MacReady is a trio of electronic programmers/musicians from Los Angeles. Johnny handles synth duties, Justin the guitar, and Hayes the drums. I first became aware of MacReady in September of 2019 with the release of their Tokyo inspired full-length entitled “KIBA.” I quite enjoyed that release, so I thought to myself: “Hey Nikoletta, I think it’s time to review some MacReady.” Since “KIBA” MacReady has released a short EP, and two singles. Later this month, on October 20th, they will be releasing another EP entitled “A.D.”

In comparison to their previous releases, I feel that the visual style presented in “A.D.” is MacReady’s strongest showing yet. On the cover is an arrangement of flowers in what looks to be the shape of a “J.” Now as to what that “J” stands for is anyone’s guess. Regardless, I quite like this image as it’s a departure from the more cartoony look/feel that MacReady presented us with before. Having a good image, at least to me, is everything. And this time, I think MacReady has figured out a visual style that suits the music contained within the release it’s associated with.

“A.D.” is a pretty standard sized EP clocking in at around sixteen minutes. The first thing that strikes me about this release is how similar it sounds to video game music of the 16-bit era. There is a YM2612 Sega Megadrive sort of glaze around “A.D” that pretty much defines the sound here without sounding too lo-fi. While much of “A.D.” is fully programmed, there does appear to be the presence of guitars here. From what I can tell, it’s very likely that Justin actually plays these guitars, but you never know in the post-Toontrack, post ReFX era of sound design. There is something EXTREMELY familiar about how the guitars sound. Part of me feels like they are reminiscent of the guitars TWRP’s “The Device.” That said, I feel like the guitar performance on “A.D.’s” closer “Requiem” is an exact phrasing or production quality I’ve heard in something before. It’s actually been driving me a bit nuts over the last week!! In any case, I think the production quality here is pretty good. There’s nothing that sticks out as especially distracting.

Composition wise, I quite enjoy “Requiem.” Considering that the rest of the EP features shorter form songs, I welcomed “Requiem” into my heart willingly. I like when the beat picks up around 4:13 into the song, giving me Ys vibes all around. Structurally, it’s also the most interesting of all the songs available here. I think the lead synth could’ve been a little less compressed, and probably turned down slightly but outside of that, this is the highlight of “A.D.” All of the songs here are sometimes spacey, combining a slightly Neu Deutsch Welle, meets Kraftwerk, meets Yuzo Koshiro. The EP’s opener “Everything’s Heavy” is a nice little opener that left me wanting more. The lead synth in the song reminds me of an electronic erhu seen through the lens of the Mass Effect universe. It’s a pretty atmospheric song that channels the feels without relying on the nostalgia of a bygone era to hook you.

Overall, “A.D.” is a nice little appetizer. I personally would’ve preferred to have an entire album of songs in this style, and maybe MacReady will one day do just that. But for now, this is what we have. I also think that adding Depeche Mode style vocals to this would’ve made it much more memorable. That said, I think that “A.D.” shows some meaningful growth for MacReady as a trio, despite the fact that it was written primarily by Johnny. Maybe that’s what the J on the cover stands for. Or maybe the J stands for Jenkins. Anyway, Leroy yourself on over to MacReady’s Bandcamp if any of this sounds good to you.

For Fans of: Atmospheric instrumental, video game inspired tunes.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Requiem,” and “Something Heavy.”

Album Color Profile: #E8EAF6

You can find all things MacReady at https://wearemacready.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/

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/

Ace Buchannon (Vesa Tamminen) is a Synthwave / Retrowave artist from Helsinki, Finland. Since 2016 he’s been producing highly listenable, quality Synthwave that hits me right in the nostalgic feels. He recently released a proper follow-up to his fantastic “Magenta Nights” LP, entitled “Eye of the Storm” on June 28th, 2020.

