I MONSTER – Bright Sparks (4 stars)

I MONSTER – Bright Sparks

Documentary and album celebrating synthesizers in pop music

Sheffield-based electronica duo I Monster are dedicated devotees of vintage analogue synthesizers, those evocative big beasts which conjure up a particular time or mood at the pressing of a key. Their latest multi-media project, Bright Sparks, comprises a documentary and this lovingly – and playfully – crafted album, both celebrating the roots of electronica through its hardware, charting the technological developments and, by extrapolation, artistic advances made by the engineers who pioneered electronic music from the 1960s through to the early 1980s, the point at which synthesizers took over popular music.

The Bright Sparks album functions as both tribute and advert, homage and handbook. Each verbosely titled track is dedicated to a different engineering company or innovator, with the musicians singing their story as they demonstrate the equivalent product.

They begin, as they must, with Moog – 'music will never be the same because you gave us the synthesizer,' sing the robots on their synth pop paean to Robert Moog – before moving chronologically through the heady electronic acid garage trip of ‘The Uncertain Contents of the Buchla Box’ and the cosmic qualities of Alan R Pearlman’s ‘ARPiological exploration’. These laser-guided gurgles were yesterday’s sound of tomorrow; now they thrum with retro sci-fi appeal.

‘The Ballad of Harry Chamberlin’ pays synth swing tribute to the eponymous inventor with a tongue-in-cheek film noir-style narration, before fellow analogue junkie Tara Busch fronts a wispy Age of Aquarius pastoral about the Bradley brothers’ breakaway development of the Mellotron.

The disorientating modulation of ‘The Wizards of Putney’ is more abstract in approach but, otherwise, the melodic hooks are so strong that Bright Sparks never comes across as a dry academic exercise. Instead, the guest appearance of original Ultravox vocalist John Foxx on the futurist synth pop track ‘Electronic Dream Plant’ suggests I Monster are aiming for living history instead.

Out now on Twins of Evil.

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