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Synth Zenith?

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

You Know Me - Air Traffic Controller (mp3)
Old Skin - Olafur Arnalds (mp3)
Little Numbers - BOY (mp3)

Are we at the zenith of synthesized music? If we’re not, can we pretty please hurry up and get there so that the damned pendulum can swing back already?

Fret not, synth-lovers. Even if synth withers away, it’ll come back. Synth is like Herpes. It might go dormant, but it will never disappear completely or permanently. We're stuck with it until someone shuts the power off forever.

As a damn-proud-of-it child of the ‘80s music scene, I’ve got nothing against synthesizers and simulated sound in pop music. In measured doses, synth is far more palatable than the saxophone, an instrument that has failed to reinvigorate itself into the pop music scene despite a few recent noble attempts by Lady Gaga and others.

The latest synth rebirth, which sprouted early in the 21st Century and went apeshit over the last few years, is not merely a longing for the days of New OrderErasure and Howard Jones. This latest tidal wave of electronica is more about the democratization of music. Anyone who has purchased an iPad and the Garage Band app knows that the only thing getting between a music-loving kid and the skeleton of a hit song is some time and creativity, elbow grease, and understanding of what makes a good hook. The synthesizer and the computer can now create an impressive impersonation of most any instrument in the world, and Autotune can help even Britney hit the right notes. One need not know how to play a single actual instrument to craft a hit. If a million monkeys with a million typewriters could eventually bang out a William Carlos Williams poem, then a million humans with a million iPads will inevitably, eventually, dominate the Billboard Top 100.

Bottom of the Glass knows this because we’re receiving 20-25 music submissions daily from hundreds of artists you’ll never know. The songs coming into our mailbox are drowning in synth. The next generation of ambitious musicians are dunking the Oreo in the synth milk for so long that it’s completely destroying the point of the Oreo in the first place; it's just dissolving into the glass, dirtying up the drink. It’s the music equivalent of “Would you like a little coffee with your sugar?”

"Synth" no longer means Pet Shop Boys. Nowadays, anytime I hear an instrument in a song and know instantly that said instrument is electronically simulated, that's synth. A fake orchestra. Fake drums. A fake bass. All of it, not just the stuff that sounds like it came from a keyboard. And it's damn near omnipresent.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Synth doesn’t have to kill the music when done right, when done well, and with proper respect and restraint. And when I'm reminiscing Howard frappin' Jones as using a synthesizer with restraint, you start to grasp just how far out we've gone this time.

If, unlike my BOTG partner*, you would love to sample some new and diverse music, I can’t think of a better place for you to start than NPR’s “The Mix: The Austin 100,” a collection of 100 FREE songs by artists scheduled to perform at South by Southwest (“SXSW”) 2013. I've included three of the better ones up top, a mere sampling of the stunning quality.

I pulled out 24 of those songs and made one seriously mind-blowing playlist out of it. If you can’t find a 90-minute kickass compilation from what’s being offered... well, you’re probably not reading music blogs in the first place.

Almost none of my favorites call attention to the electonica if it's used at all. If I listen to my NPR SXSW playlist a few more times, maybe I can work up the nerve to dive back into our email in box to check out the latest submissions...

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