I'm an explorer...from the further regions of experience.

Dimi Kaye needs no introduction to those of us familiar with the indie Synthwave scene. Hailing from Greece, Dimi Kaye has been producing all things retro since 2015. Dimi Kaye is a frequent flyer when it comes to sick guitar collabs, my favorite being the fabulous Team Sweatwave which arrived just in time for the lost Summer of 2020. His latest solo effort is a four track EP entitled “Mechanical Psyche.” It was released on October 15th, 2020.

The cover image for “Mechanical Psyche” was illustrated by artist Alex Delgado. It features what appears to be some kind of skinless pleasure model leaning up against an automobile surrounded on all sides by brush and overgrowth. A city lies in the background which seems to insinuate that upon leaving it, the android lost it’s ability to continue surviving. In Dimi Kaye’s cyberpunk world it would seem that free-range androids are uncommon outside of city limits. I quite like the color scheme, I think that the blue fits in well with the vibe going on with this EP. I also like the android’s soul leaving it’s body in the form of ghostly butterflies.

The first two things I should note about “Mechanical Psyche” is:

  1. It is entirely instrumental.
  2. It is also completely devoid of guitar. Which is weird because Dimi Kaye, at least for me is a name I associate with guitar.

Looking back at Dimi Kaye’s backlog, he’s no stranger to instrumental music. Surprisingly, he is also no stranger to creating music without guitar. In fact, his first album, “Dream Sequencer” is very similar to “Mechanical Psyche” in both respects, and honestly, it wouldn’t be until the release of his “Shadow Run” single that we would get a preview of the guitar centered sound we got with his more recent work. So before anyone says, “HEY DIMI, WHERE THE GUITAR AT?” know that Dimi Kaye doesn’t limit himself when it comes to writing the music he wants to hear.

In talking a little bit to Dimi about “Mechanical Psyche” it is an EP that is conceptually based on a poem he penned way back in 2007. The poem reads like this:

“Leveling cold machines to independent status
Giving birth to artificial intelligence
That distant future is closing fast

Like a mirror reflects vanity of man
A new species is being born by metal
Factories carry children with iron flesh

In the years to come
Mankind’s hope should come down to this
That though nature of man is violent and merciless
Mechanical Psyche will be more compassionate.”

When I read this for the first time, my initial thought was “wow, how can machines be more compassionate than humans?” And then the ugly truth hit me. I think it’s safe to assume that machines have an exacting, cold, logical, analytical, black and white, perception of the world around them. And to suggest that speculative A.I.s still have more compassion than humans despite all of that is a wild idea. In so many words, this poem basically frames how incredibly fucked up humans can be to one another. Going into “Mechanical Psyche” without considering the finer details of why it was written the way it was. Dimi told me that he intentionally “wanted an artificial/electronic sound to go with it, just like an android would be.” That makes sense to me.

So after all this pretense, how does “Mechanical Psyche” sound? Well, it reminds me of a moody 80s synth based soundtrack. I tend to think it’s a little more Tangerine Dream than John Carpenter, and a little more John Carpenter than it is Jan Hammer. This isn’t an EP about sunsets and beaches after all. It’s very apparent from the getgo that “Mechanical Psyche” is an arpeggio leaden cyberpunk/sci-fi sort of mini-album. “Viral Vector” shows off a little bit of everything here, featuring some Juno 60 vibes in nearly every aspect of its sound design. “Soul Transduction” follows similarly, although where “Viral Vector” sounds much more threatening and dangerous, “Soul Transduction” has a shroud of mystery around it’s sound. It’s simple and straight forward with a calm beat that never fully builds up (by design). This is only further enhanced due to the absence of a snare drum until a little after three minutes into the track. “Takwin” is the most VGM sounding track of the bunch, giving me some old Command and Conquer vibes. It’s a track that fills my mind with anxiety. There’s also a neat exploration element to “Takwin” that feels like endless leaving. The final track “Mechanical Psyche” is the most cinematic song of the bunch. Like, visually it feels like listening to a sun that will never rise. There’s also some atmospheric movement going on with the first bit of the track that reminds of driving through a dimly lit highway on a lukewarm autumn evening.

My final impressions are this: I don’t think there’s anything here that we haven’t heard before. That said, when considering Dimi Kaye as an artist, where he’s taken us in the past, and comparing this all of that, I think that “Mechanical Psyche” is well worth a listen. I think that this not only shows Dimi Kaye’s artistic range expanding, it also shows how he’s grown as an artist on a technical level. The production quality isn’t super high-tech but it doesn’t have to be. Everything is clear, concise, and right where it needs to be. I gave this one quite a few spins in the last week, and I think you might too if you give it a listen. “Mechanical Psyche” is calm, atmospheric, and full of forward motion that makes me excited to see where Dimi Kaye plans on taking us next.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Synthwave, Outrun, and Cyberpunk centered music.

Stand-out tracks, “Viral Vector,” and “Mechanical Psyche.”

Album Color Profile: #00796B

You can find all things Dimi Kaye at https://dimikaye.bandcamp.com/

Dark Matter Will Flow is an multiproducer experimental project featuring four members from Finland, Canada, Wales, and the United States. DMWF is Jeff Vicario, Joe Wilkie, Jeremiah Boothe and Craig Williams. I was first introduced to them by accident in June 2020 after stumbling upon their debut album “Into the Netherworld.” I was originally planning (for quite a while) to do a review of that album due to how transgressive and different it was, but I had a chance meeting with member Joe Wilkie via his Limbocast show. Before going onto his show I had ZERO idea that he had been a part of a project that I’ve listened to regularly since it hit the streets. He let me know that DMWF got together another album, this time a self-titled, and released it on September 6th, 2020.

Dark Matter Will Flow’s self-titled album artwork was created by Rachel aka “pickledfey” on Twitter. Rachel also did the artwork for “Into the Netherworld,” which featured a very similar style focusing on hands as the primary focus. This image channels “Pan’s Labyrinth’s” Pale Man complete with eyeballs on the palms of some very unnatural looking hands. There’s an oddly erotic vibe coming off of this image, I adore the red and black gradient style color scheme as well as the chalkboard tears below the eyes.

What I immediately felt when I heard DMWF’s self-titled album is how different it was from their first album. Gone was a lot of the harshness and pseudo-metal distorted sounds sprinkled throughout. The self-titled album is much more focused, much more aware of what it is, what it’s doing, and where it wants to go—and it does so unapologetically. Each member of DMWF has a well defined role here, and ultimately I think that each person gets to contribute in a way that ultimately shows off who they are as individuals.

In terms of what this album sounds like, please consider any of Garm’s most notable works with Arcturus and Ulver. There’s a circus-like weirdness with what Jeff and Co. are doing here that reminds me of both bands. DMWF is ambient at times, occasionally beat driven, and kind of pitchy, but in a good way. I’m going to be honest, I usually don’t like the Billy Corgan type of vibe from any vocalist but Billy, but the way the vocals are done here are pretty damn good. My first spin of the album found me falling in and out of love with the initial stage setup by album opener “Weakness.” But those feelings melted away when “Darkness” kicked in, which I must say is one of the coolest tracks, if not the coolest on this album. After getting used to what DMWF was laying down, I began to get what they were doing and liked it all the better for it. The one surprise on this album that was also executed well was the inclusion of Joe Wilkie spitting some rap vibes. His voice is tastefully deep with a slight amount of vocal fry. This isn’t at all something I’ve personally heard before when it comes to the way I’ve expected rap lyrics to be performed. The kicker is that the way Joe delivers his lines doesn’t distract me at all from the music. In fact I view his voice as just another musical instrument being used effectively to further separate what DMWF is doing from everything else I’ve reviewed this year.

“Emptiness” is another wonderful track from this album, featuring some very bassy 90s tones, some nice phased guitars, and vocals (I think) by Jeff and Joe. I don’t often say this but I also liked what Sapphira Vee did with the remix version included at the end of the album. It’s more or less the same structure as the original cut, but it does several things differently that extends the listenability of both versions.

“Listen to No One” prominently features rapping for the verses of the song, while more traditional vocals are used for the pre-chorus and chorus. Again, there’s a really cool guitar solo that kicks in somewhere north of three minutes, as a guitarist myself, I think it would be kind of fun to play. Ultimately, this song shows off the playfulness of DMWF.

The weirdest track of the bunch would have to go to “Beat Zero.” I am drawn to the lyrics of this one:

“Left for dead I gaze up to a violet sky/My corporeal body/Breathes its final sigh/Some of us are a cut above/While the rest of us merely gather up dust.”

The way that Jeff’s vocals sound on this song make the line “cut above” sound like “carnival.” I’m not sure if that was intentional, but it sure as hell sounds like it. Regardless, I think a lot of people can relate to this line as it was written. The coolest little detail of the whole album, an actual sigh, comes in after the line “breathes its final sigh,” at roughly 3:09 into the song. Fuck, I love it so much.

Overall, Dark Matter Will Flow’s self-titled album is a weird little piece of art. And when I say art I mean it in the best way possible. These guys are just doing their own fucking thing with total disregard for what the cool kids happen to be doing. If you’re brave enough to let your guard down for a minute to check this one out, I think that there’s a whole lot to love. It totally kicks the vibe they were searching for on “Into the Netherworld” into overdrive. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED AWESOMENESS HERE.

Highlights: ALL. Start with “Darkness.”

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Ulver, Arcturus, Run the Jewels, and people willing to give art a fucking chance—there aren’t a lot of these types of people out there.

Album Color Profile: #880E4F

You can find all things Dark Matter Will Flow at https://darkmatterwillflow.bandcamp.com/

空YAMAHA (aka Sky Yamaha) is a producer from the desert planet Arizona. She has been producing under this moniker since February of 2017. Since then Sky has released two short EPs and two full-lengths. Her latest is entitled “The Mirage is a Portal.” It was released on October 9th, 2020.

I became aware of Sky via the Synthfam Twitterverse after crossing the streams from Synthwave Twitter over into dark (and often very weird) recesses of Vaporwave Twitter. There I found a wild Sky just doing her own thing. The best way I can describe 空YAMAHA to those unfamiliar with her work is that it never tries to emulate a specific style or sound. It has a natural flow to it that is clearly defined by the nearly endless depth of her creativity and imagination. I guess if I had to compare her work to someone else, I would say that it very much reminds me of what Alpha Chrome Yayo has been doing over the course of his last two albums “Skylight Sessions Vol. 1” and “Spectral Hands.”

