₳§ᗐM̶R̳ (aka ASVMR) is a strange little project from Huntington, West Virginia. Cyberpunk isn’t exactly the first thing when you think of the college towny vibes of Huntington, although when you consider William Gibson’s idea of The Sprawl, which is basically a giant Megacity along the East Coast from Boston to Atlanta, I’m pretty sure Huntington or at least the city that used to be Huntington would be a part of it. ₳§ᗐM̶R̳ has quite a few releases going back into early 2019. Their latest is stylistically entitled “𝑵𝒆𝒘 𝑳𝒊𝒇𝒆 ®” and it was released on September 4th, 2020 via Vivarium Recordings.

The cover art for “𝑵𝒆𝒘 𝑳𝒊𝒇𝒆 ®” (by GLEAMx96) is derivative of the cyberpunk aesthetic that ₳§ᗐM̶R̳ is going for, depicting a gender ambiguous chrome human looking at some glowing star-stuff in their hand. There’s a consistent geometric pattern that surrounds the image, and an almost lens-flary kind of halo shining off of something in the distance. The choice of light pastels here are both nice and clean looking. I think if I saw this sitting on a shelf somewhere, I would feel obliged to pick it up and at least give it a glance.

Much like a lot of proper Vapor/Dreamwave out there in the void, ₳§ᗐM̶R̳, isn’t so much a musical experience as it is an atmosphere of futuristic energy. The real experience from what ₳§ᗐM̶R̳ has to offer with “𝑵𝒆𝒘 𝑳𝒊𝒇𝒆 ®” lies in giving yourself permission to let your guard down, shut your eyes, and relax. There is so much going on with “𝑵𝒆𝒘 𝑳𝒊𝒇𝒆 ®” in a visual sense that it’s best experienced by giving it your undivided attention.

The opener “Digital Sunlight For The First Time” which is a collab track with 沙漠里的沙子晚上很温暖 (this translates to something like “warm desert night sand,” cool fucking name) kicks the album off with an ethereal metallic “clanging” and soft pads. In the distance there is a muffled voice. The song shifts away from this later on into what sounds like a wind tunnel and some very Vaporwave-esque vocals and distortion. By the time you realize it the song is over and four minutes have passed by. Get used to this, because ₳§ᗐM̶R̳ really makes time fly by. The second track, “Self-Enhancing” (feat. Future Anonymous) is notable for its chilly demeanor, subtle manipulation of airy noise, and what sounds like chains or car keys dragging or clanging against someone walking down a busy street whilst snapping their fingers. Next up, is a collab with CHROM-47, it’s entitled “We Will Make You (The Best You Can Be).” This song is also rather metallic and jingly, with a consistent radar sounding vibe that trickles throughout. At about 1:10 into this track there’s a percussion element that kicks in that reminds me of someone knocking on the door, a heartbeat, and a bass drum. The first time I spun “𝑵𝒆𝒘 𝑳𝒊𝒇𝒆 ®,” my little yorkie, Bella, started freaking out because she thought someone was outside making racket. “Au·to·mat·ic A·poth·e·o·sis,” is a song that I grew to appreciate for combining a more traditional sounding chillwave track with what sounds like a computerized voice speaking in a string of numbers or code. “Thought Incubator” (feat. m a g g i e . w a v), is one of the shorter tracks on the album combining a tinny/distorted psuedo-guitar type synth and pads. There’s a really cool sample at the end that says something like “If you step right this way, we’ll begin the proceedings for your brand new life.” What this did for me in a visual sense is allow me to imagine some kind of facility where my brain, or maybe my consciousness became separated from my body and placed into another kind of existence. “Thought Incubator” is like the show room floor type of music for new and better bodies. I connected with this track a lot.

The highlight of “𝑵𝒆𝒘 𝑳𝒊𝒇𝒆 ®” is “Body/Connection/Cut.” The song title reads like some kind of weird command line, giving instructions to cease the functions or a connection to a body that exists only to be thrown away or disposed for something more shiny and a lot less tangible. The choice of manipulated sounds used on this track reinforces this idea even more. I particularly enjoy one sound that reminds me of making a selection or saving a game in an older CD-ROM based game. The way it’s used here with the throttling of oscillating atmospheres doesn’t sound especially violent, but when the (vocoder) vocals kick in the latter half of the song it’s definitely apparent that there’s something nasty afoot. This song accurately depicts the constant struggle of feeling awkward in one’s body, and I love it because it scares the fuck out of me. The next song, which is very sarcastically titled “You’re Going to Love Your New Life! (Inside of a Server),” features a voice sample from one of my all time favorite movies, “The Lawnmower Man”, if you haven’t seen it you should. ANYWAY, the continuity of “𝑵𝒆𝒘 𝑳𝒊𝒇𝒆 ®” just surprises me so goddamn much. Everything that we’ve covered, so far, has lead up to this point. It’s clear ₳§ᗐM̶R̳ is taking us on a journey away from our humanity. This all might seem very exciting at first glance, but really, it isn’t. I mean, can you imagine living the rest of your existence as a disembodied consciousness inside of a server somewhere? It sounds like a goddamn death sentence.

