Track-by-Track // Synthetic Villains – Obstacle Navigation
Track-by-Track // Synthetic Villains – Obstacle Navigation

Track-by-Track // Synthetic Villains – Obstacle Navigation

Synthetic Villains Obstacle Navigation


Named after the first woman in space – Valentina Tereshkova. This was originally written as a sort of Buzzcocks power chord type thing and had lyrics. But they don’t get sung here, as the whole album is instrumental. I ditched the punk/post-punk guitars and so part 1 is synth-pop meets new wave with a touch of disco. A whiff of Dare-era Human League and Blondie in what would have been the chorus. There’s even a nod to Salt ‘N’ Pepa with the synth bass. As the track develops, we get some Berlin-era Bowie guitars. These are observations after the fact rather than things I was aiming at. The other thing it reminds me of is the theme tune to Hart Beat, a British kids TV art show with Tony Hart, a great show that really encouraged creativity. I was trying to make something new and interesting and completely different from all the bands I’ve been in over the years, but it turns out all this stuff from your past comes out when you least expect it. Reviewer Bobby Gant cited the influence of Harmonia and Cluster, and I am indeed a massive fan of both.

Part 2 is supposed to be a hypnagogic version of the same chords and features radio frequencies, looped and mangled through tape and echo machines and blasted into a room mic via an amp. And lots of overlapping string synths.


Originally called “Standing Beside the Arcade Machine Watching My Friends Play”, the main riff is reminiscent of something I’d here repeatedly from old computer arcade games in the foyer of my local leisure centre aged 12/13. Unsurprisingly, it also reminds me a bit of Yellow Magic Orchestra and their “Computer Games”, though not a conscious influence, as the riff came just from playing around over the beats.

Ghostly Shadows

A couple of people have said this sounds like it should be in a film and it’s certainly the most dramatic track on the album. I mean, there are lots of films, and they might have meant some really boring, terrible film for all I know!

The ghost in question is not a horror story phantom haunting us, but rather a memory presence that pervades our here and now. It originally sounded a bit like a Broadcast riff, but evolved quite differently. Despite the repeated chord sequence, no 4 bars are the same, things come in and out all the time.

I owe a debt to Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” when it comes to the combination of synth strings and actual bowed instruments. But without a Fairlight and the Medici String Quartet at my disposal, I used a combination of synth strings, guitar synth, bowed electric guitar and a nifty little bow called a Pickaso on an acoustic guitar.


Named after the Waddingtons Compute-A-Tune (an early 80s analogue toy synth) that the main riff is played on. It has a very limited but charming arpeggio function on it, and the track was constructed around it. The track also features another early 80s toy-like synth, the Casio VL-Tone, as well as an actual child’s toy keyboard. It’s a bit of light relief after the heaviness of the previous track. There’s also a bass guitar figure that’s partly influenced by John Cale’s playing on ‘European Son’. But much more polite.

I Can Hardly Wait

Featuring a Vermona ET3 transistor organ from GDR-era Germany, this track has a sort of melancholy disco feel.

About halfway through, there’s a disco-funk guitar part. It wasn’t planned or rehearsed at all, just seemed necessary at the time. It was one of those studio things that you just go with. And I surprised myself with it, I didn’t know I was capable of playing a part like that. Then I added some clean minimal lead lines that in my mind are a bit Verlaine or McGuinn, but actually not really at all!

Imagine George McCae’s “Rock Your Baby”, but played by Stereolab. Dance while you fight back those tears.

Panic Attack Kids

The eastern/middle eastern riff came out whilst messing around with a Casio MT100. Probably influenced by Charanjit Singh’s Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat (which I adore), but it sounds more Turkish than Indian. It occurred to me afterwards that there’s a hint of Dick Dale’s Misirlou about it, especially some of the lead lines halfway through, so it all kind of ties together, somehow.

For some reason, I can totally envisage Roots Manuva rapping on this track – I even emailed his management with it. Needless to say, I didn’t get a reply!

Sunbeam Flyer
Part 1 is a krautrock meets vaguely late 60s Hey Jude/Ogdens Nut Gone Flake/Sympathy for the Devil vibe but with synths. Or as the blog Monolith Cocktail put it: “more than a tinge of psychedelia: ‘Sunbeam Flyer’ could easily slot onto Primal Scream’s Screamadelica without much fuss”. I totally understand the comparison, but (hot take?) I always thought Denise Johnson and Andrew Weatherall were the best thing about that band.

Part 2 is an electronic motorik version of the same thing – Neu! meets Astradyne-type Ultravox with added Ebows. Or something.

No Funfair

The riff was the very first thing I ever wrote on a keyboard, back in my 20s. Quite why I came up with something that could be in a 70s Bulgarian circus horror movie, I really don’t know. Anyway, I’ve always liked slightly weird, creepy tunes in the middle of albums, so it’s there as an interlude really. The B-part outro came later and reminds me a bit of Can, definitely a bit of Irmin Schmidt going on. But if he only had one hand. Stooges pun title.

Energy Exchange

This started off as a garage-rock riff on the Vermona ET3 organ, and I had intended to introduce it to the psych-garage band I’m in – Three Dimensional Tanx, but lockdown happened, so I never did.

I played the same riff on a bass synth and it changed the feel entirely, eventually developing into a kind of house or hip house thing that reminds me of Beatmasters/Cookie Crew’s Rock Da House. You could definitely sing “who’s in the house?” over the top of it.

Wander Off, Wondering

A drone piece and a kind of companion to the debut album’s Time Out for Rhythm but this one has beats, uses a sequencer and a rising/falling drone instead of an electronic tambura. I love various drone music from Indian Classical music, various folk music drones, VU etc. CC Hennix’s ‘The Electric Harpsichord’ is biggy for me, as is Fursaxa’s ‘Lepidoptera’. So it’s channeling that kind of thing.

Eventually though, it kicks in with a bassline that deviates from those sources. Monolith Cocktail said it was reminiscent of “the early Shaman” which certainly was not an influence (I’m only aware of the hits). But it could well be true. Bobby Gant (Iniquitous Glory) said it’s “the most adventurous piece” and “a hell of a way to close the album.”


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