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/

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/

Bara Hari (aka Samantha Franco) is an electronic producer/vocalist from Los Angeles, California. She’s a rather new addition to the electronic music scene, but don’t hold that against her because Franco’s talent is undeniable. Her first EP is entitled “Pandora’s Box” and it came out on June 19th, 2020.

The cover artwork is quite nice. The color choices here are also solid and subtle. I particularly like the faux shrink wrap along the edges of the image, it gives this a real tangible feel despite the fact that there isn’t a physical release of “Pandora’s Box”—yet. Trey Wellerman and Sam Franco’s design here is great because it tells everything there is about the release by including Bara’s logo, a couple of images, the tracklisting, and of course, a stunning photograph of Samantha.

I’m not entirely sure to what extent Samantha Franco played in the production process of this EP. It’s clear that she performs the vocals for “Pandora’s Box.” What’s confusing is that there’s also a producer credit for someone named Ian Flux. This leads me to believe that this EP was largely a collaborative effort. Which for how polished it is would make sense. If I had to guess, I think that Franco first wrote the music for “Pandora’s Box” via DAW, and then outsourced the mixing process to Flux and mastering to Lee McCartney. Regardless of how this all got done, this is a great little EP. It’s top-tier and succinct. To me, this is the embodiment of Darkpop near-perfection. That said, without Franco’s vocal performance it wouldn’t be what it is. Don’t get me wrong, the music is fantastic on it’s own, but it’s significantly strengthened by the presence of her magnetic voice.

The lyrical themes on “Pandora’s Box” delve into the subject matter common to Gothic types of music. Franco frequently takes dark images and uses them to create a space where she can express sometimes romantic interpersonal angst via song. At times, her lyricisms remind me of a poppy Miranda Sex Garden just with much more cutting. See this excerpt from Bara Hari’s “Dark Water”:

“I dragged you down with me/So deep we could no longer see/Ourselves in our reflections/At the bottom of the sea Murky as the water/Pooling at our feet/The tide has come/The current cuts/And it pulled you away from me.”

The theme of cutting, or rather separation seems to be the primary theme of “Pandora’s Box.” Separation from the people that we thought we loved, separation from the past, and separation from the things that hold us back. On the surface, it may seem that Franco’s lyrics only focus on relationship problems, but really they are more about liberation. Which, to me, shows that there’s definitely something more going on up underneath the surface of this EP than meets the eye.

“Carving Flesh” was one of my favorite tracks from “Pandora’s Box.” The opening reminded me of something you might hear on an early Lady Gaga album, but it quickly turned into something much darker. Franco’s vocals are remarkable on this track not just because they are clear, but because they change the context of the music by becoming an instrument in their own right. The best song on the EP goes to “White Noise.” I feel like the lyrical content of this track is very relevant in the post-Covid world. The track discusses what it means to be separated from other people, whilst also being trapped within the prison of the mind. When she mentions “Pandora’s Box” in this song I get the picture that it serves as an allegory for the chaotic space of Internet:

“Listen to the white noise/Coming from Pandora’s box/Taken by the embrace of the past/Transient attraction/Of everything that used to be/Has lost its charm but won’t let go of me.”

Overall, this is an explosive debut for Bara Hari. Had this been a full-length LP, it would be right up there with Collide’s “Chasing the Ghost.” It’s that good. I honestly can’t wait to see where she takes this project—because it is just dripping with potential.

And real talk, if there’s anyone out there in the void from Paradox Interactive, you need to get Bara Hari’s music into “Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines 2.” This is the type of music made for that kind of atmosphere.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who like to cry dance.

Stand-Out Tracks: I absolutely loved every song on “Pandora’s Box,” but if I had to choose, please check out “Carving Flesh,” “White Noise,” and “Dark Water” first.

Album Color Profile: #F8BBD0

You can find all things BARA HARI at https://barahari.bandcamp.com

LV-426 is the darksynth project of producer Justin Peeler. Peeler hails from Brantford, Ontario and has been writing music for LV-426 for a couple of years now. He recently released his first full-length entitled “Shadow Runner” on June 19th, 2020.

