By Lachie Hunt
California based synthwave artist Col Bennett, better known to the synthwave community as FM-84, has been around in the scene for the past year. His debut release, Los Angeles EP, was a fantastic cinematic release full of chilled out drum beats with some saxophone thrown in, and that all drenched in heavy reverb. He then took an extended break, while occasionaly posting a remix or a standalone track. These were all folded into ATLAS, his debut album.
The production quality here has been stepped up several notches, with the sound seeming much fuller and clearer while still keeping the dreamy vibe. The main difference here from Los Angeles EP is the addition of vocal tracks, featuring Ollie Wride and When In Rome's Clive Farrington, alongside a remix of Timecop1983's collab with Josh Dally. This serves to make the album feel more like the synthpop it imitates than a modern record, which is a good thing in my book.
The most important part of an album to me is it's first impression. Enter the first track on the album, 'Everything'. Here the first impression is a beat that sounds like it was sequenced in the mid 80s on a drum machine that gently fades in to a more evolved sound similar to the tracks on the Los Angeles EP. The use of bells here is still fantastic and also incorporates more synth keys towards the end of the song. The high hat usage here is as fantastic as ever, with the velocity being used to great effect.
Now onto my favorite track from the album, a sentiment many people seem to share. 'Running In The Night' is the first in a set of three collaborations with British synthpop singer Ollie Wride. The song is drenched in reverb and background vocals, giving it an almost epic feel, before transitioning back into quiet stuff. As a whole the track almost feels like some of St Lucia's work from their latest album. Here though it feels much more close to the 80s sound, due to the the heavier use of synths and reverb. The lyrics are incredible too, they seem to fit the music incredibly, calling back some of the pop greats of the eighties.
'Tears' is a track that really lives up to its name, the music conveying heaps of emotion inside every second. The use of sliding and bells is excellent here. Guitar is also used to great effect here, bringing the whole thing to a more old school vibe, before anyone could load up a piece of software and make music.
'Chasing Yesterday' also brings the old sounding vibes, but the guitar work here sounds far more skilled, the guitar's arpeggio sounds magical with the soft synths in the background. When the drums do come in, the heavy layer of reverb helps to make it sound more authentic. The electric guitar parts are just icing on the cake in this one.
'Let's Talk' is actually a remix of Timecop1983's song from one of his albums, featuring Josh Dally as a vocalist. As a remix it works quite well. The original is fantastic too, so this is more of a conversion into FM-84's more cinematic style.
Every time I listen to a new album there's always a song or soundbyte burned into my brain. In Atlas, that soundbyte is the intro to 'Arcade Summer'. Here the 8 bit arpeggio fades into a song that sounds both lush and nostalgic, like sinking into a sea of synth. The various pluck synths that come in are great, with a heavy use of sliding and arpeggios. The sax from 'Delorean' returns, filling the track with almost too much cheesy emotion. Luckily it feels like just the right balance.
Next up is a pair of vocal tracks featuring Ollie Wride, the first of which being 'Wild Ones'. This one flew under my radar at first, but after giving it another listen it grew on me. The vocals are as powerful as ever, with more of FM-84's influence in the song itself. The use of synth keys are simply beautiful here.
To contrast to this track, 'Don't Want To Change Your Mind' is a classic RnB song, with small amounts of synth thrown in. The only real synthwave influences here are in the reverb and bells, both of which are kept mostly low key. The tune is fairly downbeat, described by Col as a 'slow jam'. It certainly fits this description, however part of me wished there could be a less quiet section, but the end of the song is enough really. This song was also able to find mainstream appeal after it's inclusion in the Fresh Finds spotify playlist, where it recieved over fourty thousand plays.
The title track 'Atlas' is a short interlude, comprised mainly of vocal humming and light brass, with larger pads coming in towards the end. As an interlude it works great, with each second filled with effort and time, however it isn't a song I would go out of my way to listen to but in this context it serves its purpose well.
'Jupiter' is what I would call the instrumental feature of the album. It has an ambient feel, mixed with something like Tangerine Dream and strong punchy drums. The vocal background returns here later on in the song and helps to fill out the song's sound. It really sounds like a more evolved soundtrack song from the 80s, trancending synthwave and the artist himself to create a connection to a time that never existed.
The closer is 'Goodbye'. The aptly titled song features Clive Farrington on vocals. The song stays subdued for the most of its running time, but there's a fantastic saxophone solo at the end that combines itself with the vocals and manages to create a synthpop track that is much closer to something made in the 80s than something made today.
The spirit of synthwave today is to give a modern context to what we loved about 1980s synthesizer based music. In my opinion, Atlas is the one of the best examples of this today. It feels authentic, and detailed. The release is diverse, hitting RnB, soundtrack, synthwave, and synthpop.
FM-84's debut album ATLAS is available on Bandcamp here as well as Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify, and the majority of other music distribution platforms. This album is very, very highly reccommended from Synthetix.FM.