New Sounds: Adventure Set modernize retro synth-pop on ‘Ghost Seller’


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There’s an interesting theory floating around that “classic alternative” is the new “classic rock”; bands like New Order, Depeche Mode, and OMD have essentially become entrusted as the guardians of electronic pop, the elder statesmen and pioneers of a type of music that’s prevalent today much the way guitar-based music was in previous decades. So it stands to reason that as electronic music — everything from EDM to alt-pop to much of the Top 40 — continues to mine traditional ’80s synth sounds and rhythms, and the demographic for those styles (particularly those over 30) become a preferred target audience, the style will quickly revert back to the minimalistic synth-pop that defined the decade. Hell, one could argue that pop stars like Lorde and Charli XCX (who have shed the “alt” skin to immerse and influence the mainstream world of pop) are already there.

If that’s indeed the case, Adventure Set are already ahead of them. Though in fairness, the Boston duo has had a lengthy headstart, and one that dates back to the origin story of a lot of this once-groundbreaking music.

Formed in the time between vocalist Ken Scales’ Pastiche won the 1980 Rock And Roll Rumble and synthesist Mark Potheir went on to join Ministry, Adventure Set ended their hiatus about seven years back, continuing on a vision of soulful synth-pop that many mimic but few understand. This week, after the post-hiatus release of two EPs (Centuries to Go and Gazebo), they’re back with perhaps their most inspired work in decades in “Ghost Seller,” a devious bit of pop that lurks in the far corners of whatever we’re calling the Boston scene these days.

“I’ve written and home-recorded more than 100 new songs,” Pothier tells Vanyaland. “The last two batches — 18 in all — are essentially two albums’ worth. One of those tracks is ‘Ghost Seller.’ Ken recorded his vocals on it, turning the track into an official Adventure Set song. We’re eager to complete more of those 18 songs.”

Though Pothier, by day an editor at the Boston Globe, walked away from music in the ’80s (“at the time [of the Adventure Set reunion] I had not touched a keyboard in 20 years — didn’t even have one in the house”) this new era of Adventure Set has reinvigorated his songwriting. He utilizes two M-Audio midi keyboards, a mic, and Garage Band on his MacBook. “I spend hours at a desk, under headphones, experimenting — once in awhile something of promise emerges and from that, eventually, a full-fledged song is born,” he says. “My methods are all self-taught — not the most efficient way to operate. If I have one rule, it’s to take whatever factory-set software sound I stumble across and do something to make it mine — whether that means chopping up a beat, dropping the midrange out, or drowning it in reverb.”

“Ghost Seller” came about in this process. Ironically, once Adventure Set stopped trying to catch up to pop music, pop music finally caught up to Adventure Set.

“For a while I was obsessed with making the ‘new’ Adventure Set always sound contemporary, but these days I don’t worry about that so much,” he adds. “No matter what the song, in the end the music is always imprinted with a ‘sound’ that I like to believe is genuine Adventure Set. And though much of the process is solitary one — me in a dimly lit room, recording the same damn synth bit over and over — the songs don’t truly gel until Ken gives them his voice, and spirit. He still sounds amazing.”

With the abandonment of trying to make Adventure Set sound new aligning with pop music reverting to more organic, minimal compositions, Pothier might be ahead of the game. Because while “what’s old is new again” is a common turn of phrase, it might finally apply to electronic music.

Listen to “Ghost Seller” below.