Book+CD, A Different Drum, 2004
The American Synthpop label A Different Drum has been for some years now one of the main labels keeping the Synthpop genre alive. One of ADD’s interesting features as a label if its series of compilations. In addition to more “standard” bargain-priced “club-hits” and “ballad” compilations there have been a few rather off-beat thematic compilations. “Listen to the Future” falls in the last category and is probably one of ADD’s most ambitious projects to date.
The premise for this compilation is daring: to publish a small anthology of futuristic science-fiction short stories by young aspiring writers, accompanied by original (and exclusive) Synthpop songs made specifically to fit the stories by veteran artists from the ADD roster. Certainly not the easiest of tasks for the musicians, who could take the approach of creating soundtracks or making songs inspired by the stories and had to adjust their style to what was presented to them (some were luckier than others).
The short-story form is perhaps one of the hardest to master as many veteran writers have confirmed. Some stories are better than others but, overall, the ten short stories presented in this anthology make for good and interesting reading but few editing touches might be needed in a couple of stories to correct plot inconsistencies. While I wasn’t particularly impressed by the almost tear-jerker “6 Minutes of Air”, the excellent chameleon dance-duel “Color Matching” and the whimsical “Neil the Intelligent” simply made my day. The corporate drone tale “Signals and Noise” and “Firewall” are also quite interesting along with “To Carry the Past”, while Orwellian-inspired “The Persistent Rhythm of Before” left me wondering about the purpose and functioning of a highly specialized hive society.
Music-wise, “Listen to the Future” is Synthpop from beginning to end and a music compilation that stands on its own merit even without the accompanying anthology. Nevertheless, it is more than “just another ADD comp” simply because the composition of the tracks was ultimately conditioned by the short stories and, in some cases there are variations in an artist’s or band original style. For some reason, Junk Circuit’s “The Pure Ones” and Provision’s “The Persistent Rhythm of Before” seemed to catch my ear as stand-alone tracks (and in the second case as a story-inspired track as well).
The real tour-de-force comes when one takes into account the story and the music together. Unfortunately, I wasn’t well impressed by Somegirl’s prestation, a talented band which got an unfortunate story to work from. In here, T.O.Y.’s “Colour Matching” geared for the dance-floor, inspired by the homonymous story, is perhaps the winner (and would make a great video or animation) even if it isn’t a particularly inventive track. Wave In Head musically re-tells “To Carry the Past” in a quite good piece of soundtrack music. Neuroactive’s ambiental piece appears as an interesting rendition of a drug-induced haze making it very adequate as soundtrack to “Neil the Intelligent”. Provision’s catchy song is very suited to the mood ending “The Persistent Rhythm of Before”, Color Theory do a good job with “Survivor’s Guilt” as do Null Device for “Firewall”.
“Listen to the Future” is definitely worth checking if you’re a Synthpop fan and probably even if you are not. It presents an interesting concept which I personally hope will continue and be more developed in the future with more releases of this kind (and, hopefully, with a bit more daring as far as stories go). One final remark about the packaging… Perhaps a box or slipcase of some sort would have been ideal. I would have preferred to pay an extra buck instead of trying to figure out how I’m putting this in the shelf (it would look prettier too).
A small piece of advice for those that buy this “anthology + compilation”: read the stories first and then listen to the album while browsing through the stories as that will make for a much better reading and listening experience.
— Miguel de Sousa