Thursday, November 4, 2010

Feature: The Manitou - Let's Build Mecha! (2010)

Every so often here on Synthspotter I'll be featuring noteworthy (synthworthy?) independent releases. I'm kicking things off with an e.p. by The Manitou (otherwise known as yours truly).

"Let's Build Mecha!" features seven tracks, most of which were composed for Brokensea Audio Productions' "Doctor Who: Mechalution." It is of course the very same Doctor Who made famous by the BBC, in this case produced and written by and for fans who just can't get enough of the show.

There are a couple of moody experimental pieces on this release, but the rest is techno-pop with an industrial edge. The songs are crafted using sampled circuit-bent gear (such as a modified Texas Instruments Speak & Spell), synthesized & sampled percussion, a Novation K-Station analog-modelling synth, and a Crumar Performer string synthesizer.

Doctor Who: Mechalution, in a nutshell, is about a planet where robotic lifeforms are evolving out of the entropy left by its former inhabitants. The Manitou's music has investigated similar themes in the past, so it was fun to do an entire e.p. in that vein.

Best of all, the podcast episode is available for free at the Brokensea link above, and the e.p. is also free at To further entice you, here's a video promo:

The Manitou - Let's Build Mecha (Promo), courtesy of wireslave.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thompson Twins - Into The Gap (1983)

Here's an album I recently rediscovered, and which was big with me when I was a kid. Into The Gap is certainly the Thompson Twins most successful album, and with good reason. The songs are catchy, well-executed, and full of diverse sounds and instrumentation. The band, at this stage in their career, consisted of:

Tom Bailey: vocals, synthesizer, piano, contrabass, harmonica, guitars, drum programming.
Joe Leeway: Prophet synthesizer, percussion, backing vocals.
Alannah Currie: backing vocals, drums, percussion, marimba, xylophone, backing vocals.

It was revealed in a 1984 issue of Keyboard magazine that 95% of the synth parts on the album are thanks to an Oberheim OB-Xa. A Prophet 5 and a Pro-One were also used, both manufactured by Sequential Circuits. (Thanks to Micke @ forum for the info). Also of note is the rare Movement MCS Percussion Computer (which combined analogue drum synthesis and 8-bit digital drum samples with computerised sequencing) and the Movement Mimic (an early monophonic sampler with keyboard control) both made in Britain by Movement Systems.

Let's start with the opening track, "Doctor! Doctor!" which features some incredible moody synth sounds and an awesome multitracked solo.

Doctor! Doctor! courtesy of BlueBoy11035.

This is the song that most people remember, even though it charted lower in the UK (#4) than other singles from the album. Nevertheless, it's a fine song for a band to be remembered by. The 12" version is especially good, by the way. You can find it on "Thompson Twins Greatest Mixes," along with three other 12" singles from this album.

Hold Me Now, courtesy of miguelm0de.

This track's a little lighter on the synths, but was always a favourite of mine. You can hear the Mimic in action, providing some mechanical sound effects.

You Take Me Up, courtesy of Tabstarkin.

Five singles were released in total from the album - quite a number considering two or three is the norm these days. Sister Of Mercy was another ballad:

Sister Of Mercy, courtesy of Tabstarkin.

"The Gap" features eastern influences, more sampler action, and a whole lot of funk.

The Gap, courtesy of fery2.

Unfortunately I couldn't find the studio version of "Day After Day." Here's a live version instead, from their 1983 Into The Gap tour. Sorry about the sound quality.

Day After Day (live), courtesy of grupozaz.

Some great synth-brass on this track.

Who Can Stop The Rain, courtesy of goobiskii.

I'll round this post out with a slow number. I managed to track down all but one track from the album on youtube (actually "No Peace For The Wicked" can be found if you search for it, but embedding has been disabled for that particular track).

Storm On The Sea, courtesy of Reborninoktober.

I hope you've enjoyed!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dee D. Jackson - Cosmic Curves (1978)

What we have here is an oddity and an undiscovered treasure: a space-disco concept album. It works surprisingly well. Quaint spacey synth-sounds play off against funky rock-guitar and solid disco drum beats. Dee D. Jackson's voice alternates from angular, to angelic and beautiful, to strong and powerful throughout. The album was produced by Gary and Patty Unwin. Synths unknown.

Here's the opening track, Automatic Lover, which was a single and reached #1 in several countries. The only complaint I have about it is the faux-robot voice that repeats far too often. The video is suitably cheesy.

Automatic Lover, courtesy of bchfj

This blog is about synthesizer music, but ironically my favourite thing about this next track is the guitars.

Red Flight, courtesy of TheSupernaut76

Meteor Man, also a single, didn't do as well as Automatic Lover, but is another stand-out track.

Meteor Man, courtesy of Superdiscomania

Galaxy Police, courtesy of EldorAudio2

I'm so glad I could find this one on Youtube. The epic 'trial' which serves as the album's climax. Probably my favourite track.

Cosmic Curves, courtesy of valterik63

And finally, the album's closer, a poignant space-ballad.

Falling Into Space, courtesy of EldorAudio2

Cosmic Curves is released on CD this year (it may already be out), complete with bonus tracks. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Special: Japanese Techno-Pop

Let me begin with a bit of back-story. Growing up in the 80s, with synth-driven music and its strong and catchy melodies, I spent most of the 90s thinking good music had come to an end. I listened almost exclusively to music from the 70s and 80s during that period, with few exceptions. Music TV and radio were my only sources for discovering new music, and try as I might, I just couldn't enjoy anything current.

Then, in 1999, Eiffel 65's 'Blue' was played on the TV. I'd never heard anything like it. I remember thinking that dance music had suddenly risen to new heights. The odd thing is, it's a very simple song - almost too simple. But the impact it had was enormous. Thanks to the internet, which was new to me at the time, I discovered that bands like Eiffel 65 were thick on the ground overseas. The problem was they weren't played on Canadian radio, nor were they likely to be unless they had a crossover hit.

Eiffel 65 - Blue, courtesy of blisscorporation

Another band that changed my outlook was Canada's Front Line Assembly. They too were absent from the airwaves. Nevertheless, I picked up a compilation of theirs called 'Reclamation.' It proved to me that good music had not died. They'd been making music since the early nineties, but was it being heard? Certainly not by me. And they weren't the only band out there making industrial synth-music.

Front Line Assembly - Provision, courtesy of MetalKael

A world of new music opened up to me. I no longer had to wade through angst-ridden 'alternative' bands pushing swaths of distorted fuzz around and singing dirges over the top of it. Thanks to these two bands, and the internet, I discovered electro-house, EBM, trance, funk, and many genres in-between.

Now, ten years later, I feel I've discovered the next 'revolution' in my musical tastes: Japanese Techno-Pop. My love for Anime has exposed me not only to the Japanese language, but also to the quirky, happy theme tunes. I knew about 'J-Pop' but never really heard anything that caught my attention. I'd been listening to Vocaloid music, specifically Hatsune Miku, and it was via Miku Channel blog that I discovered the band Perfume.

On the surface of it, Perfume are a 'girl group' that sing happy bubblegum songs. But beneath their auto-tuned voices lies a bed of exquisitely-produced techno-pop. The man responsible for writing and producing these songs is Yasutaka Nakata. A little research revealed that Perfume is just one of many acts he writes and produces for, and that his primary project is called 'capsule.' Capsule, as of this writing, have produced 12 albums since 2001. How Nakata-san manages such an incredible output on top of writing and producing entire albums for other groups is amazing enough, but the songwriting remains consistently good as well.

For your enjoyment, here is a selection of Nakata's works, starting with the first song that caught my attention:

Perfume - Night Flight, courtesy of missvlk

Perfume - The Best Thing, courtesy of FairySweety

Perfume - One Room Disco, courtesy of millionstarleaf

Perfume - Fushizen na Girl, courtesy of cedrique30

capsule - Jumper, courtesy of shizukao

capsule - The Mutations of Life, courtesy of asquimandape

capsule - Love Or Lies, courtesy of Mrazerty1

capsule - Stay With You, courtesy of itbeganinwuhan2

MEG - Heart, courtesy of xMoonGoesDown

Ami Suzuki - Can't Stop The Disco, courtesy of ElectricHorseman003

This last track isn't by Nakata, but sounds like something he'd do and I like it a lot:

Aira Mitsuki - China Discotica, courtesy of otarutomoe13

The only problem with these bands is tracking them down. Capsule's most recent albums are available on iTunes Canada, but everything else has had to be sourced from either eBay or at great expense. They're worth every penny, though.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Adam Ant - Manners & Physique (1987)

Adam Ant isn't generally associated with synthesizers - having based his career on energetic rock/punk and a flashy look - nor would many consider this his best album. 'Kings of the Wild Frontier' (recorded as Adam and the Ants) is generally regarded as his enduring classic. Personally I give the honour to the follow-up 'Friend Or Foe,' his first solo release. All his solo records to date have been recorded with the Ants' guitarist Marco Pirroni, and for Manners & Physique they were joined by producer Andre Cymone - who was in Prince's band, and produced Jody Watley (of Shalamar) among others.

Cymone mixed Adam & Marco's strengths for percussion, guitar, and vocal melody with synthesized bass, brass, and lush chords. The result is a funky dance-pop vibe, which works very well. The vocals on Manners & Physique are some of Adam's most refined and showcase his exceptional voice. Marco's guitars chug along on the verge of being at odds with the rest of the music, but this juxtaposition adds to the appeal of the record.

Let's start with the opening track:

Room At The Top, courtesy of likefershure

This is a slightly different mix to the album version (it has some extra vocal samples & synth parts):

Rough Stuff, courtesy of luciusfunk

I particularly like the outro on this one:

You Can't Set Rules About Love, courtesy of AnythingBut1966

I wanted to share the title track, which I consider one of the best pop songs ever written, but unfortunately it wasn't to be found on Youtube at the time of this posting. Check it out if you get a chance. This album has been freshly remastered and reissued with bonus tracks. If you like what you hear, I highly recommend it.