Meme-Brane: Shriek

So with a name like Meme-brane I kind of expected this album to filled with meme music. Distorted minecraft music, Despacito 2: Electric Boogaloo, the Shrek movie played at .0000003 speed. I was ready to listen to the ear drum melting music of the Zoomer meme generation. Then I saw the cover art. “Hm, maybe there’s something more to this artist,” I thought to myself. And then I listened to it. My jaw dropped down to the floor, and I was blown away.

To begin with it has everything I love in electronic music. It has these bizarre sounds, heavy drums, this cold detached nihilism, layered synths, dirty guitars, etc. When a lot of people say they don’t like electronic music, they usually refer to how artificial it all sounds. That there is no humanity in it aka emotion. And most electronic music sounds like the life has been sucked out of it. This is not the case with Meme-brane. Nearly every track is perfectly arranged, structured, intricate, and meticulously thought out.

So a better comparison for this type of music would be instead of picturing a virtuoso playing a violin in front of a crowd. Imagine an author instead. When you read say, Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, or Tolstoy–you know that every single line that is written was written with a purpose. There isn’t a period, comma, or word that isn’t carefully chosen, poured over, and thought through. Even media that is a collaborative effort such as film, envies the ability of authors to single handedly create their own worlds. The modern electronic music producer has the same ability, and listening to Meme-brane you cannot help but feel that this author has complete mastery over his sound.

To start with this album review we have to go to the beginning. The first song n1 is an incredibly intro, and what caused me to be so excited for this album. It has this distorted Brian Eno-esque synth playing. Which is incredibly minimalist, but which serves the song, and as a result the rest of the album.

It’s like when an author starts with an amazing opener, like let’s say, A Tale of Two Cities starting line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That opening line provides so much mystery. You immediately want to know how something so contradictory could take place. If you read more in-depth you realize that this is an excellent foreshadowing, because you know that there is going to be a lot of drama. There are going to be incredible highs, and incredible lows. You know everything this book is going to be about in the very first line. Yet the enjoyment is to see how the author plays this out.

Likewise with this album with the distorted synth mantra being played, the heartbeat that sounds like the electronic pulse of a machine, the swirling distorted pad in the background, and the shimmering keys that are being played. It sounds more like the birth of an electronic beast. Since I’m at the age where everybody is getting married and having kids, there’s nothing a parent loves than hearing the heartbeat of their unborn child. I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me with their phones and made me listen to their unborn child’s heartbeat. Though instead of a child, an electronic album is being born.

This is where the authorship shines through. This is where where we change from reviewing an album, to reviewing a world. A world that Meme-brane has invented, and immediately from the intro we are thrust into this sense of mystery. This is Meme-brane’s version of, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

So with the next track Exponentialism we see the formation of what this electronic birth has brought us. It immediately begins with where n1 left off at. A seamless transition that rewards the listener for listening to the whole album rather than one song. This bizarre little electronic beat limps along. It’s obviously not strong enough on it’s own, and as listeners, we know that something needs to be added to it. The question is what? And the mystery is how Meme-brane is going to add to this track.

So along comes another beat. That just feels a little off. This syncopation adds this feeling of unease. It’s off balance, something isn’t right. We need a resolution, and when we get bizarre vocal samples. We are still not getting much help. If the beginning was an electronic birth, this song is a struggle for survival. For when we do get music that does provide us with a resolution, it’s harsh, brutal, and violent. The synths are heavy, distorted, so sharp they’d cut your eardrum. The samples are so strange, and alien to us that it’s like the ambient sounds of an alien planet. Then there are the guitars that are so heavy, and distorted they’d make Slayer blush. This is not a peaceful resolution to the mystery we were presented with.

This is the music equivalent of man who wakes up and has amnesia, and when he looks into the mirror, fails to recognize the man looking back at him. Then when he returns to his room, he finds a blood trail, follows it, and finds a murdered woman in his bedroom. We as listeners know that this mysterious sound that Meme-brane has provided for us, is not going to be peaceful. There’s going to be conflict, there is going to be harshness, there is going to be drama, and more importantly there is going to be emotion. Something that every person who doesn’t like electronic music, feels that’s missing in electronic music.

