On Deep Cuts I highlight notable album-only/non-single tracks, especially if they differ from someone’s usual style.
This lengthy suite should surprise you if you figured Dannii’s music boiled down to a more generic/’b-grade’ Kylie. With the downbeat aquatic synths, dramatic whispers and chilly title refrains, it’s closer to a lost Impossible Princess b-side.
Originally written in Polish for Jan’s new music blog Anielskie Jajo. This is the first guest post I’ve featured here! I’m not sure how common this will be, but I’ll be open to more in the future.
About the guest author:
Jan (~shores on Rateyourmusic) is a musician and dedicated listener from Poland. We ‘met’ by chance in January when I answered his thread asking for recs in 80s new age. We had an immediate connection from there as we happened to share close opinions on several more genres like ambient, folk, pop and darkwave. Listen to Jan’s music here and here.
I. What is Ethereal Wave?
Ethereal Wave, or Ethereal Goth, or just Ethereal, is a music genre that is a variation on gothic rock and darkwave, transcending the dark imagery of said genre into denser, dreamier environments.
What’s more, you can say some bands playing “ethereal” sounding music who aren’t a part of goth scene could be called ethereal wave. Commonly the genre is applied to music that is related to gothic rock, but still a bit different. Lots of ethereal wave bands don’t play goth rock with female vocals (there’s a misconception that all goth rock bands with female vocals are ethereal), but uses certain means of expression that make the genre stand out from the goth scene – such as sparse, delicate guitar layers with lots of effects, soaring vocals (some using glossolalia), drum machines, and sometimes synths or keyboards.
II. Short history of genre
While lots of bands not affiliated with the goth scene today could be classified as ethereal, the style was born on goth rock and darkwave influences. The first half of the 80s brought us classic bands such as The Cure, The Banshees and Bauhaus. We could say that ethereal wave was born as a reaction to the murky and suffocating atmosphere exhibited in music of those bands (not to say it’s a reaction to ONLY those bands, just the scene at the time).
4AD was the primary powerhouse that made the genre happen – with bands like early Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, and This Mortal Coil, the genre had a nice headstart. But it didn’t have a name yet, and it wasn’t established yet – music press just tried to classify the music played by those bands, and “ethereal” was probably the closest, and it possibly stuck. It was rather an unspoken artistic movement.
The second half of the 80s brought fame to the genre: Cocteau Twins had indie hits with singles like “Carolyn’s Fingers” and “Heaven Or Las Vegas”, while This Mortal Coil became somewhat legendary with “Song To The Siren” and released highly acclaimed albums. But it was Dead Can Dance who actually migrated to neoclassical and regional music-inspired sounds with goth undertones, today known as neoclassical darkwave (Genre Primers post soon!).
That was the ethereal wave scene in the UK. In United States, the genre was popularised by Projekt Records – a bit of an American version of 4AD, but they had their own aesthetic and credo. Bands such as Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Love Spirals Downwards, or Lycia were the most popular pupils of said label.
In the end of the 80s and the early 90s, the genre regained some popularity, and several new bands were formed. Unfortunately, the genre went out of fashion rather quickly after that – it could be said that Cocteau Twins’ last album (1996) in marks the end of the genre’s popularity. Yet still: bands affiliated with the scene were experimenting with the sound and expanding it’s influences, sometimes incorporating electronics into their work – notably Chandeen and Love Spirals Downwards.
Today the genre has a small yet faithful fanbase, and – what is really nice to see for me – there are more bands appearing who play in such style.
Finally, this is how the ‘official’ EW looks. ‘Unofficial’ ethereal wave can be found in early 80s new age records and some non-goth artists, but it’s up to you if you feel it’s okay to call non-goth artists ethereal wave or not.
feathers oar-blades – cocteau twins / ocean – dead can dance / rains on me – heavenly bodies / cranes fly – black rose / birds of passage – bel canto / wish – soulswirlingsomewhere / scatter january – love spirals downwards / sparks – faith and the muse / mr. somewhere – this mortal coil / beneath the leaves – requiem in white / drifting – lycia / ecdisis – wind atlas / floor – them are us too / feral love – chelsea wolfe
Siouxsie is my favorite musician and it’s because of her albums that I legitimately became interested in music in the first place. I think this occasion makes for a good time to start listening to her music for those still unfamiliar.
So, I’ve tried to assemble a playlist of a song for every Banshees and Creatures album, including Siouxsie’s lone solo album Mantaray to somewhat give a taste of all the major releases. I tried to keep it mostly accessible and not entirely made up of obvious hits (as great as those songs are). I also left out B-sides because there’s just too many good ones to fit in there for now – but I hope to make a proper playlist out of those in the near-future as well.
