Despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, 2021 managed to be a good year for music. As well as the return of live events, it also saw a wealth of music releases within the electronic music scene. Despite the problems and issues the music industry faced, musicians always find a way to continue working.
On that basis, we rounded up a selection of tracks that captured the spirit of the year, which included old favourites as well as new, emerging talents. Here, in no particular order, are the 25 tracks that stood out for The Electricity Club in 2021…
VOGON POETRY – Atomic Skies
Sweden’s secret musical weapon Vogon Poetry delved into video game culture for the dynamic ‘Atomic Skies’ earlier this year (see our TECList review).
A bold and engaging pop number with robust percussion, the composition threw in a barrage of sourced samples beefing up the apocalyptic themes. But the catchy synth-pop melodies and John Anderson’s distinctive Swedish burr are front and centre on this uplifting number.
SOCIAL AMBITIONS – Pay The Price
Back in 2020, TEC was blown away by the amazing A New Frontier album care of Swedish outfit Social Ambitions (see review).
Consisting of Anders Karlsson and Mikael Arborelius, Social Ambitions displayed a talent for synth-pop matched with a vital, emotive element that was happy to play around with quirky ideas.
The duo have kept a relatively low profile during 2021, but began spinning things back up during the summer with a series of exemplary songs. This included November’s ‘Pay the Price’, which had a moody quality offset by great synth hooks and some wonderful vocal melodies (“I want the highs, I want the highs/So here it comes utopia”).
SALLY SHAPIRO – Forget About You
2021 also saw the return of Sally Shapiro’s wonderfully lush electro pop. Once again, Shapiro and musician Johan Agebjörn demonstrated that their particular sweeping synth approach still held a timeless appeal
‘Forget About You’ saw a preview of new album Sad Cities (due out February 2022). As ever, Sally Shapiro’s high range vocals suggest ‘Disco Virginia Astley’ against a warm, euphoric foundation.
BOO – Service Economy
The choppy rhythms of ‘Service Economy’ in the summer showed the returned of Battery Operated Orchestra, following on from 2020’s sublime Yesterday Tomorrow and You album (see review).
BOO’s paean to the hard-working people of the service economy, particularly the food industry, seemed particularly timely following on from the lockdown period when jobs were in peril. At the same time, there’s an entrenched view from some quarters that suggests that service staff are merely a lower class, which Brigitte Rose addresses in this BOO outing (“But when you treat me like your slave/I will teach you to behave”).
Music aside, BOO have also developed a talent for fun and inventive videos which also makes this a visual delight.
PRINCESS CENTURY – Still The Same
Taken from her new album s u r r e n d e r, Maya Postepski delivered on all fronts with the painfully wistful ‘Still The Same’.
The bittersweet composition was seeped in longing and frustration matched with sumptuous, sequenced beats. Meanwhile, Postepski’s evocative vocal tops off a narrative revolving around themes of absence and loss (“You’re still the same/But I need you now/I need you more again”).
THE RUDE AWAKENING – It’s OK Not to Be OK
“When many of us feel we have hit rock bottom or are struggling to deal with life around us” comments Johnny Normal, “we can sometimes compound our own pain and mental pressure by deliberately hiding the fact we are not coping from people we love. But it’s actually OK to admit that we are not OK.”
The end result of this musing on the human condition is ‘It’s OK Not to Be OK’ (see TEC review), a slice of fragile electronic pop that drives its message home with a gentle push, rather than a punch. Squelchy synths and breathy vocals weave together in an airy tune that has an oddly meditative effect. It also comes complete with a charming animated video. Although the themes of the song deal with stress and anxiety, the lyrics still find time to throw in some witty commentary to take your mind off things (“Sticking your head in a birthday cake/Wobbly crappy poetry took ages to make”).
MOODBAY – My Thing
Consisting of Alfie Cattell and Anna Stephens, Moodbay offer up achingly beautiful lounge pop.
‘My Thing’ (see TEC review) offers up more of a groove perhaps than on previous outings, broadening Moodbay’s range. Yet Anna Stephens’ soulful vocals are still front and centre, while there’s plenty of subtle electronic flourishes sprinkled across this song that keep the listener’s attention.
DEAD LIGHTS – The Raven
The electro-goth duo of Dead Lights serve up brooding, muscular compositions that still have a dance beat to them (see TEC review previously).
The Poe-inspired ‘The Raven’ has, naturally, a goth veneer all over it. Here, Mr Strange’s vocals have a particularly doleful quality, delivering lines such as “I’m an angel playing in reverse” with a dark relish. At the same time, it offers up a contrasting uplift on the chorus, which is surprisingly effective.
MARINA – Purge The Poison
Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land (see review) offered perhaps more spirit and more bite than Marina’s previous album (2019’s Love + Fear). This was certainly evidenced in the stunning song ‘Purge the Poison’.
The powerful polemic sees Marina casting an eye on climate change, #metoo, misogyny and pretty much all points in between. It’s one of the album’s highlights, a driving pulse-pounding pop banger that provides an earworm that’s tough to shift.
BOB HARO – Pink & Blue
Bob Haro’s latest offers up catchy synth melodies and an engaging percussion element that harkens back to the classic synth era.
This pop gem is a real palette cleanser if you’ve been indulging in the darker end of the electronic music spectrum lately. You’ll certainly be guaranteed to be humming the tune for the rest of the week once you’ve given it a spin.
‘Pink & Blue’ is culled from Haro’s Ear Candy EP and features the remix talents of Andy Diamond from Diamond Field.
EMT – Vulnerability
EmT’s latest album release featured a variety of social commentary, coupled with an ear for dynamic synth-pop tunes. Certainly on the strength of ‘Diva’ (which TEC reviewed previously), we were offered an impressive outing that suggested good things for new album Electrical Medicine (see TEC review). At the same time, EmT don’t seem content to stick to any one particular template or style. Electrical Medicine throws in a lot of different approaches, or as Tony Blue conceptualises it, “It has a bit of an arc.”
At the same time, the album served up more emotive offerings, such as the understated fragile beauty of ‘Vulnerability’ with its heartfelt lyrical narrative (“Don’t give me space to breathe”).
SUDDEN CREATION – One Man Party
Sudden Creation (aka Chris Mines) describes his music as “tales of love, death and middle-aged angst in three and a half minute slices of synthpop”. Employing a classic synth-era style to his compositions, his wit and humour brings to mind the wry musings of Denim.
‘One Man Party’ offers a perky tune with a lyrical narrative that focusses on that one super-dedicated fan that we all know: The one who owns all the different versions, attends every show and yet: “He can clap in time/Just to the beat of the previous song”.
THE STIR FRY POP STAR (Feat Freya Cavender) – Think it Over
The buzzy ‘Think It Over’ sees The Stir Fry Pop Star joined by Freya Cavender on vocal duties (see review previously).
It’s a solid, upbeat affair showing off the strengths of all the talents involved (there’s also none other than Derek Williams of Jan Doyle Band supplying backing vocals).
SPRAY – Felicette (Space Cat)
Spray’s knack for synth hooks kicks this song into high gear against a charming little lyrical narrative.
Taken from the album Ambiguous Poems About Death (see TEC review), it serves as an example of euphoric pop or, as the duo would say: “Spray’s tried and tested formula of overblown escapism.”
NATURE OF WIRES (Feat LadybNOW) – Glass
Nature Of Wires served up new album Out Of My System this year, a visceral and emotive journey across a lyrical narrative via Sarah Bouchier (aka Lady bNOW). Or, as the album’s preamble clearly states: “Songs about a coercive, controlling and ultimately doomed relationship and the consequent fallout, interspersed with tales of tragedy and deception.”
The album featured some amazing compositions, but the stark power of the moody ‘Glass’ seemed to jump out particularly. With some passionate lyrical couplets (“You create a world of glass/Just to smash it all apart”), there’s also a bigger, bolder quality to this song that somehow manages to be uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time.
PARAGON CAUSE – Making Up For Lost Time
The mesmerising combination of twilight electronics and guitar riffs demonstrated that Ottawa-based combo Paragon Cause were an outfit worth watching.
‘Making Up For Lost Time’ (see review previously) is a stunning number that hits like an emotional tidal wave. Taken from Paragon Cause’s new album Autopilot, the fuzzy layers of guitars here give the entire composition a warm, immersive vibe that’s tough to shake off.
CULT WITH NO NAME – The Automatic Day
Following on from 2019’s critically-acclaimed Mediaburn, Nights in North Sentinel (see TEC review) represents Cult With No Name’s 10th studio album. The duo of Erik Stein and Jon Boux have previously built up a reputation for music that’s thoughtful and reflective, driven by Boux’s warm, engaging piano melodies and Stein’s laidback lyrical narratives.
‘The Automatic Day’, which features on Nights in North Sentinel, throws a nod to OMD in its synth layers, along with some musings on the mundanity of routine.
DURAN DURAN – Anniversary
Taken from their latest album Future Past, ‘Anniversary’ still boasts the scope and swagger of classic-era Duran Duran. John Taylor described Future Past as a “very emotionally deep album”, revealing that the lyrics were primarily written before the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020.
Featuring a guest appearance by Tove Lo, ‘Anniversary’ is a bright, uplifting affair which also sounds surprisingly fresh and modern.
COLOR THEORY -The Outset
Color Theory is the musical vehicle for US-based musician Brian Hazard, a long-running electronic outfit that stretches back to the 1990s. In his high school days, Hazard took inspiration from the classic 1980s period, citing the likes of Depeche Mode, The Cure and The Smiths as particular touchstones for influences.
That darker, melancholic aspect of such classic acts certainly finds its way into a lot of Color Theory’s music. This includes ‘The Outset’ (see TEC review) which has a moody sense of self-reflection that pricks at the corners of the human condition.
It’s a composition that’s a synth crush of goodness in which its starker qualities are offset by Hazard’s casual vocals. Dealing with themes of wishing for foreknowledge in situations, the lyrical narrative weaves a chilly tale of doubt and regret (“I believe that people can change/But there are some traits set in stone”).
PLATRONIC – Maybe Someday?
‘Maybe Someday’ employs a lush, burbling electronic accompaniment against Kay Burden’s heartfelt vocal delivery (see our TECList review). The gentle piano elements and the skittering percussion are combined with some vocoder work, while Burden’s evocative vocal delivery calls to mind hints of Savoy.
‘Maybe Someday’ is also dedicated to supporting the #loveisnottourism initiative. Love Is Not Tourism is a global movement dedicated to reuniting binational couples and families who have been forcibly separated by travel bans and border closures during the Covid-19 pandemic.
INFRA VIOLET – Grow
There’s some synthwave nods at work here from Infra Violet as they serve up bold and dynamic tunes with some effective synth flourishes.
’Grow’ has a bright, warm quality to it which brings to mind the quirky pop of acts such as Pixx. The lyrics also seem to suggest an element of ecological commentary at work (“I don’t want the steps we leave behind us/To outlive us like a burn.”)
Bethany Munroe’s vocals certainly have a good whack to them and the whole affair has a smooth production which serves up a dancepop delight (It also comes complete with a quirky fun video).
FRAGRANCE. – Covered In Gold
French musical genius Matthieu Roche returned with new album Salt Water (“>see review), of which this composition certainly jumped out.
There’s something particularly heartfelt about ‘Covered In Gold’ (a composition that also boasts Sophia Hamadi on backing vocals duty), an undefinable sadness captured in evocative lines such as “Silver rain, I drown/I’ve lost so much of you”.
NATION OF LANGUAGE – Wounds Of Love
Brooklyn-based synth-pop outfit Nation Of Language have been picking up a lot of favourable attention this year, of which ‘Wounds Of Love’ is certainly deserving (see our review).
‘Wounds Of Love’ is a composition that throws a nod to classic synth-pop, while still sounding fresh and modern. Here, Nation Of Language offer a more thoughtful, subtle handle on the synths. At times, this suggests the ‘indie synth’ approach of lost outfit Mirrors, but with a much smoother production at work.
TIN GUN – Devils And Angels
Cryptic electronic outfit Tin Gun returned with ‘Devils And Angels’ earlier this year (see TEC review), continuing to demonstrate that their particularly gritty take on synth-pop is still working to great effect.
‘Devils And Angels’ is a wonderfully uplifting affair which also serves up some New Order-style bass licks. That dynamism is contrasted by the lyrical themes of the song, which delve into the darker aspects of the human condition, echoed in lines such as “I seek the peace inside of me/There is a blackness stood next to me”.
FIAT LUX – (How Will We Ever) Work This Way
The return of Fiat Lux via excellent new album Twisted Culture was a welcome addition to 2021’s busy music scene.
Album opener ‘(How Will We Ever) Work This Way’ boasts some fine bass grooves augmented with some effective sax. Steve Wright’s vocals have a honeyed vibe that drips with warmth (“I want to hear how your heart beats with mine”).
It’s a composition that showcases Fiat Lux’s talent for stylish, polished pop – and also heralds a welcome return.