29 June 2009

Catching up with Scarlet Soho and Dead by April

A friend, Bloodybones, and I were chatting online the other day, and inevitably the conversation always turns to music – of course, after we slagged off a few of our mutual friends. One thing we started commenting on was how music, recently, is much like the 80s in the sense that there seems to be a diversity that is generally accepted. It is not like the 90s, when both the mainstream and underground scenes prioritized certain forms of music. Instead, there seems to be a wider range of music that people are engaging. I remember the 80s not just for my band haircuts (though I really liked the one when I had blue and white hair simultaneously), but also for the fact that people were not willing to define themselves strictly by one scene or subculture. That sort of feeling is coming back, and oddly enough this posting is a reflection of that. From synthpop to metalcore, these two bands are arguably polar opposite of one another. Yet, I fancy that most people would be willing to listen to both and enjoy them equally. So welcome to the world of Scarlet Soho and Dead by April (thanks to Bloodybones for reviewing them), and I hope you enjoy.

Scarlet Soho: “Warpaint”

Five years ago I came across the “Division of Decency” album by Scarlet Soho; it was one of those albums that you liked as a guilty pleasure, played the shit out of, but always thought that the band could bring their game up a few notches. Other than the music, one of the things that caught my eye in this duo was the twist in stereotypical roles. Scarlet, the woman, was not the vocalist, but rather a programmer and musician. James Knight, the man, was the vocalist and programmer. (Live Stuart Key completes the lineup.) From Eurythmics to Yazzo to Goldfrapp, the role has usually been the woman singing, while the guy shyly hid behind synths. Not so here, which was as refreshing as their sound, so I wanted more. I waited. And waited. The years went by and by, and nothing. Imagine my surprise when I came across this import in the City – yeah, yeah, yeah, as soon as I got back to my car I started blasting this really loud along Avenue B.

"Warpaint was released on 27 March 2009, and there is no qualm here with wanting to sound like an 80s synthpop band. However, technology has come a long way. Those Atari sounding effects are not present; instead there is a luscious soundscape that is easy to escape into it. Further, I really do not think that the comparisons to Depeche Mode or the New Romantics do any justice to Scarlet Soho. Just like Superoscope in terms of electric body music, Scarlet Soho may know the past, may have assimilated the past, but they are treading new inroads into the future. This is not the synthpop that I grew up with. The sounds are darker, the drums/percussion more pronounced, and there is a quality of urgency to the music that points to the fact that it is meant for live performance. This is rare in synthpop.

Whether you find yourself dancing to “Analogue Dialogue (Kill the Beat)” or reminded of Bauhaus with “Under Strict Surveillance,” what you will not get is the same song twice. Heady, but not overwhelming, poppy but not superficial, the album has the umpf in it to appeal to those who like cutting edge, underground music, while the music is easily digestible by a mainstream audience. It is a great combination, a winning one, just ask Depeche Mode.

Track Listing:
1. I Dare
2. Model of Control
3. Analogue Dialogue (Kill the Beat)
4. Cyclone
5. This Nausea
6. Under Strict Surveillance
7. Speak Your Mind
8. Satellites
9. Is Growing Up the Best That We Can Do?
10. Lights Out London
11. Modern Radio
12. Isolation
13. Programmed to Perfection
14. Electric Fence

Keep up with Scarlet Soho at MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Speak Your Mind" from the majorvid (Major Records) YouTube Channel.

Dead by April: “Dead by April”

The self-titled debut album from Sweden's Dead by April (13 May 2009, available as an import in the US) is described by the band themselves as a "pop metal explosion,” but it left me with mixed feelings. The good news is the record starts off strong and stays that way. I'm a sucker for mixing things up, which is why the synth lead in and then abrupt kick to the face from the guitars and drums on the first track "Trapped" got my attention immediately. These guys have an interesting style with the way they write actual melodies (good melodies) with metalcore. Yes, I said "good melodies" and "metalcore" in the same sentence.

While musically Dead by April’s offering shows strong musicianship from its members with elegant arrangements and solid production, I have to point out that lyrically I felt let down. While I can understand a songwriter's point of view and their need to express themselves, I just found the lyrical content too repetitive. The central theme of the whole record revolves around love and loss. Like I said, while I can appreciate a songwriter's expressiveness, I found myself ignoring the lyrics around "What Can I Say" and paying more attention to the music. On the plus side the vocal melody still compliments the music.

Overall I have to say it's a very strong first offering; let's see what they bring to the table with their sophomore effort.

Track Listing:
1. Trapped
2. Angels of Clarity
3. Losing You
4. What Can I Say
5. Erased
6. Promise Me
7. Falling Behind
8. Sorry for Everything
9. In My Arms
10. Stronger
11. Carry Me
12. A Promise
13. I Made It
14. Leave Falling – limited edition
15. My Savior – UK version
16. Losing You, alternate version

Keep up with Dead by April on their homepage and MySpace.

Check out their video for “Losing You” and a live performance of “In My Arms” from their YouTube Channel: deadbyaprilvideo.

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