The cover art work (created by Sky herself) for “The Mirage is a Portal” is by far the coolest piece of art on any 空YAMAHA release. It features floating keys, day lightning (dafuq?!), crows flying out of portals in the keyholes of said keys, a desert, and a beautiful blue sky, which accentuates precisely the vibe Sky is pulling off here. When I take a step back and look at this image I feel oddly calm and kind of thirsty. Sky included a digital artbook in PDF form to accompany the release of “The Mirage is a Portal.” This includes images corresponding to each track as well as poetry. This digital artbook was a really nice Bandcamp exclusive extra. Have I said how much I love Bandcamp?

So how does “The Mirage is a Portal” sound? Every piece on this album seamlessly melds together into a whirlwind collage of three dimensional ideas. There’s a weird Windows ’95 quality to this music that makes me long for CRT computer screens, 66 MHz Pentiums, and the Dangerous Creatures desktop theme. Like—I could see this music being front and center on an old laserdisc showing off the latest in computer animation (brought to you by Silicon Graphics) in the mid-90s.

I’ve listened to “The Mirage is a Portal” at least ten times since its release and it makes me feels like I’m having an out of body experience whenever I press play. Time just melts away when diving into this album. And while I think it’s a little too energetic for meditation, I do think that “The Mirage is a Portal” is a good example of how to make relaxing tunes worthy of being the soundtrack to your next lucid dream. I particularly think that this album shines bright in its latter half. “Desert Mirage” was my favorite deep-cut off of the entire album. It combines a pseudo-Asian feel with a slow koto sounding vibe surrounded by slow pulled strings in an embrace of all surrounding sound. “Prism Water Arc” is another nice track that has some off center hi-hat hits don’t sound musical at all—but for some reason they really gel. I quite like the plodding water sound going on in this track as well. “Prism Water Arc” feels like it’s capturing the journey of some clockwork type of machine trying to traverse a muddy desert in search of meaning. “Lifesize Hourglass” has a calming vibe that prominently features a basic house drum beat amidst huge sounding, reverb heavy, modular synths that feel distant yet very near. I like the space that Sky gives this track, she never overloaded me with sounds that took away from my experience. “El Laberinto” was the other highlight of “The Mirage is a Portal.” It opens up with a very dangerous sounding vibe that is immediately given levity with the presence of a goofy cowbell that sounds similar to the one found on the Roland CR-8000.

Overall, “The Mirage is a Portal,” is a neat experience. This isn’t music meant to stir up anxiety or negative feelings. This is the type of music that wants to wrap it’s arms around you in a warm embrace of lush winding soundscapes. If you’re remotely interested in checking this out I implore you to give it a good listen with headphones. iPhone speakers aren’t going to cut it here. Anyway, I loved this album! Please check it out.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of lush soundscapes and dreamwave, fans of Alpha Chrome Yayo.

HIGHLIGHTS: “Desert Mirage,” “Prism Water Arc,” “Lifesize Hourglass,” “El Laberinto,” and “Embodiment.”

Album Color Profile: BLUE BECAUSE OF COURSE (#304FFE)

You can find all things 空YAMAHA at https://skyyamaha.bandcamp.com/

MacReady is a trio of electronic programmers/musicians from Los Angeles. Johnny handles synth duties, Justin the guitar, and Hayes the drums. I first became aware of MacReady in September of 2019 with the release of their Tokyo inspired full-length entitled “KIBA.” I quite enjoyed that release, so I thought to myself: “Hey Nikoletta, I think it’s time to review some MacReady.” Since “KIBA” MacReady has released a short EP, and two singles. Later this month, on October 20th, they will be releasing another EP entitled “A.D.”

In comparison to their previous releases, I feel that the visual style presented in “A.D.” is MacReady’s strongest showing yet. On the cover is an arrangement of flowers in what looks to be the shape of a “J.” Now as to what that “J” stands for is anyone’s guess. Regardless, I quite like this image as it’s a departure from the more cartoony look/feel that MacReady presented us with before. Having a good image, at least to me, is everything. And this time, I think MacReady has figured out a visual style that suits the music contained within the release it’s associated with.

“A.D.” is a pretty standard sized EP clocking in at around sixteen minutes. The first thing that strikes me about this release is how similar it sounds to video game music of the 16-bit era. There is a YM2612 Sega Megadrive sort of glaze around “A.D” that pretty much defines the sound here without sounding too lo-fi. While much of “A.D.” is fully programmed, there does appear to be the presence of guitars here. From what I can tell, it’s very likely that Justin actually plays these guitars, but you never know in the post-Toontrack, post ReFX era of sound design. There is something EXTREMELY familiar about how the guitars sound. Part of me feels like they are reminiscent of the guitars TWRP’s “The Device.” That said, I feel like the guitar performance on “A.D.’s” closer “Requiem” is an exact phrasing or production quality I’ve heard in something before. It’s actually been driving me a bit nuts over the last week!! In any case, I think the production quality here is pretty good. There’s nothing that sticks out as especially distracting.

