Dimi Kaye needs no introduction to those of us familiar with the indie Synthwave scene. Hailing from Greece, Dimi Kaye has been producing all things retro since 2015. Dimi Kaye is a frequent flyer when it comes to sick guitar collabs, my favorite being the fabulous Team Sweatwave which arrived just in time for the lost Summer of 2020. His latest solo effort is a four track EP entitled “Mechanical Psyche.” It was released on October 15th, 2020.

The cover image for “Mechanical Psyche” was illustrated by artist Alex Delgado. It features what appears to be some kind of skinless pleasure model leaning up against an automobile surrounded on all sides by brush and overgrowth. A city lies in the background which seems to insinuate that upon leaving it, the android lost it’s ability to continue surviving. In Dimi Kaye’s cyberpunk world it would seem that free-range androids are uncommon outside of city limits. I quite like the color scheme, I think that the blue fits in well with the vibe going on with this EP. I also like the android’s soul leaving it’s body in the form of ghostly butterflies.

The first two things I should note about “Mechanical Psyche” is:

  1. It is entirely instrumental.
  2. It is also completely devoid of guitar. Which is weird because Dimi Kaye, at least for me is a name I associate with guitar.

Looking back at Dimi Kaye’s backlog, he’s no stranger to instrumental music. Surprisingly, he is also no stranger to creating music without guitar. In fact, his first album, “Dream Sequencer” is very similar to “Mechanical Psyche” in both respects, and honestly, it wouldn’t be until the release of his “Shadow Run” single that we would get a preview of the guitar centered sound we got with his more recent work. So before anyone says, “HEY DIMI, WHERE THE GUITAR AT?” know that Dimi Kaye doesn’t limit himself when it comes to writing the music he wants to hear.

In talking a little bit to Dimi about “Mechanical Psyche” it is an EP that is conceptually based on a poem he penned way back in 2007. The poem reads like this:

“Leveling cold machines to independent status
Giving birth to artificial intelligence
That distant future is closing fast

Like a mirror reflects vanity of man
A new species is being born by metal
Factories carry children with iron flesh

In the years to come
Mankind’s hope should come down to this
That though nature of man is violent and merciless
Mechanical Psyche will be more compassionate.”

When I read this for the first time, my initial thought was “wow, how can machines be more compassionate than humans?” And then the ugly truth hit me. I think it’s safe to assume that machines have an exacting, cold, logical, analytical, black and white, perception of the world around them. And to suggest that speculative A.I.s still have more compassion than humans despite all of that is a wild idea. In so many words, this poem basically frames how incredibly fucked up humans can be to one another. Going into “Mechanical Psyche” without considering the finer details of why it was written the way it was. Dimi told me that he intentionally “wanted an artificial/electronic sound to go with it, just like an android would be.” That makes sense to me.

So after all this pretense, how does “Mechanical Psyche” sound? Well, it reminds me of a moody 80s synth based soundtrack. I tend to think it’s a little more Tangerine Dream than John Carpenter, and a little more John Carpenter than it is Jan Hammer. This isn’t an EP about sunsets and beaches after all. It’s very apparent from the getgo that “Mechanical Psyche” is an arpeggio leaden cyberpunk/sci-fi sort of mini-album. “Viral Vector” shows off a little bit of everything here, featuring some Juno 60 vibes in nearly every aspect of its sound design. “Soul Transduction” follows similarly, although where “Viral Vector” sounds much more threatening and dangerous, “Soul Transduction” has a shroud of mystery around it’s sound. It’s simple and straight forward with a calm beat that never fully builds up (by design). This is only further enhanced due to the absence of a snare drum until a little after three minutes into the track. “Takwin” is the most VGM sounding track of the bunch, giving me some old Command and Conquer vibes. It’s a track that fills my mind with anxiety. There’s also a neat exploration element to “Takwin” that feels like endless leaving. The final track “Mechanical Psyche” is the most cinematic song of the bunch. Like, visually it feels like listening to a sun that will never rise. There’s also some atmospheric movement going on with the first bit of the track that reminds of driving through a dimly lit highway on a lukewarm autumn evening.

