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Sophisti-Pop Stroll

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If Sophisti-Pop Summer was the soundtrack to a voyage by cruise, this is a montage of picturesque cities, with morning walks downtown and thoughtful discussions with friends by the sea. Maybe: that bittersweet feeling of summer becoming fall.

Expect lots of gentle orchestration, wistful vocals and breezy guitar. This one’s for you if you like Prefab Sprout.

Track listing

prisoner of the past – prefab sprout / copernicus – basia trzetrzelewska / summerdays – weekend / children say – level 42 / mahalia – the bible / one better day – madness / my girl and me – gangway / obi & vida real – djavan / change – lisa stansfield / wildflower – blow monkeys / lá vem você – elza soares / teletrips – ice choir / iris – tadashi shinkawa / listen – johnny hates jazz / jocelyn square – love and money / second sight – the dolphin brothers / won’t you come back – breathe / advice for the young at heart – tears for fears / tell tale signs & the soul awakening – china crisis / new brighton – it’s immaterial / desconocido – golpes bajos / everybody’s gotta learn sometime – the korgis / far too hard – dead or alive / don’t ask me why – eurythmics / no te cuesta nada – javiera mena

Cover painting by Jean Dufy

Mix

Sophisti-Pop Summer now on Mixcloud!

sophisti cover

LISTEN HERE

It was way past midnight
and she still couldn’t fall asleep.
This night the dream was leaving
she tried so hard to keep.
And with the new day’s morning
she felt it drift away.
Not only for a cruise, not only for a day.

– Double, “The Captain Of Her Heart”

To mark it’s year anniversary I re-upped one of my best mixes with a few new songs for Mixcloud, a much more convenient way to listen. Go here for the Youtube list if you prefer that.

A summer mix invoking the romance, mystery, scenery and varying emotions of a lavish cruise as it begins a long journey overseas. Think sipping a cocktail as you watch the sunset, a romantic embrace by the docks or a suited pianist enchanting the crowd during their buffet.

This naturally doubles as a spotlight for the sophisti-pop genre best known for Sade and Prefab Sprout. Its cross of slick production and synths with elegant piano, strings, clean guitars, sax and/or brass has close ties to this imagery.

Track listing

1Double – The Captain Of Her Heart3:49
2Alain Delon – Comme au Cinema4:23
3Viktor Lazlo – Clair Obscur4:36
4Marcos Valle – Fogo Do Sol3:49
5Jeanne Mas – Lisa4:14
6Gazebo – Lunatic3:59
7ABC – Confessions of a Fool3:55
8Muriel Dacq – Tropique3:32
9Prefab Sprout – Michael3:02
10Ice Choir – Peacock In The Tall Grass4:11
11The Bernhardts – I Hear You Calling3:55
12The Style Council – The Boy Who Cried Wolf5:04
13Alaska y Dinarama – Un Hombre de Verdad4:30
14Luxury Elite – blush2:42
15A.V. Walker – Night Silk3:20
16Moodoїd – Kasbah5:32
17Kim Wilde – European Soul5:20
18Isabelle Antena – Laying On The Sofa3:41
19Miami Sound Machine – Surrender Paradise4:50
20Presuntos Implicados – No Hay Palabras3:53
21Djavan – Oceano4:56
22高橋幸宏 [Yukihiro Takahashi] – Brand New Day2:46
23西松一博 [Kazuhiro Nishimatsu] – 残照3:37
24Anna Domino – Bonds of Love4:49
25George Michael – The Strangest Thing6:00
26Bryan Ferry – Windswept4:20
27Deborah Harry – Strike Me Pink4:02
28Beata Kozidrak – Żal mi tamtych nocy i dni4:27
29The Painted Word – Night After Night5:32
30Vanity – Romantic Voyage4:48
31Enzo Enzo – Pacifico4:04

hidden treasure

Djavan – Lilás, 1984

More like this – Elza Soares’ “Lá Vem Você”, “Marcos Valle’s Marcos Valle

One reason I adore sophisti-pop is it’s SUPREME breeziness. Albums like Lilas have such a luscious yet steady groove that I lose myself in a blissful fantasy of the most refreshing morning walk. It’s something about the way the glittery keyboards shimmer over the smooth bass and such clear, idyllic pillows of harmony. On a song like “Esquinas”, the saxophone gets me lost in the image of endless cities or candle-fit cocktail parties. Music for having an easygoing Good Time, but the wistful way it frames the vocals leaves room for deeper thought without disrupting things.

I’d say the only thing that can enrich this further are some strings.. oh wait, they’re here, and they have a gorgeous way of flourishing into the arrangement just enough.

