12/09/2019: “1969” by Boards Of Canada

Boards Of Canada are undoubtedly a rare sort. You might put Aphex Twin and Burial in the same class; they make weird electronic music that straddles the world of Ambient and IDM.

“1969” exemplifies the strange charm Boards Of Canada’s music has. A scratchy, lo-fi beat holds up a truly cosmic synth. These two elements create the hypnotic backbone of the song. Then, some disturbing and garbled lyrics appear.

The “hook” of the song – in so far as it has one – is the discordant wave of bleeps.

As with much Boards Of Canada music, the sound is both beautiful and disorientating at the same time.

The song was released in 2002 on Geogaddi, which has a vaguely occult feeling, full of obscure references to vaguely occult things.

28/08/2019: “Music For Chameleons” by Gary Numan

Gary Numan has spent decades cultivating a unique sound and persona. I could possibly compare him to David Bowie, but Numan’s music is special because it was elaborately electronic and popular at a time where it was hard to make elaborate electronic music, harder still to make it popular!

It isn’t that the New Wave movement that brought him to fame was short on popular electronic songs. But he deserves some recognition for being something of a pioneer.

1982’s I, Assassin adds a funkier edge to the sound he was known for. Accordingly, although “Music For Chameleons” still has the trademark retro-futuristic synth sounds and ‘android’ singing, there’s an incredibly danceable rhythm section.

The drums canter along with a distinctive 3-step pattern, switching down for the chorus.

The song has lengthy breakdown sections dominated by the classic neo-noir Numan synths, building up to the next space age groove. The sound is very 80s, but still seems ahead of its time in its sheer coolness!

20/07/2019: “DARE” by Gorillaz

It’s surprising that I haven’t done any songs by Gorillaz before, because they are undoubtedly a massive name.

Led by Damon Albarn, the band are notable for their self-presentation as animated characters.

Musically, they’re quite diverse in their offerings, but tend towards dark electronic pop.

That would just about sum up “DARE”, which is a song with more than enough bright and catchy melodies to counterbalance its otherwise quite murky countenance.

For me, the song is pinned onto the bassline, a very simple affair with 3 or four notes altogether played with a coarse and abrasive synth.

The vocals are provided by the sweet and melodic Rosie Wilson, playing the character Noodles, Damon Albarn in the role of 2D, and the decidedly less sweet and melodic Shaun Ryder.

The track was the band’s only U.K. number 1; “Feel Good Inc.”, the biggest song, only reached number 2. “DARE” was released in 2005 as a single from the album Demon Days.

17/07/2019: “Eple” by Röyksopp

Röyksopp consists of 2 Norwegian electronica producers, who make music revolving around trip hop and downtempo focused styles.

“Eple” is very chilled out, but somewhat unfairly has been appropriated by various corporations for use as background music. It does a great job at providing unobtrusive background noise, sure.

But it’s a really engaging song, layering a sample from “You’re Right As Right” by Bob James (released in 1975 on Two) with an airy breakbeat and cosmic sounding pad.

They take the original sample, sedate as it was, and injects it with new life and energy. It was a catchy enough sample, but sounds so much better sped up with a breakbeat.

Interestingly, “Eple” means “Apple” in Norwegian, and the company Apple have used it in their software.

The song was released in 2001 on the duo’s debut album Melody A.M., which for some reason was most popular by far in the U.K.

24/06/2019: “The Word II” by Shigeo Sekito

Earlier on, I wrote about Mac DeMarco. One of my favourite tunes by Mac DeMarco is Chamber Of Reflection, not least because of the stunning and entrancing melody.

Although the form it takes in his song is slower, trippier, and heavier, the melody is a take of this song by Japanese electronic musician Shigeo Sekito. It’s not strictly a sample; more of an interpretation.

DeMarco takes great inspiration from classic Japanese music. It doesn’t get more classic than this!

The song is a lovely expedition through a kind and gentle cosmos. Considering the time it was made, the electone (electronic organ) is expressive and played with a fair amount of impressive improvisation…

The electronic string sounds in the background are ethereal, and almost as delicate as the dainty drums.

The song was released in 1975 on the album Special Sound Series Volume 2.

20/06/2019: “Underwater Man” by Virna Lindt

I think it’s very unfair to dismiss this song as “lounge music” or anything of that sort.

