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

Once upon a time, when I was much younger, a lot more naive, I occasionally came across weird little albums that I can only describe as “experimental.” There are a few artists who come to mind: Throbbing Gristle, Master/Slave Relationship, Tangerine Dream, and Stars of the Lid to name a few. To me, there are a few hallmarks that make a music project experimental:

  1. It doesn’t easily fit into any genre or category.
  2. It’s just weird or somewhat difficult to “get.”
  3. Experimental isn’t necessarily musical.

Armageddon Speaking (of Ontario) is a music project that fits into this experimental framework. I was first exposed to them after reviewing Leifendeth’s “Narrow Escapism.” Armageddon Speaking did a fascinating remix of “Not Again” for that EP which stood out as one of the most anomalous and experimental tracks on that release.

Something that really impresses me about Armageddon Speaking is how long it’s been around (in some form). There are fledgling tracks that go all the way back to 2000 back when FL Studio 2.0/3.0 was a thing. And while Armageddon Speaking only formally became much more active around 2014 it can’t be overstated how exciting it is to be able to experience an artist who has been in the electronic scene far before many of us were just a glimmer in its eye. I mean, what the heck were you doing in 2000? I was playing black metal! I digress…

Armageddon Speaking’s latest is entitled “Theory of Time Travel.” It was released on August 14th, 2020.

The cover art for “Theory of Time Travel” is near abstract featuring a blood red color with darker hues of midnight blue that are reminiscent of looking at an infrared universe in reverse. To me, the red color here represents the hidden esoteric energy of vast deep space. In the upper right hand corner I feel as though this represents some sort of planet filled to the brim with life, but devoid of ethics and spirit. Towards the bottom there appears to be some darker writing that reminds me of the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings. I’m pretty sure that’s not what it is though. This album cover is mysterious and cold. It fits in well with what Armageddon Speaking is accomplishing with “Theory of Time Travel.”

In terms of how “Theory of Time Travel” sounds, well, as mentioned before, this is an experimental album. The backbone of this album’s character lies in how un-musical it is. There’s no “beats,” “drops,” “breakdowns,” or “melodies.” There is an overarching theme to this album, however. And it is reprised over and over again in many different forms during the course of the record. This theme serves as the glue that binds “Theory of Time Travel” together filling the gaps between what sometimes feels like near silence with a spacey forward momentum that can only occur in experimental music.

It’s pretty clear that “Theory of Time Travel” wasn’t so much painstakingly composed as it was “captured.” There’s a very modular feel to this album that creates an organic analogue sort of atmosphere that feels good to experience. This is type of album that I could meditate to. It has a calming vibe that takes me to some far-flung nebula when I close my eyes. “Theory of Time Travel” is like listening to a visual artist paint, using each stroke to crawl towards some sort concealed apotheosis that never fully feels resolved. This is an album that accepts the fact that change is one of the indisputable and inevitable existential truths, while arguing that time itself is arbitrary to that process.

Of the tracks available here, I feel that it would be a disservice to Armageddon Speaking’s vision for “Theory of Time Travel” by recommending tracks that stand out here. To me, I feel that “Theory of Time Travel” is best experienced as a whole, rather than five individual tracks. I think that “Theory of Time Travel” has the type of sound that won’t be easily identified as being released in 2020 if someone happens to stumble upon it in the distant future. It has a timeless sound that harkens back to electronic “music” from the late 1970s. In general, when it comes to Armageddon Speaking, I think that their tagline “music from the future,” is accurate. However, I’d reframe it as “Music from the future…as we’re living it.” The genius behind this album isn’t in how it’s constructed, but in how it wasn’t. This is an album full of happy accidents. I don’t think that everyone will love this album as it’s not easy listening, but to for adventurous intellectual types looking for a challenge there’s some real gold to be found here if you give it an honest chance.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: Listen to this from beginning to end. Don’t break this experience up. The entire album is the stand-out track.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Listeners looking for something both relaxing and challenging.

Album Color Profile: #78281F

You can find all things Armageddon Speaking at https://armageddonspeaking.bandcamp.com/

Cyberthing! is a Darksynth project from–I’m not entirely sure where. Their VK page says Vancouver, but their Bandcamp page says California. Let’s put it this way, they are probably from somewhere here on Earth. I hope. *gulp* Cyberthing! (aside from one rogue photo on Twitter) is the type of project that takes a page out of the Deathspell Omega handbook by revealing very little about the actual producer behind the scenes. This is the type of “created persona” music that’s become all the rage among the kids these days. To be honest, I’m rather ambivalent to the whole concept. Cyberthing! is also one of those projects that has released five full-length albums and one EP at breakneck speeds over the course of two years. Their latest is entitled “KIRA.” It was released August 12th, 2020.

