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/

Glitch Black (a play on words to “Pitch Black”) is a prolific darksynth/synthwave producer who hails from Seattle, Washington. He’s most notably known for visual live performances, his Tron-inspired outfit, and all-around great sounding future aesthetics. Glitch Black is the type of producer who makes even the most timid among us want to hit the dance floor in a cyberpunk catharsis of joy. His latest album is entitled “Mechanical Perfection.” It was released on July 9th, 2020.

On the cover of “Mechanical Perfection” is a very familiar image of Glitch Black’s cybernetic egregore. Keeping in line with all of his previous major album releases, the artwork features an intense black and grey color scheme that is wildly accentuated with neon red. I feel that this image fits in well with the sci-fi vibe of the album.

Even though all of the songs here are all cut from the same cloth there’s quite a bit of variation throughout this album. The first half pulls a lot of influence from early 2000s aggrotech and late 2000s European hardstyle. “Binary Overlord” is a great example of this—although this artistic choice isn’t entirely limited to that song. There is also a slight gothic EDM flavor to “Mechanical Perfection.” This is largely aided by the album’s constant grating low end, non-traditional arpeggios (at least for darksynth), and popping upbeat percussion. “Mechanical Perfection” is slightly experimental for Glitch Black as he actively explores challenging tempo changes, without over-saturating the music with too much repetition. For example, in “Shock Troopers” he ends the song with a completely new section that doesn’t repeat. It sort of reminds me of what Slayer pulled on “God Hates Us All” by adding odd little riffs to the end of songs. The primary difference here is that Glitch Black does it with a sleek and concise style.

Overall, “Mechanical Perfection” is an enjoyable listen. All of the songs here are cold on the outside, kind of like a metal endoskeleton, but once you start understanding the vibe of the album there’s a lot of life here. “Shock Troopers” is definitely my favorite track off of the album. It’s energetic, slightly evil sounding, and all around really goddamn cyberpunk. I kept getting these visuals of some kind of paramilitary squad like in “The Raid: Redemption” kicking doors down in the name of some power hungry corporate magnate. Other highlights include the sleeper hit “Binary Overlord,” the glitchy metal infused “Onslaught,” and the slower tempoed “Dark Future.”

RECOMMENDED FOR: Darksynth warriors looking for something new from a familiar darksynth personality. I think people who are into Cybergoth might actually like this too. I’m not ashamed to say that I danced to “Binary Overlord” several times by myself in my living room.

Stand-out tracks: “Shock Troopers,” “Dark Future,” “Onsalught,” “Grit,” “Binary Overlord,” (HUMANZ!)

Album Color Profile: #B71C1C

You can find all things Glitch Black at https://glitchblack.bandcamp.com/

Kemikziel is a chiptune producer from Canada. In less than a year she’s managed to publish thirteen releases via Bandcamp including one WIP album that is set to release next year in 2021. Her latest release is the excellent quarantine LP “Scourge and Remedy.” Today I’m going to be going to be reviewing one of her older releases an EP entitled “The Ghost in the Gameboy.”

As someone who listens primarily to Synthwave, I am not super well-versed in the Chiptune scene. Chipzel is the name I usually associate with Chiptune thanks to her work on Super Hexagon. Kemikziel is slightly different than Chipzel in that she only uses a Nintendo Game Boy and a tracker program called LSDj aka “Little Sound DJ” to produce her music. Kemikziel represents a small minority of producers who are literally giving 8-bit VGMs life after death.

“The Ghost in the Gameboy” is a Halloween themed EP that centers around all things spooky. Sound-wise the album is everything one might expect out of VGM music from the early 1990s—it’s bouncy, light-hearted, and fun. There’s nothing here that feels out of place. “The Ghost in the Gameboy” isn’t overproduced. This is 100% pure Canadian Chiptune, right from the tap. And girl, it tastes delicious. What makes this release notable, lies in Kemi’s willingness to explore outside the comfort zone of status quo, catchy title screen music. Instead, her strengths really lie in producing atmospheric VGMs that use bizarre combinations of sounds in between melodies. She masterfully uses a lot of portamentos, slides, and dissonant sound effects to push forward the momentum of this EP. When I close my eyes and just listen to “The Ghost in the Gameboy,” I can picture little ghosts tugging on my apron in hopes of getting extra Halloween cookies from me. This vibe is highlighted by Kemikziel’s liberal use of spooky, otherwise uncommon 8-bit FX that twists and bends the overall sound of “The Ghost in the Gameboy” into a concise and impressive mix. It’s pretty clear that Kemikziel knows what she’s doing. This EP demonstrates just how awesome the Game Boy can be as a capable music production tool.

Highlights here include the opening track “Brains?!” which literally sounds like pixel zombies gargling, well, brains. Of all the songs on this EP, I find this one really great for straying outside the constraints of the song’s tempo at around 1:19. Next up is “The Haunted Gameboy” which is the most technically impressive tracks on this release. There’s theremin sounding vibes throughout amidst a crunchy tone that just crushes. There’s also some really cool panning effects here that helps to create a really nice three-dimensional atmosphere. “Bloodthirst” and “Skulls” are the most traditional sounding tracks on the album, but they are also the most focused and overtly dark sounding here. Overall, “The Ghost in the Gameboy” is peak Kemikziel. This is a really good place to start if you’re looking to explore her work further.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who had a Game Boy in the 90s, VGM fans, and unholy Chiptune adherents who want something pure, fun, and digestible.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Brains?!,” “The Haunted Gameboy,” and “Skulls.”

Album Color Profile: #C8E6C9

You can find all things Kemikziel at https://kemikziel.bandcamp.com/