“Reality v. 2” (feat. V​/​/ Tomo) is the one of the more musical tracks on the album, zeroing in on a relaxed drum and bass vibe. This quickly wraps up heading into “Forget The Past (We Can Remember it For You)” which takes a sample from 1990’s “Total Recall.” I had a good giggle when I heard Kuato’s voice carry the first part of the track along saying “OPEN YOUR MIND” over and over again. The track that follows, “Ersatz Heaven” (feat. Soul▲Craft) is my second favorite track from the album. Again, much like “Reality v. 2” this is more traditional “music.” It has an authentic cyberpunky post-synthwave vibe that sits right in the goldilocks zone of “𝑵𝒆𝒘 𝑳𝒊𝒇𝒆 ®.” It’s slightly groovy, atmospheric, and just different from everything else on the album. “Complete Reconstruction” (feat, V‡▲D‡M∇R) quickly gets away from tradition by purposely pushing it’s music into the background of the track. Again, we are greeted by a voice put through a vocoder channeling some creepy post-human energy. The final track on the album, ” .​.​.​And That’s How I Assimilated” (feat. First Kings) begins with another odd noise, it almost sounds like a gunshot, some detuned pads cycling through some kind of LFO, a squishy low passed bass, and some rickety percussion. Somewhere north of 1:30 some “Blade Runner”-esque pads help to end the album via anti-climactic textures that made me catch a few flies by the time I actually started to understand how sophisticated this album really is. Like–holy fucking shit this is art, not because it tries to be but because it’s delivery is so natural.

Overall, “𝑵𝒆𝒘 𝑳𝒊𝒇𝒆 ®,” combines the sensibility of a threatening artificial intelligence while listening to Kraftwerk and Dan Mason through an LFO while baking a cake. I hope that that makes sense. This can be an odd album to the uninitiated, but I really appreciate it for two reasons:

  1. ₳§ᗐM̶R̳ consistently melts time without relying on hooks, bass drops, or sick beats.
  2. “𝑵𝒆𝒘 𝑳𝒊𝒇𝒆 ®,” uses pre-existing sources via samples to paint a tableau of ideas that flow together into a coherent narrative that not only makes sense the more you listen to it, it almost becomes a part of you if you’re willing to let your defenses down to appreciate just how incredible it is.

I loved this album. I’m so happy that I was able to spend some quality time with it.

***As a side note, I have three albums in mind for what I consider to be “best of the year” for 2020, “𝑵𝒆𝒘 𝑳𝒊𝒇𝒆 ®,” is one of these.***

THIS ALBUM IS FOR YOU: if you’re into proper high-minded cyberpunk without the beat dropping, or silly musical melodrama/tension.

HIGHLIGHTS: “Body​/​Connection​/​Cut,” ₳§ᗐM̶R̳ x Soul▲Craft – “Ersatz Heaven,” and ₳§ᗐM̶R̳ x m a g g i e . w a v – “Thought Incubator,” ₳§ᗐM̶R̳ x CHROM​-​47 – “We Will Make You (The Best That You Can Be)”

ALBUM COLOR PROFILE: #F4ECF7

You can find all things ₳§ᗐM̶R̳ and more at https://vivariumrecordings.bandcamp.com/ and https://asvmr.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/

Glitch Black (a play on words to “Pitch Black”) is a prolific darksynth/synthwave producer who hails from Seattle, Washington. He’s most notably known for visual live performances, his Tron-inspired outfit, and all-around great sounding future aesthetics. Glitch Black is the type of producer who makes even the most timid among us want to hit the dance floor in a cyberpunk catharsis of joy. His latest album is entitled “Mechanical Perfection.” It was released on July 9th, 2020.

On the cover of “Mechanical Perfection” is a very familiar image of Glitch Black’s cybernetic egregore. Keeping in line with all of his previous major album releases, the artwork features an intense black and grey color scheme that is wildly accentuated with neon red. I feel that this image fits in well with the sci-fi vibe of the album.

Even though all of the songs here are all cut from the same cloth there’s quite a bit of variation throughout this album. The first half pulls a lot of influence from early 2000s aggrotech and late 2000s European hardstyle. “Binary Overlord” is a great example of this—although this artistic choice isn’t entirely limited to that song. There is also a slight gothic EDM flavor to “Mechanical Perfection.” This is largely aided by the album’s constant grating low end, non-traditional arpeggios (at least for darksynth), and popping upbeat percussion. “Mechanical Perfection” is slightly experimental for Glitch Black as he actively explores challenging tempo changes, without over-saturating the music with too much repetition. For example, in “Shock Troopers” he ends the song with a completely new section that doesn’t repeat. It sort of reminds me of what Slayer pulled on “God Hates Us All” by adding odd little riffs to the end of songs. The primary difference here is that Glitch Black does it with a sleek and concise style.