Well then, how about some Brazilian flavor? Evocative, romantic singers like Nascimento or Jorge Ben are sophisti bait, are they not? Having a past in samba himself, Djavan brings plenty of that, and the result is true ear candy if you like it smooth and don’t mind some subtle eighties-isms. (I don’t, of course.) As you may guess, the elegance of Portuguese and the samba-like atmosphere makes a breezy genre like sophisti even more breezy. For one, “Obi” brings a bossa nova vibe and the album’s richest strings, meaning Lilas has about anything I could ask for in a sophisti album.

This stuff is like gourmet strawberry pie as music; I’m sure my ears will always have room for that.

Deep Cuts · List

5 Grace Jones Deep Cuts You Can’t Miss

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Wishing Grace Jones a happy 72nd with this post!

Even during exciting eras like disco and the new wave, Grace Jones stood out and made many unique acts sound mundane. These were worldwide phenomenons that define the eighties’ myriad influences, but you won’t find anyone quite like Grace within them. That should say something.

Yes, Grace is a ‘muse’ (after all, she had an album with this name; she excels at it). So much appeal with learning her story is the way connects with fellow artists and producers. I felt I’d learn a new connection with every other page in her memoir. Still, I think it’s crucial to note that so much of that ‘larger than life’ character you see in her collabs revolve on her face, voice and personality in the end. None would wind up the same without her. It’s rare for anyone to mold her for real; she absorbs her surroundings, the extravagance of her voice shines through. No matter how poppy, how disco or how ‘weird’ she got, she rolled with it and made herself the life of the party. Grace brings glamor to anything without trying.

Her supposed ‘narrow’ range as a singer didn’t matter so much to me. I was too busy taking awe in her velvet-like elegance and unique dramatic flair. Her monotone brought hypnotic classics like “Private Life”, while others can rage with passion; let’s not forget “La Vie En Rose”. So often she comes off as this enigma, yet she can radiate this sense of warmth that draws me back again and again.

Most Grace tributes stick to her Sly/Robbie era, if they acknowledge the music, so I thought I’d break this ‘cycle’ by focusing on other eras this time.

1. “I’ll Find My Way To You” (Muse, 1979)

My defense for Disco Grace goes back years: I had each album on vinyl by 2013 and I wrote about “Autumn Leaves” for THE first MAM post. I see where some criticism comes from, since her delivery can grow awkward and on-the-nose, but I think any 70’s disco fan should take a closer look. This eager, younger Grace should endear true fans anyway, and the disco glamor suited her theatrics. Arrangements from the famed Tom Moulton, both punchy and luxurious, helped support her with every great disco trademark.

The interesting thing about Muse (her ‘lost album’) was the added synths. Not enough to make this ~electro-disco~, but with all the syntoms bouncing around like laser beams this makes a colorful decoration. This way, I got a feel for disco’s range through singular songs.

“Find My Way” demonstrates best, with the synths taking on a breezier tone that flourishes perfectly with the strings and and the lyric’s sweet yearning. The result has a nearly Cinderella feeling, painting dreamy portraits of romance in pastel and Technicolor. Disco as an idyllic walk in the park. I can’t believe this wasn’t a single.

2. “Slave To The Rhythm” (6:36 version / Slave To The Rhythm, 1985)

Never stop the action

Keep it up, keep it up

Anyone who says Grace lost her edge after new wave should hear Slave To The Rhythm. Here, Trevor Horn re-assembles her title hit with more creative measures than many modern remixes. Revolutionary at a time where most mainstream ‘remix albums’ boiled down to ‘make song longer with new drums and bass’.

Trevor’s colorful palette shouldn’t surprise Art of Noise fans, and it’s a perfect fit for Grace given her pop-art aesthetics. You have new age lotion in synth form (“The Crossing”), an operatic dance mix and even a fashionable R&B revamp on music from the Bruton library. (“The Fashion Show”; and I heard every Grace album long before I knew a thing about library music!) Funk from eighties heaven meets surreal spa music from Utopia.

“Slave To The Rhythm” is a flashier example (no, this isn’t the single). Matching the lyrics, Trevor mechanizes the go-go rhythms and Grace’s wordless ‘oohh!’ into an earth-shattering force. You have Chic guitars, an infectious mix between digital and organic beats, and synth horns adding quirky chrome futurism.

Grace seems to command this rhythm like her horde, all while dropping some enigma to reveal the upbeat spirit that brought so much charm to her ‘pop’ era. And before you know it? The most heavenly bridge in all 80’s pop, where gentle guitars and background voices wash over like a fountain. This is the same song? And it FITS? Time to kick myself for the hundredth time over hearing so few Horn productions.

