Make Believe Machines is an avant-garde, neo-classical project from Des Moines, Iowa. At the center of this project is producer Justin Norman. Right at the tail-end of 2019, Norman released “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” which tells the his personal tale of grief in losing a close friend and grandparents. While this isn’t Make Believe Machines’s latest album, I feel compelled to write about this one as I connected with it earlier this year amidst my ongoing search of music worth listening to.

Artistically speaking, Norman is keen to the fact that ambiguity plays a big part in how art is perceived. He writes, “I’ve always connected with instrumental music, because without the specificity of lyrics, the listener is free to insert their own circumstances into the world of the song. It’s my hope that the new pieces of music on this record can be some comfort to others in trying times.” Personally speaking, I think that whenever an artist tries to define exactly what their art is for their audience it can come off as trite. Specific sounds, atmospheres, vibes, and visuals can bring about as many different feelings as there are people in the world. Music is very subjective. In my case, darker sounding music (like this) is very uplifting. However, those same sounds might be depressing or cause no feelings whatsoever in someone else. To Norman, “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” has specific meaning, but he doesn’t discount the fact that ambiguity is what really makes this album tick.

From the get-go there is one thing that separates “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” from the majority of the new music I’ve listened to this year: this album feels gigantic. I’m sure that part of this is a function of Norman treating the mix of this album with loving care, and then outsourcing this to a proper mastering engineer. The other part of why this album sounds so large is because of the energy behind the art presented here. It’s not often that you come across an artist who can so beautifully express what they want to say with their music, especially when it comes to instrumental music. In a sense, instrumental music is much more difficult to “get right,” primarily because there’s a an unspoken notion among creative minds in all genres that it’s easier to produce. Quite frankly, this point of view is understandable. Vocals can be a pain in the ass to–but can the twenty instrumental albums you released in the last year actually paint a picture? Can they tell a story? Can they do both of those things even if your listeners don’t know anything about you or your process? “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” can.

In terms of how “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” sounds, I feel that most people will instantly compare it to Hans Zimmer. Generally speaking though, I think that Make Believe Machines has much more in common the kind of music Thomas Newman (The Green Mile, American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption) typically churns out. This is an album that is definitely cinematic, but at a more down to earth and slow pace. The entire album has an unmistakable undertone of heavy sadness throughout that makes me think about every moment in my life that I didn’t have control over.

While the entire album is a high water mark for this type of music, there were a few moments that really resonated with me. “Ghosts Made of Static” is the song I would direct people to listen to first if they wanted to see what to expect from this album. This is a song that’s extremely textured, ambient, and string driven. This song gives me thoughts of wanting to escape into the woods. Like, when I listen to”Ghosts Made of Static” I actually see spinning eddies of leaves and dirt occupying an empty autumnal path like solemn ghosts. It’s almost like every person in my life who is no longer here has a voice in this song. It’s rather beautiful. “This Olive Branch is a Hornet’s Nest” has a very infectious Silent Hill vibe with its piano driven movement. The ever so slight sample reversals going on here just add to that feeling as well. When it comes to what I see when I listen to this song, I think about a car ride to the cemetery in the rain, or looking out my window in longing for days that are no longer here. “Mount St. Michel’s Revenants” features a very prominent violin and cello duet by Elaina Steenson and Anna Kucera respectively that feels like looking back at the world from the perspective of someone being laid to rest. There’s a mutual feeling of regret here that encapsulates a conversation between the living and those who have passed on into the aether. “The Restless Woods” is also an incredible highlight from this album, what with the simple piano and the right amount of reverb and atmosphere to give it vibrant and visual life. Finally, “Another Fruitless Victory” is the point in the album where I felt that the Zimmer parallels could be felt the most. This is a slow, plodding, song that really speaks to its title by questioning whether or not there’s any inherent meaning in life at all. Everything is finite–and I feel that this song does well in pointing that simple fact out.

As far as complaints are concerned, I don’t have many. Structurally, all of the songs are solid. The song titles hit the mark too. That said, for as much as I feel like this album would’ve benefited from the songs flowing into one another more smoothly. Part of this lies in how difficult it can be to separate tracks out so that they seamlessly run into one another, but the other aspect of this may have to do with how the tracks were arranged order-wise. Outside of that, this is a near flawless effort by an indie artist to get that big cinematic sound.

While I want to avoid getting overly existential in my analysis of this release, “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” represents, at least to me, the necessary process of having to grieve through the death of a loved one, be it a friend, a parent, or partner. This is absolutely, one-hundred percent, NOT feel good music. Don’t come here looking for bopping happy vibes. Come here looking for an album that will make you want to reflect and listen to the compartmentalized hurt inside of your heart.

Album Color Profile: #E8F5E9

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who need a much needed cry or grief-release.

Stand-Out tracks: All. But definitely check out “Ghosts Made of Static” if you aren’t sold on this album yet.