Overall, “Mechanical Perfection” is an enjoyable listen. All of the songs here are cold on the outside, kind of like a metal endoskeleton, but once you start understanding the vibe of the album there’s a lot of life here. “Shock Troopers” is definitely my favorite track off of the album. It’s energetic, slightly evil sounding, and all around really goddamn cyberpunk. I kept getting these visuals of some kind of paramilitary squad like in “The Raid: Redemption” kicking doors down in the name of some power hungry corporate magnate. Other highlights include the sleeper hit “Binary Overlord,” the glitchy metal infused “Onslaught,” and the slower tempoed “Dark Future.”

RECOMMENDED FOR: Darksynth warriors looking for something new from a familiar darksynth personality. I think people who are into Cybergoth might actually like this too. I’m not ashamed to say that I danced to “Binary Overlord” several times by myself in my living room.

Stand-out tracks: “Shock Troopers,” “Dark Future,” “Onsalught,” “Grit,” “Binary Overlord,” (HUMANZ!)

Album Color Profile: #B71C1C

You can find all things Glitch Black at https://glitchblack.bandcamp.com/

Victor Roy is an electronic music producer from Barcelona, Spain. He made his debut in 2019 with his debut album “Failure to Discern.” His follow-up “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” was released in February by RetroSynth Records.

The concept behind “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” encapsulates precisely why Synthwave and its related genres have taken off in popularity. The 1980s/early 90s were strange in that, science fiction films, gave us a hyperbolic glimpse into (an aesthetically pleasing) future. For example, Blade Runner takes place in 2019. When we look back at Blade Runner from a 2020 perspective it really makes you wonder…how did anyone ever think that by 2019 we would’ve been to the Tanhauser Gate, had another world war, and be surrounded by sexy replicants? Synthwave basically takes our own history and throws it out in favor of false realities and experiences that have never existed. It’s pretty weird that the human mind can trick us into becoming nostalgic for a 1980s version of what 2019 should’ve/could’ve been. Victor Roy’s “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” leans into the concept heavily, at least contextually, as the tent-pole unto which his latest album is supported by.

After listening to “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost,” I think that it really does a great job exploring the concept in which it was based. At the same time, it sounds like an album written in 2019 that reveres the 1980s version of 2019. If that sounds confusing don’t feel bad. This album is extremely meta and self-referential. Generally speaking, I think that if this album was released as in the 1980s, it would’ve been a big deal. It probably also would’ve been used for a movie soundtrack. As a music critic, I feel that this is an important milestone to hit, especially for a Synthwave adjacent artist.

“Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” has a very polished shiny postmodern vibe. A lot of careful thought went into this album production wise which makes it an enjoyable listen. Despite the fact that this album has a very soundtrack leaden vibe, I don’t think that it has much else in common with Synthwave, Darksynth, or other Retro genres. I actually feel that this album transcends all of these genres, but not necessarily for the better—at least from the perspective of a hardcore Synthwave fan. That said, this album is not for those folks. This is music for people looking to be challenged by music that pushes beyond the limits of Synthwave. Sure, there are plenty of Vangelis sounding moments on “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” but it captures those moments without breakneck sidechained vaccum basses, sixteenth note clapping, or a pumping drum beat. “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” is music that puts an emphasis on exploring Cyberpunky music through melodies rather than beats.

“Rewind” serves as the album’s most retro sounding song thanks to it’s opening riff, but it also (thankfully) diverges from that sound as the song goes on. “Path to Glory” stands out as the most soundtrack worthy song by giving those Interstellar Hans Zimmer feels. Peak Victor Roy is reached in the latter half of the album with two songs: “Stage Two” and “Dungeon of the Mind.” “Stage Two” reminds me of Yuzo Koshiro’s work on the PC Engine CD port of Ys I & II. The song begins quietly, but masterfully works its way upward into a diminished key change that really pops. “Stage Two’s” melody is completely antithetical to the vibe that the song opened with—it’s seriously wonderful. “Dungeon of the Mind” is equally as awe-inspiring for the same reason. It evokes some very Michiru Yamane (Castlevania) energy that really made me want an entire album of similar music. Here’s hoping that on the Roy decides to fully explore similar on his next album, because video game sounding tunes seem to be his strong suit.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this album. As mentioned before, if you’re looking for Synthwave that’ll give you nostalgic vibes you probably should look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a well-produced challenge that represents a direction that Synthwave might be going in the near future, have a listen. This one might surprise you.

RECCOMENDED FOR: People who like melody driven science fiction/cyberpunk music.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Stage Two,” (so fucking good), “Dungeon of the Mind” (so fucking good part 2 the revenge), “Path to Glory,” “Rewind,” “Synthesized Hole.”

Album Color Profile: #633974

You can find all things Victor Roy at https://victorroy.bandcamp.com/