By Rick Shithouse
Trusting your instincts, with any kind of art, is something that always pays off. When I heard of the TEK project many months ago I felt an instant karmic epiphany. The forces of Phaserland, Pengus and Matt Kwid joining and creating music in a classic 80s library vein with their own personal visions weaved throughout was akin to all the planets aligning for a galaxy wide moment of pure clarity.
I often wonder what 80s inspirations drive producers, and what it is they are particularly inspired by, but this trio of producers had been supping from the everlasting cup of 80s Library sounds deeply and the TEK project always felt like it was coming from the right place. The perfect level of homage and innovation, and with the talents/gifts/skills of these combined producers I would expect nothing less.
The Japanese aesthetic that permeates through the album does the perfect job of tying together the three creative minds. It's not just Heather Hermann's rockin cover art that does it though. The classic 80s Library sounds of Japan, laced with jazzy moods the blended the technology of the age with cool moods and uplifting, positive atmospheres.
Pengus opens up Volume One with a cool ride by bullet train 'First Class To Tokyo'. The first thing you will probably drink in is the timing structures that lend themselves far more to jazz than anything usually deemed Synthwave. The energy is bright, bouncy and bursting with radiance. The groove of the bassline snakes between the free fall percussion with synths drawing you into this fantastic new world of high contrast and vividly saturated colours.
The Asiatic motif that accompanies many of the melodies on Volume One is another one of those aspects that sits skilfully and delicately amid the synthscapes. It never feels forced or twee but instead comes across as soulful and deep. The second track, 'Let's Meet Up' adds the Eastern flavours in delicate nuance that resonates from the bright verses, into the soaring leads and beyond. The choices made with the instruments used on this album is another very identifying feature that keeps things in the correct aesthetic so convincingly. Acoustic, live drums and a spatial nature given to the production gives room for the leads to exist in freedom and verve.
The airily light magic of 'Obsessing Much' invites you into cool night breezes on a Tokyo high rise, above the humidity of the city while the melodies dance in staccato frames, holding poses ever so briefly before moving in another direction. The quirky structures are endearing and give interesting, new textures to experience; refreshing combinations of flavours that you'd never think would work together combine into something spectacular.
The grooves of gorgeously engineered FM bass light up the scene for 'Sideways' as Phaserland embraces the warmth and magic of classic Japanese sounds with equal nods to Library and arcade game music of the late 80s. The tones are warm and the details are full of tiny little bright spots of cutely drawn imagery. Directions change regularly during the record, to always keep you entertained and the guitar driven 'Strolling Around' gives a melodic reward that is absolutely entrancing. The vibe is geared to joyful strains of guitars and synths rockin as one as lead after sumptuous lead guides you by the hand into fantastic new worlds.
Easily, the optimism of the music in general is what gives the entire record such a strong presence. The bouncy brilliance of 'Aijou Jazz' rides the crest of a funky bassline and keys that sparkle in smooth waves of clear blue energy. The optimism of the 80s, the thought of being on the verge of great things, that possibilities are endless and dreams can be reality is a massively dominant thematic in much 80s music, especially Library sounds. That feeling of things being new, fresh and being able to change our lives is something TEK really channel in their pieces. In 'Fast Runnin'' the air of sophisticated cool and technology synonymous with fashion meld together in a story that is equally effortless as it is exhilarating.
Making slight departures in the sounds to fill in other parts of the story adds a delightful element of contrast to the album, as Matt Kwid's 'Bon Voyage' illustrates a soulful naivete through the melodies with a tropical, smouldering guitar dancing in beautiful time with bongos and congos. Another fantastic aspect that rocks hard through Volume One is the dual melodies that complement each other in the most intriguing ways. On 'Jackpot' the Synth Romance styled lead melody becomes thrust into an entirely new aesthetic that courses with vibrant energy and punchy percussion. The combination is riveting, and creates a wholly energising mood.
Smooth moods return with 'Seaside Again' and the feeling of cruising the seaside via slow motion shots of Japanese sports cars becomes the transport mode of choice. It's possibly just my own memories, but so much jazz oriented Library music summons visions of Pioneer and Hitachi demo discs that came out with the advent of LaserDisc players. Well into the 90s, this style music was always the most prominent and 'Seaside Again' gives me those visions of crystal clear high end sports cars in tropical settings. Easing the mood to even cooler climes 'High Contrast' comes into view with a definite view to supple night time encounters. The black satin against white skin creating an enticing contrast of colours and sounds as the guitars exude a sensuality of passionate yearning and delicate touch.
'Transport Beauty' brings together guitars and synths again this time with a edge of the new built into the melodies. Fresh and sharp, the music slices with precision and deft touch but not mechanised to a point of sterility, instead it harness and releases with natural and verdant flow. The final piece on the record ties up the experience exceptionally well as 'Shiny Morning' finishes the previous night's adventures and starts afresh with the new day. The lights streams in and the optimistic promise of what awaits us brings a smile to our face. The warmth is real and the music creates it just as much as the sun.
In Volume One all three producers have shared their creativity an collaborated together in a way that is absolutely outstanding. I've been harping on for years now about how collaborative works always bring out the best in producers and TEK have reinforced this theory billion-fold. The album is not only cohesive but individual nuances of all three producers are evident and celebrated throughout the tracks. Put simply, TEK's Volume One gets everything right. From the instruments to the arrangements to the themes and stories explored. It's fresh and enthusiastic and bursting with 80s love and positivity.
Telefuture Records presents TEK's Volume One on their Bandcamp page here in the usual array of digitally downloadable formats and also limited edition CD and cassette. This album has delivered everything it promised; and then some. It's a stand out release in the 80s inspired synth scene in 2015 and is the definition of a Synthetix Reference Experience.