The cover artwork for “KIRA” is by Nero Exgalatine. It features a wonderful look that is reminiscent of early 2000s anime. There’s just something really cool about slick looking digital art that feels faded and worn at the same time. Nero really excels at this sort of thing. Her art gives off a nice retro vibe akin to looking at a single frame from an older anime on VHS. It really makes me miss Animerica magazine.

When it comes to what Cyberthing! has done with “KIRA” I can happily report that, at least to me, it is aesthetically near perfect. Nero’s anime style art coupled with slick, Cyberthing!’s grainy Darksynth is precisely the type of thing that’s right up my alley. “KIRA” is entirely instrumental, sans a few sample drops is a concept album. The liner notes on Cyberthing!’s page tells the tale of Kira Atari, “the second best killer” in the entire world. The album takes us on her journey to eliminate her rival “Killer Zero” in a bare knuckle cinematic feast for the ears.

“KIRA’s” intro track reminds me of Kenji Kawai’s “Making of a Cyborg” from 1995’s “Ghost in the Shell,” complete with that chorusey Bulgarian percussive vibe that made Kawai’s song so wonderful. The rest of the album, with the exception of “Into the Arena,” is your typical Darksynth affair. This isn’t a bad thing. While there is nothing particularly unexpected or surprising about “KIRA,” it’s strengths lie in maintaining a specific cinematic feel throughout the album that just works.

I found myself humming “First Strike” a lot this week. It’s a total earworm that shows off a little bit of what to expect from “KIRA’s” overall sound. This is the type of neon-flavored Darksynth that boasts a Roland Juno 60 and Minimoog vibe. “Slayer Incorporated” is my favorite track off of “KIRA.” It does a lot right, by combining elements from Darksynth with an early 2000s aggrotech sensibility. This song’s slow crawl brings on that perfect danger-energy that makes my toes curl with glee. “Welcome to the Fightclub” is another track that really caught my attention. Primarily for the rolling squishy bass patch that Cyberthing! uses in an all out barrage of audio violence. “Into the Arena” reminds me of the type of music you’d hear in an old 80s movie featuring a knife fight. It’s not very Darksynth per se but it does have the same spirit of “KIRA’s” opening track which fits in well with the aesthetic that Cyberthing! is pulling off here. Other tracks of note include “Electric,” “Target Hunter,” and “Megaweb Storm,” which all make liberal use of that fancy distorted French Darksynth bass we’ve all grown to love and adore since it first reared it’s ugly head onto the scene via Carpenter Brut & Friends.

Visually, “KIRA” makes me think of a corrupt inner city police precincts, flashing lights, sexy android girls, and flying cars cruising amidst the back drop of some kind of futuristic neon city. It doesn’t do anything daring when it comes to sound design or song structure, but I can’t say that that bothers me. I love Darksynth, and “KIRA” represents a solid example of how to do it right.

Make no mistake, if you’re looking for an album chock-full with Cyberpunk goodness, “KIRA” is your girl.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Darksynth, Cyberpunk, and sexy killer androids.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Slayer Incorporated,” “Welcome to the Fightclub,” “Target Hunter.”

Album Color Profile: #D81B60

You can find all things Cyberthing! at https://cyberthing.bandcamp.com/

CONNÖR is something of a mystery to me. Apparently they’ve been around in the Synthwave/Darksynth for awhile now. The funny thing is that I can’t seem to find any of their releases before their third album from 2019, entitled “Part III: Living in a Movie.” The mind behind CONNÖR is a producer who goes by the pseudonym “EFX.” Their social media presence is also rather light. EFX resides somewhere in the “deepest Bavarian forest” which, to me, means somewhere in south or southeast Germany. CONNÖR’s latest album, “Out of Traumaville” was released on August 21st, 2020,

“Out of Traumaville” is a fascinating album. Just looking at the liner notes, it’s pretty clear that it had a good financial backing, and that several people were involved in it’s creation. While EFX themself wrote and produced the songs found here, it would seem that White Sea Studio’s Wytse Gerichhausen had a lot to do with the post-production (both mixing and mastering) of this album. Wytse is most well-known, at least to me, for his audio “snake oil” videos on Youtube. Another notable contributor to this album was saxophonist Hugo Lee.