My final impressions are this: I don’t think there’s anything here that we haven’t heard before. That said, when considering Dimi Kaye as an artist, where he’s taken us in the past, and comparing this all of that, I think that “Mechanical Psyche” is well worth a listen. I think that this not only shows Dimi Kaye’s artistic range expanding, it also shows how he’s grown as an artist on a technical level. The production quality isn’t super high-tech but it doesn’t have to be. Everything is clear, concise, and right where it needs to be. I gave this one quite a few spins in the last week, and I think you might too if you give it a listen. “Mechanical Psyche” is calm, atmospheric, and full of forward motion that makes me excited to see where Dimi Kaye plans on taking us next.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Synthwave, Outrun, and Cyberpunk centered music.

Stand-out tracks, “Viral Vector,” and “Mechanical Psyche.”

Album Color Profile: #00796B

You can find all things Dimi Kaye at https://dimikaye.bandcamp.com/

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/

Even though I discovered it in 2020, XENNON’s 2019 album “Miami Cop” represents one of the most memorable Synthwave moments from the last few years. It boasts solid songwriting, a high quality, no bullshit production, and well-performed, on point vocals inspired by Geddy Lee. When I heard that XENNON was working on a follow-up, I was excited. XENNON’s “Dark of a Distant World,” finally landed on October 2nd, 2020 via TimeSlave Recordings via MiniDisc (awesome AF) and cassette, which are unfortunately at the time of me writing this, completely sold out.

Artist Travis Wright has returned to not only help XENNON create the cover image for “Dark of a Distant World” but also to pen the concept behind the album. In so many words, the story behind “Dark of a Distant World” takes a lot of cues from mid 80s cheese including “The Neverending Story” and “Masters of the Universe.” The way that the story comes off to me feels like a “Masters of the Universe” prequel that zeroes in on when He-Man was a boy. I think it’s a pretty cool concept, and honestly I would’ve loved to see a short graphic novel accompany this album, because it would’ve worked (there is an artbook, however, which sort of fills this niche). The color scheme of the album diverges a bit from the neon aesthetics of “Miami Cop,” but it is unapologetically what the scene has come to expect of XENNON’s visual style.

In so many words, this album is an event with a several dedicated hands coming together in order to create a memorable and immersive nostalgic soundscape. The production quality of “Dark of a Distant World” is very similar to “Miami Cop.” This isn’t at all a bad thing. Even though this album is a logical continuation of what he has done in the past, it’s awesome when an artist understands their own style well enough to pull it off again. A lot of Synthwave producers create similar sounding music, so similar in fact that it’s sometimes difficult to tell who wrote what. I don’t have that problem when I listen to XENNON since the sound he has is uniquely his.

I think that XENNON’s experimentations with additional vocal processing (especially in extreme pitch correction) on “Dark of a Distant World,” comes off well. He does so with careful consideration, only when it enhances a song, and only when it’s necessary. “Nanna’s Song,” is a good example of this, with heavy pitch corrected vocals making a brief appearance three minutes into the song.

There are creamy OBX style modular synths dotted throughout “Dark of a Distant World,” especially in it’s first half, that are like textured walls of maudlin sound. The tasty C# Major vibe that the album’s “Force Ten” style opener “Roboknight Theme” is brought into the stratosphere by this type of synth showing off a little bit of everything that “Dark of a Distant World” does. “A Battle Inside” sounds really similar to “Hold Your Fire” era Rush, and features some nice back and forth between guest vocalist Allie and XENNON himself. “Skullfunk” is another Rush-alike, and mostly memorable for it’s catchy chorus arrangement. “Hilt” was the first single that XENNON released off of this album, and I can understand why as it is perhaps the most unique track on the album in terms of sound design. That said, I think this song works better within the context of the entire album rather than standing alone. There’s a lot of pointed texture here that cuts through the synths. The atmosphere on this track is only further enhanced by one of the best vocal performances of the album. I jammed the hell out of this song in my kitchen.

