwell’s latest track, Comrades is built on. For whilst is sounds like the formative years of what would eventually coalesce into the post-punk synth-pop scene, that experimental and lo-hi era before it blipped on the industry radar, it also sounds like the sound of something yet to come a “a robotic turbocharged rebel song for the twitter generation.”
It balances an early motorik dance groove with the scope of modern digital creativity, one adding smooth textures and soft layers to the hard beats and sharp edges which lie beneath, all of which becomes more apparent on the extended dance mix, courtesy of synthwave pioneer Vieon. But it is the standard mix which has more drama, a shorter, sharper electro-shock treatment of the song, one building bigger soundscapes and delivering punchier blows, wielding sharper sonic scalpels against raw industrial backdrop.
I keep stumbling across new music which feels the need to say something, folkies writing new rebel songs, rockers shedding off the cliches to deliver articulate diatribes, indie kids turning their back on fashion and looking for truths. If you are someone who’s usual haunt os the clubs and dance floors, then Rodney Cromwell is the one to look too for answers in this post-truth world.
The story detailing the relationship between a man and a woman light years apart is a beguiling concept which requires equally beguiling music. Daniel Angelus second album Wired For Heartbreak is the sound track to that story, and Reflection is just one fascinating dipping of the toe into the musical waters of what a concept album can sound like at the sharp edge of the 21st century. If the term conjures images of pretentious prog-rockers, playing stages the size of small planets, singing Tolkien inspired nonsense… possibly dressed as wizards, then Angelus take on the concept album…err, concept, is exactly what you need.
Musically it is everything you need to restore your faith in such an idea, built from shimmering dreamstate pop, hazy synthwave, understated dance grooves and wonderful dynamics which run from brooding near silence to falsetto crescendos. Reflection feels like a snap shot of a past that never quite happened, a late 70’s Berlin era Bowie track that didn’t quite come to fruition, a band that broke up before making their defining 4AD record, the experimentation of a New Romantic band before they copped out and accepted the commercial coin. It also sounds like the way forward, a cinematic vision of pop to come, a snap shot glance and teaser, for dance and pop’s next chapter.
Like all good science fiction, the subject matter here is a very good mirror of reality, whilst the over arching theme may be one of love, loss and longing across achingly vast distances, love, loss and longing are the mainstays of the human condition in every era. Whilst the song conjures futuristic images, the song is much more easily relatable than it might appear, something born out by the video which juxtaposes the lonely space farer dreaming of the very earth like settings that his loved ones still inhabit. Space isn’t the final frontier…love is!
I guess what I am trying to say here is that although using the same studio building bloacks as everyone else, Daniel Angelus seems to have few obvious comparisons. Some of it is familiar, you have heard snatches of that sound in the hidden depths of cinematic indie bands in ambient, early hours, apres-club chill outs and long forgotten dream-pop explorers but can I give you a solid reference upon which to hang Reflections overall sound? No. And that is the curse of originality and of course its blessing too. It is a world of comfort zones out there, one where tribute bands and TV show cover versions seem to get the spotlight and if that appeals to you then Angelus will confuse and confound you in equal measure. Of course, he might also be your saving grace.
More information HERE
Anyone making music under the pseudonym of Winston Psmith and referencing his dystopian story in the title of their albums tracks is automatically someone I am going to be interested in. The fact that Fine Tiraneco is a collection of ambient electronica just sweetens the deal. Just as some of the best and most unique experiences happen when you go off grid, as it were, where the road runs out and turns to green, when art runs out of rules to follow; music often only truly comes to life when you run out of labels that easily capture its essence. But I will try, that after all, is the job at hand.
Even terms like songs or tracks seems too inappropriate words, for what Novparolo does is create cinematic scores for films which haven’t even been made yet, but which just through their sonic grace conjure a thousand images. Images of wind-swept vistas, dream-like worlds, night time city streets, ancient landscapes and far flung regions of space. It is chamber-synth-pop, but with gentle, futuristic electronica replacing the more traditional sounds and beats which seem only to guide and structure rather than drive the music.
And special it is, and unique, and beautiful, haunting, ambient and otherworldly, built through seamless and graceful musical lines, soft edges and smokey synth work. Like I say, the best music is found in a place that has no need for pigeon-holes and labels, and Novparolo seem only to use that place as a base camp as they strike out even further to explore new sonic realms. When the clocks strike thirteen, put Fine Teraneco on and immerse yourself in its understated beauty, forget the Thought Police, they can’t touch you in here.
Who indeed. Perhaps the sort of people who wilfully mix warped Bee Gees doing hard-disco with Vangelis-esque cinematic electronica? Maybe they are those sort of people who love the synth-pop of the post-punk period and wish to see it given a new lease of life for a whole new generation of ears. Certainly they are people who are happy to title their latest e.p. with a question and then deliberately leave off the question mark. Nothing good can ever come of that I can tell you.
