We all knows synths, they make those weird and wonderful electronic sounds we like in so many records from the 1980’s right? Yet what are they? When does a keyboard become a synthesiser? Who invented them? And were they sent here by the devil to destroy guitar music?
The history of the synthesiser is a little hard to work out, as how exactly they differ from any other electronic instrument is a matter of much debate. Electronic-eccentric, Wolfgang von Kemplen invented a machine the mimicked human speech back in the 1700’s when he wasn’t busy building terrifying chess computers, yet not many people would recognise it as a synth in the cool electro-pop wizard sense. The first example of something resembling the modern synth can probably be traced back to around 1930’s when The Warbo Formant Organ was invented in Germany by Harald Bode at around the same time as Hammond were releasing the Novachord.
The aforementioned Harald Bode was a key figure in the development and growth of the instrument, inspiring the soon to be legendary Robert Moog to enter the picture in the 1960’s. Among the first owners of the Moog was a certain Micky Dolenz, and it was The Monkees who released the first album featuring the instrument, proving a synth alone can’t make you sound cool.
These early, and wonderful, analogue synths would go onto be taken over by their digital descendants in the 1970’s, ushering in new-wave, synth-pop and Gary Numan. After those heady-synthy days, music kind of got so electronic that the boundaries between synth and computer got blurred. The synth had taken over, the robots had won and the world was never going to be quite the same again. All hail our bleepy-bloopy leaders!
Boston-based songwriter Tony Bullets is a fascinatingly modern purveyor of bedroom-pop songs. His music seems to be completely unaffected by traditional ideas of genre, style or boundaries. The influences are vast; there’s nods to the creative beat making of hip-hop, fused with wobbly melodic influences and a lo-fi, bedroom-pop melancholy.
His debut album Homesick, in his own words, “an experimental beat tape”, was released to some acclaim in 2016, and he’s currently gearing up to release and as yet un-titled follow-up. The first offering from this came recently with the release of a new single, Tattoo Party. The track has a touch of CHUCK or Alex G, as swirling, reverberating guitars are cut through with processed beats and soaring downbeat vocals. The track recalls Tony going to stick-and-poke parties in Upstate New York, drawing designs for people, yet in reality only going, “to see a girl I’d fallen out with.” Their relationship was done, they were just friends now, yet a certain adoration and mental exploration remains, as Tony explains, “a lot of the upcoming album is about the trouble with idolizing people and how you should just be happy with whatever depth a relationship that you have with someone you care about can reach.”
Today, Tony has put together a mixtape for us featuring some of his favourite uses of synths and guitars in the same track, featuring the likes of Mild High Club, Sidney Gish and Inner Wave.
“This is a playlist mostly composed of eclectic synth/Guitar combos with an emphasis on control over space. A couple of songs are just on here because I love them tho ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ My first album was essentially an experimental beat tape, and my most recent one drew from a lot of my indie rock heroes, so with this one I’m aiming to combine those ideas in my own way and create some soundscapes that take people places.”
1. Southside – Triathalon
This one drew me in as soon as I hit play, but what really got me was how beautifully the synth, guitar, and vocalist work together during the chorus. And the breakdown at the end needs no description. That junk is marvelous.
2. Bower – Inner Wave
Bower is another song where all of the instruments feel very conscious of each other. The space between the chords in the main riff is used so well that it feels like the bass and guitar are having a chat. I also love the reverb on the vocalist, it really makes the song float.
3. Kokopeli – Mild High Club
Lately I’m very into loungy vibes and Kokopeli is at the top of that list as one of my favorite swaying songs. The keys are nothing short of hypnotizing and the distorted organ during the chorus has such magical quality to it as it comes in during the key change/modal shift or whatever it is. Very pretty song.
4. Lucky Love – Michael Seyer
The atmosphere in this song is so sparkly and beautiful. The ride, bells, and guitar all work together to keep up a sort of chiming that continues throughout the song and it has that chorusy sea sick guitar sound that I’m a sucker for.
5. Oh Klahoma – Jack Stauber
I could write pages about this song and how much I love what’s going on in it. The shift from the guitar being on the upbeat and driving the song forward in the first verse to being right on the 1 in the bridge as the ghostly delayed backup vocals come in just feels right. But my favorite thing about this song is probably how successfully the synthesizer in the chorus emphasizes the quirky sorrow of the vocals.
6. Sophisticated Space – Sidney Gish
Sidney Gish is an exceptional lyricist and I feel like it wouldn’t do her music justice not to mention it whether or not it needs that intro, but this song in particular is my jam. It’s just very playful and very funky. The vocals really hold it down over a very diverse rhytmic section, but my favorite part about this one is the way that it opens up with the fluttering arpeggiated synth that comes in during the drum break.
7. Bodie – Spish
Spish’s album Building a Family is one of my favorite indie releases of 2017 and Bodie is definitely a standout. I love a good story in a song and Bodie feels a lot like a film score, it’s captivating. The vocals shamble back and forth with such a heavy hearted vibe and the instruments follow beautifully. The use of strings and bends in the outro of the song also really solidify the vibe. It’s all very poetic, 10/10 doctor’s would recommend.
8. Team – Brockhampton
Team feels like two pretty distinct songs to me, and the second half is also awesome, as is everything on Saturation 3, but I’m pretty focused on the first half because It’s one of the most powerful examples of the singer songwriter side of Brockhampton. It’s performed by and I assume written by Bearface and is one of the most incredible evolutions of space I’ve heard in a song in a long time. From It’s beginnings with a single guitar and vocalist to It’s climactic ending I love every tone in this song.
Wow is out now. Click HERE for more information on Tony Bullets.