By Andrew B. White
If you have been following the synthwave scene over the last year or so, Melbourne Australia’s Dream Fiend probably needs no introduction. Primarily making a name for himself with a steady handful of singles, collaborations with the likes of Mythical Vigilante, and remixes for a long list of other artists including Miami Horror, Droid Bishop, Abelard, Phantom Ride, Killstarr, Futurecop! and Diamond Field (full disclosure- that’s my artist name so maybe I’m a little biased!). Dream Fiend is also half of the group Starbound along with fellow Aussie synthwave act Killstarr.
Electric Isle is the debut EP from Dream Fiend (or maybe it’s more of a “mini album” with seven tracks and no additional remixes). The Dream Fiend sound has always centered around several core attributes: upbeat, fun, melodic and solidly produced. The self-titled lead-off track on the EP reinforces all of these traits and ‘Electric Isle’ is indeed classic Dream Fiend. Synth melodies abound over a solid rhythm section that forces you to want get up and get down. It’s the sort of track that brings on instant feelings of good times and has ‘synthwave’ written all over it.
The second track ‘Night Flight’ maintains this energy while stepping things up a notch. It features a synth lead that reminds me of ‘Valerie’-era Steve Winwood, and the song itself hints at elements from Daft Punk’s “Discovery” album. It’s a feel-good night flight. ‘Morning Light’ pulls-in the funk and features Dream Fiend on the vocals, accented by re-sampled vocal hits for a bit of an Arthur Baker ‘A-E-I-O-U’ workout.
The straight vocals are then swapped-out for a Roger Troutman talk-box on ‘My Electric Heart’ which yet again brings some Daft Punk comparisons, along with a music bed akin to Mylo (remember him?) I’m of the opinion that this track somehow sublimely manages to combine synthwave/outrun with 2000s dance floor styles. Maybe this is a new sub-genre we could call ‘vocal club OutRun’? In any case, it works.
Moving on over to the instrumental ‘Indigo’, a light funk/synth workout featuring guitar by Matt Kwid that makes a complimentary segue into ‘Joyride’ for more of the same. Both of these tracks would make for excellent video game placements or backing on an ‘80s instructional video. ’Plateau’ literally ends the album with one – a plateau of sound akin to an introduction to a song from the late ‘80s club scene – think 808 State (and you can hear the bird samples already).
Overall, like any Dream Fiend release, there is a sense of positivity here, of the enjoyment of life and good vibes through listening to music. This may sound a bit twee, but the cute and fluffy Dream Fiend “cloud guy” logo graphically represents the Dream Fiend modus operandi. The music is damn catchy, often rather funky and always expertly arranged and produced. The tracks are lush but never cluttered.
What occurred to me over the course of listening to Electric Isle is that it goes on a stylistic journey whilst retaining a cohesive sound. This is of course not uncommon within the synthwave genre – with all the varied styles that are ‘80s music, artists are often influenced across the board and combine a number of genres together, or alongside each other. My thoughts were confirmed when I asked Dream Fiend about the idea behind Electric Isle:
Dream Fiend: “Electric Isle is a concept album which is intended to take the listener on a journey to find that inner happy place. In Dream Fiend’s world, this place exists on another ‘plane of existence’ and he stumbles upon it. Dream Fiend assists humans and other lifeforms while in their dream state to ensure their dream is a delightful one.
The goal behind this EP was to try and create a body of music where each was different to the next but also felt cohesive as a group. That was the hardest challenge. In the end I took a few risks like including fusions of styles that don’t really exist yet and also throwing down my own vocals. I wasn’t sure how it would be received but I'm really glad that people can appreciate it and enjoy it!”
It seems that Electric Isle is a whistle stop on the Dream Fiend train with many other projects on the go. In addition to more Dream Fiend music, he is currently working on the Starbound album and in the process of scoring several video game soundtracks. We can expect some exciting things then. In the meantime I’m sure Electric Isle will be getting plenty of spins.
You can get the Electric Isle EP and Dream Fiend’s previous single releases on Bandcamp here in digitally downloadable formats and on iTunes and Spotify. Electric Isle comes very, very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM.