Even though I discovered it in 2020, XENNON’s 2019 album “Miami Cop” represents one of the most memorable Synthwave moments from the last few years. It boasts solid songwriting, a high quality, no bullshit production, and well-performed, on point vocals inspired by Geddy Lee. When I heard that XENNON was working on a follow-up, I was excited. XENNON’s “Dark of a Distant World,” finally landed on October 2nd, 2020 via TimeSlave Recordings via MiniDisc (awesome AF) and cassette, which are unfortunately at the time of me writing this, completely sold out.
Artist Travis Wright has returned to not only help XENNON create the cover image for “Dark of a Distant World” but also to pen the concept behind the album. In so many words, the story behind “Dark of a Distant World” takes a lot of cues from mid 80s cheese including “The Neverending Story” and “Masters of the Universe.” The way that the story comes off to me feels like a “Masters of the Universe” prequel that zeroes in on when He-Man was a boy. I think it’s a pretty cool concept, and honestly I would’ve loved to see a short graphic novel accompany this album, because it would’ve worked (there is an artbook, however, which sort of fills this niche). The color scheme of the album diverges a bit from the neon aesthetics of “Miami Cop,” but it is unapologetically what the scene has come to expect of XENNON’s visual style.
In so many words, this album is an event with a several dedicated hands coming together in order to create a memorable and immersive nostalgic soundscape. The production quality of “Dark of a Distant World” is very similar to “Miami Cop.” This isn’t at all a bad thing. Even though this album is a logical continuation of what he has done in the past, it’s awesome when an artist understands their own style well enough to pull it off again. A lot of Synthwave producers create similar sounding music, so similar in fact that it’s sometimes difficult to tell who wrote what. I don’t have that problem when I listen to XENNON since the sound he has is uniquely his.
I think that XENNON’s experimentations with additional vocal processing (especially in extreme pitch correction) on “Dark of a Distant World,” comes off well. He does so with careful consideration, only when it enhances a song, and only when it’s necessary. “Nanna’s Song,” is a good example of this, with heavy pitch corrected vocals making a brief appearance three minutes into the song.
There are creamy OBX style modular synths dotted throughout “Dark of a Distant World,” especially in it’s first half, that are like textured walls of maudlin sound. The tasty C# Major vibe that the album’s “Force Ten” style opener “Roboknight Theme” is brought into the stratosphere by this type of synth showing off a little bit of everything that “Dark of a Distant World” does. “A Battle Inside” sounds really similar to “Hold Your Fire” era Rush, and features some nice back and forth between guest vocalist Allie and XENNON himself. “Skullfunk” is another Rush-alike, and mostly memorable for it’s catchy chorus arrangement. “Hilt” was the first single that XENNON released off of this album, and I can understand why as it is perhaps the most unique track on the album in terms of sound design. That said, I think this song works better within the context of the entire album rather than standing alone. There’s a lot of pointed texture here that cuts through the synths. The atmosphere on this track is only further enhanced by one of the best vocal performances of the album. I jammed the hell out of this song in my kitchen.
My favorite moment from “Dark of a Distant World” would without a doubt go to “Reflections.” While it has an 80s taste to it, it also feels like XENNON got a little bit out of his comfort zone by tastefully exploring a more postmodern song structure that is very reminiscent to Muse’s “Something Human”–only executed correctly. Like, don’t get me wrong, I dig “Simulation Theory” but there were several missteps on that album that prevented it from being what it could be. Primarily in how un-80s it sounded, despite being presented as such. XENNON takes that same sort vibe and does it right with “Reflections.” Also, the lyrics for this song gave me chills by making me long for a simpler, more innocent timeline than the one we’re all currently having to live through.
Here’s the first verse:
“Looking back over the years
A past we leave behind,
But never forget,
The moments that make us smile and cry.
They form and shape to an extent,
But never will define,
The future we make,
Those choices are yours and mine,
The odyssey doesn’t end out there.”
Overall, “Dark of a Distant World” is a triumphant, inspiring, and energizing experience. It made me feel like I was twenty years younger. That said, it’s impossible to not draw parallels to their previous effort “Miami Cop.” I would be curious to hear what XENNON would sound like if he began including live drums, guitars, and some funky slap bass to his winning formula. In any case, if you enjoy Synthwave, especially Synthwave with vocals it would be a disservice to yourself to skip out on this. This album has a lot of wonderful deep cuts bookended by memorable songs that you’ll want to listen to again and again. I highly recommend giving this album a spin or two, or ten.
My Favorite Songs: “Reflections,” “Nanna’s Song,” “Roboknight Theme,” and “Hilt.”
For Fans of: Vocal heavy synthwave and Rush.
Album Color Profile: #9C27B0