Out with the old-new and in with new-old is the modus operandi for 2017. From video games to films and T.V. series, to all kinds of music, our current century is still addicted to the past and riding the waves of the bygone and trying to make what came before better or, at least, more relevant. In some cases, both; no matter how impermanent things are or how much arbitrary time passes by. One such musical realm that excels at this is this decade’s retro synthwave scene, which has allowed for some great artists to step up to the plate, and 2017 is the year that many of them are releasing their best work. So, let’s look at some of these artists, shall we? (Note: The Black Queen won’t be listed here as they sadly haven’t released any new music this year. Oh well, there is always 2018).
Excusing the rather silly name for a second, and in hailing from Eindhoven, The Netherlands, Timecop1983‘s music is a neon-bathed, dreamy, romantic, and wonderfully cinematic love letter to 80’s-inclined synthwave; the kind of music that would act as a score for the likes of Hotline Miami, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Drive, Kung Fury, Blade Runner, among other pieces of media. Timecop1983 channelled pure, serene retro goodness back on 2014’s superb instrumental EP, ‘Waves‘, and the artist has done so again with part II of their ‘Lovers‘ EP; a series that first began with last year‘s solid first instalment.
You can check out the rest of Timecop1983’s wonderful discography here, but the blissful new ‘Lovers‘ EP, with or without vocals, is perhaps the perfect place to start with their music and your synth-laden trip back in time to 80’s imagery and hazy, moody backdrops.
Many know Rémi Gallego from his work in the progressive electronic metal band, The Algorithm. However, what some might not know is that the ever-busy French musician/producer/engineer is releasing a new synthwave EP under the moniker Boucle Infinie (“infinite loop”) on November 24th. His new EP, titled ‘直線移動‘ (or “Zhíxiàn yídòng”, or simply “move linearly” in English) is the artist’s debut effort under the Boucle Infinie name. This upcoming EP is set to stray from the stations of IDM over to vast post-rock, and will, of course, utilise as many retro synths and sounds as possible. And this is something that the sweeping eight-minute instrumental title track delivers well enough.
According to Gallego, this will be “a very personal EP that mixes melancholic textures, melodies of hope, heavy guitars with retro synthesizers. It’s a nostalgic, dreamy voyage inside my deepest self.” Also, in the announcement statement for this project, he added that “I am not trying to make generic synthwave.” Damn Gallego, you’re throwin’ some shade there. However, that claim is relatively evident with the nature of this first single (and perhaps he might take some slight offence at his place on this list about synthwave artists).
Anyway, much like The Algorithm’s music, this forthcoming release was composed, produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Gallego. With guest vocals on ‘Inside‘ by Philippe Charny and with a gorgeous, far-reaching cyberpunk city artwork from the amazing Adrien Bousson (check out his equally beautiful artworks here), I can tell that ‘直線移動‘ is going to be an interesting release, at the very least. Take a listen below:
Two key darkwave scene names – the relaxed, brighter-sounding, dancefloor hit-maker ALEX and the far more sonically aggressive beast that is Tokyo Rose – teamed up earlier this year for a pretty solid album, ‘Akuma‘. Packed with plenty of dark-tinged synths, some seriously hard-hitting beats, dynamic interludes, and grandiose retro sounds moulding with washes of sharp hi-fi stabs, ‘Akuma‘ is a melodic yet bleak and sense-crushing synthwave experience that sounds like it could have been pulled straight from the soundtrack of the 1980’s movies from which it pulls its inspiration from. This 12-track record sees both ALEX and Tokyo Rose – who both fit into different sub-sets of their wider genre – delivering six songs each, trading off each other’s different yet wondrous-in-their-own-way soundscapes; from ALEX’s hauntingly melodic intro piece of ‘Insert Soul‘ to Toyko Rose’s adrenaline pumping ‘Death Race‘. Personally, and with nothing against ALEX, I much prefer Toyko Rose’s tracks, but whichever works of the two you’re listening to at any given point on this record, it’s still a worthy listen from start to finish.
Stream the full release here, and below you can find my personal favourite tape, Tokyo Rose’s dazzling yet nightmarish, ‘Sacrifice‘. What a tune.
