Thursday, July 30, 2015

Alpha Boy Takes Us To Hollywood

By Rick Shithouse

Certain manifestations of 80s sounds re-envisaged today can genuinely encapsulate a distinct time period and in Alpha Boy's new record we get to experience the late 80s/early 90s action movie soundtrack done in a thoroughly authentic manner. Though much of Alpha Boys music centres around soundtrack styles of the mid 80s in his back catalogue there is a distinction in this release that takes his music forward in time and forward as a producer.

With movies like the Lethal Weapon series, Dark Angel, Tango And Cash, Die Hard's 1 & 2, Action Jackson, Hard To Kill, Black Rain, Showdown In Little Tokyo and many others from this era there was was a tone set in the soundtracks that played off the on screen action beautifully. This was the real high water mark period for the classic action cop movie that came to being int mid 80s and evolved into masterpieces like the above aforementioned titles before everything changed later in the 90s. Those movies that refused to modernise and stuck to the always delicious 80s recipes have become final epitaphs of 80s cinema and gain a whole new importance in regards to their soundtracks today.



In his Hollywood album Alpha Boy works his synth magic in ways that conjure up selected scenes, highlight reels if you will, of some of the most arse kickingest cinema ever made. Alpha Boy's inherent fascination to 80s soundtrack works in general has always meant his revised experience is authentic and full of on-bended-knee honest homage. With this record we're taken into a myriad of instantly recognisable sets of circumstances and feel the tension, excitement and atmosphere first hand.

After a short intro that sets a great little Library-esque news report tone we're whisked downtown to the first action sequence: 'The Heat Is On'. You can cut the tension with a knife, waves of heat distort the city skyline and the battle between a world worn, battle hardened cop going up against a madman threatening to take the city down piece by piece begins. Slow moving pans, saturated oranges and reds, a city exhausted by a record heatwave, it's all scripted to perfection.

The opener is very strong and this continues it the Asiatic tinged follow up 'Big Trouble In Little Chinatown'. The late 80s and early 90s cop action movies really stereotyped Asian characters as inhumane triad or yakuza gangs, threatening to take over the U.S from their strongholds in Chinatown all the way to the Whitehouse and this track illustrates a dark, seamy underside,  hiding in the shadowy corners, away from the din of the street, where deals are made and lives are traded like mahjonng tiles.

Alpha Boy's taken a great approach to numerous tracks on the record and kept them to short, sharp experiences that illuminate just enough of a scene to move the story along but don't lay all their cards out on the table. 'Shy' and 'Surveillance' do a wonderful job of developing the sounds and characters in a break from the more intense action.

Following these shorter tales is one of my personal favourite tracks on the record, which proves to be a hugely successful departure from the Alpha Boy we're accustomed to. 'News Report' gets rockin on a funky vibe that switches into a high energy newjack swing soundtrack piece. It's a spectacular mix of sounds and styles and sax just knocks it up to another level. One of Alpha Boy's real stand out tracks, that's for sure.

'Lo Pan' keeps things chill and and fills in some more back story in a great little cameo appearance before the action heads to the beauties and beasts of 'Sunset Strip'. The colours begin to saturate again and heat becomes stifling as the melodies sparkle with sunshine fuelled energy. A very noticeable part of Alpha Boys armoury that has been elevated immensely in this release is the drum tracks. All the percussion tracks feel 'live' and bright with a great snap and punch to snares especially, 'Sunset Strip' displays this throughout every second.

The gangs of the city come out in force, brandishing their colours with the streetwise title track of the record. The action is electric and the orchestral stabs are vicious as the line between law and anarchy become blurred beyond recognition. In the final track, 'Dents Oilfield', the final action set piece plays out against a vastly atmospheric but sparsely populated synthscape that is absolutely captivating. The tone of every instrument is tuned to perfection and you'll be on the edge of your seat until the credits roll.

Alpha Boy's version of Hollywood is an instant blockbuster and creates an experience that is as rare as it is entertaining. The tight focus and beautifully rich polish applied to every track makes this production move along at a fantastically frantic pace and you'll be hard pressed just to keep up with all the action Alpha Boys aurally illustrates. It's a testament to this producer's passion and creativity in how authentic his music is and how hard it rocks.