Composition wise, I quite enjoy “Requiem.” Considering that the rest of the EP features shorter form songs, I welcomed “Requiem” into my heart willingly. I like when the beat picks up around 4:13 into the song, giving me Ys vibes all around. Structurally, it’s also the most interesting of all the songs available here. I think the lead synth could’ve been a little less compressed, and probably turned down slightly but outside of that, this is the highlight of “A.D.” All of the songs here are sometimes spacey, combining a slightly Neu Deutsch Welle, meets Kraftwerk, meets Yuzo Koshiro. The EP’s opener “Everything’s Heavy” is a nice little opener that left me wanting more. The lead synth in the song reminds me of an electronic erhu seen through the lens of the Mass Effect universe. It’s a pretty atmospheric song that channels the feels without relying on the nostalgia of a bygone era to hook you.

Overall, “A.D.” is a nice little appetizer. I personally would’ve preferred to have an entire album of songs in this style, and maybe MacReady will one day do just that. But for now, this is what we have. I also think that adding Depeche Mode style vocals to this would’ve made it much more memorable. That said, I think that “A.D.” shows some meaningful growth for MacReady as a trio, despite the fact that it was written primarily by Johnny. Maybe that’s what the J on the cover stands for. Or maybe the J stands for Jenkins. Anyway, Leroy yourself on over to MacReady’s Bandcamp if any of this sounds good to you.

For Fans of: Atmospheric instrumental, video game inspired tunes.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Requiem,” and “Something Heavy.”

Album Color Profile: #E8EAF6

You can find all things MacReady at https://wearemacready.bandcamp.com/

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

You can find all things XENNON and more at https://xennon.bandcamp.com/ and https://timeslaves.bandcamp.com/

The Fair Attempts is the brainchild of Finland’s electronic music maven, Friendly Timo. Since 2019, TFA have proudly waved the banner of a new gothic industrial movement. To me, their first album “Carnal Insect,” lacked some of the qualities that made TFA’s debut EP “arisTotal,” special. On September 28th, 2020, TFA released their ever important sophmore LP, entitled “Dream Engine.”

“Dream Engine” is a concept album based on the novel “Dreaming Your Dream” by Starwing. The premise behind the novel zeroes in on a dystopian society obsessed with a “virtual utopia” that exists within interactive dream technology. Naturally, the novel features an artificial intelligence who determines that humans are assholes because they can’t control their emotions. So instead of figuring out how to get everyone to enroll into an NLP course, this AI seeks to eliminate emotion entirely during waking hours, while offering a safe haven for people when they asleep. The entire crux of this situation is that there is a guy who secretly feels emotions when he’s awake. The novel is one part, “Gattaca,” one part “The Matrix,” and “THX 1138.”

On the cover of “Dream Engine” is a nice photograph of the masked man behind The Fair Attempts, Friendly Timo. The red and blue smoke are nice looking, and while I think the overall vibe of the cover is a little too sleek, I think that it’s memorable. Especially when you take a step or two back to look at it. It’s very, 1990s DIY with the right amount of professional sheen. The photographer obviously knew what they were doing. I love the way blue and red smoke just POPS.

So what does “Dream Engine” sound like? And how does it compare to their earlier releases? Let’s find out!

“Dream Engine” feels like it was split into two sections. The first several songs sound akin to late 90s/early 2000s industrial and gothic rock. The latter half of the album is a little bit more difficult to peg as it offers up a pace that is slower and a lot more atmospheric. The one thing I can say that sticks out most about “Dream Engine” is how inoffensive the production quality is on the album. With the exception of a few minor instances, “Dream Engine” is a simple, easy to digest listen. This is the result, I’m sure, of many countless hours of hard work in smoothing out the overall mix and master of this LP.

As I mentioned in my review of “arisTotal,” Friendly Timo’s voice really reminds me of Mortiis (Era 2). On “Dream Engine” this is even more apparent. Timo also sounds like Nagash/Lex Icon from The Kovenant when he’s singing in lower registers like in the title track and “Master Key.” Typically speaking, what I’m used to hearing when I hear voices similar to Timo’s is a very pitchy, overly bright mix that sort of stings the ears. The vocals here are completely devoid of this however, which makes “Dream Engine” highly listenable regardless whether or not you actually dig what TFA is doing or not.

The album’s title track is by far the strongest opener I’ve heard from TFA since “arisTotal’s” “Blowback.” I love how long it takes this song to get going. I don’t often get goosebumps from a song but I did with this one due to that initial build up. Of any track offered on “Dream Engine” I feel that this is exactly what I pictured when I first heard The Kovenant begin to talk about their follow-up to 2003’s “S.E.T.I.” It blows my fucking mind that The Fair Attempts can get this style correct and actually release it while The Kovenant stays inactive for whatever reason. Like seriously, we’re all out here making the music we like with minimal setups—you guys can do it too! The lyrics for the title track of “Dream Engine” also features the most memorable cheesy gothy line on the entire album. I’ll let you listen, and you can try to guess my favorite lines.

The second song on the album “Master Key” is very reminiscent of that familiar “Animatronic” vibe that hits me in all the right places. I also happen to like the video for this song quite a bit too.