Now the scene has been set. We know the general rules of the album, and the next song Exit Strategy compounds on the ideas that were introduced in the prior song. We’re introduced to that same syncopated drum beat, except this time this sinister synth growls in the background. In terms of say a novel, or a movie. This is the part in the act where we get over the initial shock of the mystery presented before us, and now we’re fully enveloped into the world the creator has presented before us.

This sonic soundscape of a world we listen to is as ominous as it is mysterious. The track ebbs and flows, and has that typical dynamics in music. Yet it’s not played out in a stereotyped manner. Usually when a track gets quiet, it’s more meditative, introspective, emotional, melodic, etc. Yet here in Exit strategy. The music is just filled with this ominous sound. It’s bubbling right beneath the surface. You can hear the building tension, as though a rage is building up inside of you. And then when it finally gets loud, it’s abrasive, harsh, confrontational, and overall beautiful.

Next up we have Three Skinny Sisters which starts off with this incredible drum beat. Personally I love variety when it comes to drumming. Sure, the best thing you can do is create a beat that serves the song. Yet when a drummer knows when to use every tool (or drum kit) at their disposal it creates a different kind of mood. That being said, it creates a mood. With the gate-reverb kind of sound, and tom fill ins. It has this 80’s throwback kind of sound. Mix that in with the basslines you got a groove. So now that there’s an electronic groove going on, what do you do next?

Well seeing as Meme-brane has this authorship going on, and given the previous songs, this isn’t going to be a simple groovy song. We’re already immersed into the world they created so with the introduction of this sinister atonal synth. It creates this ominous sound. Which is only more ominous with the introduction of an arp that is so sharp, so vicious, that it gets your blood pumping. Which culminates in this orgasmic fat thick sounding synth, and at the end a chaotic swarm of shrill synths swarm upon your ears. It’s one thing to create a groove, it’s a whole other matter when it’s sinister.

Next we get to (404) Hope Not Found. Which is probably one of the greatest song titles that has ever been created. I kicked myself as soon as I read it for not coming up with it myself. Even looking at the wave points of this track you’re already hinted at the buildup that will transpire. Nearly every song has this excellent crescendo in rising tension, and how to get you pumped up. Yet it’s in this track that I have to mention the pure creativity of Meme-brane’s sound.

As I’ve mentioned earlier the drums on every track is incredibly well done. Each serving the song, and each providing additional emotional context. Yet it’s in this track where you realize the creativity behind each track. The beat is this amalgamation of drums, distorted synth bass, and metallic hi hats. It’s the fusion of these elements which creates this unique sound. Most artists are comfortable in having a few tools at their disposal and using only those tools. In this track you get an understanding that Meme-brane is not only adept at crafting great music, but at the same time exploring the possibilities within each song. You can imagine Meme-brane tinkering on an individual synth, a cymbal, bass, or whatever to achieve that perfect sound. Experimenting, combining each texture to create something of their own.

So while I’m on the point of experimentation. It’s no surprise that this track has some of the most experimental sounds of the whole album. As as soon as you hear the distorted robotic vocals on (404) Hope not found, you can’t help but smile. It’s the kind of sound that as an artist you see all the time (either as a DAW plug in or guitar pedal), you’ve probably tinkered with it, but have never found the use for. Listening to it so well executed in this track, provides that kind of joy when you realize that a door has been opened. That there are more venues for creativity than you’ve realized.

Now as I’ve said, you have to look at this album through the lens of an author. Any great writer can tell you how to make something dark. So I’ll paraphrase George Lucas, it’s easy to make someone cry, all you have to do is to kill a puppy. That’s easy. Yet it’s the dichotomy between dark and light that creates great art. Or in other words, your audience needs a breather. They need something to lighten the load. Usually in film it’s those comedic moments, or maybe just a comfy introspective page in a book. Something that lightens the mood. Which the next track Angel Grinder does perfectly.

The synths have the complex melodic structure. Which given the previous track is an excellent way to settle your audience down. The complexity¬† offers up an easy way to deescalate the harsh brashness of the previous tracks. While the melody offers up a way to truly lull you into a state of relaxation. Add on to this the soft pads in the background, and you’re already on a new state of chill.

