Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Ghosts Of Soviet

By Andrew B. White

Let’s get this straight to start with – Soviet are not this weeks’s latest newcomers on the synthwave tip. In fact they have been around since the mid-90s which makes them closer in age to the actual 80s music emulated in synthwave that it does to the here and now of the 21st Century.

Soviet started life in Syracuse NY and later moved to New York City where they became part of the emerging ‘electroclash’ scene around 2000. Electroclash included acts such as Felix Da Housecat, Miss Kittin, Peaches and my personal favorites Fischerspooner (still waiting for that decent follow-up to “#1’ guys). Performing live shows as a five-piece in the pre-laptop era with drums, guitars and synths proved Soviet were not just a studio outfit. Between 2000 and 2003 the band released two albums, “We are Eyes, We are Builders” and “Spies in the House of Love”. (Both of these are available on Bandcamp and are recommended if you want to hear Soviet’s journey over the last decade-and-a-half). In 2003 Ruggiero relocated to LA to make the second Soviet record but fell into composing and sound design for commercials. Due to focusing on this new work and the uncertain state of the music industry the Soviet project went into hibernation. This was also about the time that the electroclash movement started dying out, with many of the artists refining their sound towards a more dancefloor-friendly and less “80s” aesthetic. Personally, in its prime, I thought electroclash was going to be the savior of contemporary music but it wasn’t to be – it just fizzled out. Maybe that era was just a short ride before the digital age provided a better platform for the music. I guess Ruggiero probably figured the same thing.

Fast-forward several years and the story goes that while Ruggiero was writing the electronic soundtrack for the futuristic independent short “Life Begins At Rewirement” he was inspired to put together a new Soviet album. This new album, titled “Ghosts”, was written and produced by Ruggiero who also performed all of the vocals. Original Soviet member Christopher Otchy contributes keyboards and guitar and Chaz Windus provides drum programming and synth parts, rounding out Soviet as a trio for 2015. Right now in the musical landscape, the timing seems to be more suited for Soviet to make a mark – electronic music with ‘80s influences has found its feet and is not such a victim to the over-the-shoulder treatment it received from its snarky dancefloor siblings in the early ‘00s.

To that end “Ghosts” serves as universally appealing album to the current synthwave scene and the wider electronic community. On the face of things Soviet doesn’t serve up obvious throwback ‘80s music and neither does the way they present themselves support that theory. Of course the ‘80s are in here – that’s a given – but there’s more of a ‘European’ feel to this music. This could be read as being ‘serious’ – as something dark grey rather than bright pink. The obvious ‘80s comparisons to be made might be the poppier moments of Depeche Mode, a little Vince Clark and some OMD. Ruggiero’s voice sounds more in line with contemporary electronic music of the DFA variety – it’s both strong but restrained; there’s no highway to the drama-queen, synth pop falsetto zone going on here. Musically, Soviet keep everything very clean and crisp with solid arrangements and melodies. Back in the ‘80s ‘clean and crisp’ was often misrepresented and coined as being ‘cold’ but when you have all these nice big synths in the mix as you do on “Ghosts” that theory seems at odds with itself.

There are 10 tracks on “Ghosts”. Opener ‘Onto Something’ is a great smooth, confident synth pop number and manages to pack in everything a good song needs into a snappy 2:49 minutes. From there on in the album flows along with track after track of cohesive synth pop built around Ruggiero’s vocals. Various changes in tempo, nice percussive touches and the odd lick of electric guitar over washes of pads make for good times. Far be it from me to do a tedious track-by-track dissection of “Ghosts" – better for you to listen to it yourself my friend. However, some highlights including the tinkly synth parts in title track ‘Ghosts’, the Erasure-crossed-with-the-Cure bounce of ‘Jealousy’, the drum machine beat and guitars of ‘Overrated’ with its barbed lyrics, ‘Subdivision’s darker ‘night drive’ feel, the OMD-like ‘Changes’ and the upbeat jaunt of ‘Psychic City’. The album finishes up with ‘Symmetric Connection’ which at only 1:46 in length is a bit of a tease. Maybe this is a prelude for what’s to come.

It’s pretty safe to say that “Ghosts” is a Synthetix FM Synthetix Reference Experience, mainly because Soviet demonstrate how a cohesive album should sounds and the zone they open up for audiences to come together from all corners parts of the electronic music community. Soviet presents “Ghosts” on Rosso Corsa’s Bandcamp here, on iTunes here,  on cassette from Burger Records here, on CD directly from Sounds Red Records here, or via their own Bandcamp page here.

As a bonus, there are 20 remixes of selected tracks from “Ghosts” in varying electronic styles. Remix artists familiar to Synthetix FM readers include Silent Gloves and Miami Nights 1984. I’m also happy to see the inclusion of a remix by I Satellite who have been making great retro synth music for over a decade. The remixes are available on the Sounds Red Soundcloud page here.

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