2019 finds the genre of modern synthpop as vibrant as ever, with an incredible diversity of sounds, styles and geography making up this year’s top 10 new albums.
Each year, as I assemble this list of the top modern synthpop albums of the year, I’m reminded that I have the world’s best side gig: Previewing, reviewing and sharing some of the most incredible music on the planet. I love to explore new music and to share the best of what I’ve found!
Once again, your suggestions on the Facebook page were instrumental in helping me round out this list. It resulted in several of these albums making the top 10 list, plus several more honorable mentions. Thank you!
I hope you enjoy my picks and encourage you to add your own in the comments below.
Iris – Six
After 5 years of total radio silence, Iris is back with a new album. Entitled Six, it is stylistically darker than their last outing, Radiant. It bears a greater resemblance to Blacklight in its tone and style. Six contains a well-crafted collection of 11 melodic tracks, each with its own unique hooks and stylistic touches, waiting to be discovered.
Favorite tracks: Joy Kill, Silent, Take the Pain
Daybehavior – Based on a True Story
I’ve always been a fan of Daybehavior’s elegant style of storytelling and well-crafted songs. Based on a True Story is their first new music in four years, and it was well worth the wait. It’s filled with a wide variety of music, from cinematic ballads to danceable numbers – and, of course, Paulinda Crescentini’s lovely vocals. Based on a True Story is an aural treat!
Favorite tracks: There’s Nothing Else, Serge’s Kiss, Burning Slowly
Quieter Than Spiders – Signs of Life
One of the real treats of writing a blog like Modern Synthpop is discovering remarkable artists that make me go, “Woah…!” (cue Keanu Reeves voice). Shanghai-based trio Quieter Than Spiders’ debut album, Signs of Life, is one of those pleasant surprises. This lush album contains a wonderful cross-section of styles, from up-tempo melodic pop numbers to slower, reflective and melancholy tracks. This is quite simply a stunning collection of music. I can’t wait to hear what’s next from Quieter Than Spiders!
Favorite tracks: Shanghai Metro, Komarov, Hibakusha
Howard Jones – Transform
After veering in a more experimental direction with his 2015 album, Engage, British synthpop great Howard Jones returns to his roots with Transform. It has all the elements of a classic Hojo album: dazzling synth sounds, paired with catchy melodies plus introspective, life-affirming lyrics. But he succeeds in wrapping it up in a polished, contemporary package that doesn’t feel derivative or dated. This multi-talented artist shows no signs of slowing down – and that’s a wonderful thing!
Favorite tracks: The One to Love You, Hero in Your Eyes
Us – First Contact
The debut album from this Swedish duo is filled with dramatic melodies and emotion-packed vocals. Song styles range from haunting ballads and songs that would feel at home on a dance floor with several more experimental compositions. Yet it also somehow fits together into a cohesive, delightful whole. Keyboard player, producer and director Leo Josefsson is best known for his work with Lowe. His lush synthetic hooks perfectly complement Andrew Montgomery’s emotional vocals, creating an atmospheric tapestry that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Favorite tracks: Voyager, Till the Dying of the Light
Ladytron – Ladytron
No one would ever accuse Ladytron of being upbeat. This self-titled album, their first since 2011, reflects the times in which we live – nihilistic, uncertain and, in many ways, fucked up. Yet it’s all packaged in a slick concoction of stabbing synths, guitars, percussion and the sweet vocals of Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo. The blend is intoxicating and enjoyable. Ladytron has never sounded better!
Favorite tracks: The Island, Animals, Run
Minuit Machine – Infrarouge
Minuit Machine is one of those groups that has been on the scene since 2013, but I didn’t “discover” them until earlier this year. Actually, I had featured Hante., Hélène de Thoury‘s solo project, on my weekly Modern Synthpop playlist when someone pointed out that she is also one-half of Minuit Machine. This French duo combines icy symphonic synth arrangements and drum machine riffs with Amandine Stioui‘s world-weary vocals into a delectable style that is uniquely their own. Infrarouge, their third album, is a lush darkwave masterpiece that may require a few listens to get into, but the effort is well worth it. These two muses have created something really special here!
Favorite tracks: Forgive Me For My Sins, Prey/Hunter, Ballet
Elyxr – Eternal Life, Eternal Youth
Kasson Crooker is no stranger to the modern synthpop scene. As a founding member of Freezepop and with a sizable body of work as Symbion Project and Larkspur, he definitely knows his way around a studio. With Elyxr, he is collaborating with different singers and songwriters and is aiming for a sound that is brighter and more energetic than Symbion Project. On Eternal Life, Eternal Youth, his first full album under this moniker, he has crafted an energetic, polished collection of compositions that are bristling with punchy synths and bass lines, topped by pristine vocals.
Favorite tracks: Planes, Such Letting Go is Love, Engine
Mr.Kitty – Ephemeral
Releasing a double album is a big challenge for any artist. How can you fill a massive canvas of 30 songs without diluting or compromising the sound and style that fans have come to love you for? But Forrest LeMaire has managed to pull it off with a fantastic collection of songs that weave together a surprising range of influences and effects. Although best known for his emotional club songs, he has expanded his palette on Ephemeral to include a number futurepop tracks as well as slow, introspective ballads. The album is dedicated to a friend who took his life last year. This gives the tracks a haunting lyrical depth that really takes several listens to truly appreciate. This double album from Mr.Kitty is his best work to date!
Favorite tracks: Melting Core, My Weak Side, Empty Phases
Harmjoy – Iron Curtain, Velvet Glove
Harmjoy is a German/American duo: German artist Ølåf Å. Reimers (from the EBM band Tyske Ludder) and vocals/lyrics by Dan von Hoyel (from San Francisco and the voice of the Swedish synthpop band TITANS). On their new album, Iron Curtain, Velvet Glove, the dynamic duo straddles the line between synthpop and industrial music, combining thought-provoking lyrics with driving beats and delicious synth touches. Von Hoyel’s low vocal range gives each track a foreboding edge as he tells stories of love and loss. Memorable lyrics include these rich word pictures:
- “You’re burying the hatchet/In the ground or in my back?”
- “It’s as if you’re a marionette who escaped and now misses the strings”
- “Your fantasies have fallen into the sea/Your highest hopes now hang in an empty tree”
Favorite tracks: Only the Nightmares Survive, We Could Go On, Don’t Keep Me Waiting
These excellent albums are also worth a listen!
- Null Device – Line of Sight
- Rroyce- Patience
- The Sweeps – Nostalgia for the Future
- Mördelin – Preface
- Rue Oberkampf – Christophe-Philippe
- Parralox – Genesis
For your listening convenience, I have created a Spotify playlist that includes a selection of songs from 9 of the 10 albums (Quiter Than Spiders doesn’t have a presence there but you can listen to snippets of their album here).
Check out the 2019 Modern Synthpop Albums of the Year Spotify playlist