[sic] Magazine

Bal Paré – Early Recordings

I love pretty much any kind of synthesizer-heavy music from the 80s. Be it bubblegum dance-pop, acid house, new age, experimental art music, electro, smooth jazz, Italo disco, ambient soundscapes, you name it, as long as it has those beautiful pieces of electronic gadgetry, I’ll probably find something to admire in there. Fender, Gibson, Stradivarius, Steinway; these are all fine instrument manufacturers, but give me plastic and silicon over wood and metal; the approximations of the artificial over the purity of acoustic reality; the unabashed ersatz of general MIDI brass over the most competent of horn sections. Yamaha, Korg, Roland, Fairlight, E-mu, Linn, Akai, Oberheim, Sequential Circuits, PPG, and of course the mighty Casio. These are the weavers of my musical dreams, the creators of devices so ingenious as to enable a wealth of timbral possibilities, and in cases like that of the TB-303, create whole genres on the back of their unique qualities. Yet no matter how formidable the tool, the artist must know how to mine that potential and realise the efforts of the instrument designers.

Bal Paré operate within the boundaries of genres that even have the word ‘synth’ in their very name: synthpop and minimal synth. Their sound is highly typical of the synthpop being produced in the early 80s, possibly due to the use of both female and male vocals (sung in French and German respectively) being reminiscent of The Human League particularly, but the bands German origins naturally lead to comparisons with Kraftwerk, which aren’t entirely misplaced, sharing the same ability to blend cold, aloof vocals with surprisingly warm melodies, proffering a sound that oscillates between upbeat jaunts and melancholic reveries, at times floating into a kind of chilled hi-NRG zone.

I know how much Americans like to use TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms), so in order to appeal to an international audience I’ll boil down my overall sonic impression of the album as lying between a quartet of bands: OMD, DAF, YMO and PSB. It doesn’t necessarily sound like any of those bands but rather a distillation of certain elements within their sonic makeup. A more specific reference point is Première Classe‘s ‘Poupèe Flash’, although that might be a tad more disco orientated, and the French allusions may be swaying my judgement. However, I am not implying that Bal Paré don’t have a distinctive sound, as that wouldn’t be true, merely that it is easier to use comparisons than to describe sounds with words. It’s a matter of expediency.

Whilst this is a top notch compilation, more significantly, it has led to my (re)discovery* of Medical Records, who, like Veronica Vasicka‘s Minimal Wave label, seem intent on unearthing as much obscure 80s synthesizer music as possible, which is great for aficionados of the voltage controlled oscillator like myself. Next up on my listening list is a new record (I think), Le Cliché‘s Consumer Behaviour, then I’ll work my way through the back catalogue from there.

*Looking through Medical’s discography I notice they reissued Tony Carey‘s Explorer and Yellow Power a few years ago, which I actually have, I just mustn’t have taken notice of the label at the time, unfortunately.

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