So, yeah, I guess Rosso Corsa’s well and truly back, aren’t they? After a gap of nearly a year between releases, the label’s returned for the second (and third!) time in a month with an absolutely stellar 1-2 punch from Vienna-based producer and guitar virtuoso, Ultraboss, titled Slave to the Passion. Released a week apart on June 23 and 30, the two albums in this set contain some of the catchiest synth jams you’ll hear this year, and make for an absolutely terrific, combined listen. So let’s dissect, shall we?
The alter-ego of guitarist PJ d’Atri, Ultraboss was created “to highlight the electric guitar as a synthwave force.” And since his 2017 debut, Kyrie Electron, d’Atri’s done just that — incorporating both the instrument and his mastery of said instrument seamlessly into the established synthwave palette. Hell, he’s basically created his own palette, which he’s dubbed “shredwave.” As a guitarist, d’Atri cites everyone from jazz legend Wes Montgomery to shred king Jason Becker as influences, and his work in Ultraboss showcases that range particularly well.
(Outside of the synthwave realm, YouTube‘s got several videos of d’Atri performing guitar arrangements of various Bach pieces, which you can and should watch. The dude’s incredible.)
The two Slave to the Passion albums work particularly well in tandem with each other. One’s heavy on poppier fare, while the other focuses on more traditional outrun and synthwave sounds. One’s got guest vocalists on almost every track, while the other is entirely instrumental. The albums counter-balance each other in every way, and as such, offer just about anything you’d need as a synthwave listener.
Passion 1 is the pop album, and sees d’Atri share the spotlight with a wide range of vocal performers, from Dana Jean Phoenix to Georgian producer George Ergemlidze. And good lord, does this thing just work. It’s pure, catchy, guitar-driven retro pop, free from any particular stylistic constraints.
Case in point: the early album cut “Straight for My Heart” is an anthemic earworm — covered in a delightful concoction of synth stabs and, probably, pure sugar, with an uncredited vocal performance that you can’t help but get hooked on. But the penultimate track, “Loving You All Night,” feels more akin to something the Scorpions might’ve done in their ’80s heyday. And it, too, works pretty damn well! On Passion 1, d’Atri doesn’t seem too bothered by how he’s going to hook you in; you’re just going to get hooked, and you’re gonna like it.
Passion 2, in contrast, is an all-instrumental affair, and sees d’Atri pursue a slightly more conventional synthwave pathway. His proficiency as both a player and composer shines even brighter here; d’Atri jumps from the pulsating swells of “Moonchild” into the Italo disco-esque “Venus Electrificata” and then again into…basically, a sonic adrenaline rush on “Threshold Moment”…and it all feels so seamless.
The guest spots are fewer and farther between on Passion 2, but when they do pop up, they mean business. Wolf and Raven? Cody Carpenter? Vincenzo Salvia? d’Atri is just flexing with this supporting cast. (Particularly the Carpenter collaboration, “Threshold Moment,” which feels like a freaking roller coaster in the best way.)
All told, the two Slave to the Passion albums are a terrific time, and a welcome addition to the Ultraboss catalog. You should just go listen to them right now. In fact, I’ll stop right here to facilitate your doing so. Peace!