But Synth Wave, New Wave Retro, Future Synth, call it what you will, might have its roots in the experiments of ex-punks bored with blues-based guitar possibilities who rewired broken keyboards and bent them to their will, but it has had a whole life of its own since then. Affordable equipment, digital developments and home studios have meant that the possibilities for such music are endless and far from looking back at the formative years, Siblings of Us find themselves very much at the front of a musical charge into the harsh halogen light of a new musical day.
Neon Lungs bursts with confidence and muscle, it is anthemic and stadium ready, euphoric and brilliantly dynamic and acts as the perfect centre-piece for this mercurial collection. Opening salvo, Iocaine, not only reveals their love of iconic fantasy films but acts as a great calling card for what is to follow and Saints on Break is a sort of electro-pop-soul number…if electro-pop-soul was made by renegade car plant robots, in the far future using a strange blend of hypnotic industrial grooves and otherworldly vocals.
We The British American seems the closest Siblings come to being in the here and now rather than their usual predilections for predicting the sound of the future or reviving the sound of the past, being more grounded…but it’s all relative and it may be a while before they replace the likes of Beyonce as mainstream club floor fare…more’s the pity.
If you think that Electronic Dance Music has found its level, that maybe it has nowhere left to go, Siblings of Us are your next lesson. I guess that there are a number of bands pushing the electro envelope at the moment, but how many of them are able to juggle disco, electro-rock, future dance, cinematic film score, progressive pop, futuristic Broadway bombast and heady stadium-dance…often in the space of one track. Who could do all of that? Who Indeed.
As any album proudly bearing labels such as relaxation and meditation hoves into view, I have a tendency to brace for a salvo of head shop, whale noise nonsense and wind chime cacophony. But if more people working in such a broad and often misrepresented genre made music like Christopher Rapkin’s Release, then there would be nothing to worry about. It is an album which goes beyond the mere label of mood music and wanders through more exciting musical territory, well if exciting is not quite the right word…maybe worthy, clever and unique are better fits. It skirts the realms of minimal, Vangelis soundscapes, of progressive rock interludes, of futuristic dreams and galactic visions. But the purpose here is not the outward journey that some of the track titles might suggest, but an inner voyage, one built of meditation, calmness and introspection.
And again, unlike many working in similar fields, this record goes beyond a collection of pleasing sounds or creative expression, though it obviously encapsulates that as well, but instead is composed of carefully selected sonics, of precise combinations of rhythm and musical vibration to create this Zen bubble that the music is helping you to attain. And even coming, as I do, from a more cynical place, away from such transcendental arguments, it is still quite simply a beautiful collection of music. Perfect for repeat play at low volume throughout the house or as the back drop to a chilled gathering or late supper. And even by admitting as much I guess that is the argument won on the behalf of the artist, even without delving too knowingly into the neurological reasoning behind the music I’m happy to admit that it enhances the room, chills the atmosphere and calms the soul. Damnit, I was determined to stay detached and just review, well, that’s the power of music I guess…who knew? Well, Mr Rapkin for one!
If someone like Nick Cave best typifies the dark, sweeping and majestic end point of the western blues derived musical experiment; Gongkreeper is the flipside of that coin. Joe Cherry, the man driving this creative vehicle, makes music which comes from a younger, angst ridden and intense place, one that has evolved out of the possibilities afforded by more recent technologies and more likely to tip its hat to Krautrock pioneers and New Romantic non-conformists than the more traditional canon.
Sonnets x Sketches is an intriguing sonic package, wandering from smooth, ambient and almost soulful sounds to warped sonic claustrophobia, from a sort of computer brained ethereality to a broken industrial onslaught. And somehow the two ends of the chosen musical spectrum seem to blend remarkably seamlessly.
There is something of the city and the night inherent in the music, it evokes shadowed back streets, rain lashed buildings, neon gaudiness and aged and decaying architecture. Its myriad musical blends of the modern via hip-hop beats and synth wastelands and the more traditional musical structures perfectly reflecting the juxtapositions of the urban sprawl.
But more than anything these five sonic sonnets and skittering sketches paint pictures, not necessarily those intended by the author but music is at its best when it engages and evokes. This dark suite, which sits between cinematic soundtrack and down beat alt-pop, does all of that and more. Now all you the listener have to do is make the film that it suggests.
They say that you can tell a lot about a person by the company that they keep. Similarly you can tell a lot about a musician by looking at who has accompanied them on their musical journey thus far. Making your way in any original and creative field is full of interesting and often unexpected twists, opportunities and collaborations and all this creates an imprint, a cross between a fingerprint, a musical DNA and a family tree. Examine that and you can learn a lot about an artist before you even meet them.
