I’ve raved a lot recently about just how much new music I’ve discovered and listened to on Spotify during my long hours spent in the office.
But while I have had a number of these discoveries played more than once, there have been some I have been not only moved to desire to buy, but moved to actually buy.
Of course, the ultimate non-starter is Ryan Paris, whose greatest hits can be imported from Amazon for a horrifying £15 (or more). Unfortunately, while that greatest hits collection does have the correct version of Dolce Vita (and the maxi version), the other album available on Spotify, I Successi, has a stronger collection of other tunes (but the wrong version of Dolce Vita). Such a dilemma! Do I know any Italians that can grab both cheap locally and post them out?
Maybe I should also mention Midge Ure’s The Gift; while I did first listen to it on Spotify, I still wanted it for a long time before then — it was just so elusive until the release of the definitive edition that I couldn’t find it.
Anyway, let’s get down to business.
Gabriella Cilmi — Ten
Despite not being a girl, I still rather liked Woman on a Mission for its dance-pop tendancies and synthesiser backing. When you like one song, you naturally desire to explore its compatriots…
The rest of Ten tends to continue female empowerment lyrics, but it also continues to be full of little contemporary synth-pop gems. Stand-out tracks include Robots, which has a deliciously In the Year 2525 vibe to it (almost like the song charts the lead-up to/reasons for Zager & Evans’ hellish future), and What If You Knew which just generally has some really nice synths in it.
I continue to be surprised by my like of this album. Gabriella Cilmi’s voice isn’t exactly on my ususl style list (high-pitched men, pretty much), and her previous non-synth songs didn’t even register on my scale. And then… synth-pop out of fucking nowhere! Good synth-pop, too. Whatever is the world coming to?
Hurts — Happiness
While Hurts had been on my radar for quite a while (the OMD forums tend to flag up anything remotely synthy as soon as it arrives), it wasn’t until Ken Bruce spammed them as Record of the Week that I started to consider exploring them further.
The album can only be described as “big”. Slathered in choral arrangements and rich string orchestras, it has a very obvious love of the dramatic. Even the faster-paced songs manage to have a monolithic feel to them. The synths here are more… Well, the only word I can think of is “subtle”. There are no piping square waves, no searing high-pitched wails to shred your ear-drums, but there are gritty saw-derivatives and drum-pad percussion noises. The instrumentation is pretty much the opposite end of the synth spectrum from… everything else mentioned in this blog. Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s still synth and they don’t completely avoid the obvious ones.
It is probably the most sing-along of this selection, and it also has a duet with Kylie Minogue (which is always a plus point in my book). A very solid album.
Little Boots — Hands
Little Boots was hailed as a revolution at the time, and while I kept one eye in her general direction, lead single New In Town was a bit too hip hop to grab the instant appeal and I turned away. But with the descent into Spotify, most notably with the ability to safely sample entire albums without risking any capital (and I can cope with Jonathan from Spotify telling me it’ll now work on that Windows Mobile phone that I don’t have), I started to hoover up all these peripheral items.
I think Little Boots is a grower; at first listen I was non-plussed. No, the album isn’t the promised revolution: you can hear plenty of echoes of Depeche Mode and the Human League (there’s even a bit that reminds me of obscure Ultravox jamming session Keep Talking) that let you know precisely the electronic stock she’s come from. But it is full of good quality pop, with equal amounts of fun and serious business in the lyrics. And the more I listen to New In Town, the more I start to join in. Mathematics is another fine tune, with delightful lyrics:
“Take just a little of my mind, Subtract it from my soul, Add a fraction of your heart, And you’ll see it makes me whole. Multiply it by the times, That we’ve never been apart, You’ll see nothing can divide, A heart plus a heart.”
— Little Boots, Mathematics
I tell ya, if maths was taught like that at school, I’d have been right up in there.
Just in case you didn’t get the influences, Symmetry is a duet with Human League lead singer Phil Oakey. The album’s namesake is also a secret track stashed after an annoying few minutes of silence at the end.
Antilles — Something New
This is perhaps the most momentous purchase of the four because it induced me to do something I would normally shy away from doing — buy an MP3 download album. Alas, this was by necessity; the album has never been released physically.
I spotted Antilles in the related artists section of Marsheaux when I was checking for tracks of theirs I hadn’t heard before. Since Antilles is a bitching instrumental track on Midge Ure’s The Gift (in itself a phenomenal album), I decided (in my infinite cynicism) that this was a sign and I simply had to follow the will of fate.
The reward was a very good synth-pop album. And when I say “very good”, I mean blocking rocking awesome — classic in every sense of the ground Erasure trod so well, with enough twiddles that could have come out of Sonic 3 & Knuckles and echoes of Unreal‘s soundtrack to secure absolute victory even in the face of a physical lack. Opening track Longing For the Spring would be an instant floor-filler if it was discovered by DJs with any taste, You and Me has a bitchin’ almost (but not quite) 8-bit solo… It’s a class act all the way, chocka with bangin’ tunes.
Some of the lyrics are also cutely romantic, such as this snippet from not-quite-title track Something.
“You knock me off of my feet, You raise my heart beat, You petrify me.”
— Antilles, Something
Now that I’ve bought things that can actually be found in the shops, there are more to purchase that will have to be done over the internet. Howard Jones’ first album Human’s Lib, for example, and Erasure’s elusive post-Chorus pre-Loveboat swathe… They exist, just nowhere within immediate reach. HMV lists them all on their website, so presumably there are copies floating around in the warehouses somewhere… Just nowhere near here. Grumble.
But RDZ is used to playing the long game. Their time will come soon enough.