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.

Notes from the Keybed – This Month in Synths [October]

Keytar Cat Man. Because it’s Halloween.

We’ve already reviewed the new Minus The Bear b-sides and rarities collection elsewhere on TBO but here’s a timely reminder if you’ve yet to check out the frankly ace Lost Loves. Electronics man Alex Rose gets plenty of chance to showcase his usual mix of Pink Floydian atmospheres and synth hooks, with the ripping electro lead on ‘Surf-N-Turf’ and twinkling arpeggios of ‘Walk On Air’ being particular highlights.

Over the past few months we’ve consistently banged on about Emperor Yes, who first came to this column’s attention after a stunning set on the Alcopop! stage at Brighton’s Great Escape earlier this year. The psychedelic synth-poppers’ debut full-length An Island Called Earth is finally out and sounding expectedly fantastic. For the real nerds out there you can even pick it up on cosmic green vinyl infused with real meteorite dust! For the rest of us be sure to grab the download or CD and check out the synthesiser-led delights of ‘Wasps’, ‘It’s The End Of The World’, ‘Mirror’ and… well the whole album – it’s a beaut!

Scottish trio Chvrches have been busy with new music this month, not only announcing they’ll be contributing new track ‘Dead Air’ to the Hunger Games soundtrack, but also releasing single ‘Get Away’ as part of Zane Lowe’s re-scoring of Drive. Unfortunately, the latter doesn’t quite hit the heights of perfect debut album The Bones Of What We Believe, but it still has their trademark retro textures, analogue percussion and a tasty trancey lead. It’s a definite grower and one that you won’t be able to avoid if you listen to the radio at any point over the coming weeks! There’s also a fantastic cover of Bauhaus’ ‘Bella Lugosi’s Dead’ scurrying around the Internet at present, which is perfect for your Halloween playlists!

Bloc Party mainman Kele Okereke has a new solo album out following 2010’s indie dancefloor slaying The Boxer. Trick is more straight-up dance music than anything he has done to date but the sublime songwriting and achingly cool vocals bring a much-needed uniqueness over his contemporaries. In many ways it is an indie-friendly gateway into the increasingly wanky world of commercial house music (thanks for making everything so borrrrring Disclosure) with hipster-friendly garage beats and late night soundscapes forming a gritty salute to London’s nightlife, whilst recalling lyrical themes from his day job’s masterpiece ‘A Weekend In The City’.

These New Puritans scared the shit out of me when I first heard ‘Orion’ among the usually safe surroundings of an NME cover disc. It was overwhelmingly bleak with droney keyboards, modern classical influences, and incessant drum rhythms outlining frontman Jack Barnett’s vocal monotones and lyrical intellectualisations. Earlier singles ‘Numbers’ and ‘Colours’ may have been more typical indietronica, but they always had a defiant stance to do things their own way and be impertinently different. Continuing to divide, confuse and amaze, they have certainly never been boring. Therefore, the release of new live album Expanded should come as no surprise, featuring a full 35 piece band of orchestral instruments and percussion, an array of synths and electronics and even ‘ultra bass singers’ (take that dubstep!). It’s certainly an interesting take on bringing electronic-infused music to the live arena, and it’s well worth watching the accompanying video online. Not one to listen to in the dark though!

October’s Keytar Hero award finds a home with Canadian queen of perky synth-pop, Lights. Her music may not be everyone’s cup of tea with its saccharine Disney-pop sheen (I shamelessly dig) but nobody can deny that she’s been loyal to the keytar as her long-term live performance companion ever since her early days of hanging out with the pop-punk kids at Warped. If you need any further convincing just type ‘keytar lesson with Lights’ into your YouTube search bar for hilariously awesome ‘advice’ from 2009 such as name your keytar so you take better care of it, understand the differences between keytar and regular keyboard, and make sure its plugged in. She even gives a demo of the Phil Collins mega hit ‘In The Air Tonight’ on solo keytar. She’s one of us…