With heroes including Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, time spent as a post rock explorer, sharing stages with the likes of Low, Pan American and Spectrum, writing film score music and a move into the improvisational world of free jazz, you get a feel for the scope and exploratory nature of Nathan Yeager’s mind.
And of those early references and years served before the mast, the two areas which seem to inform The Last Lighthouse most heavily are those hours spent ingesting the progressive electro-experiments of Tangerine Dream and the musical mind set towards composing music suited as much to a film score as a live performance.
The first track, It’s Been a Hell of a Year, is less an opening salvo but more just drifts into the listeners consciousness, a sonorous dreamscape which brings to mind the celestial music of The Enid or the more recent elegantly gossamer creations of SPC ECO. By the time we have got to the wonderfully named March of The Tortoise new elements have been added to this chilled template. The tracks become more confident, more structured, beat driven and brilliantly glitchy and compelling in their oddness. At times, as these two worlds of pastoral charm and clinical futurism clash, it sounds as if you have accidently pressed play on two very different albums yet you can’t quite pull yourself away from the hypnotic result.
Sonoluminescence is a weave of drama and drive and Last Night in Pine Bush NY seems elemental, music built from the primal sounds of nature; otherworldly, ancient and organic. The album’s swan song, Theme From The Last Lighthouse, is a mercurial blend of Vangelis sound tracking, mood music, and beats and noises seemingly being picked up via some sort of deep space monitoring.
You could see these pieces, as Nathan surely does, as a series of sound tacks to short films but an interesting creative twist would be if someone would make the films based on listening to the music. I’m not sure what those would look like but I know I would be at the front of the queue for tickets.
I’ve been reading some of the writing by those music bloggers they have now days. You know the ones, with their skinny lattes, even skinnier jeans and complicated hair. It seems that the current trend is all about juxtapositions and I was thinking just how they might approach Pattern Language’s intriguing sound in one of those achingly hip publications. They may try to suggest that this is Vangelis’s Dusseldorf years or Jean Michel Jarre getting a dance grove on, use terms such as indietronica or reference the Krautrock motorik sound. It all looks good on paper but I’m not sure it gets to the heart of the matter.
Sure, there is a heavy debt being paid to those Germanic sonic explorers of the 70’s but there is also a lightness of touch to these instrumentals which references what came through the door that they kindly left open. Thomas Dolby’s eclectic electronica, the pre-pop sensation years of The Human League and the dreamy retro-futurism of Air to name a few.
But it is a lot more than an exercise in cherry picking past glories, the instrumentals found on Total Squaresville are nothing if not contemplating the future, sometimes the far future and Blade Runner-esque cityscapes and Isaac Asimov book covers seem to be intrinsically linked to the music. And for all its grandiose imagery and often-clinical qualities the music is also somehow surprisingly romantic and overwhelmingly beautiful. It is the stuff of atonal music boxes and digital fugues, of escapism and longing and for all its conjuring of space vistas and alien encounters it never seems anything less than rooted in the now and locked on to a human heart and soul.
There is something wonderfully familiar in the pulsing bass, the clinical drum sound and the minimal synth patterns that skitter around between voice and backbeat. Comfort zones are nice places to exist in and Vladrumetz builds ones that take me back to small London clubs in the early 80’s when that collision of punk attitude, fashion and changes in technology created a strange electronic hybrid. Art school dropouts embraced this critical point that eventually heralded the rise of commercial synth-pop and New Romanticism but for now it was a mercurial and intoxicating underground sensation found in small corners of scenes that have been long forgotten by history.
And Vladrumetz could very well have been part of that small but important gathering. It’s quite telling that he is based in Germany, the home of Can, Faust, Neu! and Kraftwerk, the early pioneers of electronica. But this is slicker; this belongs to the smoother, less exploratory movement that followed on its heels, the music which thankfully replaced disco as the discerning dance floor party music.
It may be simple, but more importantly the music is subtle, not to mention supple, and whilst it leads its hypnotic dance it beats like the heart of the computers that birthed it, at a place where humanity and machine co-exist. Knowing where you are going is important but so is knowing where you come from and if this is an indication of what the album Dead End Street has to offer, then it will provide an important link between what has already happened and where electronic music goes next. The past taken root in the present to create the future.
More about Vladrumetz can be found www.vladrumetz.tk
Whether a conscious decision or not, Crow Swan Wolf may just be the perfect sound track to the world we find ourselves going into. Yes, the dystopian vibe is certainly obvious right from the start but there is also a texture and subtlety in the music that seems to reflect the intricate machinations of the world today.
