Notes from the Keybed – This Month in Synths [July 2015]

It’s summer and the sun is out for everyone to enjoy… except for Rome’s A Space Love Adventure it seems who must’ve locked himself away in a dark studio for some time to come up with his latest loveletter to the 80’s. Synth Punk EP might not contain any ‘punk’ as such but you certainly get a whole lot of synth, in a gloriously retro Vangelis does ‘Top Gun’ kind of way! Comprising four tracks of authentic analogue synthesisers, guitars straight off a Def Leppard record, and infectious melodies. It’s irresistible stuff if you’re a fan of the likes of Kavinsky or M83… or if you have a soft spot for bad action movies, leather jackets and aviators. ‘Red Blaze’ kicks off the EP with the sort of guitar tone that hasn’t been let out of the 1980’s since Van Halen overused it, whilst ‘Avalanche 29’ would be at home soundtracking ‘Blade Runner’, and the synth-pop of ‘Thunderchrome’ just makes me want to bust out some ‘Wipeout’ on the old PS1.

The recordings are beautifully produced throughout giving you the sense that A Space Love Adventure seriously loves this stuff and puts a lot of effort into faithfully recreating it all the way down to the type of reverb on the snares; the gear nerd in me would love to see a kit list used to make this record! The EP is out now on Sunlover Records ( for the price of a VHS rental in 1983. And whilst you’re there be sure to check out his Soundcloud for a black-metal-synthwave (seriously) rendition of Darkthrone’s ‘Transylvanian Hunger’, which is way better than the ludicrous concept would have you believe. There’s even a cheesy key change at the end. With this as well The Soft Pink Truth providing excellent electronic renditions of the dark stuff, maybe black-metal-synthwave will be a new genre… needs a better name though, answers on a postcard pls.

Here at TBO there are many things we love, such as coffee and pizza, but what really makes us tick is damn good pop-punk and chiptune. Normally guitar-wielding brat punks stay away from the clunky 8-bit videogame soundtrack that reminds us of when Gameboys were yellow and had to be held in both hands but Boston’s Future Crooks have answered my prayers by releasing a stonkingly original general MIDI version of their latest album ‘Future Crooks In Paradise’. Entitled MIDI In Paradise, the album lovingly recreates every drumbeat, guitar riff and vocal in general MIDI stock keyboard sounds. The guys usually specialise in the kind of emotional rowdy punk rock sported by Real Friends, Knuckle Puck et al. and it is testament to the quality of songwriting that it translates so well over to a chiptune context, with catchy melodies and quirky sounds galore. The computer voice that starts ‘Briton’ is worth the admission price alone. You can download the pay-what-you-want record from Bad Timing Records’ Bandcamp ( and while you’re there, be sure to pick up the original version as well as the label’s new Summer 2015 Sampler, which is packed full of great tunes.

Everyone’s favourite Scottish synthpop trio CHVRCHES have announced the follow-up to 2013’s mega album The Bones Of What You Believe. Sophomore LP Every Open Eye is to be released on the 25th September with gorgeous cover art and a set of brand-new songs. Said to take a ‘less is more approach’, the band decided to forego the big budgets in favour of utilising the same setup they recorded their stunning debut with. In-between single ‘Get Away’ was a real grower, but seeing the three-piece unleash a whole new batch of songs instead of recycling this and ‘Dead Air’ from the ‘Hunger Games’ soundtrack is a great move to avoid the lazy repackaging of existing material that can otherwise leave the listener feeling short-changed. Lead single ‘Leave a Trace’ is a fantastic return to the anthemic singalong status of ‘Recover’ and ‘The Mother We Share’, with emotional lyrics juxtaposed against lifting synth pads and a real ear-worm of a chorus. Judging from the other new tracks they’ve been playing out live lately, Every Open Eye already looks set to be a contender for one of 2015’s records of the year!