Yet this song is called “Angel Grinder” and we’ve established the Angel. Now we gotta get to the Grinder. There’s this distorted synth, that gets introduced soon after the relaxing synths. It’s not enough to disrupt the peaceful mantra that you’re in, but it’s enough to say it’s not relaxing. Then there’s this ambient noise, a sort of guttural growl of a beat. Which kind of reminds me in those old Survival Horror games, where you find a safe room. There’s always this incredibly chill music that’s being played while at the same time a zombie is staring at you right outside the doorway.

When the beat kicks in, it adds a degree of energy to the track, a sense of momentum. The guttural growl of beat is still audible, but then there’s this clear synth being played, and quickly the guttural groan is gone. Then what is followed is a series of tape loops, glitches, electronic flourishes that pulsate, and flutter around, before finally finishing in this perfect ending.¬† Where all the sounds die down except for that peaceful pad, that creates the ultimate chill atmosphere.

So after the relaxation that was Angel Grinder, we gotta get up, and the next song for that is Factorial. Which has a lot of energy compared to the previous tracks. Either due to tempo, or simply by the way it sounds. While the tracks previous to it, were this bubbling under the surface viciousness, this track is of pure momentum. This track also has some of the best synth structure I’ve heard in a long time. Every synth is made so well, and sounds so radically different from anything I’ve heard that I could write an entire review on them by themselves.

Then there’s the beat. The beat in this track doesn’t come out until a quarter way through. And when it does, it’s not like the rest of the percussion which is always a little bit off beat. It hits on time, and it hits like a truck. It’s an incredibly bass-y kick, that combined with the clear precise sounding synths, distorted guitars, and deep electronic hums all blend well together to create this really enthusiastic sounding song. Which is an incredible feat since nearly every song prior to this was used to create an ominous, vicious, brutal sound, and yet the same tools are being used to create an incredibly upbeat song. You can’t help but admire Meme-brane after listening to this song, for not creating a unique sound, but creating a unique sound that can create so many different emotions.

Next up we have, ArcheTriptych which has one of the most bizarre intros I’ve ever heard. The beat sounds almost like noise music, as it squeals, mutates, and pulsates through. Then the drum beat starts, and then forms the cacophony into harmony. Which as I’ve mentioned before, is something I truly enjoy. It’s always a joy to hear something, in anybody’s work, that sounds so weird and atonal to then morph into a melody, and it’s always fun to figure out how it’s done. In this track it’s mainly accomplished by anchoring the sound to the drumbeat and then add additional instruments.

Then as the track progresses, as the drums play along, the synths stutter and pause, and the guitar’s power chords surge throughout the track. A bizarro kind of groove begins to emerge. Whereas before when a song had a strong groove it had a sinister quality, this track in particular has such a strange and mysterious sound. It’s almost like the music equivalent of finding Cthulhu. Something so alien and foreign that it defies human imagination. When I say I have never heard of anything like this before that is 100% true, and I believe it’s due to Meme-brane’s background in creating Ambient music.

I’ve reviewed plenty of Ambient albums and ambient albums can have some of the most original ideas. Since by it’s nature it’s not tied down to any musical structure, it instead relies on textures, different kinds of sounds to create different kinds of moods. It’s in this track where you see how because Meme-brane had a background in Ambient music, that Meme-brane is able to create such evocative pieces of music. Even the genres that Meme-brane self titled himself after Synthwave, Industrial, Gothic, Breaks, etc. I can’t think of a single artist that is able to create such unique sounding music.

Finally we get to Veil of the Cryptographer. Which immediately shows the ambient influence. With a swirling electronic ambience, and deep growl of a synth, punctuated by a sharp and precise beat. With 8 songs preceding it, you’d think Meme-brane wouldn’t be able to surprise you, yet you’d be wrong. In nearly every song there are key characteristics that carry through. Key sounds that is unmistakably Meme-brane’s sound. Yet there’s always an introduction of either a new instrument, new arrangement, a new subtraction, sample, etc. That always surprises you. You never know what to expect, and with a song that’s 8 minutes long it defies imagination how Meme-brane is able to keep the creative juices flowing for so long.