“Dream Engine” features several guest vocalists, including Jessi Frey, Starwing, and Ashley Eddy. The most memorable of these moments was definitely the piano driven surprise that is “Blue Rose Park.” I’d be lying if I said it didn’t remind me of Morte McAdaver’s work on his late Pandora’s Toybox stuff. Of any song though, the duet Timo does with Starwing is the heart of what makes “Dream Engine” a really pleasant experience. My only complaint about this song lies is some of the mostly unnoticeable mouth popping noises going on here. The rest of the album is generally a lot more in your face, but due to the soft nature of “Blue Rose Park” I think that pushing something like Izotope’s RX7 a little more (or now apparently RX8) could’ve denoised the voices here a bit more. That said, it’s hardly noticeable and didn’t effect my overall enjoyment of the track.

The other track that stuck out to me like a sore thumb was “In a Stranger’s House.” It’s my second favorite cut from “Dream Engine” and perhaps the most challenging track that TFA has conquered to date. Like, listen to And One’s “Body Pop” album and tell me that this doesn’t have the same hypnotic vibe—because it does. “In a Stranger’s House” begins with a slow breathy choir whilst Timo sings his truth in a very Trent Reznor-esque type of vibe. After a few short moments, a plodding bassy tone begins a sequence that carries the rest of the song with a pleasant mid-high tone that just penetrates. The strings that enter towards the end of the song give me a familiar Madonna “Ray of Light” vibe that sounds so fucking good. As a point of personal preference, I feel like some very subtle use of female vocals underneath the chorus could’ve been neat sounding. I would also be curious what this song would sound like if a female voice sang it. Hint hint: I dig remixes if they are done tastefully and stay true to the source material.

Overall, if you are at all a fan of The Kovenant, Ram-Zet, Nine Inch Nails, Mortiis, or the Deathstars, then “Dream Engine” is worth the price of admission. This album is sleek, professional sounding, and fresh. If you need a break from Synthwave, Vaporwave, or any of the waves really, Friendly Timo has your back. This is industrial goodness that really takes me back to when I was a wee lass blasting “Antichrist Superstar” in my high school parking lot.

Album Color Profile: #138D75

You can find all things The Fair Attempts at https://thefairattempts.bandcamp.com/

Levinsky is an electronic music producer from Helsinki, Finland. His full-length debut “Electra Complex” was released mid-2019. On October 2nd, 2020 he unveiled his latest opus entitled “Nocturnes” to the world.

The cover artwork was produced by artist Ninni Kairisalo of Kali Graphics. I quite like what they’ve done for Levinsky here, especially with the midnight wine color scheme. They also did the artwork for “Electra Complex.” I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here, but it kind of looks like a “girls only” orgy configured in the shape of a flowery inverted pentagram. Since the music presented very much embodies a dark psycho-sensual vibe I think that it fits in well with what Levinsky has done here.

Levinsky’s style on “Nocturnes” is self-described as cinematic post-synthwave/darkwave, which feels accurate to me. There are some very retro/modular vibes going on throughout this album that carry that familiar synthwave quality with it, “No Control (Love Theme)” and “Symptom of the Night,” are good examples of this. Generally though, I felt that this album leans very heavily into a romantic gothic influence, which is my fucking wheelhouse. I’ve been aware of Levinsky for quite some time, but I haven’t given his music a listen until now, I regret not jumping in sooner!

If I had to reference “Nocturnes” to what I already know, it sort of reminds me of a mixture of Confrontational meets Collide (especially their more recent albums), meets early 1990s Enigma. When I close my eyes to visualize what I feel when I listen to this album I don’t so much see solid images as I felt a massive aura of appreciation for a darkly erotic feminine force. “Nocturnes” is slow, carnal, and a ecstatic. And while I can try to compare it to other stuff I’ve heard out there, “Nocturnes” is distinctively its own thing without sounding too vampyric, too retro, or too ritualistic.

Five tracks on this LP are completely instrumental and serve as bookends to three gorgeous tracks featuring guest vocals by Enlia (France), Witch of the Vale (Scotland), and Bara Hari (United States). Much like a triptych, “Nocturnes” is configured into a cohesive narrative that isn’t you can appreciate fully until you listen to it a few times. “La Notte Oscura” and “No Control (Love Theme)” serve as the strongest instrumental “openers” leading into the vocal tracks here. Of the three songs with vocals “‘Un Coeur Dérangé” is the most explosive track on the album as a beautiful example of how to properly arrange and produce vocals. The French lyrics here perfectly fit the Marquis De Sade aesthetic of “Nocturnes.” Enlia’s voice reminds me a lot of Anette Olzon of Nightwish fame. It’s silky, well-recorded, and gentle. “The Strangest Flower (feat. Witch of the Vale)” offers up another well-produced vocal track which is the most retro of the three vocal tracks available here. This is primarily because of Levinsky’s choice to use a warm pulsing bass for the song’s low end. Don’t let that confuse you into think this is proper synthwave, however. Because it isn’t, and it’s better for it. There’s plenty of pianos and strings here that add an almost symphonic vibe in the song’s “bridge.” The subtle guitars on this song are a nice little surprise too and only add to Witch’s vocals during the chorus. There’s subtle pitch correction going on in this song that positively augments Witch’s voice to fit easier within the context of what Levinsky is accomplishing. Finally, Bara Hari makes an appearance to carve up some flesh on “Capitale De La Douleur.” Her performance is very Western in an Amy Lee sort of way. To me, it feels like a continuation of what she did on her debut “Pandora’s Box.” I quite like it.

Overall, “Nocturnes” is bad fucking ass. I will always appreciate music that accurately connects well-executed visual aesthetic with well-executed audio production. In my view you can’t have one without the other.

