Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Funky Magic Of Spending Cool City Nights With Fanateek One And Rach B

By Rick Shithouse

Something that I grow more and more aware of with 80s inspired synth music is that it becomes ambiguous in origin for many producers. Pulling elements from the decade from seemingly random points and compiling them into an all new sound provides much excitement to my ears and manages to re-invent the wheel in seemingly countless ways. However, when a producer finds their passion crystallised into a very specific vintage of 80s sounds and dedicates their homage to it in very specific terms it can be a sublimely magical experience.

Fanateek One is one such devotee of 80s synthscapes. His unrequited passion for mid 80s funk has been something I've been ardently following for years and now we finally have his debut album to enjoy and revel in. The funkier genres of 80s sounds have always been of much fascination to me as in the 80s, here in Australia, funk music was barely ever in the charts and was a more niche genre that had a its own street cred and dance floor personality and discovering and experiencing many, many funk classics from the 80s over the last 15 years has been something I've vastly enjoyed.

Of all the genres of iconic 80s music, funk denominations have really been some of the most timeless and recognised in recent years. This is thanks in no small part to mainstays like Chromeo and the ever present future funk genres that crossover into a myriad of electronic music styles and redefine vintage sounds into an accessible modern relevance. On Fanateek One's new record though we find an experience that is deeply rooted in the 80s and modern nuances are kept to a bare minimum in order to get the funk flowing all the right ways and by bringing funkstress Rach B along for the ride makes for a supremely winning combination.

The authenticity of sound, melody, tone and atmosphere is what hits you instantly with Cool City Nights. The open, live soundscape is electrically charged with energy and feels spatial with the instruments yet intimate with the vocal delivery and huge bass and synth hooks. Cool City Nights sounds like cool city nights, which is the best way I can describe the atmosphere Fanateek One presents throughout the whole record. 'If You Want To Be'  is the first song and it really welcomes you into Fanateek One's world with a smooth, panning bassline and suaveness in the groove you'll move to effortlessly. Rach B's vocals are a huge success on this record as they are the perfect combination of intimate, street, sweet and sassy when they need to be and channel many classic 80s chanteuses while building on her own personality throughout the album.

Fanateek One's been hard at it with his vocoder work too and provides a male partner for Rach B's feminine touch. The vocoder is implemented as a true feature more than a novelty, as should be the case with 80s funk, and there are some great passages of back and forth between Rach B and Fanateek One on tracks like 'Supernatural' which work together smooth as glass and displays a magical chemistry between the music and voices.

Once you get a few tracks into this album you begin to really appreciate the exquisite level of care given to the tracks. Each song feels like a perfected idea that has been put together and evolved over many, many hours of passionate toil. Not only is the songwriting professional but it is also hugely soulful. Funk has a huge link to soul and R&B sounds and often times modern age producers rely on elements that come off as cold and sterile, but Fanateek One's brand of funk is so warm and full of life you can feel its soul pulse with every beat. You just can't deny the magical feel that tracks like 'New York Boy' and 'Holdback' elicit as you're guided through the urban wonderland of sounds.

Fanateek One has been hugely judicious with his choices of instruments on this record, you can aurally feel the scrutinising given over every possible element in each track yet the end result comes across as being entirely smooth and effortless. 'Struck By Your Love' is one such song that is just so polished and engineered to perfection that you'll be enraptured by its funky brilliance from beginning to end. These songs demand multiple listens to appreciate the musicianship and marksmanship Fanateek One and Rach B rock out like seasoned veterans.

As I mentioned previously there are so many great variations funk music had in the 80s from the club classics, to the street funk boombox ammunition to the midnight romance and everything in between. Cool City Nights manages to capture many of these styles very eloquently and shifts betwixt their tones from track to track without taking the listener out of the atmosphere. On 'Boogaloo' Fanateek One extends his influence out to about 1987 and brings in some seriously contagious hooks that are then allowed to simmer and become even more flavoursome with Rach B's spicy vocals giving a luxuriously piquant zest.

For all the intricacies in the production some of the most incredible moments on Cool City Nights are the most simple and distilled. 'Maverick' has become an anthem for me, an absolute piece of refined perfection that is untouchably beautiful. The set up, the pay off, the groove and every single other part of this song is utterly kick arse to the max. Stupendously rockin. The pop funk sounds hit a new high point in the next track, 'Stranger', with its ridiculously catchy bassline and sublime narrative this would be the Top 10 pop chart smash of '85 from Fanateek One and Rach B.

