1 NCZA Lines – Infinite Summer
Synth and sci-fi go hand-in-hand and no more so than on this expansive concept album from Metronomy and Hot Chip collaborators. This album could happily soundtrack any Arthur C Clarke or Philip K Dick movie adaptation, as it takes takes us on a magical interstellar journey far away from the trial and tribulations of 2016. Tracks like ‘Persephone Dreams’ and ‘Two Hearts’ belong on the disco dancefloors of the 22nd century. It really is a stunner of an album.
2 Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things, Vol 1
Much of what made the best TV show of 2016 was its moody 80’s inspired synthwave soundtrack. It is minimalist romantic, fantastical, retro-futurist but dark enough to keep you up at night. And we’re still not over what happened to Barb.
3 Computer Magic – Obscure but Visible EP
We were pretty late to pick up on 2015’s ‘Davos’ album but 2016’s ‘Obscure but Visible’ EP by New York’s Computer Magic makes up for our lateness to the party. ‘Dimensions’ is a magical trip to fantasy land, ‘Lonely Like we are’ is awash with luscious auto-harp and the closer ‘Been Waiting’ is a barnstorming 80’s style proper pop hit.
4 Avec Sans – Heartbreak Hi
In a year without a new Chvrches album ‘Heartbreak Hi’ really goes somewhere to fill the gap. There are almost too many highlights to pick out – although we will try. ‘Hold On’ is blissful upbeat electropop but our stand out track is the wildly infectious, ‘Perth’ with its earworm of a chorus which will stick in your head for days.
5 Rodney Cromwell – Fax Message Breakup EP
The guy who gave us our favourite synthpop album of 2015 (‘Age of Anxiety’ via Happy Robots Records) returns with this collaborative EP that expands and plays with some of the choice cuts from that LP. His real name is not Rodney by the way – it’s Adam Cresswell (formerly of Arthur & Martha and also indie-folktronica band Saloon. The humorous despondency of the lead track is countered by the upbeat bouncy pop of the Chris Frain remix of ‘Baby Robot’. The playful re-imagining of the lead track by Hologram Teen makes us want to skip with joy. The Leaf Library also contributes a worthy spacious and blissful chill remix of ‘Cassiopeia’, one of my personal highlights of this release.
6 Porches – Pool
New York-based musician Aaron Maine’s introspective and earnest synthpop shines across the twelve tracks of ‘Pool’. Although written and recorded in his Manhattan apartment, this still sounds studio fresh. I challenge you to listen to ‘Be Apart’ and not be at least a little pulled at the heartstrings.
7 Introflirt – Temporary Heaven
Dissolving notions of what electronic music should be into a colorful flurry that pops and sparkles, Temporary Heaven is threaded together by a velvet voice and candid lyrics that touch on themes that are psychological, sexual, moral and emotional, maintaining a delicate balance between life’s offerings and celebrating a life that is introverted yet still somehow reaching out. With buzzing bass and squirming synths, the eight-track ‘Temporary Heaven’ struts forth without inhibition, delving somewhat into an interchangeable melancholic and blissful state of being. The energetic modern back-soundtrack by keyboardist Vafa (Denalda Nicole Renae) underline Benjamin Ruffler’s vocals, honed while performing jazz standards in piano bars. We regret that both band members died in the recent Ghost Ship Club fire in Oakland, California.
8 Bastion – Crystal EP
Electronic duo Bastion from Paris, France have been making a real mark for themselves with their upbeat EDM. This is an EP for all those waiting for Daft Punk or Justice to hit us with a decent record again. We live in hope.
9 Perpacity – Arise
If you’ve ever yearned for the 1980s, now is the time to get yourself the 14-track ‘Arise’ LP, the music of which bears definite resemblance to output from Erasure, Depeche Mode and Yazoo (Yaz) all at the same time. Based in Bristol and Copenhagen, their music is highly melody with silky vocals and rich texture. This is genuine, unconditional love for synthpop or dance-pop. Highlights include 9725, Vain in a World, Corina and Eternal feat. Nordik Fire.
10 Hologram Teen – Marsangst EP
This is a four-track EP from the new project of Morgane Lhote, long-term synth player for legendary cult group Stereolab, who was with them during their imperial phase between 1995 and 2001, when they released a series of career defining albums including ‘Emperor Tomato Ketchup’. She is also a former collaborator with the folks we today know as Simian Mobile Disco. These four tracks present gorgeous, bouncy playful instrumental synth-based pop with a techno trance leaning. Released by London-based Happy Robots Records, you can file this one somewhere between Deadmau5 and the theme to Donkey Kong.
11 Pet Shop Boys – Super
Building on the critical success of ‘Electric’ back in 2013, ‘Super’ is more of the same, with more slick and pumped production from hit-maker Stuart Price. Songs like “The Pop Kids sound as fresh as anything they recorded in the 80’s while the synthwave-esque “The Dictator Decides” has as poignant and archly clever lyrics as anything they have ever penned.
12 Pye Corner Audio – Stasis
Martin Jenkins has been churning out great slabs of dark electronica over the last half decade. ‘Stasis’, his second album for Ghostbox records, is a return to form after the rather flat ‘Prowler’ in 2015. This album is a dense claustrophobic synthetic soundtrack to anxious times that sits somewhere between early Aphex Twin and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
13 Silkdrop – Traces EP
You heard them here first (probably). Traces is a captivating downtempo, electronic EP that melds cooler electronics with live strings and the warm, soulful vocals of Heather Christie.