Male-fronted synth-pop has been in short supply since the glory days of the 1980's. With rock's resurgence and hip-hop's rise to prominence, pop music seemed to be a "no boys allowed" club, at least when it came to lead vocal duty. And maybe there's something to that. Maybe women are more naturally given to lead a fabulous show, maybe audiences are more willing to accept a big show if there's a woman out front. Maybe synth-driven pop music is just a naturally better fit for a woman's voice. Who knows?
All I know is, the times, they are a-changin' – and that's a good thing! Already this year, we've seen the astonishing love letter to 1990's dance-pop that is Bright Light Bright Light's debut album, Make Me Believe In Hope. There's 9AM to 5PM, 5PM to Whenever by The Young Professionals, in which they take up the dance-pop baton from Information Society. And let us not forget Adam Lambert, Alex Clare, Pengiun Prison, perennial pop princes the Pet Shop Boys, and the next wave of boy bands including The Wanted and One Direction.
Now there's a new collaboration that should help put to bed the notion that synth-pop projects are better served with female vocalists. San Francisco's Rowsy Bosch is a partnership of singer/songwriter Jeb Havens and electronic music producer Oliver Voigt. They showed their intent and made waves with an excellent, heartfelt cover of "Shake the Disease" – a Depeche Mode original:
Their debut EP, Corralitos, is now available, and features five original songs, each with a different mood. They eschew driving 4/4 beats in favor of moody arrangements that give Havens's outstanding voice room to breathe. In fact, with the exception of "Space In Between," the template seems to be mid-career Depeche Mode: slower tempos, atmospheric electronics, a dark mood. The gritty "We Are" is a standout among quality songs.
The result is a strong collection of songs, each of which has its own identity but also feels a vital part of the whole. The emotions are raw and potent, the production crisp but restrained, the vocals beautiful.
Catch Rowsy Bosch live on 13 November at Beatbox in San Francisco, with Darling Gunsel and Adonisaurus.