New, classic synth-pop abounds on recent releases

New, classic synth-pop abounds on recent releases

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Depeche Mode Sounds of the Universe Mute/Capitol/Virgin Records

Depeche Mode has never really made a bad record, and chances are they aren’t about to start now.

Granted, there have been some less-than-shining moments during their career, but for the most part, the influential and pioneering synth-pop group’s studio output has always existed somewhere between stunning and perfunctory-but-forgettable mediocrity.

Thankfully, “Sounds of the Universe” falls a lot closer to the former category. Ever since 2001’s rather limp “Exciter,” Depeche Mode has been trying to get its mojo back. In 2005, “Playing the Angel” was a huge step in the right direction, recapturing a bit of that old “Violator”-era magic.

“Sounds of the Universe” is a more assured step in the same direction, harkening back to the group’s darkest period somewhere between the grungy but soulful “Songs of Faith and Devotion” and the bleak and lush electronics of “Ultra,” all with the kind of youthful spark that made earlier efforts like “Black Celebration” such a classic.

To achieve that feel, the group employed vintage synthesizers, and it definitely makes the difference in the warm, fuzzy and ultimately dirty-sounding new-wave bleeps and flourishes on songs like “Little Soul” and “In Sympathy.” Elsewhere, the vintage synths lend a foreign yet classic soft-core cinematic vibe to songs like “Perfect” and “Spacewalker.”

In other words, “Sounds of the Universe” is classic Depeche Mode all the way. The band — 30 years into its long and storied career — is still at the top of its game.

Erasure Total Pop! Deluxe Box – The first 40 hits Mute/Sire/Rhino

There’s no need to cover the first two discs of this set because, short of your ex absconding with your CD collection post-breakup, you really should have the majority of these songs from this synth-pop group floating around somewhere.

No, seriously, if you don’t have “A Little Respect,” “Chains of Love,” “Who Needs Love (Like That),” “Ship of Fools” or any of the other hits floating around in your iPod or on a mix tape in a box under your bed, then we really can’t do anything for you.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, “Total Pop!” goes above and beyond the typical greatest-hits route with an extensive booklet featuring photos, interviews and notes from the group’s more-than-two-decade-long history.

It’s the third and fourth discs that make “Total Pop!” worth the trip to the store. The third disc is comprised of live tracks spanning 20 years’ worth of touring. The best of these tracks are taken from 1989’s The Wild! Tour, where “Knocking on Your Door” and “Push Shove Me” bristle with excitement.

The fourth disc is a DVD of “live” performances, most taken from Erasure’s appearances on the U.K. show “Top of the Pops.” The visual trek of mid-1980s to early ’90s fashion alone is worth watching, but the performances are top notch as well.

“Total Pop!” is the total package for anyone even remotely interested in Erasure.

VNV Nation Reformation 01 Anachron America

This Hamburg-based Irish/English synth-pop duo’s new limited-edition boxed set contains a live CD, a collection of rarities and remixes and a live DVD sure to please both longtime fans and/or hook new fans.

The live set is a fine document of VNV Nation’s energetic live show, drawing heavily from 2005’s excellent “Matter + Form” album. It’s a great place to start for the uninitiated and a great audio souvenir for VNV vets.

The real treasure is the disc of rarities. Once you motor past three versions of “Chrome” (all good, but none approach the brilliance of the original), the disc really begins to show the depth of the band. The slower, more contemplative tracks like the remixes of “Carry You” and “As It Fades” fare better than the pounding speed remix of “Nemesis.”

But it’s the unreleased material that dominates this disc. “Still Water” is a contemplative trance epic, “Precipice” is a propulsive and darkly danceable piece of synth-pop and “Suffer” can hold its own and against even the most beautiful of movie scores ever made.

If you’ve never heard of VNV Nation, “Reformation 01” is a great place to catch up.

Larry Nichols can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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