My favorite moment from “Dark of a Distant World” would without a doubt go to “Reflections.” While it has an 80s taste to it, it also feels like XENNON got a little bit out of his comfort zone by tastefully exploring a more postmodern song structure that is very reminiscent to Muse’s “Something Human”–only executed correctly. Like, don’t get me wrong, I dig “Simulation Theory” but there were several missteps on that album that prevented it from being what it could be. Primarily in how un-80s it sounded, despite being presented as such. XENNON takes that same sort vibe and does it right with “Reflections.” Also, the lyrics for this song gave me chills by making me long for a simpler, more innocent timeline than the one we’re all currently having to live through.

Here’s the first verse:

“Looking back over the years
A past we leave behind,
But never forget,
The moments that make us smile and cry.
They form and shape to an extent,
But never will define,
The future we make,
Those choices are yours and mine,
The odyssey doesn’t end out there.” 

Overall, “Dark of a Distant World” is a triumphant, inspiring, and energizing experience. It made me feel like I was twenty years younger. That said, it’s impossible to not draw parallels to their previous effort “Miami Cop.” I would be curious to hear what XENNON would sound like if he began including live drums, guitars, and some funky slap bass to his winning formula. In any case, if you enjoy Synthwave, especially Synthwave with vocals it would be a disservice to yourself to skip out on this. This album has a lot of wonderful deep cuts bookended by memorable songs that you’ll want to listen to again and again. I highly recommend giving this album a spin or two, or ten.

My Favorite Songs: “Reflections,” “Nanna’s Song,” “Roboknight Theme,” and “Hilt.”

For Fans of: Vocal heavy synthwave and Rush.

Album Color Profile: #9C27B0

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

Your Sister is a Werewolf is the Synthwave project of producer Josh Molen from Knoxville, Tennesee. YSIAW first burst onto the scene in February 2019 with their debut album “C.H.A.D.” Their latest album is entitled “Captain Video.” It was released on August 28th, 2020.

On the cover is a really wonderful image by Chrome and Lightning. It features someone standing in front of a video rental store in tight jeans and Reeboks. For those of you who have never experienced the absolute joy of entering one of these fine establishments, let me just tell you, it’s thrilling. This image perfectly captures the sheer level of excitement I used to feel going to the movie store. The blinding lights. The smell of buttery day old popcorn. The sticky floors. That weird plastic smell that strangely reminds me of petrol. Man, I miss the 80s and 90s. What a time to be alive. I feel truly blessed to live nearby one of the remaining video stores in the U.S. I still make weekly trips down there in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic. Interestingly enough, there still exists an actual Captain Video store in San Mateo, California. Now whether or not Molen took inspiration from this former Bay Area franchise, I’m not sure. Regardless, I love this album cover. It’s says a lot without saying much.

So how does “Captain Video” sound? Extremely authentic. It’s on point for the time period that it’s trying to emulate. This is a function of using the right tools in the correct context. From the word “go” “Jumping the Turnstiles” serves as the penultimate YSIAW track. It shows off a little bit of everything that this album does. And what this album does, it does well. I particularly enjoy the pointed synth that comes in at 2:12. I was almost instantly reminded of John Carpenter’s opening theme from Escape from New York.

While the presentation of “Captain Video” seemingly takes a lot of influence from early 1980s soundtracks its general vibe is much more akin to similar music being produced in the mid-eighties. You know, when producers of the time really started to get a little more comfortable with the tools at their disposal. The way that Molen was able to make “Captain Video” breathe is nothing short of amazing. Ironically enough, “Breathe Easily” highlights this quite a bit through some exceptional compression, reverb, and EQ choices that make the track come alive in such a way that feels effortless and easy to listen to. There’s nothing more satisfying than a little bit of audible air. My ears are in love with “Captain Video” because of it.

There are so many nuanced and deliberate details coming together here in order to create a fantastic nostalgic vibe. The nervous system of how “Captain Video” sounds so authentic lies in three key points: its wideness in the stereo field, it’s warmth (greatly aided by pitchbendiness), and the analogue sounding distortion that appears throughout the album.

