in one flash, I am returned again
it's just something you can't see

* * * *

Iris is an on-again/off-again synthpop¹ band from Austin, Texas. They first came into being in 1993, when they were known as Forgiving Iris. Members at the time of the band's formation included Reagan Jones (all vocals, synths) and Matt Morris (synths and everything else). As far as synthpop goes (and the relative ease with which one can produce it), Iris took a long, long time to get off the ground. This can be blamed on America's disinterest in synthpop as a whole (it's infinitely more popular in Europe), and on the fact that the band members required day jobs to keep themselves financially solvent. As a result, their releases have been sporadic, and when they do release new material, it's often years after a previous release. The long production times lead to an extremely polished sound. Unlike a lot of other synthpop bands, Iris sounds crisp and clear, and doesn't rely on lead vocal effects other than various noise reduction filters and the occasional reverb or delay. Reagan has a lofty voice that wouldn't be out of place in a boy band, but he uses it to good effect and sings with an earnesty that is hard to ignore.

From the band's formation in 1993, it took them three years to produce a single song called "Annie, would I lie to you?" The song was released as a single and was featured on an obscure genre compilation CD called Electronic Fields in 1996. Other than a few club DJs and genre afficionatos, nobody noticed. The band, however, was undeterred, and after another three years, released their first full-length album, Disconnect, with "Annie, would I lie to you?" as its centerpiece. With it came the current form of their name after they dropped the word "Forgiving" to become simply Iris. Released on the Different Drum record label, it was a smash hit -- as far as American synthpop goes. "Annie" became a heavily played dancefloor staple and remained so for a couple of years (after which it seemed everyone got sick of it due to overexposure). Three other songs on Disconnect were released as singles, "Saving time," "Lose in wanting" and "Danger is the shame," which pushed the album to its greatest success -- #8 on the Deutsch Alternative Chart in Germany. As a result of all this, the band went on a tour of the USA and Europe in 1999, which did pretty well. I saw them at the Limelight in New York City, and they seemed quite enthusiastic to have finally "made it," with Reagan bouncing around the stage as he sang, Matt bopping to the infectious beats even as he was creating them. It was a fun show to see, something you wouldn't normally expect at music that is largely aimed at goths.

After the spotlight had faded a bit, Matt left the band, leaving only Reagan. He promptly brought in Andy Sega, whom anyone familiar with the demoscene would know as Necros, world-famous module tracker and maker of music discs. He's also a member of Stromkern, as part of their live line-up. After a further three years of no new material, Awakening, Iris's second LP, was released in 2002. Andy's production was immediately noticeable and really tight; the sound was better than ever. The album's lead single, "Unknown," was a minor success and got a bit of club play, but not much else. After its release, the band disappeared from the radar again, although Andy has kept busy with his side project, Alpha Conspiracy, and also as a remixer and a composer of video game music -- the best known of which is probably his work on Unreal and Unreal Tournament.

Reagan and Andy got around to releasing a new CD, Wrath, in 2005.

In summary, Iris makes highly accessible synthpop, the kind of songs that could be played on the radio if only people were more interested in beeps and beats. When they inevitably pop up from the shadows with a new album or single, it's guaranteed to be worth a listen. Die-hard fans are plentiful among lovers of synthpop, despite having a few Iris songs hammered into their heads by overeager DJs, and if you're curious about the genre but don't know where to start, this band is a highly listenable place to begin.

Discography:

  • Annie, Would I Lie To You? / CD single / 1999 / A Different Drum
  • Disconnect / album / 1999 / A Different Drum
  • Saving Time / MCD / 1999 / A Different Drum
  • Danger Is The Shame / MCD / 2000 / A Different Drum
  • Lose In Wanting / MCD / 2000 / A Different Drum
  • Reconnect / remix disc / 2000 / A Different Drum
  • Unknown / CD single / 2002 / A Different Drum
  • Awakening / album / 2002 / A Different Drum
  • Wrath / album / 2005 / A Different Drum
  • Disconnect 2.0 / album (re-release) / 2005 / A Different Drum
  • It Generates / CD single / 2006 / Vision Music
  • Hydra / remix disc + DVD / 2008 / Diffusion Records
  • Lands of Fire 2008 / CD single / 2008 / Vision Music
  • Closer To Real / MCD / 2010 / Infacted Recordings
  • Blacklight / CD / 2010 / Infacted Recordings
  • Radiant / CD / 2014 / Dependent Records

Footnotes:

1. Using the modern (post-1980s) definition of the genre.

I've seen this band live once: (New York City, 1999)