The Hollywood album is presented on Alpha Boy's Bandcamp page here and comes very, very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM.












Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kristine Brings Us The Album We All Needed

By Andrew B. White

For most followers of the synthwave/80s retro synth scene or whatever you want to call it, Kristine needs no introduction. With only a small amount of releases, she has defined the sound of “synthwave”, along width a handful of other artists such as Mitch Murder and Miami Nights 1984. All this with a sound that is not “outrun” nor purely instrumental or one relies in any way on common thematic references to dystopian futures and B-grade movies. There are guitars. There are pianos. Kristine sings. These are songs you heard on the radio, or at least you think you did.

Kristine might often be referred to as “a female artist in the scene”. Does that make her the Queen of Synthwave? No. In fact she’s possibly the “Supreme Ruler”. There’s no such thing as a gender divide when you are talking about great music.

So, after several years of keeping fans wanting and waiting in between sporadic single and EP releases, some fantastic collaborations with the likes of FM Attack (‘Runaway’/‘Magic’) and Futrecop! (‘Superheroes’), the Kristine album is finally here.

Simply titled “Kristine”, this is essentially a compilation of her previous releases combined with new tracks to make up a full-length album. You get all the classics from the “Modern Love” EP, and the singles ‘Radio’ and ‘The Deepest Blue’, all of which were serious hits. In fact six of the 13 tracks on the album have been released previously, and several of these date back as far as 2012. The remainder of the tracks are new for this album.

It may be fair to say that an album of entirely new songs might have been expected, especially given the time it has taken to get the album out. However, not all artists are prolific and able to churn out an album of songs every week (here’s looking at you Mr. LA Dreams!) It’s best to look at this album as a way of presenting all of Kristine’s past and present work in one package to the raft of current fans and to the many future ones it will attract. In that respect this is a pretty solid move – first-time listeners will get an album packed full of hits and the current fans get a high dosage of Kristine goodness in one place.



It is important to note that all of the previously released tracks aside from ‘Radio’ and ‘Wild Heart’ have been remixed and re-mastered to give them a coherent sound across all of the album and to fit with the new material. By remixing, this doesn’t mean “re-worked” so they do not sound different in an overly noticeable or negative way. They retain the same structures, instruments and vocals which means they haven’t lost the vibe that made them so appealing in the first place. According to Kristine ‘Summer Long Gone’ has extra synth added, there’s a different bass sound on ‘Modern Love and ‘The Deepest Blue’ gets an overhaul in the drum department. The updated mixes do iron out some of the sonic bumps that were present in the early versions – a welcome touch. Side-by-side comparisons between the old and new versions doesn’t leave the older ones sounding flat either. The originals still have their charm but it’s certainly nice to hear the retouched versions all together and you’re not just paying again for music you might already own.

Overall mixing and mastering credits are mysteriously credited to ‘Joan’ who Kristine says prefers to keep on the down-low so there is very little info about this fellow Greek's other work to be had. In any case the mix/master sounds solid and pleasing on the ears so mission accomplished. 'Radio’ and ‘Wild Heart’ are credited to their original mixer – Diamond Cut – and it doesn’t sound as if anything has been retouched on these.

You get ‘Radio’. You get ‘Modern Love’. You get ’The Deepest Blue’, ‘The Danger’ and ‘Wild Heart’ – they are all on the album. So rather than reviewing these older songs in detail let’s move on to the new ones. Kristine has had assistance on the newer tracks from high profile synthwave artists Highway Superstar, Sellorekt/LA Dreams, Sunglasses Kid and Diana Gitallog. In most cases none of these artists overtly assert their signature sounds on the songs – Kristine is still in full control here and they ‘sound’ like Kristine songs. The exception is ‘Rhythm of Love’ with it’s upbeat and bouncy backing courtesy of Sunglasses Kid. You can hear the trademark nuances where it feels like this might be more at home on a Sunglasses Kid album with Kristine as the guest vocalist. Personally I think Kristine sounds more at ease with the more serious rock stuff than the up-beat pop. Alternatively ‘Rhythm of Love’ does help to change the pace in the album sequence, to lighten things up, and with Sunglasses Kid being huge in his own right the association is certainly a smart one..

