Category Archives: Dream Wave

Blackbird Blackbird: Tangerine Sky

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Blackbird Blackbird: Tangerine SkyTangerine Sky, Blackbird Blackbird’s new album offers an alluring mix of R&B/hip hop influences, classic and electronic music, somehow ignoring the exploding trends of today while still showing off an original sound that fits right in. The first song on the entrancing collection is ‘Tangerine Sky’. Metaphorically I see it as that really popular guy in high school who wasn’t that good looking and never played football, but somehow was still the prom king. The beat is thought-provoking, but it can’t touch the honest words that are sung the lyrics, “I need you the most/I love you the most of all/Everything collapses, crumbling into nothing/but we still need to hold on to our memories” and are spread patiently throughout the title track ‘Tangerine Sky’.

‘Feel It In My Bones’ is my personal favorite song from the composition. It’s slow dreamy entrance brings you in and leads you to the smooth yet catchy chorus. The song lifts you up and then brings you back down again and again with seamless transition. This is thanks to Mikey Maramag, the man behind Blackbird Blackbird. He is a powerful wizard who controls all of the blackbirds…. Well, no he’s not, but it is the solo artist’s moniker. His style may be attributed to his pretty great and wide range of influences, from old favorites like Caribou to great raising talents such as James Blake.

The next track ‘Darlin’ Dear’ is definitely in homage to John Hughes movies. It would have fit right into Sixteen Candles. It’s soothing post-punk 80s melody will take you back. Following it is ‘There Is Nowhere’ which returns the R&B vibes forgotten in the previous track. The vocals are funky and high pitched as ever but the slow beat bursts with soul and emotion. The end is surprising and well timed. The sudden change brings another layer showing off Maramag’s talent.

‘Summers Almost Here’ begins with the noises of summer but smoothly flows into an upbeat rhythm until all of sudden somethings hits it and hundreds of noises collide into a rush of tones and melodies that blend unexpectedly together. A break comes, but it is short lived and those strange noises are thrown back at you expanding every second. The ending leaves more to be desired but the rest of the song stands up for itself. ‘Rare candy’ is another stand out track. The guitar brings a welcomed familiarity. Maramag shows off his lower vocal range and it adds a heavy but comforting touch to the breezy song.

‘Grow Old With Me (Don’t Let Go)’ is the final song on Tangerine Sky. It begins with a simple but happy beat before Maramag’s vocals enter the scene. His drawn out syllables are dreamy and soft. They change the feeling of the song but the beat does not get depressing. It works as the final song, ranging from quiet to electric but ending in the form of a drift away. Don’t forget to check out ‘Star Faces’ as well, it is a B-side for the album where Maramag turns it down a notch once again, but the track stays soothing and mysterious. It’s a great choice for listening to while studying to get you in the zone.

Tangerine Sky is the soundtrack to your dreams that won’t make you fall asleep. It has some pretty cool artwork too. Be sure to check it out…8.0/10

Star Faces

Papertwin: Vox Humana

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Papertwin: Vox Humana — I’ve said more than once that what’s most important to me in music is emotional content. Sure, an artist can understand the theory and the concept of the music. More specifically, a basic understanding of the keyboards and the software is all it takes for someone to start their journey to synth superstardom. But the mere understanding of the instrument will not produce aurally pleasing music, and nothing is more insulting than a purposeful manipulation of emotion because an artist understands the concept of empathy. Somewhere in-between these two negative fields is a sweet spot where the music matches the emotion, and it becomes something more than twiddling knobs and sad lyrics.

This is where Vox Humana, the third EP by synth trio Papertwin, proudly sits. It’s only six songs but I felt as if I had completed a long journey by the end. There are a lot of worrisome buzz words being thrown around by buzz blogs, most troublesome being “synth shoegaze”. It’s not entirely inaccurate and there have already been some unsuccessful attempts at capturing that sound, but I feel there’s a lot more going on. Again, this isn’t just knob twiddling and sad lyrics. This is the lamentation of self-aware machines.

