(Old-sounding) New Wave I like on eMusic & Bandcamp
Barely remembering the 80s, I don’t like using the term, in fact. Synth-rock or electro-alternative is usually what I call more contemporary stuff that mixes rock with electronics. The term “new wave” dated itself as soon as the mid-80s, ended, IMHO. I gather it may involve some punk rock attitude (ala DEVO) or not or really not (Duran Duran). For other countries featured heavily below, the term might still apply b/c its music scene might still be breaking away from guitar heroes and other pop that takes itself entirely too seriously but whose people still want to get down or otherwise shake it. Most of these at least pursue and cultivate a retro sound, to varying degrees of success. Those who grew up with it might be the prime demographic to stick w/ downloading mp3s, no? It all takes me back to an innocent age when I thought new wave and new age might sound similar. Days when cassettes were displacing vinyl not just for hipsters. I’ll go ahead and say it: anything recorded after the CD was invented can hardly be the same new wave.
I gather from the lack of response to my synth-pop list that it doesn’t have as many fans as new wave, though they’re clearly related and arguably not actually worth separating. Name recognition matters entirely too much.
(If you’re more fond of the electronic side, see especially Stroom https://www.emusic.com/label/48555/Stroom & Medical Records, among very few specializing in new wave I’ve found https://www.emusic.com/label/7366/Medical-Records )
1. “Подполья” - Dvanov (2019). Is it new wave, post-punk, or something else entirely? Female vocals over the tightest, most aggressive basslines and guitar work, as well as the best interplay with keyboards and acoustic drums, on this list. This short album knows what it’s for, takes care of business, then leaves the venue to go brood or sulk somewhere else. Very focused and effective in spreading angry gloom while also being quite catchy. Any more might be too dour for a mere non-Russian human to handle. The nyets are final. https://thirdkindrecords.bandcamp.com/album/-
2. “Blue Grass” - Free Level (2019). After listening to this EP five times, it still intrigues and confounds me. I can’t decide whether the keys and sax on the opening instrumental are cheesy or retro cool. Are the African elements on the second track refreshing or cultural appropriation, and what’s with the mumbly vocals? At almost seven minutes long, the third track is their version of a psychedelic epic. “Sun” is a mellow closer with shimmering guitar echoes and vocals barely clear enough to think they’re moaning in Spanish. I’d be curious to hear what else they’d do over the course of a full-length album. https://into-the-light.bandcamp.com/album/blue-grass
3. “Maiúsculas Cósmicas” - Walfredo em Busca da Simbiose (2019). Calling this album soft rock would be a disservice to how unique and enjoyable it is. Unfortunately, with that band name and album title, they seem determined not to be heard outside their slice of Latin America. The singer’s voice floats over the laid back accompaniment with a pitch just below falsetto, and it’s pleasant far beyond what I’d normally dismiss as such. Songs are on the long side, so they’ve got room to play tangentially with sounds that are hard to identify between a processed human voice and some other instrument or guitars that don’t sound like guitars. Also given to flourishes fantasy in its bridges, this is an album whose songs blend from one song to the next, which is usually a bad thing. Here, any one could be the ambassador to draw you in. By all means, tell me if you think I’m miscategorizing with this one and if new wave is allowed to be this slow. A rare case in which Bandcamp undersells eMusic, but it’s worth any price. https://balaclavarecords.bandcamp.com/album/mai-sculas-c-smicas
4. “Dancing with Giants, Vol.1” - Afalina Dreams (2019). Starts very upbeat and almost overwhelms the listener with a variety of blissful, electronic retro sounds. “Lullaby” slows things down considerably, of course but without losing any guitars or electronics. The last two tracks keep mid tempo and don’t rock the boat. A mere 16-minute EP, and it’s harmless.
