Manhatten is a synthwave producer from the UK who’s main purpose is to evoke feels within his listeners. His debut album “Blue Sky Girl” was released at the end of May by Future 80’s Records.

“Blue Sky Girl” is a concept album that focuses on “that one person in everyone’s life who seems to burn twice as bright, but for half as long.” It’s left entirely up to the listener to decide exactly who this person represents in their life. I really like when artists do this sort of thing. Ambiguity can serve as a powerful tool to help personalize an artistic piece to fit the experiences of an individual viewer/listener. I think in order to fully appreciate what Manhatten is doing with this album it’s important to play along with this. So before you listen to “Blue Sky Girl” do yourself a favor and figure out who this person is for you. Because contextually, it will make the album mean something different for everyone.

Musically, Manhatten has the same sort of vibe that Siamese Youth brought with “Electric Dreams.” The main difference is that “Blue Sky Girl” is primarily instrumental, with a few short narrations by Star Madman. Production wise, Manhatten seems to have a solid grasp on his process. I listened to “Blue Sky Girl” with headphones, and also on my stereo. And while it doesn’t sound 100% old school, I think that it does a great job capturing the right vibe with a careful selection of sounds that are undeniably nostalgic. The low end on this album is audible albeit calm, and the higher frequencies aren’t crowded with too many things trying to compete with one another. There’s also a really nice soundscape element to this album that borrows a lot from the Vaporwave and his little sister Dreamwave.

This is such a wonderful video. It reminds me of MEMORIES.

The overall flow of “Blue Sky Girl” feels like a telephone conversation between two people who either want to or already intimately know one another. And while I do tend to think that Manhatten intended his version of the “Blue Sky Girl” to be somebody he actually knows, I can’t help but feel like there’s a great distance between him and her. The closing track “A Kind of Freedom” illustrates this feeling well. When listening to it, I felt like something important in my had life ended, that I was sad, but it was going to be okay. I think that many of us have had long distance relationships before—and when they don’t pan out it hurts. What’s even more interesting about this idea is that the “Blue Sky Girl” herself may even represent not only a long distance relationship with another person, but with the past itself. This is mind blowing to me, because there’s something in all of us that deeply yearns for a simpler more innocent time. It’s sort of weird that wholly instrumental music like this can be so evocative of these sorts of feelings. That said, I’m not going to complain. This is one of the super powers of Synthwave as an artistic medium.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who like chill music that will make you appreciate the magic of life more.

Stand-Out tracks: “A Kind of Freedom,” “Last Chance City,” “Slow Burn,” “Thunder,” and “Running From It.”

Album Color Profile: #BBDEFB

You can find everything Manhatten at https://future80s.bandcamp.com/

Jetfire Prime is an electronic music producer from the UK. His latest release, entitled “Summerzeer” marks a departure from the a traditional Synthwave stylings found on his previous release “The Beginning of the End” (2019). The EP opens with a sound similar to the THX “Deep Note,” which is a synthesized crescendo that glissandos from a relatively narrow frequency spread (200-400hz approximately) to a higher frequency. I have to admit, it’s a neat way to introduce a song which also adds a cinematic effect to the feel of this release.

“Summerzeer” is an odd little EP. After spinning it half a dozen times, I felt like it could be separated into two categories:

1. Songs that are Synthwave leaning. These songs are “Moon Lite,” ”Top Down,” “Go Fletch,” and “We Love to Loop.”

2. Songs that are more electronic art pop, (similar to Kraftwerk’s “Electric Cafe” or perhaps And One’s “Bodypop”). These songs include “Sundae Daydream,” and “Ping Pong.”

Of the two types, I much prefer the electronic art pop songs. Despite the brevity of the artpop side of the EP, I think Jetfire Prime challenges himself with a sound that I hope he explores fully in the near future. “Sundae Daydream” and “Ping Pong” are fun, easy to dance to (I tested this), and undoubtedly electronic. The Synthwave half of “Summerzeer” has a more cinematic feel, and sounds very similar to something you might hear in a buddy cop film—especially the slow hazy groove of “Moon Lite.”

Overall, “Summerzeer” is a fun little mini-album. At twenty-four minutes, it’s a little longer than the average EP. There is a lot to love here in such a short time. And if you’re the dancing type like me, you might really enjoy this one.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Synthwave surfers, Chip-tune lovers, and people who want something fun to dance to.