Cool City Nights finishes the experience with the floor filler 'Just Wanna Dance'. Cutting a groove miles deep with an uncompromising energy the interplay between the guitars, synth, bass and drums is compelling and addictive. The only instrumental piece on the album this book ends the experience flawlessly with a high note that lingers long after the music finishes.

Fanateek One and Rach B present the Cool City Nights album on Bandcamp here in digital formats and also on irresistibly wondrous vinyl (limited to 500 copies!) on Fanteek One's site here. I must say, listening to this album on vinyl has been one of my favourite experiences in listening to 80s inspired synth music in 2015 and I highly advocate picking it up in its most befitting format.  Cool City Nights is an album years in the making and it has been well worth the wait. The incredible refinement of the production and the excellence in the songwriting across all the tracks makes it an indubitable Synthetix  Reference Experience that is a must-own album of 2015.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Searsly Spuhghetti

By Eddie Spuhghetti

Besides being a soup made with beef stomach, Menudo was also a Latin boy-band that started in 1977 and spanned over three decades with a member list that resembles a few seasons of a sketch-comedy show.  Fundamentals of the group involved being under the age of 16 with no facial hair or noticeable girth in height; once you hit puberty in Menduo, your days in the group were finito.  Right from the get-go (I'll stop rhyming, I promise), the boys made a name for themselves in Latin America and broke young girl's hearts overseas across Spain and the surrounding areas.  The dawn of the mid-'80s marked Menudo's invasion into North America and paved the way for more work involving commercial jingles and touring.  Their 17th and second self-titled album would be one of their most successful and contain a track that managed to be the only tune of theirs to make it onto the Billboard Hot 100.  Featuring a tone that was more in the style of American teen-pop, Hold Me has all the things you'd want in a teenage love-tune from 1985 and of course, it had a pretty campy music video.

As the boys and their friends play tackle football in the street, in rolls a white luxury car up to a hotel across the road and out steps a babe with shoulder-pads.  At first ya think she's gonna join in on the game since she's got the gear on but it turns out she just wants to smile and tease the piss outta lead singer Robi.  Searsly; she walks away to go inside and then turns around again just to smile more at Robi gyrating his pelvis.  The group decide to go parading over to a nearby underpass where a b-ball game is going down: it's Menduo against Crop-Tops and Skins featuring an older fella with a safari hat on (wonder what he's on the hunt for).  With love on his mind, Robi sits the game out and sings to us about how he comes off as a bit looney to his friends when talking about the connection between himself and Hotel Babe.  After NBA Jam: Menudo Edition is over, everyone scatters back to the same street from earlier and as kids start to skateboard around, toss a ball about and argue over which member of Menduo is the cutest, our five young superstars take the opportunity to start dancing in unison in the middle of the road.  This impresses Hotel Babe so much that she comes running down from her balcony to stare Robi in the face as he continues his ballad of promises and cuddles.

Frankly, I don't blame her for rushing down there; if I saw five girls (or Menudo) doing a choreographed dance for me in the street, I'd be twirling my non-existent pony-tails.  In fact, I wouldn't mind learning the moves here myself because who the heck knows when they may come in handy?  You may notice during the video that one of the kids in Menudo looks like a young Ricky Martin; that's definitely him and he's considered the most well-known of the group's alumni.  Hold Me works quite well for it's intended audience: it's a song about young love and knowing when to act when you see a good thing smiling back at you.  While it does carry an overall taste of a cheezy "let me count the ways I love thee" song, there's oddly an underlining message here about self-confidence and not succumbing to peer pressure.  We've all been in a situation where we've had a massive crush on some guy or gal with that unexplainable sense of a mutual connection; yet, your friends dismiss it as just wishful thinking.  You just have to take a chance, say "what the piss" and try.  Just don't attempt to dance in the middle of the street unless it's a one way or you're in the 'burbs.

If you've not got onset diabetes from this slickly sick, sugary pop I'd suggest a high dose of direct intravenous Sunglasses Kid to give you those shakes you just can't stop.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dallas Campbell’s Oases In The Desert Of The Real

By Robin Ogden

I often find myself considering the role of authenticity in retro-electronic music, and indeed music and art moreover. Without wishing to engage with the ins and outs of overplayed hardware/software rhetoric, and oft quoted ideas of representation, simulacra and simulation, I firmly believe in the relevance of vintage synthesisers, and have the utmost admiration for musicians who practice authentic production methodologies. Dallas Campbell is certainly one of the latter; a producer paving his own way down the road less travelled, building cosmic musical Pagodas (like last year’s full length Origin Seeds), and teaching old synthesisers new tricks on the way.   

Sublime - greatness beyond all calculation, imitation and measurability. This is the only term I believe befitting of Dallas Campbell’s latest LP Oases. As the titling of the album suggests, this is verdant musical territory, a refreshingly real beacon in the desert of the virtual instrument, expanding on the synth voyages charted, and worlds explored, in Campbell’s previous offerings. The gear list provided with the album reads like a program of players in the most fantastic interstellar space-boogie opera ever imagined, a world class cast of carefully crafted characters that straddle genres and create an unparalleled, and fully realised, 12 track synthphonic experience. 

The album’s opener ‘Colossus’ feels like a monumental full system check prior to your embarkation, a throwdown to ensure your listening environment is properly tuned and ready to receive the crisp high frequencies and full fathom bass of the album to follow.The arpeggiated sequence of notes rebounds off the face of the Colossus. Winds of white noise swirl about your ears. Are you ready, traveller? The journey through the Oases is about to begin.

‘Pillars’ surrounds you, enveloping your ears in lush analog polyphony. The cerebral complexity of the evolving arpeggiated sequences and the live leads are firmly grounded in an ever present, rock solid, classic boogie groove. The groove is a core character of this album established early on, and will be your companion for its duration. The glorious display of fluidity above the deep metaphysical sound architecture feels so organic: exploratory musical motifs are conjured from the ether, and are released like vapour into the desert sun. Building on the textures established in ‘Pillars’, ‘Forests’ further demonstrates Oases’ musical lexicon. The incidental formant lead phrases, the wonderful union of the human voice and the vocoder and its ability to naturalise the unnatural, are exquisite, punctuating the evolution of song’s rhythmic bedrock and the swirling sustains that border this particular oasis.

As a songwriter, Campbell has a wonderful propensity for melody and groove. His pop music sensibilities are able to guide listeners through often challenging musical episodes and ideas. This is a truly remarkable skill, and demonstrably apparent in both ‘Glider’ and ‘Magic Carpet’. The latter goes through a wonderful metamorphosis over the course of its arrangement, from vocoder loaded funk jam to a fully blown instrumental disco rock anthem. 

The wondrous synth magic of Oases is perhaps encapsulated best in ‘Mystic’. The vocoder ushers incantations beneath the whirling infinite; the rapid evolution of the synth arpeggios treat us to a flash forward, a vicarious experience of life on the accelerated ascetic path. We are guided toward new levels of consciousness. The following track ‘Amethyst’ is an appreciation of this newly gained understanding: a serene vamp of live bass and guitar is embraced by a chorus of sumptuous, vibrant synthesisers. The groove has evolved. The groove is reborn. 

The final third of the album really seems to engage with this evolution. It transcends homage. ‘Telecommunique’, ‘City of Sand’ and ‘Bronze’ all sit as pools of originality, oases in their own right, sowing narratives and consciousnesses of their own devising. ‘Bronze’ is a distillation of everything explored over the course of the album. We behold the quenched desert, surrounded by the awe and lustre of the purest synthesis. Everything is beautifully spatialised - the melodic quantities and chordal phrases are utterly superlative, but you’re suddenly aware that this journey is coming towards its end.

In closing, ‘Transmission Decay 2093’ feels like a glorious farewell to this journey, a retrospective consideration of Campbell’s Oases and all that has been presented. You feel a sense of peace, warmth from the setting sun, and are glad to have beheld and experienced this great odyssey. The finality is not an adieu by any means. You will surely return to Oases again for more adventures. 