You can find all things Make Believe Machines at https://makebelievemachines.com/

Swayze is a synthwave/funk project by an unnamed producer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Swayze first burst onto the scene in April of 2019 with his single “Overdrive.” Since then he has released three other singles, “A Little Story,” “Your Love is Like a Lone Wolf,” and “Sidewalk,” all of which are prominently featured on his recently released debut album entitled “The Beginning.”

On the cover is our producer-hero standing in front of his trusty Roland Juno-106. He is surrounded by all sorts of nostalgic Patrick Swayze memorabilia, including movie posters from “Roadhouse,” “Dirty Dancing,” and “Point Break.” There’s also a rogue vinyl of Prince’s “Purple Rain” sitting right next to a VHS copy of “Ghost.” It’s pretty clear to me that the producer Swayze holds Patrick Swayze in high regard. Patrick Swayze is not only Swayze’s muse, he represents a way of life for this producer. And let’s just be real, who can blame him? Patrick Swayze belongs on Mount Olympus with all of the other gods for the tremendous work he did (especially in Roadhouse) during the 1980s and early 1990s. The man had an amazing career. It’s a goddamn shame we lost him so soon.

The one thing that blows me away about “The Beginning,” is the fact that it is a debut album. Even though all of the singles were previously released over the course of about a year and a half, having all of those songs–as well five new songs, in one place feels good. I know that some people in “the industry” might not agree with taking that approach of re-releasing singles onto an album later down the line, but I happen to feel that it’s a perfectly acceptable strategy to help grow an audience.

From a production standpoint, “The Beginning” is very retro sounding. I spent a good deal of time listening to this album outside while working out. My weirdo neighbor even popped her head over the wall in my garden just to tell me that she “listened to this when she was younger.” I replied “isn’t it wonderful?” instead of calling her out on her bullshit. It’s telling that a complete stranger to Swayze’s music can pick up on a general vibe that has permeated through a few generations.

I’ve really tried to sit down and identify possible oversights on “The Beginning” that give it away as a postmodern interpretation of that familiar 1980s vibe, but outside of the overall loudness of the album, it’s difficult for me to find one. I did notice when played back on my stereo system that the vocals on “Sidewalk” were a lot more pushed back into the mix than your average 80s track, but not to the detriment of the song. So aside from the loudness and the vocal production on “Sidewalk,” “The Beginning” feels genuine.

The highlights of this album include the blazingly epic title track, the post-Motown tribute “Nothing on Me,” and the charmingly romantic “Oh Jenni.”

To me, the title track rounds the album out with a small taste of what’s to come. This song leans a little more on a darker sound, but not so much so that it was making me want to pull my eyeliner out. It sounds groovy and triumphant. This is Swayze’s proclamation that nothing can kill his funky vibe, no matter what.

“Nothing on Me,” is my favorite cut from “The Beginning.” This was the song that really channels “Thriller”-era Michael Jackson. This song really made me smile, because I feel like it accurately captures that youthful hearthrob sort of feel. This song is passionate and genuine. Swayze’s vocal performance here comes off as effortless, almost like they were done in one continuous take. There’s so many small details that paint a bigger picture in this song. Couple this with a lot of musical interaction between Swayze’s vocals with the rest of the music and you have a recipe for one hell of a song.

“Oh Jenni,” is interesting primarily for it’s lyrical content. This is a song that appears to be a love letter to Jennifer Grey and the relationship she had with Patrick Swayze himself. In a way, it’s sort of spine-chilling, primarily because I get the feeling that the producer Swayze is somehow communing with the actor Swayze from beyond the grave. Either that or Swayze is Patrick Swayze’s living avatar. As far as how the song sounds it’s textured, slow, and romantic. I’d honestly like to hear an unplugged version of this song. Hey Swayze! Play us an unplugged version of “Oh Jenni” if you ever decide to stream. Then tell us a story. You know–about a girl you knew.

Overall, “The Beginning,” is a solid debut and in spending a lot of time with the album over the last week, it has a lot of replay value. I appreciate the attention of detail Swayze and his production team gave to this album. This is well EQed, Juno infused, TR-808 conga using, vigorous kind of music that uses plenty of reverb and the right amount of tasteful compression that lovingly massages the multiple sounds going on here. There’s so much vibrant youthful energy in this release that will appeal to nearly everyone. Especially ancient vampire ladies like myself.

Please check this one out, because “The Beginning” is the direction retrowave should be going.

Album Color Profile: #FF1744

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “The Beginning,” “Nothing on Me” (my favorite), and “Oh Jenni.”

RECOMMENDED FOR: Funky retrowavers looking for a positive feel good release that fucking bangs.

WARNING: this album might compel you to throw your panties at the stereo.