Stand-out tracks: “Sundae Daydream,” “Ping Pong,” and “We Love to Loop.”

Album Color Profile: #3D5AFE

You can find all things Jetfire Prime at https://jetfireprime.bandcamp.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

Team Sweatwave is a Synthwave super group who’s main source of inspiration is old VHS aerobic videos from the 1980s. The team includes some really talented producers: Turbo Knight, YORU 夜, Dimi Kaye, Gyrff, and Polemic Heart. Their first album, entitled “Agents of S.W.E.A.T.” features eleven heart pumping tracks of authentic aerobic Synthwave action.

On the cover of “Agents of S.W.E.A.T.” are four beautiful specimens of human perfection who want to see you work it until you can’t work it anymore. The two women have that classic 80s look, perm and all (oh god I can smell it), while the two men stand together yoked as all hell with their perfect smiles and steroid fueled Mr. Universe physiques. I am particularly drawn to the the man on the left who’s standing next to the Dolly Parton wannabe. One of his eyebrows are cocked upwards in such a way that tells me everything I need to know about him.

“Agents of S.W.E.A.T.” is unique in that it goes in a completely different direction than the wide majority of releases made by Synthwave producers. There are ZERO songs (count ‘em) that feel like the long lost soundtrack to dystopian city or driving fast here. This is an album that will go good with anyone’s workout—just in time for Summer.

One of my first memories was watching my mom and my aunt do aerobics in their legwarmers and headbands to Jane Fonda in our small living room. Over the years that followed, I eventually joined in the madness. We were always trying new workout videos. I did everything: Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons, Jazzercise, Buns of Steel, and later on in the 90s Billy fucking Blanks’s Tae Bo. Considering all of this, “Agents of S.W.E.A.T.” is really special to me on a personal level. It relates to something I directly experienced myself as I was growing up. While listening to this album, I actually found myself doing some of the old arm exercises that I haven’t bothered to even think about in near twenty years.

Musically, the thing I appreciate most about “Agents of S.W.E.A.T.” is the inclusion of so many tracks with vocals. In a world flooded with elevator music masquerading as Synthwave, it’s quite frankly a breath of fresh air. Mandi Mae’s vocal contribution on the opening track “Limber Up!” was really hitting me in all the right places. I felt like I was back in my old living room working out and having fun. There’s even some surprise hip hop influence creeping in towards the end of the album with “Pulling at My Dreams.”

If I had to pick the best overall track on the album I would say that the honor goes to the absolutely pumping “Rage of the Tiger.” Dimi Kaye’s guitar work really makes that track something special by keeping focus and energy in all the right places. Like seriously–once you turn that song on you’re going to be motivated to start doing sky punches in your kitchen.

“Agents of S.W.E.A.T.” is a tribute to a culture that is all but dead in 2020. It’s like listening to an old workout video from the 1980s. So if you’re even remotely interested in hearing what that sounds like, or you’re an aerboic veteran who’s looking for a nostalgic look into the past—check this out. Just remember to bring some water. You’re going to need it.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People looking for a good soundtrack to workout to, folks who need tunes suitable for a montage, Synthwave fans, and people who have the rage of the tiger.

Stand-out tracks: “Rage of the Tiger,” “Limber Up!”, “King & Queen – Album Mix,” and “Strength, Speed, and Suave,”

Album Color Profile: #CCFF00

You can find all things Team Sweatwave at https://teamsweatwave.bandcamp.com/

“Canyons” by Detroit’s Android Automatic is like listening to a soothing slow ride through a distant fond memory. I suspect that this is exactly the feeling that producer Michael Gene Graham was going for when he put this album together.

The cover art by Cameron McPhee features a wide spectrum of “sunset” colors, but it’s primarily accentuated with dark midnight blue. The cover also has a car that appears to have joyfully driven through the long night. There is sun is rising up behind a tableau of canyons and morning fog peacefully coexisting in a breathtaking southwestern landscape.

Truly great Synthwave has the ability to capture feelings of longing, sadness, and emotive nostalgia for a time that never was. “Canyons” does this beautifully. Android Automatic creates this atmosphere through an effective use of sweeping dreamlike pads and arpeggios. The drums are the greatest asset that “Canyons” has going for it. They have an Oberheim DMX quality to them–especially the toms and claps which are liberally used throughout. This strong rhythm section when coupled together with a subtle driving low-end creates clear direction for the album to travel upon. This allows “Canyons” to stay focused through a distinctive set of song structures that are pleasing to the ear.

