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

It’s Ken Jeong playing a keytar. Do we need to explain it any further?

September is traditionally a month of fresh starts and new beginnings. After a Chinese Democracy-esque 10 year gap, the second album from Canadian dance thrashers Death From Above 1979 has finally arrived and is on constant rotation here at Synth News HQ! The Physical World features plenty for synth fans with twinkling arpeggios, keyboard hooks and spacey pad textures nestled between the distorted bass riffs and cowbell-littered disco beats! Lead single ‘Trainwreck 1979’ had the most glorious piano melody but it’s the title track that is the real winner for electro enthusiasts with broken computer tones and vocoder backing vocals giving way into a 70’s prog riff and majestic organ outro! Now we just need a MSTRKRFT remix and it’ll be perfect…

There must be something in the Canadian water as, fresher than Avril and Chad’s breakup, comes a new album from Toronto trio The Rural Alberta Advantage. Their hipster-friendly folk pop combines beautiful piano and guitar textures with rousing boy-girl vocals and lo-fi keyboard drones, as heard in preview track ‘On The Rocks’. Carving out a similar sonic territory as fellow indie folksters Freelance Whales with classic songwriting along the themes of hometowns and heartache. The group come to the UK towards the end of the year in support of the new record Mended With Gold, which was released on the 30th September via Saddle Creek.

Some random Bandcamp trawling led me to an inspired discovery this month! By simply searching for synth punk (and skipping straight past the bizarre kraut-rock and experimental drone merchants hijacking this tag) I was led to the fantastically absurd Computer Class. Official information is sparse but according to their social media there’s five members, who inexplicably all do guitar and vocals, and they used to be called Death Ray but changed their name to be alphabetically superior… of course. Anyway, they’re from California and mix the best bits of 90’s pop punk with some seriously tasty synth lines and a good dose of geeky college humour in the vein of Atom and His Package. Characteristically vague, their new album Nah, Dude is out sometime around now but in the meantime you can pick up their last full-length featuring songs such as ‘Early Green Day’, ‘Dude, You Used To Be Cool’ and ‘Med Study Girl’ for the princely sum of a single US dollar from their Bandcamp.

The ‘lost’ final record from Get Cape Wear Cape Fly has found a release on the fabulous Alcopop! record label. London Royal will be the last outing for laptop and guitar pioneer Sam Duckworth before he sheds his pseudonym of ten years to go it alone under his birth name. It’s been a tough few years for Duckworth, having descended from the top of the charts to illness, doubt and political backlash since 2012’s disjointed Maps. I’ve been a big fan since the beginning (Chronicles… is on my all-time favourites list) but the last time I saw him perform live it was clear that the cracks were beginning to show, although the singalongs were as loud as ever he seemed unsure of himself and uncomfortable on stage. Themes of insecurity and facing the realities of growing up are evident in lead single ‘Remember’ with it’s refrain of ‘I’m scared of the kids in the corner shop / I’m scared of the day when I have to stop’. It’s a beautifully honest song, with a fragile yet defiant vocal over an uplifting backing track that concludes with a triumphant drum and bass outro. The rest of the record continues in a similar way with textbook Get Cape acoustic guitar picking, clipped beats and retro synth melodies. Closing track ‘After Hours’ is a positive conclusion to a record born out of turmoil. Although we now say Get Cape Wear Cape Bye to this project it’s certainly not the end for Sam, whose debut solo album proper is due for release in 2015.

Finally this month’s prestigious and hotly-contested Keytar Hero award goes to Dan Werb of electro-pop duo Woodhands. Drummer Paul Banwatt might be busy these days performing with The Rural Alberta Advantage (you see it’s all linked, I do my research!) but there was a time when he slayed indie clubs across the land with the righteous disco stomp of tracks such as ‘I Wasn’t Made For Fighting’ and ‘CP24’! In videos and performances Dan stood out from his rack of keyboards and tech to stride across the stage, Roland keytar proudly in hand! For keeping synths live and up-front, Dan, we salute you.