In my opinion, “Neon Illusion” demonstrates the wideness of this album well. At 1:38, the bells and plucks sound three dimensional amidst the backdrop of a synthesized Juno-106esque sax. As this part continues the sax itself feels like it’s shifting from a more synthesized sound to a much more realistic version of itself. It’s quite impressive to hear if you’re paying careful attention.

Tasteful distortion and warmth are also incredibly vital to how the ear perceives whether or not music sounds vintage or not. And let me just tell you, Molen is a goddamn wizard when it comes to his command of how to implement these two things into his music. “Digital Image Correction” highlights an example of how to use warmth and distortion correctly. Good golly Molly the pads scream on this album. Listen in at around 1:30 to see what I mean.

Overall, what Your Sister is a Werewolf has done here is perhaps the most enjoyable Synthwave album that I’ve heard all year. This isn’t Synthwave in name only, this is actual Synthwave that was carefully crafted to accurately emulate a specific period of time. For serious, “Captain Video” was such a goddamn treat to listen to. Mr. Molen discounts nothing on this release, and uses the entire spectrum of hearable sound to make a memorable album worthy of your time. Please check this one out.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Mitch Murder, fans of movie soundtracks from the mid-eighties, Synthwave heads looking for authentic vibes.

Stand-Out tracks: ALL! But if I had to pick, listen to “Jumping the Turnstiles,” “Slow Going (feat. Gab Manette),” “Neon Illusion,” “Digital Image Correction,” and “Late Fees.”

Album Color Profile: #EBDEF0

You can find all things Your Sister is a Werewolf at https://yoursisterisawerewolf.bandcamp.com/

Swayze is a synthwave/funk project by an unnamed producer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Swayze first burst onto the scene in April of 2019 with his single “Overdrive.” Since then he has released three other singles, “A Little Story,” “Your Love is Like a Lone Wolf,” and “Sidewalk,” all of which are prominently featured on his recently released debut album entitled “The Beginning.”

On the cover is our producer-hero standing in front of his trusty Roland Juno-106. He is surrounded by all sorts of nostalgic Patrick Swayze memorabilia, including movie posters from “Roadhouse,” “Dirty Dancing,” and “Point Break.” There’s also a rogue vinyl of Prince’s “Purple Rain” sitting right next to a VHS copy of “Ghost.” It’s pretty clear to me that the producer Swayze holds Patrick Swayze in high regard. Patrick Swayze is not only Swayze’s muse, he represents a way of life for this producer. And let’s just be real, who can blame him? Patrick Swayze belongs on Mount Olympus with all of the other gods for the tremendous work he did (especially in Roadhouse) during the 1980s and early 1990s. The man had an amazing career. It’s a goddamn shame we lost him so soon.

The one thing that blows me away about “The Beginning,” is the fact that it is a debut album. Even though all of the singles were previously released over the course of about a year and a half, having all of those songs–as well five new songs, in one place feels good. I know that some people in “the industry” might not agree with taking that approach of re-releasing singles onto an album later down the line, but I happen to feel that it’s a perfectly acceptable strategy to help grow an audience.

From a production standpoint, “The Beginning” is very retro sounding. I spent a good deal of time listening to this album outside while working out. My weirdo neighbor even popped her head over the wall in my garden just to tell me that she “listened to this when she was younger.” I replied “isn’t it wonderful?” instead of calling her out on her bullshit. It’s telling that a complete stranger to Swayze’s music can pick up on a general vibe that has permeated through a few generations.

I’ve really tried to sit down and identify possible oversights on “The Beginning” that give it away as a postmodern interpretation of that familiar 1980s vibe, but outside of the overall loudness of the album, it’s difficult for me to find one. I did notice when played back on my stereo system that the vocals on “Sidewalk” were a lot more pushed back into the mix than your average 80s track, but not to the detriment of the song. So aside from the loudness and the vocal production on “Sidewalk,” “The Beginning” feels genuine.

The highlights of this album include the blazingly epic title track, the post-Motown tribute “Nothing on Me,” and the charmingly romantic “Oh Jenni.”

