Even though most of synthwave focuses on the 80’s and the nostalgic recreation of the music of our childhoods–I wanna focus in on the 90’s for this review. Specifically the movies made by Gen X’ers about the nihilistic soul crushing mediocrity that is modern life. Movies like The Matrix, Office Space, Dark City, Fight Club, The Truman Show etc. whose protagonists do everything they can to escape modern life. To escape the loneliness of a life spent in a cubicle. And has Electronic Warbear has put it, “I make synthwave and synthpop. Soundtracking the movies I see in my brain.” No review would be appropriate without the allusion to films.
Electronic Warbear’s Disassociation begins with Enter the City, which starts with an incredibly upbeat tone. The synths, and drum track suggest the promises of a rewarding future. The kind you get when you watch a corporate training video on some corporate jargon that always fails to live up to any form of already lowered expectations. But Electronic Warbear doesn’t buy into the bullshit, he doesn’t buy into the false promises given to you by the slick production, and as the synths come crashing down as more and more of the false facade has been exposed.
His next track Islophobia reminds me of the quiet existentialism of Philip Glass’ score in The Truman Show. Although I couldn’t find any actual definition of the term, a quick google search showed that it was “A fear of being alone.” The arpeggios and chord progression as mentioned before provides an excellent juxtaposition with the last track Dissociation. While Disassociation promises you happiness, Islophobia nags at you–it lingers in your thoughts–you know something isn’t right, but what that is, you don’t know.
The Descent continues this off kilter feeling with a synth that seems to be seething in rage but transforms into being strangely a happy song. The track sounds almost too happy and then you notice that something seems to be a bit off, there seems to be a note off here and there from the original key. You’re seeing holes and inconsistencies where you shouldn’t. The heavy synth growls as the lies, and deceit gnaws away at your conscious until all that’s left is to wear a fake smile; all the while a rage is building up inside of you. It’s a song that makes you realize that the happiness you were promised isn’t achievable, like the common expression used in AA meetings, “Once you’re a pickle, you can never turn back into a cucumber.”
In Grind the rage builds, as immediately an incredibly dark and heavy synth starts at the beginning of the track. The percussion so sharp it sounds like the grinding of metal against metal. Then you hear a faint voice, which reminds me of the Mortal Kombat voiceovers you’d hear in the games. I can’t really make out what it’s saying, whether it’s “End it,” “Awake,” or whatever. But the voice carries with it an air of authority, like the boss who micromanages all of your actions at work, while all you can do is smile like the good corporate drone that you are. This track is by far the most angry, and dark of all the tracks on the album. And since all of the tracks have built up to this rage, it’s only fit that it must be resolved.
Malfunction starts with the cheery keyboard that feels like the end of a long shift at work, where all the mischievous plans begin to percolate in your mind of what you’re going to do that weekend. Then as soon as the percussion starts the track opens itself up to such a euphoric release. It feels not like the desperate escape from an entirely hopeless situation, but one that happens once a week for two days at a time. The synths swell up with joy, and the voice that held so much authority in the Grind only becomes more and more distorted as though it has lost it’s power to contain your individuality. The voice though distant seems frustrated that instead of doing the corporate sponsored events (running a 5k to cure some disease, doing yoga, running with your dog on the beach, doing whatever they do in some anti-depressant drug commercial) you assert your own individuality and become as the title says, a “Malfunction” in the corporate structure.
The voice in the beginning of Partyy is so distorted and seems so far away, that it feels like a distant memory. The snares and bass of the track gives the music a sharpened focus. With bass pummeling on, and the snare cutting through all the noise, the Partyy doesn’t really seem like a party. For example you know those happy relaxing parties where you hangout with friends, play drinking games, and Mario Kart. This track is definitely not one of those types of parties. This is one of those parties where you head out to a club by yourself trying to get blacked out drunk, hookup with some strange chick, or both. The chord progressions in Partyy swell up in emotion reaching great heights of happiness, to then lower back down to reality. Like somebody going bar hopping looking to get laid–where each new venue offers up a new promising possibility– but it only ends in getting rejected by a bunch of girls, saying the wrong things, and just making an ass of themselves.
Partyy above most of the tracks on Disassociation is the most deceptive because in the beginning you would be inclined to think this is a typical EDM song played in club; but Warbear is bit more clever than that, and he adds more of an emotional depth than what would be assumed. And with a lot of Electronic Warbear’s music this track really rewards the listener.
Till We Die continues the party type of sound. But this sound is a lot more angry, a lot more vicious, and nihilistic. The track opens up with some of the dirtiest synth possible, that just feels bitter. While Partyy seemed to at least offer a hope, Till We Die just wants to self destruct. The thudding bass sounds like the type of basses you’d find at clubs where everyone has to scream to communicate with each other, while the lead synthesizer and chorus seem to offer a haunting perspective of this new party. Instead of the hope of gratification we instead get desire of self destruction, as the snare accelerates in tempo hoping for a resolution; all for it to fall back to the same focused destruction. The track ends with the distorted sound of people talking, but they’re not talking to you, they’re talking to each other, and their voices are so distorted it’s not even possible to understand what they are saying. And nothing is more isolating than hearing other people talk and have fun and not being able to join in.
Disassociation, the next track in the album, seems to be like the hangover from the night before. The lead synths seem to pulsate like a bad headache from a night of heavy drinking. The arpeggiated synths show the same signs of that existentialism that was shown before in previous tracks. That whatever happiness that was achieved in the previous songs has all but disappeared as the realization dawns that–whatever you do–you can’t can’t escape your current predicament.
Finally with Crossing the album ends, with a melancholy note. As the rain sample plays in the intro. The lead synths drip with sadness, and it’s a sadness that seems more introspective as they quiet down, as only the rain samples and bass pluck on. When the synths return, they return with a question. Is it my predicament that’s fucked up, or is it me that’s fucked up? Which begs the question, where are we the listener crossing towards?
With this musical journey that Electronic Warbear’s Disassociation, I give Electronic Warbear a hearty recc.