Bristol-based synth designer and electronic producer Finlay Shakespeare has previously independently released music under the alias Future Image, and a few months on from his preceding ‘Routine’ 7”, ‘Domestic Economy’ offers up his debut solo album under his given name. It’s certainly a very different sort of listening experience than what you’d usually associate with the Editions Mego label, with the primary focus on the eleven tracks collected here being streamlined and vocal-led synth-pop.
Indeed, the influence that frequently looms largest here is often Vince Clarke-era Depeche Mode, with the emphasis falling on a similarly economic use of rhythmic and textural elements. Rather than simply paying homage to classic synth-pop forms though, here Shakespeare uses them as a jumping off point, twisting his songs into new shapes and packing them with restless and constantly shifting detail. Similarly to the aforementioned Mode, there’s a distinct undercurrent of isolation, tension and disquiet lurking beneath Shakespeare’s lyrics, which are often just as much the star of the show here as the electronics.
‘Lulea’ kicks things off in pulsing electro-pop territory as propulsive bass arpeggios lock into place against stiff-sounding drum machines, Shakespeare’s repeated chorus hook of “shaking up the children” carrying a faintly John Lydon-esque yelp as icy synth pads bleed into the distance against flashes of 8-bit electronics. ‘Amsterdam’ gets more stripped-back and angular, taking things off on a motorik-driven glide through stark bass synths and metronomic rhythms that sits closer to pre-‘Dare’ Human League, Shakespeare’s multi-tracked harmonies looping back upon themselves against New Wave-tinged keyboard riffs, before ‘Perris’ gets more ominous and downbeat, offering up a dark, post-goth electro-ballad that sees block bass synths pulsing alongside jagged rhythms and phased bleeps, while the reverbed-out grandeur of Shakespeare’s imperious vocals continually builds.
Elsewhere, ‘Monadnock’ highlights Shakespeare’s hyper-emotional vocal delivery as he stretches out lines like “It’s all just bullshit and heartache” against forlorn-sounding pitch-bent synths and clenched industrial rhythms, before ‘Christiana’ brings things to a close with an EBM-charged ride through juddering analogue synth arpeggios and punching snare hits that suggests the more pop-sweetened end of the Wax Trax label roster as colourful melodic sequences play off a brooding New Wave bassline and growling undertones of distortion. ‘Domestic Economy’ offers up one of the strongest examples of classic synth-pop influences being twisted into inspired new contemporary musical forms that I’ve heard in a long time, and it’s easily one of the most distinctive records to emerge so far during 2019.