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/

YORU 夜 is the project of producer Jen Foo from Shah Alam, Malaysia. On Friday, June 19th, 2020 they released “Revisit” which, for all intents and purposes, sounds like it could be the last Synthwave album. I don’t say this lightly. It’s not often that I come across an album that makes me laugh, cry, and feel like I better live my best life today because tomorrow might never come. In so many words, “Revisit” feels like a long goodbye to a close friend who you’ll never see again.

Synthwave is going through an “end-of-life” transitional period right now. This is something that always happens to every genre of music. There’s just something inherently human inside all of us that desperately wants to experience change. It’s during these “end-of-life” transitional periods that something beautiful happens—we get one last look at the things that captured our hearts and imaginations. “Revisit” represents everything that makes the Synthwave genre a wonderful expression of human experience.

From the outside looking in, the Synthwave community doesn’t exactly feel as enthusiastic as it did a several years ago. There isn’t a day that goes by when a new “solo” artist shows up onto the scene ready to rehash and mimic every mode of artistic innovation that made the genre what it is today. One of the reasons might be because people want to be part of something bigger than themselves. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with this. In fact, I think that it’s beautiful that someone can come forward into a very accepting, inclusive community (like Synthwave) and share a little part of themselves. That takes a lot of courage. That said, humans are weird. We look at successful artists and trick ourselves into believing we can do the same thing. This isn’t exactly wrong—everybody is capable of producing art. The problem arises when we begin to believe that we somehow own the art we create. What YORU 夜 has done with “Revisit” is antithetical to the belief that we own the art that we create. I say this because the artistic foundation of “Revisit” lies not only in the work of YORU 夜 alone, but in what it means to selflessly collaborate with other artists as friends.

Production-wise “Revisit” is emotionally authentic and carefully defined Synthwave. As far as I’m concerned, every song on this album was produced in the 1980s. This becomes even more impressive to think about when you consider how many artists contributed to this album (over great geographical distances I might add). Harnessing a perfect 80s aesthetic when you have to accommodate for differences in production techniques is absolutely impressive. And yet somehow Jen Foo is able to maintain exacting focus by lovingly blending these outside contributions with the rest of their vision for “Revisit.”

My favorite moments on “Revisit” occur when the album gets a little more quiet and a lot more emotional. “Way Back Home (feat. Del-Anov)” is the album’s high point. It sounds like the end theme of an old 80s romance flick—you know the scene, when the boy finally gets the girl after a long, hard journey. “Dreams (feat. Vosto) also has the same kind of feeling, though it’s slightly more enigmatic and wholly instrumental. Overall, I think that “Pool Party” is going to be the sleeper hit from this album. Swayze’s phenomenal vocal performance is both energetic and fun while Dimi Kaye lifts the song into the stratosphere with his brilliant guitar work. The lyrics, while silly, accurately encapsulates everything Synthwave is about: being carefree and young. Additionally, I find that the opening lyrics to “Pool Party” are equally important as to the argument as to why “Revisit” could be considered the last Synthwave album:

“It’s almost Friday the last day of school before Summer vacation. Stacy’s annual summer pool party is in less than a week and everyone is invited. Tommy knows that this party can make or break him, and it’s time for a fresh start. It’s time to get in shape.”

What Swayze is expressing here is a glimpse of what we all feel in the last days of our childhood. We all want to be sexy, desirable, wanted, and loved. For most of us though that isn’t reality. And truth be told—reality can hurt. “Revisit” expresses these same feelings towards Synthwave’s coming of age. Synthwave still has some time left, but it might be time for a proper reboot. As to how that should be achieved, the scene needs to revisit its roots, redetermine what it’s become, and get in shape. It’s not enough anymore to make a simple bare bones instrumental Synthwave album emulating the style of Jan Hammer and call it a day. Synthwave has grown up. Therefore producers in the scene must also grow up and begin to put themselves, entirely, into their work. Growth is the only escape, and YORU 夜 recognizes this.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who wants to experience peak Synthwave feels. This is an important album for the scene. Do not pass this one up.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Way Back Home (feat. Del-Anov),” “Pool Party (feat. Dimi Kaye & Swayze),” Stars (feat. GeoVoc),” “Dreams” (feat. Vosto)

Album Color Profile: #FFCC66

You can find all things YORU 夜 at https://yorusynthwave.bandcamp.com/