By Rick Shithouse
The evolution of music is something that happens at different rates in different places and sometimes one only recognises these changes long after they've occurred. In 80s inspired synth music I'm already noticing a lot of branching out and experimenting for many producers, and new producers making sounds that take on interesting new developments right out of the gate. The vaporwave movement of late has crossed over directly into the 80s inspired synth scene in a way that is totally rockin to the max with inspirations being shared between the genre definitions in very exciting new ways.
Another way sounds are evolving and redefining is in other uses of samples outside of vaporwave. I've recently become enamoured with the new sounds surfacing that take the template of 2009 era nu-disco and implement samples from 80s instead of the 70s. We've also had the likes of Space Camp Beats mixing up hip hop and break beats with 80s samples; who knows what else is going on on the planet elsewhere that's taking the 80s soul of the music we love and breathing new life into it in ways previously unheard of.
This brings us to Raken and his album Sunset Place, where he explores his sounds and feelings across ten compositions. Sunset Place isn't a 'game changer' or some other hyperbolic descriptor, but what it does do is open some doors, some only a smidgen, to new worlds and ideas beckoning from the outer reaches of 80s inspirations.
The album begins with 'Bahama Space', a piece that blew me away in short time with its sampling of Morrissey's This Charming Man in a way that is full of graceful homage while adding in massive beats and synths that dance like a steel drum orchestra. The light is bright, but shortly lived as the track runs it's course inside of two and half minutes, but the way Raken has taken and repurposed and 80s vocal into this piece has me champing at the bit to hear more of this in the future.
Raken's textures and structures are reminiscent of numerous producers I fondly adore. Tones of Navigateur, Klockhaus and Amazing Police are blended on a palette that is coloured with many of Jowie Schulner's and Tommy's brushstrokes and then infused with Raken's own magic. 'Brother's Gate' charges the atmosphere with uplifting neutrons of synth sweetness, rising in each stanza while some killer hip hop oriented percussion blends worlds together. It is the melodies in Raken's sounds that are always so bountiful in 80s soul, full of impassioned passages that implore and inspire.
These mixtures of sounds continue into the pulsating power of 'Night Light Forest'. Big sounds get bigger and rear up with a life of their own, forming into shadowy beings whose intentions are unclear, but surely have a beautifully divine melodic life blood pounding through their veins.
Raken takes things out onto the anti-gravity raceways of the future in 'Number 37' with basslines pumping through tight chicanes and revving melodies accelerating into dangerous battles at hundreds of miles per hour. Amid all this chaos a searing lead melody cuts like a knife through the competition in a vastly dramatic manner.
One of the absolute high points of this album, that reaches the heavens and beyond is the aptly titled 'Odyssey'. The galloping melodies are accented with spatial synth motifs and conjured into a reprise that makes the spirit soar. The music is constructed with beauty and nuance and though clocking in at under three minutes it feels immensely greater than its measurement in time.
'Raken's Theme' brings to mind a more futuristic, dystopian feeling that resonates with drama. The synthscape is bold in the face of the less than idyllic circumstances and the theme builds and builds with the strength of many. In some respects some of the shorter pieces like 'Raken's Theme' and the following track 'Secret Book' feel like they're more chapters of an over-arching idea than completely separate entities, but this is not to say the tracks are not disparate where it matters. The hope barely hinted at in 'Raken's Theme' takes further flight in 'Secret Book' as positivity drenches the melodic score.
Moving into 'Slo' the Raken aesthetic becomes slightly more disco oriented and then introduces some totally rockin guitars to sing the songs glories. Inventive percussion and a deep exploration of melodies makes for a new, dance-ier atmosphere although the epic nature of Raken's structures can not be limited to the dancefloor exclusively.
'Sunset Place', the title track, capitalises once again on Raken's yearning lead synths that are both delicately light and heavy with emotion. The sounds swell and ebb amid punchy beats that contrasts the dreamlike rhythm section; reflecting in the haze a bright, pinpoint sharp melody of the purest light.
The album finishes with 'Vhaku', a moodier setting is described initially and then energised with electronic rhythms. Dramatic points explode along the journey, incandescent in their power; leaving ghosted images in our vision as they fade away. A fitting ending to an album full of highly involving passages of synthual delights.
For what I believe is a debut album, Raken opens his account in 80s inspired synth sounds with a very strong release. Some of the ideas contained within these tracks are beautifully inspired and there is mood and tone he creates and imparts that is truly inspirational and cut from a similar cloth from the aforementioned Tommy and Jowie Schulner. His inclusion of different sounds, particularly in the percussion and his totally rockin opening piece that samples 80s vocals directly really shines a light on new paths that 80s inspired synth may wander down more often from this point on, who knows where the music will take us next?
Raken presents the Sunset Place album on his Bandcamp page here. This album comes very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM as an inspirational work of inventiveness in equal parts of emotional investment from a producer whom, I for one, will definitely be following ardently in the future.