Archives for posts with tag: synth pop

Kælan Mikla describe their music as appealing to fans of “dark and dreary music”, but there’s more dark magic than dreariness in the Icelandic dark wave synth trio’s sound, as “Ósýnileg” here shows:

Kælan Mikla was founded in 2013 as an entry in a Reykjavik, Iceland poetry competition, somehow evolving into a dark wave synth trio, releasing their first song in 2015, followed by albums and performing at international festivals. “Ósýnileg” (invisible) is from their upcoming 4th album which they say “will mostly revolve around folklore and fairytales, drawing the band even deeper into their realm of magic and mysticism.”

The music of Kælan Mikla is likely to appeal to contemporary dark wave synth-pop artists like Boy Harsher, and Death And The Maiden.

Insincere apologies for the lack of new PopLib posts for about 3 weeks. I’ve been too busy play XR’s album “XR!” (see previous post) to look for any new music on bandcamp. Not quite true, in that I did buy The Green Child’s “Shimmering Bassett” album as well and have been playing that half as much as “XR!” (which is still a fair bit). Here’s the opening track “Fashion Light”:

So, as we discovered on the previous post, The Green Child is Raven Mahon from XR (and previously in US band Grass Widow) with the ubiquitous Mikey Young who either plays on, recorded, mixed or mastered every second album of Australian underground pop/ rock. Slight exaggeration but Mikey brings new meaning to the word ‘prolific’.

Almost exactly a year ago PopLib shared some Mikey Young solo music, which, somewhat surprisingly was not garage rock, but instrumental synth pop. So the melodically melancholy low-key synth-pop/ dream-pop of The Green Child is not out of character. Anyway, it’s a cool album, lots of nicely baroque, dreamy, adventurous pop, which takes a while to reveal its quietly amibitious character (a good thing). Chances are you’ll love it too if you buy it, download it and live with it for a week or two.

Mikey Young

With Melbourne recently going into full pandemic lockdown again I figured PopLib should be focusing on some Melbourne artists. There’s plenty PopLib has featured over the years. Most seem to be recorded and/or mastered by Mikey Young (Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring). So I had a look to see if he had any solo music on Bandcamp. Not sure what I was expecting but was pretty certain it would be some kind of guitar-based garage rock, not an album of synth instrumentals. It’s great, so here’s “Socks”:

Young is a keyboard and guitar player and Total Control are a kind of lo-fi-ish synth-punk band (in a kind of Gary Numan meets Swell Maps kind of way) so the synth pop vibe of his solo album isn’t too out of character.

There’s another solo Mikey Young release on Melbourne Label Hobbies Galore called “You Feelin’ Me?”, which is a bit more guitar-based and a grainy collection of lo-fi ambient instrumentals, kind of like an op shop Eno.

To find out more about Mikey Young and his recording and mastering approach there’s a highly entertaining Tape Op interview where you will find gems of wisdom like this:

“I always thought that if you can’t record the song well that you want to record in three goes, then you shouldn’t be recording the song. Especially for a kind of garage rock song. You don’t even want to get it perfect. It hardly gets any better after the third take.”



Manuela Iwansson

Glasgow-based independent record label Night School Records is reliably unpredictable. One of its latest releases is a perfectly out-of-character 7″ single by Swedish musician Manuela Iwansson, the A-side of which is called “Strangers on a Train”:

When I say “out-of-character” it’s not really, because “out-of-character” is totally in-character for Night School Records. It’s not that the label is all over the place, and lacking any kind of thematic or genre focus. The opposite is true. It’s just its done in such an unpredictable way.  You don’t realise how connected the music the label releases is until you get past the sound and think more about what it represents and the people making it.

OK, that’s too much isolation-induced over-thinking for a Sunday. Why not just enjoy a dystopian post-punk, gothic synth-pop power-chord banger and dance like no-one is watching?

Iwansson‘s background was as vocalist in now-defunct Swedish punk group Terrible Feelings. Her current solo sound “harnesses the doomed romance of early 80s post-punk with a leather-bound flourish of late-70s hard-as-nails rock music.”

“Strangers on a Train” takes the guitar and bass tones and textures of The Cure’s first couple of albums as a starting point, then mixes in some Big Hair & leather trench-coat 80’s synth-pop plus power-chord stadium rock (in a Bonnie Tyler kind of way), and cooks up a ridiculously loveable dark anthem to loneliness and paranoia. And the other side “Blank Surface” does much the same, but differently. It all adds up to something a lot better than the music it pays homage to.

As Night School proclaims: “Rock n Roll is dead, good riddance; we’re creatures of the night.”


Dead Little PennyAuckland guitar+synth dark-pop band Dead Little Penny have released an album’s-worth of their melodic sludgy Gothic fuzzfest called “Urge Surfing”. The opening track “Honeycomb” has been out for over a year, but it’s such a brilliant dark fuzz-pop earworm of a tune, so the best starting place to start the process of syringing your ears with crunchy square-wave guitar and synth tones and dream-pop vocals.

Dead Little Penny are vocalist/ songwriter/ guitarist Hayley Smith, drummer/synth player Simon Buxton, and guitarist/bassist Sean Martin-Buss.

The dark grainy soundscapes are heavy on atmosphere. It’s a contemporary take on the kind of synth-driven melodic fuzz pop of Young Hellions and late era day Jesus and Mary Chain, with some of Curve‘s rhythmic dance-floor suppleness and a bit of dark-wave synth pop added in for good measure.  