Mixing dance, pop female vocals, and 80’s stadium rock with that decade’s own synth-heavy craze is the Athens-based producer/writer Kristine, on not only her NewRetroWave Records debut but with what is also her very first self-titled full-length album after two prior EP’s. Being a physical sale release only right now, this Greek artist’s eponymous 12-track record is perhaps the closest 2017 retro wave release that sits towards the mainstream spectrum as opposed to the niche, “underground” but large and ever-growing fandom behind NRW’s output. (With maybe the exception of Sebastian Gampl’s and Scandroid’s latest works, who neither will be mentioned elsewhere in this piece as I think others do it better than those two, others such as Kristine). By collaborating with a whole host of other muso’s for her new album, Kristine has made a far poppier synthwave record than many of her peers; one that feels like a loving, upbeat callback to some of the 1980’s best pop releases.
Stream it below, all ye nostalgic peeps.
StarSpawn, whose real name is Sebastian Iniguez, is an artist that could really be going places. Not to be confused with the underground U.S. metal label of the same name, StarSpawn’s latest retro gem, ‘The Yellow King‘, is a Lovecraft-themed synthwave odyssey. (Trust me, it’s not as weird as it sounds). And that’s something that can also be said of the artist’s other songs, like ‘The Nameless City‘ and ‘Race Of Yith‘ for instance, but it’s with his latest tune that we see what is arguably his best composition to date. I’ve had this shit on repeat since the very first listen and that’s how matters will remain for quite some time.
As a little history lesson, The King in Yellow is a 1985 horror/supernatural book of short stories by American writer Robert W. Chambers. The book itself is named after a play with the same title which recurs as a motif throughout some of Chambers’ featured stories; a forbidden play that induces despair or madness upon those who read it. While this mammoth track won’t make you go insane, it will, however, crawl under your skin and make you bob your head as it permeates itself across your synapses. And just to make it even more 80’s sounding, there is a sample of a cassette tape being put into a stereo to begin the piece, adding in that extra bit of old-school icing to the already retro AF cake.
Be sure to stream Iniguez’s incredible song, ‘The Yellow King‘.
Finally, we arrive at one of my synthwave favourites. But first, how’s this for a mission statement?
“There is a Japanese term: Mono no aware. It means basically, the sad beauty of seeing time pass – the aching awareness of impermanence. These are the days that we will return to one day in the future only in memories.“
That quote, which you’ll find homed on this American bicoastal group’s band-related pages, reveals the true focus and intention that The Midnight – consisting of Southern songwriter Tyler Lyle and Danish producer Tim McEwan – wish to reach for with their infectious tunes. And it’s something they very often nail; tapping effortlessly into a varied song dynamic and an endearing old-meets-new tone. Their music is heavily inspired by past, romanticised teenage dreams and the present world around them; from vivid city skylines, the scorched sights of L.A., as well as video games, film aesthetics and of course, film scores. (Like so many of these kinds of artists often are). But it was The Midnight’s lavish 2016 LP, ‘Endless Summer‘ that became the near-perfect soundtrack to one’s sun-soaked days and evenings silhouetted by distant city lights and it also featured two of the duo’s best compositions: the longer-running, moodier noir, sax-attack of ‘Vampires‘ and the addictive, pulsating banger that was ‘The Equaliser (Not Alone)‘.
Their newest song, the almost Phil Collins-inspired ‘Crystalline‘, is the first single from the pair’s upcoming EP, ‘Nocturnal‘, due out Friday, October 13th. It’s essential listening and I cannot fucking wait for said EP, quite frankly. ‘Crystalline‘ is characterized by every synthwave trope you can think of; the bright and shimmery synths, deliciously warm low-end, solid hooks, pumping percussive beats, moments of wide sonic spatiality that translates well across all listening formats, some killer saxophone leads that’ll take your head clean off when they swoop in, soothing melodic vocals, and a washed out timbre that chills you out no matter what scenario you’re in. So yes, it’s all definitely familiar stuff, but The Midnight pull it all off so very well and with such slick style no less that you can’t help but fall in love it.
If ‘Nocturnal‘ is anything like its absolute beauty of a lead single, and if The Midnight’s own words that this EP will be “Less concerned about big hooks and more about creating mood and vibe“, then I think we’ll be looking at something truly special indeed.
If you’re now hooked on the old-school sounds of this particular style, may I suggest a quick glance over the NewRetroWave Records Youtube page? Think of it as the synthwave equivalent of the Dreambound channel and there’s bound to be songs there to scratch your newfound itch. Or you can suss out this “SynthSaxual” playlist if you’re REALLY feeling it! You do you, fam.
Also, some honourable mentions go out to: