Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Roladex's Anthems For The Micro-Age

Vocals in 80s inspired synth music is always a hot-button topic in the Synthetix Music Facebook group and the consensus in a recent discussion on the subject was that when done right and in keeping in the 80s spirit and style the music can benefit greatly from it it but also, and equally important is that the music must be written for vocals. This is drastically different from instrumental music as songwriting itself needs to be strong and an understanding of how vocals and music work together is what makes the magic happens.

Most of the time we're treated vocal oriented synth music as a single, or as a guest appearance on a album. It is rare to have fully vocally driven experiences across an entire album format in the 80s inspired synth world but that has been made just a little more frequent with the duo of Tyler Jacobsen and Elyssa Dianne's project Roladex and their killer record Anthems For The Micro-Age. This album is packed with early 80s synth pop magic that is presented with great homage and respect to the original music.

If you're a fan of classic bands like Depeche Mode, Linear Movement, New Order, Berlin, Monuments, Visage, Kraftwerk, Human League and other early 80s synth sounds you'll really appreciate the work of Roladex. The early minimalist synth that came out Europe and the UK in this period is where Roladex draw their palette from and the colours are just and fresh and vibrant as they were the first time round.

Getting this style 'right' without dipping too much into EBM or moving into too much of mid (or later) 80s sound is a huge achievement in itself, especially with all the temptations of modern equipment at the modern day producer's disposal but every note and progression on Anthems For the Micro-Age rings true, loud and clear.

The title track sets a scene with it's sparsely populated synthscape the bleeds with just enough grey bleakness to balance with the sweetly delivered girl and boy vocal track. The structures bleep and bloop with machine-like rhythms and the delightfully monotone lyrics deliver passion drained warnings or empty promises of a better future not realised.

The presentation rings so true it is eerie, in the most captivating way, and things really get rockin in the second track 'Cathode Rays'. The call-response style vocals and the supremely catchy synths create an absolutely kick arse experience. Roladex's lyrics are timeless, they could've been written 30+ years ago or today such is their authenticity and they capture many of the early 80s fears of war, technology and the loss humanistic qualities.

Roladex rock the killer bleak, nihilistic aesthetic of much of the first wave of 80s synth music but also keep a tongue in cheek naivete in their music that is thoroughly endearing like in the nursery-rhyme like 'Love Surgery'. Sharp. bright percussion plays off dancing melodies against a bass line that would be well at home in the hands of Peter Hook while the highly infectious lyrics burrow deep into your consciousness.

Getting the pitch perfect 80s style voice is something that I rarely hear in modern music but Roladex create such a spectacularly accurate harmony in both the male and female voice that it blows my mind. This isn't a hollow interpretation or imitation but is instead pitch perfect homage that is performed with effortless beauty. Simple phrases become anthemic refrains and  often hook as deep as the melodies, 'Blacklit Disco' being one of the great 'lead singles' displaying such mastery of these elements.

The album continues to take on new elements and ideas as it progresses and the mid-album 'Empty Streets' brings in a much more instrumentally oriented piece of hypnotising minimalist synth that haunts and spooks marvellously well. It is cut from a much more ambient cloth and serves as the perfect prelude to the much higher energy 'Color Channels', which is definitely one of my favourite songs on the record with its rockin science oriented lyrics and electrically charged melodies.

Considering how married Roladex are to purely vintage aesthetics from a very narrow tract of time it constantly surprises me how many different aspects they manage to merge into their synthscape while staying 'in phase'. On 'Pink Halloween' we're treated to a much more overtly positive milieu that has genuinely happy progressions and one of the more 'animated' vocal tracks. The song just rocks hard on so many levels, you can't resist its contagious radness.

'Single Cell City' provides a return to the charmingly bleak thematic they do so well, tempering it with a much more intimate vocal on behalf Elyssa Dianne who warms up ever so slightly throughout this piece. Almost in response to this Jacobsen goes deeper and darker to balance it out and the wavering melodies bind their voices to the off-kilter ambiance.

These experiments with using different techniques on their vocals deliveries is something that shines throughout the record as each is used like a complimentary instrument to the synths and on tracks like 'Scan Lines' the voices blend near seamlessly with the synthesizers in a harmonious pastiche of human and machine.

The album finishes with 'Nuke It Out' and a new tone and energy is explored with a more panicked atmosphere that counts down the clock to oblivion. The vocals and lyrics reflect the highly energised hysteria and each melodic progression brings the end closer and closer to the inevitable reality. Cover your head as the skies turning red, why this way out? They can nuke it out. Bitchen.

Medical Records presents Roladex's Anthems For The Micro-Age album on digital formats and vinyl  on their Bandcamp page here. This record absolutely rocks from beginning to end and is genuinely one of raddest modern interpretations of early 80s synth pop you're likely to experience post 1984. Each track is beautifully crafted into ten synth pop jewels that shine with beauty and eeriness all their own. Synthetix.FM very, very highly recommends this album to all fans of early 80s synth driven sounds who long for an accurately wonderful encapsulation of this enlightening time.

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