The Tick Tock Treasury
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Apr
Go back in time 20 years to when synthesizers were the stuff of shock and awe in the music industry. Electronic music gradually became a popular art form by combining catchy melodies with ground-breaking synthetic sounds, furthered by niche bands like Joy Division, Yaz, Depeche Mode, New Order, Erasure, Kraftwerk, and most recently Savage Garden. The popularity of the genre evolved into the dance/techno scene, epitomized by the sample-driven wizardry of Moby and the noisy chaotic edge of Nine Inch Nails.
True synth-pop, however, is something of a lost art form in popular music, with only a handful of artists continuing the techniques of additive synthesis, filtration, and wave modulation. One such artist is Ronnie Martin, the creative force behind Joy Electric. For ten years now, Ronnie has shared his love of simple pop melodies underscored by pure analog synthesizer instrumentation, which to many sounds like a collection of electronic toys and game systems. Think Atari and early Nintendo (not Xbox or Game Cube) but don't even dare to suggest that the sounds are derived from samples, loops, and drum machines, lest you incur the wrath of Joy Electric's rabid fanbase. Ronnie creates these sounds manually, without the aid of computers, presumably using rudimentary multi-tracking and sequencing techniques to accomodate the rhythms and layering. For this, Joy Electric deserves praise: preserving an art form that has been rendered obsolete by computers and the digital revolution.
Also credit Joy Electric for communicating faith in odd, but interesting ways. With
The Christian allegory is charming and obvious, along the lines of
It's the music itself that generally determines Joy Electric's audience, however, and I have yet to meet anyone who is lukewarm to this particular flavor of electronic music. Serious fans are nearly religious about Ronnie's unique sound and vision, lovingly inspired by the alternative synth-pop acts of the early '80s—such fans bemoan the fact that no one else "gets it." That much is obvious, and anyone who's been less than impressed with Joy Electric simply ponders why anyone would want to listen to electronic music that sounds 20 years behind the times. Granted, the rhythmic "Such As It Was" has a cool groove to it, and the darkly hued sounds of "C Minor Miners" are inspired. The chipper and upbeat sounds of "Misfortune's Apprentice," though, are nothing that hasn't been heard on an album by Yaz or New Order, as are the sugary synths of "The Confectionary."
Ronnie's wispy vocals are overshadowed by a portamento synthesizer hook in "J.E. Picturephone (Reflect You, I Connect You)," a song that sounds like an amateurish recreation of Joy Electric's best-known song, "Monosynth." Most people are simply going to be irritated by the noise that is "The Chronometers of Switzerland," and while it's impressive that the retro dance sounds of "(I Am) Made from the Wires" were created with synth effects, it's simply no substitute for people looking for a strong beat to move to (as heard by classic groups like Kraftwerk, Erasure, and Information Society). Wouldn't it be all the more impressive if Joy Electric combined their pure synth-pop sentimentality with modern-day recording techniques and sound creation on their albums?
Therein lies Joy Electric's problem in finding a wider audience. Though Ronnie has clearly grown and tried a few new things along the way (most notably with 2001's
At least credit Joy Electric for being a unique genre within an already small genre. With ten years of music behind him, Ronnie Martin is clearly passionate about his artistry, and he's earned an extremely loyal audience because of it.