‘Alkaline’ begins in familiar territory with solid basslines and a nice kick drum before purposefully straying into a Kate Bush reminiscent splendor. Max Decker’s voice is immediately pleasing and familiar, because we have been him once. While the foundation of the song is solid and perhaps even aggressive, the higher synths and vocals writhe, curl, appear, and disappear like smoke. If Papertwin is new to you, I suggest this song be your guide into their world. On ‘Headlights’ there is again some powerful drum work to compliment the morose nature of the synths. This is why you won’t see the word “shoegaze” ever again in this article. Papertwin has both an angry heartbeat and teeth.

‘Whale’ was an automatic standout to me because of its grand, sweeping nature. It’s an intensely emotional song; both vocals and music cry out in a crescendo of angry humans and depressed machines. It lands somewhere between Radiohead’s ‘Ideoteque’ and Underworld’s ‘Puppies’. The song doesn’t really end either, it just blends into an equally powerful track, ‘Arco’. The rest of Vox Humana doesn’t really let up on the intensity after that. After the EP ended I thought, what now? I decided to sit in silence because anything else would have sounded shallow after having been tossed around in a synth storm.

The nods to both Radiohead and Underworld are, to me, very clear in Papertwin’s work. For all intents and purposes, they remind me of Radiohead before everything got too jaded and abstract. And they also sound very much like Underworld’s second and third albums, which deconstructed an entire genre and got thousands of people to pack arenas to listen to what was basically free form poetry set to music. Papertwin achieve a sound that is both challenging and accessible, and Decker’s vocals made me connect with him. Influences aside, the image that came to me when I had heard the last moment of Vox Humana was of a machine that wanted to be human, but didn’t realize all the burdens we bear. This artificial being, experiencing heartache and pain, and all the different shades of human emotion for the first time, cries out in regret but does not ask to stop the experience. This EP is something that should be experienced far away from any hype. Let it speak to you on a personal level…10/10

Whale

Wave Runner Records – Running All Night Compilation

Wave Runner Records: Running All Night Compilation – Compilations are great ways to get into new genres of music, or find an artist you may have overlooked. Running All Night is just that, but there’s also a personal touch to it. Wave Runner Records is the child of Morgan Griffin and I have to give the man credit for having an ear for amazing talent. Indeed, the Wave Runner label represents a great deal of the artists that drew me into the retro/synth sound. However, I do have to say that if you’ve been poking around on YouTube and Bandcamp long enough, you’ve probably already heard a lot of these artists.

But I’d like to think that this compilation is meant more for music lovers who may not know about the undistilled magic that is ’80s nostalgia and retro/synth wave, so I suppose I am at my most useful when pointing out the highlights and the many, many reasons this genre demands your attention, oh strange reader.

The comp opens with ‘Boardwalk Sunset’ by Highway Superstar and if any track were to proclaim a love for retro, it’s this sunny, sax driven, fun song. This is his most lighthearted track and a good introduction to the artist, but Highway Superstar is a huge talent that really can’t be defined by just one song. ‘Hot Stunner’ featuring Nikki by Phaserland is no different. Phaserland is an impressive architect of sound whose music opened my eyes to the scope of synthwave. I would consider both Highway Superstar and Phaserland as ambassadors of the retro/synth movement. They’d be the first guys I’d look up when introducing someone to synthwave.

That said, one of Wave Runner’s big hitters is Mitch Murder. Mitch has been producing flagship tracks since day one and his track featuring Miranda Carey, ‘Just Till Midnight’, is a shining example of his talent, although to be fair, it wouldn’t be half the track it is without Miranda’s sweet, catchy vocals. It reminds me less of the “idea” of retro but more of actual old school/freestyle tracks from the ’80s. If you put this song in rotation with Debbie Deb and Connie and Lisa Lisa I doubt anyone would be the wiser. The song is so pleasing to the ear that I’d definitely like to see more artists explore a sound that has more of a freestyle/R&B slant.

Following Mitch Murder can be a difficult task, but the fourth track is easily my favorite on the whole comp: ‘Time in Time’, by the impeccable Sunglasses Kid featuring Kristine. I kept going back to this track because of the bassline and the vocals. Sunglasses Kid is no joke; I haven’t heard a song by him that wasn’t masterfully arranged. But his collaboration with Kristine, for me, redefines the word “cool.” ‘Time in Time’ is full of soothing, sensuous vocals and Sunglasses Kid crafts a track that complements Kristine’s unmistakable voice without ever taking the focus away from her. It’s like watching professional dancers effortlessly glide across the floor.

