A year in music…
2022 saw a good combination of legacy acts and new outfits delivering some amazing music across the year. It was also a period in which electronic music was given another opportunity to demonstrate how broad a church it actually is, whether your tastes were for synth-pop, ambient electronic, dark pop or even folk-inspired.
Here, we round up a selection of tracks that captured the spirit of 2022 for The Electricity Club…
RÖYKSOPP (ft. Susanne Sundfør) – If You Want Me
Röyksopp’s Profound Mysteries series saw the Norwegian duo collaborate with some impressive talents, including Alison Goldfrapp, Astrid S and Pixx. However, on the first entry in that series, they also reunited with Susanne Sundfør to produce the haunting ‘If You Want Me’.
Sundfør’s talents on any given day are breathtaking (as TEC has explored previously), but even by those standards there’s something here that raises the bar by a considerable height. ‘If You Want Me’ is a stunning slice of melancholic beauty. The instrumentation is suitably rich and lush, but takes second place to Sundfør’s achingly wistful vocals.
PRINCESS CHELSEA – Love Is More
The latest album offering from New Zealand’s quirky pop princess, Everything Is Going To Be Alright (see TEC review), provided a wealth of melodic delights dabbling in 60s grooves, celestial pop and hard-edged rock (There was a reason it clinched the TEC Album of the Year position).
The album’s standout moment was certainly ‘Love Is More’. This composition embodies a 60s girl group aesthetic and emerges as a euphoric pop delight. Lyrically, it’s an engaging narrative about having a crush (and seems to be a thematic partner to ‘We Were Meant 2 B’ from 2015 album The Great Cybernetic Depression).
DUBSTAR- Tectonic Plates
Dubstar’s new album Two saw Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie coming to terms with their legacy alongside Stephen Hague (whose production chops graced Dubstar’s classic 1995 album Disgraceful).
Arguably, the album’s best track, is the crunchy ‘Tectonic Plates’. Originally conceived as an expression of suppressed feelings, this composition offers up some nice vocal lifts and some effective guitar fills. Lyrical couplets such as “There goes the girl/She’s drifted far beyond this world” have a charm which, matched with the track’s dynamic physicality, give it an earthy, solid feel (which seems somewhat apt, given the track’s title).
BEKIMACHINE – Mecha
One of the artists who really stood out for TEC in 2022 was Beckimachine, whose sci-fi electropop was gathered together on her new album Another Atmosphere (see review previously).
There are a number of winners on the album, but the dynamic ‘Mecha’ with its repeating beats and neon hooks stands out. The track is an energetic sci-fi outing supercharged with synth-pop power. There’s a lot packed into this composition with layered electronics and treated vocal effects, yet it never feels chaotic or cluttered. Meanwhile, couplets such as “I feel our hands entwine/Watching the stars align” give the song a heart.
KAT BRYAN – Centre of the Earth
Canadian singer-songwriter Kat Bryan caught our attention with the the album Music for the End of the World (see TEC review) that boasted folksy charm, yet with a darker quality at its heart
‘Centre of the Earth’ employs brooding piano tones and a desaturated musical palette offset by some skittering percussion. Meanwhile, Bryan’s vocal delivery has a haunting fragility with its ponderous musings (“We should have seen it coming/We should have read the signs”).
WILLIAM ORBIT & POLLY SCATTERGOOD – Colours Colliding
Producer/musician William Orbit’s collaboration with dreampop chanteuse Polly Scattergood marked one of the year’s most captivating moments.
Orbit had been keen to re-work this track from Polly’s 2013 album Arrows for some time. The end result renders the song in pastel tones with Scattergood’s breathy vocal delivery creating a warm, inviting space that feels like you could just fall into forever.
PROMENADE CINEMA – Spellbound
Emma Barson and Dorian Cramm returned with new material in 2022, which included this striking new offering.
The TEC review painted ‘Spellbound’ as “an astounding piece of gothic pop threaded with glittering synth charm”. The track’s slow, percussive rhythms and bassy undertones give it a surprising weight. As ever, the cryptic lyrics invite the listener to craft their own narrative and like many other Promenade Cinema efforts, there’s something suitably cinematic in the lyrical delivery.
SOFT CELL & PET SHOP BOYS – Purple Zone
It seems surprising that Soft Cell and Pet Shop Boys haven’t combined their talents in the past. The two groups met by chance backstage at one of Soft Cell’s Non Stop Erotic Cabaret shows last year. Apparently, it took a spin of the tracks from Soft Cell’s new album *Happiness not included to provide the catalyst. Tennant and Lowe were suitably impressed with the lush synth moods of ‘Purple Zone’, enough to ponder remixing the track.
The original ‘Purple Zone’ has a melancholic quality with a great use of vocal melodies. But here, the track is beefed up and features much of the PSB’s trademark elements, such as synth horns and a bigger, widescreen feel. Meanwhile, Marc Almond and Neil Tennant’s vocals seem to flow together with a yearning, evocative quality.
WOLFGANG FLÜR – Das Beat (feat. Midge Ure)
One of the year’s surprise delights was the new album from Wolfgang Flür. Magazine 1 represented the culmination of five years of work with Wolfgang’s long-time musical collaborator Peter Duggal.
One of the album’s standout moments (among many) was Midge Ure’s involvement on the superb ‘Das Beat’. This track featured yearning melodic lifts on a song that celebrates the global power of music.
POWDERPAINT – The Way You Want
Powderpaint served up an excellent debut EP back in 2020 (see TEC previously) in which they described their musical themes as “trans identity, bad relationships, pseudoscience, and an unapologetic celebration of queer people’s love and happiness.”
‘The Way You Want’ shows Powderpaint on fine form again with choppy pop rhythms and warm synth elements. There’s also some nice Hooky-esque bass elements in the mix. Powderpaint seem to be quite deft at composing engaging pop anthems that embrace a joyous dancepop feel and ‘The Way You Want’ certainly continues that tradition.
BOO – Nightclub Mishap
For those that were missing Battery Operated Orchestra’s particular electronic pop musings, ‘Nightclub Mishap’ made things up this year with a gloriously neon-charged slice of indie synth-pop. Brigitte Rose’s distinctive clipped vocal seems to throw a bit of a nod to Lene Lovich in a tale of clubbing misadventures. She’s a “sneaky tiger on the run” here, battling against fluorescent claustrophobia.
‘Nightclub Mishap’ has a bright, classic synth-pop sheen that has enough hooks to inspire you to return to the dance floor.
FREEZEPOP – Babes
US synth-pop outfit Freezepop dialled things down a bit with the lush, pastel melodies of ‘Babes’, their latest maxi-single following on from 2020’s stunning Fantasiser album (which was TEC’s album of the year at the time).
‘Babes’ pulls in synthwave flavours with an oddly yearning lyrical narrative “because the world never behaves”. Originally dreamt up as a B-side track, the song is built up from those warm synths that Freezepop delivered so well on Fantasiser. There’s always something vital and human lurking at the heart of their compositions and the dreamlike moods of ‘Babes’ is a perfect jumping on point for those yet to experience the Freezepop effect.
a-ha – True North
Magne Furuholmen had outlined a-ha’s new album True North’s themes as revolving around “nature and the environment” and also summed up the entire True North project as a “musical letter from our home country”.
No track on the album captured that quality more than the title track. The composition resonates with more than a passing nod to 1988’s classic ‘Stay On These Roads’. It’s a sweeping number that makes good use of its sea-based narrative while the orchestral elements lend the song a velvety polish.
MORE – Thread of Hope
Sweden is never short of electronic pop acts and MORE represents another facet of the country’s busy and vibrant scene. MORE consists of Magnus Dahlberg (vocals) Mattias Jönsson (keyboards, backing vocals) and Lino Avian (keyboards). MORE’s latest album Appraisal (see TEC review) represents the band’s second studio album and offers listeners a journey through a year consisting of a “long struggle between hopelessness, despair and commitment”.
One of the album’s highlights, ‘Thread Of Hope’ captures an angsty synth-pop style that is suggestive of Empathy Test at times. The strangely organic percussion underpins Dahlberg’s vocals, which has an odd euphoric appeal.
PALINDRONES – This Inebriating Darkness
London-based electronic duo Palindrones craft an unusual combination of ambient mood and glitchy beats to produce warm, dreamlike compositions. ‘This Inebriating Darkness’ is a good example which employs immersive synth washes and ethereal vocal overlays.
This track served as a precursor to their album The Principle Of Consciousness, which they described as an album drawing on “ancient mythologies and the interplay between natural and urban environments with the repeating cycles of the past and present, weaving a labyrinthine tapestry of emotive, organic textures and pulsing dance beats.”
XPROPAGANDA – Don’t You Mess With Me
The return of Susanne Freytag and Claudia Brücken under the guise of xPropaganda delivered the critically-acclaimed The Heart Is Strange this year, an album that featured many outstanding compositions.
Among those gems was the attitude-laden ‘Don’t (You Mess With Me)’ which served up a cathartic slice of synth-pop which definitely sounded like Freytag and Brücken were working off some understandable angst.
MADIL HARDIS FEAT. NATURE OF WIRES – Volta
Madil Hardis is an accomplished vocalist who weaves classical and electronic elements into her work.
‘Volta’ presented Hardis working alongside darkwave pop outfit Nature of Wires for a piece that’s a startling contrast between both talents. The ethereal vocal approach of Hardis has a beguiling, unearthly feel to it. NoW’s stomping synth-pop and Hardis’ choral trills somehow produces something warm and engaging at the same time.
SCENIUS – High Low
Consisting of Leeds-based producer Steve Whitfield (The Cure, The Mission, Yann Tiersen) and French singer Fabrice Nau, Scenius dabble in dark, quirky musical compositions.
Although a song such as ‘High Low’ appears to be built around a simple series of elements, there’s still something mesmerising hidden away among the composition’s layered moods. Meanwhile, Fab Nau’s voice has a fragile, melancholic quality that completely commands your attention. Scenius are definitely an act worth keeping an eye on in 2023.
MARTYN BAILEY – Brink
There’s certainly something special about Bailey’s vocal abilities (see TEC previously) which here soar across this strings-infused number with a wistful power.
‘Brink’ plays around with themes that delve into the struggles of mental health, anxiety and depression (“And the state that I’m in I’m losing control/And I’m so damn lost I sense I’m fading away”), yet also reaches upwards with the strength to rise above.
TEARS FOR FEARS – No Small Thing
Tears For Fears’ new album The Tipping Point offered up a sober, more introspective collection of songs than people might expect.
In fact, one of the album’s tracks ‘No Small Thing’ threw a lot of people with its nods to American country and folk foundations. But at the same time, that song’s evocative nature provided the key to understanding the album as a whole. Its lyrical musings paint a vivid picture of age and change centred around motifs such as “Freedom is no small thing”, eventually ending up in a cathartic workout.
COLOR THEORY – Crystal
Brian Hazard’s Synthwave outfit returned this year with a new wistful, upbeat number.
‘Crystal’ asks the question: Have you ever known someone who can reliably coax you out of your hiding place? a presence that effortlessly compels you to lower your guard? There’s a lightness of touch at work here with some gentle synth elements and Hazard’s heartfelt vocals. The end result is a bright, optimistic effort with more than a sense of charm.