There has been a retro revival of early ‘80s electronic music over the last ten years or so with a constant conveyor belt of new artists eager to create the analogue sounds of synth pioneers such as Kraftwerk, The Human League, Gary Numan and OMD.
One such band to emerge is Dublin/Belfast trio Tiny Magnetic Pets who are Paula Gilmer – lead vocals/synths, Sean Quinn – synths/guitars and Eugene Somers – drums/programming, and they have certainly caught the attention of some big names in the electronic music scene since forming in 2009. Named after the collectable Japanese toy and inspired by the sounds of Bowie’s Berlin period, ‘70s krautrock and ‘80s synth-pop, Tiny Magnetic Pets have steadily established themselves with a series of EPs and the release of their debut album Return Of The Tiny Magnetic Pets in 2009.
One of their big breaks was coming to the attention of Kraftwerk’s Wolfgang Flur, which led to the collaboration on a couple of tracks (the dynamic “Radio On” and the sparkling “Never Alone”) on their long-awaited second album Deluxe/Debris in 2017. They were then asked to support OMD on their UK & German tours in 2017 and 2019 and subsequently went on to tour extensively, supporting Midge Ure on his European tour in 2019.
Their music has also been championed by ex- Visage member and founder of the Blitz Club Rusty Egan, who remixed their 2020 track “Control Me”, and after playing on Midge Ure’s UK tour in early 2020, the year was looking very busy with the band set to return to stages in the UK and Germany during the Summer – but then we all know what happened next.
So what do you do when all your plans for the whole year are cancelled? If you’re Tiny Magnetic Pets, you keep doing what you do, and fortunately, the individual band members have their own studios, which meant they could work on new music despite the lockdowns. Even though the band agreed not to write about the pandemic or lockdown for Blue Wave, the record has all the feelings and emotions associated with the global fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. So it’s fair to say that this is the band’s most personal and reflective album yet.
The first track, “Testcard Freaks (& Modular Geeks)”, is a promising opener, with warm waves of analogue sounds, glistening guitars, mechanical “cha-cha-chas”, and Gilmer’s appealing, crystalline vocal. Carrying hypnotising synth swirls, it’s very reminiscent of pure 80s synth-pop and one of the best songs on the album. Dark throbs of electronica create a brooding atmosphere on “City Sleeps Tonight” along with a steady percussional backbeat and is evocative of a late-night drive through an empty city in lockdown.
Fans of pure electro-pop will hear Erasure-like choral, celestial synths in the delicate “Drowning In Indigo” – Gilmer’s vocal fragile and wistful whilst “Broken Record” goes all out expansive with orchestral electronica and a rather earnest vocal duet between Gilmer and Quinn, which adds a different dynamic. “Rear View Mirror” slows the album down a tad with simple piano notes and delicate whispers from both Gilmer and instrumentation. Lyrically, Tiny Magnetic Pets always keep it simple, sometimes clichéd, an example being “so many thoughts are playing in my mind, I think it’s time to take a look inside”, but this is more than compensated for in the sounds they create – especially here with breathy “ha-ha-ha’s” from Gilmer along with dark, distorted, warped synths which add a Depeche Mode “Sister of Night” edge to make this song a captivating listen.
“Automation” has a dancey, industrial, brilliant beat and is utterly fabulous. Remixed by Vince Clarke, it has some more Erasure trademark sounds with bubbling, twinkling synths and thumping electronic rhythms. It’s a real album highlight, and trust me, you will have this one on repeat. “Blue Waves Pts I-III” begins as a hybrid of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and OMD’s “Joan of Arc” with extra dramatic military drum beats and lush layers of swaggering synth. It’s a massive 12 minutes long, and although there are wonderful sonic and tonal shifts throughout, one has to wonder if it had to be quite that long. However, it is well-constructed, and the washes of synth in the last couple of minutes are hypnotising and lovely.
The album closes with the brave and quirky “Mid-Atlantic Drift” – a half-spoken duet accompanied by atmospheric wave and synth pulses. Blue Wave is an impressive listen, well-produced. While it may lack insightful lyrics, it certainly makes up for in its music – in capturing those warm analogue sounds, modern-day electronic music doesn’t always get right. It doesn’t quite hit the experimental benchmark that Deluxe/Debris did, but there is something very appealing about this record. The fact it sounds so cohesive whilst being recorded separately in different studios in lockdown is also a testament to the band’s talent and united love of electronica.