3. “Victor Should Have Been A Jazz Musician” (Inside Story, 1986)

I went to a concert, to see Nina, Simone,
The concert was over, there was still a band playing, the rap up…

Hollywood jazz meets sophisti-pop at it’s peak luxury. I’m yet to hear a jazz/pop crossover that captures this much impeccable late-night-cantina romance. Just as “I’ve Done It Again” provided a surprise ballad to close Nightclubbing, “Victor” shows Grace in a wistful, even sensitive light. She plays a dreamer, falling in love and losing herself in this subdued, big-city glamor.

With that sad little keyboard I can feel the guests coming and going, the flickering billboards and a band playing for what feels like forever, serenading everyone. The instrumental break at 3:08 is most hypnotizing with the groovy 80’s guitar that screams of yachts, plus the most haunting trumpet solo I know. Jazz isn’t the first thing I’d expect hearing ‘Grace Jones’ but well… Read that again, this is Grace Jones.

4. “Seduction Surrender” (Bulletproof Heart, 1989)

I’ll always remember

Light inside your love

Bulletproof Heart holds a unanimous status as ‘worst Grace album’. I say you should give it a chance if you appreciate her voice and don’t mind a few predictable lyrics. The mechanized late-80’s beats and cavey reverbs are bound to overwhelm certain people, but such kitsch-futuristic antics fit right in with Grace’s flamboyance.

Some critics will lump Bulletproof with Inside Story, but I’d say that was her sophisti-pop/soul album while this is her ‘party’ album. On the other hand, “Seduction” stands out through it’s weirdness. It sits somewhere between nightclub nightmare and demented cave. Gigantic drums tumble in all directions rather than stick to a simple beat; sampling makes trippy, ambiguous distortions on her own backing voices.

Once again, Grace mixes a powerful delivery with warmth and over-the-top fun. Her jumping from giddy monologues to a theatric sung chorus sounds near-effortless. The result demonstrates her nuance as a vocalist just as well as her prime; I’d LOVE to see it live.

“SS” resembles the theme for a b-movie villain, and sure enough: it originates from her villainous role in Vamp. At least two movie mixes exist. This one loosens further with it’s turbulent melody. Leave it to Grace to make groovy 80’s pop verge on gothic.

5. “Devil In My Life” (Hurricane, 2008)

You’re the architect of my destruction

Hurricane is the best ‘comeback’ album I could want. It modernizes the artist’s classic sound without losing any initial charm. It takes a sound that began unique to new places as Grace sings about new topics herself. No covers here, but the auto-biography feel creates it’s own intrigue. This is ever-mysterious Grace revealing her story here, after all. No matter how long she spent away, certain songs resemble a re-arranged lost entry from her new wave heyday.

Remove Grace’s enormous personality and “Devil” stays a unique instrumental. Isolate the drums and they alone mesh trip hop, slo-mo reggae and gritty electropop. Before half-time rhythms were everywhere, this song was fast and slow at once thanks to it’s bursts of distortion and film-worthy suspense. From the sad, smoky piano that opens it to that vulnerable shiver of strings, this had me wishing she dabbled in orchestral sounds more often. (The one other time I recall aside from this era is her thrill-ride of an Avengers theme, “Storm”.)

The strings throbbing with her voice soaring at the end makes this song one of her most emotionally intense. In one corner, she invokes a long-standing inner fear (Devil in my life / Treading on thin ice / slowly mesmerize / always in disguise). In the other, she has her own sinister aura as she observes a seedy gathering (Collaborate while being exploited, And we celebrate by drinking poison).

Mix

Thinking Of Christmas Past

🎄Listen on Youtube❄️

Are you up to set the Christmas mood but wanting something a bit different? Here I’ve gathered songs that remind me most of Christmas season without necessarily being about the holiday: icy, magical sounds with plenty of twinkling and moods ranging from jovial and nostalgic to mysterious. As a theoretical ‘stocking’ I include two Christmas covers and three themed originals.

Track listing

camera lucida – robin guthrie / dreamers tied to chairs – ashrae fax / dazzle + il est ne le divin enfant – siouxsie and the banshees / modigliani (lost in your eyes) – book of love / cut down the tree – ice choir / world 5: snow land [kirby’s epic yarn OST] – tomoya tomita / march of the dawn – the mummers / love to stay – altered images / winter wonderland – cocteau twins / nightingales – prefab sprout / espresso – rajie / latitudes – ollano / limpidite – robert viger / la petite fille de la mer – vangelis / red wrapping paper – the creatures / christmas reindeer – the knife / virgin blue-eyed – lovesliescrushing

Photo credit: Christmas With Southern Living, 1984 https://palmandlaser.tumblr.com/post/189715654560/palmandlaser-from-christmas-with-southern-living

Mix

Is It A Crime?