The best comparison to make is that it’s like reading about an intense weight lifting program from Arnold Schwarzenegger. You hear about how many hours he poured into the gym, the amount of willpower he poured into being the best bodybuilder, and you sit back in awe thinking to yourself how that’s humanely possible. It’s the same principle with Meme-Brane’s creativity. When after 8 songs, and during an 8 minute long song, that Meme-Brane is still able to remain fresh, creative, you cannot help but admire this superhuman power of creativity that Meme-brane has unleashed onto the world.

This album is by far one of the most unique, and interesting sounds I’ve ever come across, and I implore anybody to check it out. For any artist who has writer’s block, listening to one track of Meme-brane, you’ll be able to come up with a thousand new ideas that you never thought was possible. As I said I came into this album review thinking it was meme music, and came out of it blown away. I still have no idea how Meme-brane was able to pull this off, and with that I give this album my full uncontested Recc. You must check this out.

Alpha Chrome Yayo: Malediction Boulevard

https://alphachromeyayo.bandcamp.com/album/malediction-boulevard-ep

Let’s be honest here, who doesn’t wish that 80’s music sounded like modern synthwave? As mentioned before, most of synthwave is kind of a wish fulfillment. Like how in 40’s-50’s serials promised a world of adventure, but audiences received a cardboard set and a B-list actor. Then Spielberg and Lucas come along and say, “Hey what if we gave those serials that we loved as kids a bigger budget?”

Great synthwave is the equivalent of seeing a niche B-movie get the A-list treatment. Obviously I say all of this because the cover art reminds me of The Fly. Because after listening to this, I want this to be that movie’s soundtrack. It has that perfect synthy buildup–that unresolved tension–that makes it oh so spooky. Then when you hear the guitar shred–pure heaven.

But it’s not just the leads that make this song great. Hearing that perfect bass groove–with laser like focus–is exactly what makes this track, an A-list track. Then when the tom fills kick in, you know you’re in for a treat. I mean I am biased, but when I hear some good tom fills–I’m already sold.

From the lead synth and guitar, to the drums and bass; nearly everything in this track delivers. It’s the A-list treatment to a B-list music genre. Also let’s be real if 80’s synth music was as good as it was hyped up to be. Then there wouldn’t be an 80’s sound. There would only be an electronic sound. So if you want to hear some good electronic synthwave goodness then check this track out!

M.K. Khan: Generation Runaway

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.

(Insert name here)wave: Review

It all started with New wave, which makes sense, it’s a “New wave” of artists that are making NEW sounds, and experimenting with NEW genres. So it makes sense that the term would eventually come into existence. Then “No Wave” comes along, which was a tongue n’ cheek response to New wave. Flash forward a bit, and then Vaporwave comes a long. How can something be a wave and a vapor? Then you read up on it, and oh you find out that “It’s about some Marxist critique against capitalism.”

Alright then so where does Zeldawave fit into this narrative? Well I have my own personal theory on this, but basically everything that can be made lo-fi, reverbed out, and sound like hypnagogic pop is a wave now. So here I am to review it.

ZELDAWAVE

 

Are we even able to be nostalgic about Ocarina of time? They literally just released a game for the 3DS a few years back. Plus does the original track really need trap music over it, or for it to be lo-fi? The music video is nice, but after a few views of this type of aesthetic, it no longer has it’s retains it’s novelty. Plus the video itself is over 20 minutes long and doesn’t really craft a coherent emotional story like other “waves” do, and as a result is lot less substantive than other videos. It breathes life into a few songs, and gives it a new spin, which I do appreciate. But at the same time if you look up on soundcloud any Ocarina of Time song, you’ll find 3,000 remixes. At the end of the day this is just a Ocarina of Time soundtrack remix with VHS glitches from footage from the game. So it’s not breaking any new ground. I give this one a 2/5 Hey, Listens.

J B P W A V E

 

This type of wave is only for those lobsters who have climbed up the top of the socio-hierarchy, cleaned their rooms, and washed their balls. I can unpeel this onion but it’s going to be a pain, and I’ll end up crying.