The lethargic dreamscape created here is undoubtedly relaxing, and most definitely steeped in early 80s vibes. But this more than some vacuous track to stick on in the background of a trendy retro bar, although in fairness it would do just fine at that job.

This is a glittering piece of subterranean psychedelia, with the deep sea synths sinking slowly past the breathy vocals in a murky yet refreshing whirlpool of sunshine and saltwater.

Virna Lindt tended towards the experimental, and although this song sounds very much like a product of the 80s, it isn’t cheesy; it’s still a great tune!

Sweden are mostly known for ABBA, but this track shows that the small Scandinavian country punches above it’s weight…

The song was released in 1984 on the album Shiver. 

17/05/2019: “Coronus, The Terminator” by Flying Lotus

2014’s You’re Dead! is a trippy meditation on death and the afterlife. I read an interview at the time where FlyLo talked about his thoughts on heaven and hell, and it’s clear the man is pretty spiritually inclined.

Death is a theme of much of his music, and here it takes an apocalyptic tone. Niki Randa, who sings on this song, says that she is singing about the death of mankind as a species. With the worrying political climate, and even more worrying actual climate change, this is a valid concern…

The beat is a cosmic, jazz infused contemplation, and is literally an anthem for the angel of death. The lyrics portray a personification of death as a liberator, freeing souls from the suffering of the mortal plane. In keeping with this, the track uses gospel vocals to create an atmospheric of divinity.

Like many Flying Lotus songs, the melodies underpinning the song interact with a dense wall of textures; unlike many of his songs, “Coronus, The Terminator” is rhythmically easy on the ear, settling into a relaxed haze.

03/05/2019: “Papua New Guinea” by The Future Sound Of London

Not many songs from the early U.K. rave era can claim the same sort of longevity as this one!

It’s still widely regarded as one of the best songs of its kind, a landmark rave track, and shows a particular mastery in blending ambient soundscapes with a heavy bassline and smooth breakbeat.

The bassline is lifted from the Meat Beat Manifesto’s track, “Radio Babylon”. There’s undoubtedly a big sampling element to the tune, but there aren’t many tunes which sound like “Papua New Guinea”…

The ominous, tribal vocals are from “Dawn Of The Iconoclast” by Dead Can Dance, released in 1987. This creates a huge contrast with the sweeter vocals from 1989’s “Shelter” by Circuit.

As a finished product, it’s hard to argue with the effect. There’s a trancelike, otherworldly feeling emanating from the exotic quilt of samples, far beyond what any of the sampled songs themselves could ever muster.

The song was released as a single in 1991, and reached number 22 on the U.K. Singles chart. It also featured on the 1991 album Accelerator.

Timeless!

16/04/2019: “Bike” by Autechre

This is probably one of Autechre’s more accessible songs, amid a sea of ambient electronic musings and IDM weirdness.

The duo make music in a similar style to Aphex Twin, inimitable though he is. But really, like him, they are best classified as being Autechre, rather than trying to pigeonhole them too much.

“Bike” is built around an arpeggiated synth, which echos delicately. The bassline is a sinister sounding undercurrent, which fleshes out the soundscape considerably. The drums are soft and nimble, almost dubby in their presentation.

It’s a fairly slow paced song, which rewards you if you pay attention more closely. The drums are especially subtle, and the main synth is fluid and hypnotic throughout the track.

The song was released on the classic 1993 Incunabula album on Warp records, which was intended by the musicians as more of compilation than a made-for-purpose album. It is their debut album, regardless.

English techno brilliance!

11/04/2019: “Skylab” by Electronic System

Electronic System is a project of the Belgian synthesizer legend Dan Lacksman.

He has performed under his own name, and in groups (most notably Telex). He was an early adopter of synth music, to the point where the first synthesizer he bought, just 3 years before the release of this song, was the first one in Belgium!

“Skylab” is a 14 minute long voyage through time and space. It’s definitely more of a lazy pleasure cruise than a hyperspace rush; you get plenty of time to appreciate the scenery.

And what scenery! The basis of the track is a sort of slow, jazzy strut, with a smooth bass part and a relaxed drum section. The dreamy electric piano lays down the primary texture for the song, which is embellished by confident Moog noodling.

The track was released in 1974 on the album Tchip.Tchip (Vol. 3), although a different version was released first in 1973 on a different version of the album called Electronic System 3, which is credited to “Dan Lacksman With Moog Synthesizer”.