Electronic North – Smoke and Mirrors (album review)

Written by Jason Pearson – Reviewer / Music Blogger at Electronic North [Jan 2017]

You know those comments you get on YouTube video, when someone posts ‘they don’t make music like this anymore’? Well, yes they do and Tenek deliver the proof.
Tenek are able to take a mixture of all the best bits of chart toppers from a fertile period in Western pop (the mid 80’s), while completely refusing to indulge in cheese, irony, nostalgia or any retro cliches. It is modern and very forward looking.  Pure power pop delivered with outstanding contemporary production and mixing.
With obvious comparisons to Mesh alongside recent and contemporary electro artists, this album sounds like it is crafted from the choicest cuts from Tears for Fears, Go West, and Land of Confusion era Genesis. It also delivers fantastic slap-bass of early Frankie Goes to Hollywood.  More of this please.  Check out track Fear for Nothing which blends all of this; sounding like a forgotten radio classic from 1987 (my high-water mark for epic synth pop). It’s truly magnificent.
Percussion arrangements are sublimely clever, avoiding an over use of hi-hats and with enough fills and rolls to suit any arena rock band. Check out the final track Smoke and Mirrors for some delightful arena filling drumming.
Bass is delivered by synths or bass guitars –  sometimes both at once – delivering depth to songs and adding punch to the mix. At times pure electro and sometimes pure rock; the ability to switch between the two adds a satisfying variety as the album progresses. Have a listen to Another Day for a fine example of this.
Guitars are nicely distorted and kept back in the mix to avoid the tracks becoming just rock songs, with some clean funk guitar thrown in too but never dominating. They allow room for keys, some wonderful synth stabs, strings and of course the amazing vocal parts. It’s all packaged and delivered delivered with the confidence you would expect of Tenek while avoiding some of the angst that make Mesh, Camouflage or other synth-pop a little hard to stomach at times.
At various points the vocals arrangements could have been taken from A-ha’s first album but without those high notes, which are avoided to give a more down to earth performance; but belted out just as solidly with a great vocal range and allowing melody to flow through all the tracks. It’s a wonderful performance. Check out track Imitation of Life as a fine example.
Alongside the production and song writing, the mix really needs to be mentioned too. Nothing is too forward, nothing too far back – it’s all in the Goldilocks zone. The album’s finish would make Grimes or Crystal Castles smile.
After several days of listening it continues to strikes me as a wonderful collection of songs that few artists would dare to try and make, clearly demonstrating their love for epic pop. An incredible album that doesn’t fail to deliver.
Best bits:  Them vocal arrangements
Strange bit:  The strong urge to play air slap-bass in my living room.