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/

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/