Mixophrygian – “Mixophrygian” (2015)

I know, I know… I’m supposed to care about the music that’s on the record, not the jacket. But how often do you stop and check something out because the jacket catches your eye? It happens to me all the damn time. I’m sure that means that I miss some cool stuff, but it also gets me to at least look into a lot of bands that I otherwise might not consider.

Just look at this jacket. Look at it. Of course I had to know what this is about.

What Mixophrygian is about is one Mr. Daði Freyr Pétursson, a synth-pop producer from Iceland putting out a solo release. And to quote Barry in High Fidelity, “It’s really… it’s really fucking good.”

Mixophrygian prompted me to place an order with my friends at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, because there’s pretty much no way I was going to find this limited edition (of 300) double album here in Seattle. The gatefold packaging is exceptional, as is the translucent purple vinyl, clean and bright.

There are a lot of high points on Mixophrygian, the first of which is “Forever” with the beautiful vocal by Arna Lára Pétursdóttir accompanying Pétursson’s own creamy voice. From there it just gets even better, with all three songs on side B (“New Year,” “The Love,” the very Daft Punk-esque “Me, Myself and You,” and “Phrases”) giving you a full dose of groovy synth-pop, with simple beats and more of that smooth singing, nothing super fancy here, just… just right.

On the start of side C, I’m pretty sure The Chipmunks snuck in for a few verses on “Disconnected,” but you know what? It works in its own way. And you know, now that I think of it, the vocals remind me a little of another Icelandic synth-pop band called RetRoBot who put out one six-song CD back in 2012… which turned out, once I did some looking online, to be for a very good reason – because Daði was a member of that band, contributing synths and some vocals. The only reason I think I was able to put those pieces together was because I literally just happened to listen to RetRoBot’s album Blackout the other day on my iPod. Why? I don’t know. Just one of those weird deals. Thought I did just kind of trip myself out there a bit. This project is a bit more mellow and not quite as dark as the RetRoBot material, something a bit easier to just chill to.

Mixophrygian is some great soothing synth pop. But don’t take my word for it. You can listen to the whole thing for free on Bandcamp right HERE, so go give it a least and see (and more importantly hear) for yourself.

:Krakow: – “Krakow” (2012)

Holy crap, I’m almost done with the vinyl we brought back from Paris and Reykjavik in October/November. I think Krakow is the second-to-last record from that batch, another of the surprise non-Icelandic recommendations made by my friend Ingvar at Lucky Records. Ingvar knows I like 1980s style synth pop, and Krakow was one of the records he pressed into my sweaty palms a couple of months ago.

Hardly the first band going by this name, I was hard pressed to find out much about :Krakow:, though I’ll freely admit I didn’t look terribly hard – Life in the Vinyl Lane has been out of town doing some travel for work, and a Friday night at this point can only mean cocktails and music, not research and literary brilliance. So with that in mind, I’m enjoying a Jack on the rocks while A View to a Kill plays silently on the TV with a German synth pop soundtrack by :Krakow:. Which, with some slight variance in cocktails, movies, and music, sounds like a pretty good way to spend every evening fro the rest of my life.

Krakow came out in 2012, a six-song vinyl quasi-EP limited (250 hand-numbered copies) record. If you’re down with a sort of 1980s synth-pop-on-meth kind of sound (the pace is quick, yet still deliberate), :Krakow: is for you… just like it’s for me. The songs have an urgent simplicity that makes them both catchy and relaxing in their consistency, a steady soundtrack to your evening.

“French Synth Lovers #2” Compilation (2015)

Syncrophone is a great little house/techno record shop located in what I believe is the 11th arrondissement in Paris, France. We visited there a couple of weeks ago and found it to be a fantastic spot, a compact store outfitted with a number of turntable listening stations, a ton of display racks along the walls, and a very friendly guy working behind the counter. We came away with three records from that stop-off, including this newly released nugget called French Synth Lovers #2, a comp comprised of 10 songs from the 1981 to 1984 period. We’d enjoyed the BIPPP French synth comp so much that this one was a no brainer.

I liked this record right from the start of the first track, Siflèt’s “Rodger,” with it’s minimal synth sound and female vocals. A quick review of Discogs seems to reveal that most of these artists released little to no material back when they were active, with the exceptions of the extremely prolific Benoit Hutin and Serge Blenner, who look to have both put out a ton of stuff over the years.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about French Synth Lovers #2 is the number of songs with female vocals. Three of the six songs on side A have ladies on the microphone, which may not sound like a ton, but consider that two of the other three tracks are instrumentals (there are actually quite a few instrumental tracks on this record). So there’s that. I love the way women sound on new wave songs, and while these may be closer to no wave than new wave, it’s a breath of fresh air.