To me, the title track rounds the album out with a small taste of what’s to come. This song leans a little more on a darker sound, but not so much so that it was making me want to pull my eyeliner out. It sounds groovy and triumphant. This is Swayze’s proclamation that nothing can kill his funky vibe, no matter what.

“Nothing on Me,” is my favorite cut from “The Beginning.” This was the song that really channels “Thriller”-era Michael Jackson. This song really made me smile, because I feel like it accurately captures that youthful hearthrob sort of feel. This song is passionate and genuine. Swayze’s vocal performance here comes off as effortless, almost like they were done in one continuous take. There’s so many small details that paint a bigger picture in this song. Couple this with a lot of musical interaction between Swayze’s vocals with the rest of the music and you have a recipe for one hell of a song.

“Oh Jenni,” is interesting primarily for it’s lyrical content. This is a song that appears to be a love letter to Jennifer Grey and the relationship she had with Patrick Swayze himself. In a way, it’s sort of spine-chilling, primarily because I get the feeling that the producer Swayze is somehow communing with the actor Swayze from beyond the grave. Either that or Swayze is Patrick Swayze’s living avatar. As far as how the song sounds it’s textured, slow, and romantic. I’d honestly like to hear an unplugged version of this song. Hey Swayze! Play us an unplugged version of “Oh Jenni” if you ever decide to stream. Then tell us a story. You know–about a girl you knew.

Overall, “The Beginning,” is a solid debut and in spending a lot of time with the album over the last week, it has a lot of replay value. I appreciate the attention of detail Swayze and his production team gave to this album. This is well EQed, Juno infused, TR-808 conga using, vigorous kind of music that uses plenty of reverb and the right amount of tasteful compression that lovingly massages the multiple sounds going on here. There’s so much vibrant youthful energy in this release that will appeal to nearly everyone. Especially ancient vampire ladies like myself.

Please check this one out, because “The Beginning” is the direction retrowave should be going.

Album Color Profile: #FF1744

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “The Beginning,” “Nothing on Me” (my favorite), and “Oh Jenni.”

RECOMMENDED FOR: Funky retrowavers looking for a positive feel good release that fucking bangs.

WARNING: this album might compel you to throw your panties at the stereo.

You can find all things Swayze at https://swayzefunk.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/

CONNÖR is something of a mystery to me. Apparently they’ve been around in the Synthwave/Darksynth for awhile now. The funny thing is that I can’t seem to find any of their releases before their third album from 2019, entitled “Part III: Living in a Movie.” The mind behind CONNÖR is a producer who goes by the pseudonym “EFX.” Their social media presence is also rather light. EFX resides somewhere in the “deepest Bavarian forest” which, to me, means somewhere in south or southeast Germany. CONNÖR’s latest album, “Out of Traumaville” was released on August 21st, 2020,

“Out of Traumaville” is a fascinating album. Just looking at the liner notes, it’s pretty clear that it had a good financial backing, and that several people were involved in it’s creation. While EFX themself wrote and produced the songs found here, it would seem that White Sea Studio’s Wytse Gerichhausen had a lot to do with the post-production (both mixing and mastering) of this album. Wytse is most well-known, at least to me, for his audio “snake oil” videos on Youtube. Another notable contributor to this album was saxophonist Hugo Lee.

On the cover is artwork by Vladyslav Tsarenko, which features an image that looks like something you might find at one of those spray-on t-shirt shops that were the rage in the late 1990s. It has a girl getting pulled down into a manhole by various creepy crawlies. I think that it’s good artwork, but I don’t think it matches the spirit of the album. I would’ve preferred something a little less cartoony, especially considering the high-quality content found within “Out of Traumaville.”

