Tag Archives: synthwave

Atrey: Supernova EP

Atrey – Supernova EP

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Atrey – Supernova EP

I always appreciate an artist who doesn’t categorize themselves.  They just go with whatever works at the time or whatever hits that inspiration nerve or strikes them as interesting.  In synth and retrowave this makes you a bit of an outsider because a lot of people in the scene are scoring imaginary action movies, telling epic sci-fi adventures, or composing retro porn soundtracks.  So when I sat down with the Supernova EP, I was pleasantly surprised.  Atrey inhabits a very strange intersection of synth.  There are many things going on in such a short EP that it’s hard to pin down exactly what he’s trying to do, precisely.  This isn’t an indictment, because I tend to like artists who compose according to impulse and emotion as opposed to maintaining a theme.  There’s some glitch, some funk, some horror, and even some Daft Punk-ish vocoded vocals.  I would even hesitate to call him a retrowave artist, because that would limit his range and make you, dear reader, assume what his sound is like.

The Supernova EP starts off with the titular track that builds with ominous synth and sparse, creepy harpsichord keys.  It jumps directly to a glitched melody and some satisfying dashes of slap bass before peaking with a killer guitar riff.  It’s a very accessible track, one suited for night driving.

Putting an absolute halt to the momentum, ‘So Far Away’ is a slow yet sparkling disco ballad that puts me in a romantic mood.  Very big snares and some wailing guitar make it a perfect track to shed some tears to, if you’re into that kind of thing.  Cranking up the momentum once more is ‘Vertigo’, a somewhat glitchy, French house influenced sci fi/horror trip down strangely empty streets.

By far the most charming, catchy and emotional song on this EP is ‘Naomi’.  It’s got a mid tempo, undulating beat with hints of cowbell and retro stabs underneath a cut up guitar riff.  It makes me nostalgic for loves past and I found myself hitting repeat and just kind of spacing out to it after I got tired of dancing.  If I had to recommend just one song, it’s this one.

Atrey is a versatile artist and this is just a hint of things to come.  He’s just released a single featuring retro goddess Dana Jean Phoenix so big things are definitely on his horizon.  A solid effort and I can’t wait to hear more.

8/10

Perturbator: Dangerous Days

Perturbator: Dangerous Days- I had a thought unrelated to this review that I think applies. The majority of ‘artists’ are really just filler. They’re marginally good enough in talent or technical ability to be on the radio or known in their sphere of influence but don’t really contribute anything truly creative nor do they innovate. You only hear new stuff from them when a new sample pack comes out or the software they use gets an upgrade. They just exist to take some pressure off of the true creators; elevator tunes in between floors. Then there are guys like Perturbator.

Admittedly I’ve been a fan of Perturbator since the first day synthwave entered my life so I was very excited to be able to review his work and yes, I had high expectations. Dangerous Days is an absolute clinic of how synthwave should be done and how to do it well. It’s an intense sci-fi outrun full of ear pleasing melodies, satisfying progressions, and coy nods to some of our favorite bits of retro futurism.

‘Welcome Back’ and ‘Perturbator’s Theme’ are both intro and opening tracks that sort of blend into one aggressive outrun track. Nothing mindblowing just yet, but this is just Perturbator cracking his knuckles and taking a few breaths. ‘Raw Power’ is a glitchy, 8-bit descent into violence and madness that reminds us that video arcades used to be dangerous dens of gambling, drugs and murder, if Robocop 2, Deathwish or The Lost Boys are to be believed. ‘Future Club’ achieves a sound Daft Punk could come up with if they took off the helmets and put on death masks. It’s dark, it’s catchy, and it layers synths that dance very suggestively with each other.

