Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Phaserland's Resemblance in Machine

By Michael CA L

Phaserland is an artist who has the rare ability to keep exploring new musical territory while at the same time stamping his own unique trademark into each track he produces. His style is unmistakable, and from the opening moments of any of the songs within his growing body of work, the listener accepts that they're heading into the great sonic unknown while at the same time knowing that the experience will invariably be rife with stylish synth melodies, slickly executed chord changes, crisp and complex rhythmic elements, and an overall atmosphere and tone that is distinctly and retro-futuristically urban.

This urban sound I refer to, however, has nothing to do with the latest trends and attitudes of the moment that seem to take shape, magnify, and spread outward beyond the city limits of contemporary culture. On the contrary, this urban sound I'm referencing has much more to do with the look, feel, sound, attitudes and atmospheres found within a metropolitan melting pot that doesn't currently exist and quite possibly never did. It's a sound that formed within a city from an alternate reality or perhaps a city that is exclusively of the mind rather than one that actually exists in today's world. And despite not having a place on maps, in history books or in cultural studies texts, it's a city that I believe many aficionados of synthwave and other 80s-inspired music will recognize as easily as they recognize their own homes. This city is an amalgamation of concepts and ideas whose origins lay in the idealism of the mid-twentieth century and percolated throughout the ensuing decades only to be refined, polished and unleashed en masse in the 1980s. These concepts and ideas included new developments in science fiction film and literature (perhaps most notably, cyberpunk); the high-concept and often futuristic aesthetic found within the art, fashion and architecture of the times; the advancements in science and robotics; as well as the scientific theories, and philosophical questions on post and trans-humanism that took on a more fixed shape in this era.

These concepts and ideas (of which I've named only a few), have been taken by many 80s-influenced music-makers and remembered, re-examined, and reshaped to form new meanings and new interpretations, and Phaserland is an artist who takes this exercise to another level entirely. His work has a precision, a focus and a unique identity that is distinct among artists operating within the 80's-inspired scene, and these elements come together in such an inspired and visionary manner that the final product is not just a collection of perfectly-fitting pieces that contain powerful references to the aforementioned concepts, but complete cities unto themselves. Phaserland's latest city, Resemblance in Machine, is a powerful space to walk within.

Dusty Universe

Upon first entering this off-map metropolis, the tourist/listener is greeted by the atmospheric sounds of the EP's opening track "Dusty Universe." Like the Ident music for a broadcasting corporation or film distribution company from an anachronistic retro-future, the track has a welcoming tone to it that beckons you to put another foot forward and commit more fully to engaging with the new environment you're about to enter. It's a soothing introductory composition, with enticing guitar licks and a sweeping, hydraulic fluidity that is reminiscent of some of the ambient experiments found on Pink Floyd's synth-heavy and beautifully produced 80's albums A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell. Those familiar with songs such as "Marooned", "Signs of Life" and "Terminal Frost" from the aforementioned albums will appreciate the combination of smooth guitar coupled with crystalline synthesizer pads. The result is a beautiful merging of the organic and the synthetic, and the result is an irresistible temptation to walk boldly into the cityscape of Resemblance in Machine and see what more it has to offer.

Resemblance in Machine

Whereas the opening track pulls the listener gently through the city gates, the EP's eponymous track is bold in its plan to hold you within its sway and teach you about the new city you find yourself in. With a light step and an up-front swagger, the synth melodies and slick grooves of "Resemblance in Machine" are presented at a steady mid-tempo that implies confidence and reassures the urban tourist. "Although you're very much a stranger in a strange land", the track seems to say, "you're in good hands and will enjoy your stay."

A crisp, closed hi-hat ticks away between kick and snare and the lead synth melody ventures in daring and surprising directions, all the while inspiring thoughts of moving smoothly through darkened streets lined with the soft glow of neon lighting, the curb-side hustlers beckoning the tourist to buy their wares. What these shadowy figures are selling is anybody's guess, but I image it could be everything from black-market neurolink transmitters to high-priced, antique cassette tape decks that went missing from the mansions of the rich in the uptown Delta sector of the city several days before.

There's a segment at two minutes and thirty seconds into the track when the beat breaks itself down and an overdriven guitar bleeds itself into the mix, the two elements converging in a manner that creates something that's both aggressive and imposing and restrained and coolly impartial to the risk, all at the same time. It's a beautiful component in a truly fantastic song, and it leaves a powerful impression on the listener. Beyond this segment, the song plunges headlong back into its slick and melodic groove before switching off the neon lights with an echo that's the sonic equivalent of a strobe light afterimage flickering into non-existence and leaving you dazed.

Escape Route

This third experience in the city is one that contains beautiful, retro-suggestive chord changes that are uncomplicated and yet completely evocative, catchy and memorable melodies (my favourite kind), and a funk bass line that is clear, tuneful and up-front, providing the kind of weight and momentum on which a song can be completely pulled along. It all comes together in a manner that shakes any ominous feelings the tourist might have had when they first entered the city.

The overall tone of the track is one of fun and pleasure-pursuit, in which the sightseer is on the move and driving fast along the streets of the city. As the title of the track implies, there's an feeling of escape within the song, but it's not a feeling of fear or danger. Rather, it's a feeling of escaping the mundane, fearlessly embracing the state of cognitive estrangement they've been in the grip of since entering this brave new world, and allowing oneself to enjoy the hyper-sensory newness of the situation while being enthusiastically watchful for trace elements that the tourist thinks they may have come across in another place and time.

We Go Tonight

With a mood of hopeful optimism and celebration of diversity, this track begins at a gentle rhythmic tempo and has the unusual distinction of being both calm and soothing and intensely engaging and full of a simmering energy all at the same time. The cause of this, I suspect, lies in the contrast between the minimalist rhythmic aspects and the multitude of complex synth melodies that comprise each moment of the song. These two dissimilar elements provide a beautifully appealing juxtaposition, with the down-tempo rhythm and the highly kinetic melodies recognizing and appreciating their disparate attributes yet coming together to form something that truly works.

Whether it's that compelling bass line which provides a low-frequency bounce to the slow-rolling rhythm or the dynamic, staccato synths that ride above street-level, there's an energy and playfulness to this track that is rich in flavour, diverse in elements, and hugely enjoyable to experience. Of course, the world's best cities also contain a similar kind of diversity, where elements from many cultures converge to form a complex, unique, lively and respectful celebration of difference that is incredibly creative and undeniably interesting. This metropolis that Phaserland has built is the sonic equivalent of a multicultural city. The result is a warm, engaging and memorable song that showcases how different elements can coexist in a way that's far more creative, interesting and valuable than what monoculture has to offer.

Room for Love

"Room for Love" is the go-to track on this EP as far as seductive, smouldering mood is concerned. Containing some aspects that bring to mind "Night Talk", a track from Phaserland's first LP Night Talk in Paradise, "Room for Love" initially feels like a kind of spiritual successor to it and contains some of the same sex-laced tone, pacing and atmosphere of urban heat as the aforementioned. Instead of intensifying into an up-tempo homage to the carnal energies that bubble to the surface when the sun goes down (as does "Night Talk"), "Room for Love" remains staunchly down-tempo and is a brief, less a sexually forthright and more tenderly persuasive piece. I'd like to note that "Night Talk" was the very first track I ever heard by Phaserland back in the early months of 2014 and I was immediately captivated by its slick sound, funky synth bass, seductive atmosphere, and complex melodies. To hear a track that is closely aligned in theme and tone but carries different nuances and subtleties is an absolute pleasure to my ears.

Blue Green Dreams

The bass very often takes center stage on this EP, and "Blue Green Dreams" is yet another reminder that Phaserland's ability to compose tight, complex, muscular bass lines that blend beautifully with the synth melodies laid upon them is virtually unparalleled within the realm of 80's-inspired synth music. Similar to "Room for Love", this track has an air of lush sensuality to it, but whereas "Room" establishes its down-tempo nature from the get-go and maintains it throughout its duration, the pace of "Blue Green Dreams" quickens and declines like a coastal scene on the edges of the vast city, with the waves crashing and receding and the tide ebbing and flowing as the tourist soaks up the panorama and reflects on the experiences he or she has had over the course of their brief but remarkable stay. With equal parts gentle stillness and kinetic bounce, it's a striking piece and a fitting end to a journey that contained both of these elements in abundance.

Having completed our tour of Resemblance in Machine, we've walked through the streets of a newly built city and we've been exposed to a retro-futuristic aesthetic that could only come from the mind of Phaserland. To declare that his work is distinct and inimitable is not necessarily an understatement, but it doesn't fully encompass the detail, precision, complexities and clarity-of-vision that is ever-present in his work.

Music reviews try to articulate something about what a release is all about and what the listener might expect. It's been said many a time, though, that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture", and that quote, for obvious reasons, hits the mark especially closely in this particular review. When it comes to Phaserland's work, the task of writing about it is exceptionally difficult due to the sheer expansive nature of the release and the complex interconnectedness of each piece housed within it. They are, you may remember me stating at the onset of this review, complete cities unto themselves, and yet no city can possibly be explored thoroughly in a single (or even several) outings. With so many elements contributing to the whole, it takes ample time to even get the faintest understanding of an urban environment, and Phaserland's releases are much the same. This is what makes cities great, and it's also what makes Resemblance in Machine a powerful space to walk within.

Resemblance in Machine comes very, very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM and is available through Phaserland's Bandcamp page here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The First Australian Synthwave Meet Up

By Rick Shithouse

Marko Maric and Rick Shithouse rockin in style.
This weekend has been a spectacular one on many levels as this marked the first of hopefully many meet ups for the Australian synthwave scene. Climaxing at Laser Highway at Forgotten Worlds in Collingwood Saturday, myself and Marko Maric headed up to Melbourne for some real quality time catching up with all those that could make it at the The Fox hotel in Collingwood.

