One of 2014’s particular joys was the warm synth tunes gathered on Innerworld, the debut album from Canadian electronic duo Electric Youth (see The Electricity Club’s review previously).
Consisting of Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin, Electric Youth had put their name on the map via the evocative ‘A Real Hero’, the song the pair composed (in collaboration with French artist College). Subsequently featured in Nicholas Winding-Refn’s cult film Drive, the song became something of a signature tune for the Toronto-based duo.
Unsurprisingly, the pair have continued to work with film director Nicholas Winding-Refn since, including contributions for the soundtrack to his film The Neon Demon and also the ‘lost’ soundtrack to the film Breathing.
In between all that, they’ve also found time for other interesting collaborations, including working with Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (on the superb remix of the melancholic ‘andata’) and French electronic artist Gesaffelstein.
Electric Youth are usually slotted under the synthwave tag, based on their warm, analogue synth sound. But generally, the pair are dismissive of the whole synthwave/nostalgia tag. Griffin has said “Nostalgia is about longing for the past, which we don’t. We’d much rather stay here in the present and the future, and we feel that way with the music as well.” Despite this, it’s clear that their signature sound has filtered through into contemporary music culture. There’s even been comparisons with Chvrches’ recent efforts (see tracks like ‘Graves’).
A follow-up to Innerworld appears to have been long overdue, a problem remedied by the release of new album Memory Emotion. Garrick and Griffin always considered their 2014 debut to be an inward-looking affair, an album that was a more immersive venture to be engaged with perhaps as a solitary journey. This doesn’t seem so surprising when you consider that the pair have known each other since they were 10 years old and have found a certain comfort in their own insular working arrangement.
Conversely, Memory Emotion is an album that sees the pair looking outward to the external world, particularly the idea of interacting with the world via emotions that are connected to memories. “Science has proven the strong link that exists between music, memory and emotion” commented Garrick in a recent interview, “so we explored playing into that with this record as well and finding ways to bridge a meeting point of all these things, be it musically or lyrically. And whether consciously or subconsciously, the way a person reacts to the world around them has as much to do with the emotional memories attached to their past experiences as anything else.”
The first flavours of this new approach arrived in June care of ‘The Life’, a track which had all the classic Electric Youth elements with brooding synth rhythms and Griffin’s breathy vocal delivery. But also a cinematic quality that seemed like a natural crossover from their soundtrack work.
There’s a more lush outing on ‘ARAWA’ (“As Restless As We Are”) that has a distinctly summer vibe to it. The warm melodic arrangements and Griffin’s breathy vocals is the perfect antidote too gloomy days.
Much of Electric Youth’s particular sound is drawn forth from the choice of equipment, which includes a Yamaha-CS80 (a much-loved polyphonic synth used by everyone from Vangelis to Yellow Magic Orchestra), through to their self-made B48, a sample-based synth built specifically for the new album. It houses 624 individual samples of Griffin’s voice, with each note consisting of 48 vocal layers. It’s the B48 that gives tracks such as ‘The Life’ and ‘Breathless’ their particular immersive qualities.
Meanwhile, Griffin’s ethereal vocal style is enhanced by their Lexicon 224, a classic reverb unit utilised by the likes of Enya as well as the atmospheric sound of the Blade Runner soundtrack.
Many of the other tracks on Memory Emotion also seem keen to experiment with different approaches, from the breezy pop of ‘Higher’ through to the shimmering ‘Real Ones’, with its percussive elements lending the composition more of a groove.
Elsewhere, there’s more of a smooth, ambient quality to ‘On My Own’, with its washes of echo and cosmic guitar riffs. But ‘Now Now’ drops back into synthwave territory with its nods to an 80s-era soundtrack.
‘Thirteen’ offers up a more personal lyrical narrative, referring to Garrick and Griffin’s lengthy relationship (“Don’t turn your back on a love that’s true/Don’t you throw away all that we’ve been through”). It’s the heart of the album with its pastel synth melodies and evocative air.
There’s an ethereal vibe to ‘Through The Same Eyes’, its gossamer tones weaved in with a nice contrast of synth beats.
The album’s title track, which closes proceedings, comes across like like Boards Of Canada meets Princess Chelsea. It’s only a brief number, but it’s a gem of a tune with its wistful synths, organ tones and Griffin’s wistful vocals.
Memory Emotion offers up a worthy successor to Innerworld which, while it keeps on familiar territory, manages (ironically perhaps) to be a much more reflective outing than its 2014 predecessor.
Memory Emotion is out now.