Synthwave producer Alpharisc, aka Shane Yates of Melbourne, Australia, is a man who, like so many aficionados of 80's-inspired music, grew up during the 80's and whose exposure to various music-related media of that time left a lasting impression on him. So much so, in fact, that Yates believes that synthesizer music can make life better and solve many of the problems that inevitably arise through simply having a heart that beats. With a clear-minded focus on this personal maxim, Yates has made it his mission to make music that a lover of 80's-music would happily swear they'd heard before in the distant past and on some format of outdated technology, but without the listener being able to identify the exact source of this music-induced nostalgia. Yates has been successful in his attempts, and this is a result of his ability to soak up the vibes, feelings, textures and sounds of the 80's era and transpose them into beautifully 80's-inspired yet deeply original music using modern synthesizers and digital audio workstation technologies.
I first came upon Yates' music with the release of his 1989 Dream Girl EP, released on Wave Runner Records in the summer of 2014 and, about a month later, with the release of the Shanglin EP, put out by Future City Records. Both releases captured my attention after just a single listen each with what I can only describe as a kind of conceptual and organizational unity and flow that was displayed beautifully and succinctly. Each EP has clear thematic focus within it, each is harnessed within the scope of three songs, and each spans a length of time that is just over ten minutes short. Being an ardent fan of the "synthwave slow jam", I know the emotive power and sway that a down-tempo synthwave track - complete with warmth-soaked pads and an ebb-and-flow pull like that of a sunset beach walk when the tide is changing - can have on an 80's-inspired music lover. What's trickier, in my opinion, is drawing out these same lavish atmospheres and nostalgia-inducing thoughts in the listener through the use of higher tempos and compositional shifts that charge at you with aggressive intent instead of oozing up to you smoothly. Let me tell you - to be lulled and romanced while at the same time feeling a certain degree of tension and apprehension isn't something I experience everyday, and Alpharisc's 1989 Dream Girl and Shanglin EPs did just this very thing.
As the above statements suggest, Alpharisc's first two EPs have stood the test of time in my mind, and they serve as some of the more memorable and valuable listening experiences I've enjoyed in the past couple of years. Having followed his work closely ever since, I leapt at the opportunity to hear his latest output - that being his first full-length album: Synthwars. With this release, brought to us by the brand new (and aptly titled) Future Retro Music label, Alpharisc has put together something beyond the most harmonious dreams of an 80's-inspired music fan. It's a release that is completely true to all the things that we know about Shane Yates through his musical output, with the added bonus of being a powerful evolution of his abilities as both a composer, producer and conceptualist. Within Synthwars the listener can feel the artist's desire to solve problems through music, and the release also radiates Yates' strong aspiration to create music that brings back memories of the retro past while staring straight into the future.
The album cover art displays the ever-present, synthwave-standard grid as a backdrop for the title, which is done in a font that emphatically pays tribute to one of the most legendary video game protagonists of all time: Pac-Man. These features, coupled with the fact that the tracks are titled as "stages" (1 through 9, with various subtitles behind each stage designation), mean that we the listeners know right away that we're embarking on a nostalgic trip through an array of themes and mnemonic artifacts inspired by classic gaming and driven home by a central core of retro-inspired synthesized gaming music.
Yet Synthwars is an album that is so much more than the sum of its influences, references or inspirations. Whereas Alpharisc has always been able to create poignant music without relying on melancholic down-tempos, his choice to create an album that is almost completely filled with high-BPM synthwave shows a bold confidence that pays off fully. Apart from the harrowing, mid-tempo 'Stage 6 - Your Move Creep' and 'Stage 7 - Battle Station' (which act as a kind of tether from which the listener can hang onto for dear life after experiencing the album's previous five kinetic attacks), Synthwars is a fast-paced boss rush with as many intensely satisfying moments as one could ever hope to find in their favourite retro-video gaming memories, let alone a musical tribute to them. In Synthwars, Alpharisc reveals to the listener just how beautiful a thing can be when its creator is able to grow his abilities, expand on his talents, and do these things while at the same time devoting himself fully and completely to a specific concept, which in this case was the affecting energy that the best classic video game experiences could contain and the thrilling, joyful impact they could have on the enthusiastic gamer-devotees that valued them.
Synthwars, Alpharisc's first full-length album, is an inspired, invigorating head-trip of a release, and deserves recognition for being not just a fantastic collection of songs with a truly cohesive, total-album feel, but for being one of the best nostalgic explorations of classic video game energy that doesn't involve dusting off your ancient consoles and sitting down for a serious gaming session. As a result, it comes very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM.
Synthwars is available in digital formats through Future Retro Music's Bandcamp page here.