The turn out was truly amazing. Present were myself, Marko Maric, Cris Zerotonine, Ben Businovski, Jake AudioblivioN, Jordan F, Gabriele Beat Ratio, Jay Dream Fiend, Johnny Killstarr, Andrew WARD-IZ, Lachi James and Shane Alpharisc. I'm going to call it the first Australian scene meet up as Jordan came down from Sydney, Lachi came from the Gold Coast and Ben came from Perth (as did Marko), so really it was much bigger than just Melbourne.

Cris Zerotonine and Ben Businovski (Starbound at the bar).
And it did feel big. Myself and Marko headed up to Melbourne and met up with Cris before heading up to the Fox Hotel for the pre-show meet up that we had invited everyone to. This was a fantastic way to spend the afternoon, meeting friends, sharing a few drinks and really feeling that spirit of the music and the love for it in everyone.

(L-R) Ben Businovski, Cris Zerotonine, Jordan F, Marko Maric, Lachi James,
Jake Stollery, Zach Smith-Cameron and Jake AudioblivioN

Moving on from The Fox we headed to Forgotten Worlds and the much anticipated Laser Highway event featuring Marko Maric, Busty Coastline, Zerotonine and Jordan F.

Marko Maric rockin some of the best of the scene's tunes

Jordan F and Lachi James exchanging ideas in a
convivial atmosphere

Jordan F rockin it like a melonfarmer.
The magic in full effect.
Lasers at Laser Highway.
Lachi James and Marko Maric and Dream Fiend and Killstarr
Myself in the presence of the great Killstarr and Dream Fiend dream team otherwise known as Starbound

The entire day was full of wonderful people, great conversations and the best music. Experiencing Jordan F live was an amazing ride into this producer's musical journey and, being my first live 80s inspired synthwave show, really displayed how rich it can be. The many individual stories one already knows become combined into an overarching experience that takes you through all those energies, ideas and emotions in a medium that is even more meaningful and purposeful. It's not like a normal band-experience at all, I discovered, and instead makes for a vastly more personal direct contact with the music itself in a shared experience with others as the story unfolds before your very eyes and ears.

Many, many thanks to everyone who attended and all the great people I had the chance to interact with in reality for the first time; it won't be the last that's for sure. Major thanks to Cris Zerotonine to making Laser Highway the incredible experience it has become. Your passion and hospitality were greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Survival During The Full Eclipse

By James Mann

Some say that music truly does come from the heart of a musician. It's an extension of themselves, with layers of emotive depth, passion, and purpose. Full Eclipse has managed to create one of the most moving, emotional and just all around lovely EPs I have heard in quite some time. Combining downtempo and moody elements reminiscent of some of the best scores from the 80s and even 90s, the nostalgia is big in Survival. As Full Eclipse tells me, there is a drive and purpose behind the stellar release. The EP is a product of an eighties child whose formative experiences during those times and his obsession with its look, feel and atmosphere of unlimited possibility conflict with how he feels it may have shaped today's world and the world of tomorrow.

Visions of Miami Vice character scenes, watching the local forecast on the Weather Channel while those beauteous melodies flowed, Full Eclipse delivers some incredible music full of retro moodiness while adding a vibrant and updated feel. It's evident this artist not only understands the complexities of making good music, but executes them effortlessly and provides pure ear candy and a much needed variety from the synth driven candy that's regularly delivered through presets and Polysix. I can already tell the inspiration runs deep for Full Eclipse, and the 80s provided a majority of it. They were incredibly unique and intensely vivid times in terms of art, aesthetics, styles and sounds, but in a lot of ways they were also very dark and perhaps sick times, which is equally fascinating. A product of the 80s, but a mind sailing into the future with top tunage.

'Totem' kicks off this stunning EP with a rich, roomy vibe full of wonder and thought. Sleek bass and a nice lead merge together for an almost funky arrangement with that paced out 80s finesse combining that classic hi hit/tambourine that I dare say puts the track into a category of Faltermeyer with the detail and care. Layered and subtle arrangements build to keep this track moving towards a place I don't want to steer from. It's absolutely beautiful and I'm already well aware of the crafting and thought put into this track from this emerging artist.

'False Hope (Lament Version)' continues the cinematic, emotional ride from Full Eclipse through another beautiful journey in sound. Paced out and relaxing, a downtempo beat and nice piano lead create an impressive soundscape with some warm synth pads to accent in all of the right places. Almost ambient but far too energetic to call so, the balance in genres is quite interesting. It's enough to satiate the desire for ambience and a mood enhanced piece, but delivers almost a movie like score while staying true to late 80s and early 90s compositions. Class track.

'Survival' (aptly named after this gem of an EP) showcases the guitar rich talents of this artist through a monumental piece, one deserving of a soundtrack bill. Yes, it's that good. Sections of well crafted arrangements build into a moving score that's quite possibly the most powerful piece on this release. The percussion is rich and deep, toms drumming at a deliberate and slowed pace to accompany the triumphant building of instruments. You can feel the depth at which Full Eclipse goes on this one, it's personal and deep to him. My favorite track on Survival without a doubt.

