It’s the Fourth of July here in the United States and I thought it would be fitting to share with everyone my favorite American synth-based act. I can honestly take away the words “synth-based” and they’d still be one of my favorite bands of all time. I’ve always had a love for keyboards and all things synth…going back to my youngest memories, in fact. Got Synthpop? was a motto of mine well after people stopped caring about it and continued to be my motto after it started getting respected again. Europe has always been a hot bed for these kinds of bands, so naturally most of my favorite bands were from overseas. There is however an American based synthpop outfit that shines brighter than most, and that band is Iris.
I first discovered Iris in 1999 while working at a mom and pop record store. We’d gotten a box in from the legendary synthpop record label A Different Drum containing all kinds of goodies, including two singles from Iris. Those two singles were Saving Time and Danger is the Shame. I was immediately hooked and listed to them repeatedly. Desperate to hear more, I begged the owner of the record store to order their full length record, ‘Disconnect’. Unfortunately A Different Drum had a minimum order limit and wouldn’t ship out just one record. Instead of bowing my head in disappointment I filled an order with Elegant Machinery, Apoptygma Berzerk, KieTheVez, and the real prize I wanted…the Iris full length. I told the owner he didn’t have to pay me my next paycheck…I just wanted the cds. It was the best decision I could have possibly made.
Disconnect was a stunning album from start to finish, netting the duo of Reagan Jones and Matt Morris “Best Band” and “Best Album” at the 2000 American Synthpop Awards. It rekindled my love for synthpop and while I waited for the follow up I fell in love with bands like De/Vision, Elegant Machinery, Mesh, and countless others. The months turned into years and then finally in 2003 a revised and sleeker edition of Iris released their masterpiece, Awakening. As Matt Morris left the band, Andrew Sega joined Reagan Jones and created one of the new millennium’s best synthpop records. I still get goosebumps when I put this record on, and it was also an album I bought countless times to give to friends. It was music so good that I just had to share it (I obviously still feel the same way). As I write this up I’m listening to their single, Unknown, from the record. Even though it’s 15 years old (it preceded the album) it still sounds just as fresh and invigorating today. There’s some kind of magic being tapped into here. I can’t explain it, and I don’t really want to…it’s best left to the experience one feels as the music plays out.
We wouldn’t have to wait quite as long for the next Iris album. Wrath would hit in 2006, bringing with it electric guitars and diversity in sound. It was the sound of a band growing and pushing their craft in new directions. It Generates was my introduction of what was to come on the record and it represents, for me anyway, the central core of the tone of the record. It would lean to the softer side with Guide on Raging Stars and the other way to the much heavier Hell’s Coming With Me, but It Generates was the median.
2008 saw the release of Hydra…an album comprised mainly of remixes of tracks from Wrath. These were far from thrown together remixes intent on cashing in on synth-starved Iris fans. Love and attention was paid to each one and made the record a solid addition to the Iris discography. Hydra also included three new tracks, New Invaders, Nobody Wins, and Stop Breaking Your Own Heart. Each served as an excellent tease as we all waited for the next full length record.
When Blacklight came out in 2010 I was at a loss for words. It found the band blending everything that had come before into one tightly knit record. It remains to this day one of their most cohesive and listenable albums, each song flowing so well to the next. It also showed Iris’s commitment to quality…and while I’ve not mentioned it before now, they don’t use filler tracks. Any song could honestly be used as a single on any of their full length records. Don’t believe me? Ask any Iris fan what their favorite song is and there’s a mighty good chance it won’t be a single, and more, if you were to ask a group of Iris fans to name a favorite track, you’d find a great deal of variety in their answers.
This is where our story almost stops. 2014’s Radiant is an album that was almost never made. I personally never thought I’d hear a new Iris album after Blacklight, and if you were going to go out, Blacklight was an amazing record to close out a career. Jones and Sega had gone their separate ways and that was that. Thankfully it didn’t stay that way. Remember that magic I talked about earlier? Yep…it’s real. Teasers started popping up on the Iris Facebook account, and once I heard Wayseer, I knew the band was back and better than ever. Radiant was like a love song to the fans that had stuck with the band through thick and thin.
As you can see, I love Iris. I mean, I really love this band. I have friendships that were initially based on a mutual admiration for their music. How do you quantify that in the impact on someone’s life? I know that I’m a better person having known them and I would have never met them or had their effect on my life it weren’t for Iris. That’s some heavy stuff, but it also shows you how amazing music can be. It transcends everything and finds a common thing in all of us. Now that I’ve shared Iris with you, it’s your turn to share them with someone else.
*Photo Credit: Dirk Eusterbrock