The cover art work is a stylized rendition of a pre-covid photograph of a back street in Shinjuku. I won’t drop the address of this location—but it wasn’t too difficult to find considering Osteria Oliera is there in plain view. The photo is quite nice, and captures a typical evening on a somewhat busy street. If Chiba City from Neuromancer was an actual place, it might look something like this.

“Shadow Runner” isn’t what I would describe as normal “to-be-expected” darksynth. There is nothing earbustingly loud or shiny about this release. “Shadow Runner” is completely devoid of soft-clipped basses, tropey overused audio drops, or popping drums. And honestly speaking, the mere fact that “Shadow Runner” does none of this is what makes it charming. “Shadow Runner” may lack saturation or walls of deafening sound, but it makes up for it (in spades) with HIGHLY original and unconventional song arrangements. “Shadow Runner” has the type of underground grit that I just don’t hear all that often these days. Part of this might be experiential, but don’t hold that against LV-426. There’s goodness to be had here.

Every song on “Shadow Runner” is both worthy and wonderful. That said, there are a couple of songs that really stuck out to me. The first of these being “Tokyo Cyber Squad.” How can I describe this? Think of a darker heavy metal band like Hypocrisy and their song “Inseminated Adoption.” Now replace the guitars in that song with a saw bass that roughly occupies the same space as a guitar post-EQ. It’s sort of like that. This isn’t a song meant for dancing. It’s meant for banging one’s head. The next track that stood out to me was “Fail Safe.” This a very WEIRD track—rhythmically. But not so weird that it’s impossible to appreciate. Like “Tokyo Cyber Squad,” this is meant to make you bang your head. I don’t think “Fail Safe” will appeal to everyone. In fact, I think that most darksynth listeners will be put off by it due to how disjointed it feels. To those brave souls who are willing to appreciate it, there’s something quite special here. It’s my favorite cut off of the entire album. Finally, “System Collapse” sort of combines the sensibilities of both aforementioned songs. This is a dangerous in an edgy YM2612 sort of way. It reminds me of early 1990s BGM battle music, you know, the type of earworm you might hear in an action platformer on the Megadrive.

In general, what “Shadow Runner” does really well is to capture a cyberpunk atmosphere without trying to sound like Perturbator or the Blade Runner soundtrack. What we’re left with is a back alley interpretation of one individual’s unique vision of what cyberpunk looks like to them. Now whether or not this is by design, I’m not entirely sure. What I tend to think, at least in my head cannon for this album, is that Peeler made creative choices with “Shadow Runner” that were entirely his own. The result? An album that offers up rich originality via unusual sound choices, the occasional weird song structure, and a dry dynamism that gives no fucks about what everybody else is doing.

This is a great release, with a lot of heart, and a distinctive creative edge that shines because it’s just doing its own thing.

RECOMMENDED FOR: The adventurous darksynth/cyberpunk listener looking for something different.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Fail Safe,” “Tokyo Cyber Squad,” “Regroup,” “System Collapse” (this song sounds like a Megadrive boss theme).

Album Color Profile: #512E5F

You can find all things LV-426 at https://lv-4261.bandcamp.com/

Eyeshadow 2600 FM is the darksynth project of producer Meryl S. Kavanagh. In 2017, she released her groundbreaking first album entitled “TERF DESTROYER 9000.” Since then, she’s been quite prolific producing thirteen releases since that time. ES2600FM is music that explores disdain for the establishment, space vampires, and cyberpunk themes.

“Polybius” is a concept album that continues where her previous album “Ride Eternal” left off. On the cover is a woman calmly lying in a sea of stars. Considering that this is an album that explores the story of a sexy vampire lady marooned in deep, deep space, the cover art works pretty well. I’m still trying to figure out where the name “Polybius” fits in. I’m well aware of the urban legend surrounding the fictitious coin-op arcade machine from the 1980s, but in my head cannon for this album I tend to believe that Polybius is the name of the star system that our vampire heroine finds herself lost in. Regardless, it’s a cool title and it looks good featured at the top of the album’s cover art.