“Canyons” feels like a lost soundtrack straight out of the 1980s. I really have to applaud the execution on this album, it features an exquisite mix of songs that makes me feel all of the memories. And for that it makes me sad. So sad, in fact, that I feel compelled to get into to my car and just drive. Thank you Android Automatic for creating this wonderfully touching album.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Synthwave fans looking for feels in all the right places.

Stand-Out Tracks: The city-popish “Exhale,” “Nightfall,” “Lonely Roads,” “Canyon Cruise,” and “Beyond the Unknown”

Album Color Profile: #2E86C1

You can find all things Android Automatic at: https://androidautomatic.bandcamp.com/

Cassetter is the brainchild of Polish producer Mateusz Wajs. His debut album, “The Fugitive” features ten tracks and four remixes of postmodern Synthwave. I really dig the aesthetic of this release. The cover artwork is electric and purple. It features a silhouetted figure standing on a stairway leading up to futuristic looking play/pause above a neon-soaked city.

“The Fugitive” has a concise low end throughout that is frequently sidechained to the kick. This creates a pulsing vacuum effect/illusion that’s all the rage right now in the age of the DAW. This leaves plenty of “air” and space up in the higher frequencies allowing Cassetter to create a atmosphere with saw leads, ping-pong arpeggios, noise sweeps, and various other spacey sounding pads.

If you’re into the futuristic Synthwave vibe, I’m confident that you’re going to enjoy this one. “The Fugitive” is like one continuous song that refuses to let up. Its best moments are found in the catchy “Chased by the Hammerhead Robot,” the almost Eurythmics sounding lead in “Drive through the Night,” the bassy “Neon Towers 2,” and “Eyes with a Soul” which features the always amazing Megan McDuffee. Overall, “The Fugitive” is accessible, something worth dancing to, and an easy listen. I think it’s worth checking out.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Synthwave-heads looking for a solid album to add to their playlists, people who like to dancing to heart-pounding bass-driven rhythms.

Stand-out tracks: “Chased by the Hammerhead Robot,” “Drive through the Night,” “Neon Towers 2,” and “Eyes with a Soul” (feat. Megan McDuffee & Time Travel)

Album Color Profile: #4A148C

You can find all things Cassetter at https://cassetter.bandcamp.com/

Let’s face it, 1980s inspired Synthwave/Outrun has lost a lot of its novelty over the last three years. Despite this, producers are still creating content for a genre MASSIVELY overflooded with projects. A lot of these projects aren’t so much actual Synthwave as they are other genres of music. Since when did Synthwave become the buzzword that opened doors in our search engines for producers who aren’t actually producing Synthwave?

Enter Retrodict. A Synthwave producer from Romania who produces actual Synthwave. Retrodict’s sophomore album “Marble Desert” is nothing short of what it claims to be. It’s fun, instrumental Synthwave that has that classic 1980s sound that we all love. Everything is here to help bring about nostalgia in even the most weather-torn synthwarrior: A pulsing low-end, dreamy synthesizers, and an attitude right out of the 1980s. “Marble Desert” sounds like a moody B-movie about a cop gone rogue. “Eyes on You” was my absolute favorite cut as it stands out as the most nostalgic and beautiful—at least to me. “Road Blasters” was also a nice change up from the overall tone of “Marble Desert.” It features reFX sounding guitar leads that remind me a little bit of Dance with the Dead. After spinning “Marble Desert” several times, I kept feeling like I was listening to early Perturbator a la “Nocturne City,” which is just fine by me. As a synthwave fanatic I eat this sort of thing up. And if you happen to be a hardcore purist of the genre, I suspect that you’ll love it too.

Overall, Retrodict has released a solid album. “Marble Deserts” has a modest run time, a clear production value, and an accessible sound that will be familiar to everyone who loves genuine Synthwave.

Protip: put this album on while you do your daily workout routine.

Stand-out tracks: Eyes on You (the best track imo), the title track “Marble Desert,” and “Road Blasters.”

RECOMMENDED FOR: Synthwave purists, retro-addicts, and children of the 1980s.

Album Color Profile: #311B92:

You can find all things Retrodict at https://retrodict.bandcamp.com/