On the cover is artwork by Vladyslav Tsarenko, which features an image that looks like something you might find at one of those spray-on t-shirt shops that were the rage in the late 1990s. It has a girl getting pulled down into a manhole by various creepy crawlies. I think that it’s good artwork, but I don’t think it matches the spirit of the album. I would’ve preferred something a little less cartoony, especially considering the high-quality content found within “Out of Traumaville.”

There are a lot of interesting things going on composition-wise on this album. As I was listening to this album I couldn’t help but ask myself: “Who exactly is this person who created this?” It’s fairly clear that the work EFX has done with CONNÖR isn’t their first rodeo when it comes to writing music. Structure-wise there’s a lot to love on “Out of Traumaville.” While most songs follow a clear cookie-cutter pattern common to both Synthwave and Darksynth, there are a few incredible moments here. The album’s opener, “83. A.T.E.” does a lot in under six minutes. If I had to compare it to something, picture Carpenter Brut’s “Escape from Midwich Valley” with vocals. Similar to “Midwich” there is a slow build up on “83. A.T.E.” leading up to a surprising bass drop (at 4:00) in the last third of the song. Lyrically, this song is absolutely wonderful. I found myself singing it to myself for a few days. There’s just something so satisfying about saying the word combination “Woke up in fear.” “Total Darkness” is another certifiable ear worm that has incredible lyrics, and an incredible overall sound. Like–real talk, this song is just so smooth, and so pleasing to the ear. I honestly had a hard time keeping it together the first time I heard it. “The Fire in Me” which features a memorable sax performance by Hugo Lee and stunning vocals by Winona Drive. This is probably my favorite track on the album. If you aren’t sure about checking this album out, have a listen to “The Fire in Me.” It doesn’t disappoint.

In terms of aesthetic, I think that the first five songs on “Out of Traumaville” and the title track itself are all A-rank, maybe (at times) even S-rank level Darksynth. All of the other songs on the album really aren’t on the same level though from a compositional point of view. “Born to Shine” feels a little too preachy to me, and sounds less like proper Darksynth and more like something you might hear from a mainstream pop group like Imagine Dragons. Ick! Don’t get me wrong, from a technical standpoint I don’t think it’s bad, but it’s definitely not the type of song I would willingly subject myself to.

If I were an executive producer for this album I would’ve cut “Born to Shine,” the two “Holy Wood” tracks, and probably “Tomorrow.” I would’ve kept “My First Bossfight” though, primarily because it fits in with the context of the first five tracks of the album. If this album would’ve only included those seven tracks I think that this could’ve been a classic Darksynth release. The bloat filled in by the tracks that probably should’ve been cut mess with the overall vibe of this release. I’m also little disappointed that CONNÖR didn’t include lyrics on Bandcamp, because while I can easily understand what each vocalist is saying, I like reading lyrics for context, especially when it comes to a concept album like this one.

In conclusion, CONNÖR released some real gold here with the first five tracks on this album and the title track “Out of Traumaville.” Please check those songs out ASAP if you get joy-joy feelings from well-crafted Darksynth.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Carpenter Brut and Perturbator.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “83. A.T.E.”, “Total Darkness,” “The Fire in Me” (these three songs are FUCKING INCROYABLE–TREMENDOUS WORK).

Album Color Profile: #FF6699

You can find all things CONNÖR at https://connoer.bandcamp.com/

Ace Buchannon (Vesa Tamminen) is a Synthwave / Retrowave artist from Helsinki, Finland. Since 2016 he’s been producing highly listenable, quality Synthwave that hits me right in the nostalgic feels. He recently released a proper follow-up to his fantastic “Magenta Nights” LP, entitled “Eye of the Storm” on June 28th, 2020.

I’m going to come right out and say that what Ace Buchannon has done on “Eye of the Storm” represents one of the finest Synthwave moments of 2020. From the visual aesthetics by the masterful Atom Cyber, to the music itself, “Eye of the Storm” hits all of the right notes. This album features quite a few collabs as well, including Anna Moore, Gryff, and Primo. This is a project that had a lot of loving care put into it, and quite frankly it shows.

The first track “Into the Fray” does a little trick musicians call “resting.” Since the beginning of time, many great composers and song writers have used the mythical rest to create space, distance, and add epic effect. I’m happy to report that Ace Buchannon is among this group that uses this mythical “rest” creature to make their music that much better. Aside from that, the pointed bells and breathy lead synths/pads make “Into the Fray” the perfect album opener. It truly reminds me why I like Synthwave so much in the first place.