The music is so sparsely simple and deliberate, with an almost 8-bit chip-tuney feel to it and vocal stylings to match that remind me a little of 80s J-pop (or, more precisely, what I imagine 1980s J-pop to sound like…), perhaps most awesomely so on Malvina Melville’s “Fille Cosmopolite.” It’s near perfection in style. If you love 1980s synth pop like we do, French Synth Lovers #2 is a whole lot of fun. Who knows, you might even dance around the room a little while it’s playing. I’m not saying I did or anything. But it could happen. It could.

Null and Void – “Happiness and Contempt” b/w “Montage Morte” (2014)

Odd that I’m reviewing this album today, since the band is called Null and Void, and my most recent prior post also included a review of a band called Null & Void. Though the two bands couldn’t be much more different. And not just because of the ampersand. This Null and Void did synthy weirdness in the early 1980s. The other Null & Void is a black metal band from Iceland. Both are certainly outside the mainstream, but even if they had been contemporaries I can’t fathom them ever being on the same card (though it would probably be an intriguing night, and I would absolutely go).

This is actually sort of double re-release by Seattle’s own Medical Records label, who may be single handedly trying to keep the 80s art electro-pop dream alive. Thank god someone is doing it. It consists of the complete Happiness and Contempt (1980) and Montage Morte (1982) albums, each of which consisted of six songs. And it’s some trippy business.

The Happiness and Contempt side is truly bizarre. “Procreation” may be the best example of just plain weirdness, with sampled vocals and sounds, then with what I’m almost positive is a plink-plonky version of “Anchor’s Away” imbedded into it. Enough to make your brain start to slightly liquify. There are a few more normal sounding poppy numbers on this side as well, such as “Dogs of Christ,” but it still manages to get in some extended periods of the same vocal line being repeated over and over and over and over again to the same chord, which is a bit nails-on-the-chalkboard (and it’s called “Dogs of Christ”). I’ll confess to preferring the other side over this one, though Happiness and Contempt certainly has value as an experimental piece that gives a good sense of the space and time – sort of post-punk moving away from new wave but towards synth-pop.

Things take a bit of a darker turn in Montage Morte, but despite this I still find it to be the much more approachable side. If you’re into some of the more moody 80s stuff of say The Cure, I think this will be kind if your ballpark – though this isn’t nearly as rich as The Cure, by any means. Null and Void retained their electronic structure, but they also got more advanced both musically and vocally. This isn’t just about making noise; it’s about making songs. “Party Filled With Theives” is a synth-pop version of The Doors’ “The End” (not a cover… I mean in spirit), and might be the most interesting song on this collection.

Medical Records does a great job in curating these re-releases, picking intriguing, obscure acts and giving them a first class treatment from the vinyl to the jackets to the inserts. Really top notch, and they do it at a very reasonable release price, so make sure to check them out.

Richard Termini Project – “Dangerous Games” (1983)

I won’t lie. The cover caught my attention on this one. Because there’s nothing cuter than a baby playing with pistols.

I figured it was going to be some kind of punk or metal record, but it’s pretty far from that. Dangerous Games is pure, unadulterated 80s (1983) synth pop. It’s like Blondie meets Lou Champagne System, at least on the songs featuring Vicki Zollo on the microphone. This is classic early synth music – sometimes weird (“Bensonhurst”), sometimes sterile (“Television Generation”), sometimes poppy as hell (“Come To Me”). Pretty much any song on here would be at home in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

Richard Termini might be best known for his work with Patti Smyth and Cyndi Lauper. In fact, I thought there was some odd mistake when I realized the inner sleeve holding the record was actually for Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, but now I’m not so sure. Termini played synths on that album (his name’s right here on the sleeve!), and both records came out in 1983. Coincidence that my copy just happens to have an inner sleeve for a Cyndi Lauper album that Termini just happened to play on? I don’t know.

But back to Dangerous Games. This is a pretty cool record if you’re down with that early 80s sort of very deliberate synthesizers – playing as either short, distinct, sharp notes or very long held notes, sounding more like an electronic machine than an instrument. Side B does kick it up a notch and it feels like there’s more guitar work and traditional song structure on songs like “Modern Science.” Termini is at his best when he has Zollo along for the ride – she’s got that classic, urgent pop style of voice that fits perfectly with the sometimes almost sterile sound of the synths, like she’s trapped inside the music and desperately trying to get out.

Dangerous Games is certainly a bit dated, and perhaps a little uneven, but I chalk that up as much to the experimental nature of what Termini is doing as opposed to something else. His talent is obvious. If you’re down with the whole 80s synth scene, it’s definitely worth a listen.

UPDATE (Feb. 19, 2015) -> So I got an email today… from Richard Termini! Which is, of course, incredibly cool. Richard also let me in on a little something that puts Dangerous Games into perspective – while the album came out in 1983, some of it was actually stuff Termini wrote in the 1970s. So while it sort of sounded a bit retro, even taking into account it was from 1983, really it was probably ahead of its time. And the guitar player on the record was John Campos, later of Fallout… who were produced by who else but Richard Termini!