There are a lot of interesting things going on composition-wise on this album. As I was listening to this album I couldn’t help but ask myself: “Who exactly is this person who created this?” It’s fairly clear that the work EFX has done with CONNÖR isn’t their first rodeo when it comes to writing music. Structure-wise there’s a lot to love on “Out of Traumaville.” While most songs follow a clear cookie-cutter pattern common to both Synthwave and Darksynth, there are a few incredible moments here. The album’s opener, “83. A.T.E.” does a lot in under six minutes. If I had to compare it to something, picture Carpenter Brut’s “Escape from Midwich Valley” with vocals. Similar to “Midwich” there is a slow build up on “83. A.T.E.” leading up to a surprising bass drop (at 4:00) in the last third of the song. Lyrically, this song is absolutely wonderful. I found myself singing it to myself for a few days. There’s just something so satisfying about saying the word combination “Woke up in fear.” “Total Darkness” is another certifiable ear worm that has incredible lyrics, and an incredible overall sound. Like–real talk, this song is just so smooth, and so pleasing to the ear. I honestly had a hard time keeping it together the first time I heard it. “The Fire in Me” which features a memorable sax performance by Hugo Lee and stunning vocals by Winona Drive. This is probably my favorite track on the album. If you aren’t sure about checking this album out, have a listen to “The Fire in Me.” It doesn’t disappoint.

In terms of aesthetic, I think that the first five songs on “Out of Traumaville” and the title track itself are all A-rank, maybe (at times) even S-rank level Darksynth. All of the other songs on the album really aren’t on the same level though from a compositional point of view. “Born to Shine” feels a little too preachy to me, and sounds less like proper Darksynth and more like something you might hear from a mainstream pop group like Imagine Dragons. Ick! Don’t get me wrong, from a technical standpoint I don’t think it’s bad, but it’s definitely not the type of song I would willingly subject myself to.

If I were an executive producer for this album I would’ve cut “Born to Shine,” the two “Holy Wood” tracks, and probably “Tomorrow.” I would’ve kept “My First Bossfight” though, primarily because it fits in with the context of the first five tracks of the album. If this album would’ve only included those seven tracks I think that this could’ve been a classic Darksynth release. The bloat filled in by the tracks that probably should’ve been cut mess with the overall vibe of this release. I’m also little disappointed that CONNÖR didn’t include lyrics on Bandcamp, because while I can easily understand what each vocalist is saying, I like reading lyrics for context, especially when it comes to a concept album like this one.

In conclusion, CONNÖR released some real gold here with the first five tracks on this album and the title track “Out of Traumaville.” Please check those songs out ASAP if you get joy-joy feelings from well-crafted Darksynth.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Carpenter Brut and Perturbator.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “83. A.T.E.”, “Total Darkness,” “The Fire in Me” (these three songs are FUCKING INCROYABLE–TREMENDOUS WORK).

Album Color Profile: #FF6699

You can find all things CONNÖR at https://connoer.bandcamp.com/

Siamese Youth is a Synthwave/Synthpop duo from Berlin, Germany featuring the talents of Mark Gritsenko (vocals) and Christoph ‘Hadl’ Hassel. Their debut album “Electric Dreams” came out in late 2019 via New Retro Wave Records. Upon release, “Electric Dreams” was unanimously embraced by the Synthwave community and for good reason. It is passionate, sentimental, and above all nostalgic.


Production-wise, Siamese Youth present a really beautiful, warm album that sounds authentic. That said, there is a slight postmodern edge to this record that helps it to stand out as an example of what happens when everything goes right. This is the result of what appears to be many careful post-production decisions. There isn’t a sound on “Electric Dreams” that I wasn’t able to hear in both headphones, on my stereo system, or on my phone’s speakers.

It’s glaringly clear that Siamese Youth, have a strong affection for the spirit of the 1980s. “Electric Dreams” bottles up that energy into thirty-four minutes of tear-jerking vibes. For the retro-enthusiast there’s so much to love about this release. The album opens up with a dreamy pad-leaden intro called “1984.” A woman’s voice begins to echo: “Dare to Dream, Dare to Believe, Love is the Essence of Life.” Shortly after, Gritsenko begins to sing through heavily processed, but nonetheless gorgeous vocals. This short prelude is but a preview of magical energy contained within “Electric Dreams.” From “Coco,” to “Nariyeh Thanei,” to “Lying to Myself,” there’s a lot of well-crafted, listenable songs that scream to be replayed over and over again. “Electric Dreams,” is incredibly pastiche, catchy, and romantic. I think that this album would’ve been a huge hit back in the 80s. It’s music like this that makes me feel lucky to be alive. Every song on this album is an absolute gem.


RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who wants to be instantly transported back to the 1980s.

Stand-out tracks: “Coco,” (the best track, I think I almost blew my speakers out listening to this one), “Lying to Myself” (aka the most 1980s song on the album), “Dream On,” and “Nariyeh Thanei.”

Album Color Profile: #F3E5F5

You can find all things Siamese Youth at https://newretrowave.bandcamp.com/

Kushna is a newer retrowave producer from India. 2020 has certainly been his year as he’s produced a slew of really catchy singles. In addition to this, he’s also released a full-length entitled “Retrodise.” It came out on June 2nd, 2020.

I’m going to come out and say that this is definitely an album that you shouldn’t judge by it’s cover. To me, the cover embraces some really common Synthwave tropes. We’ve all seen this type of thing frequently in the last few years, and for all intents and purposes I think that “Retrodise” would’ve benefited greatly from a different type of visual to accompany the music here.

Despite my personal issues with the cover artwork, I think that “Retrodise” is a wonderful album. I tend to think that it musically lies somewhere between proper darksynth and more soundtrack based Synthwave. There are a lot of really great ideas here that really tap into the exact type of moody epic vibe that brought me to love Synthwave as an artistic medium in the first place. The production value on “Retrodise” is really clear due to it being properly EQed and made tight with strategic conscious use of light (and sometimes sidechained) compression. I suspect that Kushna spent some time producing music in other genres as “Retrodise” has a modern EDM vibe. If I’m wrong about this, then he has a lot of natural talent for this type of thing. Regardless, “Retrodise” reminds me of a cross between 16-bit VGMs from the 1990s, Jan Hammer’s work on Miami Vice, with a slight raga flavor that makes it stand out amongst the hundreds of hours of Synthwave that I’ve subjected myself to so far this year.

I think that “Retrodise” opens up strong with the arpeggio leaden “Deep Love.” This song is spacey, futuristic, and catchy. It’s also is very neutral in terms of energy. It’s not particularly light or dark sounding, but it definitely has aspects from both sides of the spectrum. “Dream” further highlights Kushna’s talent for constructing great sounding arpeggios. Again, like “Deep Love,” “Dream” reaches Daft Punk levels of spacey with a pseudo-“TRON Legacy” vibe crossed with mid-nineties CD-ROM based VGMs. “Endless” was my favorite cut from “Retrodise.” The visuals that my brain created whilst listening to this song were akin to something you might see out of a moody Neo-noir film complete with streetlights sporadically shining across the face of a lonely night driver just looking to make something of his/her life. The acoustics of the woodwind pipe sound on “Endless” is absolutely beautiful and really unconventional.

Overall, “Retrodise” is a highly enjoyable listen. This release completely blindsided me, and it’s a goddamn shame that more people haven’t checked it out. If you have an affinity for well-crafted and thoughtful Synthwave with a digestable and slightly different vibe, please check out Kushna’s work. It’s one of my favorite albums this year.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone that loves going for a long night drive along the coast on a hot Summer night.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Endless,” “Deep Love,” “Dream,” and “Beautiful.”

Album Color Profile: #FF1744

You can find all things Kushna at https://kushnamusic.bandcamp.com/

U.K. based Taurus 1984 is an ambitious retrowave collaboration between producers Alastair Jenkins and Bobby Cole. Their debut album, “Lost in Time” was released in 2018. Their follow-up entitled “Dream Warriors” was released via Outland Recordings on May 29th, 2020.

