Notes from the Keybed – This Month In Synths [April 2015]

Crystal Castles, everyone’s favourite experimental noise-wave band, are back! Well, sort of anyway. Last year singer Alice Glass announced her departure from the duo followed by a rather public fall-out with songwriter/producer Ethan Kath. At the time it was claimed that the group would carry on as a solo project from Kath, the first results of which have recently been uploaded to SoundCloud.

New song ‘Frail’ has the classic Crystal Castles sound of lo-fi synths cascading over waves of pounding electronic drums, topped off the sort of pumping sidechain compression that would make Daft Punk cringe. Vocals are provided by a singer identified only as ‘Edith’ who, whether intentional or not, does a near identical impression of Glass with the band’s indecipherable lyrics and screechy outbursts intact as ever. It is unclear whether ‘Edith’ is a permanent singer, or if Kath will have guests on different tracks, or stick with it as a solo project only. Regardless of what happens a new album will be most welcome and if we get an Alice Glass solo record too (pleeeeaasse) then no one can complain!

Nothing quite brightens up a dreary Monday morning than an email promising Swedish ‘outspoken feminist pop/electro’, which is exactly what landed in my inbox at the start of April. Tikkle Me deal in glorious harmonies and lovingly crafted synthesiser-based pop songs, much in the vein of Eisley, Imogen Heap or fellow Scandinavian electro popper Robyn. New album What Is Real is a joy to listen to, with a perfect balance of upbeat electro productions such as ‘Six Senses Screaming’ and gentler vocal-led songs ‘Niagara’ and ‘Under The Bridge’ (no, not THAT ‘Under The Bridge’!). A lot of time and effort has clearly gone into the recording process as the seemingly contradictory elements of chiptune synths, classical strings, processed drum beats, and layered near-operatic vocals fit perfectly together. Lyrically, the album is mostly based on feminist themes of empowerment and independence, yet it is never overwhelming or pretentious. A few lyrics are somewhat lost in translation such as on ‘Time To Act’ where ‘deep in the jungle they play hardcore’, raising a smile at the mental image of lions shredding some HXC! But I never fail to be depressed at my own country’s laziness that everyone needs to sing in English to be commercially recognised, and the overall message is an important one that will no doubt resonate with anyone who has felt under-appreciated or segregated, regardless of their location or gender. My personal highlight of the record ‘Rebels’ features the sort of huge half-time chorus that Ellie Goulding has been plying her trade with in recent times, but with lyrics about being a strong leader unafraid of people’s expectations and preconceptions. ‘What Is Real’ is available now through the Gaphals record label and comes highly recommended for fans of intelligent and beautifully crafted pop music.

Here at TwoBeatsOff, I pretty much get free reign to write what I like (ta editor) as long as it is vaguely on topic and introduces people to rad new music but I did have to grapple with my conscience over this next one because my absolute favourite song of the month is as far from cool and underground as it gets. Carly Rae Jepsen… no come back, honest it’s a cracker… dropped a new tune this month called ‘All That’ produced by former Test Icicle and Lightspeed Champion mainman Dev Hynes along with songwriter Ariel Rechtshaid. Predictably enough, it sounds nothing like ‘Circle. Square. Triangle’ or ‘Call Me Maybe’ but is actually a slow burning slice of 80s balladry, complete with twinkling arpeggios and guilt-free slap bass. With an irresistible R&B chorus building alongside clipped guitar, big reverbed drums and dramatic piano chords, it is equal parts catchy pop song and hipster-friendly pastiche and all the better for it. Not available to download in the UK currently – if anyone knows otherwise tweet us – ‘All That’ will appear on Jepsen’s third album E-Mo-Tion, whilst Hynes’ Blood Orange project has just released a new remix bundle of single ‘Uncle Ace’ – check out the Kindness remix for more Prince inspired 80’s goodness.

I’ve been fairly slow on the uptake of new radio darlings PVRIS, who have been plugging away at their brand of synth-infused modern rock anthems since 2012. This month the band released a new video for ‘White Noise’, one of the highlights of their debut album of the same name. Boasting luscious keyboards, heavy as hell drums, and an incredibly strong vocal from frontwoman Lyndsey Gunnulfsen it is set to dominate the summer. PVRIS are appearing at Slam Dunk Festival and Reading and Leeds, as well as gig dates across the US and Europe. Don’t miss them!

Close your eyes and picture the coolest band in the world, what would they be like? How about a Swedish garage rock band with post-punk guitar riffs, fuzzy bass, and a Debbie Harry lookalike who sings in French whilst rocking the keytar? Well that’s exactly what CIKATRI$ are, and new record The Texas EP, released to support their appearance at SXSW, is packed with indie rock hooks and keyboard/guitar showdowns. It’s terrific stuff and reason enough to make Aurélie our this month’s Keytar Hero! …and that’s before we get onto her stylophone and theremin playing as well as their merch options of tote bags and temporary tattoos, which are all kinds of awesome. Check out all four CIKATRI$ EPs on Bandcamp now before they outgrow the underground.

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