A new release I missed from last month’s edition of ‘Notes from the Keybed’ was the second album from electronic rock crossover crew Modestep. London Road is out now and has all the dirty basslines, fist-pumping choruses and headbanging guitar moments we enjoyed on their debut, now joined by a whole host of guest talent including dubstep producers Funtcase and Trolley Snatcher, grime artist Big Narstie, and even Welsh reggae-rockers Skindred! As a result it is a far more eclectic affair, with big beats and layers of sub bass pulsating throughout a range of EDM styles from skittering garage to heavy brostep, all via the band’s trademark rock ’n’ bass. ‘Circle’ featuring Skindred is a strong highlight with Benji Webbe bringing his Newport swagger to a moombahton banger, and although the lyrics of ‘a circle goes round’ might not be poetry (a point carried throughout the record) you can’t argue with the pit-starting beatdown at the song’s climax. When I informed this site’s editor that Modestep had a new album out she told me how when she saw them they were ‘so loud they made her ears hurt’ and I can’t see that changing any time soon with this new set of face-melters in their arsenal!

This month’s Keytar Hero award goes to Justin Hawkins of The Darkness (and Hot Leg, who were alright, and British Whale but yeah…) who returned this year with another hard-rocking, liqueur-swigging, ball-busting collection of songs. Not satisfied with simply swinging into gigs straddling a pair of giant tits, Hawkins is also known to crack out one of his Moog or Roland keytars for a shredding solo in ‘Girlfriend’, which remains an absolute banger, occasionally whilst wearing a pirate hat. Full marks.

Review: Bangers — Bird

So top Southern punx Bangers have gotten round to doing yet another full-length record. This is generally good news for the entire nation, and in this time of great strife and political unrest that means I spend most of my evenings screaming very bad words at the television every time George Osbourne says anything at all, the prospect of new Bangers managed to put a smile on my face.

It seems that Roo is feeling just as grumpy as I am from the off as the album launches into ‘No!’, and a clear dissatisfaction with life in general seems to be the order of the day. But even as he shouts “No! I don’t think it’s getting better!”, I’ve got one substantial grin and the urge to fist pump the shit out of everything Judd Nelson-style. Typical, chunky Bangers riffs dominate this and the following track ‘Mannequin’, with those fantastic bass licks you’ve come to expect from Andrew rumbling on in the background.

From the start, Bird demonstrates a tremendous amount of energy and purpose — something that’s never been lacking from a Bangers record, but seems to be even more urgent and ever present than ever before. There’s also a huge level of control, which may seem a little out of kilter for a punk record, but it never feels too polished. Instead, there’s a Jawbreaker-esque level of bluntness and honesty, even in slightly more metaphoric tracks like ‘The Trousers of Time’. However, if there’s any track that really grabbed my attention, it’s ‘Fleshlings’, with its jangly, guitar-led fury, relentless rhythm and the repeated mantra that “everything will fall into place”.

You might think that Mysterious Ways was the weirdest thing Bangers ever wrote — and indeed, the 48-hour recording haze that led to its creation meant some fantastically bizarre songs came out on top, including the mind-bendingly fantastic ‘Mosquito’ — but Bird is pretty weird at times, despite the greater level of polish. ‘Asimov’ is really haunting in places, mostly thanks to the oddly deep backing vocals. It leads into the intricate and puzzling ‘Vibrate’, which builds up slowly thanks to some of the tightest drumming I’ve ever heard on a Bangers record. And it’s not all bad news — ‘Partial Eclipse’ ends the record on a pretty chilled out note, with a much more upbeat feel and a reminder that it’s not all so bad after all.

It’s hard to believe that this is only Bangers’ third LP, given their fairly prolific discography over the past few years, but all of those EPs and splits, plus the non-stop touring, has meant that they’ve learned a thing or two about writing a great song. There’s something weirdly English about it — perhaps that’s the grumbling — but it offers a certain level of catharsis that I’ve been sorely needing. It’s a virtual guarantee that I’ll always like a Bangers record, but I love Bird, because even though it’s full of vitriol and existential doubt, it’s dead clever with it, relentlessly loud and a whole lot of fun. Necessary listening, no matter what you’re into.

5 out of 5 high fives!

TwoBeatsOff 3.0 (or something like that)

So it’s been a bit quiet on the Western front here. I’ve been conceptualising though, and when that happens, there’s a potential for danger. Or badly formed ideas.