“Come Alive” (aka the most daring track on the album) covers a lot of ground by including a flowing saxaphone line throughout the song as an answer to Anne Moore’s absolutely beautiful vocals. You know a song is well-produced when the vocals kick in right where you would’ve put them yourself. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting “Come Alive” to have vocals on it at all the first time I heard it, so I just naturally started singing where I thought the vocals would come in and *BOOM* there they were. Joy, joy feelings all around. What a tremendous song.

“Mizukage Prototype” is hands-down the best “instrumental” track on the album. It’s menacing in a darksynth Terminator type of way, but it still has a breathy, atmosphere like a traditional synthwave track. The small robotic vocal drop that occurs sporadically throughout the song put me right in this odd cyberpunky visual space filled with corporate high rises, night drives, and sexy pleasure models.

Of all the songs on the album I felt that “Secret” was somewhat lacking, not because of Primo’s amazing vocal performance, but because the song structure and overall sound of the track sounds more like something that would trend in 2010s pop rather than Synthwave. It just doesn’t sound as nostalgic as the rest of the album and is more akin to “The Fame Monster”-era Lady Gaga rather than something Pat Benatar or Laura Branigan would’ve done. The lyrics could’ve also been a little less derivative. To me, they clash with the vibe of the song.

“Never Surrender” has a guest vocal appearance by Gryff who never ceases to disappoint. His work on this song gives me those Rocky montage vibes. When I heard this song I just wanted to get up, wrap my hands in some athletic tape and go punch a speed bag, jump some rope, or climb the stairs next to city hall for a few hours. “Never Surrender” is a nice way to end such a triumphant album.

Production wise, I don’t have any complaints. Everything is audible no matter where I’m listening to it. The mix in general sounds nice and three dimensional. I really wish that there were proper liner notes available via Bandcamp. I’m curious to see if the saxaphone on “Come Alive” is a real or not. Because if it is synthetic, holy hell, I want to know what black magic made that possible. “Eye of the Storm” is professional sounding in a genre that often suffers from clean sounding mixes—especially when it comes to vocals. Of all the albums I’ve subjected myself to during the course of 2020, “Eye of the Storm” is definitely going to stand out to me as one of the most memorable. There’s a lot to love here, especially when it comes to the three vocal collabs, solid instrumentals, and high quality aesthetics.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who like music.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Come Alive” (my absolute favorite), “Mizukage Prototype,” “Break the Cycle,” and “Into the Fray.”

Album Color Profile: #F5EEF8

You can find all thing Ace Buchannon at https://acebuchannon.bandcamp.com/

Leifendeth is the industrial project of Toronto producer Dan McDonald. Since 2009 he’s been regularly releasing music under the Leifendeth banner. He has had roughly fifteen releases during this time. His latest, “Narrow Escapism” is a mini-ep featuring five remixes from artists including Braphonyte 7, Real Wilkinson, and Armageddon Speaking.

On the cover of “Narrow Escapism” is a back alley somewhere (maybe in Toronto), sprayed with graffiti. While I personally don’t particularly like the aesthetic of the photograph, I do think that it plays well into the idea of this EP, being that the photo feels claustrophobic.

Musically, I really, really like the title track of this EP. It reminds me “Mechanical Renaissance”-era Psyborg Corp, Xperiment, and C-Lekktor. It’s quite dancey, (Batty von Bats eat your heart out) and has in no way any ties to the current “retro” style that’s in vogue right now. This is the kind of aggrotech infused, industrial music that died a quiet death way back in 2012 with the advent of dubstep. To this day, I’m still not entirely sure how or why this type of music went out of style, maybe it has something to do with the proliferation of the “Goth Bridge Rave.” Regardless, “Narrow Escapism” is a concise track that is well-written, well-produced, and quite familiar to my aging old soul. McDonald makes creative, well-placed use of EQ, reverb, and reverse cymbals (my favorite) to help create this memorable track.

I tend to enjoy EPs like this as they help to expose me to new artists I haven’t heard of before via remixes. The most memorable of these remixes is “Pandemic” by Braphonyte 7. There’s just the right amount of aggression here that just makes me giddy with evil glee. Braphonyte 7’s remix is reminiscent of 2000s-era :Wumpscut:. Armageddon Speaking’s remix of “Not Again” is downright weird, a little ambient, and definitely old school. “Parasomniac (ghost panic mix)” has a good aggrotech styling to it, but the vocals come off as a little dry for my tastes. That’s not to say that they don’t fit, they do, I just think they should’ve been a little more wet, or slightly more in the background of the track. Of the two Real Wilkinson remixes of “Narrow Escapism” I much prefer the “Narrated Breakout” remix as it comes off as a tasteful reprise of the original track. The “Extended ‘Press the ESC button” remix is a lot more experimental, diverting a lot of attention from the original theme by focusing on various creative cuts and button presses.