Musically they are children of an unlikely post-punk coupling, where the 4AD ethic hooked up with clinical, urban goth chic, where the razor wire guitars of the latter cut through the romantic and bucolic washes of the former, where night fell on that hazy dreamscape. And if that seems as if it has all been done before, the trick here is that rather than pander to the windswept, crushed velvet urges of its parents, TCHZ, like all dutiful children, rebel against expectations and instead get their kicks running amok through the detritus of the modern world.
Theirs is a playground of dystopian hi-jinks, of night times on the decaying streets, of subversion and protest, of industrial wastelands and underground nightclubs, of shadows and neon, light and shade taken to it’s extremes. It is the collision point of the sound of brutal industrial machinations and transient, clinical digital languages, the distant humming of the modern world and the poetry of decay. It is a distant, disembodied opera, which echoes from our technology reflecting the detachment and unease of the world around us.
It is easy to see where they come from, where some of their references lie, but the ability to shape those influences into new statements about the world they find themselves in and comment on where it may be heading is all you can ask of them.
I always find the term “80’s music” when used as a label a bit of an odd concept. After all how the hell can a decade also be a genre? Sadly that decade, the one that honed my own musical tastes, has become a bit of a by-word for cheesy, Day-Glo dross and throwaway bubble-gum pop, which is a real shame as it was also an era immense creativity and of the birth of whole new genres, the perfect second chapter to follow the punks year zero.
The band obviously have a deep love of the music of that era and whilst their brand of synth-pop sometimes sails a bit close to the most accessible end of the spectrum I have just described, as always, the devil is in the detail. The slick trappings of the more commercial end of New Romanticism as it merged into the new pop, beats at the music’s heart and very often they are content just to revisit that ground. And why not, they do it so well and tracks such as Sylvia’s Voyage and Dreaming With Monsters could easily be lost recordings by any one of those 80’s stalwarts who went on to rule the roust.
On the other hand songs such as For The Better Worth are as fresh a piece of modern club floor-filler as you could wish for and The Miracle of Cult could almost be The Bee Gees remixed by the newest kid on the alternative dance block. Opening salvo 9 Hours 23 Minutes is nothing less than a cutting edge, headlong euphoric rush into the future of dance music.
Siblings Of Us are a classic example of the cyclical nature of music, able to reference the formative years of synth driven tune-making but rather than sit on their retro laurels, they blend it deftly with the sounds of now, matching the familiarity and reassurances of what has gone before with the excitement and creativity of pushing the generic boundaries forward into an bright, interesting and yet unwritten future.
If the drum was the first instrument to be conceived, after the human voice that is, then the idea of making an instrumental album with drums and drum technology at its core is certainly tapping into a primal beat. Davide Compagnoni is more often found within the ranks of power trio Stearica, but with Khompa he offers something startlingly new and forward thinking, even by the high standards he has already set himself.
An audio-visual live act built on a real drummer using a conventional kit, drum triggers, a laptop and a sequencer allowing him to cocoon his drumming in real time orchestration, electronic harmonies and instrumental washes. And if the concept of rooting the sound in the primal resonance of the world’s oldest instrument may suggest something archaic and folksy, the delivery is as contemporary as anything you have heard, bordering on futuristic even.
I must admit that as a full 8 track recording the concept gets familiar very quickly. I’m sure as a live spectacle it gains a lot from being in the same room as the listener but as something to throw on the CD player…not so much. The warped and manipulated vocals and staccato rhythms of Upside Down World offer a bit of an interesting twist but this is certainly a set of tracks that will be appreciated for their considerable technical prowess rather than for their musicality.
If the contents of this album sounds like the soundtrack to an eighties movie, that is the whole point. (The clue is in the title) Dan Haight, Alex Gingell and Fightstar’s Alex Westaway revel in the decade and remind us that between the “more is more” approach to fashion and some frankly awful music, there was a core sound that not only evokes those times but also is worth giving a makeover for a modern audience. The result is Gunship, a synthwave band defined as much by their fresh, contemporary stance as they are by their deeply embedded retro influences.
Although there is a narrative to the album, one of romance, fear, the threat of nuclear annihilation and the celebration of life, it is the sweeping synths, instrumental interludes and pulsing eighties electro beats that are the star of the show and the result is the soundtrack to a classic film that exists only in the rose-tinted minds of the band. It is a testament to the albums authenticity that film icon John Carpenter loved the music enough to contribute a voice track to the albums lead track Tech Noir.
For all its backward perspective the album is surprisingly appealing, both to those of a certain age and younger music fans who appreciate the cyclical nature of current bands eighties references.
Those who remember the sixties weren’t really there. Those who remember the eighties probably drink heavily to block most of it out, but if you do want a taste of that much-maligned decade maybe the best way is through re-imaginings like this album….and obviously via a pile of Killing Joke albums.