FOR FANS OF: Confrontational, Collide, Enigma, and people who just like darkly erotic vibes.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “No Control (Love Theme),” “Un Coeur Dérangé,” “The Strangest Flower,” “Capitale De La Douleur”

Album Color Profile: #884EA0

You can find all things Levinsky at https://levinsky.bandcamp.com/

Ah, Bandcamp Fridays—the one light in the deep dark tunnel that is 2020. With the advent of Bandcamp Fridays, a lot of artists have begun centering their release strategies around this special day, and as 2020 has gone on more artists have felt compelled more artists to release albums to coincide with the occasion. Today, Kizunaut has followed suit with the release of his sophmore album entitled “The City by the Sea.” If you don’t know who Kizunaut is, he is an electronic music producer from one of my favorite places in the world, Scandanavia’s very own city by the sea–Helsinki, Finland (vetää perskännit!)

The visual aesthetic for “The City by the Sea” was created by Octopuddle. The image features a very industrial gold and blue color scheme which is somewhat of a departure from what I’m normally used to in the often neon-soaked cyberpunk centric music. Despite being a bit on the nose and a little cartoony, I like it, though I would’ve preferred a much more physical DIY look (like a collage) to accentuate and accompany this release.

Musically, “The City by the Sea” feels like a total step up from Kizunaut’s previous Synthwave-leaden “This Was the Future” from 2019. Generally speaking, there is practically zero Synthwave influence shining through on this album, and you know what? I like it better because of that. I think that the feel of this album is somewhat comparable to a cross between “Front by Front” by Front 242, 90s-era Attrition, and Nine Inch Nails.

“The City by the Sea” is really gothy—in a black eyeliner kind of way. The way the percussion and bass come together on this album instantly reminds me of 1990s style rave culture. “Up in Smoke” is a good example of this, combining an oddly familiar synthetic industrial guitar sound with its pulsing and deliberate high-mid bass. I would’ve jammed it so hard in 1996.

The lyrical content of “The City by the Sea” isn’t exactly poetry, as it covers the overplayed trope of what it means to circumnavigate life and technology. Kizunaut writes the following in the album’s closer “Real Human Being”:

“Bound to the network/We dream of freedom/I want to disconnect and feel more complete/Now what will it take for you to treat me as human being?”

Again, it’s not poetry, but it gets a simple and easy to understand message across. All of the songs here touch on this type of thing.

I want to talk about the vocal performance on “The City by the Sea.” Generally speaking, I much prefer music with vocals, but this is one of those rare cases that I would’ve liked having the instrumental versions of these songs in conjunction with what we got. When I spun this album for the first time, I was instantly taken in by the nice gothic vibe of the music, but that vibe disintegrated when the vocals came in. Kizunaut’s vocals aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. They are slightly grating and pointy in a nasal Billy Corgan sort of way. I think that a colder, more monotone voice, like Front 242’s Jean-Luc De Meyer, would fit Kizunaut’s music perfectly. I can tell that the intention behind implementing singing on this album wasn’t to annoy listeners, but to create catchy and lyrically driven tunes. To that end, I think that Kizunaut was somewhat successful, as there are some real earworms here—see “California Baby” to hear what I mean.

Considering that Kizunaut outsourced mastering duties out to Friendly Timo (from The Fair Attempts), I’m pretty sure that vocal duties could’ve been outsourced as well. Personally speaking, I would’ve leapt at the opportunity to sing on this album if it came up. The music is so incredibly rock solid that it’s somewhat disappointing that the vocal performance here wasn’t a little bit better. That said, after spinning “The City by the Sea” a few times you get more used to Kizunaut’s vocal delivery. I think that the latter half of the album features a lot more content that serves Kizunaut’s voice much better than the first half of the album. Cuts like “Obsession,” “Only for a While,” “Real Human Being,” and “Up in Smoke,” are good examples of songs that I think sound pretty okay with vocals as they are. I really wonder what this album would’ve sounded like with a vocalist like Vandal Moon’s Blake Voss.

When I look at the entire picture of “The City by the Sea,” I think that there is a lot promise here. The songwriting is catchy, and there are some memorable moments to be had. “Real Human Being” might be my favorite song from this album since the vocal performance is much more level and uniform in comparison to the wide majority of the songs on this album. This is perhaps due to a combination of decent compression and microphone position. There’s not many stray high pitched notes on “Real Human Being” that takes me out of the vision Kizunaut had for this song. I also enjoy “Up in Smoke” quite a bit due how minimalistic and slower paced than the rest of the album. Overall, I look forward to seeing how Kizunaut grows as an artist because he has a lot of potential to create a paradigm shifting album in the future. It’s just going to require the right visual style and the right vocalist.

CHECK THIS OUT: If you’re a fan of Front 242, Attrition, Mortiis (era 2), and Nine Inch Nails.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Up in Smoke,” “Real Human Being,” and “Obsession.”

Album Color Profile: #1B5E20

You can find all things Kizunaut at https://kizunaut.bandcamp.com/

Your Sister is a Werewolf is the Synthwave project of producer Josh Molen from Knoxville, Tennesee. YSIAW first burst onto the scene in February 2019 with their debut album “C.H.A.D.” Their latest album is entitled “Captain Video.” It was released on August 28th, 2020.