Overall, I think that this is a pretty good EP. If there had been two other new tracks by Leifendeth here in the same polished style as “Narrow Escapism” in addition to all the extras we get here I think it could’ve been better. In general, if I had to pick one aspect of how Leifendeth could improve, it would be in the visual aesthetic of the project. Looking back at McDonald’s body of work I feel that the music is too amazing for the visual style that was settled upon for Leifendeth. “Narrow Escapism” also suffers from this lack of visual stimulus as well. If there was a little more flashiness to the art design, I think it would push this project over the top as something a little more noticeable, a lot more threatening, and more befitting of the wonderful music found within.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of 2000s aggrotech, late 2000s industrial dance.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Narrow Escapism” (this is near perfect) and “Pandemic (Braphonyte 7 remix)”

Album Color Profile: #BDC3C7

You can find all things Leifendeth at https://leifendeth.bandcamp.com/

Sonic Gap is a electronic music producer from Sweden. He first came onto the scene in June of 2019 with his track “Momentum.” Since then he has released a whopping three full-lengths (in less than a year), and a number of singles. Sonic Gap’s latest release is entitled “Cosmos.” It was released on August 5th, 2020 and features twelve tracks–many of which were previously released as singles or are remakes.

“Cosmos” is the sort of album that does a whole lot in a short time. Most of the tracks here are brief, (three minutes of less). “Cosmos” offers a good mix of music including instrumental tracks as well as songs that feature vocals. Sonic Gap’s voice is reminiscent of mid-nineties synthpop crossed with a Reznor-esque sensibility. There isn’t a whole lot of dark content here. Most of the music here is playful. “Ninja Control” is a good example of this, featuring a catchy, almost cat-like lead. Others, like “Someone Else” sound lighthearted and uplifting, albeit in a somber way.

Style wise, I much prefer the darker sounds that Sonic Gap experiments on “Cosmos.” The opening “Futurehole” is very 1990s goth to me. In fact, I would go as far to say that it reminds me of early Die Form or perhaps Attrition. I also really enjoyed Sonic’s (no pun intended) Dr. Robotnik stylings on the song “No Way Out.” As a point of personal preference, I wish that the ideas presented in “Futurehole” and “No Way Out” were explored more fully. If it was me in the producer seat for this album I would’ve chose to extend both of these songs and add much darker, more reverb leaden vocals to help expand what both of these songs are trying to accomplish. Regardless of how I would produce them personally, I still really enjoy both tracks.

In terms of what Sonic Gap presents vocally on “Cosmos,” I think there are some great ideas present, but I think they fall slightly short due to the brief song lengths. Shorter songs, at least in my opinion, lend themselves better to instrumental music. When it comes to vocals I prefer a much more old school approach of having a proper verse/pre-chorus/chorus/bridge/repeat structure. For instance, on “Bounty Hunter,” I found myself happily bopping along to the song, and by the time it finally gets its hooks into me it’s already over. Now to some, this might be a viable strategy in getting the listener to press play again after the track concludes, but I think that due to how short “Bounty Hunter” is it never feels fully fleshed out. It’s still one of my favorite cuts from “Cosmos” but it could’ve been subjective better if it was longer, less repetitive, and had a key change or two. Perhaps it should be said that I think many if not all of the songs presented here would be great candidates for remixes by other artists. I for one can see a lot of potential on “Cosmos” that wasn’t tapped into on the songwriting side. Outsourcing these songs out to other artists for remixing might be an interesting experiment.

The production value on “Cosmos” is inoffensive. It’s not all squeeky clean, though. Some of the life is sucked out of the vocals, in particular, leaving them occasionally dull and undynamic. I think that the music itself could’ve benefited from more dynamism as well, whether that be through a more creative use of EQ, volume, sidechain compression or all of the above. There are a lot of safe choices made with “Cosmos” that do make it a pleasant listening experience, but my old ears thirst for something a little more adventurous.

“Multiverse” serves as the only song on the album that I feel hits all of the right notes. This is primarily due to how different it is within the context of “Cosmos.” There’s just something really tangible about how “Multiverse” sounds. It is provocative with its 1970 aesthetics which is a sound that I don’t often hear replicated often. Sonic Gap’s vocals also fit really well between the high-frequency whistles, the funky guitar, and slow swung drums. I would really like to see Sonic Gap move more into this direction in the future as I feel he really excels with this type of sound.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Multiverse,” “Futurehole,” “No Way Out,” “Bounty Hunter.”