This “wave” is so bizarre since the music video contains two anime women, some lo-fi hip hop, and Jordan Peterson monologues. This video is less about music, and more about a descent into madness. Jordan Peterson’s monologues taken out of context–or even in context–can at times be a bit of word salad that devolves into gibberish. But having this music over it, just makes me lose my mind. Like seriously what the fuck did the person have in mind when sampling Jordan Peterson? I don’t know what he’s talking about! The samples seem to be chosen at random, they have no theme or anything. Just imagine taking anybody speaking, randomly sample large parts of their speeches, and then put a lo-fi beat over it. Which makes it impossible to listen to what he’s saying, and completely detracts from the MUSIC–which is crazy I know, that a music video should contain music rather than random samplings of a Professor speaking cleaning your room, socio-hierarchies, and lobsters over music for 45 minutes. I give this “wave” 1 lobster out of 5.

COWBOY BEBOP

Technically not a wave, and not as popular as its constituents this one actually makes a bit of sense. Since lo-fi hip hop uses so many jazz influences and Cowboy Bebop contains some of the best jazz music ever in Anime, it would be fitting that someone would make a wave of this. Jazz itself really works well with hip hop, where the complexity of jazz gets reigned in, and put into a simpler and more digestible form than it would have otherwise been. The visual aesthetics of Cowboy Bebop gives it an edge over it’s competition. That and the fact it was played on Adult Swim all the time, which always had on this chill type of music, really gives it an advantage in the nostalgia department. I give this “wave” 4/5 cigarettes.

SYNTHWAVE/RETROWAVE

 

Obviously I had to include this one in there. Considering I’ve reviewed countless synthwave albums, and this is a “wave” that makes sense, since it’s a “wave” of musicians who use synths, and have an 80’s aesthetic towards everything they do. If there is any genre that deserve legitimacy in having “wave” in it’s name it’s this one. Plus who doesn’t like the 80’s? I give this one 5/5 cars driving on virtual grids towards a virtual sunset.

SIMPSONWAVE

 

The most popular of the “waves” this one really became loved at one moment and hated the next. The formula is simple, find some already popular vaporwave/electronic/retrowave music cut up some Simpon’s clips. And bam. You got a youtube video. The problem with this, is that when it’s well done, it’s really well done. This track above is surprisingly emotional, and is rich in aesthetics, more so than any recent Simpsons episodes. Not to beat a dead horse, with the Simpsons circling down the drain, it makes me recall those fond memories of watching Simpson’s episodes in the 90’s. The reason it became stale is that like anything popular, imitators come along, do poorly constructed versions of it. To the point where the original music, and the original music videos lose their mojo. When done well Simpsonwave can be enjoyable (as seen above), but when done poorly, makes you hate life. I give this bipolar “wave” a 3 d’ohs out of 5

FASHWAVE

Nope.

Well that’s all the waves that I found this morning on youtube. It’s all marketing and whatever. Like how in the early 2000’s there were AMV’s playing Linkin Park, it’s the exact same thing, except with vaporwave, lo-fi hip hop and whatever. It’s all gibberish, because in the end it doesn’t even matter.

 

Also 10/5 for Chester Bennington RIP press F to pay respects.

 

Wraithwalker: Hellscape 2X19

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https://wraithwalker.bandcamp.com/album/hellscape-2×19

Nothing is better than your first time. That first time you take that hit, that first time when you get drunk, that first time when you first get laid; nothing is better than your first time. Then you try to get the same feeling that you had the first time–euphoric recall is what’s it called–and then you realize…nothing is better than your first time. Until it happens. When all the stars align and you’re at the right place at the right time. Where that high is just as good as your first high, that buzz is just as good as your first buzz, and you finally hookup with that 9/10 girl that everybody oogles at.

Wraithwalker’s Hellscape 2X19 is the synthwave for the connoisseur, and the novice. The addict looking for a new vein and the person who just wants to try something new. If you want to know about synthwave this album is probably the best place to start.

