Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Highway Superstar Takes His Time And Reaps The Rewards

Highway Superstar had a huge 2013, finishing it off with his incredibly rich debut album Take My Time. This album came out just after Synthetix.FM finished up for 2013 but I believe this album is something important to evolution of the 80s inspired synth scene and is well deserving of the full Synthetix.FM treatment. Having had the luxury of being able to enjoy it for nearly two months has really brought out the nuances and how this album works so well as a full package.

The dominant trend in the scene is for singles and EP releases, however the full album experience is still untapped by most producers. I can see how daunting this must be and in today's fast-forward production mentality, few seem willing to dedicate the time necessary to create an album that will be important and valuable as a creative work. This trend is slowly changing, and I hope more artists devote their time and passion to full LP’s as the format allows for so much more exploration and reward for the listener over an EP.

It’s kind of serendipitous then that Highway Superstar’s debut album is titled Take My Time. This producer has taken his time to create a record that stands out in many respects from a lot of what is happening in 80s inspired synth music, this is greatly due to one element that Highway Superstar has built his sounds on and used to his ultimate strength. That element is songwriting. Each track on the album is crafted in a traditional songwriting manner, not just the tracks with vocals either. The sounds never feel like they’re tracked and automated but instead feel written and jammed out. The emphasis Highway Superstar puts on hooks and catchy choruses is to be applauded as it’s this consistency which elevates Take My Time to wonderful new levels of aural enjoyment.

There’s a genuine 80s charm in this songwriting, a characteristic often lost amid the implementation of more modern sounding arrangements which Highway Superstar balances out with more contemporary elements that walks the perfect tightrope along an event horizon of new and vintage sounds. One finds this evident from the opening piece,  ‘Night In The City’ featuring the vocals of scene mainstay Dana Jean Phoenix. The Highway Superstar brand of 80s synth pop is taken directly from the funkier, back end of 80s pops sounds. Structures are polished and gleaming with mix of De Barge and The System woven into Highway Superstars own synthual brilliance. The vocals, the hooky chorus, the guitars, the horns; it’s all golden and makes for a hugely strong opening track that sets the scene stupendously well.

Things are taken on an instrumental cruise in ‘Boardwalk Sunset’ next and this is where Highway Superstar spreads his wings and takes off with an experience that explores so much musical territory it’s staggering. The saxophone is our guide as we’re taken on a fantastic voyage into the colours and textures of the night in a playfully delightful manner. The instruments are all separate voices given space and their own importance before harmonizing into a melodious glowing beauty.

The album deviates splendidly in the next track ‘Around The World’ as Highway Superstar teams up with the inimitable Who Ha in a vastly entertaining ode to the perils of rockstardom. Touring the world, rockin the planet each and every night doesn’t fill the void left by that someone special who’s timezones away, but still close in our hearts. Who Ha’s delivery is totally kick arse, with just enough swagger to make their teenage fans start fainting, but counterbalances this with his own sentimental honesty. Melodies dance and create a magic all their own with some of the best songwriting on the album as each verse and chorus has its rad levels kicked up the maximum. I find it hard not to visualize a live performance of this as a music video with a million dollar light show and thousands of screaming fans worshipping at the altar of this dynamic duo every time I hear it.

The most ambitious song on Take My Time would have to be the title track as Highway Superstar enlists two vocalists to realise a driving pop anthem that is absolutely rockin to the max. Dana Jean Phoenix and Chris Page trade emotional blows against a high speed back drop of a world in chaos. Their voices create their own universe, where only the importance of two people exists. The lyrics are pop perfection as they verbalize their passions strongly before realizing they both want and need the same thing. The music creates turmoil when needed and emotive epiphany at just the right points. This reminds me greatly of the 80s pop gem ‘Twist Of Fate’ by Olivia Newton John, and I mean this in the most complementary manner as the passionate, dramatic fervor and wonderful intensity in ‘Take My Time’ is a rarity in the 80s inspired synth scene.

One would think that following this epic pop anthem wouldn’t be easy but it’s a testament to the quality of this album that the next track is one of my favourites, not only on this record, but for the entirety of 2013. ‘Dialtones’ is a spectacular instrumental that hangs on a monstrously infectious hook and then evolves this concept into a synthscapade of ravishing beauty. The atmosphere and tone are perfection, telling a deep narrative with each melodic sequence. It’s a hugely uplifting experience, something that embodies everything I love about this music into a vividly colourful six minute symphony.

It’s about this point in the album I find that one is prepared for anything. The amount of musical territory covered in the first half of the record can leave you breathless and right when you’re expecting a nice interlude to join some ideas together is going to happen the exact opposite occurs and Highway Superstar bundles you into his super car of choice and takes off into the night doing ’10-80’ in nanoseconds. The OutRun flavour of this piece is thrilling and exhilarating with racing melodies being deftly maneuvered in and out of traffic at a blistering pace. Spending most of it’s duration in the danger zone I find myself screaming out the window in ecstatic jubilation as the Highway Superstar explained his monicker in the most dramatic fashion possible.

There’s barely time to take a breath as ‘Them Or Us’ becomes a question of survival with pumping rhythms instilling some darker aspects into the milieu. Highway Superstar shows he’s just as comfortable exploring darker and dangerous ideas as he is with bright warm ones. The bouncing melodies transition in and out of ominous surroundings where a very real threat can be felt. In one of the oddities on this album, I found this piece ended a tad prematurely for my liking, but what is explored is done so with great presence of mind and artistry.

‘Camaro 86’ rolls up into view with a suave, devil may care coolness about it before casually setting the night ablaze in another OutRun themed adventure. The atmosphere, though exciting and fast paced, feels much more effortless this time around. Melodies illustrate fascinating details while the structure of the piece evolves into a spectacular new form. This contains some absolutely marvelous passages that come out of nowhere and blow your mind before continuing into new, electrifying dimensions. Breathtaking, from beginning to end.

The final original piece on Take My Time is the leisurely paced ‘Syndicate’. Espousing a much more contemplative air this piece is again a wonderful adventure into new and inventive sound structures with a jazzy flow that moves along like a live jam in concert. So many details are lovingly layered into the ambiance that by it’s end one feels a genuine contentment and a boisterous round of applause feels like the logical thing to do.

To finish off the album we have a bonus remix of the title track by the ever glorious Tommy. His remix is a very different take on ‘Take My Time’ as things are slowed down and examined with a more distant approach. It contains a deep longing, so consistent with Tommy’s work, and completes the album experience beautifully as a final refrain.

‘Take My Time’ is a truly epic album. After tens of listens I still find myself hearing new things and experiencing different aspects to pieces that I feel I know intimately. As mentioned numerous times throughout my musings the songwriting on this record is incredibly well realised as each element feels like it naturally and perfectly fills the space it’s been afforded. So much of this album feels like an effortless stream of consciousness, when I know that wasn’t the case, that it just adds that extra layer of magic to the listening experience.

Highway Superstar’s Take My Time is presented by Rosso Corsa Records on their Bandcamp here and is most assuredly a Synthetix Reference Experience. This is album is a shining example of why I love the 80s inspired genres so very much. Highway Superstar’s talent is undeniable, as his grasp on what makes the 80s rock so hard. I encourage all fans of 80s inspired synths sounds to pick up this album as soon as possible and if you already own it, please give it another listen on my behalf cause records of this quality don’t come around often at all, but we can always revisit them and feel that magic all brand new, all over again.

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