RECOMMENDED FOR: Opened-minded people looking for an escape from 1980s aesthetics, fans of 90s synthpop.

Album Color Profile: #1ABC9C

You can find all things Sonic Gap at https://sonicgap.bandcamp.com/

Donor Lens is a post-vaporwave/future-funk duo from the UK featuring the talents of Thom (Love in Dust, Wichita LimeWire) and Jay (Kid Neon, Timeshare 94). On July 31st, they released a proper follow-up to their amazing “Miracle Lounge มิราเคิล เลานจ์,” entitled “Midnight Store” through My Pet Flamingo.

“Midnight Store” has a really sleek look thanks to some wonderful art design by TropicalVirtual. It features an image of a package store that is situated smack dab in the middle of nowhere. The little details in the picture, such as the graffiti, the advertisement for “Viceroy” cigarettes, and even a nod to My Pet Flamingo itself, remind me of the type of thing you might see in a 1990s era first person shooter. I particularly like the trash can. The other thing that stands out in the cover art is the seemingly light barren “loft” sitting above the store. I can’t help but imagine someone sitting in the dark flipping through television channels out of depression, boredom, or because there’s simply nothing better to do.

The overall sound quality of “Midnight Store” is a cut above most Vaporwave that I’ve been exposed to. I would actually be willing to say that “Midnight Store” is as close as we’ll get to what proper Vaporwave would be like if it went into the mainstream. That said, I can’t see that happening, as Vaporwave supplants the “cult of personality” required to succeed in mainstream music’s current environment via weirdness, nightmare fuel, and feels.

Musically, I was really quite surprised to hear a song like “Midnight Store” lead off the album. When I spun “Midnight Store” for the first time, I couldn’t understand where the title track fit in with what the rest of the album is trying to accomplish. For all intents and purposes, “Midnight Store” is a proper song, sans a bridge. Despite it being an outlier on the album, I began to appreciate it more after picking up on its reprise in “Another Night Astray.” Like most artists who experiment in Vaporwave, this reprise did something weird to me. It gave me a mini-nostalgic moment for a new song I just heard. Weird right? Not really. I think this is by design. *slow clap*

Some of my favorite moments on “Midnight Store” come in the form of extended atmospheric jingles. Just having a song title like “Turn the Fridge On” puts certain images into my head. When tied with what Donor Lens is presenting here I didn’t expect the images to be so vivid and on point. This song in particular kept causing me to visualize someone working inside a cold freezer in the backroom of a small grocery store in southern California. This is a good example of what makes this album interesting. Donor Lens excel in creating an imaginary space that comfortably sits right in the liminal space between conscious and unconscious reality.

Other moments that stuck out to me was the enigmatic piano-leaden “One Stop Shop,” the early Apoptygma Berserk sounding “Konbini 24-7,” and the fluorescent light leaden “Aisles and Aisles.” My favorite track on the album undoubtedly goes to “Spirit Receiver (ft. DATAGIRL).” It’s a slow, enlightening, and dare I say, spiritual journey that truly highlights how music can spark authentic emotion within a listener. In general, I think that “Spirit Receiver” is one of the best tracks I’ve heard in all of 2020. While the rest of “Midnight Store” serves its purpose as a tremendous release on its own by combining future funk, chiptune, and Vaporwave together, this track overshadows and transcends all of the songs that come before it on the album. Seriously, check it out. “Spirit Receiver” is PEAK Donor Lens magic.

Album Color Profile: #D4E6F1

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Vaporwave looking for something a little less nightmarish and something much more focused.

Stand-out tracks: “Spirit Receiver (ft. DATAGIRL),” “Aisles and Aisles,” and “One Stop Shop,” and “Turn the Fridge On.”

You can find all things Donor Lens at: https://mypetflamingo.bandcamp.com/album/midnight-store

Siamese Youth is a Synthwave/Synthpop duo from Berlin, Germany featuring the talents of Mark Gritsenko (vocals) and Christoph ‘Hadl’ Hassel. Their debut album “Electric Dreams” came out in late 2019 via New Retro Wave Records. Upon release, “Electric Dreams” was unanimously embraced by the Synthwave community and for good reason. It is passionate, sentimental, and above all nostalgic.