Oases administers a much needed injection of retro into the retro-electronic musical canon and, in my opinion, Dallas Campbell reaffirms the absolute need for analog music in the 21st Century. This album really is a journey, a carefully charted evolution. Motifs are picked up along the way and every musical possibility created in Oases’ world is thoroughly explored. This is a wonderfully produced album, the inimitable qualities of a world class signal chain are almost tangible, and it is beautifully mixed and mastered. The wonderful palette of vintage synthesisers is ambitious and cohesive, and coupled with the bold, original and strident musical conceptualisations, this makes for an exceptionally engaging listening experience. Oases comes very, very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM and is available for download from Dallas Campbell’s Bandcamp page here.   

Thursday, April 16, 2015

LA Dreams Opens His Paint Box

By Andrew B. White

It’s old news to anyone who follows the synthwave scene that LA’s SellorRekT/LA Dreams is a extremely prolific artist, releasing more music in the space of three years than there have been re-releases of the ABBA back catalogue.

Paint Box is the second full-length LA Dreams release of 2015 thus far and continues the same formula as previous releases - a mixture of up-beat melodic songs and mid-tempo/slower ballads. Everything has an authentic 80s sheen to it and to me, sees its feet firmly planted in a time zone somewhere around 1984/85.

Typical to an LA Dreams release, Paint Box has eight tracks as was common to many albums in the 80s, due to the time constraints of the vinyl LP. This gives you a sense that no ‘filler’ content was considered - only the good stuff was included here. Track lengths are just right for this sort of music too; long enough to keep things alive, get you hooked and fade out into the next piece of ear candy.

‘Flying’ is a great opening track. From the first bars of synth tom rolls and synths you know this album is going to be ride you want to stay on to the end of the album. Allow extra driving time if your journey is going to take less than 32 minutes…

‘Heard It All Before’ and ‘One More Step’ don’t let up and take you along with them, again with great arrangements, use of melodies and sounds with well thought-out production that allows you to hear what’s going on.

‘DX Heaven’ is a slow ballad, reminiscent of a teen movie romance scene complete with faux-saxophone and fretless synth bass. As the title suggests the song is heavy on DX7 use with that signature DX 80s piano. Crazy for you, indeed.

‘The Empty Frame’ comes as close to a ‘vocal’ LA Dreams track as you will get with the use of what sounds like a vocoder. It’s also more intense and darker, edging closer to outrun territory without being over-compressed. The retained dynamics and melodies keep the song more on a brighter pop edge.

The energy of ‘Go Get ‘Em’ gives you the idea that it could suitably appear in any number of 80s video montages: California beach life scenes, BMX racing action, surfers in full flight, aerobic classes. For anything that has action, this is the soundtrack.

LA Dreams always gives great titles to the songs which can give you more insight in to what the songs might about. ‘After Her’ implies someone in the aftermath of a break-up. She’s gone and now it’s time for consideration. There is nothing schmaltzy or desperate here though, it’s contemplative - imagine sitting on top of the hills at dusk looking out over the city and wondering just what happened.

Final and title track ‘Paint Box’ is a great way to go out. A rolling arpeggio with bright synths, chunky bass and simple melodic lines that remind me of the Psychedelic Furs’ poppier moments. This is not a case of saving the best for last, rather that the whole album is constantly good.

LA Dreams presents Paint Box on his Bandcamp  page here. As with LA Dreams’ other releases you can hear many 80s influences his work but nothing that is a direct copy of any one song or artist. To me, this is the beauty of great synthwave, where an artist is not copying 80s music but takes many of its cues to create something new but familiar. If you are looking for dark, foreboding synth music LA Dreams might not be for you – Paint Box is all pastel colors, sun, sand, Raybans and romance. This is scene-stealing stuff, perfect for driving or playing in your walkman on your way to meet up with your date at the mall. Paint Box comes very, very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM.

LA Dreams’ Kevin Montgomery was kind enough to answer a few questions to go along with this review:

ABW: Your music seems ideal for freeway driving in a city like LA. Is that a conscious move on your part - to make music to drive to?
KM: I like the feel of nostalgia and driving to music gives me that feeling of my teen years.
I enjoy making music that sparks emotions and memories.

ABW: Were you ever involved in BMX racing in the 80s? LA Dreams’ music would fit perfectly alongside old school BMX videos.
KM: LOL, yes to be honest. My early years of having a Redline bike and riding through the neighborhoods with friends. We used to be around 15 bikers and skaters who would ride up to the local arcades and comic book stores.

