The Angular Records’ 2012 re-release of Eleven Pond – Watching Trees / Portugal single comes across somewhat ‘standard issue’ from the surplus of the recent past. Originally released in 1986, this moody synth-pop single was mostly distributed in Europe (according to Angular) and has yet to be caught by Discogs at the time of this articles release.
A-side track Watching Trees is milked for everything its worth over 3 versions on the re-release, though the Bedroom 4track Mix bookend version is “completely identical” to the opening Bedroom Demo version according to Bandcamp user Chrisdee. Percolating synth lines blip and bubble across an undercurrent of ghostly synth wails. Steady drum machine rhythms thump back and forth while vocalist James Tabbi pines for the incidental attention of being seen in a tree.
I fail to catch anything noteworthy or particularly distinct from b-side track Portugal. It all comes across a bit quaint, dated, or simply lacking. But b-sides never really were the star, were they?
Watching Trees lives on via digital giants of music discovery; an algorithmically transmissible Spotify track and on Bandcamp with inconsequential bonus versions of its a-side. It’s not a record that will change anybody’s life, but is worth interrupting one’s doom scrolling to check it out.
Fast, lush, and flushed with attitude abuse. If there was a plug-in and play certified sound for today’s wave of Goth fan music, it would be all over this record.
Originally released on February 7th, 2012, From Now On is a let down. After having become acquainted with and enjoying the algorithm’s favorite track The Porter, From Now On’s opening half is a banal cosplay of Joy Division featuring Cold Wave drum machines and greater layering.
The Porter itself isn’t anything particularly new either, but that’s alright. The Porter shines through with cold, brooding Synth Pop vigor. This new found display of vitality may peak here, but is carried through till the end of the album 2 songs later. Closing track Jasper is a lush instrumental effort reminiscent of The Cure’s earliest work. Even then, Dream Affair never do seem to find anything of themselves on this album.
For fans of: Lust For Youth, Parade Ground, Joy Division
Riki is an electro pop album just shy of Italo disco. Long moody vocals and synth layering may remind you of Hounds of Love era Kate Bush, while heavy use of counter point melodies make Riki’s opening tracks shine with emotion (even if bordering on busy at times).
Lead single Napoleon sounds straight out of Italo disco icons Glass Candy’s playbook. Swelling pads and blippy high melodies complement upbeat drums and driving bass synth. Nearly everyone has a playlist this is a must for. But we begin see more artistic risks being taken with Know, an ethereal psychedelic track full of reversed snares and notable panning. Slow throbbing momentum is built up slowly, leaving a trail of fading reverb in its path.
Unfortunately, the second half of Riki is very true to most 80s pop albums: forgettable.
Earth Song’s excessively processed (auto tune?) vocal layering not only feels out of place with the song’s production, but also with the album’s overarching pastiche. There is something about Earth Song that doesn’t feel as thought out as much as the other songs. Neither fun or well crafted, the listener is left unable to escape from Earth Song’s cheesy lackluster lyrics (okay, what’s more 80s than that?).
Second to closing track Come Inside redeems some interest in the album. Wobbling synth kicks things off before a steady disco beat comes driving in. Riki’s short Ladytron-esque vocals are a rewarding departure from previous tracks. In a way, Come Inside would make a better Gorillaz track than any of the songs on Gorillaz – Humanz (2017). What can be learned from this? I’m uncertain.
Even when rolling on the rear wheels, Closing track Monumental is able to get us across the finish line. An ethereal vocal intro brings us to one of the album’s greatest dance-floor potential tracks. A processed break beat fill and its choice of synths divert from the album’s rigid 80s retro A-side but, at this point, that was long abandoned.
B-side filler or a lack in care of crafting each song have stained the album’s high marks. A shame, as there is great work on this album. The craft behind songs Napoleon, Böse Lügen (Body Mix), and Come Inside just aren’t shown on most other tracks. Aside from its lead single hit potential, Riki is a lukewarm electro pop album unable to reap the seeds it has sown.
But “don’t panic” if you like Riki. We have some recommendations we really believe in.
Bad Lassies is the 2019 debut album by Australian experimental pop duo Knitted Abyss. Members Lucy Phelan and Anna John bring an ambitious level of creativity to darkwave and post-punk that their ‘nu goth’ contemporaries (I won’t call them peers) fail to deliver. Bad Lassies‘s quirky eccentricities distance the band from their contemporaries’ dismal artistic stagnation, yet these quirks never feel gimmicky. No, Bad Lassies’s emotional delivery is only ever enhanced by the artistic choices made.