Production-wise, Siamese Youth present a really beautiful, warm album that sounds authentic. That said, there is a slight postmodern edge to this record that helps it to stand out as an example of what happens when everything goes right. This is the result of what appears to be many careful post-production decisions. There isn’t a sound on “Electric Dreams” that I wasn’t able to hear in both headphones, on my stereo system, or on my phone’s speakers.

It’s glaringly clear that Siamese Youth, have a strong affection for the spirit of the 1980s. “Electric Dreams” bottles up that energy into thirty-four minutes of tear-jerking vibes. For the retro-enthusiast there’s so much to love about this release. The album opens up with a dreamy pad-leaden intro called “1984.” A woman’s voice begins to echo: “Dare to Dream, Dare to Believe, Love is the Essence of Life.” Shortly after, Gritsenko begins to sing through heavily processed, but nonetheless gorgeous vocals. This short prelude is but a preview of magical energy contained within “Electric Dreams.” From “Coco,” to “Nariyeh Thanei,” to “Lying to Myself,” there’s a lot of well-crafted, listenable songs that scream to be replayed over and over again. “Electric Dreams,” is incredibly pastiche, catchy, and romantic. I think that this album would’ve been a huge hit back in the 80s. It’s music like this that makes me feel lucky to be alive. Every song on this album is an absolute gem.


RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who wants to be instantly transported back to the 1980s.

Stand-out tracks: “Coco,” (the best track, I think I almost blew my speakers out listening to this one), “Lying to Myself” (aka the most 1980s song on the album), “Dream On,” and “Nariyeh Thanei.”

Album Color Profile: #F3E5F5

You can find all things Siamese Youth at https://newretrowave.bandcamp.com/

Kushna is a newer retrowave producer from India. 2020 has certainly been his year as he’s produced a slew of really catchy singles. In addition to this, he’s also released a full-length entitled “Retrodise.” It came out on June 2nd, 2020.

I’m going to come out and say that this is definitely an album that you shouldn’t judge by it’s cover. To me, the cover embraces some really common Synthwave tropes. We’ve all seen this type of thing frequently in the last few years, and for all intents and purposes I think that “Retrodise” would’ve benefited greatly from a different type of visual to accompany the music here.

Despite my personal issues with the cover artwork, I think that “Retrodise” is a wonderful album. I tend to think that it musically lies somewhere between proper darksynth and more soundtrack based Synthwave. There are a lot of really great ideas here that really tap into the exact type of moody epic vibe that brought me to love Synthwave as an artistic medium in the first place. The production value on “Retrodise” is really clear due to it being properly EQed and made tight with strategic conscious use of light (and sometimes sidechained) compression. I suspect that Kushna spent some time producing music in other genres as “Retrodise” has a modern EDM vibe. If I’m wrong about this, then he has a lot of natural talent for this type of thing. Regardless, “Retrodise” reminds me of a cross between 16-bit VGMs from the 1990s, Jan Hammer’s work on Miami Vice, with a slight raga flavor that makes it stand out amongst the hundreds of hours of Synthwave that I’ve subjected myself to so far this year.

I think that “Retrodise” opens up strong with the arpeggio leaden “Deep Love.” This song is spacey, futuristic, and catchy. It’s also is very neutral in terms of energy. It’s not particularly light or dark sounding, but it definitely has aspects from both sides of the spectrum. “Dream” further highlights Kushna’s talent for constructing great sounding arpeggios. Again, like “Deep Love,” “Dream” reaches Daft Punk levels of spacey with a pseudo-“TRON Legacy” vibe crossed with mid-nineties CD-ROM based VGMs. “Endless” was my favorite cut from “Retrodise.” The visuals that my brain created whilst listening to this song were akin to something you might see out of a moody Neo-noir film complete with streetlights sporadically shining across the face of a lonely night driver just looking to make something of his/her life. The acoustics of the woodwind pipe sound on “Endless” is absolutely beautiful and really unconventional.

Overall, “Retrodise” is a highly enjoyable listen. This release completely blindsided me, and it’s a goddamn shame that more people haven’t checked it out. If you have an affinity for well-crafted and thoughtful Synthwave with a digestable and slightly different vibe, please check out Kushna’s work. It’s one of my favorite albums this year.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone that loves going for a long night drive along the coast on a hot Summer night.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Endless,” “Deep Love,” “Dream,” and “Beautiful.”

Album Color Profile: #FF1744

You can find all things Kushna at https://kushnamusic.bandcamp.com/

U.K. based Taurus 1984 is an ambitious retrowave collaboration between producers Alastair Jenkins and Bobby Cole. Their debut album, “Lost in Time” was released in 2018. Their follow-up entitled “Dream Warriors” was released via Outland Recordings on May 29th, 2020.