'False Promise' gives a nice glimpse at what this artists can offer from a strong early 90s cinematic score/influence and it's profound. Another composition thought out and well arranged, it's all about instrumentation and use for this artist, allowing the listener to engage in a sea of sound. I might note the roominess of each instrument fills the speakers but allows room for others to fill in, creating a sonic blend of sound. A very nice mixing job and mastering. It fits the mood perfectly.

'Progress' puts me on the sofa in 1992, watching the local forecast on the Weather Channel while killing some Fruit Wrinkles. Smooth, sleeked out vibes fill this arrangement and prove this music could not only be played in the background of a TV program, but also on your speakers at home. Top notch execution and a beautiful closer from an artist I have already learned to respect and thoroughly enjoy.

Full Eclipse released something increasingly rare, a debut EP full of experience, creativity and grade A execution. He is currently working on a compilation and will be releasing an another EP sometime around Christmas. I can't wait to hear more from this talented artist, and expect great things from him in the scene if he isn't snatched up as a soundtrack producer. Though I'm sure he will still make the time for us when he is famous. I'll tempt him with some Fruit Wrinkles.

Survival comes very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM and is available through 30th Floor Records' Bandcamp page here.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Synthetix Sundays

This week Marko presents the first ever Synthetix Sundays New Wave/Post Punk Special only on Radio Pure Gently! A special segment focusing on the very best in modern day New Wave sounds. Marko will be joined in this journey will by his partner in crime, the irrepressibly charming Jazzi Marzcat.

Also this week Marko will be chatting with Rogue Six and also featuring scene legend, Flash Arnold's very first interview!

Plus regular segments with Synthetix Spotlight and Paul Dress '2' Kill Daly but there'll be no Quality Time With Shithouse this week as I recover from a nasty cold.

It's going to be a spectacular show with all the most rockin tracks from the past week's releases including Street Cleaner, Maniac Lover, Highway Superstar and Vectorwolf.

Be sure to join Jazzi and Marko this Sunday as they take you on a New Wave journey you'll never forget!

Tune in to Synthetix Sundays LIVE on Radio Pure Gently here, at 10pm Perth, Australia time. Please click here to find out when this is in your part of the world. As always the fully downloadable show will be posted here on Monday.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

HIghway Superstar's Endgame

By Rick Shithouse

I'm not exactly sure at what exact point in time Highway Superstar went from being new rocker on the block to the genuine superstar his monicker describes. Somewhere between his debut in early 2013 and his first full length album at the end of that same year Alex Karlinsky became one of the integral musical cogs of the 80s inspired synth scene featuring heavily in big name releases, collaborations and projects the broke far outside of the scene.

Of course his presence on the Kung Fury soundtrack was something we all applauded and his expansion into other genres throughout 2014 has found the Highway Superstar ready to unleash his second full length album: Endgame. I'll make no bones at all about stating that Highway Superstar is one of my absolute favourite producers of 80s inspired synth music; and one of the main reasons for this is how hard he pushes his own creativity and reinvents himself as he strives for his own 'musical truth' (© JVC,1982). I often talk of the journeys producers take in their music, the places they visit, the experiences they take with them and the destinations they arrive at. Much like the highway in his name, Highway Superstar is a genuine journeyman that travels far and wide of many diverse 80s inspirations. Someone always looking to improve their songwriting, expand their horizons and make everything they do a step above they last thing they created.

So where was Highway Superstar to take us next? What glittering 80s destinations did he have in mind for Endgame? The answer is refined diversity. The Highway Superstar sound has refined itself to a pristine pop edge that takes cues from 80s library influences and eschewed any unnecessary trappings that confused or hindered the storytelling. It's like a concentration of ideas and 80s motifs that sparkle undiluted and bursting with those scrumptious 80s flavours.

The pop side of Highway Superstar has always been one of the scene's strongest examples of classic 80s songwriting that uses vocals and lyrics to drive the music instead of just riding shotgun. The opening piece for Endgame exemplifies this exceedingly well as Dana Jean Phoenix joins forces with the Superstar himself in 'Cast Away'. The gentleness of the synths and the driving beat combines with DJP's voice into something inspirational. Cinematic bridges, chugging guitar riffs and a high class tone makes this song rock damned hard without losing its accessible 80s pop-ability.

2015 will be remembered by myself, and hopefully many others, as the year 80s library music came back and found a modern home to nestle in and flourish. Highway Superstar's definitely embracing this most radical brand of music and launches the dashing 'Deadlock Danger' into the mix to create a smoother mood to groove to. Pinpoint synth acrobatics dazzle against bright guitar details and evocative sax play. The presence of every element is tuned for maximum excitement with Highway Superstar orchestrating incredibly entertaining and death defying sets pieces from beginning to end.

A new voice for the Highway Superstar sound saunters onto the scene in the next track 'Hunters'. Honey Colonna teams up with Highway Superstar numerous times throughout Endgame with a voice that has a soulful and sultry tone with just the right mix of mid to late 80s pop and R&B that befits the music perfectly. The music in this track is highly excitable and explosive while Colonna's voice becomes a soothing and smoothing element that tames the music's energy like a ubiquitous aural honey. Colonna's presence adds a deeper affectation to Highway Superstar's sound and both artists feel like they're genuinely on the same wavelength; something that comes through time and time again throughout Endgame.

The teamwork rocks even harder in the next piece as 'Dream Diary' features both artistes taking up vocal duties in a bold duet that puts a lot on the line and reaps the rewards for taking the risk. Highway Superstar has finally introduced his voice as true dimension to his sound and 'Dream Diary' is a showcase for this. The vocal performance is suave while remaining honest and doesn't try to mimic anyone directly. A definite influence of many vintage Italo singers can be felt in the delivery, which is totally rockin, but this isn't s throw away experiment as the vocal is developed and tuneful, swaggering when it needs to and embracingly warm when it wants to be too. The performance of both vocalists on 'Dream Diary' is wonderful. Truly a high water mark in songwriting and delivery and an experience one can enjoy visually thanks to the fantastic official video for the track available for your perusal here.

Slowing the mood back to a casual saunter and taking in the coolness of the evening air as the sun dips ever lower on the horizon 'Century Club Blues' wends its way through the skyline softly. This bass driven affair brings a sensually jazz inspired tone to the proceedings and relies heavily on the groove of the bassline to hold the accompanying elements in place. The finger snaps dictate the pace as the melodies hang in their air like exhaled smoke in some basement dive bar where no one makes eye contact and the musician off in the corner is existing in an entirely different dimension of existence to the patrons. A somehow warming sense of disassociation runs through this experience that is both tantalising and charming in its own right.

Following on from this little divergence we're back in pop mode, this time with a darker tone that typifies much of the best original 80s pop music. 'Burn This City' marks Highway Superstar's first full vocal performance (although Honey Colonna provides some lovely backing vocals) and really brings himself into the spotlight where he belongs. The raspy tone of Highway Superstar's voice adds a masculine facet to the sound and adds a layer of emotional rawness to the atmosphere. The music is really dialled back on this piece, playing a barely supporting role to Karlinsky's yearning vocals. Definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album, a completely new experience in the scope of Highway Superstar's music and something that he should be applauded fervently for. This takes hard work, passion and balls and Highway Superstar leaves nothing in the tank in the process.

Brighter tones warm things up with the next two complimentary chapters, 'Kasumi's Theme' and 'Kasumi's Journey'. These two pieces really typify the tightness of the music writing on Endgame. The focus is so tight and figure hugging every instrument traces narrow lines around each curve but
never at the risk of becoming regimented or soulless. Highway Superstar revels in this tight knit tapestry of sounds and gives sharp accents when required and makes the narrative turn on dime when he wants to extract as much excitement as possible from the tonal tension. In doing this he also ensures the synthscape remains uncluttered and clean, removing extraneous distractions so you never lose that integral storyline through each exciting set piece.

Following these two excursions comes one of the most incredible pieces of music on the album as Highway Superstar enlists not one, not two but THREE of my favourite artists from the scene to create the absolutely mesmerising epic 'Save You'. Joining the Superstar is Miranda Carey, Sebastian Gampl and Phaserland! Just seeing all these names together is like wet dream of 80s collaborations but the song itself is totally rockin to the max. The album really peaks in these five and a half minutes of dramatic and emotional 80s pop perfection. Miranda Carey takes on a more Kristine-like attitude in her vocal style in this track and the music matches this frame of mind perfectly. The perfect mix of talents for the perfect mix of sounds. Stellar in every respect.

The climax rides out into the post apocalyptic desert wasteland as 'Stalemate Punks' bring in some powerhouse, heavily accented percussion to go blow for blow with the duelling synth melodies. The action is smooth and exchanges brutality for finesse as Highway Superstar gets deeper and deeper into the groove in what plays out like a live jam of synths, steel and fluorescent mohawks. You just can't deny the Library influence that holds this track together though and that is something Highway Superstar has become very, very efficient in employing throughout Endgame's chapters.

Our final piece in the Endgame experience is the bloopy bleepy introduced 'Nebular' which launches into the great unknown with a deliberate count down to build pressure and rocks that tension as hard as possible until we are launched into the chase. The swell of thoughtful synth play strips things back to a zero gravity caress of slow motion set pieces before the tyres hit the asphalt and rev into synth oblivion, screaming with intensity and leaving a trail of burning light to the horizon. The beauty and drama that Highway Superstar can switch between in a nanosecond makes this one damned thrilling ride and closes the album out in the most exciting manner.

Rosso Corsa Records presents Highway Superstar's Endgame album on their Bandcamp page here in the usual array of digitally downloadable formats. This album is of vast importance, in many respects. It marks a huge amount progression, diversity and exploration for Highway Superstar and it makes a case for how important collaborative work is and the benefits achieved. Endgame literally does everything right in homage to classic 80s sounds and giving them relevance in 2015 in an album that is easily one of the most complete and satisfying musical experiences of the year. Highway Superstar's Endgame is most certainly a Synthetix Reference Experience.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Steven Jones & Logan Sky's Polaroids EP

By Andrew B. White

Polaroids is the second EP from the UK’s Steven Jones and Logan Sky. The two met through a mutual friend, the late Steve Strange from 80s synth pop legends Visage, with whom Sky has played keyboards with since 2010.

