Welcome to the first edition of Retrocution! In this series, we’ll be presenting our favorite highlights from the worlds of synthwave, retrowave, dreamwave…hell, there are too many sub-genres to even begin to cover at this point. Let’s just call it “”80s-style synthesizer music,” shall we? That stuff. That’s what we’ll be covering here. To kick things off, let’s look at an album that just dropped this past week: Duett‘s new full-length, Cycles.
Duett, based in London, debuted in 2014 with the Rituals EP, and has since put out three-full-length albums and a series of singles and remixes. Stylistically, the music falls on the poppier end of the retro-synth spectrum, without actually being explicitly “pop.” It’s a soundtrack less appropriate for racing across the grid of a cyberpunk wasteland and more for cruising across Biscayne Bay in your powerboat. Since the beginning, Duett’s specialized in, for lack of a better term, “catchy stuff” — in all of the many forms that might take — and that continues here.
On Cycles, Duett’s affinity for hooks is clear from the opening few notes of “Afterglow.” A pristine keyboard progression gradually gives way to atmospheric fills in both low and high registers, and an airy lead melody. Everything just shimmers brilliantly here. It’s not quite vaporwave, but it’s not far off, either; Duett toes that line closer than almost anyone I’ve listened to this year, and pulls the combination off effortlessly.
That success extends throughout the majority of the album. Whether on Cycles‘ upbeat moments (“Brochure,” “Lifestyle”) or its more contemplative tracks (“Cycles,” “Development”), Duett succeeds in creating a mood. It feels as though the album’s plucking you up, taking you back in time, dropping you right in the middle of 1980s Miami and saying “stay out of trouble, whippersnapper.” And that’s another thing: the darker, more mischievous elements you sometimes hear in this particular kind of synthwave (think Miami Nights 1984) are nowhere to be found here. Cycles doesn’t strike me as a “misbehavior album”; to my ears at least, it feels more about relaxation, moody contemplation, and that sweet, sweet #yachtlife.
Not everything comes up aces on Cycles, though. I tend to be of the opinion that — with occasional exceptions, of course — adding vocals to synthwave tracks ultimately diminishes their impact. That, unfortunately, is the case here for Duett, too. On “Don’t Make Me Wait” and “Paradise,” vocalists Stewart Lockwood and Raff turn in decent enough performances, but…I’m not sure either really pushes his respective track forward.
(To be fair, this may just be a one-off misstep; on Duett’s previous album, Borderline, Lockwood sang on the early track “Running Scared,” and made it positively transcendent. And even so, there are 13 tracks here; having two that are “just okay” doesn’t really put too much of a damper on things.)
Either way, if you’re looking for some relaxing retro sounds to soundtrack your late-summer afternoon, Cycles is absolutely worth your time. Like Duett’s previous two full-length standouts — Horizons and the aforementioned Borderline — it’s available on Bandcamp on a pay-what-you-want basis. So, throw a few coins over and take yourself back in time.
Keep it heavy,