14 Under-The-Radar Synth-Pop Acts We Loved In 2014

Carl Williott | December 9, 2014 5:30 am
Pop's Class Of 2014
We're taking a look back at the 21 artists who broke out big this year.

Synth-pop has never really gone away since breaking into the mainstream with a little help from Gary Numan and MTV in the ‘80s, but the genre has certainly fallen in and out of favor since then.

As luck would have it, we’ve been riding high on a synth spike for about 10 years now, with things really exploding in the late aughts as Passion Pit, La Roux, chillwave, and Lady Gaga helped spark a renewed interest the sounds of noodly keyboards and syrupy hooks.

Modern triumphs for the genre continued to pile up, and soon enough M83’s “Midnight City” accompanied a Victoria’s Secret commercial just as Drive’s ‘80s-mimicking space disco soundtrack amassed rave reviews. At the moment, Chvrches carries the torch for the durable category, but just this year dozens of new acts wielding Moogs, Korgs, Casios, and maybe even keytars entered the fray. So we’ve compiled some of our favorites from this new crop to see what could be on the horizon for the genre. Check out these 14 under-the-radar synth-pop acts we fell in love with in 2014.

1. Soft As Snow

While we lost The Knife this year, let’s be honest, those two Swedes abandoned the “pop” half of the deal a few years ago. In comes Soft As Snow to fill the void, a Norwegian pair recalling The Knife’s early ability to balance the arty, the eerie, and the poppy. Their debut EP, Glass Body, contains a stunning array of swirling analog electronica and ghostly female vocals.

2. Salt Ashes

British singer Veiga Sanchez, who records under the Salt Ashes moniker, only has a handful of songs on Soundcloud, but that’s not a problem when the music is as replayable as her latest single “If You Let Me Go.” Sanchez displays an impressive vocal range, at points reminiscent of a young Madonna, and at other moments approaching Kate Bush’s forest-nymph falsetto. Her pipes are matched with pure pop arrangements that are as dramatic as they are anthemic.

3. Empathy Test

On their Throwing Stones EP, London duo Empathy Test deliver tear-streaked New Wave featuring twinkling synth pads and drum machine hits so wet (from the crying, presumably) that they’d throw Phil Collins into a jealous rage. “Holding On” exemplifies their New Order-like ability to make breaking up sound so danceable.

4. Ballet School

Ballet School makes the type of music that confirms the most New Romanticized image of the ‘80s as an emotion- and synth-drenched John Hughes film. While this Berlin threesome employs synths or drum machines, their exuberant sound is actually built on guitars made so impossibly aqueous that they sound like synthesizers. Like any good ‘80s homage, the melodies are maximal and the vocals unabashedly reach for the rafters. It’s what those who were too young to experience that decade imagine it sounded like.