On the cover is a really wonderful image by Chrome and Lightning. It features someone standing in front of a video rental store in tight jeans and Reeboks. For those of you who have never experienced the absolute joy of entering one of these fine establishments, let me just tell you, it’s thrilling. This image perfectly captures the sheer level of excitement I used to feel going to the movie store. The blinding lights. The smell of buttery day old popcorn. The sticky floors. That weird plastic smell that strangely reminds me of petrol. Man, I miss the 80s and 90s. What a time to be alive. I feel truly blessed to live nearby one of the remaining video stores in the U.S. I still make weekly trips down there in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic. Interestingly enough, there still exists an actual Captain Video store in San Mateo, California. Now whether or not Molen took inspiration from this former Bay Area franchise, I’m not sure. Regardless, I love this album cover. It’s says a lot without saying much.

So how does “Captain Video” sound? Extremely authentic. It’s on point for the time period that it’s trying to emulate. This is a function of using the right tools in the correct context. From the word “go” “Jumping the Turnstiles” serves as the penultimate YSIAW track. It shows off a little bit of everything that this album does. And what this album does, it does well. I particularly enjoy the pointed synth that comes in at 2:12. I was almost instantly reminded of John Carpenter’s opening theme from Escape from New York.

While the presentation of “Captain Video” seemingly takes a lot of influence from early 1980s soundtracks its general vibe is much more akin to similar music being produced in the mid-eighties. You know, when producers of the time really started to get a little more comfortable with the tools at their disposal. The way that Molen was able to make “Captain Video” breathe is nothing short of amazing. Ironically enough, “Breathe Easily” highlights this quite a bit through some exceptional compression, reverb, and EQ choices that make the track come alive in such a way that feels effortless and easy to listen to. There’s nothing more satisfying than a little bit of audible air. My ears are in love with “Captain Video” because of it.

There are so many nuanced and deliberate details coming together here in order to create a fantastic nostalgic vibe. The nervous system of how “Captain Video” sounds so authentic lies in three key points: its wideness in the stereo field, it’s warmth (greatly aided by pitchbendiness), and the analogue sounding distortion that appears throughout the album.

In my opinion, “Neon Illusion” demonstrates the wideness of this album well. At 1:38, the bells and plucks sound three dimensional amidst the backdrop of a synthesized Juno-106esque sax. As this part continues the sax itself feels like it’s shifting from a more synthesized sound to a much more realistic version of itself. It’s quite impressive to hear if you’re paying careful attention.

Tasteful distortion and warmth are also incredibly vital to how the ear perceives whether or not music sounds vintage or not. And let me just tell you, Molen is a goddamn wizard when it comes to his command of how to implement these two things into his music. “Digital Image Correction” highlights an example of how to use warmth and distortion correctly. Good golly Molly the pads scream on this album. Listen in at around 1:30 to see what I mean.

Overall, what Your Sister is a Werewolf has done here is perhaps the most enjoyable Synthwave album that I’ve heard all year. This isn’t Synthwave in name only, this is actual Synthwave that was carefully crafted to accurately emulate a specific period of time. For serious, “Captain Video” was such a goddamn treat to listen to. Mr. Molen discounts nothing on this release, and uses the entire spectrum of hearable sound to make a memorable album worthy of your time. Please check this one out.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Mitch Murder, fans of movie soundtracks from the mid-eighties, Synthwave heads looking for authentic vibes.

Stand-Out tracks: ALL! But if I had to pick, listen to “Jumping the Turnstiles,” “Slow Going (feat. Gab Manette),” “Neon Illusion,” “Digital Image Correction,” and “Late Fees.”

Album Color Profile: #EBDEF0

You can find all things Your Sister is a Werewolf at https://yoursisterisawerewolf.bandcamp.com/

GeoVoc is a producer from Baltimore, Maryland. His latest full-length, entitled “Behind Closed Doors” was released on September 17th, 2020. It features ten new tracks which follow up a slew of independent singles also released by GeoVoc from July of 2019 to June of 2020.

The cover art for “Behind Closed Doors” hearkens back to the early 2000s where compact discs were starting to go out of style and second hand music stores were all the rage. I remember buying oodles of CDs from random record exchanges that looked just like this cover: worn, scratched all to hell, a little dirty, and overused. I’m not entirely sure what is being depicted here on the cover visually. I feel like the insinuation here is that this particular album has been played quite a bit–perhaps behind closed doors. You know, that place where you can be yourself and cut loose. Just don’t cut loose too much, because there’s always someone watching that might threaten to spill the beans on you when you grow up to become a politician.

The Critique

GeoVoc’s tagline is “A classic but at the same time progressive.” From a musical standpoint, I feel like this is slightly inaccurate in describing how I personally connected with GeoVoc’s sound. Don’t get me wrong, there are qualities about “Behind Closed Doors” that are very retro-esque, but that primarily stems from the album’s production values as opposed to how songs are actually structured. “Foster” and “Addicts” are especially guilty of this. The lead synth line in “Addicts” is straight-up something you would never hear in the 1980s. I think that the most retro sounding vibe achieved here is in the first thirty seconds of “Joys in Disguise” which features a really awesome sounding albeit faded sax sound. As soon as the vocals kick in though it’s back to a very familiar and postmodern staccato vocal cadence in the song’s chorus. The white noise that kicks in during this point in the song doesn’t help it sound very retro at all either, and distracts me from achieving any sense of nostalgia.

