Blocks modular synth sounds almost as good as it looks

Blocks is a tiny synth system that fits in a laptop bag but looks like a ton of fun, with various modules that click together, weird touch- and pressure-sensitive rubbery keys and pads, and various "control" blocks for looping, recording, sequencing, and MIDI/USB connections to other gear.

Roli Blocks [Amazon]

They also sell a range of keyboard controllers using the same design. Even the two-octave models are awfully expensive; I don't even want to know how much the "grand" model is.

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Killer funky synth-pop and slow burners from Death Cab for Cutie's Dave Depper

Last time I saw Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Dave Depper, we were at our dear friends' wedding dancing in a huge sweaty group and singing along to 1980s anthems by New Order and Pet Shop Boys. I mention that because Dave just released his stunning first solo album and there's a bit of that vintage synthpop vibe flowing through the record, titled "Emotional Freedom Technique." Not that this is a retro play; it's not. The record is a wholly contemporary affair even as Dave freely allows his influences, from 80s dancefloor jams to Prince's funky rhythms, ebb and flow through his songwriting. Emotional Freedom Technique blends nu-disco ass-shakers with lovely emo mix tape material and afterparty ambience. You'll dig it. Listen below and order here.

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Roland's selling "faithful" new versions of classic synths

You can get close with modern clones of the TB-303 bassline synthesizer and the TR-909 drum machine, but Roland made the originals, and it's making them again. They're not identical—being smaller, for starters—but they're taking the job seriously and response seems very positive: users say the new models are faithful and improved. The lineup is being sold as "Roland Boutique" and I doubt I'll be able to resist for long.

But here’s where I’ll say something blasphemous:

I think insisting on using the original 303 and 909, at their current used prices, is absurd. And not only that, but it cuts anyone who doesn’t have large chunks of disposal income out of the joy of using these instruments. That’s ironic for instrument whose legacy was built on being essentially undesirable – an unwanted machine that got into the hands artists who abused them in creative ways.

Don’t get me wrong: if you’ve got an original TB-303 or a TR-909, good for you, and enjoy! But with reliability failing and prices continuing to clime, this simply isn’t an option for a lot of people. (Ironically, it’s easier to make a 17th century viola da gamba last than electronic instruments, so we’re always going to have to deal with making new gear.)

What’s special about the TB-303 and TR-909 remakes is that they actually give you what you want. They give you the sound and the design. But they also do the other things you’d wish for – they’re convenient, they’re not expensive, and they have some modern additions that make them more usable and fun to play.

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This pocket synthesizer will break your heart

You saw the thumbnail and you came to the post, so here's the cold truth: it's just a rendering. Zont Sound's beautiful little pocket synth will have an AMOLED display, softly-backlit matte-touch controls, wireless and USB-C connections, and 3.5mm out. There's a dock that adds MIDI, writes Sean O'Kane, and at least a year of dreaming ahead of us. [h/t daneel]

Unfortunately, it seems that it will be a long time before anyone gets a chance to play with the Zont synth: the official website says it won’t be available until the fall of 2017. And while the designer behind the project, Pavel Golovkin, claims to have industrial design experience at Nooka (a company known for its wild wristwatches), this appears to be his first attempt at making his own hardware. That’s not always a promising proposition, though Teenage Engineering pulled it off with their own (admittedly low-budget) pocket synthesizers. (In fact, Zont's already drawing comparisons to Teenage Engineering's synth.) Golovkin will start up a crowdfunding campaign for the Zont synth later this year. Here’s hoping he befriends some audio engineers in the meantime.

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Orbital on dance

Orbital talks vintage synths and its new album with Wired's Geeta Dayal. (It's available streaming at NME or as a fancy import CD on Amazon) Read the rest

Future World Orchestra: Desire (1982)

A modern electronica duo can only dream of being as good as Future World Orchestra. [via Robert Popper] Read the rest