One of electronic music’s most influential bands, INFORMATION SOCIETY (or INSOC as they are affectionately known) return with ODDfellows (Hakatak International (digital); release date: August 6, 2021 / Negative Gain Records (CD/vinyl); release date: TBA), one of their most diverse and artfully-crafted albums since their Twin Cities, MN inception in 1982.
Just as groundbreaking as they were in the early beginnings of New Wave and Electropop, INSOC are breaking ground again with this album. The very first complete album to be released with a headphone version rendered in THX Spatial Audio, ODDfellows takes advantage of the same THX Spatial Audio technology used in gaming platforms to provide audio that sounds like it’s coming from ‘outside your head.’ “We’ve always been a technically adventurous band, and I think this is just another example of that,” says founder/producer/synths Paul Robb about how the album simulates the 5.1 environment. “We like to play around the edges of what’s possible in recorded music, and so we are excited to provide our music to our fans with deeper immersion and a 360° soundscape experience provided by THX Spatial Audio!” (The album will also be available in standard stereo).
A chart-topping band whose experimental hits have incorporated elements of new wave, electropop, freestyle, industrial and darkwave, INSOC’s new album tackles each of those genres with grace, easing into them seamlessly. “In the band’s original incarnation, we were, as all young artists are, heavily influenced by what was going on around us,” Robb explains. “This meant that we were participating in musical (and visual) trends, almost without knowing it. Styles like new wave, electro pop, freestyle, Miami bass, and electro-industrial were the waters we swam in. Nowadays, we aren’t part of any new trends, or even aware of them honestly, so we find ourselves exploring and revisiting what has become our own distinctive style, and there’s plenty of room to play around there!”
From the freestyle trappings of “Would You Like Me If I Played A Guitar” to the Brit-flavoured electropop of “World Enough” to the majestic darkwave of “Nothing Prevails” to the slinky pop of “Down in Flames,” ODDfellows treats each genre as a different colored thread woven into a rich and vivid tapestry. “Everyone always has their own favorites on an album, but for me ‘The Mymble’s Daughter’ is a high point,” admits Robb of the orchestral pop closer. “We don’t often write love songs, but when we do, they are always dedicated to Finnish cartoon characters from the 1950s. Also, ‘Grups’ has a special place for me. Composed exclusively of found lyrics (you guess the source), this one could be thought of as our pandemic song.”
A collective highpoint is the swooning new romantic pop of “Room 1904.” Anchored by a driving, propulsive beat and festooned with Kurt Larson’s distinctive super-crisp vocals, the track is classic INSOC, armed with enough meaty hooks to snag fans old and new. “’Room 1904’ is one of those songs where the track came first,” he explains. “I wrote the original track in 2019, and it was my fourth song of the year, so according to my super-OCD file system, I called it ‘1904.’ When I sent the track to Kurt to write the top line, he was amazed because he had already been writing a set of lyrics called ‘Room 1904’ about a doomed romance of his past. So… kismet!”
Also included in the collection is the dramatic electropop of “Bennington.” As is customary of all INSOC albums to include a cover song as a tribute to an artist they admire (2014’s _hello world included a cover of Devo’s “Beautiful World”; 1997’s Don’t Be Afraid included Gary Numan’s “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”), “Bennington” is a cover of John Maus’ hypnagogic pop masterpiece. “Ever since I was introduced (belatedly) to John Maus, I’ve loved his dreamy retro post-vaporwave vibe,” lauds Robb. “It is amazing to me how compelling his music can be, especially since (or maybe because of) his highly constrained style choices and garage sale gear list. Also, he’s a Minnesota boy, so there’s that.”
Circling back to the conversation about how revolutionary the spatial version of their album is, Robb adds, “I love the roomier sound of the spatial mixes. Kasson Crooker, our collaborator on these mixes, really did a great job of putting the songs into a different, larger space, and I think it really helps you get lost in the music, if that’s your thing. When I was an impressionable teenager, the local rock station in Minneapolis had a show at midnight on Fridays called ‘For Headphones Only,’ where they would play ‘spacey’ music and Pink Floyd and that kind of stuff, which I was way into at the time. So I think of these as our ‘For Headphones Only’ mixes.”
The current iteration of INSOC is actually the original incarnation with founding members Paul Robb on synths, Kurt Larson on vocals and bassist James Cassidy. Zeke Prebluda (aka Falcotronik), who has been performing live with the band since 2009 joined the band as the official fourth member in 2019.
Questioned about the unique stylistic spelling of the album title ODDfellows, Robb laughs, “We just thought it was an appropriate summary of the three longtime members of the group. The initial capitalized letters definitely do not stand for Oppositional Defiant Disorder.”
Storming the mid ‘80s with their Freestyle debut classic “Running,” Information Society has enjoyed multiple Top 40 hits including their Number One smash “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)”, “Walking Away”, “Think” and “Peace & Love, Inc.” Their infectious appeal translated the world over with Brazil, Spain, Mexico and their native U.S. leading the charge.