I’m going to come right out and say that what Ace Buchannon has done on “Eye of the Storm” represents one of the finest Synthwave moments of 2020. From the visual aesthetics by the masterful Atom Cyber, to the music itself, “Eye of the Storm” hits all of the right notes. This album features quite a few collabs as well, including Anna Moore, Gryff, and Primo. This is a project that had a lot of loving care put into it, and quite frankly it shows.

The first track “Into the Fray” does a little trick musicians call “resting.” Since the beginning of time, many great composers and song writers have used the mythical rest to create space, distance, and add epic effect. I’m happy to report that Ace Buchannon is among this group that uses this mythical “rest” creature to make their music that much better. Aside from that, the pointed bells and breathy lead synths/pads make “Into the Fray” the perfect album opener. It truly reminds me why I like Synthwave so much in the first place.

“Come Alive” (aka the most daring track on the album) covers a lot of ground by including a flowing saxaphone line throughout the song as an answer to Anne Moore’s absolutely beautiful vocals. You know a song is well-produced when the vocals kick in right where you would’ve put them yourself. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting “Come Alive” to have vocals on it at all the first time I heard it, so I just naturally started singing where I thought the vocals would come in and *BOOM* there they were. Joy, joy feelings all around. What a tremendous song.

“Mizukage Prototype” is hands-down the best “instrumental” track on the album. It’s menacing in a darksynth Terminator type of way, but it still has a breathy, atmosphere like a traditional synthwave track. The small robotic vocal drop that occurs sporadically throughout the song put me right in this odd cyberpunky visual space filled with corporate high rises, night drives, and sexy pleasure models.

Of all the songs on the album I felt that “Secret” was somewhat lacking, not because of Primo’s amazing vocal performance, but because the song structure and overall sound of the track sounds more like something that would trend in 2010s pop rather than Synthwave. It just doesn’t sound as nostalgic as the rest of the album and is more akin to “The Fame Monster”-era Lady Gaga rather than something Pat Benatar or Laura Branigan would’ve done. The lyrics could’ve also been a little less derivative. To me, they clash with the vibe of the song.

“Never Surrender” has a guest vocal appearance by Gryff who never ceases to disappoint. His work on this song gives me those Rocky montage vibes. When I heard this song I just wanted to get up, wrap my hands in some athletic tape and go punch a speed bag, jump some rope, or climb the stairs next to city hall for a few hours. “Never Surrender” is a nice way to end such a triumphant album.

Production wise, I don’t have any complaints. Everything is audible no matter where I’m listening to it. The mix in general sounds nice and three dimensional. I really wish that there were proper liner notes available via Bandcamp. I’m curious to see if the saxaphone on “Come Alive” is a real or not. Because if it is synthetic, holy hell, I want to know what black magic made that possible. “Eye of the Storm” is professional sounding in a genre that often suffers from clean sounding mixes—especially when it comes to vocals. Of all the albums I’ve subjected myself to during the course of 2020, “Eye of the Storm” is definitely going to stand out to me as one of the most memorable. There’s a lot to love here, especially when it comes to the three vocal collabs, solid instrumentals, and high quality aesthetics.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who like music.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Come Alive” (my absolute favorite), “Mizukage Prototype,” “Break the Cycle,” and “Into the Fray.”

Album Color Profile: #F5EEF8

You can find all thing Ace Buchannon at https://acebuchannon.bandcamp.com/

Sonic Gap is a electronic music producer from Sweden. He first came onto the scene in June of 2019 with his track “Momentum.” Since then he has released a whopping three full-lengths (in less than a year), and a number of singles. Sonic Gap’s latest release is entitled “Cosmos.” It was released on August 5th, 2020 and features twelve tracks–many of which were previously released as singles or are remakes.

