Sven Atterton’s latest release, The Cove, is a work of synth-funk genius that embodies the spirit of the Minneapolis Sound revolution that combined funk, rock, pop, synthpop, and other genres.
As someone who spent a good chunk of my life in Minneapolis, Minnesota — birthplace of the synth-funk offerings of Prince, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis, among many others — I feel I’m able to grant honorary titles of Minneapolitanism to folks like Essex, England-based Atterton.
When we’re in The Cove, we’re part of something important, and are somewhere in a world in which that Minneapolis Sound is combined with the Miami one. We’re awash in contemplative analog synthesizer pads, funky guitar licks, and indecisive bass lines that arouse Sonny Crockett, excite Prince, and make the midnight wine-sippers on a nearby beach feel “of this world.” The drum parts are straight out of Phil Collins and Paisley Park. It’s a “Sussudio” in “Ice Cream Castles.”
Atterton, an expert bassist, rides the Roland Juno and Yamaha DX21 synthesizers as adeptly as he does his Stingray bass guitar. Layering that atop a kinetic TR-707 drum machine, Atterton crafts a smart and saucy retrosynth that’s just as at home seducing a shoulder-padded Mrs. Robinson as it is her daughter down at the dark, red-lighted club which her mother forbade her to visit. Things are just better there. Cooler. Happier. More productive. People are dressed better and deal with things better than others do or can. This is where you and I want to be right now, or tomorrow, or yesterday.
This record has the funk, but it also has the jazz, and in some circles might be considered some type of audacious blend of smooth jazz one would find on a synthwave-rework of the inaugural Pure Moods release —which is awesome in its own right — but Atterton takes that sentiment and injects a seedy, sinister quality to it. There’s as much vintage and bawdy Prince-inspired, Minneapolis Sound synth-funk here as there is elements of “Lily Was Here.”
Thing is, it’s not all smooth-sailing relaxation as I’ve portrayed. On “Always Remember,” Atterton unlocks a battalion of synth fury all over a slick and confident wine-bar foundation. “Starting Again” is straight out of the playbook of Prince and crew in the late 1970s, early 1980s albeit with jazzier guitar parts. It’s still laid-back and a little contemplative, but the synths get twisty and up in your face in all the right ways. “Closer” has an insanely brilliant synth lead with a vocoded vocal that Daft Punk and P-Funk could only create if they merged essences.
“Seventh Heaven” is a whole lot of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis circa The Time era transplanted into 2015 and trying their hand at synthwave. Atterton lays that glider on thick, taking the synth up and over the sonic scales in compelling ways.
Overall, Atterton’s latest is great for putting on in the background, placing at the forefront, or just diving into in an earnest, open-hearted way. It’s concurrently a fun, party record and a serious, contemplative mood piece that will both get you laid and bring you enlightenment. May he reach such heights that he can tour this thing and take it to First Avenue, the center of it all.