By Rick Shithouse
Long awaited releases always seem to mark recognisable progressions in music. Music that was hinted at and barely allowed to glow then shines ever so brilliantly once fully unveiled. Over the last couple of years these glimmers have been witnessed at odd intervals with tracks from Le Cassette making lasting impressions as open threats of a full length album somewhere in the near future made one's imagination buzz with the possibilities.
Le Cassette have been one of my favourite talents of the 'new generation' of 80s synth producers as their aesthetic was an entirely under represented style back in 2012 and, ironically, still is in 2014. This style of the early 80s new romantic synth pop sounds brought to mind the likes of Human League, Simple Minds, ABC and Spandau Ballet all in one. The Le Cassette experience is hugely vocal driven and is incredibly authentic to the classic 80s style and tones. To complement this the songwriting has always been there, in step with the vocals, making for some of the scene's strongest songwriting as balance of homage and modern creativity blended seamlessly.
This brings us to July 2014 and we are finally allowed to experience the entire sum of Le Cassette's parts as one full length LP that leaves no questions to be asked about what the trio of Adam McNab, James Nalepa and Joe Wood have been doing for the last couple of years. The honing of each element has resulted in some of the finest craftsmanship one will experience in an album the makes the 80s sounds vividly fresh and rejuvenated. The range of the music and vocal performance is something special to behold and right from the outset you know you're in for something uncommonly detailed and fine tuned to the nth degree.
This is not to say that this record has become over-produced or become sterile in any of its many facets however. Familiar tracks that have been long time favourites feel fresh and brand new and each piece's context and structure feels carefully placed with loving touches and genuine affection. The opening pieces usher in the Le Cassette elegance with the intro taking us far away from every day mundanity on chrome wings into a new realm of 'Digital Power'. The music has a texture of suppleness and is liquid to touch while McNab's velvet vocals are delivered as an even warmer layer of welcoming comfort.
The soul of the music begins to pulse in wonderfully rendered colours through 'Electric Paradise' as the emotional dexterity of the music and vocal combination characterise the perfect bittersweet pop ballad. The range of McNab's voice continues to astound through this piece and the intimately inquisitive melodies pleadingly ask for some kind of solace.
The spatial limitations of Le Cassette's perceived synthscapes are blown apart in the following instrumental piece that broadens their shapes into electro-fied synth energies, bringing in some 8bit action and even some sax for that jaunty and crisp kiss. The upbeat nature of this piece cleanses the palette perfectly before the epic synth pop majesty of 'Arms Of Mine' makes a return. This is a fantastic song that I've previously voice my unabashed love for on Synthetix.FM but given its new place in the album experience takes on a fresh lustre of magic.
Left To Our Own Devices is all about range and diversity and the unassumingly titled song 'Radio' begins to really give some totally rockin new perspectives on their 80s pop sounds with a track that makes an 'impossible' 80s song a reality. The taking of different elements from different parts of the decade and reassembling them into this utterly breathtaking new experience of what modern iterations of 80s inspirations can be.
Another huge surprise was the vaporwave laced piece that follows titled 'This Is All We Know'. I'm not exaggerating when I say this track completely does my head in; in the most k-rad way possible. Sounding intentionally like a sample based vaporwave track in an original piece of songwriting and capturing the essence of the genre so well, whilst giving it an immeasurably wider scope just blows my mind. Cliche's like 'game changer' come to mind, but all that matters is it just kicks arse like nobody's business.
Experimentation echoes throughout the rousing 'Here I Am' as universes of sentient life cry out to the deaf heavens before the eventuality crashes the system and the rockin begins in a synth groove cut from a silken OutRun chequered flag with intensity rising as power levels increase dramatically. The contextual placement of 'You Are, You Are' next is yet another stroke of genius as this new chapter of life's energy begins a voyage of self awareness in a synthesized plane of digital existence. The soliloquy delivered by McNab is honest and pointed with a glint in each phrase that provides humanity in the face of technology.
Le Cassette get saucy and sassy in their 'Magnifique' track which follows and continues a further expansion into different 80s pop styles as the bubble gum is popped with sweet candy flavours drifting into catchy and sugary synth melodies. It's great to see the depth of Le Cassette given a shallower space to work in and come up with such a shiny, tasty treat.
'Tokyo Blues' is one of the earliest Le Cassette tracks they shared and it is another individual gem that shines with entrancing azures once again. The more stripped back nature of this track gives an intimate and emotionally raw message, a message still as fresh and relevant as it was upon initial release. I do believe the way Le Cassette have built this album and shared the pieces they previously have has been a master stroke of genius. Even though I've heard some of the pieces on here many, many times previously, never once do I feel the need to skip past them to a newer track on repeated listens. I guess the Le Cassette magic burrows deep into one's heart and imagination and once there forever shall remain.
The delightfully rousing '1-UP' features next as a pure spectacle of videogame themed elements join Le Cassette in a celebration of sound. The following piece, 'Tonight' has been a mainstay in one of my favourite circles online in Project Friday where this track has become something of a national anthem. The tone of this track is one of its most attractive features as a futuristic detail is applied to the vocals and synths with an arrangement that crosses decades of influence and inspiration and the 80s stamp becomes just a little less indelible as Le Cassette eye the unknown horizons of the future.
The wave of emotional synth pop magic really crests at an incredibly high point with the second last track on the album, 'I Will Show You'. A later 80s dramatic aesthetic akin to Mike And The Mechanics' 'Living Years' is channeled with a thoughtfully introspective melody telling a story as rich as the vocal performance. The piece is faultless in its integrity and brings even more fresh ideas into Le Cassette's own personal emotional investment in their songwriting.
Left To Our Own Devices finishes with a slow goodbye titled 'Getaway'. The sun dips low on the horizon, and final embraces are relinquished with reverence and poignancy becoming a chorus of unwavering affection. Hands drift apart in slow motion with final memories fading from sight but becoming forever etched into out memories until the point we realise it is already over.
Telefuture Records present Le Cassette's Left To Our Own Devices album on their Bandcamp page here on digital formats as well as currently being available for preorder on CD and cassette. The rare beauty of this album is something you will find in the details and facets of each song. At no point did I think of any track as a weak link or a lesser experience, instead the redefining of their musical styles, inventiveness in songwriting and implementation of vocals in every single track made each experience shine in its own individual way.
Life is breathed into each feature in a very organic manner and even when Le Cassette are being cold; their aura is always warm. Left To Our Own Devices is a high water mark release for 80s inspired synth music and is an unequivocal Synthetix Reference Experience. This is the album you will come back to time and time again as it is as evergreen as it is effervescent. Truly great music is timeless and this record will be one I look forward to revisiting many times in the coming years and feeling that Le Cassette magic anew all over again.