“Cosmos” is the sort of album that does a whole lot in a short time. Most of the tracks here are brief, (three minutes of less). “Cosmos” offers a good mix of music including instrumental tracks as well as songs that feature vocals. Sonic Gap’s voice is reminiscent of mid-nineties synthpop crossed with a Reznor-esque sensibility. There isn’t a whole lot of dark content here. Most of the music here is playful. “Ninja Control” is a good example of this, featuring a catchy, almost cat-like lead. Others, like “Someone Else” sound lighthearted and uplifting, albeit in a somber way.

Style wise, I much prefer the darker sounds that Sonic Gap experiments on “Cosmos.” The opening “Futurehole” is very 1990s goth to me. In fact, I would go as far to say that it reminds me of early Die Form or perhaps Attrition. I also really enjoyed Sonic’s (no pun intended) Dr. Robotnik stylings on the song “No Way Out.” As a point of personal preference, I wish that the ideas presented in “Futurehole” and “No Way Out” were explored more fully. If it was me in the producer seat for this album I would’ve chose to extend both of these songs and add much darker, more reverb leaden vocals to help expand what both of these songs are trying to accomplish. Regardless of how I would produce them personally, I still really enjoy both tracks.

In terms of what Sonic Gap presents vocally on “Cosmos,” I think there are some great ideas present, but I think they fall slightly short due to the brief song lengths. Shorter songs, at least in my opinion, lend themselves better to instrumental music. When it comes to vocals I prefer a much more old school approach of having a proper verse/pre-chorus/chorus/bridge/repeat structure. For instance, on “Bounty Hunter,” I found myself happily bopping along to the song, and by the time it finally gets its hooks into me it’s already over. Now to some, this might be a viable strategy in getting the listener to press play again after the track concludes, but I think that due to how short “Bounty Hunter” is it never feels fully fleshed out. It’s still one of my favorite cuts from “Cosmos” but it could’ve been subjective better if it was longer, less repetitive, and had a key change or two. Perhaps it should be said that I think many if not all of the songs presented here would be great candidates for remixes by other artists. I for one can see a lot of potential on “Cosmos” that wasn’t tapped into on the songwriting side. Outsourcing these songs out to other artists for remixing might be an interesting experiment.

The production value on “Cosmos” is inoffensive. It’s not all squeeky clean, though. Some of the life is sucked out of the vocals, in particular, leaving them occasionally dull and undynamic. I think that the music itself could’ve benefited from more dynamism as well, whether that be through a more creative use of EQ, volume, sidechain compression or all of the above. There are a lot of safe choices made with “Cosmos” that do make it a pleasant listening experience, but my old ears thirst for something a little more adventurous.

“Multiverse” serves as the only song on the album that I feel hits all of the right notes. This is primarily due to how different it is within the context of “Cosmos.” There’s just something really tangible about how “Multiverse” sounds. It is provocative with its 1970 aesthetics which is a sound that I don’t often hear replicated often. Sonic Gap’s vocals also fit really well between the high-frequency whistles, the funky guitar, and slow swung drums. I would really like to see Sonic Gap move more into this direction in the future as I feel he really excels with this type of sound.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Multiverse,” “Futurehole,” “No Way Out,” “Bounty Hunter.”

RECOMMENDED FOR: Opened-minded people looking for an escape from 1980s aesthetics, fans of 90s synthpop.

Album Color Profile: #1ABC9C

You can find all things Sonic Gap at https://sonicgap.bandcamp.com/

Gab Manette is a Synthwave producer from Montreal. He’s been releasing retro sounding tunes for a couple of years now. Last year he released a really good little EP called “Dream Dimension.” His follow up is a mini-album entitled “Making Waves.” It was released on May 29th, 2020.

On the cover is a very dapper looking Gab who looks proud of the good work he’s done on “Making Waves.” The aesthetic is sort of like a mash-up between A-Ha’s “Take on Me,” “Sixteen Candles,” and Bert Schnick from “Shock Treatment.” It’s quite a cool looking image, and I think it accurately captures the laid back vibe of this release.

