Secession – “A Dark Enchantment”

Secession, a mid-1980s Scottish synthpop band, may in an odd way be best known for the work two of its non-original members did after the band broke up.  You see, bassist J.L. Seenan and drummer Charlie Kelly joined Secession in time to be part of the lineup for the band’s only LP, 1987s A Dark Enchantment, and following Secession’s demise the pair joined a duo that Charlie’s brother played in.  That duo later benefitted from having a very famous fan, one who covered their songs and mentioned them in interviews.  That fan was a guy named Kurt Cobain, and the band was The Vaselines.

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So what about A Dark Enchantment?  Well, one would expect the overall mood was being set by the slightly gloomy synth-goth of the instrumental intro “Eventide”, but that’s followed by a classic 1980s hopeful struggle-song, the synth and bass line driven “Promise” (I’ve worked so hard to get this far / Don’t try to take it from me), a number that would be right at home in any one of a few dozen classic 1980s flicks.  But then… then “Sneakyville”.  What is happening here?  The deep male vocals offset by the distant female harmony take everything in a completely different direction, more of a dark dancefloor banger.  That was unexpected.  And then… horns?  “Winifred”, what are you doing to me??  It’s almost like A Dark Enchantment is a label comp, but there’s just enough of a thread to hold it all together as part of one cohesive work.  “Ocean Blue”?  Female vocal dream pop.  The brief instrumental “Reprise (Love Lies Bleeding)”?  A fleeting moment of emotion, 61 seconds of soft interlude.  You just never know what’s waiting for you on the next song.

Planet P Project – “Planet P Project” (1983)

planetpThis was more or less a solo project of Tony Carey.  Following a few years playing keyboards for Rainbow, Carey found himself adrift when the label putting out his solo work, Rocshire, was shut down by the feds due to some shady money-handling practices.  Carey signed two separate deals with Geffen, one for his third solo album Some Tough City and the other for his new concept, Planet P Project.  Ironically Some Tough City came out a year after Planet P Project.  He put out two albums in the early 1980s under the Planet P Project monicker, later returning to it for the Go Out Dancing trilogy in the mid-to-late 2000s.  Planet P is said to be a reference to a planet in Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers, a forward base of the nemesis Arachnids.

Musically Planet P Project is synth-pop tinged with just a dash of prog.  “Why Me?” popped up for air, making it to #64 on the Billboard Hot 100 and a small splash on MTV with it’s “Major Tom”-esque theme, sounding like the soundtrack to the training sequence in some kind of 1980s movie about space exploration.  A bit dated, to be sure, but with 80s-style synths making a comeback it has a retro-contemporary vibe.  Interesting, probably most appealing to fans of the era.

Akiko Yano – “Tadaima” (1981 / 2018)

I’m currently reading Haruki Murakami’s most recent novel, Killing Commendatore.  It’s probably the fifth or sixth of his books I’ve read, and like most of the perennial Nobel Prize short-lister’s works it’s starting to get weird, the protagonist being occasionally visited by a two foot tall, sword carrying personification of the concept of “Idea” that only he can see and converse with (at least so far).  Music always plays some kind of role in Murakami’s fiction, which makes sense given that the author himself is a well-known jazz aficionado and vinyl collector (allegedly 10,000 records strong).  In fact, prior to becoming a full-time writer he owned a small jazz bar in Tokyo.  While the music references in Killing Commendatore have been almost exclusively classical (at least through the first 250 or so pages that I’ve read so far), there are passages about specific compositions, as well as details about various character’s stereo setups.

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In taking a break from reading this morning, I decided to drop the needle on this newly arrived re-release of Akiko Yano’s 1981 synth-pop milestone Tadaima.  This caught my attention because of the involvement of the legendary Ryuichi Sakamoto (♠), and since I love synth-pop I wanted to give it a try.  It’s an intriguing piece of work, one that ambles about seemingly at random, but that when you listen carefully exudes intentionality.  At times it almost reaches the point of sterility, but then something like unexpected “Taiyo No Onara” comes on and Yano’s voice is allowed to express warmth and wonder.  I can’t help but at times to hear traces of dj. flugvél og geimskip in Tadaima, both in the music and the vocals, which is slightly disorienting for me.  Regardless, though, this is an enjoyable if somewhat quirky album that still sounds fresh nearly 40 years later.

