Dead Astronauts - Arms of Night

Constellations was a remarkable and interesting release in the mixed bag that was late 2014 synthwave. It managed to stand out as an interesting gem and serious Album of the Year contender and snagged the 10 spot in our Top 10 Albums of 2014 list.

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Scandroid - Self-Titled

It's obvious within the first few minutes of Scandroid's eponymous debut to realize that this album is from a higher league.

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Peter Zimmermann – "Eine Nacht Mit Peter Zimmermann"

Peter Zimmermann – "Eine Nacht Mit Peter Zimmermann"

The German legend Peter Zimmermann is set to steal the spotlight with his newest italo-disco bombshell, "Eine Nacht Mit Peter Zimmermann."  This album listens like a stiff drink feels -  warming you inside until you're bursting with a drunken energy and you just can't help but feel the drive.

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Damokles – Bring Out The Funk

Damokles – Bring Out The Funk

Swedish sensation Damokles, a.k.a. Anders Ekström,  is blasting back from the past with his newest EP, "Bring Out The Funk."

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The Midnight - Endless Summer

The Midnight - Endless Summer

After two long years in the works, the Los Angeles based duo The Midnight is back with their sophomore album, "Endless Summer." 

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Trevor Something - Soulless Computer Boy and the Eternal Render

For an artist with near-complete anonymity, Trevor Something is able to generate a substantial amount of hype. Between his recent internet activity leading up to the release of Soulless Computer Boy and the Eternal Render and the single "Girlfriend" dropping earlier this year, it was one of the most anticipated releases of the summer.  All of his releases have been stellar, with 2014's Trevor Something Does Not Exist being obviously the best he had to offer. That was until 2016. This is without a doubt the best Trevor Something album

Trevor Something songs inherently possess dark and transgressive themes, but with a seductive air to it. His songs often highlight some of the darker aspects to love and relationships, but invite the listener to revel in the abyss of it. This was largely due to the subtle R&B influences, mostly found in his vocal delivery. This has been refined and pushed to the forefront of SCBatER, which is tremendously effective for two reasons. It helps make the already unique Trevor Something even more carved out as something unlike anything else in the scene, but it make just about every song on the album even catchier than it might have been otherwise.  Apart from vocal delivery, Trevor Something manages to push his music into generally weirder territory sonically, as the opening of "Procreation" and "Lost and Found" each attests. The melodies are strong, but they're delivered using some truly strange synths, some of which even have vaporwave undertones.

Just as the album cover becomes gradually more abstract and ambient as you look from left to right, the album becomes a vast an open ended ambient experiment by the end of its run, with "Cloud of Thoughts" and "Beyond the Infinite" being the most Eno-esque and borderline transcendental listening experiences.  Ordinarily this sort of plunge into radically experimentation would lead one to wonder why this bipolar album wasn't simply two EP's. The thing with this release is that it earns that dive into the ambient. Synthwave as a genre is heavily dependent upon atmosphere and mood, which is a trait it shares in common with ambient music, where those traits are the most important component. Trevor Something integrates ambient influence into every track on the album, even the R&B-flavored vocal songs. As the album approaches the midpoint, the ambience begins to overtake the more standard synthwave songs. "Lost and Found" is a real turning point in that regard. The vocals become more buried than before, the synths dreamier. The bass stays at home with synthwave, as do elements of the track's beat. "Pure", though a vocal track with less buried singing, still begins to hold firmer ground as an ambient track. By the time you get to "Digital Clense", the seventh track, the album has become completely ambient, with Trevor painting in moods rather than melodies.

The strength of these ambient tracks is found in their crescendos. Each song has a multitude of moments where it seems to climax in a swell of sound. Sometimes there is a less pad-like synth in the mix to hold onto, but oftentimes the entire song acts as a whirlwind around you, immersing you and pulling you. It's very difficult to disengage, and it is particularly difficult if you've already been hooked by the first half of the album. It's a strange album. There's just no way around that. Odds are everybody is going to love the first six songs, but most are going to find the entire thing enjoyable. This is an incredible release in one has truly been an incredible year of synthwave. The album is free, so there really isn't much of an excuse to not grab it, but it is well worth $10+ dollars for the strength and craft found within. 

