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

Straight Edge Keytar Hero has no time for your bullshit.

Loads of new releases hitting the airwaves this month for synth fans starting with the band that kicked off my own love of the things! Back in 2007 Klaxons came bursting out of nowhere in an explosion of lurid colours, distorted synths, and an indie sensibility that mined everything from 90’s rave to J.G. Ballard. This personally resulted in the mass raiding of my student loan to buy a MicroKorg and a fuzz box (we can pretend that the electric blue skinny jeans and pink bomber jackets never happened though). After under-the-radar second album ‘Surfing The Void’, via a teenage heart crushing marriage to Keira Knightly, the boys are back with new album ‘Love Frequency’ on 9 June. The single releases so far suggest that, although the noisy guitars are not going to be making a return anytime soon, the band’s knack for an infectious pop hook and love of retro keyboard sounds remain firmly at the forefront. The nu-rave pioneers are playing a number of small-venue shows to coincide with the album’s release before hitting the dance stage at the Reading and Leeds festivals.

Other new records to pick up this month include ‘Luminous’ by The Horrors, who move further away from their garage goth roots into psychedelic territory littered with shimmering synth hooks and celestial chords, Imogen Heap’s long-awaited new album ‘Sparks’, and ‘Do It Again’ by everyone’s favourite Swedish synth pop star Robyn, who teams up with production maestros Röyksopp for this saucily-titled mini album.

Continuing the Swedish theme, TBO were sent a smorgasbord of new music from this Scandinavian country this month! Whilst the heavier end of the spectrum was well and truly demolished by Murderofcrows I’ve picked out something a little easier on the ear. Donnie Castle describes himself as a 19-year-old indie-electro producer from Gothenburg. Retaining some of the dark and ominous musical vibes that his hometown is renowned for he delivers a viable alternative to the EDM dominance that has blighted electronic music in recent years. The instrumentals on the record suffer at times from familiar preset reliance but anyone who doesn’t spend their life surrounded by software synths wouldn’t care or notice as the strong melodies shine throughout. The true standout moments are on ‘Stutter’ and the title track where glitchy drum machine rhythms meet Crystal Castles-style vocals. Certainly one to keep an ear out for.

Back over in the UK and I’ve recently returned from The Great Escape, Brighton’s annual weekend of live music and mayhem. Stationed on the Alcopop! / BSM stage at Pav Tav, guitars were clearly the dominant sound of the day but there was still a strong showing of synths including the mighty Fight Like Apes’ contingency of 3 keyboards, numerous sample boxes and an Ableton-running laptop! The Dublin foursome brought all the punk energy and disco swagger of new EP ‘The Body of Christ and the Legs of Tina Turner’ to the seaside venue, finishing their set with trampled keys and flailing limbs to rapturous applause. Particular note also needs to go to emotronica three-piece Emperor Yes, who broke the indie mould to deliver a sound akin to a full-band PlayRadioPlay with ludicrously brilliant live vocoder backing vocals. The Londoners even have an 80’s synth strewn Misfits cover on their Soundcloud, which only reinforces their hipster-baiting genius!

Finishing off this month’s column is our Keytar Hero of the month we look back at the leading lady of the shoulder synthesiser Victoria Asher / Vicky T of Cobra Starship who is currently taking a break from music to work on cinematography for coffee adverts featuring George Clooney (naturally), whilst Gabe Saporta revives his own student days with Midtown. A new Starship album may be a little way off but Vicky T rocked the instrument back in 2007 and is thus justly deserving of this month’s award for services to keytardom!