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Browsing through the new additions to the iTunes Store this week, here’s what’s caught my eye:

Heaven 17 – Penthouse and Pavement. This early 80s synth-pop band never had the mainstream success of, say, Human League or even Kraftwerk, but I still remember the first time I heard this album at a party twenty-five-plus years ago… and that’s saying something. It’s definitely a little rough around the edges, but it still holds up very well today. Worth a listen. (And 10 “Podophile Points” to the first person who knows what the name Heaven 17 is a reference to.)

Thomas Dolby – The Sole Inhabitant. This is a live recording of the solo show Mr. Dolby has been performing on tour for the past year or so. The music sounds great, and so does his voice. Two of his biggest hits are included, She Blinded me With Science and Hyperactive, which sound fresh with slightly different arrangements and the studio polish stripped away. And because he’s been playing small venues and clubs on this tour, crowd noise doesn’t get in the way of the music. You can still catch him on tour: He’s playing San Francisco’s Red Devil Lounge (with BT) on Monday the 27th and moving southward and eastward until he hits The Canal Room in NYC just before Christmas. Check Pollstar for dates.

KMFDM – Angst, Money, Naive. Three early-90s releases from underground Industrial band KMFDM (Kein Mitleid Für Die Mehrheit, or ‘No Pity for the Majority’, in English). Heavy drums, distorted synths ,buzzing guitar, and growling vocals create a sonic wall that pretty much fills these albums from end to end. It’s a sound that bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails would refine and commercialize over the decade. But you gotta love the raw energy here. I saw KMFDM in play in Atlanta in 1996, and while it was hard to make a distinction between many of the songs in concert, the grinding pulse of the music was almost hypnotic. For my money, Angst is the best of this bunch.

But the biggest release of this week is clearly Jay-Z’s new Kingdom Come. It’s getting pretty mixed reviews, especially from people who are fans of his early work. But having come to apperciate Jay-Z’s music later in his career rather than earlier, I have to say I quite like this album (hey, Steve Jobs and the iPod are mentioned on the first track). It had the potential to be just another forgettable superstar producer mish-mash of styles and beats, but manages to rise above largely due to the contributions of producer Just Blaze and some truely sharp lyrics from Jay-Z. This one’s going to be in heavy rotation on my iPod for the next few weeks at least. And it’s given me my current ‘Power Song’ for my Nike+iPod runs, the Blaze-produced Show Me What You Got, a combination of Public Enemy’s Show ‘Em What You Got and Jonny Pate’s oft-sampled Shaft In Africa theme. It really gets me moving. Even if you’re not a big fan of rap, check it out for your current workout playlist.

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2 Responses to “iTunes This Week: Synth-Mania”

  1. pete says:

    I never really enjoy waiting in suspense, so I looked up Heaven 17 on wikipedia. Do I get points for that? It turns out the name’s taken from a fictional band in Clockwork Orange, who were at 4th place in the charts with a single called Inside.

    Just what we always wanted to know…

  2. Podophile says:

    Damn you, Wikipedia! Ok… 5 points for showing initiative. You’re currently our point leader.

    “The Heaven Seventeen” is mentioned in the book and the film version of A Clockwork Orange.