ABW: You did a vocal collaboration, ‘Neon Nights’, with Femmepop. Are there any plans to do more collaborations and/or vocal tracks?
KM: Absolutely. Margaret (Femmepop) is awesome. I’m currently working with a very talented singer Joanna Wiśniewska that you all will be hearing soon.

ABW: What synths did you use on Paint Box?
KM: I used the Roland Juno 60, Yamaha DX7 IIFD, Roland D50, Roland Jupiter 4, and Oberheim OB8.

ABW: Your albums are the classic LP track length of eight songs. Do you feel eight track albums are a good way of retaining a listener’s interest, rather than bombarding them with 15 tracks?
KM: Well I think its up to the individual artist. Sometimes when I'm telling a story, the songs can often stretch through different tracks to capture different experiences. Sometimes it's told in 8 songs and other times more.

ABW: You’ve sometimes been accused of being “too prolific”. Does making music come easily for LA Dreams and do you plan to keep releasing albums every couple of months?
KM: I do what I feel, I don't operate under anyone else's format. I love my fans and those who look forward to hearing more from me. I don't think I will always make monthly music though, LOL.
I stay in a creative mode, I'm an artist.

ABW: It’s been said the synthwave scene needs to evolve and move away from the 80s sound. That doesn’t make sense to me, especially for an artist like LA Dreams. Would you ever consider changing you style or is the 80s music you like too much of an influence?
KM: Well I think that a lot of the newcomers need to understand and appreciate the origin of the music today. There are different composers and producers who take various routes in Synthwave, I can't complain about that. I do what I love and will continue to be LA Dreams.

Note from Rick Shithouse: "Thank you for being LA Dreams, Kevin!"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Searsly Spuhghetti

By Eddie Spuhghetti

I'm no stranger to infomercials; Ronco, Tony Little, The Bullet, and The Foreman-Grill are all staples of Sunday afternoon programming for when nothing else is on but you're too lazy to toss a tape in.  While I love the idea of having an audience sit in a studio and marvel at how a knife can cut through a pineapple, there's something just as satisfying when it comes to their shorter commercial counter-part.  I'm talking about the "Order Now" ones that run for as long as 20 to 30 seconds and contain a fast-talking, smooth-sounding announcer who has the warlock-like ability to sell you on something as ridiculous as "hair" in an aerosol can.  Some of these products gain a following and are successful enough to stick around for the long run but what about those that were sent to the hall of product failures to be forever lost in time?  Once in a while, you'll have an oddly familiar commercial pop-up on the net that you swore you only saw once as a kid and in Rick Shithouse's case, that's The Music Vest.      

Now I can barely find any information on this thing other than it was for sale in 1985 and I'm gonna take a guess at not for very long.  Even the company that distributed it, National Catalogue Inc, has fallen off the face of the earth somehow (although, it doesn't surprise me after looking at this thing).  The Music Vest is a wearable waterproof speaker-system that combines elements of a boombox with a walkman; in the sense that while you can blare your music all around you, you're physically wearing the speakers on your body like you would a pair of headphones.  The vest is claimed to be perfect for exercising, bike-riding, golfing, fishing or "just hangin' around": aka break-dancing on the driveway while you try hard not to scrape the shit outa the speakers.  Both are embedded into the front shoulder cuffs on the vest to allow for a stereo experience but I highly doubt there was great quality technology in there to begin with.  In fact, the commercial doesn't mention what source the music comes from; a built-in radio or is there a Walkman adapter?

Elegant and versatile don't paint a great picture for describing this thing; electrical/duct tape life-jacket sounds more appropriate to me.  Product aside, the commercial is at least entertaining to a degree and that's certainly thanks to the breakin' tune going in in the background.  What we hear is most likely "library music": a term used for uncredited stock compositions that are used by production companies and radio/television stations when there's no budget for licensed tracks.  Generic sounding in a sense, yet it gets the overall-feel across easily and in regards to The Music Vest, it appears as if they wanted to market this thing more-so to break-dancing enthusiasts.  Regardless, even some slick beats couldn't help sell this thing to someone who needs to be physical with their dance and in the end, you're better off just using a boombox: ask Rick, he has like a million of those things.

Grab your tape adapter and hook up some Batch Sound tunes while you're at it!