(♠) To this day I can’t hear or see Sakamoto’s name and not immediately think of the scene in High Fidelity when John Cusack catches the skateboarding shoplifters.

Páll Ivan Frá Eiðum – “This Is My Shit” (2017)

pallivanthisismyshitEither old school synths are making a huge comeback or I’m just way into them and keep unearthing stuff that uses them.  I’m not entirely sure.  But what I am sure of is that lately my Facebook feed has been bursting with musicians excited about their latest finds of old equipment, looking like little kids at Christmas just thinking about what kind of mischief they’re going to get into with their new toys.

Páll Ivan Frá Eiðum is a visual artist and musician living in Reykjavik and his first album, This Is My Shit, was released earlier this year thanks to a Karolina Fund project and on the label of the artists’ collective Mengi.  You can get a sense of Páll’s artistic style from the cover, a tuba of sorts that also includes a vagina and a penis, which as near as I can tell is quite representative of his body of work.

First time I met you, I made you smile
Second time I met you, I made you laugh
Third time I met you, I made you cry
Fourth time I met you, I made you scream
— “4th Time Blood”

This Is My Shit consists of a diverse set of songs that all generally orbit around the concept of 80s synth music.  There’s the John Grant-like “Tinder On the Toilet,” the heavily auto-tuned “4th Time Blood”, and the eerie vintage horror movie soundtrack of “Halló Vinur”; but let’s not forget the hip hop/R&B blend of “Spaceship” (♠) or the industrial darkness of “Expanding”.  And that’s just on side A!  This thing is diverse, an interesting twist awaiting just on the other side of each blank groove between songs.

HERE it is on Soundcloud if you want to check it out.

(♠) Which includes a brief industrial interlude, because why wouldn’t it?

Mixophrygian – “Mixophrygian” (2015)

I know, I know… I’m supposed to care about the music that’s on the record, not the jacket.  But how often do you stop and check something out because the jacket catches your eye?  It happens to me all the damn time.  I’m sure that means that I miss some cool stuff, but it also gets me to at least look into a lot of bands that I otherwise might not consider.

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Just look at this jacket.  Look at it.  Of course I had to know what this is about.

What Mixophrygian is about is one Mr. Daði Freyr Pétursson, a synth-pop producer from Iceland putting out a solo release.  And to quote Barry in High Fidelity, “It’s really… it’s really fucking good.”

Mixophrygian prompted me to place an order with my friends at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, because there’s pretty much no way I was going to find this limited edition (of 300) double album here in Seattle.  The gatefold packaging is exceptional, as is the translucent purple vinyl, clean and bright.

There are a lot of high points on Mixophrygian, the first of which is “Forever” with the beautiful vocal by Arna Lára Pétursdóttir accompanying Pétursson’s own creamy voice.  From there it just gets even better, with all three songs on side B (“New Year,” “The Love,” the very Daft Punk-esque “Me, Myself and You,” and “Phrases”) giving you a full dose of groovy synth-pop, with simple beats and more of that smooth singing, nothing super fancy here, just… just right.

On the start of side C, I’m pretty sure The Chipmunks snuck in for a few verses on “Disconnected,” but you know what?  It works in its own way.  And you know, now that I think of it, the vocals remind me a little of another Icelandic synth-pop band called RetRoBot who put out one six-song CD back in 2012… which turned out, once I did some looking online, to be for a very good reason – because Daði was a member of that band, contributing synths and some vocals.  The only reason I think I was able to put those pieces together was because I literally just happened to listen to RetRoBot’s album Blackout the other day on my iPod.  Why?  I don’t know.  Just one of those weird deals.  Thought I did just kind of trip myself out there a bit.  This project is a bit more mellow and not quite as dark as the RetRoBot material, something a bit easier to just chill to.

Mixophrygian is some great soothing synth pop.  But don’t take my word for it.  You can listen to the whole thing for free on Bandcamp right HERE, so go give it a least and see (and more importantly hear) for yourself.