You can find all things Swayze at https://swayzefunk.bandcamp.com/

Winterquilt is the project of a nameless producer from Liverpool in the UK. Combining elements from symphonic black metal and vaporwave, Winterquilt creates a fascinating amalgamation of sounds that is bewildering, enjoyable, and cathartic. Winterquilt’s latest release entitled “O’Discordia” was released on August 24th, 2020 through Geometric Lullaby.


The cover artwork for “O’Discordia” by Fvckrender is quite a beautiful piece. It stands out amidst the rest of Winterquilt’s releases as my favorite visual style of the bunch. There’s just something incredibly pleasing about looking a giant chromatic serpent slithering through a rose bush. The artwork fits right in with the Satanic vibe of “O’Discordia.” Aesthetically, this is slick and well-executed.


Musically, “O’Discordia” reminds me of the first time I listened to Arcturus’s “La Masquerade Infernale”…way back in 1997. I feel that both albums do something really similar, where “La Masquerade Infernale” combined a Black Metal sensibility with avant-garde Symphonic Metal, Winterquilt combines the sensibility of a Vaporwave artist with Symphonic Black Metal. The result, at least in my view, is mostly successful, however, without the presence of guitars or any physical instruments it makes me wonder how this would’ve turned out had an actual band collaborated to actually perform what occurs on this release. From a technical stand-point, the virtuoso-esque dynamics explored throughout “O’Discordia” have been greatly demystified as the proliferation of DAWs becomes more commonplace in the hands of the general public. Don’t get me wrong, what Winterquilt has done here is breathtaking—but it wouldn’t exist in its current form without the exploitation of complicated MIDI-manipulation via Piano Roll “painting.” This is an album that wouldn’t have existed thirty years ago. Especially not at the hands of a single producer as a lot of what’s going on here would be near impossible to play. That said, I think that part of the fun of “O’Discordia” lies in that simple fact—its impossibility.

At about 2:30 into “His cloven hoof (feat. Naut)” I was flabbergasted by the sonic textures of what I was hearing. Winterquilt combines all of the good elements of late 90s progressive black metal (especially with regards to the drums), cartoony elevator jingles, and Bach. Winterquilt creates space by really laying down hard on the reverb but not so hard that it distorts the original sounds used here. The subtle use of piano is nice, as it creates a certain ambient kind of reflection allows the music to breathe. There’s a good deal of plucky metallics going on throughout “O’Discordia” that are filtered through various LFOs, pitch bends, and portamentos that give a bouncy sort of warmth to this album.

“I’m thinkin of you.. (feat. sage hardware)” stands out as my personal favorite from “O’Discordia.” There’s a couple of reasons for this. The strings on this sound vibrant and alive, but not so alive that they sound like the blah-blah soundtracky Hans Zimmer quality that’s all the rage in the Synthwave scene. These strings are cheesy AF and harken back to projects like Limbonic Art or “Prometheus…” era Emperor. The drums sound rather “human,” albeit in a Deathspell Omega “Drought” sort of way. Winterquilt also tastefully (and unironically) uses that familiar downsampled, slow as molasses, Vaporwave vocal we’ve all grown to love. The kicker, is that instead of coming off as a novelty, it adds real, tangible weight to this song. Go figure. Truly, this is the high water mark of this album.

The title track “O’Discordia (feat. fire-toolz)” is also nothing short of an orchestral odyssey, but it builds upon what the two tracks before it did. It also adds an extra dollop of glitch into the mix that keeps the forward momentum of the album fresh. I particularly enjoy the “applause” that occurs at around 7:30. It just adds a slight visual element that makes me think of some twisted kind of carnival stage show starring the Marquis De Sade himself. The first time I heard the “Boogie” vocal come in, I didn’t really like it, but after a few spins of this album, I think it’s a neat little nod to proper Vaporwave. I quite enjoy it.

The final song “The Pathos of Things” is an upbeat instrumental tribute to the dreamfunky t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者. It reminds me (greatly) of Arcturus’s “Aspera Hiems Symfonia,” both in general vibe and execution.

I often wonder the direction music will take after the “new-car smell” of extreme automation, glitch, and filters finally wears off. Something tells me it’s only going to get weirder from here. As a traditional flesh and bone musician, I feel that the sort of thing Winterquilt is presenting with “O’Discordia” is absolute fucking sacrilege, but as an fellow artist I can’t help but absolutely admire what they’ve done with this album. I think that while Vaporwave can occasionally sound like nightmare fuel, Winterquilt has given that idea legs by creating something frightening, beautiful, and a little controversial (due to how it was artistically constructed).

I think it takes a lot balls to release an album like this. So please check it out. It’s definitely going to be a nominee on my personal list for 2020’s album of the year.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who aren’t scared to admire art.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “I’m thinkin of you.. (feat. sage hardware),” “O’Discordia (feat. fire-toolz)”

Album Color Profile: #8E44AD

You can find all things Winterquilt at https://winterquilt.bandcamp.com/

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