ES2600FM’s “Polybius” is the kind of album that should be listened to in a dark room as one continuous song. While I was able to skip around and listen to individual tracks more closely, I felt more comfortable playing this album from beginning to end. When I listened to songs individually I felt like some context was being left out. As a whole, “Polybius” sounds like you’re floating through deep space. This is largely helped by a strategic use of glassy sounding pads, white noise, and covert subliminal sound effects. This album is desolate AF. Though I don’t think that this feeling sets in until you’re sitting with this album running for a bit. By the time you’re half an hour in, the isolating effect that this album has is unmistakable. In general, “Polybius” makes me feel slightly claustrophobic and godforsaken.

Production-wise, “Polybius” is respectable. There aren’t any offending frequencies that are going to stick out as abrasive or unlistenable. For an indie album it’s very well-produced. “Polybius’s” greatest strength lies in how balanced it is. “Mind Machine” is a track that really stands out to me due to how it’s arranged. At times it sounds really dark, but there’s also this light-hearted element to it that reminds me of the feeling you get when you’re an MMO newb exploring a dangerous area by yourself for the first time. It feels like something that should be used in EVE Online or Elite Dangerous. “Edges of Orion” is the tune I think that will attract a lot of listeners looking for fresh darksynth feels. It’s upbeat and energetic—the kind of music that’s good for driving down a dark country road with reckless abandon.

Overall, the real strength of “Polybius” lies in Kavanagh’s willingness to dip her toes into ambient drone—because it’s all over this album. It’s a neat touch to bookend ambient drone sounding explorations around proper songs with percussion. This not only controls the energy and flow of the album but it also creates excitement when it’s absolutely necessary. Here’s hoping that ES2600FM fully explores the ambient element that she started on this album on her next release.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who like space-themed drone, lovers of science fiction soundtracks, and darksynth fans.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Mind Machine,” (best track) “Edges of Orion,” (this is the sleeper hit of the album) “Her Name is Andromeda,” “Doomed,” “The Legacy Code,” and “Time Paradox.”

Album Color Profile: #FF33CC

You can find all things Eyeshadow 2600 FM at https://eyeshadow2600fm.bandcamp.com/

“arisTotal” marks the first formal release from Finnish industrial rockers The Fair Attempts. From the moment I pressed play I was immediately surprised by the quality and sheer catchiness that TFA bottled up into this criminally short EP. “arisTotal” boasts something that’s a bit of a rarity in electronic music in the post-Synthwave era, and that’s vocals. We’re talking, verse, pre-chorus, chorus delivery. While I understand how polarizing vocals can be for most listeners nowadays, I really wish more electronic musicians would go this route. Because unlike most producers who live and die by the instrumental, TFA demands that you listen to it. This is NOT neo-elevator music that you can put on in the background while playing Counterstrike. And because of this, fans of legitimate gothic infused industrial rock are in for absolute treat with this debut EP.

The lyrics are masterfully written. And I guarantee that they will stick with you like an earworm that won’t quit. I’m not ashamed to say, but I was headbanging in my kitchen the first time I heard “Blowback.” It’s catchy as hell, just like the rest of “arisTotal.” To me, this EP should be hailed as an industrial rock classic:

“So what do you say
When your future and your past fornicate?
They make you who you are today
Two wrongs don’t make one right, they say
But I’ll nail you to your cross anyway”
(Excerpt from “Blowback” by The Fair Attempts)

TFA understand the audience they are going for. I love it so much.

When I was in high school I listened to A LOT of The Kovenant , Marilyn Manson, and Mortiis (era 2). So as you could imagine I was something of an industrial Hot Topic type of goth rocker myself–black eyeliner and all. If The Fair Attempts were around back then I have no doubt that I would’ve thrown their CD into my car’s stereo and blasted it in the high school parking lot, much to the annoyance of all the emo kids cutting themselves to Simple Plan two cars over.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Peeps who love catchy industrial rock. If you dig Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, The Kovenant, Ram-Zet, Mortiis, or Psyborg Corp, there is something here for you.

Stand-out tracks: Bad Battery (my personal fav), Blowback, A Day of Concern

Album Color Profile #009999

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