Album opener Attention is a minimal post-punk track reveling in its loneliness. Squelchy synth bass and light drum machine work give the band an almost early-80s Bananarama rhythm section, blanketed in the more morose qualities of gothic post-punk classics. From here things get darker, less pop oriented, but never losing a distinct sound established from the start.
Inspiration and stylistic elements are lifted and fitted together well without ever falling victim to pastiche. Elements of darkwave, post-punk, shoegaze and Ladytron-esque electronic pop are prevalent and well mixed together to create something new. Knitted Abyss dismisses the queue of bands lining up for ‘cool factor’ authenticity by creating something distinctly their own. Lucy Phelan and Anna John created a well-crafted album, and therefor don’t need to mold to any perceived idea of ‘how things should be’ within a genre.
For fans of: Crack Cloud, Waitresses, Crash Course in Science
This post originally appeared on the 10th Dentist blog on Tuesday, March 4th, 2021. The following version has been lightly edited for clarity.
As if standing in stark contrast to taco-laser-cat t-shirts and ‘millennial whoop’ overdosing (how noble), the rise of 80s worship in the mid-teens has brought back the worst of bad hair days and their musical counterparts. So if you’re looking to spice up your new-found identity or if you’ve finally realized that Africa by Toto isn’t worth it, than this list is for you!
Soft Cell – The Art of Falling Apart (1983)
Soft Cell (a band that, yes, has released more than 2 songs) started in 1978 and rose to prominence in the early 80s with their hit cover of Gloria Jone’s 1964 single ‘Tainted Love’. But enough of that. 1983 would see the release of Soft Cell’s second full-length release The Art of Falling Apart and the glory of it’s titular closing track. ‘The Art’ is a song about drugs that isn’t trying to be anything other than a song about drugs. Big synth stabs and an under swelling reverb makes this a ‘no duh’ for anyone looking to dip their toes in the weird and wacky world of the 80s (FOETUS is only a few steps away from here).
Naked Eyes – Promises, Promises (1983)
There is always something there to remind me that there were much better songs on Naked Eyes’s 1983 album Burning Bridges. The best album to ever be recorded at Abbey Road Studios (Flippant? Maybe. The truth? Definitely), Burning Bridges gave us great songs like its titular track, When The Lights Go Out, Fortune and Fame, and Voices in My Head. But it’s Promises Promises with its minimal production, back and forth melody, and vague funk influences that rounds out this album as one of the best closing tracks on a pop album ever. Naked Eyes is 2 British guys, a Fairlight CMI, and a lot of vague romantic dance tracks. Do I need say more? Well, except to clarify I mean that entirely as a good thing (in this case).
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – So In Love (1985)
So In Love may not be stupid enough to meme-ify, but it’s an emotionally powerful song with all the melancholic nostalgia seeding you could possibly want. In this dreamlike state, you may feel as if your feet will lose rhythm to it’s smooth dance beat as you float away off the dance floor. Don’t worry, no modern DJ will be playing this any time soon, and your drinking that night will likely leave you face first on the floor. Look, were they a great band? No, not really. But if we’re going to collectively obsess over singular 80s pop tracks, OMD has all the trappings (and just enough good songs) to get a mention here.
Sharon Redd – Can You Handle It (1980)
While you were busy fetishizing the 80s, disregarding the AIDS epidemic and the CIA starting a racialized drug war, black and/or queer people were out there making some of the best music of the decade. If you’re looking for peak 80s (in a good way), this is it. Just because it’s not Madonna-white doesn’t make it not so. So, can you handle it?
You may think, ‘why Sharon Redd? Why not something even more 80s like Chaka Khan, Cherrelle, Evelyn King, etc.?’ Those artists are amazing, but they’ve all had second-winds in the age of music streaming and cock and bull ‘I grew up with this’ nostalgia boasts. Either way, if you’re a trend sycophant than you’ve probably stopped reading a while ago. So kick back and enjoy this 6min+ jammer.
General Public – Anxious(1984)
Why are we culturally pining for the 1980s to begin with? Has sociopolitical pressures made us look for a ‘simpler time’? Is it 70s babies grasping for a time that they were the forefront of commercial culture? Can we simply blame all of it on vaporwave and Stranger Things? Who knows. Maybe culture is dying. In a press-play world that awards content and volume over quality and craft, why would anyone take the time to enrich their lives culturally? It may be my upbringing that put General Public on this list, but if the 80s are relevant now, than a track like Anxious is more relevant than ever.