Synth You Been Gone

With labels like Wierd and Captured Tracks trotting out bands like Xeno & Oaklander and The Soft Moon, that early '80s synthpop sound is back in a major way. Which also means the original bands are back in a more-or-less major way too. Even ones you didn't know were back…well, they are! Here's five to prove it.

The Human League – Credo
Late-'70s post punk industrialists turned genuine '80s megastars thanks to hits like "Love Action," "Mirror Man," "The Lebanon" and now karaoke favorite "Don't You Want Me." The Human League actually never broke up and have released albums in the '90s and '00s.

Does it Sound like The Human League: Phil Oakey, Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley are working within the template the band created for Dare!, right down to the synth sounds and boy-girl vocals. 

An eye to the future: Apart from some prominent use of Autotune on a few tracks, 

Should it exist? Not bad. lyrically a little dull (or in the case of "Night People," annoying), The Human League still know how to write a catchy tune. But you won't be putting away your copy of Dare! any time soon. 

Then: These Are the Things Dreams Are Made Of
Now:  Get Together

Orchestral Manoeuvers in the DarkHistory of Modern
One of the great synthpop bands and certainly one of the best live ones.The "classic line-up" that gave us OMD classics like "Enola Gay," "So In Love" and "If You Leave" reformed in 2007. The US just got it's first tour in 25 years.

Does it Sound Like OMD: Yes! "New Babies, New Toys" owes more than a little, melodically, to "If You Leave." Andy McLuskey's voice is still in fine form.

An eye to the future: Classic synths, but modern production and drum sounds. 

Any good? You know… pretty good actually. Hard-pressed to call it vital, but History of Modern was definitely not phoned-in. The title track (pt. 1) is especially nice.

Then: So In Love
Now: History of Modern Pt. I 

BlancmangeBlanc Burn
Named after either a dessert or a Monty Python sketch, this semi-obscure UK duo was best know for melodramatic single "Living on the Ceiling." Never really did much in the U.S. outside of college radio or KROQ. Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe got back together last year and released Blanc Burn in March.

Does it Sound Like Blancmange: Lead single "The Western" seems written to remind people who remember Blancmange of "Living on the Ceiling" to the point it's almost a re-write. 

An eye to the future: Apart from "The Western" you'd never guess this Blancmange. The singing is relatively subdued. It's still synthpop, but this sounds like a modern album without trying too hard.

Any good? Listening to Blanc Burn, you'd be hard-pressed to accuse Arthur and Luscombe of making this for the money. The two are still highly idiosyncratic — with a nice sense of humor — but not trying to pretend it's still 1984 and they're still 25. 

Then: Don't Tell Me
Now:  Drive Me 

John Foxx & the MathsInterplay
Original singer for Ultravoxx when they were good, before Midge Ure took over and turned them into histrionic bombast. Foxx released some classic synthpop singles as a solo artist in the '80s before hanging up music for graphic design and teaching. He returned to recording in the late '90s and has been prolific ever since

In touch with the past: Made entirely with analogue synthesizers, Interplay album sounds like it was made in 1981.

An eye to the future: Made entirely with analogue synthesizers, Interplay album sounds like it was made in 1981.

Any good? Quite good, actually. It may sound like it was made in 1981, but take that as a big plus. Anyone who's into minimal wave or the Wierd or Captured Tracks labels should give Interplay a spin. If you buy only one record from this list, this is it. Do read on, though.

Then: Underpass
Now:  Evergreen

ShriekbackLife in the Loading Bay
Formed by Barry Andrews (XTC), Dave Allen (Gang of Four) and Carl Marsh, Shriekback were a high-concept post punk supergroup, slithery, atmospheric, funky and unlike anything else out there in 1982. Line-up changes were frequent with Andrews the only real constant. Apart from a period in the mid-'90s, Shriekback have existed in one form or another. 

Does it Sound Like Shriekback: Barry Andrews is one weird cat, with a distinctive, menacing baritone. Even when it's on an uninspired album, Shriekback always sound like Shriekback. Life in the Loading Bay is no exception.

An eye to the futureShriekback may sound like Shriekback, but Andrews and Marsh are no slaves to the past. But maybe because they've always been ahead of their time.

Any good? There may not be any of the manic funk the band were known for on classic singles "My Spine is the Bassline" or "Nemesis," it's seeped with that off-kilter atmosphere Shriekback are known for. Andrews seems genuinely inspired here, making for one of Shriekback's best-ever albums.

Then: Lined Up
Now: Another Day Above Ground 

I ♥ Toxic Waste

I stayed in almost all of weekend before last, preferring to camp out in front of the TV instead of brave the first chilly weather of the year. At some point Real Genius came on Starz or some other channel and I half watched it while doing other stuff. Martha Coolidge’s film is easily the best of the three science comedies that came out in 1985 (Weird Science and My Science Project being the other two) and is underrated in general.  It’s not just nostalgia — Real Genius still holds up. For those who doubt Val Kilmer ever had something, watch Real Genius.*

Half watching as I was, reciting dialogue along with the film ("What about that time we found you naked with a bowl of Jell-O?" "I was hot and I was hungry!"), I paid more attention to the sounds more than anything else and came to the realization that nearly a quarter of this movie is in montage form. Particularly, the "science" parts of the film are montaged. Not that it was uncommon in the ’80s — I’m pretty sure Three Men and a Baby is all montage — but I’d just never noticed how much montage was in the movie. And, apart from Tears for Fears’ "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," they’re mostly set to songs that don’t have any relevance outside the soundtrack.

Cut to a few days later and I’m at work and my boss tells me we’re going to do a Blog Fresh segment on Chaz Jankel. I’m like, "Who’s that?" My boss, replies, "He used to be in Ian Dury & the Blockheads but then made some disco records. He had hits." I said never heard of him. The "hits" were played. Again, never heard them. But then came a song I recognized, but I didn’t know from where. I was all "Turn this up. I know this." Then it hit me. It was from Real Genius, one of the many montages. How weird is that? An anthology of Chaz’s best stuff, My Occupation, just came out last week. Too strange not to mention.

Unlike the movie, I’m pretty sure my enjoyment of "Number One" is pure nostalgia, but I do like it.

MP3: Chaz Jankel – Number One

This weird Kismet-ish event had me doing some research on the film and found out there’s a real Real Genius cult out there. My favorite is Found Item Clothing Company that has reproduced all of the t-shirts Val Kilmer wears in the movie, from "I ♥ Toxic Waste" to "Surf Nicaragua." Chris Knight… the original ironic hipster.

*Also check out Top Secret!