The new EP follows-on from where there duo’s 2015 debut EP Desire Lines left off but with more of a late-night and darker direction. Jones and Sky’s feet are firmly in the early-80s UK synthpop camp with influences from early Depeche Mode, OMD, Ultravox, Soft Cell and of course Visage. Sky handles the music production, predominantly using vintage hardware, while Jones writes and performs the vocals which are a mix of sung and spoken word.

Title track Polaroids has a half-time, electro-dub feel to it. It is brooding and reflective, with the lyrics “moments burnt in to polaroids” referring to a more glamorous life captured at an earlier point in time. The lo-fi video for the song, shot in London’s Soho, appropriating the atmosphere of the song. Additionally on the EP, Polaroids gets the remix treatment from Daygun and is taken in an uptempo vocal dub direction but still retains the broodiness of the original.

‘Hi-Rise New York’ is based on Jones’ experiences of visiting New York City with a visually-inspired narrative of observing his fast-paced surroundings. “We came here to play the game” Jones recites and it sounds like he’s been dropped into a video game on the “Manhattan Level”. The track is all spoken word which is most suitable for the subject matter. It would certainly make for a good music video.

‘Intersection’ floats along with a reflective mix of spoken and sung vocals. It’s no surprise the lyrics mention train stations as the song’ implies a feeling of being on a train, in both its rhythm and of observing life as it passes by.

‘The Now Crowd (Slow Exposure)’ is a fitting tribute to Visage’s Steve Strange and his legacy. It has an almost a slow-motion sense of feeling to it that helps it to convey the sentiment of the lyrics: “we are the now crowd, loud and in time, dancing endlessly, deep in desire”. It’s obvious Jones and Sky want to continue Strange’s legacy, in the present and into the future.

‘Fake’ starts with a subtle arpeggiation and Jones’ spoken word, decrying the falsity of religion: “You make us fake/your mantra’s money”. It makes heavy use of toms to add to the intimidatory poke at the mundaneness of life from organized religion to money and fame.

Overall, Polaroids gives you the authentic feeling of a cold and grey London in the early 80s with its fashion, taxi headlights reflecting on rainy nighttime streets sweeping by New Romantics en route to the next night club. The songs have a sense of space using minimal instrumentation, omitting what isn’t needed for a more concise sound. The EP emulates the sound of a musical point in time without being cheesy or ironic. Some parts remind me of the darker moments of Yazoo’s album Upstairs at Eric’s (albeit less shiner) and early Ultravox and OMD, or more precisely, that particular point in time.

Polaroids is not what you would call a straight-up “synthwave” album. The synthpop scene has been around for a very long time and while it shares some common ground with synthwave, the two scenes don’t always merge. Fans of synthwave aren’t invariably attracted by synth pop’s sometimes androgynous and sparse sound or its lyrically darker subject matter. At the same time, the two genres are becoming more compatible, with stylish synthpop now influencing a number of synthwave artists, especially when it comes to vocals. The embracing of styles makes for interesting results. With Steven Jones and Logan Sky we see the result of two artists that have a direct connection to one of the originators of synth pop creating new music and extending it out, not merely recreating it.

I had the opportunity to ask Logan Sky a few questions about Polaroids:

ABW: This is your second EP with vocalist Steven Jones. Do you consider yourselves a duo for these projects, as you both release music individually.

LS: We met through our mutual friend, Steve Strange, who suggested we work together on a new mix for his track ‘Burning Desire’. At the time I was really blown away with Steven’s ‘Strange Magic’ track, with its mesmeric melody and seductive video. So I remixed it. Steven and Donna Destri were so impressed that they re-cut the video to suit. We started working together immediately and ‘Falcon of the Dunes’ became our first collaboration that was put out on the [Jones & Destri’s] Strange Magic EP last year.

We were devastated when Steve Strange died in February, but we somehow found positivity to finish our Desire Lines EP and to perform at his funeral. This has formed a bond between us and we now work pro-actively and are always there for each other. We will perform live for the first time as a duo on January 23rd 2016 in Warrington [UK], supporting Heaven 17. We’ll probably put out another cassette EP and then hope to team up with a label that can put out a vinyl and then an album.

ABW: You use a lot of analog synths in your production. Was that the case here and do you think using hardware gives you more of a distinctive or authentic sound?

LS: There’s a distinct difference between, say, the VST Korg Polysix and the real thing which is a lot grittier, but only mono. I’m lucky to have found some great outboard chorus and stereo delays that transform this mono signal into something quite beautiful, with less clarity than VSTs but with more character and the hardware ‘noise’ really does add an atmosphere, a kind of ‘breathing presence’. VSTs may be lush, with fantastic stereo width but they feel too shiny and inherently too ‘plastic’ and dead to me.

