2 Dec 2012
Ten Great Analogue Synthesizer Albums
This is by no means a definitive list of the best synth albums around - no Pink Floyd, Kraftwerk, Vangelis, New Order, ELP etc - just a taster of what I've been enjoying lately.
Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)
Four side-long epics that give everyone in the band their moment to shine, with vocalist Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman taking best advantage of the opportunity. Wakeman jumped ship for a little while after this to recuperate.
Jean Michel Jarre - Oxygene (1976)
An obvious choice, but a necessity nonetheless. One of the most important progressive electronic albums of it's day, this still sounds great today. One of the first electronic albums with serious hooks - Oxygene Part 2 is unforgettable.
David Bowie - Low (1977)
Possibly my favourite Bowie album (for today anyway) - one side of memorable and concise synth-pop, and one side of adventurous Eno assisted proto-ambience, exemplified by "Warszawa", one of Bowie's most beautiful melodies.
John Carpenter - Halloween (1978)
A perfect case of necessity being the mother of invention, the limited budget for Halloween made it practical for John Carpenter to write and record his own soundtrack using a few primitive Fairlights. Influenced by Tangerine Dream and Goblin's Suspiria, it's full of memorable themes and is one of the creepiest suites you're likely to ever hear.
Tangerine Dream - Force Majeure (1979)
While most would point you toward "Phaedra" or "Rubycon" as the best introduction to Tangerine Dream, I'd argue that their late seventies and early eighties output is far more accessible - melodic but still adventurous. "Force Majeure" is my favourite of the bunch, incorporating plenty of live drums and electric guitar into the mix, but still giving room for the keyboards and sequencers to dominate.
Fabio Frizzi - Zombi 2 (1979)
Perhaps not Frizzi's best score (that honour would belong to either "The Beyond" or "City of the Living Dead") this does feature the most extensive use of synthesizer in his work, from the ominous main theme to moments of weird tropicalia, this has a bit of everything. The vinyl reissue from Death Waltz Recording Company is superb.
Mike Oldfield - The Killing Fields (1984)
While Oldfield's early albums for Virgin are rightly championed as classic pieces of progressive music, it's the soundtrack for "The Killing Fields" that I find myself playing most often. Oldfield had immersed himself in Fairlight technology and pretty much abandoned the guitar for this release which is made even moodier by David Bedford's choral and orchestral accompaniment. "Evacuation" is flawless.
BBC Radiophonic Workshop - A Retrospective (2008)
The Beeb's Radiophonic Workshop were acknowledged frontrunners in the early days of electronic music, providing groundbreaking weirdness to a number of TV and Radio shows. Despite this, they never released a classic album - but this double CD compilation does a great job of rounding up some of the very best moments from the likes of Delia Derbyshire, John Baker, Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell. Some amazing stuff on here.
The Advisory Circle - As The Crow Flies (2011)
The Ghost Box label specialize in music that sounds like what a middle aged man in glasses and a cardigan would have imagined future music to sound like in the 1970s. There's a heavy BBC Radiophonic Workshop influence, but also moments that evoke a perfect pastoral Englishness, and melodies that will stick with you forever. Also see Belbury Poly and Pye Corner Audio who plough the same furrow in slightly different ways.
Egyptology - The Skies (2012)
This is a new French group that I know almost nothing about. What I can say is that this is a charmingly retro sounding instrumental synth album that draws on the likes of Jean Michel Jarre. Great hooks, beats where it needs them, and a flawless sense of atmosphere.
Your turn - what are your favorite synth albums / songs?