The reason I say is pretty simple, kind of like how Bubba in Forest Gump went on a 10 minute dialogue about the varieties of shrimp there were. The same can be said of this album and the variety of synths used: there are bell synths, oriental plucking synths, choir synths, synths that sound like they’re in some weird science experiment, synths that are fat and pulsate, synths that are thin and pierce, synths that arpeggio, synths that bleep, etc. you get the idea. There’s such a variety of different sounds and textures that Wraithwalker uses that brings synthwave to an almost orchestral level.

So due to the variety of synths used each song pulsates, and mutates into a different sound. The best way to describe a single track, and in particular the song structure of each track, is to compare it to The Simpsons. Not the modern garbage Simpsons but the classic 90’s Simpsons. In those classic episodes the humor was so organic, and the plot would be, say based on Homer eating protein bars to get into shape to earn the respect of Bart, and then it would end up with him climbing a Mountain. Never once when watching the episode you notice how the plot changed from one point to another. The same can apply to Wraithwalker’s Hellscape 2X19. Listening to the beginning of one song, and then the ending of the same song, you feel like you’re listening to an entirely song–except that you’re not. Wraithwalker does such a fantastic job introducing new elements into his songs, which in turn slightly alter the sound, and then gradually changes into something completely different; that you can’t help but admire Wraithwalker’s technical ability.

Like how the song structure is this shifting, pulsating, morphing sound; so too can it be applied to the album. The album itself if it were to be compared to anything is like a great open world video game. Let’s take Fallout: New Vegas, my personal favorite open world game. So in a Fallout game there are certain things you know aren’t going to be in it. You’re not going to slay the dragon to save the princess. You’re not going to kill Hitler. You’re not ever going to ride a skateboard. Etc. But within the world of Fallout: New Vegas you can solve a murder mystery, join a Roman Legionary, flight aliens, stop a secret society of cannibals, etc. Likewise each song in Wraithwalker’s Hellscape 2X19 contains it’s own episodic sound. It’s set in the Open world of all of Synthwave music and each song explores the best possibilities of that world, while rejecting the worst aspect of it, such as the stale stock drumming with occasional tom fills, using only 3 synths per song, uninspired song structure etc. You get the idea.

Wraithwalker really has their ear close to the ground, you can almost hear all of synthwave condensed into this album, and with their refined taste you get a “Best of” compilation album, that highlights the very best the genre has to offer. It’s the album that people who have listened to synthwave for awhile can listen to and say, “Oh, I remember this music is great, that’s why I liked this genre of music.” It’s synthwave perfected.

So for anybody who wants to get into synthwave, or someone who is tired of mediocre artists clotting up the scene, then please check out Wraithwalker’s Hellscape 2X19. I give this album my recc.

Electronic Warbear: Disassociation

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https://electronicwarbear.bandcamp.com/album/disassociation

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.

 

The Less Dead: Off Chance

 

 

The Less Dead’s album Off chance has made me re-evaluate a lot of things. The one thing I can firmly say with near certainty is that angels aren’t going to be playing harps in heaven, they’ll be using synths.

This album is literally so comfy. It’s the type of album you play on a rainy day, cuddled up in bed, reading your favorite book. The whole time I was listening to it, I was thinking how great this album would be for a youtube studying channel. Now it could be that I’m biased seeing that it’s nearly time for me to go to bed. So I’ll ignore the comfiness and really dive into this album.

Most synthwave albums seem to have this preoccupation with sci-fi dystopias and their sound typically reflects that. The Less Dead’s album just brims with optimism. Take the first track it’s so fun, it contains so much enthusiasm. The synths are incredibly complex, and in each song, the synths maintain their complexity. What I mean by complexity isn’t a bunch of synths doing their own separate thing and putting them all together to create this cacophony of sound. Each synth harmonizes with the next while maintaining it’s own complexity.

The next song Entropy follows suit and maintains the same level of optimism, but also shows The Less Dead’s their next strength, which is that the percussion is a joy to listen to. It’s so refreshing to hear something other than a simple stock drumbeat and an occasional tom fill. Even in the 80’s, with corporate music dominating the scene, there wasn’t as nearly as monotonous uncreative drum beats that most synthwave artists use nowadays. With every clap, hi hat, mallet, cowbell, etc. (I probably got a few of the instruments wrong) The Less Dead breathes much needed life into synthwave.

