Tag Archives: electronica

Warm Blips and Clicks

1st_commercial_Moog_synthesizerDuring the time I was learning to play piano (badly) in my youth, I was witness to the rise of modern electronic music.  In 1968 we purchased Switched on Bach by Wendy Carlos and my love affair with the Moog analog synthesizer and the artists who mastered it began.  That same year, my older brother bought me The Beatles White Album for Christmas, and I also heard Dick Hymen’s first electronic album which included the single “”Topless Dancers of Corfu” – a fun bit of pop that showcased many of the sounds possible from analog synthesizers.  This early combination of adventurous rock, classical, and electronic sounds became the basis for much of progressive rock music, from expert practitioners in bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis and Yes. The sonic depth of this music, and that of their contemporaries was trans-formative – the sound fused to the analog past, and electronic future where all things might be possible.  The sounds made by those early synths still seems fresh today, and is still incorporated in all kinds of music.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the mid 70s the all-electronic music of Kraftwerk came to my attention via their first several albums, most notably The Man Machine from 1978. As we entered the 80’s I was primed for a new wave of bands that employed synths to drive pop and goth music of the period.  Of the groups from the era, several, like Kraftwerk, used only synth and vocals in their work.  None were more prolific and successful than the musical genius Vince Clark.  Vince was a founding member of Depeche Mode, Yazoo (Yaz), and Erasure – the latter still writing and recording today.  Of these, Yazoo holds a special place as being a perfect blend of pop, soul, and cold clear electronic music.  Singer Alison Moyet provided the vocal warmth with her powerful, soulful delivery on tracks spanning their two releases Upstairs at Eric’s (1982) and You and Me Both (1983).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlison’s post Yazoo work is varied.  All of her releases since Yazoo have charted in the UK, as she graces any music that backs her massive powerful voice.  This year she released The Minutes, a welcome return to electronic music and an excellent album in it’s own right.  Her tour led to three dates in the states – we hit the San Francisco stop at the Fillmore auditorium, November 14. The show was wonderful, highlighting the new record and long solo catalog along with a handful of Yazoo tracks. Alison’s voice is undiminished, lending a warmth to all the blips, clicks, and patchwork of traditional synth sounds, still fresh and compelling ear candy after all these years.

A’la Mode

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe great Depeche Mode played the Shoreline theater last week to a sold out crowd of devoted rapturous fans.  I was there for every note with my soul mate and a couple of our best friends.  This is a band that’s truly weathered time well – singer David Gahan still bumps, grinds, and belts out the deep notes with aplomb.  Singer multi-instrumentalist and principal writer Martin Gore raises the stakes whenever he comes out to be front and center, most notably on this tour performing slow acoustic versions of “But Not Tonight”, “Home” and “Shake the Disease” hitting all the best long vibrato soaked tones perfectly. Andy Fletcher does his low key celebration in back.  A drummer and second instrumentalist round out the band for their live shows as they have for just over 10 years now.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe group was out to promote their latest release “Delta Machine” – an album that’s surprisingly good for writers so well into their careers.  From the opening track, also played to start the show, “Welcome to my World” to “Angel”, “The Child Inside (another Martin slow burner) and “Soothe My Soul” (a classic form for David’s best delivery) they covered many of its high points, all of which fit nicely in their catalog.  These new tracks serve to update the Depeche Mode sound, even hinting in parts at dub-step electronica, a variant on the form they practically invented along with German forbearers Kraftwerk.

Of the later work, only 2005’s “Playing the Angel” was represented with two tracks – “A Pain That I’m Used To” and “Precious.”  The rest of the set list focused on the band’s 80’s and 90’s hits including 1981’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”, skipping to 1985’s “Shake the Disease”, 1986’s “Black Celebration”, “A Question of Time”, and “But Not Tonight”, 1987’s “Never Let Me Down Again” (encore with everyone’s arm wipers to augment it), 1990’s “Enjoy the Silence”, “Personal Jesus”, “Halo”, and “Policy of Truth” (all practically required for these shows), 1993’s “Walking in My Shoes” and Martin’s tear jerker “Home”, now a perennial favorite from 1997. Not as fond of the other selection from “Ultra”- “Barrel of a Gun” which ended up being one of several instances where the drummer drowned out the founding members – a minor complaint, but here’s one fan wishing they more frequently dispense with the live drums.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe whole event proved that Depeche Mode has remained not only commercially viable, but in rare form artistically, delivering their sometimes gloomy but more often celebratory wares, aged appropriately and served up hot.

Air: Fresh at the Fox

Air, is the French duo who have been steadily releasing exceptional recordings since 1995. Best known for the electronica-infused 1998 release “Moon Safari“, which spawned the single “Sexy Boy”, their work has been featured in the films “Virgin Suicides”, and “Lost in Translation” among others. Their brand of electronic music has been inspired by and could be compared to several synthesizer-driven brands of “space rock” and pop including Jean Michael Jarre, Tangerine Dream and even Pink Floyd. Their live shows transcend the studio recordings and emphasize psychedelic jams such as “Don’t be Light” from 2001’s “10 000 HZ Legend“.

After a 3 year hiatus, Air returned to the bay area to back their 2009 release “Love 2“. Now touring as a trio on keyboards, bass, and drum, they delivered another superior live performance for a packed house at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA. From early lounge tracks such as “La Femme d’Argent” to the current vocoder-driven track “Love” they alternated between electronica, space, and pop influences keeping the set tight and powerful and very different from most bands from the last dozen years.

For many who may have heard early recordings by this duo, their more recent albums and live experience would come as a pleasant surprise. Any fears that the show might be too languid or dull would be shattered by the reality that this band stages very compelling concerts. Air is carrying the torch of quality music today and is highly recommended.