Playlist: Synth-Pop is for Saturday Nights

The first ‘synthesizers’ were invented early on in the 20th century but didn’t truly find their way into popular music until the 1960s and 1970s. Then, a handful of punk followers took the ethos further and started making music with these ‘synthesizers’, all but completely dispensing with the tried and true rock music instruments. A lot of terms were and still are thrown about to describe the style of music that grew out of these first pioneers’ efforts and it’s often hard to differentiate between and or even define them.

‘Synth-Pop’, the genre that is the subject of today’s playlist, might be the easiest to define, being the most apt description for these acts that put ‘synthesizers’ and drum machines at the forefront of their sound. It was, in fact, a sub-genre of ‘New Wave’, as was the ‘New Romantic’ movement. Both of these are terms that are more difficult for this particular blogger to define, though I may make an attempt with a future playlist, more likely with the former than the latter. The term ‘New Wave’ especially, was misused, even more so where it was seen as a synonym for ‘Synth-Pop’ and ascribed to popular artists that came after the original explosion.

This twenty song playlist is a tale in two halves. The first ten tracks span the years from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, from the years where ‘Synth-Pop’ first appeared to the years that saw intense backlash and we saw the return of guitar rock prominence. The last ten tracks start things off with The Postal Service’s single from 2003, “Such great heights”, and flows on from there, through a sampling of the side of the 21st century indie explosion that was enthused with reviving the ‘Synth-Pop’ sounds.

Besides the just mentioned collaboration between Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, other highlights include:

  • “Cars”, Gary Numan’s debut single released under his own name, save for the bass, drums, and a tambourine, it’s all synths
  • “Don’t you want me”, the best known single by The Human League, originally released as an afterthought off 1981’s “Dare”
  • A trio of tracks written or co-written by Vince Clarke: Depeche Mode’s “Just can’t get enough”, Yazoo’s “Don’t go”, and Erasure’s “A little respect”
  • “Seventeen”, the first single off Ladytron’s sophomore album, 2002’s “Light & magic”
  • “Lose it”, my favourite track off Canadian synth-pop act Austra’s 2011 debut “Feel it break”, an album written mostly in minor key, just like the best of Depeche Mode
  • “New balance point”, the brand new single off Lust for Youth’s self-titled fifth album

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist:

1. Gary Numan “Cars”
2. The Buggles “Video killed the radio star”
3. The Human League “Don’t you want me”
4. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark “Enola gay”
5. Soft Cell “Tainted love”
6. Depeche Mode “Just can’t get enough”
7. Men Without Hats “Safety dance”
8. Yazoo “Don’t go”
9. Pet Shop Boys “West end girls”
10. Erasure “A little respect”
11. The Postal Service “Such great heights”
12. Ladytron “Seventeen”
13. The Bravery “An honest mistake”
14. Chairlift “Evident utensil”
15. M83 “Kim & Jessie”
16. Cut Copy “Feel the love”
17. MGMT “Kids”
18. Austra “Lose it”
19. Purity Ring “Fineshrine”
20. Lust For Youth “New balance point”

But why is Synth-Pop made for Saturday nights? Eh, I guess it can work just as well on Fridays, or even Sundays, when indeed all Retro 80s nights seem to be scheduled at the clubs. I went with Saturday for the alliteration effect, really, and for the party vibe that many of these tracks elicit. So get out there on your dancefloor, wherever you might be.

For those of you who are on Spotify, feel free to look me up. My user name is “jprobichaud911”.

Best tunes of 2010: #4 The Radio Dept. “This time around”

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For years and years and years, my good (old) friends and I have gone fall camping in Algonquin Park. We originally picked the fall, rather than the crazed, busy summer, so that it would be quieter, despite the fact that once we got drinking, we were often the loudest in the park. Over the years, it has gotten busier deeper into the season and we’ve had to push our date further, from early October to early November. And yes, we’ve had some really cold nights and often get snow, but we’ve learned a thing or two over the years and as our salaries have increased, we’ve invested in better gear. Our conversations around the usually massive campfire are never very deep. We catch up, relive stories, laugh, and talk movies and, of course, music.

One such trip, many, many, many years ago now, my friend Tim famously brought up an article he had read on The Charlatans (UK, for those of us in North America). Whoever had written the article suggested that though they survived the longest of their contemporaries, they were no one’s favourite band. Our friend Tim, emboldened by multiple beers, brashly went further, suggesting that they might not have had any lasting influence and that a few years after they stopped producing music, they might be forgotten altogether. There were raised voices and indignation, and I was amongst the two or three that disagreed with him. It has become a running joke ever since with Tim facetiously asking “Who?” whenever the band comes up in conversation.

Fast forward to 2010, I don’t know how many years later, and I am on bus, commuting home from work. I am perusing the latest album by this Swedish band I had just came across and something clicks. These guys may not be directly influenced by but they certainly sounded a lot like The Charlatans on their debut album, “Some friendly”!

The Radio Dept. formed in Lund, Sweden in the late 1990s and adopted a dream pop sound with an often danceable edge. “This time around” is track three off their third album, “Clinging to a scheme”. It was never released as a single but easily could’ve been. It is infectious beats, airy, laser show guitars, and lazy vocals, albeit fattened with effects, sounding so much like a young Tim Burgess. The major difference that is most obvious to me is that in the case of The Radio Dept., the lyrics are intelligible, and are often politically charged.

“You feel old like the fight
Learning new ways to be right
And how to cope with disloyalty
It’s not a song
That will prove them wrong
This time around.”

Enjoy! And to all you Charlies fans, let me know if I am crazy or not. You can hear it too, right?

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

Vinyl love: Asobi Seksu “Citrus”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Asobi Seksu
Album Title: Citrus
Year released: 2006
Year reissued: 2017
Details: 2 x LP, Black vinyl, 180 gram, gatefold

The skinny: Asobi Seksu was the first of a number of shoegaze/dream pop revival bands that I came across in the early to mid-2000s and was perhaps the best of these. “Citrus” was the group’s sophomore release and was a thing of beauty, calling to mind both Lush and My Bloody Valentine.

Standout track: “Strawberries”