Another about The Less Dead is that their darker sound really fascinates me. It’s not over the top, dripping with despair, or filled with this evil viciousness. It’s the kind of darkness that you see when you’re watching your favorite childhood movie and you see the scary scene that you used to be frightened at. As an adult you’re no longer scared of the scary scene because you know it’s going to turn out alright. Take for example one of my favorite tracks of the album, It Can’t Be Shut Off. It’s a track that hints at a greater threat–the synths growl, there’s an electronic beep throughout the song as though you are listening to a robotic heartbeat–but it’s never frightening. The same applies to It’s Out There. The track itself is creepy, but it’s the kind of creepy that you see during Halloween. Where you dress up as the thing that scares you, and as a result conquer your fears.

The album quickly returns to it’s optimistic, warm, and friendly tone. It even features an incredible guitar part on City Life. Love is probably the best example on the whole album of how warm The Less Dead’s songs can be. It takes you back to a more innocent kind of love. The kind of love where all other needs are met, and the only thing you want is that other person’s company.

Unlike most synthwave artists The Less Dead’s Off Chance is album that doesn’t fear the future. In fact the phobias, fears, and neuroses of the future are conquered in this album. Very much how like as a child you so incredibly terrified of the monsters lurking in the closet, and how that fear would overwhelm you–but now as an adult you look back fondly on childhood, and cherish the innocence you once had–and even the monsters that still could be in your closet.

This album is a definite recc for anybody who wants the sound equivalent of a warm cup of hot chocolate.

Elay Arson: Borrowed Memories

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https://elayarson.bandcamp.com/album/borrowed-memories

So first let me tell you this, you think you’d know a song, especially one made by Led Zeppelin. If anybody were to tell me they’d prefer a cover of a Led Zeppelin song to the original, first I would ask if they we’re okay. Maybe they’re off their meds, maybe they got tinnitus, maybe they’re on a week long PCP bender. Then if they persisted, I would just tell them that they have no taste and would no longer associate with them.

Well either I’m crazy, or Elay Arson is just that good.

Borrowed Memories starts with a kicker, an incredible rendition of Led Zeppelin’s immigrant song. From the heart pounding synths, heavy guitar, to the amazing vocal performance of Becca Starr that manages to add so much sneer and viciousness to an already great song.

So already this album had me in high hopes, and did not disappoint.

My first love was of movies, then video games, and then books. Each of those do something that’s incredibly difficult to do in music. Which is to breathe life into a new world. Create something we had never seen before.

From Hotline L.A. the scene of a futuristic dystopia mired in crime, mass riots, and maybe the overthrow of some robotic overlords. The drums thud on as riot police march down the street. The synth soars high as our protagonist narrowly escapes being captured by an android. The guitars swirl around as we capture of city of great technological achievement, yet failing to satisfy the basic needs of the human condition.

To Gods Amongst Men featuring Dred (one of my favorite synthwave artists). The track seems mired in hopelessness as the guitars trudge along, yet those synths retain that glimpse of hope. That little spark that has not yet died. Then the track accelerates picking up in tempo and lead guitars soaring above the track–delivering that fire that the little spark once promised.

This track is definitely for those workouts when you think you can’t do anymore and you just push on through one more rep. (Btw synthwave as a genre is probably the best for workouts.)

Finally Final Midnight Ride is that track that breathes in a new world. There’s something esoteric and magical about it’s sound yet at the same time incredibly technological and synthetic. Like the meeting of two opposing worlds that of the mysterious, and that of the logical. The guitar solos shred throughout this track as though these two worlds cannot coexist–that one must prevail. This song bursts through the seems with struggle as each opposing sounds fight for dominance, and at the end is the droning noise of synthesizer.

In a genre of hacks, copycats, and those who just want to race to the bottom. Elay Arson creates a breath of fresh air. A sound that creates a new world, and in that new world contains insight into our own world.

With everybody plugged into the matrix that is the internet–and all that entails–the invasion of privacy, the overreach of government agencies and social media. Every day we feel the increasing paranoia that new technological advancement brings us. The future is now. The question is will we rule technology, or will technology rule us?

With this I give Elay Arson: Borrowed Memories a recc.