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Timecop1983 - Lovers EP - Part I

It's hard to believe that it's been over two years since Timecop1983 released Journeys, a true classic of the genre. Since then, the Netherlands native has been busy, releasing a stellar EP and a solid full length, and with Lovers EP – Part I, has rolled out the first part of an ambitious multi-release project. Anticipation is going to be pretty high for Part II because Part I is the best thing he has made so far. It's a struggle to even pick the best song on the EP; the entire thing is so cohesive and solid and filled with so many interesting moments that it works remarkably well on multiple spins of the entire release.

"Home (Prologue)" kicks off the release with the ambient romanticism and dreaminess that has become a Timecop1983 trademark.  The swelling of synths throughout the song makes everything cinematic and lush – almost like a synthwave Sigur Ros. That is by far the most interesting component to the song, but in the background there are subtle variations to the bass synth to fill in the spaces between other melodies. Vocal tracks on Timecop1983 releases are always a highlight, and the previously released "Lovers" does not disappoint. SEAWAVES vocals display an impressive range and alternate between the tenderness of some GUNSHIP songs and the emotional howl of M83. The music continues the trend of constantly moving and building.  When SEAWAVES unleashes the more emotional lines, the music is perfect juxtaposition. The song is huge. Every song on the EP is huge, and there is a punchiness to Timecop1983's stripped down beats that wasn't always present. 

The first 80 seconds of "Come Back" has an incredible and emotional buildup. The U2-esque guitar (at least, that's what it sounds like) that chirps and echoes in the middle of the song adds a really interesting sonic layer to the Eno-esque atmosphere over cinematic melodies. It should be noted that the first three songs of this EP are all over five and a half minutes in length. That's significantly longer than most synthwave songs, and the fact that the songs don't feel redundant or draining is a testament to the songwriting and production. "Eyes Closed" follows with some interesting panning with synths alternating left and right speakers to the backdrop of a typically dreamy Timecop1983 song. 

Though "Gone" is the final track on the EP, it really functions more a postlude, ideally to transition to the next EP in the series. It works well enough and effectively closes out the atmosphere and mood that had been building throughout the rest of the release, with some soothing synths chiming in around the halfway mark. Ultimately, the Blade Runner-namesake "Tears in the Rain" is the true closer. Fittingly, it draws a lot from Vangelis, but also has an unmistakably Kavinsky influence – particularly in the bass synth, which modulates about as close to aggressive as you can call a Timecop1983 song. The synths do a beautiful job of carrying the song, and when the drums drop out at regular intervals, they really shine. There's a weightless quality to the melodies and sounds that makes those moments feel genuinely like floating. Ultimately, that's a feeling that Timecop1983 releases have been imbuing since Journeys, but with Lovers EP – Part I, he has refined everything that made his sound distinct and relatable to become something even better. This is an artist with an incredible work-rate, and the fact that the consistency is not only there, but that he continually improves; it all makes me overwhelmingly excited for the second Lovers EP in a few months. This is a must-listen. 

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Furi OST Review

Furi OST Review

"Furi" is an expertly crafted, mostly top-down hack n' slash platform shooter similar in style to Hotline: Miami mashed together with Contra – except it features only a string of epic face burning boss battles.

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Jamatar - Spacesounds

You will know within the first 20 seconds of "Gravity", the opening track of Jamatar's Spacesounds is an EP that you will love or skip. It straddles the line between being a heavily chiptune-influenced synthwave album and a heavily synthwave influenced chiptune album. Chiptunes aren't for everybody, and people can sometimes write off any aspect of that genre quickly. That's a shame though, because there isn't a second on Spacesounds that isn't fresh and infectious.

            The debut EP by the Australian artist is at it's most impressive when it is using the same Gameboy source to create interesting textures and layer them. "Gravity" does this masterfully, mixing warmer, rounder tones with the more brittle, distinctive video game sounds we are all accustomed to. "Singularity" follows by doing much the same. While filled with layered melodies, the song is more subdued and chilled out. It is more house-oriented than the other tracks, but the wash of nostalgic sounds manages to keep it from sounding overly repetitive.

            "Dead Space" sees Jamatar channeling darker atmospheres that wouldn't be out of place in an old Metroid game, but with Final Fantasy sounding melodies, if that makes sense. It is an overtly chiptune song, without as much of the synthwave influence. The next song, "Asasamu" is a highpoint of the EP and brings back the retro-synthwave feel with full force, blending it with a little bit of that the house music vibe of "Singularity". It is ultimately a track showcasing most of Jamatar's strengths as an artist.