ODDfellows will be released digitally for streaming and download on Hakatak International Records on August 6, 2021 and will be available physically on CD and vinyl via Negative Gain Records later this year.
Track by track of Information Society’s upcoming album – ODDfellows – from vocialist Kurt Larson’s perspective.
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
We periodically seem to emit one of these sample-fests. Afterwards we are at a loss to explain them. Just go back and listen to ‘HACK1’ and ‘SEEK300’! (Not SEEK200, THREE-hundred!)
Would You Like Me If I Played A Guitar
This is a somewhat older song. It has been sitting in the bin ready for a re-record, and now we finally did it. The general idea is a person musing on the challenge of improving one’s standing in the eyes of another…It’s not easy being in a synthesizer band!
This is a song Paul wrote in the early 90’s! Back then it was fairly common to write more songs for an album than were actually used for it. I’m glad we waited until now to properly record and release this one: It’s a bit challenging to sing, and I did a much better job of it now than I would have then. I think Paul’s recording techniques are also 2 or 3 generational leaps advanced from then as well. These are Paul’s lyrics; a study in the agonizing practice of rumination over romantic choices, and regretting the paths we did *not* choose.
I noticed that a bunch of people immediately thought of Vangelis’ ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack when they heard the opening synth line of this song; it is somewhat similar to the sound used in ‘Blade Runner Blues’. (The similarity ends there, of course)
Room 1904 was one of the tracks which Paul gave me to put on lyrics and melody. I tried to create a series of upward gestures, as a sort of metaphor for striving and yearning.
The lyrics are a standard tragic-romance story: Girl admires boy, boy meets girl, they fall in love, everything falls apart. There is a nod to Brazil at the end… By now half or more of our audience and enthusiasm comes from there. The title was hacked together from a method of record-keeping Paul uses for keeping track of recordings: in this case the fourth song from 2019.
This is the first song ever released by InSoc which was not a cover, but co-written by someone outside the band. Kent Hertzog and I were speaking and had the idea of trying to do a song together; he sent me a demo of the tracks, I put on lyrics and melody and recorded the vocals, and we had a song! Sometime later I had the idea of asking Paul to record his own version of it, to make it sound more like InSoc, and releasing it as one of our songs.
These lyrics are what I would call ‘word-painting’. One gets into a mental state in which phrases which sound meaningful can flow freely, without having an actual message, theme, or story in mind. At some point there was something posted online about how this was meant to be a slam of consumerism, but that is not true. Don’t get me wrong; I love slamming consumerism, but this is not an example of it. The idea behind the phrase “Nothing Prevails” (to the limited extent that I had any idea in mind) is that life always drifts off into some other state *after* whatever state you have managed to create, and that one shouldn’t expect that process to ever finish. You’ll always have to be inventing the next version of yourself…
This is a fairly high-concept piece based on the ‘Miri’ episode of Star Trek TOS. Originally I wrote a set of lyrics that was very self-expressive, but we ditched those in favor of following the episode’s plot line instead. At the beginning the only thing Paul was sure about was that he wanted the chorus to feature “BONK BONK ON THE HEAD”. After we recorded the vocals, I printed up a shirt for myself which reads “BONK BONK ON THE HEAD”, which you can see in the video for ‘Room 1904’.
This is the only song for which I invented both the musical structure and the lyrics and melody. I supplied Paul with an extremely rough sketch of just the chord structure, with melody, lyrics and vocals, and Paul spun it up into a wonderfully moody down-tempo piece. It’s definitely the odd-song-out on this album; it more-or-less takes the place of what would traditionally be called a ‘Ballad’.
The phrase ‘being me’ translates to “me, doing the stuff I always do, and expressing my own beliefs, desires, etc., projecting all that onto the outside world” – specifically as opposed to something which has an independent existence outside one’s self. All that roughly translates to the idea that what we often think is a real thing outside ourselves is really just a projection of ourselves.
Bennington is the album’s only cover; it is a John Maus song. Paul changed ‘Bennington’ to ‘Hennepin’ as an homage to the Minneapolis neighborhood in which we all lived back in the 80’s.
We believe that covers should provide a different perspective on a song from the original, and this is no exception. Maus’ original is much more raw and in some ways more powerful. Our take was to emphasize the song’s potential for a dreamy grandeur.
Down In Flames
Yet another oldie brought to life! This was a track Paul was working on for our ‘Peace & Love, Inc.’ album which did not make it onto the CD. This may be my favorite track on the new album. It’s the kind of music I really like: It sets a mood and then just sticks with it. Also, I am a sucker for dense wall-of-sound synth tracks. I wonder whether I will be the only one who just instantly imagines bagpipes playing the lead synth line… ?
Might Have Been
Lyrically this is another traditional InSoc love-song/lament. Paul wrote the tracks and had the chorus lyrics ready; I added the verses. Listening to it now I am really noticing that this melody brings me to the very top of my range… ouch!
Once again, themes of rumination over romantic choices, and unwanted separations. But then, we are a rather morose bunch.