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🌃 8TRACKS  🔎 YOUTUBE

High-drama pop songs and sinister instrumentals channel the big cities of eighties thrillers and neo-noir.

Track list

bella d’estate – mango / empire + expose – luxury elite / devil’s ball – double / byłaś serca biciem – andrzej zaucha / balade de lisa + blueser – viktor lazlo / kisses and tears (my one and only) – bad boys blue / do you really need me – k.b. caps / amour combat – tangui / johnny johnny – jeanne mas / theme from lily was here david stewart and candy dulfer / deserted streets + illusions – match music library / vision 1 – alan hawkshaw / psychose + champs elysses 2 – robert viger / nothing has been proved – dusty springfield, pet shop boys and angelo badalamenti / vibraphonoid (d) – laszlo bencker / white collar crime – grace jones / granite – anne dudley / hand to mouth – george michael / is it a crime? – sade / weakling heart – haircuts for men / only for one girl – alan shearer / rain [from miami vice] – jan hammer / pictionary – eyeliner / this city never sleeps – eurythmics

For more like this, check out Sophisti-Pop Summer!

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”

 

Mix

MIX: Sophisti-Pop Summer

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YOUTUBE / 8TRACKS

It was way past midnight
and she still couldn’t fall asleep.
This night the dream was leaving
she tried so hard to keep.
And with the new day’s morning
she felt it drift away.
Not only for a cruise, not only for a day.

– Double, “The Captain Of Her Heart”

A summer mix invoking the romance, mystery, scenery and varying emotions of a lavish cruise as it begins a long journey overseas. Think sipping a cocktail as you watch the sunset, a romantic embrace by the docks or a suited pianist enchanting the crowd during their buffet.

This naturally doubles as a spotlight for the sophisti-pop genre best known for Sade and Prefab Sprout. Its cross of slick production and synths with elegant piano, strings, clean guitars, sax and/or brass has close ties to this imagery. Many songs take influence from lounge and jazz; others are simply eighties pop with a swanky attitude.

Track listing

  1. DOUBLE – the captain of her heart
  2. VIKTOR LAZLO – balade de lisa
  3. JEANNE MAS – lisa
  4. GAZEBO – lunatic
  5. ABC – confessions of a fool
  6. MURIEL DACQ – tropique
  7. STYLE COUNCIL – the boy who cried wolf
  8. ALASKA Y DINARAMA – un hombre de verdad
  9. LUXURY ELITE – blush
  10. A.V. WALKER – night silk
  11. MOODOID – kasbah
  12. KIM WILDE deep in the european soul
  13. MIAMI SOUND MACHINE – surrender paradise
  14. PRESUNTOS IMPLICADOS – no hay palabras
  15. YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI – brand new day
  16. SERI ISHIKAWA – quantity of love
  17. ANNA DOMINO – bonds of love
  18. GEORGE MICHAELthe strangest thing
  19. BRYAN FERRY – windswept
  20. DEBBIE HARRY – strike me pink
  21. BEATA KOZIDRAKzal my tamtych noci i dni
  22. THE PAINTED WORD  night after night
  23. ENZO ENZO – pacifico
Favorite new wave-inspired albums

Ice Choir – Afar, 2012

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synth pop / new romantic / synthwave / sophisti-pop

More like this – Ice Choir’s “Unprepared”; early Depeche Mode, Roxy Music’s Avalon, ABC’s Lexicon of Love, Duran Duran’s Rio

Part of a new column on the highlights of my search through the oceans of 80s synth pop-inspired modern music. I give special focus to albums with a creative or genuine approach, along with hidden gems.

Kurt Feldman’s Ice Choir project is one of the most accurate recreations of the original new romantic/synth pop sound I’ve heard, one with a refreshing lack of irony. The synths have a glittery, almost pastel sheen to match the pink of the cover – complete with hints of  fretless bass and Cocteau guitar, Afar’s sound design should be a treat for anyone fond of romantic 80s pop. To top it off, Kurt Feldman’s vocals resemble Martin from Depeche Mode, if having a more refined tone.

 

The resulting songs are incredibly blissful in such a way that fits well with the grandiose luxury of hit albums like Lexicon of Love or Avalon. With both relentless energy and soaring melodies, I’m convinced “Two Rings” is one of the most extravagant synth pop songs to come from this decade. “Peacock On The Tall Grass” brings some of those angelic yacht-like heights of sophisti-pop to mind. The chorus of “Teletrips”, meanwhile, is the musical equal of a utopian morning walk.

♥︎ – “Two Rings”, “Teletrips”, “Peacock On The Tall Grass”, “The Ice Choir