photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
with the advent of modern social media and the internet as the central focus of commerce and our economy writ large, its always interesting to see how major retailers attempt to catch out attention and pique our interest. instrument and music products retailer REVERB.COM a few years back came up with the YOUTUBE series SYNTH SOUNDS OF as a means of drawing attention to the keyboards, sequencers and various software, both vintage and contemporary, they have on offer.
the series showcases musician / producer WILLIAM KIRK who guides the audience through the compositional ingenuity and sonic experimentalism at play in classic songs primarily from the 1970s and 1980s FUNK, NEW WAVE, DISCO and SYNTH POP catalogue. im talking about acts such as TEARS FOR FEARS, PRINCE, DEPECHE MODE, TOTO, GIORGIO MORODER, HALL & OATES, TALKING HEADS, PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC, MADONNA, TALK TALK and even recent acolytes like BRUNO MARS and FRANK OCEAN. i originally found the series when researching what the vintage SEQUENCIAL CIRCUITS PROPHET 5 our studio had inherited from my cousin was capable of.
KIRK is knowledgeable, personable and absolutely ridiculous (i still cant handle those MEMBERS ONLY jackets!), which makes this series fun and engaging. he seems to get the feel of the period and is respectful without being too reverential in the process. SYNTH SOUNDS OF may have failed in getting me to buy anything, but it has beyond succeeded in making me more conscious of the artistry involved in the use of electronic keyboards, pads, triggers and vintage analog synths.
and it made me dance. so there.
photo & text by nacrowe
my earliest memories of TEARS FOR FEARS classic SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR (PHONOGRAM, 1985) record was during my early elementary school years (early 1990s) tagging along with my mom on the leafy campus at CLAREMONT MCKENNA COLLEGE as she was working on her advanced degree in MATH at the time. hearing the record throughout my adulthood i am just reminded of hanging out with my mom as a young child and reading CALVIN AND HOBBES in the college cafeteria. its a period im very fond of and somehow it all connects.
there is a definite playful wistfulness that permeates tracks like "EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD" and "HEAD OVER HEALS," which in my opinion are two of the greatest pop singles produced by any group ever. ENGLISH songwriters ROLAND ORZABAL and CURT SMITH, like lots of musicians in the early 1980s, were experimenting with synthesizers as a means of expanding their sonic palette and what comes across in SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR is a sense of restraint and taste. by all means this is a definitive SYNTH POP record, but it still sounds effectively modern in its production, which utilized LINN DRUMS and an OBERHEIM DMX, as well as a FAIRLIGHT for its rhythm tracks. when DEER GOD had a functioning studio, we had access to a vintage PROPHET V analog synthesizer, which i was particularly psyched on given the model's association with DEVO, FUNKADELIC and of course, TEARS FOR FEARS.
but production and technology aside, what stands out is the quality of the songwriting. these songs evoke a unique blend of unadulterated joy with nostalgic melancholy, like a faded picture of good times long since passed. its bittersweet nature only makes repeat listens that much more seductive and enticing. when i listen to SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR im not thinking about other NEW WAVE or SYNTH POP groups from the era, im just thinking about how anyone came up such special catchy songs that still latch on to your emotions decades after their release. its a powerful record that transcends lyrical content, innovative production techniques or cultural associations.
it is just a timeless record that should be heard by everyone. cant recommend it any more vocally. definitely required listening.