‘War Against Machines’ is a nod to probably the greatest action movie theme ever, but ‘Hard Wired’ is where Dangerous Days reaches its most gorgeous peak. This is a slow, deep synth cruise that features haunting vocals. Yet there are fantastic and whimsical qualities to the track. It’s a darkly sweet love theme, a cascade of stars falling along a nuclear skyline. While that may be my favorite, and perhaps best, track on the album, ‘She is Young, She is Beautiful, She is Next’ and ‘Humans Are Such Easy Prey’ feature all the things I love about Perturbator. There are aggressive drum arrangements, interesting progressions, glitched moments, tempo shifts and quick melodies but also a lot of little things too. Whether Perturbator drops a pad or instrument for a brief moment of peace for a measure, throws in a different snare, or compliments his synth work with a guitar riff or vice versa, there’s an attention to detail here that I’m so impressed with. Perturbator approaches his work like an absinthe maddened composer, seeing and hearing and feeling a galaxy of things all at once and frantically working to capture his vision before it fades. That’s exactly how I would describe Dangerous Days.

The album ends with its title track, which is a twelve minute synth symphony that recalls the days when EDM tracks were considered short if they were less than six minutes. This is an exploration of many themes and it could easily be broken up into several stand alone tracks, but I choose to think of it as the score to a short sci-fi film. Perturbator does have the chops to score a film, or anything for that matter, so I plan on looking for his name in the credits when they decide to make a movie based on Contra or a sequel to Far Cry: Blood Dragon. Dangerous Days is many things: a dark vision of the future, a drive into the very heart of malice, a madman’s scratchings into the wall of synth. But it is also a love letter and a true compositional masterpiece. Now I imagine Perturbator will rest and recharge, and search for new inspiration in a closet of old skeletons, perhaps. Until next he decides to call out to the creatures of the night and lay fingers on keys again, I suppose I’ll have to occupy my time with the ever present filler…10/10

‘She is Young, She is Beautiful, She is Next’

 

 

 

Dress-2-Kill: Fuck You, Asshole

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Dress-2-Kill: Fuck You, Asshole — Nostalgia has a funny way of warping our perception of things. There’s a reason why the phrase “rose tinted glasses” exists. The love we have for things in our childhood or just things from bygone eras is a difficult animal to describe. Some things stand the test of time because well made things always do, regardless of the decade from whence they came. Some things are terrible but still earn a place in our hearts because of their association with happy memories, and yet other things are so bad they come full circle to being good again.

I can think of only one man, one icon of the eighties that exists in all three realms of nostalgia: Arnold Schwarzenegger. No one else represents quality journeys into retro futurism (The Terminator, The Running Man), celebrations of violence and one liners (Commando, The Predator), and poor ideas executed terribly (Hercules in New York) quite like Arnold does. Dress-2-Kill has distilled the Arnie zeitgeist into a hard hitting synth adventure, proudly titled Fuck You, Asshole.

‘It’s Only Science Fiction’ leads us quickly into a room-filling synth melody, and while it isn’t the meatiest of tracks on Fuck You, Asshole, it serves as a perfect appetizer for the main course (Green Berets). ‘The Running Man’ is somewhat similar but the urgency of the synth work and the drone of the bass are evocative of an 8-bit run for your life, culminating in one of my favorite lines from Commando. Probably my favorite track on Fuck You, Asshole is ‘A Hooker With Three Tits’ featuring Kiile. The synths, the little guitar riffs and delayed wails, the toms all come together in such an effective way that I really felt like I was at a bar on the wrong side of Mars, wondering where my next breath of air was going to come from.

‘You’re One Ugly Motherfucker’ is a descent into paranoid synth madness with dashes of horror and sci-fi thrown in because, there IS something out there waiting for us, and it ain’t no man. ‘I Don’t Do Requests’ closes out Fuck You, Asshole with another expansive, atmospheric track that features some cool outrun sensibilities.

