RETROCUTION: Morgan Willis returns with “Damier Club”

Welcome back, fellow synth-heads! Our feature for this month’s edition of Retrocution snuck in juuuust before the end of the month. But juuuust before the end of February is still February, so let’s take a few to chat about Morgan Willis and his new album, Damier Club.

The Album:

The “Analysis”:

When you think of Morgan Willis, two things come to mind. The first is how prolific the guy is. Damier Club is the French producer’s tenth full-length since 2012, not to mention several other EPs, singles and collaborations he’s had in that time. The dude nails both quantity and quality in ways most artists can only dream of. But more than that, he’s an incredibly versatile cat. In the past, Willis has noted his interest in exploring different concepts and stories in his music, and he’s more than got the chops to introduce the appropriate sonic palettes into each.

On one hand, you might have the Supernova saga, an ambitious, sci-fi story told over two albums — with a suitably airy, cosmic musical feel to match. But then, he’ll turn and release something like The Jenkins House — an eerier, more horror inspired darksynth record that’s less “things that go bump in the night” and more “watch out, motherfucker, you’re about to get freaking jumped.” (Seriously, the drums alone on that record pummel harder than just about anything in this genre.)

Damier Club, then, is a bit of an interesting beast, in that it appears to be going for more of a “general ’80s nostalgia” vibe than any particular concept. (“Appears to be” is key here, because, well… there’ve yet to be any interviews in support of the album, which is also largely instrumental. As such, not entirely sure what Mr. Willis is going for here, but here’s the good news: guesstimating is fun!) But here’s the awesome part: the album is absolutely terrific, regardless.

I don’t want to over-hype things here, but… man, the opening salvo of “Damier Club,” “Flashback” and “Arcade Master” feels like one of the best 1-2-3 punches you’re likely to get in synthwave this year. The trio serves as a kind of proof-of-concept for the album’s strengths as a whole, packing equal parts danceability, sentimentality and pure “pump up” vibes into an absolutely exhilarating ride. Whether coming at the listener more directly (“Psycho Disco”) or letting tension build slowly (“2nd Floor”), Willis infuses each track with this basic recipe, and more often than not, it works damn well.

The issue, unfortunately, is that Damier Club is a bit too long for its own good. On several different occasions in the middle of the album, Willis will stretch a song’s moody, atmospheric intro portion over a full minute or longer. I’m all for letting a track breathe and building a mood, but here, it can start to feel like overkill — particularly when said moods are often relatively similar from song to song. The result is a 13-song album that runs over 64 minutes in length, which can be a tough sell in any genre in 2023 — let alone synthwave.

Still, the highlights here shine brightly enough to make the album worth your time overall. Some of the individual tracks here would rank among the best we’ve ever heard from Willis, and that’s no small thing. Jump the line, step into the club, and see where things take you.

Damier Club is available now via Bandcamp. For more information on Morgan Willis, visit his Facebook or Twitter pages.

More February synth highlights:

  • Swedish synth master Mitch Murder returned with an absolute firestorm of a new track called “Nemesis.” It’s a bit more abrasive than you might expect from Mitch, but it still slaps. Check it out here.

  • If you’re looking for something that’s got a slightly more contemporary feel, while still maintaining the necessary retro aesthetics, Caspro may be for you. The mysterious producer — who hails from either “Earth Town” or “The Desert,” depending on which social media profile you’re visiting — dropped the new full-length, Dimensions, on February 24. Check it out here.

  • Waveshaper also had a productive month. As if the long-overdue vinyl release of his first album, Tracks to the Future, wasn’t enough, dude also dropped a new track called “Megabot” on February 10. A successor to previous singles “Gigabot” and “Terrabot,” the song boasts a heavier, mid-tempo production style that… actually, really works! Check it out here.

  • Speaking of “heavier,” Orax came back with another new full-length, too! Crash dropped via NewRetroWave on February 10, and it’s a lot of fun. Its title track kinda makes me think of “Dragula”? Anyway, check it out here.

That’ll about wrap up this month’s edition! Check back this time next month for more retro-flavored goodness. Until then…

Keep it synthy,

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