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/

Victor Roy is an electronic music producer from Barcelona, Spain. He made his debut in 2019 with his debut album “Failure to Discern.” His follow-up “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” was released in February by RetroSynth Records.

The concept behind “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” encapsulates precisely why Synthwave and its related genres have taken off in popularity. The 1980s/early 90s were strange in that, science fiction films, gave us a hyperbolic glimpse into (an aesthetically pleasing) future. For example, Blade Runner takes place in 2019. When we look back at Blade Runner from a 2020 perspective it really makes you wonder…how did anyone ever think that by 2019 we would’ve been to the Tanhauser Gate, had another world war, and be surrounded by sexy replicants? Synthwave basically takes our own history and throws it out in favor of false realities and experiences that have never existed. It’s pretty weird that the human mind can trick us into becoming nostalgic for a 1980s version of what 2019 should’ve/could’ve been. Victor Roy’s “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” leans into the concept heavily, at least contextually, as the tent-pole unto which his latest album is supported by.

After listening to “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost,” I think that it really does a great job exploring the concept in which it was based. At the same time, it sounds like an album written in 2019 that reveres the 1980s version of 2019. If that sounds confusing don’t feel bad. This album is extremely meta and self-referential. Generally speaking, I think that if this album was released as in the 1980s, it would’ve been a big deal. It probably also would’ve been used for a movie soundtrack. As a music critic, I feel that this is an important milestone to hit, especially for a Synthwave adjacent artist.

“Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” has a very polished shiny postmodern vibe. A lot of careful thought went into this album production wise which makes it an enjoyable listen. Despite the fact that this album has a very soundtrack leaden vibe, I don’t think that it has much else in common with Synthwave, Darksynth, or other Retro genres. I actually feel that this album transcends all of these genres, but not necessarily for the better—at least from the perspective of a hardcore Synthwave fan. That said, this album is not for those folks. This is music for people looking to be challenged by music that pushes beyond the limits of Synthwave. Sure, there are plenty of Vangelis sounding moments on “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” but it captures those moments without breakneck sidechained vaccum basses, sixteenth note clapping, or a pumping drum beat. “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” is music that puts an emphasis on exploring Cyberpunky music through melodies rather than beats.

“Rewind” serves as the album’s most retro sounding song thanks to it’s opening riff, but it also (thankfully) diverges from that sound as the song goes on. “Path to Glory” stands out as the most soundtrack worthy song by giving those Interstellar Hans Zimmer feels. Peak Victor Roy is reached in the latter half of the album with two songs: “Stage Two” and “Dungeon of the Mind.” “Stage Two” reminds me of Yuzo Koshiro’s work on the PC Engine CD port of Ys I & II. The song begins quietly, but masterfully works its way upward into a diminished key change that really pops. “Stage Two’s” melody is completely antithetical to the vibe that the song opened with—it’s seriously wonderful. “Dungeon of the Mind” is equally as awe-inspiring for the same reason. It evokes some very Michiru Yamane (Castlevania) energy that really made me want an entire album of similar music. Here’s hoping that on the Roy decides to fully explore similar on his next album, because video game sounding tunes seem to be his strong suit.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this album. As mentioned before, if you’re looking for Synthwave that’ll give you nostalgic vibes you probably should look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a well-produced challenge that represents a direction that Synthwave might be going in the near future, have a listen. This one might surprise you.

RECCOMENDED FOR: People who like melody driven science fiction/cyberpunk music.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Stage Two,” (so fucking good), “Dungeon of the Mind” (so fucking good part 2 the revenge), “Path to Glory,” “Rewind,” “Synthesized Hole.”

Album Color Profile: #633974

You can find all things Victor Roy at https://victorroy.bandcamp.com/