Tuesday, December 16, 2014

20SIX Hundred Goes To The Next Level

By Chris 'Python Blue' Day

I may be a synthwave musician, but I am also a soundtrack composer wannabe. While the synthwave genre by definition claims to be inspired by 80s soundtracks, among other retro music, any such inspiration seems to usually become heavily overshadowed by the sounds of the 80s pop charts.

That being said, a tip of my hat goes to 20SIX Hundred with his latest release, The Next Level. While such a title can be a clever promotion gimmick, the backstory for this work suggests otherwise. The album as a whole is focused on a dark future, with occasional narrations to help develop the story for the listener further in which we abandon planet Earth and humanity with it, and the gapless compositions are a nice way to tie everything together. 

The album begins with a surprisingly light-hearted intro instrumental. 'Meditation Phase' does set the stage in many ways with lots of slow flanging synthesizers. A lead melody kicks in with a swelling sound that only further enforces the impression of a Vangelis soundtrack.

The title track, however, begins to give the album a darker tone. The voiceover makes it clear that humanity is done for on Earth, and once the message is made clear, we begin to hear the beats of typical synthwave while still retaining a spacious atmosphere.

'Last Chance' carries on the voiceover alongside a very spooky piano-like synth. The inhuman voice, as spooky as it sounds with its tone and some of its words, is trying to get us out of the situation we are faced with, leading to an excellent buildup to the chase music that defines Final Exit'.

'Breaking the Bonds' is great buildup music. A subtle voice sample of spaceship crew preparing for launch is an excellent touch, as is the use of cinematic percussion, as the listeners attempt to disengage with their humanity.

'To Advance Beyond' contains one of the creepiest intros I’ve ever heard. It’s not until the rhythm guitar and synth bass kick in that I’m assured that this fits in with the overall theme of the album, and it’s worth waiting for. A bittersweet melody is developed alongside a haunting choir as we progress through outer space.

'Away Team' is a more downtempo breather for the listeners. The lead guitar is a nice touch, and it’s nice to hear complex articulations without the guitarist getting carried away in the moment with the playing.

In a similar vein is the follow up track, 'Higher Source'. This track, however, takes the slower pace even further, replacing guitars with a tenor saxophone and electric pianos, giving a nice jazzy intermission to the work as a whole.

We return to the slightly more aggressive tone of the overall album with 'Section 6'. The acoustic piano gives a nice creepy sound to the beginning, informing the listener right away that where we are is not exactly a safe place.

'Boarding Pass' takes a different rhythmic twist to the Nu-Disco sound that colors most synthwave, settling for a sound more reminiscent of electro breakbeat. Said rhythm is performed alongside another light-hearted, Vangelis-esque melody.

Things get even more interesting with 'Metamorphosis'. The resonant sound of the synth bass and its variable brightness really can give the impression of something of no fixed shape, a fitting interpretation for a track named after the Greek word for changing form.

Things are reaching a climax with 'Meeting Place', a thought that is made particularly clear through the return of a cinematic sound. Orchestral percussion and choir, with eventual electric guitar, plays very well this time around with the retro space synthesizers.

A shame that what I felt was the best track, 'Leave With Us', was the last original track in the album. This track especially brings new meaning to retrowave soundtracks, and makes me thankful that I’m not the only synthwaver dedicated to the sound of soundtracks as well. The outro is particularly a nice touch: abandoning drum machines in favor of cinematic percussion, and the voiceover returns to us one final time telling Earth that they need to leave or die off.

The final two tracks in this album are remixes of 'Final Exit' and 'The Next Level', both remixed by CTRL-ALT-DSTRY. While I regret to say I hadn’t heard of this particular producer before, they prove themselves top-notch with their interpretations of 20SIX Hundred’s concept.

20SIX Hundred has The Next Level available on his Bandcamp page here, complete with a CD edition along with the usual digital download formats. Overall, this is an excellent listen for any fans of retro soundtracks, and is without a doubt a Synthetix Reference Experience due to the cohesiveness of the ideas that are realised so vividly and the creativity and vision 20SIX Hundred has explored in each track.

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