Most tracks feature a [Roland] Juno-106 arpeggiation and it also is used for soft pad sounds. I prefer using one of my vintage string machines, such as the Siel Cruise or Crumar Trilogy for harsher string sounds. The title track Polaroids was put together by Steven using loops, many of which I then converted using the Juno-106 and the Yamaha CS20, to add the character we were after.

For further ‘authenticity’ we’ve chosen to release on cassette, which, along with vinyl, would have been the way that music was consumed in the early 80s. I’ve noticed that a few of my favourite synthwave artists, such as Right Knider and OGRE actually sound slightly better on cassette. The levels are more consistent, with less harsh high end, which gives a more rounded listening experience.

ABW: Your music fits the early ‘80s electropop/synthpop mould. Is that a conscious decision? Obviously having played in Steve Strange’s Visage those influences would be right at home.

LS: The sounds that fueled my youth: Japan, Human League, Visage, Ultravox, Depeche Mode and OMD were always on my Hi-Fi and when I started making music and playing in a band we had more of a Duran / A-ha sound with real guitar and drums. Ever since there’s always been a strong spirit of all these electronic pioneers within my sounds because they reside in my soul. I also liked Adam & The Ants and early next year I’ll be receiving some coaching from the drummer, Dave Barbe, so hopefully you’ll see some developments in my beats in 2016!

ABW: Darker, European contemporary vocal synthpop has been popular for sometime. How do you think it fits with newer genres such as synthwave which often focus on instrumental music and American influences. How do you think the genres mix and are you seeing this happening?

LS: The vocals of dark European pop tend to focus on alienation, lost love and the evils of mass media and capitalism. The vocals are generally male and there are often as many women listening to these bands as men. Synthwave, however draws on late 70s horror and 80s low budget straight-to-VHS American movies which, musically and artistically, draws in a predominantly male audience. It’s not all dark though, and vocal synthwave has also resulted in some truly glorious and uplifting music, for example Duett’s 'Borderline' or Sferro’s collaborations.

I think that we are genre-mixing on Polaroids. We have the Polysix basslines of synthwave, haunting synth and string pads, but there is an atmosphere of, say, London or New York in the sounds and the vocals move effortlessly between darkness and positivity. Each track is a mindful meditation on modernity, anchored more within the real world than a fictitious synthwave space.

ABW: I understand you are in the process of a full-length album. Is that project a collaboration with Steven or will it be solo project?

LS: I had planned to finish my solo album, but really wasn’t in the right place emotionally. Instead I have found great comfort in my collaborations including finishing off the last ever VISAGE album. I have also worked with Japanese singer, RIS, to produce a fantastic track called ‘Everything, Endlessly, Everywhere’ and with Robert Pereno (ex SHOCK) on three tracks that we performed in an art gallery in Greenwich and in Soho. Steven Jones & I have some plans for a development in our sound and this is where we will focus our energies into 2016 – the solo album will have to wait!

ABW: If you had the chance to play in another 80s band, who would it be and why?

LS: VISAGE are one of my top 5 bands of all time, so I’m truly honoured for the last 5 years for all of those special memories with Steve Barnacle, Robin Simon (ex-Ultravox), Lauren DuVal and Steve Strange. We travelled all over England and around Sweden, Germany, Slovakia finishing the tour with a performance with the 45 piece Prague Synthosymphonic orchestra! The outdoor performance was on the side of a mountain, minus seven centigrade with snow falling around the stage! Steve and Lauren were only wearing John Galliano evening wear and Lauren’s feet were exposed through her six inch heels. At the end of the performance there were pyrotechnics and fireworks, but Lauren was crying with frostbite that she had to be carried off stage and I think some hunk also lifted Steve over the slush to the taxi!

Then in March 2014, we jetted off to Japan for two sell-out performances in Tokyo! The response from the fans was phenomenal and we made some good friends along the way. Because of these unique memories, I can’t really picture myself in another 80s band, but I’d relish the chance to produce a few tracks for Duran Duran to return the favour.. since Nick Rhodes produced the band I was in, back in 2002!

Steven Jones & Logan Sky's Polaroids comes very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM and you can find it on Chop Chop Records Bandcamp page here, where it is also available on limited edition cassette.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Europaweite Aussichten Sends You To Purgatory

By Rick Shithouse

'Tis the season for the dark and brutal genres of 80s inspired synth music to truly flourish and bask in their own horrible nightmares. There's been a lot of releases this Halloween season and the finest one I've come across that really takes things in the right directions for me, personally, is Europaweite Aussichten's Purgatory album.

I've found that many producers doing darker sides of the sounds lose the soul and presence of their music in favour of raucous intensity. While I'll be the first person to revel in the chainsaw massacre
of synth sounds there is a time and place for everything. It's like a good horror movie, the pacing is of the utmost importance to keep the atmosphere building and make the intense spots hit the hardest when they strike.

