By Andrew B. White
It’s a long way to Tipperary, but fortunately, thanks to the internet you don’t have to trek all the way there to hear the terrific music of Bart Graft. Hailing from Ireland, Bart Graft has released over a dozen albums and EPs since early 2015 – no mean feat it itself but a commendable effort given the consistent quality of the material. His new album “Universe” contains a solid 12 tracks, or 15 if you count the short opening track ‘Intro’ (somewhat obligatory for synthwave releases) and ‘Palladian Sky’ and ‘Outer Limits’ which are both ‘interlude’ type tracks. If you are already a fan of Bart Graft’s previous work you’ll already know the sonic goodness that’s in store here.
As mentioned, the album starts off with the instrumental track simply titled ‘Intro’. This is a very atmospheric track focusing on spacey, late-80s Roland D-50 type sounds and the addition of a subtle vocal sample. Next-up we have the album’s title track ‘Universe’, launching big drums and tasty melodic rock guitars at you, played by Mr Graft himself. Its “action sequence” city here folks!
Bringing things back down is ‘Altitude’ – a romantic, instrumental synthpop cut which is followed by another guitar-heavy track ‘Angel’s Rose’. Here, the guitars are complimented by ascending synth pads giving the track a ‘wide-open’ feel. ‘Outer Limits’ clocks-in at a mere 1:21, a suitable number for framing a scene in a mid-80s Madonna movie, and just like 80s Madge, it’s a bit of a tease, leaving you wanting more.
‘The Blue Planet’ gets funky with a nice RnB/pop vibe, solid bassline and a small dose of hammer-on guitar. I can imagine Axel Foley mincing-about in a montage scene in “Beverly Hills Cop” with this one. With ‘At Aphelion’ things change direction completely with a drum-less, outer space, soundtrack bent. Apparently Aphelion is the point in the orbit of an object where it is farthest from the Sun. With that in mind, the music for this track is beautifully representative of it’s title.
‘Grand Designs’ evokes “Top Gun” with its half-time drums in the verses and sprawling electric guitars, before building into a solid 4/4 beat. This is a suitably romantic track that counter-balances male blow-waves with enough testosterone for action stations if need be. I’m picturing aircraft hangers, aviator sunglasses and an epic sunrise here…
‘Fields of Bezhin’ presumably takes its title from a 1930s Soviet film “Bezhin Meadow” which was never completed. The juxtaposition of 1930s communist Soviet Union and 80s music is an interesting one. Check Bart Graft’s video of the song featuring stills from the film here. 'The Killing Joke’ in an obvious reference to the band of the same name; you can clearly hear a homage their song ‘A Love Like Blood’ in this. But sans-reference, the track still sounds like a solid original with a catchy melodic synth line.
‘Fair Is The Light’ is a play-on-words, being that the track is built on the sound and feel of the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument). This is a fun track and nails the Fairlight drum sound that is well known across so many hit songs. According to Wikipedia “Hiraeth is a Welsh word for which there is no direct English translation. The University of Wales, Lampeter attempts to define it as homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire for the Wales of the past”. So it is no coincidence then that the next track ‘Hiraeth’ emulates these emotions. A flowing instrumental track with only a little percussion and a sprinkling of Enya if I may say so.
Nicely following-on from this is ‘Lowest Winter Sun’ with it’s variating rhythm and tinkling polysynth melodies. Finally, the short interlude ‘Palladian Sky’ introduces us to to ‘The Eternal’, the last track on “Universe” – a mid-tempo instrumental and similar to ‘Grand Designs’, the style of which Graft has a real knack for successfully composing.
Bart Graft pays attention where it counts in terms of song arrangement, his choice of sounds and melodic structures. He combines these with great drum programming and skillful guitar chops. I sometimes think some instrumental tracks would be better off for having vocals but that isn’t true in Bart Graft’s case. The combined ingredients result in strong instrumental songs that come together very well. When artists are consistent across their releases, fans tend to come back for more. In that regard, those who are into melodic, feel-good 80s music will find lots to like about “Universe”. It comes very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM and is available digitally on Bandcamp via Rain Dragon Records here.