            "Space Sounds" and "Unity" close out the EP, making it one of the few releases that is bottom heavy, as opposed to top heavy. Many artists put their best songs in the beginning of releases, but the three longest, and by far strongest Jamatar tracks occupy the back half of the EP. If you are on the fence about it, start from "Asasamu" and work your way to the end from there. It'll be interesting to see if Jamatar continues along the path of synthwave composition in a largely chiptune format, or if we blends more into that distinct Gameboy-generated sound. "Unity" implies that it could be more of the latter, and that makes me really excited for this artist's future releases. 

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Code Elektro – WOLF

Code Elektro – WOLF

Code Elektro is back with his sophomore album, “WOLF”. This highly anticipated release is a largely down-tempo, ethereal concept album inspired by cyberpunk style science fiction and the Scandinavian countryside.

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Fixions - Migration 2019

A few months ago, while on the phone with T.S., the founder of NRW, I was talking about certain trends in avant-garde styles of pop developing in London, and how it would be interesting to see these aggressively experimental musical choices manifest in the synthwave scene. With Migration 2019, Fixions has managed to craft an album that not only answers that call, but that also delights me to the point that it feels specifically made for me.

While I'm not certain if Fixions was inspired by the idiosyncrasies found in PC Music releases, some of the stylistic choices are similar, as is the sheer commitment to strangeness. The first track, "2019", captures much of what I love on this album. The experimentation is most obvious in the chopped and pitched vocal samples, adding something in between melody and percussive textures to an already funky and catchy song. There is a playfulness in the beats in the song that is carried over into much of the rest of the album. "They Live" follows, and pulses with Daft Punk-inspired groove. Even on the darker, moodier tracks, like "Grégoire & Nathan" or "Blasterion", Fixions manages to keep the energy to the point where the track feels like it could explode at any moment, all of which is laced with the experimentation found on the rest of the futurist android music festival that is Migration 2019.

Fixions fixation with IDM becomes more prominent as the album progresses. "Anathar", one of the album highlights, is littered with an intricate sort of randomness, feeling at times like a synthwave Aphex Twin. There's a spontaneity to every sound and every synth, but it all fits together seamlessly, with catchy passages connected and layered. "Entity" is a similar track, in the sense that it is composed of unexpected moments. When the song lulls you into calm moments, it builds anticipation through mesmeric lines and some of the most interesting percussive sounds I've ever heard in the genre – one of which resembles a blacksmith hammering an anvil. The inventive nature of the album isn't limited to one or two production tricks being repeated. Fixions' ability to push the album sonically in so many different directions while also giving it a distinct and unifying sound is impressive.

There really aren't dull moments in the 14 tracks of the album. Each song has a commitment to evolution, leading you to places that you might not expect the songs to go. 2016 has been a year with a lot of interesting growth and change in the genre, and this makes me excited. Migration 2019 is one of the least generic, most original sounding releases in the genre, and is a record that feels fresh after multiple spins. Each listen has different highlights throughout the run of the entire album, but also throughout individual songs.  

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Stilz - Judicator

Stilz - Judicator

Stilz, a producer based in Calgary, Canada, has re-released his most recent album, "Judicator."

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Absolute Valentine - Police Heartbreaker

Absolute Valentine - Police Heartbreaker

 As one can imagine, Derime has listened to a monumental amount of synthwave in his career – and this experience is clearly shown in "Police Heartbreaker".
 

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FM-84 'Atlas'

FM-84 'Atlas'

Let's get this out of the way: Atlas is a profound masterpiece of an album done with an almost unfathomable attention to detail. The wait after FM-84's Los Angeles EP from 2015 was rather long but well worth it.

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Crystal Bear! - Oberon

I am not a fan of the darkwave subset of synthwave. There is nothing wrong with it, and I certainly respect it. It is, after all, one of the fastest growing and fiercely loved subgenres within our subgenre scene. Again, I am not a fan of darkwave, but I am a fan of Oberon, the debut EP from Toronto's Crystal Bear!. The EP functions as the first part of a three part series, and Crystal Bear! makes it a point to mention on Bandcamp that doom metal is a major influence. That musical thumbprint is pretty obvious, but so is a clear similarity to some grime music from the mid 2000's, as well as minor chiptune overtones. Despite the short running length and occasionally cheesy synth line, this is a really solid EP.

