Welcome to Electronic Playground. In this weekly column, we will cover tech-heavy music that is a large segment of the Alternative/Indie movement of today. In general, these bands do not see the popularity of some "less out there" acts, so do not be discouraged if you haven't heard of them. We will focus on all types of electronic music in a genre that is known for its subcategories.
Personally, I have always enjoyed retro-sounding techno tunes for many reasons. I enjoy that the genre was able to stay alive since its heydays of the 80s. In fact, this genre of music has seen a resurgence due to popularity of shows, such as Stranger Things. I always loved how the genre was basically created by folks who were trying to get sounds out of things that were not necessarily musical instruments. Despite keeping many of the same fundamental elements, it's one of the few areas of music that is so dependent upon technology. Don't get me wrong, some guitar manufacturers are great at coming up with innovative designs, but at the end of the day, it's basically the same musical instrument that it was in the 12th century. Using electronic feedback achieved via drum machines, synthesizers, and digital audio workstations, artists of the time were incredibly creative in order to achieve the sounds that are often still sampled today. Electronic music has become more accessible to both listeners and creators due to the popularity and availability of computers and editing software. For me, these songs bring back memories of one of my favorite noir film masterpieces of the 80s. In fact, the first song I will cover comes from a newer artist trio, known as GUNSHIP. Beginning in 2010, Dan Haigh, Alex Westaway, and Alex Gingellwhich started bringing their renditions of "British synthwave" music to the masses and according to popular opinion, are doing it very well.
The first song I heard from GUNSHIP was the dark track aptly named, "Tech Noir, from the band's self-title debut album. For those who do not remember, Tech Noir was the name of the bar in the original Terminator movie. The song itself is exactly something that you would have heard during that scene of the movie. The official music video (pictured above) utilizes Claymation and features a heroic rescue scene from a clay Robocop, who was the hero of another dark 80s movie of the same name. Our track opens with spoken word-esque audio, which was narrated by famed Horror Film Director John Carpenter. Upon first listen (and instantly thinking about Terminator due to the title), I was nearly transported back in time. This song sounded so much like what I enjoyed about the 80s without all the lame stuff I didn't. I couldn't believe the creativity of someone to take such a small part of a major movie and bring it into my nostalgia nearly 35 years later. I was born the year after the movie came out, so this intrigued me. The vocals, beats, and synths are straight out of the 80s, which in my opinion, outside of this genre of music, was a fairly boring decade for music. The track uses heavy synth-based leads that guide the song along and help support the vocal melody. While the production is great, if you could travel through time and implant this song into the 80s, I do not think anyone would notice. Some of the drum beats even use the same light, hollow sounding hits, which were more of a result of technology at the time rather than a desired effect. Everything was cloaked in reverb and chorus, which still stands up today. The band embraces this sound and uses it perfectly to create the atmosphere. The weird thing is, the song doesn't just sound like something you will enjoy. You can feel the power of it in this inexplicable way.
When You Grow Up, Your Heart Dies
This track comes from GUNSHIP's second album. Whereas tracks such as Tech Noir have a brooding underlying melody, other tracks such as "When You Grow Up, Your Heart Dies" is much more lively and jovial. The track invokes comparisons with M83 with the multiple narrators and prolific storytelling. While the message still contains the edgy and ominous feel, the music isn't like that. The juxtaposition is used perfectly. The song tells a story where the listener can take an introspective look at the ultimately sad concept in relation to their own lives. The lyrics suggest a warning for people to not lose their essence as they age. Listeners of the genre can recall other times bands have focused on the jovial nature of being children and how that changes as we become older (also M83). The track is a great song to get lost in. The band also took an innovative approach at vocals with this newer track, which features actual fan-recorded vocal tracks in the music. The band allowed fans to submit their recorded tracks and utilized them in the song on their sophomore album. The album, titled Dark All Day, also features another amazing track that fans should hear.
Dark All Day
To say that this track comes in heavy is an understatement. The beat and melody take over instantly and draw the listener in. I will say, I'm not a fan of the overuse of the saxophone in the song, especially if listening on small speakers. Do yourself a fan and listen to this track in the car or on an actual stereo system. With small speakers, the sax is isolated and overpowers the rest of the music. This is ok during certain parts, but as the sax attempts to take the lead on melodies, it deviates quite a bit and makes the song sound a bit dated and obnoxious, which for a genre that prides itself on reminiscing the 80s really means something. During the breakdown toward the end, the sax is used perfectly and you can almost feel yourself fist pumping with its emphasis. When listening in the car, the powerful bass and melody came in to show why the sax was included. It gives the song a bit of a "Lethal Weapon" vibe, but we still like it. Also, what a heck of a title for a track and an album.
While this is not quite an album review, I will score the effectiveness of the band in capturing the essence of the genre and forwarding the type of music we all enjoy. Check out GUNSHIP. 6.5/5 in my highest-scored band review yet. I'm exaggerating a bit, but not much.