From what I can tell, GeoVoc is very much inspired by The Midnight. To be perfectly honest though, I’ve never really done a deep dive into The Midnight. I don’t really want to. They are already widely appreciated. In any case, everything I’ve heard from The Midnight reminds me of modern pop being combined with a retro sensibility. GeoVoc sort of comes from the same school of thought, although I tend to think that GeoVoc leans more heavily in the direction of modern pop.

The energy that GeoVoc’s music gives is very, well, light, albeit in an angsty Anakin Skywalker kind of way. There were times during my sit down with “Behind Closed Doors” that I felt like I was listening to Owl City (see “Foster”). Perhaps this is because the pitch shifting on Geo’s voice is situated similarly to the way Adam Young usually produces his own vocals, but maybe it’s also because both Geo and Adam have a similar vocal style.

I’m going to come out and say that this isn’t the type of music I normally would seek out for myself. I grew up in the mid eighties and early nineties. I vividly remember what things sounded like then, and this is not it. That said, songs like “Revival” almost hit the nostalgic factor for me, however, the song is so incredibly similar Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compare 2 U” (both songs use nearly identical F Major chord progressions and are roughly 120 BPM) that I found myself wanting to listen to that instead.  

In some ways, “Behind Closed Doors” also occasionally comes off as almost borderline inspirational music, especially when you take a closer look at the lyrical content. This is fine, but again, that type of thing isn’t for me. That said, after a quick exchange with GeoVoc I sort of get the picture that his music has more to do with what it means to be spiritually connected to yourself and the people around you. Let me impress that as an artist, GeoVoc, really does care about people. I mean, in the first line of the album he declares that “Everyone means so much to me.” As I begun to listen to “Behind Closed Doors” more, it became glaringly apparent to me that GeoVoc wants to be optimistic so badly, but he finds that point of view rather difficult to navigate amidst the melancholia that constantly seems to be surrounding him.

What I Really Like About “Behind Closed Doors”

Anyone that really knows my taste in music also knows that I prefer music driven by vocals. GeoVoc is an incredibly talented songwriter when it comes to figuring out how to situate his voice within his music. As I’ve mentioned before in my review of YORU 夜’s “Revisit” album, the retrowave scene needs more of this sort of thing. There are far too many artists intentionally choosing to produce instrumental music because of its wide appeal. One of the reasons for it’s appeal is that instrumental music is dehumanizing, and in some ways appear to be without ego or attitude to the listener. I won’t discount the fact that instrumental music has a place, but music that is dehumanized won’t ever be capable of reaching the same heights as an artist who took a risk to get their actual voice out there to be heard. GeoVoc has this courage, in spades. And you know what? He has a really good voice. I think that the vocal performance on “Revival” should’ve been pushed a little farther back into the mix, but generally Geo’s vocals are really well done in a pseudo Matt Bellamy/Adam Young sort of way. “Scars to Heal” and “Consider the Cost” are good examples of this. I particularly enjoy when GeoVoc uses his falsetto. Like seriously, singing like that isn’t easy, with or without a vocoder, so I have to give some kudos to him for taking a risk and executing it wonderfully.

Song wise, the track that stuck out to me most was definitely “Foster.” Despite my manifold critiques of “Foster,” I think that it’s the most original, most heartfelt piece on the album. I like the female voice samples going on in this song. It feels very motherly. The general vibe of this song encapsulates what it means to be little and having no idea about what it means to navigate the uglier world outside of childhood. The piano lines here accentuate the bassy, dreamy vibe with a tenderness that I’m not used to. Honestly, it makes me feel uncomfortable when a song tells me “it’ll be okay,” because I was never told that enough when I was little. It’s a super sad song, that sounds more dreamy than retro, but that’s okay, because it’s pretty damn good.

“Scars to Heal” was my other favorite song from the album. It’s just an all around solid track. Everything is audible, the vocals sit in the mix very well, and their overall performance hits the mark.

In general, the thing that GeoVoc does very well it creating a space where each song sort of just does it’s own thing. Each track on “Behind Closed Doors” is distinctive and different, while maintaining the same energy found throughout the album. I won’t say that this is difficult for an artist to pull off, but I do think that there were a lot of good decisions made in the mix and mastering process that helped “Behind Closed Doors” maintain an across the board loudness keeping each song in line with the others.

Conclusion

While I appreciate the retro production value that GeoVoc tries to implement into his music here, I think that in the future GeoVoc would greatly benefit by shifting from a retro vibe to something more modern and clean. I think that this would serve the music much better than going for a retro sound. This is just me though. As I mentioned before, I must impress that this album isn’t one that was made for my tastes. I do think that a lot of people will really love this album, especially among a younger, less jaded, crowd. This isn’t music made for bony old blood countesses. This is music made for people looking to relax, reflect, and vibe. Seriously, if that’s you, please check “Behind Closed Doors” out. There’s plenty to love here.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of vocally driven Dreamwave looking for a good vibe. Fans of The Midnight might like this too.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Foster,” “Scars to Heal,” and “Consider the Cost.”

Album Color Profile: #D4E6F1

You can find all things GeoVoc at https://geovoc.bandcamp.com/