Songs that got me into music

Glass Candy – “Computer Love” (Cover of Kraftwerk)

Few albums show me the range of colors and emotions in a synth like Glass Candy’s B/E/A/T/B/O/X. Johnny Jewel seems to pry out the richest analog tones possible here. It’s a masterful dance album that fills each corner with glitter, but never without melody or feeling. If you wonder why I got so obsessed with synths, look no further than here (and The Knife, but that’s another story).

“Computer Love” demonstrates with a heaven-sent take on my favorite Kraftwerk classic. You’d think seven minutes would wear it out. Instead, Johnny makes decadent variations on their melodies over and over, finding new sweet spots in the harmony. I could listen to that same echoing synth for much longer; it’s like a magnet. The almost operatic fluttering later on takes it to a whole new place.  B/E/A/T/B/O/X is a decadent album already, but “Computer Love” is a true journey. When I listen, I’ve entered some haven of digitized bubbles and flowers.

With this fountain of synths backing her, Ida No could douse her face in it. She gives that falsetto title-drop the pure frozen longing it needed. Critics labelled her goofy and ‘detached’, but songs like this show a warmer, gentler side to her that’s just as prominent. She has a barbie-doll glamor that makes a closer fit for a song like this. Ralf Hutter has his charms, but he’s not a big love-song type.

Something about this cover takes the loneliness further. With how they sequenced B/E/A/T/B/O/X, “Computer Love” provides a refuge in the face of paranoia (see “Candy Castle” and “Digital Versicolor”). The way I hear it, this version doesn’t wish for love alone, but for relief in general. It searches the ends of Earth, science, and fantasy for this.

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Songs that got me into music

Cocteau Twins – “Pandora” (Treasure, 1984)

I learned of Cocteau when I overheard “Amelia” from my sister’s room.  “Amelia” was interesting, but Liz Fraser’s singing baffled me at first.  “That’s their whole style”, she said. This seemed too ‘weird’ for me. But that was when “Pandora” came on, which changed my mind the second it hit that chorus. Before I knew it I was obsessing over dream pop and all things ‘atmospheric’. Like the Banshees, CTs showed me an atmospheric density I hadn’t thought possible before.

The melody’s rapid syllables could become too much, but Fraser’s voice makes it sound easy and free. Add guitar wash from Atlantis and her most angelic falsetto and every note feels like a fountain. For all I knew, they were playing those drums from under a well.

“Pandora” is one of those rare songs with a therapeutic quality, where I wish I could take a nap in it. I pictured a happy-sad farewell in some aquatic world, where someone watches their friend journey off. It’s somewhere between this and the purest daydream.

Complex emotions like these are part of Treasure’s power. It will evoke such grand, sublime images and feelings across time and space, but never one at a time.

hidden treasure

China Crisis – Autumn In The Neighbourhood, 2015

sophisti-pop

RIYL80s China Crisis, Love And Money, Prefab Sprout, Gangway’s Sitting In The Garden

I love fall but I’m not ready for it. For one thing, it feels less fitting to post more of my findings in sophisti, a style screaming ‘cocktail party at the beach’. I meant to do more than my August mix, but that time flew as usual. Thus, a title like Autumn In The Neighbourhood enticed me.

I’m not sure if this is autumnal as much as windy and down-to-earth, but it’s close enough for me. I wish more sophisti had this imagery, I know that much. This being their ‘comeback’ album (2015!), China Crisis perform with more ease and nuance than ever. Decades later, they’ve kept that same elegance that defines sophisti-pop. The subtle keyboards, clean guitars and hints of brass are all here. Add a nostalgic, thoughtful mood and you have a great scene-setter. It’s the kind of British eighties(-styled) pop where you can just feel the busy city and morning breeze. It’s hard to name favorites but this comes from the impressive coherence more than anything else.

