By Rick Shithouse
Australia's own Strike Force 88, or Electric Dissection as he was previously known, has been creating vintage synth sounds for years now, with my first coverage of his work on Synthetix.FM going back to March 2013. In the time since he's undergone the name change and has subtly changed and evolved his style along the way.
An ardent devotee of the early days of mid 70s synth sounds this producer has created some of the most accurate reimaginings of this first wave of the new electronic sounds in his new record, Heartbreak. The channelling of the likes of Jarre, Oldfield, Vangelis and (Strike Force 88 favourite) Tangerine Dream results in an aural time machine that replicates the emotive strains of a time when synthesizers were completely brand new.
Strike Force 88 uses synths in different ways to much of the 80s inspired synth producers as the synthscape is often kept to one single 'voice' that sings the melodies. The synth is never a tool to create melody but is instead a conduit to share emotional experiences through sound. The music is played from the heart directly to the listener and through the barren and sparse stories one is given full focus to the performance narrative.
In an age where huge amount of layers, tracks and effects are the norm there is something very clean and refreshing when engaging in this work. The simplistic percussion, the understated basslines and the huge focus on the lead synth makes for something incredibly personal and deep. As they say in the classics (and on Synthetix Sundays!) less is often more and in this case it rings true in every chapter of Heartbreak.
The implementation of such vintage production techniques means the listener is told the stories of this failed romance through quivering chords, melancholy passages and reflective melodies. The tracks vary hugely in their make up and direction but the undercurrents of the broken heart are an inescapable undertow lurking beneath the apparently calm surface. The uneasy brightness of the opening piece, 'Mindscapes' sets a great scene for the impending relationship demise. Synths whisper doubts amid the crashing thunder and bitterness begins to stain the atmosphere.
Through 'Isolation' and 'Being Watched' the feelings become tangible. Lonely melodies struggle to find meaning and question the situation without any answers forthcoming. 'Being Watched' is such a bittersweet affair as the synths cry out for heartfelt resolution, with no one there to hear them. It's stunningly involving, the disdain and feeling of loss is hard to watch.
The album moves into even more contemplative and self exploratory passages in 'Confusion' and the panic of 'Vibrations'. The imploring synths ask for explanations, the passages go deeper and deeper, replaying memories in our minds over and over again. By the time we actually get to 'Heartbreak' the raw nerve is exposed into incredibly beautiful synth melodies, wrought with frustration and utterly exhausted. The emotional collapse is the final petal falling from the once vividly colourful flower, fading into a monochromatic memory then crushed by a tear stained fist.
The fist clenches tighter in 'Darkest Night' as Strike Force 88 reaches his tether's end and unleashes a furious outburst of pent up hate into the expanses of the night. The melodies threaten to break under the weight of the hatred but there is a final coming to terms with the situation though even this offers little solace. 'Catastrophe' becomes an aftermath of sorts, a surveying of what we emotionally have left, what is left to build upon and what has become too scarred to ever heal properly again.
The final track, 'Mixed Feelings', finally allows a sliver of hope to be considered amongst the broken and fractured emotions we've been left deal with. That sliver of hope, the hope of new love, one day, becomes brighter as the synths caress our soul like a fresh breeze. Breathing deeply, it's time to move on.
Strike Force 88 presents the Heartbreak album on his Bandcamp page here in the usual array of digitally downloadable formats. This record is so profound in its emotional investment and the medium is so befitting of this heartbreaking story that you are taken entirely into Strike Force 88's painful experience, sometimes experiencing his pain first hand and often being asked questions that none of us have answers to.
The final act provides just enough hope to balance out the distressingly dark aspects of the rest of the album and gives a satisfying conclusion to the story. This album will not be for everyone. One must open one's heart and imagination to this record to fully experience all it has to offer and I highly advise you do as Strike Force 88's Heartbreak comes very, very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM.