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.