There is a dual nature to synthwave, as it’s known by two names: Retrowave and Synthwave. One is a music genre that uses synths, while the other tries to earnestly recreate the past. M.K. Khan in his album, Generation Runaway is neck deep in the past. Not just by making music that is stuck in a particular decade–the 80’s–but making an album the reflects our youth. Of a time long gone, where the bullies in highschool are the villains, the girl you have a crush on is the heroine, and where the future seems so endless and bright that you got to wear shades.
Synthwave like a lot of music without vocals, usually fits well allusions to film. This album particularly captures that type of structure to the point you can see the movie that’s being played in your ears. Beach Drive could serve as a monologue about a guy from the Midwest moving to a Californian beach town as the congas play a lighthearted intro. Jasmine could be the part in the movie where the main character bumps into a girl at school–they drop their books–he looks up at her, and falls in love while the synths flutter around as though there are butterflies in your stomach. In Raptors, the organs convey a sinister vibe, while the lead synths add an additional layer of cool. Playing like the introduction to the Highschool bully gang with their matching leather jackets, slick cars, and hot girlfriends. While Wild Nights in Montego Bay plays out like a teenage existential crisis–the lead synths pierces through the sound, and the guitar roars– when the plot twist is realized that Jasmine is actually the girlfriend of the douchey leader of the Raptors.
So given the album title:Generation Runaway, it’s a title that describes every generation, as every generation runs away from the generation before it–to separate themselves from their parents. Yet at the same time we’re talking about music that sounds like it’s from an 80’s teen movie in 2019. But it still captures that spirit of youthfulness, regardless of what decade it sounds like it is from. How is that?
Humid City in particular captures a kind of romance that is hard to gain in adulthood. The synths sound so distant, and yet so close. The drums play out in a reverbed out way that makes it seem like you are descending, deep, into another person’s soul. The synths pluck at your heart strings, and the track feels so romantic. Maybe because without vocals–or even if there were vocals–it’s a track that recalls a deeper emotional connection than swiping right, going to the club, communicating through text, etc. you get the picture. In adulthood we yearn for those authentic connections because we’ve learned what is fake and insincere; due the fact that in our adolescence we believed everything was sincere. So when we nostalgically recall our youths and the 80’s; we recall those synth heavy soundtracks (though they weren’t that good) and those teenage romances (though they weren’t that deep). So when I say that this album captures youthfulness it captures what we wished our youth was like. Very much how like retrowave was what we wished the 80’s sounded like.
Due to the fact that most adults seek out sincerity, nothing is, or was more sincere than our past selves. In this track you can hear the challenges in the somber tone of Tiger in the Mist, with it’s dramatic piano and swelling synths. Then when you hear the next song Remember the Summer it feels like a training montage, where we start with the slow build up with each additional melody added to the song, as though we are finally conquering that Tiger in the Mist. It’s all so universally relatable, at any point in our lives we can look back, and see ourselves overcoming the odds. We don’t have to be teenage ninjas, werewolves, or have superpowers; we don’t need it because we didn’t have any perspective of how big the problems were back then. A stressful exam was like the end of the world to us, but now in hindsight doesn’t seem that big of a deal at all. Yet we still retain that emotional residue, that sincerity–that conviction–that what we were going through was an intense struggle.
So with the last two tracks it’s no surprise that it contains some of the most joyful and introspective sounds yet featured on the album. See You Later has some of the most joyful chord progressions I’ve ever heard, and to top it off it has an amazing guitar solo. It’s the kind of feeling you get when you finally graduate and throw up your graduation cap into the air. That complete and total catharsis, and excitement on beginning the next stage of your life. Then Epilogue starts to play, and that’s when M.K. Khan really shows his talent for making great albums. The drum beat doesn’t recall the 80’s–it recalls the 90’s–and the sampling of birds chirping gives it a much more grounded feel than the rest of the album. The synths, though not as exuberantly enthusiastic as before, it has a more introspective happiness. The happiness that comes from maturity, and the recollection of your past self–where the saying, “You can look back at it and laugh,” comes into play. To fast forwarding the sound, M.K. Khan wraps up retrowave, and the feelings felt when listening to retrowave in a nice bow and gives us the epilogue that we so desperately need when listening to a genre based on the past.
For the feels, and to the soundtrack of the greatest 80’s we wish was made. I give M.K. Khan’s Generation Runaway my full recc.