So anyway, the fact of the matter is that I’ve been working on a massive motorsport event with actual work, and I’ve realised that actually, real life is busy. And hard. And it leaves little time for writing — especially when your job is writing. So I’ve gotta shake things up a little with this thing, and it means that the kind of stuff you’ll be reading might be a little different. So here’s what’s going on:

LESS REVIEWS — Yep, sorry. you’ll see less reviews. I wish we had time to do them, I really do. But I must get about ten promos a day in my inbox and we can’t cover them all. At the end of the day, if I’ve got limited time to write about stuff, I’d rather write about bands I really like, and music that’s really captured me, rather than yet another crappy pop-punk EP.

MORE INTERVIEWS — on the topic of writing about more bands I really like, interviews are definitely the way to go. I want to dig deep into what makes great music, or at least, what keeps my favourite bands on the road.

MORE LONG-FORM FEATURES — that might even involve series! Gosh! There’s a lot of stuff in this scene that I’d like to discuss, dissect and get my teeth into. So hopefully you’ll see a lot more of that.

And that’s about the long and short of it! It might mean less frequent updates — well, probably more frequent than at the moment — but I hope it’ll be features that you’ll enjoy reading more. So thanks for keeping with us, new stuff soon!

A Few Thoughts On The Sex Pistols, Selling Out and Being Punk as Fun

So the other week, everyone had a big freak out over the Sex Pistols credit cards, at least in the marketing world. Richard Branson decided that he wanted to make finance ‘sexy’, so evidently, some bits of plastic with the word ‘bollocks’ on that you can swipe to make purchases with was the way to go about it. The Daily Fail et al have all jumped on it, the comments sections of virtually every website yelling loudly about how the Sex Pistols continue to ‘sell out’.

I hate to break it to you, aging punks everywhere, but I’ll let you in on a secret that pretty much everyone else knows – the Sex Pistols were basically sell-outs from the start.

Malcolm McLaren’s London boutique, Sex, was a mecca for obnoxious young people everywhere. One two, fuck you, here’s an expensive pair of tartan bondage pants designed by Vivienne Westwood. The Sex Pistols, at the right place at the right time, became a marketing vehicle for McLaren – tailor-made to swear, shock, and look punk as fuck. They were lucky in that they actually wrote some pretty decent songs – to this day, I still crank up the volume whenever ‘Bodies’ comes on in the car – and later, when John Lydon went off to form PiL (ultimately far, far better), their punk credentials were kind of set in stone. To the average bloke, at least, The Sex Pistols were the very definition of punk. So then when Johnny Rotten appears on the telly selling Country Life butter, or a crappy ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ design shows up in Topshop, the average bloke is outraged. What happened to punk? Where’s all the meaning gone?

Asides from ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and ‘God Save the Queen’, and maybe ‘Pretty Vacant’, The Sex Pistols’ magnum opus was less about political unrest and far more about fun. Even ‘Anarchy in the UK’ is imbued with a sense of fiendish joy, a feeling of intense glee at the prospect of giving the world a middle finger and fucking off into the haze of the London underground. But I ask – does it need a message? Can’t we just be content with fun? If you wanted politics in your punk, the 70’s saw plenty of bands who were very good at that, whose very existence was a direct affront to the norm, but The Sex Pistols were not it. Striving to find a message other than general discontent, and a hell of a lot of fun, in Never Mind the Bollocks is fairly pointless – just enjoy it for what it is.

Similarly, the new album by Slaves, a guitar-drum-punk duo from Royal Tunbridge Wells, has raised similar questions with regards to its message. It’s rare I disagree with Punktastic, but their review of Are You Satisfied? asked when Slaves would find their message. What they missed is that it’s already there – just go out and have some bloody fun. Stop moaning about stuff. Enjoy life, in every way that you can.

Of course, there’s a world of difference between Slaves and the Pistols. For a start, Slaves can write a much better song. But at their very core, it’s all about making a lot of noise and having a lot of fun when you’re doing it. There’s a certain level of ridiculousness coming back to punk, which arguably has lost its sense of fun when it isn’t being diluted down into sub-genre after sub-genre, and I for one am pretty stoked. And admittedly, it’s actually quite nice to see a punk band back at the top of the charts in amongst all the usual tat. Now go and be nice to your pets.