Lueur Verte lends ‘Malibu Sunrise’ to the comp. While it does evoke images the title would suggest, there’s also a signature dramatic flair beneath the synth work that made me a fan of LV in the first place. A Space Love Adventure brings us the first real outrun-style track with the ASLA remix of ‘Nicole’. This is an intense track with an awesome build, with some choice guitar riffs at the peak.

The upbeat outrun continues with Sellorekt/LA Dreams’ ‘Alive’, and Lueur Verte reappears with ‘Night Slasher 2′ for some more horror-themed sounds. Starforce and Tommy bring us ‘Interstellar’, which is a sonic painting of an alien landscape. ‘Car Clova’ is an interesting track by Farfletched. It’s dark, fun, funky and blends elements of synth funk and horror, with a taste of outrun.

It’s in these last several tracks that I found a few gems. Swagbot’s ‘Trying’ and Adeyhawke’s ‘Disco Idalium’ are interesting deconstructions of both sound and genre convention, and while not “traditional” synthwave, if such a thing exists, these artists are definitely ones to keep an eye on when looking for a more lateral approach to the music.

I’d consider Running All Night more of a mixtape than a compilation, and we are all that special someone Morgan Griffin had in mind when making it. It’s also important to mention that this comp is a reminder of how close-knit this community of artists and fans really is, given how willing to contribute all the featured artists were, and that the comp itself is a labor of love. I also have it on good authority that there’s more on the horizon from Wave Runner Records. Until then, we happily float in the sea of synth. If you’re interested in the genre at all, this is your diving board…10/10

Disco Idalium 

Tycho: Awake

Tycho: Awake - Nostalgia is oftentimes how we recall lost feelings and euphoric memories of past experiences. These notions may sometimes not be memories at all, but glimpses into places that we have never been to, yet daydream about. Peoples’ own paradises, whether they resemble a far away desert island or the memory of fishing with Dad on the lake, all percolate within our thoughts from time to time. Scott Hansen of Tycho has found a way to tap into this nostalgia through the vivid imagery conveyed by his latest album, Awake. Although there are those that would not be able relate to anything that was just mentioned, Awake may just be the trigger to their elation.

Aside from Tycho, Hansen is a talented visual design artist and has been crafting lustrous graphic art long before he started producing music. He has stated on numerous occasions that he is a graphic designer at heart, but followed a passion to become a musician after moving to San Francisco. It only makes sense that his intrinsic talent for imagery would seep into his previous album, Dive. Both Dive and Awake combine a swithering fusion of vigorous synths and ringing guitars that somehow engulf a listening space and create a stunning symphonic experience. Dive possessed a haunting dreamlike expansion of tracks with singles such as ‘Hours’ and ‘Ascension’ that put listeners in an incubated state of mind. Aside from the track ‘Coastal Break’, it rarely deviated from an ethereal-like atmosphere.

On Awake however, we hear a much more energized collection of linearly built tracks. Starting off with the single, ‘Awake’, Hansen immediately radiates a sudden burst of enthusiasm that would seem alien if found on Dive. Almost as a declaration of excitement, ‘Awake’ acts as a stand-alone track, with a head-bobbing snare and vibrant guitar riff that foreshadows the album’s audible profusion. On the next track, called ‘Montana’, we see Hansen’s ability to take a song that has no lyrics, and transform it into an animated and addictive anthem. Each track seems to act like chapters in a book as they transition from one track to the next. One of the highlights on the album is the track ‘See’. Perhaps a metaphor for realization, this track strikes up an exciting array of emotions that seem hopeful and resilient.

Hansen undoubtedly knows what he is doing as he constructs each track. Awake is a very fluid album and does not fail to transition at just the right moment. Much like in his visual art, Hansen is carefully adept. He keeps the right sounds and instruments focalized throughout each track. The constant guitar strums of ‘Spectre’ cleverly indicate that the resolution of the album is near, while the erratic drum beats on ‘Apogee’ epitomize a sense of feeling out of place, or adjusting to a change. The only true disappointment on the album would have to be its abrupt finish. At only about 35 minutes in length, there is almost a sense of betrayal left resonating in the silence after the track ‘Plains’. Perhaps it was best of Hansen to avoid sugarcoating the album with more tracks that would only seem to take up space on what is a spectacular compilation of sounds.

