Was it really a decade ago? Just as the Strokes and the Libertines were making it sexy to wield a six-string again, four icy, black-clad futurists from Liverpool and Bulgaria arrived sounding like they’d just stepped out of Kling Klang Studios in Dusseldorf. Ladytron had made steely ennui chic again, at least until a pack of bands with the words “bear” or “foxes” in their name dragged the musical Zeitgeist off into the woods somewhere. Ladytron’s new album, Gravity the Seducer, won’t be hitting the shelves until sometime in September, but in the meantime, here are a few notable knob-twiddling brethren that promise 2011 will be a “Summer of Synth.”
Toronto’s Austra manage to seamlessly blend winsome, Renaissance Fest romanticism with cold, Teutonic underpinnings–something like Kraftwerk doing the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. Their debut, Feel It Break, is winsome, enrapturing, and full of longing, despite the sometimes militaristic beats (prediction: the spooky, ominous “Beat And The Pulse” is the summer’s definitive filler of hipster dancefloors). The ethereal Katie Stelmanis possesses the haunting tenor of a medieval English songstress, which makes for a startling contrast with the slightly sinister, muscular electronics of such empyrean gems as “Spellwork” and “The Villian.” It’s a black celebration.
Cold Cave’s Cherish The LIght Years came out in April, but they’ve just undertaken a US tour that will take them straight through the summer. And while the New York by way of Philadelphia band’s 2009 debut was moody and stark, the follow up is extravagant, if not utterly anthemic. There are no attempts whatsoever to mask rather blatant references, but of course, mediocrity borrows, genius steals. To wit, “Confetti”, with its mournful atmospherics and New York club beats, recalls mid-period New Order; “Pacing Around”, all symphonic synths and Wesley Eisold’s stentorian wail, matches Ultravox for sheer heroic bombast; and they make no small use of lugubrious, skull-cracking industrial histrionics. Not goth, but truly gothic.
Finnish duo Shine 2009 (take note: Helsinki is, um, the new Montreal) have taken the classic Pet Shop Boys blueprint and transported it lock and stock into the 21st Century. Their first single, “So Free”, in fact, is not only a dead on pastiche of various PSB staples, but Paula Abdul guests–mimicking Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s resurrecting of Dusty Springfield, also some twenty years after her pinnacle. Alas, Sami Suova and Mikko Pykari don’t share their forebears penchant for sneering condescension. Instead, gorgeous debut Realism is all slick, glamorous Euro-deesko, the sort of melancholy but sexy modern pop that Hurts so stylishly revived last summer.
Of course, no electro summer would be complete with a contribution from the disco-overlords at DFA. And the incongruously monikered Planningtorock, in fact, aren’t rocking at all. The nom de guerre of Berlin based Brit experimentalist Janine Rostron, it rings a few avant-garde bells by way of last year’s collaboration on The Knife’s postmodern opera Tomorrow, In A Year. Rather fitting, as new album, W, weaves astonishing electro-classical chamber compositions with bursts of complete psycho mayhem and a couple of letter-perfect synth-pop tracks. Mostly, it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before. “Don’t be surprised if I’m ripping out my eyes,” Rostron howls on “The Breaks”. You can’t say we didn’t warn you.