Notes from the Keybed – This Month in Synths [May(be slightly late) 2015]

A slightly delayed ‘Notes From The Keybed’ this month as I’ve been moving house and been without internet for several weeks! Connected normality has now returned and I’ve had lots of great new synthy music to catch up on, starting with the return of everyone’s favourite Irish anarcho-synth-brats Fight Like Apes, whose new self-titled third album has barely left my speak-ers (and head – damn catchy earworms!) since its release at the end of May. Their most accessible work yet, the album sounds made for pop chart domination, but still retains their distinctly cynical lyrics, McCluskey-esque indie gloom wrapped in ear candy, and tasty twin-synth attack. Single ‘Pretty Keen On Centrefolds’ is the sort of song that will remain in your head for days, with a sing-along chorus and quirky synth hooks dancing around a typically deadpan vocal that rejoices in its own self-loathing. Elsewhere the album takes in chiptune influences on ‘I Am Not A Merry Man’ as well as possibly my favourite pop song of the year so far with ‘Pop Itch’. Fight Like Apes was the result of a successful Fund It campaign launched in 2013 that raised €20,000 within a matter of days following the band splitting from previous label Model Citizen before finding a new home on consistently excellent UK indie lovelies Alcopop! Records. Despite scaling new commercial heights by achieving #1 in the Irish indie charts, the band haven’t lost their punk roots with song titles including ‘I Don’t Want To Have To Mate With You’ as well as closer ‘Carousel’ concluding with a nursery rhyme ‘Satan Satan Satan’ chant-a-long. Delightful stuff as ever from MayKay, Pockets and chums.

Sticking with Alcopop!, the label are releasing a new EP from indie disco tykes Waylayers during June. ‘Re:Verse’ combines the carnival vibes of ‘Sleepwalking’ with new wave house jams on ‘N2U’ and will no doubt be a perfect sunshine soundtrack throughout the months ahead. The London three-piece are recommended for fans of the futuristic pop sounds of Delphic and latter-day Klaxons and will be hitting the festival circuit this summer.

Back in 2012 I stumbled across a video online of one of those cool-looking hipster parties that only ever really happened in films. You know the sort, a bunch of attractive people dancing (and not being at all self-aware like in real life) in a darkened room – oh look there’s one with a camera (as you do), another with a silly hairstyle, etc… However in the middle of this hot mess was a duo playing the most ridiculously nasty trap jams with deliciously 80’s bell sounds sprinkled on top. Accompanied by a smorgasbord of musical gear from samplers and drum pads to all manner of effects units, it piqued by interest beyond my expectations of the usual ‘frat boy’ shenanigans. Turns out this was a live session of ‘Bells’ by Plant Plants and I was hooked. The London duo have now evolved into a three-piece live act called M.Y. MACHINES, with a sneak preview EP streaming over on Soundcloud. Included in the Stay Pift EP is a rerecorded version of ‘Bells’, now called ‘8E!!S’, and it is still just as devastatingly catchy as it was three years ago. Stick it on in the car and try not to nod your head like the hip-hop mogul you really are. The other tracks on the EP are just as great, with the the Battles-esque staccato guitar trails of ‘Machine House’ sitting nicely alongside the trendy vocal house of ‘X’. It’s seriously well-produced stuff that will appeal to people well outside the demographic of that original video. Check it out – you might be surprised!

Nerdcore synth-pop-rock is one genre that never fails to make me go ‘YES PLEASE!’ and that is exactly what was promised in my inbox when this fine zine’s editor sent me a link to The Robot Knights. Fronted by Maddy Myers, a games journalist who also plays a mean keytar, the Boston trio write songs about robots and dragons and zombies and cool stuff like that! On songs like ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ and ‘Werewolf On The Dancefloor’ their indie disco shines, with hooky keyboard lines meeting garage punk guitars and dancey drum beats. I just wish there was more like the synthy arpeggios of ‘Clone Machine’ and less of the standard pub rock of ‘Amazon’, which is a fairly uninspiring slice of bluesy guitar rock. When they crack out the synths though it is brilliant – more of this please! Their entire catalogue is available for free download from Bandcamp so is def-initely worth a look and a click. For being a badass lady standing her own in the still regrettably male-driven worlds of video-games and music – and for being damn handy on the Roland shoulder synth – this month’s Keytar Hero award goes to Myers! Keep slaying those dragons and riffs, synth fans, and we’ll see you next month…