Awake is a true piece of art, created by a truly talented artist. Even for those who are not fans of instrumental music, Tycho has more than met halfway with this uncanny collection of evocative tracks. Unlike most recent experimental electronic artists who need to catch listeners off guard by adding drops and heavy bass beats, Awake is an album that carries you away much like the tide carrying you out to sea. It does not require you to engage but to disengage from reality for just a few moments so that maybe, just maybe, you can indulge in that happy memory or just drift off into wistfulness…9.5/10

Awake

Tommy: Frequency Modulations

 

Tommy – Frequency Modulations - When it comes to the retro aesthetic, there are few things I love more than neon. Neon signs beckon the eyes and pique one’s curiosity; neon in print art is colorful without being garish. It’s sexy, it’s cool, it’s evocative of playful adventure, and it’s timeless. What is old is new again, what was once on the verge of being forgotten is back on the cutting edge. This is also what’s great about Tommy’s latest release, Frequency Modulations. It’s everything we love about retrowave but seen through the eyes of a very forward-thinking artist.

The album starts with ‘The New Wave’, which is an interestingly-titled track. It begins with glittering synths and progresses into different hues and textures that are familiar and then again somehow new and young. I can’t help but feel like Tommy seeks to redefine the term “new wave” by actually attempting something new.

The second track asks the question, why, with all this new social media, are we still struggling to connect with each other? This is an outrun-styled track with pop sensibilities featuring Dana Jean Phoenix. Some of my favorite tracks have DJP doing vocals and it’s no surprise to see her working with Tommy. Smart artists and true talents will find each other, and it’s always a joy to hear the fruits of those endeavors.

Frequency Modulations takes us down some different avenues after that. There’s a little bit of synth funk with ‘Let’s Funk Tonight’, and ‘Globetrotter’ features some Kraftwerk-y electro pop that had me feeling like I was walking through billowing curtains of melody. It’s an extremely well-put together track that maintains a cool minimalism while also taking the listener on a journey.

From this point forward, Tommy hits an amazing stride. This is retro on a few levels. Not only does the sound maintain some of that old neon feel, I think it jumps ahead to the next decade to draw inspiration from guys like Orbital and Future Sound of London. I can’t properly explain it, but it has a certain ambient feel to it where I was pleased to just exist in the soundscape, but then new and interesting things kept being added to create a multidimensional space. A pad here, a synth there, and a few scintillating melodies later I’m floating quite curiously, tethered to Earth only by my headphones. To be completely honest I was not expecting this, based on the first few songs.

Tommy returns to a more ’80s flavored, slow drive-styled track with ‘Night of the Crime’. This isn’t an aggressive track by any means but the arrangement and ghostly sirens in the background serve as a hard shot of the synth stuff after spending the last few tracks floating in an aural bubble. And now that we’re refocused in the present, we’re struck with a simply gorgeous vocal track. ‘Why Did I Say Goodbye’ features another huge talent, Sally Shapiro. This is the same moody, sexy, dark sound that garnered Electric Youth some attention on a certain movie soundtrack, but I’m going to say this is a far more complex, evocative song and it’s also the best song on Frequency Modulations. I listen and I’m at my senior prom dancing with a beautiful girl, and someone’s spiked the punch bowl with cough syrup.

The end of the album is a return to that ambient, progressive electro style that I was intoxicated with, but if I think of the progression of sound as a descent from sunny afternoon to twilight to midnight, then ‘The World Is Gonna End Today’ and the title track, ‘Frequency Modulations’, are the sunrise. These are big, glowing, warm tracks that put a beautiful, smile-inducing finish on things. I challenge anyone to put on ‘Frequency Modulations’ and not want to attack the day. But then it’s over, the transmission ends, the tape stops rolling. I found the silence somehow unbearable, so I hit play again.

Tommy really surprised me with this album. Even armed with the awareness of his prowess, I was still floored by the range I heard on Frequency Modulations. This just goes to show that the genre is ever-changing, ever-shifting. It’s a small culture of music makers and music lovers, but a fervent culture that grows and mutates. A producer doesn’t have to follow any one path, nor do they have to fear that no one will follow. Like gases in a tube, this music can be any shape and any color. As long as it is bright, brave and lovely, we will be drawn to it…10/10

Frequency Modulations