“Dream Warriors” by Taurus 1984 is an album that I’ve had a weird relationship with since I became aware of it way back in May. As a child of the 1980s I instantly related the word combination “Dream Warriors” to Dokken. The first time I saw this album I honestly thought that Taurus 1984 named their album after “Dream Warriors” because they made a banging synthwave cover of Dokken’s “Dream Warriors.” I was totally wrong about this. My brain expected hair metal, but Taurus 1984 delivered something that couldn’t have been farther from that expectation. In comparison to their summery debut “Lost in Time,” “Dream Warriors” is a drastically different album. Where “Lost in Time” has a more traditional Synthwave sound, “Dream Warriors” is cut from a different brand of 1980s based music. What’s important to note, is that to the unprepared ear I think that “Dream Warriors” has the potential to be largely misunderstood.

To fully understand where “Dream Warriors” is coming from I think it’s important to look at why it’s so different than the wide majority of Synthwave.

  1. It’s music driven primarily by vocals.
  2. Whereas traditional Synthwave embraces disco-italia, 1980s dance, and film soundtracks “Dream Warriors” leans more into electro-funk.

At the onset, “Dream Warriors” gives off an inspirational, albeit soulful vibe that is spiritually reminiscent of inner city post-disco electro-funk from the early 1980s. Groups such as The S.O.S. Band, George Clinton’s P-Funk, and Sinnamon helped to pioneer this sound. Taurus 1984 pays homage to this while simultaneously combining it with traditional Synthwave. The result is an interesting experiment that serves to illustrate why fabricated nostalgic vibes work only up to the point. Where post-disco was developed out of the combined experiences of many musicians working together, Taurus 1984 is borrowing from those experiences under an entirely different framework. This isn’t the first time that this has happened. Most notably, the first well-received instance of this type of thing can be seen in 1965 with the release of The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul.” That album introduced the world to the idea of “plastic soul” which was perfected by David Bowie nine years later with the release of “Young Americans.” As I currently understand it, the foundations of Synthwave lie in fabricating authentic nostalgia via a parallel time line that doesn’t exist. And while “Dream Warriors” certainly has a little bit of this, by leaning so heavily into electro-funk it occasionally falls short as an incomplete thought. This is primarily because the type of sound that Taurus 1984 is exploring here would’ve been socially inaccessible to them in the early 1980s. That said, I have to commend Taurus 1984 for having the courage to push their limits by experimenting in this way. Combining the intimate individual nostalgic feel of traditional postmodern Synthwave with community driven post-disco electro funk isn’t exactly easy.

Taurus 1984 really shine on “Dream Warriors” when they allow themselves room to fully shift away from Synthwave and just write music that comfortably lends itself to tools they had available for this album. “Ghosts” is wholly indicative of this by channeling an in-precise Queen vibe that serves as one of the album’s high points. Just looking at how many people were involved with “Dream Warriors” I have to say that I admire the fact that Taurus 1984 was able to fit so many small details into this album—particularly when it comes to how the vocals were mixed. For instance, on “Home” there is a short male vocal burst that adds a pad like presence to the mix that greatly accentuates the Abi Davis’s vocal performance. This type of thing is repeated often on “Dream Warriors,” even if it comes off in the mix as mildly subliminal. My favorite track off of “Dream Warriors” is, by far, “Situations.” I think that out of all the songs produced here this was the one that was closest to that electro-funk vibe that Taurus 1984 tries so hard to reach at other points in the album. “Situations” really speaks for everything that Taurus 1984 is capable of. It would’ve been, at least to me, a much more fitting choice for the lead single here than the title track.

Overall, I don’t think that this album will appeal to everybody. It occasionally makes weird artistic decisions that waffles between a forced summer synthwave vibe and a plastic electro-funk vibe that could’ve worked better if there were a greater emphasis on the community aspect of this album. Actual live drums and a more spacious mix would’ve greatly impacted the overall effectiveness of this album as well. That said, I did enjoy “Dream Warriors,” but it wasn’t easy to get into. I do truly believe that if Taurus 1984 continues to stay creative in this way that they absolutely will create something truly groundbreaking in the future.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Retrowave fans looking for an album that bridges the gap between electro-funk and instrumental Synthwave.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Situations,” (amazing track), “Ghosts,” “Home”

Album Color Profile: #FF3300

You can find all things Taurus 1984 at https://taurus1984.bandcamp.com/