The Mymble’s Daughter
Fans of Tove Jansson will recognize the character, of course, but the question remains, why would Paul refer to someone as ‘The Mymble’s Daughter’? I’m not telling. I will point out that despite the song’s breezy tone and apparent relative sanguinity, it is nonetheless yet another lament over romantic choices and loss.
INFORMATION SOCIETY biography:
A look into the history of Information Society is a peek at the evolution of electronic music. From their first self‐released album in 1983 to their upcoming 2021 album ODDfellows, InSoc (as they’re affectionately known), have grown from a young electronic band, mutating the sum total of their influences, to a veteran collective influencing a new generation of electronic musicians. One important thing remains constant: The music is distinctly Information Society, monster electro bass and beats topped with lush, poppy vocal hooks.
Led by founder/producer Paul Robb, the group, including vocalist Kurt Larson and bassist James Cassidy, stormed the club charts in the mid ’80s with their Freestyle classic “Running”. Inspired by the worldwide response to the single, the group seized the opportunity and moved to New York to record their major label debut, Information Society, for Tommy Boy/Reprise. Producer Fred Maher was brought in, fresh from his work on Kraftwerk’s Electric Café album, and helped Robb & co. craft a tight pop sound. Initial buzz was intense, and proved to be accurate; by the time the group got to its first in‐store appearance, two days after the record’s release, the album was sold out.
After a whirlwind series of live dates throughout the world, supporting the self‐titled album, the group went on to release the albums Hack and Peace And Love, Inc. and numerous Top 40 hits, notably the #1 smash “What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy),” as well as “Walking Away,” “Think,” “Repetition,” and “Peace and Love, Inc.” Numerous national and international tours followed; outside the United States the group is particularly popular in South America, Spain, and Japan.
Departing Tommy Boy/Reprise Records in the mid‐’90s, the group returned to its electro‐industrial roots on several independent releases. Kurt Larson took the artistic helm of the group in 1997, and released Don’t Be Afraid, which explored the darker recesses of the band’s musical imagination. Meanwhile. Paul Robb released a series of industrial techno records under his nom de disco, Think Tank. During this period, members also pursued musical interests as diverse as video game music, television scoring, and even commercial jingles, a goal the group had announced in one of their earliest manifestos in 1983!
In the early 2000s, re‐releases of both “Running” and “What’s on Your Mind” reached #1 on the Billboard Dance/Club chart. This renewed interest in the band served as a catalyst for a new round of songwriting, and an EP of new material, entitled Oscillator was released in 2005, followed by the full‐ length album Synthesizer in 2007.
Since then, the band has enjoyed something of a renaissance, performing both domestically and abroad, including a 25th Anniversary performance in Philadelphia, which was memorialized on the DVD release,
It Is Useless to Resist Us: 25 Years of Information Society. A companion digital‐only release, Modulator, offered easy access to the hidden tracks and Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the DVD release.
2010 saw the release of Apocryphon: Electro Roots, a collection of the group’s earliest releases, along with ultra‐rare live concert recordings and outtakes. The limited edition, signed release was sold out within days.
In 2011, HAKATAK International, the group’s longtime label, released a well‐received collection of remixes, entitled Energize! Classic Remixes, Vol. 1 (and its 2014 companion collection Engage! Classic Remixes, Vol. 2), which included the first digital release of several underground hits from the early years. Summer 2013 found INSOC in the company of Andy Bell (Erasure), Howard Jones and Men Without Hats for dates on The Regeneration Tour at The Greek Theater in Los Angeles and Mountain Winery in the Bay Area, and creative juices were stirred.
Shortly after the Regeneration dates, the three original members ‐ Kurt, Paul and James ‐ reunited to discuss working on a new album and _hello world was the result. The album was filled with classic INSOC dance floor fodder like “Get Back”, soaring epics like “Jonestown”, and cinematic textures like “Creatures of Light and Darkness”. Embracing the many faces of synthetic music while remaining organically Information Society, _hello world wasn’t as much a rebirth of INSOC as it was a nuclear‐powered version that ups the ante. A follow up album, Orders of Magnitude, released in 2016, was InSoc’s homage to their foundational influences, covering songs by Fad Gadget, Heaven 17, Gary Numan, and Snakefinger, among others. Longtime InSoc hero Gerald V. Casale added his vocals in a duet with Kurt on their cover of “Beautiful World” which adds a modern splash to the Devo classic.
In 2018, the group re-partnered with their original label, Tommy Boy, to release a series of digital singles, roughly once per quarter. The band has compiled those 4 singles and added an additional 7 tracks that make up the full album, ODDfellows, which will be released in 2021.
In 2019, after nearly a decade of fruitful collaboration, video artist Zeke Prebluda (aka Falcotronik) was invited to join the group, and became the official fourth member of the group. Prebluda is well known in the underground music world for his numerous creative partnerships with artists as diverse as Paul Oakenfold, Meat Beat Manifesto, Rabbit in the Moon, and Not Breathing, as well as his own group Metrognome: Falcotronik.
With the new album complete and numerous live dates in the works 2021 promises to be another banner year for the pioneering synth-rockers.