Diana Gitallog is probably better known for her original “darker” work but here she adds some very complimentary synth work on ‘Heroes’ and ‘Sleepless Nights’ as she did on the previously released ‘Summer Long Gone’ which is also included on the album. ‘Heroes’ is one of those anthemic songs you’d expect to find in a late '80s or early '90s blockbuster film. Think race car drivers, firemen, fighter pilots etc; the music playing behind one of those montage scenes. Fellow Greek John Bitzios lends his guitar work on ‘Heroes’, ‘Burning Fever’ and ‘Sleepless Nights’ which again features Gitallog on synths, and to which Highway Superstar provides some tasty choir samples. For comparisons, this is Kristine channeling Ann and Nancy Wilson’s power rock outfit Heart, but since Kristine really stamps her own mark on her songs its a little unfair to outrightly compare her with other artists – the Benatars et al – but it’s just fine to put her right alongside them.

Highway Superstar is also present on ‘The Deepest Blue’ (he mixed and mastered the original version) and plays some tasteful piano on the album’s close out track ‘Last Left Standing’ (check out that sublimely great ending). Alexandros Solomozis handles the lead guitars on ‘Last Left Standing’ for maximum effect.

The curve ball on the album is ‘The City’. It’s a kind of doo-woop number that could have gone awfully awry in the wrong hands but has a certain charm that makes it work. In the ‘80s several artists explored this kind sound. Think Billy Joel, Huey Lewis and the News, Katrina and the Waves, a little Springsteen even… It’s the romanticized sound of hanging out on the street corner in ‘80s New York, or Brooklyn specifically – part “Happy Days”, part ‘80s cool. The backing vocals by the Surf School Dropouts are a great touch although I feel the sax solo could have been more beefy and convincing.

From the new songs ‘Everybody’ along with ‘Burning Fever’ are probably the obvious hit singles on the album. With LA Dreams adding some choice vintage Roland synths on ‘Everybody', the song gets going right off the bat and powers through to the magical pop song length of three minutes. Get this song to radio and make a video for it and it’ll be game on!

Tracks like ‘Heroes’ and ‘Last Left Standing’ show an additional strength in the direction of Kristine’s music. This is the ‘mature’ or ‘adult-contemporary’ sound of the late '80s/early '90s. Big, textural production from female-vocal artists in the vein of Sophie B. Hawkins or early Sheryl Crow and her ‘shelved’ debut album which was produced by Hugh Padgham (Phil Collins, Paula Cole, Toni Childs etc). Interestingly, if you search YouTube you can hear Kristine covering Crow’s ‘Hundreds of Tears’ from the “Point Break” soundtrack which was also originally the binned Crow album. (The album is worth searching for on the internet as it is an excellent example of Padgham’s style). Maybe Kristine’s next album will focus on this direction more as she certainly has the ear and voice for it.

My only real musical criticisms on “Kristine” are the bass choices in a couple of the songs. The synth bass on ‘Heroes’ doesn’t quite get ‘that sound’ to make the song completely killer; ‘Sleepless Nights’ and ‘Burning Fever’ might have benefitted with something more driving in the form of a real bass and the synth bass in ‘The Danger’ always felt a little bit ‘loose’ to me until the song gets going in the choruses. Luckily the songs are just so great these aren’t deal breakers and the discrepancies might be better thought of as ’stylistic choices’.

So there you have it. “Kristine” is an album full of fantastic songs which will hopefully reach a huge audience and inspire a wave of artists to create new music in this vein. Yes this is music that borrows from the ‘80s but it is as much about a ‘feel’ as the actual instrumentation that is used. This is something that producers and artists need to understand to make the music work if they intend to go down this road. The listeners ‘get it' and that is why Kristine appeals so much – she knows how to deliver. Her song arrangements are often unconventional and she’s not the world’s most technical singer but it all comes together so well you can’t help but want to “see clearly in the dark/It was the time I fell in love with you”. And we do. Kristine's album is the definition of a Synthetix Reference Experience and you can find it on iTunes here and onb digital stores such as Google Play and Amazon and on limited edition CD here.