 

"Howl & Fang" is an excellent choice of an album opener. It demonstrates a lot of musical ideas that Crystal Bear! uses throughout the release. The opening displays a strong sense of melody before the song progresses into a more metal inspired breakdown that is common in throughout the EP's four-track run. The song also features a somewhat erratic rhythm on the bass synth, focusing on syncopation. This approach to basslines is really fresh and welcomed.

The second track, "Sunder & Scorn", is more overtly sludgy and doom metal-inspired. It's a solid track, but does suffer a little from feeling underdeveloped. It presents some interesting musical ideas and aggressively scary synth tones, but then it just sort of ends just after 90 seconds. The promise of an almost funk / sludgey metal inspired synthwave track is very exciting and I'd love to see that pursued in future releases.

"Seeker & Thorn" follows and returns to a focus on melody and unexpected turns. The song is much more theatrical than the rest of the EP, with a near constant presence of some type of synth pad. The bass and drums are punchy and give the song great energy. "Mindflayer (The Shape of Synth to Come)" closes the EP in spirit with the rest of Oberon as it fluctuates between the lighter, melody-driven passages and the droning and ominous conclusion. Overall this is a really solid debut, and I look forward to seeing how Crystal Bear! handles this characteristic of having one foot in melody-rich catchy synthwave and brooding darkwave in the future.

 

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Badlands - Locus

Within about a minute of the first track it becomes abundantly clear that Locus, the debut album by Badlands, is something special. 

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Syntax - “Transmissions”

Syntax - “Transmissions”

It is easy to imagine the replicant Roy Batty listening intently to “Transmissions” as attack ships burn off the shoulder of Orion or as C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. One can only hope that a release such as this is not lost in time.

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Com Truise – Silicon Tare E.P

Com Truise – Silicon Tare E.P

Released via Ghostly International on April 1st, Silicon Tare is the new E.P from synthwave supremo, Com Truise. 

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Meteor - Parallel Lives

Meteor - Parallel Lives

Lets face it : synthwave, like any genre, has a tendency to become repetitive. Many Producers get stuck in retro stereotypes to the point of cliche, and tend to repeat the same themes, again and again.

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Occams Laser - Force Majeure

Occams Laser claims the intention of creating "sounds which take you back to a post-apocalyptic version of the 80s where robots run the streets". This is a bit of a swing and a miss on Force Majeure, which is a solid EP that in no way resembles that artist-stated intention.

"Nothing But Thieves" is an excellent vocal synthwave track that seamlessly blends Vangelis-esque synths with a jazzy lounge smoothness. The vocals are rawer than is typically found in the genre. While I typically enjoy vocals that are drenched in effects, this works well for the minimal composition, in particular when a few of the vocals begin to overlap.

The best song on the EP is probably "Patterns", which is another minimal track built around a heavily modulated piano tone and 808-sounding drums. The beat is actually reminiscent of Kanye West's work on 808's and Heartbreak, but with a Kid A level of unpredictability, neither of which is not a compliment I give out lightly. The open space and room to breathe makes it a standout not only on the album, but in the scene this year.

The rest of the songs on the EP do not have the level of minimalism found on these tracks, instead infused with a sad and introspective style of funk. It is not so far removed as to be jarring, and the EP in general flows well.

"Quelle Suprise" is the second vocal track, and is definitely worth a listen.  The balance between bounciness and moodiness found throughout is charming.  It has a heaping of the aforementioned funk sensibility, but with more traditionally synthwave vocals. From a compositional standpoint, it has the best melodies on the entire release. We're talking Hall & Oates level catchiness. Instrumentally, it has that a lot in common with that era of soul music, but with 80's inspired bass synths and drums. While not as strange as "Nothing But Thieves" or "Patterns", it is certainly odd.

The other three songs are good when taken with the EP as a whole, but it is really those three songs that pull me to frequent replays. This may not be some post-apocalyptic robot nonsense, but it is post-singularity neo-sentimentalism, which is a fresher aesthetic in the scene anyway.

PS. He has a pretty cool "Hotline Bling" cover on SoundCloud. 

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Joey Edsall was born and raised near Scranton, Pennsylvania. He has always immersed himself in art, being an avid fan of film and music. In addition to the electronic production aspect of music, he is the lead guitarist of Scranton-based post-hardcore band Give Us Your Bones.  

Photo by Amanda Dittmar

Email: joey.edsall@newretrowave.com