We will be offering up a few lists this year, covering what we think are top picks in various genres of music. We begin this year-end ace-music-tallying frenzy with some really superb synthpop / synthwave / electronica releases. This was a good year for these genres, as you will agree if you can manage to make your way through this playlist. This is our top 10 synthpop albums of 2015.
Rodney Cromwell – Age of Anxiety
This one’s a stunner from top to bottom, front to back, start to finish. Likely need to drive that point home three-fold, yeah? This album is that good. Londoner Rodney Cromwell (aka Adam Cresswell) is no stranger to this blog and we had a chance to chat with him earlier this year here. In addition to his debut LP ‘Age of Anxiety’, he’s also managed to put out the ‘Black Dog’ EP to the great joy of New Order and OMD fans. Both releases are brilliant, but it is really ‘Age of Anxiety’ that takes the cake here for this number one spot. Also previously part of Saloon and also Arthur & Martha (not that I’m familiar with either of them). Find ‘Age of Anxiety’ here.
Chvrches – Every Open Eye
With their second album, rather than pushing new boundaries, Chvrches took the braver decision of refining the successful formula of their first. This resulted in another album of big synths and radio friendly hooks propelled by the sweet but compelling vocals of Lauren Mayberry. ‘Clearest Blue’ is so enthralling it could have been ghost-written by Vince Clarke in the early 80’s. Find ‘Every Open Eye’ here.
A Copy For Collapse – Waiting
This is one of the biggest surprises for me this year, namely because it came across initially as being linked to darkwave and, as gloomy as it might seem in places, it is closer to an electronic synthpop sonic hybrid than anything I associate darkwave with. This melding of genres is really fun actually – one song brings in a certain mood, only for that to totally (and quickly) morph into something slightly optimistic before putting you in a trance. ‘No Failure’ is definitely the brightest track on this LP, with other faves including ‘Light’, ‘Grey Sunday’, ‘Lost in Decay’ and ‘Alone’. Find ‘Waiting’ here or on vinyl.
New Order – Music Complete
The most appropriately titled album all year, as this is New Order’s most complete album since ‘Technique’. ‘Plastic’ is their best synth big-hitter since ‘True Faith’. ‘Tutti Frutti’ has their best chorus since ‘Regret.’ If it is let down by anything, it is some of the collaborations; Iggy Pop’s spoken-word vocal feels somewhat out of place and the collaboration with Brandon Flowers is too much like The Killers for this writers taste. But on the whole it’s a great album that proves New Order can still deliver the big hooks without Hooky. Find ‘Music Complete’ here.
Lilies on Mars – AGO
The latest offering from London-based Sardinian duo Mars takes the auspicious listener on a rapturous trip through a landscape of dreamy electronic experimentation, soundtracked by the bleeps and whistles of analogue synths. The single ‘Dancing Star’ comes across like a celestial psychedelic Ladytron and ‘From the earth to above’ is one of the finest motoric pop songs since the demise of Stereolab. A blissful triumph throughout. Find ‘AGO’ here, coming soon on vinyl.
Priest – Priest
With their eponymous debut, Florida synth pop band Priest have delivered an assured and well produced collection of 80’s inspired synth-pop hits. ‘Waiting for the end to come’ is the perfect soundtrack for driving through east coast hot summer nights in a soft-top convertible. ‘The Game’ belongs on the soundtrack to Drive 2, if it ever gets made. Find ‘Priest’ here.
Brutalist Architecture in the Sun – All is Grey
A dark and occasionally noisy electronic gem unearthed from the digital vaults of Bandcamp. With its references to motorways, Essex towns and by evoking the concrete dystopias of JG Barrard, it has all the hallmarks of an 80’s album from the classic synth period by the likes of Fad Gadget or John Foxx. Quite a nice and prickly unexpected surprise with some dark moods similar to the A Copy For Collapse album noted above. I might guess that the author is keen on ‘People are People’ era Depeche Mode, Visage, Boards of Canada, Front 242 and Art of Noise – or perhaps I just like this so much that I can easily find all of these very cool aspects woven in here. Find ‘All is Grey’ here.
Meter Bridge – Slow Motion
On their debut album, the synthpop duo from Canada have pushed their unique sound further. The album is at times evocative of Man Machine period Kraftwerk, had the German four piece chosen to invent glitchcore on their way to perfecting technopop. What makes Meter Bridge stand out are the instantly recognizable vocals of Jill Beaulieu and Richard Kleef, which are used to great effect on tracks like ‘Kite’ or ‘It Was Nothing’. Find ‘Slow Motion’ here.
Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
The title one would assume is a play on the seminal Talking Heads live album, and if so that makes perfect sense to us. This is an LP that perfectly fuses rock, funk and electronica and is awash with disco strings alongside the harder synth rock explorations as heard in the title track. The opener Huraache Lights is perhaps Hot Chip’s best single since their career defining ’Ready for the floor’. Find ‘Why Make Sense?’ here.
Real Experts – The Trade Off
The first thing that popped into my head upon hearing their name is “really- what are they experts in?” Well the music speaks for itself – glad it’s not automotive mechanics as their hands are obviously better applied to the synth and various instrumentation. Thrills of this album include the fact that numerous guests contribute vocals here, each bringing their own flavor much like happened over the course of several Massive Attack albums. Particularly enjoyed the vocal delivery by Daniel Angelus and Eden. Booming talents and overall well done for orchestration and dynamism. Find ‘The Trade Off’ here.
We like so many different bands and, truth be told, 2015 was really such a great year for music output. We had a few ‘outtakes’ from this slim list of picks – Gwenno ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ and Ummagma ‘Frequency’ – both of whom may have numbered in this short list if it weren’t for the fact that they are cross-genre, so stay tuned regarding these two artists. We’ve got something else coming…
Apart from that, some very noteworthy artists here, including John Grant ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’, Say Yes Dog ‘Plastic Love’, Husbands ‘Husbands’, We Are Match ‘Shores’, Jupiter ‘Bandana Republic’, Blancmange ‘Useless’, and Gateway Drugs ‘Dare Tonight’.