Saturday, July 25, 2015

July's Episode Of Soiree 80s



July's episode of Soiree 80s is ready to rock with myself, Jazzi Marzcat, Marko Maric, DJ Spaz and Micky Dodds rockin an hour each of our own favourite 80s tunes. This month we're doing some specially themed sets as DJ Spaz goes funk and hip hop, Jazzi And Marko rock their favourite music from 80s movies and I do a set exclusively focusing on 80s Library music!

Join us at on our Facebook event page here or tune into to RPG at 9pm UK time here.


Listen on Mixcloud here!





Wednesday, July 22, 2015

High School Holocaust - Part 1

Just released today is the great community project compilation from Karate King and The TCR, it's High School Holocaust Part 1!!

 This project has a been a real labour of love for the Karate King and The TCR and the end result its very strong. There's a huge amount of variety in the styles; and producers involved and to get the whole thing rockin together as one is really fantastic. If you're looking for some pure evil to listen to with mucho homage to classic 70s and 80s horror/slasher soundtracks this is sure to sate your need for violence and blood.

It's not often I get to personally be involved in these kinds of projects aside from the promotion but I was lucky enough to do a skit that's been included in the production, thanks a lot for the opportunity, it was great fun.



Many thanks and congratulations to all those involved, I'm already looking forward to Part 2!

Get your copy on Karate King's Bandcamp page here and rock it late night in the car park of your local high school for maximum effect.








Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pengus's Victory Lap

By Rick Shithouse

Pengus has really made a lot of people, including myself, sit up and take notice of his music throughout 2015. This producer has an innate ability to coerce, kindle and then set ablaze any melodic passage into a searing fireball of 80s rockin action.

Although he has a new record coming out soon (with Phaserland and Matt Kwid in tow) kicking some serious Library inspired arse he's been kind enough to bestow upon his adoring public a new four track EP entitled Victory Lap; an expedition into the 80s high life and excitement the way only Pengus knows how.



The supremely glossy finish on the Pengus sound is brought right up front and flashing across the grid in the high octane title track. Heavily accented percussion and synths that breeze along like they were engineered by Hiroshi Kawaguchi himself make for a thrilling opening experience. The real strength of the piece, as with much of Pengus's work lies in the leads and solos he seems to effortlessly compose. Be they synth or guitar the leads are superbly written and performed and are always firmly rockin an 80s groove.

And grooves are laid down at a casual canter in the follow up track 'Krung Thep'.You just can't help but have your spirits lifted and your soul inspired by the airy, light passages that are then taken to fever pitch levels of excitement as Pengus intimates gloriously verdant solos and leads in rapid succession before he comes back down to earth.

There are very, very few producers in the 80s inspired synth scene that really rock the level of 80s energy Pengus commands so authentically. It's not just the leads and  riffage but also in his choice of elements and how he gives them importance or nonchalance throughout each track. The creating of spatial moods and narratives in 'Sturmfrei' is sublime as the perfect tonal balance of sounds come together as one soulfully groovin' ray of synth sunshine.

Finishing off the EP with the delightful Library chintz of 'Fat Cats' is sure to leave you hankering for more. The pan-flutes are only the beginning as Pengus explores all kinds of funky dimensions of sound. Watch any episode of How It's Made with this as the background music and feel the 80s magic enrapture your soul.

Future City Records presents Pengus's Victory Lap EP on their Bandcamp page here in the usual array of digitally downloadable formats. Pengus has once again shared some absolutely stunning music with us, and for those of us who yearn for synth solos and worship at the altar of 80s stock and Library music this is beautifully warm and invigorating breath of fresh air and comes very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM.









Friday, July 17, 2015

IBBD Stereo Sonic Electro Rockin Mixtape 2015

Celebrate 2015's International Boombox Day (July 20) in style with this year's edition of the Stereo Sonic Electro Rockin Mixtape!

A fifty plus minute mix of all kinds of 80s inspired synth sounds sure to give you street cred out the ying yang!



Track listing:

1, IBBD Intro - Batch Sound
2, LIFEFORCE - Terrorvizion
3, Gravity Well - Damokles
4, Three Men Rap - Who Ha
5, Breakin' Rad - Emmett Brown
6, Spacebreaker - Waveshaper
7, We Just Wanna Dance - Beat Ratio
8, Interstellar Funk - Takahashi Jones
9, Running Shadow - 8Bliss
10, Dope - Pengus
11, Dreamland Skate Center - Mythical Vigilante
12, New Beat City - Faint Waves
13, VOGUE -YXO
14, Super Mulletts - United Simesky Institutes
15, The Disco Strut! - Totigerus
16, Let It Run - Audioblivion

High res artwork available here.