Sports dreams

Sports Dreams is a duo from Palmerston North who have just released their first EP of low-key glorious dream-pop… or maybe that should be sports-dream-pop. Here’s the second song from the EP: “SD3”:

Sports Dreams is Shannen Petersen (Fruit Juice Parade) and Fraser Williams (First Move) and the songs collected on their self-titled EP are a simple but very effective combination of synth washes, languid guitar strums, drum machine and Petersen’s soaring vocals.

For a contemporary reference point for Sports Dreams sound I suppose you could consider Beach House on account of the keyboard/ guitar/ voice combination.

However, Sports Dreams offer a lot more to engage with for me. There’s a slightly claustrophic and menacing undercurrent in the atmosphere of suburban ennui of the mostly slow-paced songs.

The minimalist percussion, lush reverb-heavy layered synth tones, and the emotional weight of the vocals, conveying moments of both introspection and drama, remind me of melancholic Scottish band The Blue Nile and at times even a hint of post-4AD label era Cocteau Twins.  Dream-pop for nightmare times.

Sui Zhen Mirror.jpg“Perfect Place” is a track from a new album from Melbourne electronic pop artist Sui Zhen. It’s futuristic arpeggiated electronic conceptual art-pop; part anthromorphic AI robot, part human, and, on “Perfect Place” at least, part Tom Tom Club too.

Sui Zhen (pronounced Sue-ee Chen) is an experimental pop and performance artist exploring the intersections between human life and technology – how to exist in the digital age, as well as the ways in which we risk losing true sight of ourselves in the process. The album “Losing, Linda” is due out in September.

“It’s an album about missing people after they are gone and trying to pre-empt loss – not only loss of life, but memory and information,” Sui Zhen explains. “I see it mirrored in our increasing need for data storage. Why are we collecting and documenting so much, anyway?” “It’s also a simple ghost story about being haunted by our other versions and our past selves,” she continues. “Our mothers, fathers, ancestors – that possibility that another may exist, intangible in the physical realm, but ever present in memory, so long as memory functions.”

The album-release promises to be more than just music though. The album will also be accompanied by what is described intriguingly as “a digital ecosystem.” There’s a disorienting preview of what that may be like in this Sui Zhen audio-visual web installation here and a perfectly disturbing video for the song too:

Kati Kovacs Tiz

One of the joys and adventures of music is coming across something you haven’t heard before, following connections and finding a new favourite artist or a whole new world of sound. One of the artists played on a recent KXSF radio show was Kati Kovács, a Hungarian singer. The song was a 1960s ‘Beat’ music tune. A search for the artist on Bandcamp turned up this track “Kérdés Önmagamhoz” (“A Question to Myself”) which is most definitely not 1960’s ‘Beat’ music, but very cool 1980 Euro synth pop or electronic disco… or something:

The release of “Kérdés Önmagamhoz” found on Bandcamp was re-released on a double 7″ by a German label in 2017 – the original track plus remixes.

Further research shows the original track is from a 1980 album called “Tiz” (Ten) released on Hungarian label Pepita.  It’s a little bit odd and a lot of wonderful. The first couple of minutes is arpeggiated Kraftwerk-esque synth pop, then some vocoder vocals kick in, before – after a full two minutes – Kovács mix of spoken word and vocals transform the song into a kind of electronic pop-noir. It’s not ‘Italo Disco’, but something altogether more wonderful.

Kovács singing career started in Hungary in the 1960s, spanning a range of genres from 1960s ‘Beat’ pop, through ‘disco’ in the late 70s and 80s. She has performed throughout Europe, worked with the Hungarian rock band Locomotiv GT on three albums and also acted in several films. Needless to say there’s now a VG+ copy of the 1980 white vinyl pressing of Kovács ‘”Tiz” LP on its way to NZ. It’s never too late to start a 1980s Hungarian Euro-discos-synth-pop collection.

Cathedral Bells“Ethereal Shadow” is a track from a 5 song EP from Florida based shoegaze duo Cathedral Bells.

Cathedral Bells are Matthew Messore & David Carey. The shoegaze element is clear from the chorus and flanger guitar effects and reverb washed vocals, but it is cut through with a vein of high quality synth-pop, meaning there’s way more going on in the songs on the EP giving it a much broader pop appeal.

That synth-pop element evokes the spirit of UK bands like Frazier Chorus and China Crisis and the pop hooks in the songs and arrangements pack some of the clever touches of The Lightning Seeds.  That all adds up to something worth exploring, and if you’re really keen there’s a cassette release available form Good Eye Records.


Auckland five-piece band Polyester have mixed up a bit of 80’s synth-pop, some proto-disco grooves and some lyrical style to create their self-titled album, just released on cassette. Here’s “Honey” from the album.

“Honey” channels a huge chunk of the spirit and attitude of Orange Juice with its trebly disco strum, propulsive strolling bass-line, intelligent lyrics, and huge backing vocals. You can even imagine Edwyn Collin’s wobbly croon singing this, although let’s take nothing away from Polyester vocalist Sylvia Dew’s natural delivery here.

Polyester is a great band name too – polyester being the ultimate utilitarian fabric – durable, strong, and capable of mixing with and even imitating the appearance and feel of other fabrics.

It’s fitting therefore that the album packs colourful pop-art patterns of cheerful synth-melodies over stabbing guitar strums and some exotic disco-Latin touches. Keyboard player Amelia Berry produced the album, crafting an un-fussy direct sound that’s warm and immediate, wearing its self-made charm well. It’s pop: cool, casual, loosely woven, breathable and for all I know quite possibly moisture-wicking too.