So, by now, it’s probably no surprise to y’all that I have trouble keeping up with writing. A quick glance at the Retrocution archives shows that my last post in this series — and indeed on Nine Circles, period — was way back on March 9. Whoops.
I always like hopping on the Audio Thing. But when it comes to writing, I dunno….working a full-time nursing schedule leaves me just sufficiently brain dead as to be unable to come up with post-length #taeks on the things I’m listening to. Talking’s easy enough, but writing…often requires more time and brain power than I usually find myself with presently.
Still, every now and again, there’s something that compels me to drop everything and put fingers to keyboard. And this past Monday — Memorial Day — just such a thing happened: the release of a new Lost Years album, Venom Part II. This was tremendous, [insert-gif-of-our-pal-Seth-Werkheiser-dropping-his-phone-and-running]-esque news on a couple of different counts.
For starters, it marked the return of Lost Years (a.k.a. Swedish producer Magnus Larsson) with his first full-length in more than three years. Larsson, for those unfamiliar, is responsible for synthwave classics like Black Waves and Amplifier. You may also have heard his work in the movie, Kung Fury, or the ’80s-themed Amazon series, Red Oaks. Larsson is, pretty much any way you look at it, a genre heavyweight. Which made the gap between his last full-length, Venom, and Monday’s Part II feel just interminable.
(To be fair, in March 2018, Larsson did release the instant-classic single, “Pressure,” which…seriously, if you haven’t heard it, go listen NOW.)
But now he’s back…which means that, so, too, is his label: Rosso Corsa! Founded by Miami Nights 1984 mastermind, Michael Glover, Rosso Corsa is, as I’ve mentioned before in this column, the high water mark for synthwave labels. If Glover puts something out, it’s pretty much certain to rule hard. But before Monday, it’d been almost exactly a year since the label’s last record. And again, given their standing in the scene, that time felt like a real slog.
So, now that we have context…how’s the music on Venom Part II? Well, for starters: it sounds like a Lost Years album. And that’s all I really need at this point.
Over the years, Larsson’s drawn me in with his ability to get just dark enough with his music. His songs may operate in the shadows, but they never suffocate you with them. Moreover, in doing so, they retain a healthy degree of catchiness. (See also: Crockett.) It’s not full-on darksynth by any stretch, but it is a darker variation of synthwave, and to my ears, it plays just about perfectly.
(There’s a particularly great 1-2 punch on this album’s predecessor, Venom, that speaks to this. On “Skies of Blood,” Larsson leans into the airy pad settings and lets his modulated, almost romantic-sounding melody take the lead — giving us what, essentially, amounts to a synthwave slow jam. But on the next track, “Snakebite,” it’s the repeated triplet bass line that sets the pace, creating a subtle sense of urgency and moody intrigue.)
And from even just the opening few minutes of “Apart,” it’s clear that much is true here on Part II as well. That track, as well as its successor, “Suicide at 75th Street,” build gradually — carefully — creating tension not through overwhelm but through tasteful additions to their eerie palettes. A later track called “At the Edge of Eternal Darkness” takes this concept and runs even further. Larsson creates an initial sense of pressure through a repeated arpeggio lick, but then, instead of dropping more and more weight onto the scale, he opts to color the tension he’s already built. His darkness never feels like it’ll overcome you; rather, it almost serves to invite you in to explore its world more fully.
Another highlight? The penultimate track, “Shotgun,” which feels almost playful compared to some of its predecessors — hello, rhythmic hand-claps and bouncy bass lines! — yet still ultimately maintains a balance between hooky and sinister. Also: its initial melody line might make you think of New Order’s “True Faith,” which is never a bad thing in my book.
Anyway, Lost Years is back, and — no surprises here — Larsson’s still in great form. That’s cause for celebrating, in my book. Pop this one on and listen to a master at work.