I can’t believe the June hiatus is almost over. I’m nowhere near suitable progress on this top-secret, big summer project. I’ve got to be more productive. On a positive note: I did get some work done, during which I listened to some pretty great releases.
Below are four of the most killer (Cliff Martinez’s The Neon Demon will get its own post, if you’re wondering why it’s not on the list). I should note that most of them have been out a while, ranging from April 8 for Sébastien Tellier to early June for Avec Sans and Code Elektro. Only the Danish synthpop group Saint Best’s offering is actually “new” in the supremely annoying temporal view we approach things nowadays. Oh, how I hate “the cycle.” Anyway, on to the music!
Sébastien Tellier – Marie et les naufragés (Original Motion Picture Score)
What happens when you put a few French Sebastiens together? You get Mr Tellier’s quixotic score to Sebastien Betbeder’s quirky Marie et les naufragés, an indie film about a love triangle.
The score is classic Tellier. The pieces are intimate electronic vignettes that recall the engaging synthetic compositions of his albums such as Sexuality and My God is Blue – even as Tellier steeps them in the spirt of his more organic score for Tristan Aurouet’s and Gilles Lellouche’s 2004 film Narco and the synthetic-organic hybridization of the expansive 2014 LP L’aventura, his latest.
Cuts like “Le Pouvoir de Tanger” and “More Crazyness” cover the synthy territory. Admittedly, the organic numbers never get as acoustic as Tellier’s Narco work, but cuts like “Turino III” and “Triste soirée III” bear reminders of Tellier’s instantly recognizable composition style at the core of whatever medium he uses to convey his message. The spastic big-bass of “La Fille de l’Eau” and the electro-rock of “Fighting the Darkness” sound like L’Aventura cuts filtered through a rinse of steroids and psychotropics.
Tellier apparently approached this album’s themes with inspirations as varied as Ennio Morricone, Marvin Gaye, and Giorgio Moroder, according to press materials from label Record Makers. I can hear all of that on this record, but honestly what I hear the most is Tellier. All artists are products of the convergence of their muses, inspirations, and intuitions, of course, but Tellier has a preternatural ability to make it all seem so profoundly original.
(Note: I almost debated not writing about Tellier’s score, simply because I feel like I don’t have the words to do him justice. This is probably because I’ve spazzed myself out a bit. I listen to at least two of his releases at least once a week, taking in My God is Blue and Marie et les naufragés the most in the past few months. So yeah, I’m kind of a reverential fan, which is often the worst kind. LOL)
Avec Sans – Heartbreak Hi
Big and beautiful synthpop is one of my favorite things. Stateside, Brooklyn-based Paperwhite has been doing a great job of building gigantic and ethereal soundscapes that instill a sense of wonder. Over in Britain, Avec Sans are doing something similar to full effect on their debut LP, Heartbreak Hi.
Alice Fox and Jack St. James have made a name for themselves with their expert remixes for the likes of Haerts and their creative cover of Bon Iver’s “Perth,” not to mention their singles. On this album, which came out earlier this month and has been kicking ass on the UK’s iTunes charts, Avec Sans builds on their reputation of giving us great songs with memorable synth and vocal melodies without any bullshit pretense.
It can be easy to just layer on some synths and guitars, plop in a drum beat, sprinkle in a few pinches of 80s nostalgia, and chant a few bromides, and call yourselves a synthpop duo, but thankfully Avec Sans avoids that temptation. From the grandest moments of the title cut to the smallest, most intimate moments on songs like “Mistakes,” Fox and St. James have crafted meaningful, meaty, and important work.
On the Gagaesque “The Answer” and pieces like the Robynesque “All of Time,” the duo gives us danceable pop with a heart and soul. On the Paperwhitesque “Shiver” and “We Are,” the latter my favorite cut on the album, Fox and St. James make big art with high stakes. I love it all.
(Note: When are Paperwhite and Avec Sans going to tour together? Come on, folks. Let’s do this.)
Saint Best – “In the Morning”
This came in through SubmitHub recently, perhaps nine days ago. I hadn’t been checking my submissions during my hiatus, but one day I decided to see how massive the queue had gotten.
Then there came the temptation to start listening to tracks, which I mostly avoided until I saw the minimalist, oyster-on-turqoise cover for Saint Best’s “In the Morning.” I’m glad I did.
These four Danes have crafted a catchy-as-hell synthpop cut that combines the dreamy and big compositions of St Lucia – a mix of the better angels of the When the Night and Matter LPs – with the danceability of New Order and synthetic sheen of high-point Human League.
It’s a glorious result, really. It’s that formula that Vehlinggo loves, for sure: Contemporary synthpop with catchy hooks and just enough nostalgia to make it pleasing without sounding too on-the-nose with the retro worship. It’s a formula St. Lucia does well, and one that Saint Best would be smart to rely on for an LP.
Code Elektro – Wolf
A year after releasing the exquisite synthesizer-driven instrumental album Superstrings, Denmark-based Code Elektro (Martin Ahm) is back with Wolf.
Although Ahm is often lumped into the “synthwave” category, his work as Code Elektro has only really been somewhat colored by 80s nostalgia. This is especially true on Wolf.
Superstrings certainly owed much to the likes of Brad Feidel (Terminator) or John Carpenter, and even Wolf has its Vangelis-in-Blade-Runner moments. Nevertheless, Wolf seems to draw its inspiration the most from Daft Punk’s score for Tron: Legacy.
The themes are certainly centered on arpeggiations and other synthesizer expressions you’d find in 80s synth scores (real or inspired), but they adhere much more to Daft Punk’s school of synthery: Giant and compelling with the heart and soul of a classical film score. (There are some mean sax and guitar solos strewn about, in case you’re feeling like you want that 80s action hero vibe.)