Europaweite Aussichten balances the timing of his music to magnificently macabre perfection throughout Purgatory and blends equal parts of Giallo horror and more progressive vintage soundtrack synth work into something that is fully engrossing. The opening tracks set the tone brilliantly as the minimalist nature of the music allow for much interpretation for the listener. 'Over The City' sprawls with slow moving melodies that swell against the barest minimum of percussive tracks. The synths tell the whole story, setting a scene, speaking dialogue and drawing you into the story. This kind of sparsely populated synthscape is entirely what Europaweite Aussichten employs in many of his tracks, the less is more (TM Marko Maric) approach is entirely how the producer directs the scenes and manipulates your surroundings via sound.

The third track, 'Purgatory Theme', took me aback quite a bit as it introduced a melody that reminded me greatly of one of my favourite pieces of synth music from Queen's score of Flash Gordon. The completely different personality given to the similar structures had me completely enthralled by it. The rapidly panicking music placed behind this slow refrain gives the necessary dread to proceedings and glinting flashes of synth blades against the blackness of the night makes for an ever threatening sense of foreboding. The builds are pitch perfect and the music never breaks character to reveal the shrouded killer's face once. Splendidly diabolical.

The album is full of slow moving examinations of specific narratives that punctuate the set pieces but do far more than just being segues or vignettes to the overall story. They develop ideas deeply and keep the tone of the album on a track. Listening to this album gapless is to be encouraged as the atmospheres gain even more ferocity without the chance to catch your breath or break from the intensity.

Like many of my favourite records from this genre the album has been completely arranged as a genuine soundtrack and delving into the full experience hits home much more than individually isolated track listens. The off kilter nature of 'A Night Without Laughter' is undeniably more verbose when introduced by the preceding pieces. The minimalist nature allows Europaweite Aussichten's synth palette to be sharply focused with a small number of colours, but the blending performed to give them voices across his musical canvases is where the magic is really felt throughout Purgatory.

There's also a great deal of experimentation in the sounds too. Europaweite Aussichten opts for a fantastically low-fi aesthetic in 'Ripper's Knife' that gives a wonderful homage to vintage formats without losing any of the atmospheric intensity in the slightest. It definitely leads one to imagine how a combination of low-fi vintage and modern produced sounds could work together in one single track too. The possibilities are definitely exciting. Although the whole record has been recorded to tape after mixing, the extreme nature of the low-fi-ness of this track gives you an extra dirty experience.

I really can't stress enough how much more enriching the experience of this album is with the near complete lack of percussive tracks and definitely no modern style drum arrangements or sounds. The music gains so much more presence in this way and on pieces like 'Psychopath' the percussion is used as a tool to enhance the terror; not drive it. The technique works wonders in this style and aside from from a few producers on Giallo Disco Records and the likes of Strike Force 88 this kind of approach is largely under represented in the scene.

Even with all the moroseness and horrific passages the album is certainly not without contrasting elements to give different voices to the cast. The way a sound can be manipulated in a way to be slightly humanistic but also retain an otherworldly aesthetic comes into play during 'Signals In The Night Sky' as now the twisted synths bend into a reality that sounds unpleasant yet cries for an acceptance. The tone in this track especially is inquisitive and mysterious but uses different tones to get the message across.

'Welcome To The Glass Jungle' marks another high point on the album as the refrain lures the listener in from the first passage and then explores itself incredibly deeply. The percussion on this track is about as modern as Europaweite Aussichten gets on Purgatory but it's used in a way that doesn't ruin the aesthetic in the slightest. The build is massive in this track; but the pay of is non existent as the scene cuts right before everything goes to Hell. Part of me wishes the track took me down all the way, the other part of me loves the direction as a classic horror device.

Things really peak super high and hard in the final chapters with the thoroughly epic 'Season Of The Skull'. The music is absolutely murdering in intensity while staying completely in-decade. This track brings to mind a more fantasy oriented tale of bloodbath, as in a classic 80s post nuke or barbarian (or both!) themed affair. Structured for a huge build and pay off the melodies shine when they should and shadow when they need to.

'The Void Is Ours' returns to that UFO style of 'Signals In The Sky' and works great as a little diversionary tale the runs parallel to the macabre earthbound events; intimating powers from other worlds are guiding things from afar. This track leads into the final pieces that climax with the marvellous written end theme 'Still Out There, Waiting', as the credits role you just wish there was a sequel in the works and the little taste of action after the credits gives you that wonderful sense of expectancy.

I'm sure is unavoidable over twenty six tracks that making it all 'fit' can be a insurmountable prospect but there's every chance too that the meandering nature of some pieces are intentionally placed to give the experience just that little bit of unexpectedness. I think trimming a couple of the pieces, or splicing them into some of the other tracks possibly could've benefited overall, but this is really neither here nor there. As it stands Purgatory is like a 'kit soundtrack' you could quite easily arrange to fit your own nefarious deeds that require this kind musical accompaniment.

Werkstatt Recordings presents Europaweite Assichten's Purgatory album on their Bandcamp page here in the usual array of digital formats as well as a limited edition CD. I was absolutely taken with this record and the sheer amount of ideas, scenes and sounds explored made for a riveting experience that completely rocks that Halloween horror vibe. A stand out release in every respect and one that comes very, very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM.