And now time for a little something—different.

Tengushee is a prolific producer from the so-called “Endless City.” I can’t find out much aside from this. What I will say is that he survived the first cyberpunk apocalypse, and that he’ll survive the next.

“Afterlife” is Tengushee’s forth full-length album. On the cover is a black and white image of our hero, Tengushee, wielding a sheathed sword, four pictures on the wall behind him, and two studio monitors. Like a king on his throne, I get the feeling that he represents a shadowy occult persona who secretly disseminates universal esotericisms through audio. CALL IT A HUNCH.

I’m going to come out straight away and say that I am not as acquainted with the Witch House genre as much as I should be. That said, “Afterlife” sorta sounds like Witch House, but it also doesn’t. There is a rather hefty amount of genre bending going on here, which makes this album really difficult to describe. To make it a little easier, imagine the following:

It’s the year 2072. After a couple of earth shattering environmental disasters, several pandemics, a war, and a shift from isolationism to globalization the world has changed. You’re living in a Edo period style bordello in Oslo as a meat puppet (aka working girl). The pay isn’t bad, but it’s a hard life, and you are always on call. You do what you can to get by, but it doesn’t always serve you to be completely lucid. So you often find yourself popping a few pills every few hours to help forget the ugliness you have to live. Sometimes after spending time with your clients you treat yourself to a drink in hopes that you’re finally done for the day. Lying on a tableau of pillows and soft bodies you lean back in a hazy stupor. The room is as dim as your soul at this point. You take a long draw from a cigarette and surround yourself in a cloud of relaxing smoke. The music in the background is both calm and energetic, futuristic and traditional, dark and light. You quite like it. Life feels grey. So why shouldn’t your music also be grey?

“Afterlife” sounds like the above scene. It’s the sort of music that can simultaneously serve two purposes. It can either be put on as background music, or you can intently listen to it. I’m used to dealing with one or the other. It’s fascinating that Tengushee is able to be both. Artistically speaking, I haven’t often come across music that does this so easily. And even though Tengushee self-describes his own music as “Faewave,” I feel that “Afterlife” encapsulates what I would call futuristic “parlorwave.” In my mind’s eye, I could see music like Tengushee’s “Afterlife” in a film about what life was like at the beginning of the Meiji restoration. At the same time, I could also see it in a film adaptation of Gibson’s “Neuromancer.” Listening to “Afterlife” is like being pulled into two different directions at once. For instance, on a track like “March of the Misfit Toys” there’s a more modern drum and bass rhythm that’s being torn apart by an ambient four note chord progression that sounds like something from early 1900s Vaudeville showcase. It’s quite odd!! There are also instances of Vaporwave-like attitudes popping up all over “Afterlife.” Only instead of directly lifting material from older music to be repurposed into something new, I can’t help but feel that “Afterlife” was actually composed from scratch rather than sampled from another source. Regardless of whether or not this happens to be true or not, a lot of the music “feels” sampled or resampled from original music that Tengushee created himself. See “The Rule of the Queen of Rats” with it’s gritty koto-infused music box vibe for the best example of this. Even Tengushee’s vocal performance on this album feels like it was intended to purposely sound like it was sampled from another source, even though it’s Tengushee himself. Psychologically, I find this both scary and fascinating, because with the way our minds work we tend to digest vocal drops with a sense of authority since many of them come from established brands and/or people. (An often overused example of this can be found in Oppenheimer’s famous “I am become death” quote about nuclear weapons).

I think that “Afterlife” is really fucking weird—but not to a fault. It’s a carefully crafted piece of work that accomplishes being dark and futuristic without being dark and futuristic. This is truly grey music that I would compare to post-black metal Ulver, (think “Blood Inside,” and “Perdition City”). Overall, I really like what “Afterlife” is doing, although I think it’s going to over the heads of most due to how majestically avant-garde it is. If you want a glimpse of how to properly execute futuristic weirdness in an occult sort of way, look no further than “Afterlife.” You can even download it for free from his website, if you so choose—so check it out. I highly recommend it.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of post-black metal Ulver, people looking for something weird and avant-garde.

Stand-out tracks: “Let’s Die Tonight,” “Walk with Serenity” (my favorite track), “Welcome to Nightmares,” “The Rule of the Queen of Rats.”

Album Color Profile: #B3B6B7

You can find all things Tengushee at tengushee.com

I spend a good chunk of my day investigating leads on Twitter for good music—especially when it comes to Synthwave. It sometimes gets really difficult to wade through the neon-soaked waters. There is just so much Synthwave in my feed that I often rely on other people to point me in the direction of good music with the right vibe. Over the last nine months I kept coming across XENNON’s “Miami Cop.” On a whim, I decided to head on over to Spotify and check it out. It caught me off guard. Completely. I don’t often smile when I listen to music, but “Miami Cop” hit me so hard in all the right places. I’m not ashamed to say that it gave me a lot of joy-joy feelings, which temporarily put a chink in the armor of my permanent resting bitch face.

“Miami Cop” has something that I wish more Synthwave artists had. Vocals. Don’t get me wrong instrumental music can be both powerful and amazing. But I’m a Meat Loaf kind of girl. I fucking love me some vocals. Especially when they are powerful. From the moment I pressed play on “Miami Cop” I INSTANTLY felt a familiar vibe that I haven’t felt in a really long time. “Miami Beach Chase” opens the album with one of THE best vocal performances I have ever heard from a Synthwave producer. I felt like it was channeling the same energy Rush had with 1984’s “Grace Under Pressure.” And while the vocal performance on “Miami Cop” is very similar to the way Geddy Lee sounds, I think that XENNON presents that familiar vibe in a new and exciting way.

“Miami Cop” isn’t what I would call a dark concept album. Instead it elects to present hope as the highest good against the darker nature of what it means to be a human caught up in a world of absolute shit. Sure, all of the Synthwave tropes are here, a rogue cop on the run, corporate corruption, femme fatales, and dark cityscape—but the protagonist of “Miami Cop” makes it very clear that he would be better off getting away from it all. What’s more interesting is that he asks: “Am I any better than all of this?” He’s not so sure. Great art creates narrative tension, and “Miami Cop” accomplishes this in spades.

Overall, it’s producers like XENNON that give me renewed hope for the current state of Synthwave. I think what he’s done with “Miami Cop” is a perfect example of a producer who’s truly passionate about their art. At the time of me writing this, XENNON has only an average of 8,755 monthly listeners on Spotify compared to somebody like Billie Eilish who boasts 44 MILLION. Like—what kind of weird bizarro world do we live where actual artists who write their own music go widely unnoticed? Oh I know! We live in the same world that the protagonist from “Miami Cop” is trying to get away from—one full of bad guys.

Check. This. Album. Out.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone that loves good music. Retrowavers who like their Synthwave with vocals.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Miami Beach Chase,” (aka the best track on the album) “Flashback to Holly,” (vibefest 2019) “The Montage,” (reminds me of Rush a lot, and I love it).

Album Color Profile: #651FFF

You can find all things XENNON at https://xennon.bandcamp.com