By Rick Shithouse
One of my most favourite things in hearing new music is being surprised. Being actually taken by surprise of what a producer has created is something that happens infrequently but when it does it's a very exciting time. Beckett has surprised me immensely with this new album Retrograde. Beckett is no newcomer to the scene and I really enjoyed his Search Of 34 album from 2014 but I was in no way, shape or form prepared for what Beckett was gonna rock with his new album.
The blending of 80s motifs has been a fantastic exercise to witness in 2015, the evolution of styles and taking of disparate vintage elements and combining them into something altogether new and cohesive has been a hallmark of much of the music I've really enjoyed this year. And once again, in this album, it's the 80s Library influence that combines with a well honed pop flavour and all manner of other 80s styles into an album that is absolutely rockin to the max from beginning to end.
It's all well and good taking tonnes of different influences and styles and making specific singular experiences but Beckett has managed to make an entire album that flows from chapter to chapter with grace and ease and blends the elements and ideas in a way that sounds completely natural. The opening track, 'Air Games '84' was the lead-in pre release that came out a few weeks ago and instantly grabbed my attention. The 80s Library sports theme aesthetic is about as true as you're going to get outside of a KPM Music release from 1986. The triumphant melodies and energising guitars make for something very special indeed. The production is rich and clean with a warmth in the synths that goes a long way to complement the superb guitar work. Beckett's understanding of creating a Library piece in such an authentic manner really shines in 'Air Games '84', and it marks for a wonderful opening-ceremony of sorts to the Retrograde experience.
Things move into less energetic but no less exciting climes in the title track which follows. Opting for a much more guitar driven atmosphere, in both bass and lead, Beckett summons brass, synths and even some bongos into the sweetly warm night air and rocks a jam your sure to feel deep. The dialogue between all the instruments feels so true and natural, genuinely effortless and the high polish of the production just magnifies the experience. 'Retrograde' has a beautifully written narrative that moves from scene to scene in the most rewarding fashion. Chic, romantic, enticing and full of gorgeous 80s colours.
Beckett begins flexing his pop muscles next and transitions into a bright bubblegum gem accompanied by the powerful vocals of Rachael Jones. The melodies of 'Better' are pop perfection, primary colours burst into sonic candy that you'll be unable to resist. The chorus, with its climbing bridges and highly frenetic bassline, just puts that sweet cherry right on top. The tightness of all the instruments allows Rachael Jones' vocals to break the boundaries of the timings; adding a soulful and human element while retaining perfect 80s phrasing. It's pure pop bliss and you'll have it looping in your mind long after the track's stopped.
Continuing down the pop path, but opting for a distinct AOR flavour instead of bubblegum this time Beckett rocks like there's no tomorrow on 'Talk Talk'. The smoothly dramatic music sits dutifully in the background to the totally kick arse lead vocal performance from Beckett himself. The yearning vocal is full of grand 80s nuance, sitting somewhere between Corey Hart and Jon Waite and rockin every lyric with a gloriously vintage melodrama. The songwriting throughout the album really shines brightly in every track, but these songs with vocals performances definitely have a lustre all their own.
Sauve night time instrumentals return with 'Hustle' as Beckett jams a groove full of vibrant energy that would do Steve Winwood proud and brings to mind colours and emotions I usually reserve for Rainsword's music. The swagger is unmistakable and Beckett really rides a musical swell that bobs and weaves with ease around the moonlit shoreline. Crisp, clear melodies get worked into jazz aesthetics that increase their potency tenfold.
Speeding off into oblivion rocks 'Motorcade' next. Sharp, decisive, powerful and then the vocals kick in. Once again Beckett's most manly of the manliest vocals turn a high energy synth instrumental into an epic vocally driven experience that goes beyond the danger zone. The female back up vocals add a pop flavour while the guitars bring out the essence of high energy emotions; rockin to the max at every turn and blasting into oncoming traffic without a care for the consequences.
Switching gears entirely Beckett breaks off into the realms of gauzy synth romance as the freneticism abates but the passions bring on a different kind of heat. 'Beach Central' has one of the most uplifting hooks on the entire album in a chorus that is incredibly profound and develops its gorgeous magical essence with each refrain. This is the embodiment of happiness into music and is inescapably wonderful to listen to.
The love-interest scene fades out into a smear of tail lights against a sprawling nocturnal urban landscape and the pace accelerates into adventure. These faster paced tracks really add a lovely element of 'colour commentary' to the Retrograde experience; always high on thrills and bustling with riffs and solos, trading blows in a dangerous asphalt duel. 'Chase 'Em Down' does everything right with this style of 80s inspired synth and it's, once again, the spectacular songwriting and deep narrative that powers the entire affair.
The elements of 80s Library Music are implemented so cleverly throughout the record that it surprises me often as traditionally written 80s inspired synth progressions get a smattering of Library love that really elevates them to new levels. The subtlety in which these flavours are introduced through the synths and guitars in 'Runner' really impresses. The audaciousness of the leads; complete with brass backing them up always feels completely together with the other elements. There isn't a single idea that ever feels tacked on simply for the sake of it and that feeling of purpose is one of the most inspiring aspects of Beckett's music.
Retrograde goes out on a bright, happy note with the delightfully bouncy 'Recall 1983'. The leads drive the music almost exclusively through the opening chapters before moving into a totally rockin bridge and chorus that sing their synth magic to the heavens. It must have been a seriously hard task for Beckett to decide which tracks on Retrograde were to be instrumentals and which ones were to have an accompanying vocal. Each instrumental is so well put together that I often thought I vocal could work on them but especially in tracks like 'Recall 1983' the instruments are given ample voice to fill the soundscape with beautifully formed stories.
That's really what drives the Retrograde album: detailed stories; full of 80s wonder and excitement with equal amounts of bright colours and exploring emotions emblazoned across the synthscape. Beckett has made a very special album in Retrograde and it's definitely one of my favourite experiences of 2015.
Beckett's Retrograde is presented on his Bandcamp here in the usual array of digitally downloadable formats. This album is without any shadow of a doubt a Synthetix Reference Experience.