After spinning “Making Waves” at least a dozen times there was one thing that caught my attention: this is extremely calming music. I spent a few afternoons doing my daily workout whilst listening to this and found myself losing track of time. “Making Waves” really got me into the zone, giving me something to look forward to everyday. I found it very difficult to get distracted while listening to this. I’m not entirely sure what this is a function of—but “Making Waves” feels magical. I’m frequently tense, and this album helped me to relax and destress all of the needless tension in my body in some kind of hypnotic exhalation.

Gab’s track “Unwind” is pretty much the quintessential high point of his musical/engineering genius due to how textured it is. There’s a certain sparkle to this track that’s really happening. The drums, while low key, sit comfortably in the mix amidst bright flourishes in a percussive dance of structure. The pan pipes are the best part here as they are masterfully interwoven into the mix of the track’s momentum. “Prom Night” is the most romantic song on “Making Waves” and is slow paced enough that I found it to be a great song to cooldown to after an hour of cardio. Although short, “Talk Show” is probably my favorite cut from the album. It’s super 1990s sounding. This is primarily due to how the percussion and horn sections on this track are arranged. I don’t think it would be out of place on the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” live action movie’s soundtrack. Other highlights include the Rocky-esque “Judge Reinhold” named after the actor of the same name, and “Portfolio” which reminds me of the type of innocuous, fun toybox music my kindergarten teacher would throw on during “class” way back in 1989.

Overall, “Making Waves” is a short, digestible, nostalgic trip. It’s not so nostalgic that you’re going to be brought to tears. This is the type of nostalgia that’s captures mostly positive vibes albeit in a somewhat romantic pseudo-melodramatic way. There’s a lot of color to “Making Waves” on the production side of things that make it a fascinating listen. This will appeal to both Synthwave neophytes and veterans alike. Please check it out.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Chillwave, Synthwave, and 80s vibes.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Talk Show,” “Judge Reinhold,” “Unwind,” and “Prom Night.”

Album Color Profile: #IDE9B6

You can find all things Gab Manette at https://gabmanette.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/

Still Life With Cat or SLWC is a cinematic dark pop project from Pescara, Italy. It features the hypnotic voice Lisa ‘Liz’ Monaco, music by Giampiero Mariani, and lyrics by Alessandro Di Zio. Their debut album “Megadream” boasts ten tracks of captivating emotion.

“Megadream” can only be described as beautifully calm and dark. And this may sound odd, but it’s also visually arresting. I found myself closing my eyes while I listened. “Megadream” is like a painting that you hear with your heart and see with your mind. Try to visualize sentient machines trying to figure out exactly who they are amidst a backdrop of rolling grassy fields, windy oceans, and expansive vistas. This is the true essence of Still Life With Cat. For a dystopian concept album, “Megadream” sounds completely different than I expected it to sound. It’s both evocative and refreshing. This is an album that has its roots in electronic music, but it’s not entirely electronic. These are songs that can and SHOULD BE performed live in an intimate, darkly-lit venue. There acoustic guitars, saxaphones, and jazzy vocals. The percussion is minimal and soft, but it works to the benefit of “Megadream,” not against it.

I really appreciate alternative perspectives on dystopian futures. Especially when they deviate from the traditional cyberpunk backdrop of mega-corporations, driving fast, and neon-soaked skies. Still Life With Cat accomplishes their own unique take on what the future could look like: one that’s full of hope and wonder. “Megadream” is magnificent. I look forward to seeing what SLWC do next.

RECOMMENDED: For people who want to chill out. For people who love calm cinematic music. For people who like vocals. If you dig stuff like Enigma’s “MCMXC A.D.” album you’ll probably really like this.

Stand-out tracks: Blind and Happy (best track from the album imo), Pure Blow, Big Old Black Wolf, A Spark into the Nowhere

Album Color Profile: #E8F5E9

You can find all things Still Life With Cat at https://stilllifewithcat.bandcamp.com/