5. “Podarte Sukienki” - Kobiety (2015). Wildly upbeat for the most part these Poles have several albums to choose from, and their style veers unpredictably from song to song. The opener might be more garage rock, an instrumental pops up, and “LSD” takes a clear turn into psychedelic rock, but the overall attitude and playfulness (i.e. bells and the build-up to punk Stereolab explosions on the second track whose name I dare not try to type) here merits inclusion on a new wave list, despite the second half of the album being mellower. Also try “Twoje Imperium” to be on point. https://kobiety.thinman.pl/album/podarte-sukienki
6. “Even Nature” - Hi Corea! (2016). A 24-minute, four-track EP combines the best of bygone eras and today’s synth-rock. Vocals soar more than usual, and the sentimentality drips steadily from the beats and the waves of angular keys. And the guitars know just when to kick in for head-nodding effect. Rather than rote choruses, these songs are unpredictably partitioned and have multiple climaxes. Alternating m/f vocals, water themes, all quite nice. I see another EP on All Music, so let’s have an album already! https://hicorea.bandcamp.com/album/even-nature
7. “Safari” - Pustki (2014). Another Polish entry to lift our spirits, usually starting from very basic elements and building unpredictably. Her ebullient vocals on the first tracks resemble Donna Summer in “I Feel Love,” building on spare bass and piano on the second track to quite a party. From there there are anthemic beats, accordions, jingle bells, vibes, and some more electronic backing tracks that still know how to make guitars sparkle. “Nie Tu” starts like a chain gang chant w/ hand claps and then a full chorus before a dramatic silence. They really know how to keep a listener guessing from track to track, as not even the vocalist (who tethers the album to the genre very loosely throughout, admittedly hardly at all by the end) stays the same for the whole album. It’s a sound new wave could have expanded to and should have, IMHO.
8. “S/t” - Tilt (2000). eMusic has really forced me to put more effort into differentiating between E. European and Balkan languages. Expensive, long, very retro, and with quite a lot of filler (synth-heavy pseudo-reggae?!), when the best tracks land it’s all worth it. Any new wave fan could probably cut the number of tracks in half by choosing the ones they like, but they might not be the same as mine or anyone else’s. If the first and second (very different) tracks don’t entice, though, you can probably move on. I sprang for it after being impressed by Via Talas and craving more E. European new wave and am mostly satisfied. Mega Czad is the label, in case it’s hard to search for. Bring the sax.
9. “Junglenight” - Asforteri (2018). On the far, electronic side with guitars in an occasional supporting role, these mostly instrumentals have the 1980s sound down to the point where one isn’t quite sure how parodic a cheesy track called “Loving the Corpse” means to be. Another bargain at $3 on Bandcamp https://civitasmortis.bandcamp.com/album/junglenight
10. “Una Tragèdia en un Acte” - Illa Carolina (2017). Dated keyboards playing simple melodies, breathy female/male vocals (mostly the former), and electronic backing come together for a nice 99-cent EP. Mixed tempo within as well as between songs. Ignore the acoustic closing track as an outlier. https://illacarolina.bandcamp.com/album/una-trag-dia-en-un-acte
11. “Sump Tjald” - Text (2015). Other than the first track, I don’t know how strongly I recommend this EP, unless the vintage sound of the 1980s is most important. The vocalist seems to yelp rather than sing most of the time, and neither guitars nor keys commit to carry the songs or more than dart in and out of the mix. The beat is the most driving, consistent element. Kind of a soft target for criticism about the excesses of new wave music, what FZ would have called “plastic groups.”
On other lists: “Perfektan Dan Za Banana Ribe” - Via Talas (1980s?). As I put it on my website about its label, Sarajevo Disk, if you believe this is from 2019, I’ve got a used Yugo to sell you. From the sound of it, this must be a lost new wave classic. Clocking in at just half an hour, I’ve listened to it way more than most anything I’ve downloaded in the past month…very tight and catchy while just dated enough to kick in nostalgia for a Soviet satellite I never knew. Actual 100% new wave music, unlike most of this list.
I haven’t yet afforded these: Miguel Cantilo and Punch, Tishenktual (99 cents on wishlist), Fabulous Downey Brothers https://fabulousdowneybrothers.bandcamp.com/album/-, Loka https://lokauk.bandcamp.com/releases,