Many, many thanks to all the producers who supplied their tracks for this celebration of boombox glory!






Thursday, July 16, 2015

Heartbreak for Strike Force 88

By Rick Shithouse

Australia's own Strike Force 88, or Electric Dissection as he was previously known, has been creating vintage synth sounds for years now, with my first coverage of his work on Synthetix.FM going back to March 2013. In the time since he's undergone the name change and has subtly changed and evolved his style along the way.

An ardent devotee of the early days of mid 70s synth sounds this producer has created some of the most accurate reimaginings of this first wave of the new electronic sounds in his new record, Heartbreak. The channelling of the likes of Jarre, Oldfield, Vangelis and (Strike Force 88 favourite) Tangerine Dream results in an aural time machine that replicates the emotive strains of a time when synthesizers were completely brand new.



Strike Force 88 uses synths in different ways to much of the 80s inspired synth producers as the synthscape is often kept to one single 'voice' that sings the melodies. The synth is never a tool to create melody but is instead a conduit to share emotional experiences through sound. The music is played from the heart directly to the listener and through the barren and sparse stories one is given  full focus to the performance narrative.

In an age where huge amount of layers, tracks and effects are the norm there is something very clean and refreshing when engaging in this work. The simplistic percussion, the understated basslines and the huge focus on the lead synth makes for something incredibly personal and deep. As they say in the classics (and on Synthetix Sundays!) less is often more and in this case it rings true in every chapter of Heartbreak.

The implementation of such vintage production techniques means the listener is told the stories of this failed romance through quivering chords, melancholy passages and reflective melodies. The tracks vary hugely in their make up and direction but the undercurrents of the broken heart are an inescapable undertow lurking beneath the apparently calm surface. The uneasy brightness of the opening piece, 'Mindscapes' sets a great scene for the impending relationship demise. Synths whisper doubts amid the crashing thunder and bitterness begins to stain the atmosphere.

Through 'Isolation' and 'Being Watched' the feelings become tangible. Lonely melodies struggle to find meaning and question the situation without any answers forthcoming. 'Being Watched' is such a bittersweet affair as the synths cry out for heartfelt resolution, with no one there to hear them. It's stunningly involving, the disdain and feeling of loss is hard to watch.

The album moves into even more contemplative and self exploratory passages in 'Confusion' and the panic of 'Vibrations'. The imploring synths ask for explanations, the passages go deeper and deeper, replaying memories in our minds over and over again. By the time we actually get to 'Heartbreak' the raw nerve is exposed into incredibly beautiful synth melodies, wrought with frustration and utterly exhausted. The emotional collapse is the final petal falling from the once vividly colourful flower, fading into a monochromatic memory then crushed by a tear stained fist.

The fist clenches tighter in 'Darkest Night' as Strike Force 88 reaches his tether's end and unleashes a furious outburst of pent up hate into the expanses of the night. The melodies threaten to break under the weight of the hatred but there is a final coming to terms with the situation though even this offers little solace. 'Catastrophe' becomes an aftermath of sorts, a surveying of what we emotionally have left, what is left to build upon and what has become too scarred to ever heal properly again.

The final track, 'Mixed Feelings', finally allows a sliver of hope to be considered amongst the broken and fractured emotions we've been left deal with. That sliver of hope, the hope of new love, one day, becomes brighter as the synths caress our soul like a fresh breeze. Breathing deeply, it's time to move on.

Strike Force 88 presents the Heartbreak album on his Bandcamp page here in the usual array of digitally downloadable formats. This record is so profound in its emotional investment and the medium is so befitting of this heartbreaking story that you are taken entirely into Strike Force 88's painful experience, sometimes experiencing his pain first hand and often being asked questions that none of us have answers to.

The final act provides just enough hope to balance out the distressingly dark aspects of the rest of the album and gives a satisfying conclusion to the story. This album will not be for everyone. One must open one's heart and imagination to this record to fully experience all it has to offer and I highly advise you do as Strike Force 88's Heartbreak comes very, very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM.