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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Artists you should know · Playlist

Artists you should know / Milan Pilar

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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

Deep Cuts

Cathy Dennis’ “Toxic” demo

It might be a surprise for fans of Britney’s “Toxic” to know the song was written by former 90s pop star Cathy Dennis, the songwriter/co-producer of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” (among others on Kylie’s Fever). Cathy offered “Toxic” to Kylie’s album Body Language first, but it was rejected.

In fact, Cathy’s Youtube-surfaced demo sounds near-identical to Britney’s version aside from the vocals, including the signature “Tere Mere Beech Mein” Bollywood sample.

Deep Cuts

Reni Jusis – “Niemy Krzyk” (Magnes, 2006)

Having major creative control meant Reni Jusis experimented whenever she wanted. This resulted in several exciting twists to her already distinctive take on electro-pop (the existential “Ostatni Raz” to name one), but no Reni song surprised me as much as “Niemy Krzyk”, her most dark-sided to date.

Sometimes on the bottom of my heart I feel that
My life is beyond me again
I cannot carry [on] anymore
I went too far again

Why is it that I live faster
If I don’t enjoy the things I have

I want to run away again
Where nobody will find me

With fragile trance melodies rippling along, the lyrics reveal inner fears behind the dance-DJ glamor she adopted on the Magnes album. The impressive soar in her vocal hammers in the effect.

Thanks to Jan for the English translation. Full text here. Listen to my Reni Jusis playlist here.

Anniversary · Songs that got me into music

Songs that got me into music: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Zero” (It’s Blitz!, 2009)

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Part of a new series where I look back at the formative songs that made me obsessed with music in the first place. The next entries will have a more chronological order.

My first memory of Yeah Yeah Yeahs is when I saw the iconic video for “Zero”, voted by Spin and NME as song of the year. It was a fresh, exciting, neon-lit burst of energy; the tempo and lyrics imploring to ‘climb, climb, climb’. The contrast of mellow cool with exhilarating heights was key to the appeal of the It’s Blitz! album itself. It’s been close to a decade since I overheard my older siblings play the CD, yet somehow it’s just as great as I remember hearing it again now.

It’s Blitz! is an album of twin strengths; an ideal blend of a punk/rock base with electronic flourishes. Uproarious synth-rock fusions take turns with rich, idyllic ballads. Each of the ten songs have their twists, adding up to one of the most well-rounded albums I know. “Soft Shock” shows this duality best in both its music and title: electric but therapeutic, it’s a lullaby with a groove; while “Runaway” is an ambitious pseudo-gothic ballad going from soft, lonely piano to a thundering string peak. Some uptempo songs even invert this pattern, like “Heads Will Roll” with its murky ‘Shut your eyes / you realize’ interlude or “Dull Life”’s haunting guitar shifting into a bold and determined chorus.

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Every member added something distinct; Karen O balanced grit with tenderness more seamlessly than ever, Nick Zinner blended his guitar fuzz with a host of sleek, icy synths and Brian’s drumming added thrilling momentum. The synths brought fresh twists to their sound and helped build on the balladry “Maps” did so well.

Something about It’s Blitz! sounds all this time later, even if it makes such a great time capsule. Maybe it’s the less obvious execution of the electro-pop influence: while I can enjoy most forms of this, including the kind synthwave that lives and breathes flashy eighties kitsch, It’s Blitz! doesn’t sound that ‘eighties’ to me in the end. I don’t know if it’s the critics overstating on the mere fact they dared to include synths (as expected for critics of the time + guitar snobs in general) or the sheer personality of the album.

Ten years on I’ve realized how much It’s Blitz! influenced my taste: the love of synths, fierce rhythms, genuine attitude, mixing beauty with distortion. While their debut remains incredible, it sometimes overshadows the accomplishment of their third album. With today being its tenth anniversary, It’s Blitz! is overdue for celebration.

 

hidden treasure

Gossip – Arkansas Heat EP (2002)

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garage punk / punk rock

More like this – Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever To Tell + Self-titled EP + Machine EP; X-Ray Spex, Gossip’s “Fire With Fire

I have a theory that Gossip were the Arkansan equal of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and this EP is the closest they got in sound. There’s the unique and dynamic female singer in Beth Ditto, their later pop era, their indie rock breakthrough phase, and this early, very Fever To Tell EP. This isn’t a negative comparison; I’m convinced we don’t have enough like YYY’s, so I welcome it. After all, it’s been tricky for me to find much else that truly shares Fever To Tell’s special brand of  punk chaos, or at least without overdoing the edginess + noise. This made Arkansas Heat both a throwback and a breath of fresh air.

Through the whole EP the guitar and drums make a persistent racket as Beth Ditto yowls and quivers over them with exciting intensity. It’s the opposite of the more stylish approach in later projects like her excellent solo EP but true to her range as a singer, she pulls it off just as well.

Every song except the 10-minute “Take Back The Revolution” is over within 2 minutes, making it a fun and digestible listen. Even better is how they made it so catchy despite this brevity. “Revolution” drags a little too much, of course, but skip it about halfway through and it’s an addictive 14-minute burst of energy. I just wish they put out more like this in their early days.