Why has it been the best summer for synthwave album releases? Seriously. Butterflies & Barbiturates by SWAGBOT makes my job as a reviewer so easy. The album is, first and foremost, strange. The songs are all varied wonderfully while still maintaining a consistent sound, but that sound challenges genre classification. "demons in the dressing room" has new wave all over it, "natural high" contains many elements from chiptune music, "laying in the rain" has such an odd and forceful beat, and "perspective" feels similar to Crystal Castles. In fact, that is probably the closest anchor I can even compare Butterflies & Barbiturates too. Think Crystal Castles meets synthwave.
The opening three songs are strong enough to carry the rest of the album. "laying in the rain" sets the tone of the album. A large amount of the overall strangeness in SWAGBOT's sound is the melding of dissonant elements, and the opening track is a solid introduction to that. The synths of the opening and the pounding beats wouldn’t seem to make sense together if you listened to them independent of each other, but in practice it sounds perfect. This leads into the best song on the album.
"perspective" is completely fantastic from start to finish. It is equal parts despairing and catchy. The melodies in the song never overstay their welcome and the beats never become redundant. The main bass synth is abrasive, but it never distracts entirely from the melody. The two exist in an uneasy state that makes the song sound so interesting. The times in the song that the bass drops out, the song changes its beat the reprieve is calming before it all picks up again. SWAGBOT's bandcamp and album cover both describe the album as "A tale of love loss and drug addiction." "perspective" is filled with literal relapses. What follows is "my computer", the second best song on the album. Despite liking "perspective" more, I think that "my computer" is a more interesting and unique song. Elements of it remind me of IDM. The song is in constant motion,
The next song is "heroin". To be completely honest with you, I'm still indecisive on how I feel about this song. On my first listen, it was my least favorite on the album. Later listens made me appreciate it a little more. The song has a swing beat, something very uncommon in the scene. The vocal delivery is also very strange. The dissonance I keep mentioning is present here as well. The beat is extremely positive and the melodies are pretty, but the vocals are haunting and the lyrics are depressing, though they never seem melodramatic. The lyrics alone to the song are the definite strongpoint of it.
The album's titular track is also the closer. "butterflies & barbiturates" is a grand and epic experience that culminates much of what the album was building toward. It has the strange juxtaposition of sound. I've been hoping an artist would incorporate elements of glitch music into synthwave and in this song I hear it, both in the chopped and looped vocal hook and the strange stuttering of the synth 2:52. Butterflies & Barbiturates is another in a summer of incredible album releases, and one that is immediately recognized by a strange and wonderful sound.