Welcome back to another edition of Retrocution! Now that I’m somewhat back on my post-writing game — only took me, oh, half the year — it felt like a good time to take stock of what the synthwave scene’s given us so far in 2019.
If you’re familiar with any of our previous 2019 featurees — AWITW, SelloRekt /LA Dreams, Lost Years or FM Attack — you’ll be well aware there’s been some great synth this year. But of course, there’s far, far more out there than just what we have time to cover in this column. (And thank fuck for that!) So, let’s take a look back at some of those non-Retrocuted albums now. Below the jump are ten of my other favorites from so far this year!
Arcis — Shaman
Whoa! A wild full-length appeared! It’s super effective! After years of steady single and EP releases, Norwegian producer Arcis dropped his first full-length, Shaman, back in April. These 10 songs lean more heavily into the chillwave side of the spectrum than perhaps any others we’ve heard from Arcis to date. But they also make for an excellent half-hour-or-so of listening.
Michael Oakley — Introspect
Michael Oakley could have quit after “Turn Back Time” and he’d still carry enormous weight in the synthwave scene. That he followed it up with an album this loaded only adds to his standing. Just about everything on Introspect sticks its landing; the four-track run from “Left Behind” through “Rain,” in particular, makes for as good a streak as anyone‘s had in this genre in 2019. Oddly enough, the only song that hasn’t stuck with me is Oakley’s duet with fellow synth savant Dana Jean Phoenix, “Now I’m Alive” — though I’m willing to concede that the song might actually rule and I’m just a fundamentally flawed person.
Bart Graft — Worlds Apart
After releasing six albums in 2018, Irish producer Bart Graft’s taken his foot off the gas a bit. But on Worlds Apart, his sole release so far in 2019, quality trumps quantity with ease. While a great deal of synthwave artists derive their sound from ’80s pop artists, Graft here seems to pull from poppier elements of more technical performers. It’s a more guitar-oriented record, for example, than many in his catalog — and the licks on display echo Joe Satriani, Frank Zappa and countless other reference points. Worlds Apart is a terrific time, and if it proves to be Graft’s only release in 2019, he’ll still have given us an embarrassment of riches.
FM-84 — Bend & Break
Okay, so this one’s a single song, rather than a full album. But “Bend & Break” is so much more than “just a single.” It’s a triumphant return from Col Bennett and Ollie Wride, a year-and-a-half since we last heard anything from them. It’s a promise of still-further greatness to come, nearly three years after the full-length, Atlas, appeared to have been their apex. It’s a stellar new tune from FM-84. And that’s just about all you need to know.
Opus Science Collective — Boys on Boards
In August 2017, OSC released the Girls on Bikes EP via the Business Casual label as a pay-what-you-want download. The price was nice, but the music far, far more so; the EP channeled all manner of moods, from funky to contemplative, and ultimately became one of my favorite releases of the year. Now, we’ve got Boys on Boards — a companion EP with an equally diverse range of sounds filtered through OSC’s catchy, retro palette. If anything, Boys trends even funkier than Girls had — look no further than “James’ Mom” for proof — and that’s only to its advantage. This thing’s a ton of fun.
Emil Rottmayer — Detached
UK-based producer Emil Rottmayer knows just how spacey / retrofuturistic to take things. On his new EP, Detached — as with his previous full-length, Descend — the tunes impress for their ability to consistently introduce that sense of intrigue and keep faith in the almighty hook. There’s tension in these songs, to be sure, but Rottmayer crafts it so masterfully that it’s hard to not crave more. Plus, it’s hard to get more retro than that geometrically-themed album cover.
Absolute Valentine — Omega
As high as Absolute Valentine had set the bar on previous releases, Police Heartbreaker and Sunset Love, the Marseille producer’s third full-length was always going to be examined to death under a microscope. Does Omega stack up to those gems? Not really. But there’s still a lot to like here. “Panther,” and “Paramount Glamour Myth,” for example, are fucking BOPS. The album as a whole is darker and more abrasive than anything else we’ve heard from Johann to date. Credit to him for continuing to push himself; Omega may quite hit the heights of his previous work, but it beats the hell out of treading water.
Waveshaper — Artifact
On the opposite end of the evolutionary spectrum from Absolute Valentine, there’s Swedish producer Tom Andersson, a.k.a. Waveshaper, who’s carried his sound forward by taking his foot off the gas a bit. Artifact carries all of the sci-fi / futuristic hallmarks you’d expect from a Waveshaper record, it just doesn’t lean into them quite as fully. And that’s not a bad thing! Artifact boasts some of the lightest, most immediately digestible Waveshaper songs we’ve heard to date, and lays an interesting new sonic blueprint for Andersson going forward.
Power Glove — Playback
Power Glove does not wait for you to get comfortable. With the Australian duo, the ball is squarely in the listener’s court; whether on their previous EPs, the Far Cry: Blood Dragon soundtrack, or here on Playback, they will do their thing, and it’s on you to catch up and get onboard. The album’s crunchy, bass-heavy synth palette might take a listen or two to settle in — it did for me — but once it does, good luck escaping Power Glove’s aura. Plus, find me a better synth song than “Clutch” that dropped this year. I’ll wait.
Com Truise — Persuasion System
When Seth Haley — better known by his stage name, Com Truise — puts out new music, you listen. There’s not a synth artist on this list that’s more “on his own plane.” Like Haley’s previous works, Persuasion System doesn’t fit into a nice, neat box of synthwave descriptors. For starters, it’s a bit more robotic and introspective, and doesn’t feel remotely interested in exploring the realm of “pop.” But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t find ways to get stuck in your head all the same. (Especially the title track — that song just isn’t fair.) Jump in and let this delightfully out-there mini album take you places.
So that’s our list! Any killer synthwave albums we missed? (Probably.) If so, share the wealth! Drop some names and titles in the comments section and berate us for our oversight.
But most importantly, just find some good synthwave — this list or otherwise — and dive in. This is an incredibly vibrant landscape for music, and
we don’t cover nearly enough of it getting lost in it is more and more rewarding all the time.
Now, bring on the second half of the year!