“Dream Warriors” by Taurus 1984 is an album that I’ve had a weird relationship with since I became aware of it way back in May. As a child of the 1980s I instantly related the word combination “Dream Warriors” to Dokken. The first time I saw this album I honestly thought that Taurus 1984 named their album after “Dream Warriors” because they made a banging synthwave cover of Dokken’s “Dream Warriors.” I was totally wrong about this. My brain expected hair metal, but Taurus 1984 delivered something that couldn’t have been farther from that expectation. In comparison to their summery debut “Lost in Time,” “Dream Warriors” is a drastically different album. Where “Lost in Time” has a more traditional Synthwave sound, “Dream Warriors” is cut from a different brand of 1980s based music. What’s important to note, is that to the unprepared ear I think that “Dream Warriors” has the potential to be largely misunderstood.

To fully understand where “Dream Warriors” is coming from I think it’s important to look at why it’s so different than the wide majority of Synthwave.

  1. It’s music driven primarily by vocals.
  2. Whereas traditional Synthwave embraces disco-italia, 1980s dance, and film soundtracks “Dream Warriors” leans more into electro-funk.

At the onset, “Dream Warriors” gives off an inspirational, albeit soulful vibe that is spiritually reminiscent of inner city post-disco electro-funk from the early 1980s. Groups such as The S.O.S. Band, George Clinton’s P-Funk, and Sinnamon helped to pioneer this sound. Taurus 1984 pays homage to this while simultaneously combining it with traditional Synthwave. The result is an interesting experiment that serves to illustrate why fabricated nostalgic vibes work only up to the point. Where post-disco was developed out of the combined experiences of many musicians working together, Taurus 1984 is borrowing from those experiences under an entirely different framework. This isn’t the first time that this has happened. Most notably, the first well-received instance of this type of thing can be seen in 1965 with the release of The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul.” That album introduced the world to the idea of “plastic soul” which was perfected by David Bowie nine years later with the release of “Young Americans.” As I currently understand it, the foundations of Synthwave lie in fabricating authentic nostalgia via a parallel time line that doesn’t exist. And while “Dream Warriors” certainly has a little bit of this, by leaning so heavily into electro-funk it occasionally falls short as an incomplete thought. This is primarily because the type of sound that Taurus 1984 is exploring here would’ve been socially inaccessible to them in the early 1980s. That said, I have to commend Taurus 1984 for having the courage to push their limits by experimenting in this way. Combining the intimate individual nostalgic feel of traditional postmodern Synthwave with community driven post-disco electro funk isn’t exactly easy.

Taurus 1984 really shine on “Dream Warriors” when they allow themselves room to fully shift away from Synthwave and just write music that comfortably lends itself to tools they had available for this album. “Ghosts” is wholly indicative of this by channeling an in-precise Queen vibe that serves as one of the album’s high points. Just looking at how many people were involved with “Dream Warriors” I have to say that I admire the fact that Taurus 1984 was able to fit so many small details into this album—particularly when it comes to how the vocals were mixed. For instance, on “Home” there is a short male vocal burst that adds a pad like presence to the mix that greatly accentuates the Abi Davis’s vocal performance. This type of thing is repeated often on “Dream Warriors,” even if it comes off in the mix as mildly subliminal. My favorite track off of “Dream Warriors” is, by far, “Situations.” I think that out of all the songs produced here this was the one that was closest to that electro-funk vibe that Taurus 1984 tries so hard to reach at other points in the album. “Situations” really speaks for everything that Taurus 1984 is capable of. It would’ve been, at least to me, a much more fitting choice for the lead single here than the title track.

Overall, I don’t think that this album will appeal to everybody. It occasionally makes weird artistic decisions that waffles between a forced summer synthwave vibe and a plastic electro-funk vibe that could’ve worked better if there were a greater emphasis on the community aspect of this album. Actual live drums and a more spacious mix would’ve greatly impacted the overall effectiveness of this album as well. That said, I did enjoy “Dream Warriors,” but it wasn’t easy to get into. I do truly believe that if Taurus 1984 continues to stay creative in this way that they absolutely will create something truly groundbreaking in the future.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Retrowave fans looking for an album that bridges the gap between electro-funk and instrumental Synthwave.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Situations,” (amazing track), “Ghosts,” “Home”

Album Color Profile: #FF3300

You can find all things Taurus 1984 at https://taurus1984.bandcamp.com/