It’s not uncommon for a producer to so transparently pay homage to retro royalty, and it’s not uncommon for those homages to be awesome; the synthwave family has many talented members. It’s uncommon, however, for a producer to so wonderfully capture the spirit of a legend the way Dress-2-Kill does on Fuck You, Asshole. Indeed, from the title of the EP to the title of each song, it’s clear who inspired D2K. But what counts is the music and this is a solid piece of pure synthwave. Before Fuck You, Asshole I thought it would’ve been impossible to capture the sound of one man who is an unstoppable cyborg killer that’s being chased by both the galaxy’s greatest hunter and ruthless brutes competing for television ratings, while he tries to find his kidnapped daughter and liberate Mars in the process, but D2K went and did it. Next time you need to let off some steam and feel like an Arnie marathon, skip the VCR and put on Fuck You, Asshole8.5/10

A Hooker With Three Tits (feat. Kiile)

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

Parallels at The Hotel Café

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Navigating the streets of Hollywood on a Saturday night is not easy, to ridiculously understate it. There are literally thousands of people clogging the streets, from all walks of life, heading to all manner of places. Most are headed to stand in long lines to pay to stand in longer lines to buy a drink, and to finally dance for maybe forty five minutes to a DJ who no one’s ever heard of but is someone who deserves to have his name on a marquee.

I was on my way elsewhere, to an alleyway on Cahuenga Boulevard. Down that alleyway, behind all the storefronts, was a door that led into the Hotel Café, where I’d be seeing one of my absolute favorite bands, Parallels.

Parallels is a synthpop trio from Toronto, Canada. Holly Dodson provides vocals and synths, her brother Nick is on drums, and on synths, guitar and backup vocals is Artem Galperine. They’ve seen their way through two albums and were featured on the soundtrack to an Oscar-winning short. I’ve personally been a fan for a year and change; their sound intoxicated me from the first verse and I consider them a gateway band to all things synth and retro. So it was with much excitement that I sat as close to the stage as possible and waited for the show to start.

The Hotel Café itself has a good reputation for seeing bands “up close” and is conducive to seeing folk artists. It makes sense; there are tables set up very close to the stage, and the lighting and stage layout is pretty much meant for people staying very still. Still, the band plugged in with relative ease and got the show started soon after I sat down. For those unfamiliar with the Parallels sound, I would say it’s a special blend of Madonna, Pat Benatar and Depeche Mode, with icy cool modern synth sensibilities to hold it all together.

Holly introduced the band in a sweet, polite, almost shy way before tearing into their first two songs. It was absolute synth heaven. I will compliment the Hotel Café for having great acoustics, even if they don’t really encourage dancing. Nick had an awesome moment toward the end of the third or fourth song where his drum solo completely eclipsed the tapestry of synth hanging in the room. After that, Parallels kicked into a primer of their music. Beginning with Electromotion, they played ‘Moonlight Desires’ (an amazing cover of a Gowan song; check out the video and thank me later), ‘City of Stars’, ‘Things Fall Apart’, ‘Ultralight’ and ‘Midnight Voices.’

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Holly reminds me of synthwave Stevie Nicks. Her vocal style is both tantalizing and soothing and she does well showing passion with restraint, fun and exuberance with a laser focus on providing a quality experience for the audience member. The set did feel a little brief, but I’ll chalk that up to this show being scheduled at the last moment.

My one gripe, and this is not with the band at all, is the lack of people in the venue. Holly and the band were affable and infinitely thankful to a fairly empty room. I was happy that I had finally gotten to see one of my favorite bands play live but I was a little frustrated for them because of the low turnout. I know that Los Angeles is a town full of live music, so no one room can expect to be packed, but I also know (I KNOW) that Parallels is a band well-overdue for some serious attention. They’ve already put in much more genuine work than a lot of acts out there and it’s clear that they love what they do. Success is a process, not an event, so I suppose they’ll get the love and attention they deserve soon enough. And I suppose I’ll fondly remember the night I saw them in an empty room, shook Holly’s hand, and thanked her for coming to LA.

I hope this will be just the first of many shows here, because Parallels is a hugely talented band comprised of genuinely cool and likable people, which is rare in this town. Diamonds in a city of hard rocks, if you will. I do have it on good authority that we’ll be able to witness the synth magic that is Parallels towards the fall season. Until then, I’ll be waiting on this bustling street, so full of people but yet so lacking in joy and music.