(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


  • edited May 2020
    This does sound like my sort of thing. As is synth-pop, so I'll have to go find your other list. I'm only at the beginning of your list with Подполья, which is a good start.
    Added later: Funnily enough, I was thinking that most of these don't seem like what I'd call new wave, so then I went and read up on it a bit and turns out that what I think of new wave is primarily the new romantic/synthpop subgenres and it's a whole lot broader than I though. Interesting, thanks!
    Added laterer: your number 9 fits the bill though.
    Still latererer: I couldn't find your number 11 (on Google Music), but I did find a self-titled album ("Text" from 2018) where the first track is Sump & Tjald. I'm on track 4 of 10 and it seems to be keeping up with the synthpoppiness.
    Finally: Google Music tells me that “Perfektan Dan Za Banana Ribe” - Via Talas is from 1983.

  • @eythian ; I really appreciate your comments, as these lists do take a fair bit of patience and work.  I was hoping for similar engagement on Reddit's new wave community in terms of what is/isn't new wave and the subtle differences between it and synth-pop, synth-rock, etc.  Unfortunately, the moderators there told me this kind of post would be too much text.  Despite explicitly stating that YouTube is not to be promoted in their forum, it consists almost 100% of single-track YouTube links.  Frustrating. 

    Do you think the term "new wave" should only refer to the 1970s & 80s, and new ones should supplant it?  Certainly fudging along the borders of any style is necessary on an “evolve or die” basis, no?
  • edited May 2020
    I haven't looked into those subreddits, but in general I find it a place where, for better or for worse, the moderators can very much shape the engagement. And the easiest form of that is sometimes "we want links to fun stuff, not things we have to read."
    I don't have a strong opinion about the terminology, I think in general the only way to go about it is to reflect how people use it, otherwise you become the old fogey in the corner yelling about how back in my day "the Klaxons" would never have been considered new wave!*
    It's more what I have mostly been exposed to driving what I think of being in the genre, which roughly speaking follows a path from industrial, to modern(ish) synthpop and darkwave, to older synthpop (Gary Numan, Psyche, Depeche Mode, for example), knowing they were considered New Wave, but not really realising that the genre also included rockier/punkier stuff than that, for example The Clash.
    There's also a bit of a UK/US split in how it all played out back in the day, according to Wikipedia.
    All this means that some time soon I need to do more exploring and reading :)

    * (I had to look up a "New wave of new wave" band :)

  • I wasn't aware of US/UK splits in music until college and still am unclear.  Given low civic literacy in the US, it's probably more important that my fellow Americans read up on how our system works, but I wish a lot more people would do the same as you and read about popular music history, too.  Anything to spur the average listener to branch out would be good, IMO, even if it meant forcing kids to take another class in school.  I know nothing of the Klaxons or Psyche and firmly believe that serious fans should be able to name several bands even an obsessive generalist has never heard of.  Thanks for doing your part on new wave and your general work with the forum here. May we all live to be fogeys with audiences appreciating our knowlege, behind lecterns on pedestals rather than in corners!
  • You've almost certainly heard a song by Psyche, they had one or two hits way back when. I think most known is their Goodbye Horses cover:
    I actually only know them because a friend of mine who nurtured my industrial and dark wave/synthpop music listening by piling a stack of CDs on me perhaps 15+ years ago invited me up to Auckland to see them play when they were touring Australia/New Zealand as he knows the singer and the band was staying at his place so I hung out with them for a day or two, and since bumped into them at the occasional festival in Europe.
    You might also be interested in the Artoffact Records thing I posted here the other day: https://emusers.net/forum/discussion/1856/artoffact-records-pay-what-you-want-on-bandcamp - they have a bit of stuff in that sort of vein.

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