More like this – Tesla Boy’s Modern Thrills, Betamaxx’s Lost Formats, Tommy 86′s “Back To Basics”, Glass Candy’s Warm In The Winter
With most of their output gaining such little traction outside Russia, Tesla Boy deserved far better than they got. This album has almost everything a synth-pop fan could want: melodic and flexible synths decorate every corner like a gloss, nearly every song has a stylish, radio-friendly urgency, and the vocals adapt the flamboyant charisma of classic synth-pop groups like a-Ha and Visage. Their detailed production adds just the right amount of extra glitter.
Special mention has to go to “M.C.H.T.E.” for its ecstatic, gigantic chorus that addicted me from first listen, “Paraffin”’s dizzying electro-funk riffs, and the beachy xylophone accents of “Undetected”. As the whole, this is one of the most consistently impressive and fun albums I’ve heard in this niche.
Some cliched 808 aside, Soft Metals show a great ear for that colder edge of analog synths the minimal wave fans crave without getting obvious. Like their own name suggests, it’s all about the contrast of softness (as in airy/gentle) and metal (as in sharp/gritty).
Thankfully, they’ve cut out most of their debut’s repetition for a subtler and more flexible sound here. Hypnotic arpeggios in the vein of a lost sci-fi OST merge with a slick bass pulse and immersive pads to find a middle ground between EDM’s energy and space music’s weightlessness. The occasional hint of Glass Candy is another plus.
The 100% synth setup is a great balm for Patricia Hall’s already elevated vocals. She has a bit of a dream-pop approach that gives even uptempo moments like the acid-house “In The Air” a sense of flight. Not the most distinct singer of this kind, but refreshing to hear in a minimal synth context.
♥︎ – “Lenses”, “When I Look Into Your Eyes”, “Hourglass”, “Tell Me”
The local Target used to have these panels where you clicked album art images to preview their CD. 10-year-old me went for the pretty-looking ‘landscape’ photos every time, which led to something called Beethoven’s Moonlight…
So this downbeat piano faded in and hypnotized me. It had such a unique mood: teetering in and out of a shadowy dirge, relaxed but deep in thought. Like night-time, it’s shrouded in mystery but not inherently ‘evil’. Moonlight is antique mansion music, something a ghost pianist would play as everyone sleeps. Or maybe it’s a balcony’s view of the night sky. Somehow this movement suggests so much in a simple waltz rhythm.
Following my obsession for the melodic piano pieces in ‘creepier’ Nancy Drew games, this was the next root of my interest in gothic music (what with my blog having ‘Moons’ in the name). Playing the CD often, I thought I’d be a ‘classical person’. As you might guess, I was quick to change course, but I regain that curiosity now and then. I just wish I knew more pieces like this one.
Claude Larson (AKA Carlos Futura, Klaus Netzle) was a frequent contributor to the German music libraries Sonoton and Selected Sound. Many of his albums focused on cinematic backdrops with a tech slant (plants, space, snow, fantasy) and early experiments with digital synths, being one of the first to make extensive use of the Fairlight CMI. As with a lot of 80s library music, his songs were an earlier example of the polished synth-pop/electronic sounds now popular with modern vaporwave/synthwave producers.
Several CL songs have resurfaced on Youtube in the past ten years. Aside from a Fiat LX reissue in 2018, though, they haven’t attracted the same attention as most of Youtube’s other revitalized 70s-80s favorites.
I’ve gathered my favorite Larson songs on Youtube with this playlist. Of course, the limits of Youtube’s selection means I can’t make aim for something ‘definitive’, but it make be a good sampler for the curious listener.
Note: I focused on his Sonoton history as most of his Selected Sound albums are rare jingle collections or full of 10+min songs that could disrupt the flow.
Stream and/or download the full EP at the above links. As usual any listens and/or feedback are hugely appreciated.
Along with showing a more rhythmic side to my music, my main idea with this EP was forming a ’techno’ sound with more frequent shifts and build-up as I didn’t have much patience for the minimal approach in a lot of popular techno like Autechre and The Orb.
I wanted it cold and mechanical most of all (going along with the techno aesthetic), but as with most of my music, an aquatic/murky accent snuck into it (mostly on “Zemūdens”, whose title is the Latvian word for ‘submarine’). Crashing waves and giant towering structures came to mind, hence what you see in the cover.
If there’s any two things that inspired this EP most, it’s Laurel Halo’s Hour Logic and The Knife’s Silent Shout, to the point you can hear a few similar synth tones. I tried to build a dense atmosphere/backdrop behind the more prominent beats as you hear in those albums.
Even on his debut album Flying Lotus was making unique sample choices. In a shift from the subtle beat-centered tracks, 1983 closes with this unusual pairing between Laura Darlington’s languid guest vocal and a simple but entrancing space-age/jazz sample from the Cuban drummer Tito Puente.