Various Artists

Electrical Language: Independent British Synth Pop 78-84

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Cherry Red's four-CD anthology Electrical Language: Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 focuses on the electronic side of the post-punk era, compiling 80 examples of how musicians embraced technology and broke away from guitar-based conventions, reshaping the sound of pop music from the ground up. As with the label's other genre-specific multi-disc sets, this one demonstrates how broad its subject actually is -- barely-in-tune first takes by teenage basement dwellers are juxtaposed with more ambitious, fully conceptualized productions by future pop stars. The collection covers much of the same ground as 2016's Close to the Noise Floor: Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984, although the compilers chose different tracks by the artists who appear on both. The main difference is that Electrical Language more or less concentrates on proper three-minute pop songs, as bizarre and envelope-pushing as some of them may be, rather than thoroughly avant-garde experiments. Of course, a handful of inclusions test even those boundaries, such as "Technical Miracle" by Voice of Authority, an excellent one-off moniker of dub pioneer Adrian Sherwood. There's a smattering of undisputable all-time classics, such as the Normal's "Warm Leatherette" and Chris & Cosey's "October (Love Song)," as well as lesser-known early tunes by household names like Thomas Dolby and the Human League. Drinking Electricity's perky "Good Times" (as sampled by Crystal Castles on their first album) makes an appearance, and to the excitement of particular trainspotters, the astonishing "Lifes Illusion" by Ice the Falling Rain receives its first official compilation licensing. While many of these songs seem optimistic at the prospect of a bright and shiny future, there's also an undercurrent of soul-crushing loneliness throughout, from relatively upbeat numbers like Quadrascope's "Baby Won't Phone" to the truly bizarre "Happy Families" by Zoo Boutique, in which a man living a seemingly perfect life begs to be put out of his misery. A few tracks even express outright dementia; Martin O'Cuthbert basically sounds like Napoleon XIV with a bunch of whizzing synths on the outrageously loony "Committed to Vinyl," while Hybrid Kids play a rousing synth-disco rendition of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," joined by a synthetic elf chorus. Also in the Silicon Teens/Flying Lizards mode of wacky pop covers are Techno Pop's thundering take on "Paint It Black" and the Fast Set's murky interpretation of T. Rex's "Children of the Revolution" (the debut single on the Axis label, before its name was changed to 4AD). Nearly every track included is fascinating, and the detailed liner notes put everything into perspective, filled with photos and cover artwork, as well as recollections from many of the artists.

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