♥︎ – “Smile”, “Down Here on Earth”, “Joy And The Spark”, “Tell Tale Signs”

 

new music

Maria Usbeck – Envejeciendo, 2019

Image result for envejeciendo maria

synth pop / art pop

Using more synths this time, Maria Usbeck’s second album emulates a digitized canopy. It’s another one where cold synths prompt human feeling despite their origins. Skeptics will claim they lack feeling but Maria’s music hasn’t lost any of that.

Which brings me to what stuck from Amparo: her incredible talent for calming the listener. Her travels in Ecuador to reconnect with her past continue to influence the effect of her songs. Like home, or what feels like it, Maria’s music relaxes with it’s everyday air. As she composed by herself, everything sounds filtered through her perspective. That is, besides the odd speech from Siri (!) or her grandmother. Envejeciendo is a traveling laptop’s creation.

What struck me about her ‘chill-out’ effect is that it feels so grounded. It doesn’t assume everything is or will be perfect. She doesn’t aim for escapism, as much as that works for other music. Instead, she uses this space to ask questions. Yet she does this without getting bleak; some songs veer on humorous. She seems to find comfort in more realistic conditions. Her lyrics concern aging (the album’s English name) and how new tech changes our thinking. I’m glad to see her explore these themes when few others do and when the cult of youth stays strong.

Envejeciendo peaks at the end with “Retirement Home” and “Nostalgia”. With the album’s richest synths and her own tender voice, they form a compelling mix of cathartic and relaxed tones. “Retirement Home” imagines ideal senior living, with metallic synth-bells adding a spa-like hypnosis. “Nostalgia” matches the title in seconds with breezy synth chords glowing like fireflies. As intended, it’s perfect for those fleeting daydreams of the past.

The drum machine beats are my main gripe as with too many recent albums. And I say this as a synth-pop fanatic! The issue is, no matter how classic the 909 is, the novelty wears after decade-long overuse.

I prefer Amparo but this is a worthy album with it’s own great ideas. It’s very digestible at 27 minutes. Maria’s solo career keeps taking refreshing turns and deserving a closer look.

 

 

Artists you should know · Playlist

Artists you should know / Milan Pilar

TXT

Milan Pilar (born 1934 in Czechoslovakia) is a master of fantasy melodrama. Once he came to use synths, his music became the soundtrack for finding a magic necklace in a pastel-colored forest where anything can happen. Milan created these images in gorgeously exaggerated detail that can touch your heart if you let it, no matter outlandish it may seem at a glance. He had a talent to induce the most grandiose emotions with impact and genuine tenderness.

Most songs will have sweeping synths and/or strings as a backbone, with digital bells and flutes playing the melodies. Many are wistful and sensitive as if telling you secrets in it’s hiding place, some carefree and happy, others cinematic and awestruck. No matter the mood, they never lose their Moomin-worthy fantasy charm and romantic expression. It’s a shame Pilar didn’t wind up directly composing for children’s fantasy movies.

He also kept a distinct sound across ten-plus years, something rare for library composers. For instance, his 2003 album Nature In Motion has the virtual same approach as his late-eighties work.

Playlist

I’ve gathered my favorites from across his albums to give a good taster for his style (link above).

1. February  – Pastoral Seasons, Coloursound, 1982

2. Reconciliation – Nature Spoiled and Unspoiled, Coloursound, 1983

3. Above / Extensions – Extensions, Sonoton, 19??

4. Industrial Signature 11 – Industrial, Coloursound, 1986

5. Fountain Idyll – Above And About, Coloursound, 1989

6. Birdlife – Above And About, Coloursound, 1989

7. Digital Structure 2 – Digital Structures, 1990

8. Digital Structure 25 – Digital Structures, 1990

9. Softly As The Summerwind – Nature Study, 1990

10. Wind And Waves – Nature Study, 1990

10. Caravanseral – Nostro Mondo, 1993

12. Irish Autumn – Floating Line, 1993

13. Rainbow – Textures And Fusion, 1994

14. Lost Game Blues – Signs Of Wisdom, 1999

15. Call Of The Mountains – Nature In Motion, 2003

16. Deep Sea Romance – Green Planet, 2004