Absolute Valentine - Police Heartbreaker
By James Mann
One of the first things I noticed about Absolute Valentine was the level of production. Each instrument and synth sits so nicely. Achieving a balance between compression, limiting and loudness is a picky war of words in the producer world, but with releases like Police Heartbreaker, (Absolute Valentine’s latest LP released through Laserdiscs Records) a benchmark for production seems to have been established. A tour de force in sound, analog moods marry digital touches for one of the best releases of the year. Swinging the pendulum from emotive and heartfelt, to pulsating and driving electro, this release has it all and is guaranteed to satiate all facets of the discerning synth lover.
Bad News comes full throttle and scorches terrain as an electro and arpeggiated masterpiece. Within seconds you are pulled into the Absolute Valentine sound, as dynamic synths dance around a huge kick and clap combo. Inspirations from other artists and a French touch can be heard, but this powerhouse of a musician stamps the product for himself. Ethereal melodies float above as proof AV can bring the heat but also delve into more emotional material, combining different aesthetics in a cohesive manner. It’s short and sweet, giving the listener a sense of anticipation for the next track.
Police Heartbreaker opens with a John Carpenter inspired horror synth line. The one big difference between the two is that Absolute Valentine charges ahead with a danceable and energetic piece showcasing prime chord progressions. Between scouting urban landscape for criminals, or getting a full pump with Mr. Metal at the gym, I’m torn on the possibilities. Simply put, this track is a sizzler and represents the best in dance electro with a huge 80s nod. Keeping the songs fit to a 3-4 minute mark, AV keeps your attention quite effectively.
As I progress through the album, I notice the strength in soundtrack inspired moods from Absolute. Tracks like Stake Out provide the best in 80s scoring. Pensive and moody arpeggiations with clever off claps, toms and kicks scream OST. (Original Sound Track) material. Fitting as a backdrop or front and center, these are impressive works that transcend so much more in terms of cinema based ear candy. The flexibility and versatility is astounding.
Extreme Drift is perhaps my favorite on the album. An unapologetic thrust of kick and clap bring me back to Patrick Cowley and early Hi-NRG numbers from the Paul PArker/Sylvester era. High end synths usher in a French House tinge, but again AV is able to craft something quite special and something so memorable for your senses. His excitement and love of production shows, it’s something not quite as evident on other releases I’ve heard building 80s inspired music from the ground up. Well Done.
I had a chance to catch up with Absolute and asked him what the album was all about. (In between managing the pioneering DRIVE Radio and CEO of Laserdiscs Records, this man is busy!) “The idea behind Police Heartbreaker was to do a real soundtrack for an anime so i have in my writing process a story, and give life to AV character.” Indeed the inspiration is clear, combining an audio representation for an AV element widens the perspective of this release. Clearly through the range of moods and progression to more downtempo and somber arrangements such as Fallen Rose, the storytelling of this character are in place. As far as inspiration goes, “I take my inspiration in some 70's music and a tend also to work on movie, as example i take a scene of a movie and design the music around. My main inspiration come from anime and sci-fi movies.”
Powerful and stating, Police Heartbreaker brings an undeniable sense of confidence and perspective for the scene. The music speaks for itself; lasting, driving and crafted with care from the ground up. At times showing the finest in synth wizardry with ridiculously sweet and mind blowing leads, to more cyclical groove based leads, the album really does have it all. Spectacular and strong percussion solidifies a strong backbone for an impressive array of moods, and this guy can execute flawlessly. Never say Au Revoir to this French professional, it’s only the beginning of a long romance with Absolute Valentine.
The album is available on Lazerdiscs Records Bandcamp page here and comes very, very highly recommended by Synthetix FM.
Dream Fiend - Starcade EP
By Lachie Hunt
An arcade in the 1980s. A boy, with a magical entity only he can see. Dream Fiend's Starcade EP is a window into a story that never was. Dream Fiend, also known as Jay Babinall, has so far released one full EP and a few singles on the side, along with a couple more remixes of other artists songs.
The title track Starcade is the standout here, with an infectious 8bit lead keeping the song groovy. The drums seem to be more trap inspired here, with pitch shifting and woodblocks thrown in to spice the song up. I've got to commend the use of samples here too, especially in the intros of the first two tracks. They help set their respective tones perfectly.
The two other songs here are more lowkey quiet affairs, with a hint of romance to them with the same lovely 808 beats drenched in reverb.
This release is currently available on Dream Fiend's Bandcamp and Soundcloud for free.
Michael Vintage - Instinct Sensuel
By Rick Shithouse
Michael Vintage's new EP caught me be surprise as it grabbed my attention instantly. The smooth and highly sensual synths in the first introductory track reminded me a great deal of Michael Cassette's own brand of musical tenderness with shades of Klockhaus's masterpiece Tinplate Ant echoing through the bassline. The attraction was immediate and Michael Vintage's synthual vista unveiled itself before my eyes.
The soundscape that Michael Vintage uses is equal parts synth romance and nostalgic melancholy. Subtleties in layers and tones are his tools of musical exploration as his tracks slowly unwind and descend into deep mysteries. The sparseness of the mix gives a great feeling of space and intimacy, the following track after the introductory piece called 'Love Machine' pops with a small bouncy melody over the top of slow moving haunting synths pieces. The percussion has a very complimentary style to blend with the darker synth elements with a sustained presence that Michael Vintage uses throughout the pieces.
The contrast of the inquisitive and tender melodies with swirling, melancholy synths in the backgroud allows Michael Vintage to set up a mood instantly and work in and around the feelings. He has a real skill at working the balance between lighter and darker parts of the story to ensure the music is engaging and interesting. Stripping things back in 'Our Night' to a full stop at one point really makes you hold your breath; awaiting the rest of the scene to unfold.
My favourite track on the EP is definitely 'Sea Of Pleasure'. The previous tracks, including the intro seem to build to this piece as a climactic and important stage of the story. The flow of this track is bewitchingly smooth and every little detail is sublimely mixed into the passages. But yes, that bassline is the heart and soul of the experience, it's wonderful to hear the legacies of Michael Cassette and Klockhaus reborn anew in this producer's sound. The nostalgia is thoroughly intoxicating!
The EP's over arching story of passionately intimate tristes between lovers and the whole subtext of passionate feelings well below the surface interactions. Regardless of how smutty I'd like to make this review, it really isn't. The understanding of two people's feelings are real and felt directly through the music. It's expressive and beautiful. The final two tracks of the record go deeper into the afterglow with 'Sensuel' and 'After Sex' taking the mood into a relaxed dreamstate with an enveloping warmth and sensitivity moving in electrically charged waves.
Michael Vintage's Instinct Sensuel is a truly delightful concept piece that takes the synth romance sounds into some engaging directions. The haunting and tender nature of this music works to perfection over the six tracks in detailing an intimate situation between lovers. The overwhelming power of nostalgia for me, in regards to the two artists I'd previously mentioned, coloured my opinion in a very obvious way, however, and your impressions may certainly differ. But that's what it's all about. The memory, the feelings and the places the music takes you to. Definitely an experience for lovers of every kind and denomination. Pick up a copy of this EP on Michael Vintage's Bandcamp page here.
Vampire Step-Dad - Sweater Weather
By Sarah Halloran
So, your mother brings home this new guy, and he seems okay, nice even; not like the usual losers you’ve had to tolerate. Sure, he has some odd habits - sleeps during the day, remarkably camera shy, and he says the coffin is “just...umm...for storage”. Just your average quirky guy though, right? Only you’ve seen him slip out late at night, covert, pale and alert...a man on the edge, a man in need. You’ve seen that look before. Is it hunger? You’re starting to suspect, you’re starting to wonder. Could he really be...your Vampire Step-Dad?
I just love the whole Vampire Step-Dad concept, and the imagination it stirs up. On seeing the artist name for the first time I was already thinking out day-to-day family scenarios for our paternal hero with a thing for Type-O.
Okay, onto the music. That’s why you’re here. Vampire Step-Dad is relatively new blood on the synthwave scene, and seems to have a bit of a thing for fiendish family members. His debut EP, My Biological Father is a Werewolf, was released last year and it’s wonderful. Lastest offering, Sweater Weather, boldly released in somewhat sultry June (well, for some of us anyway) is a charming yet deadly mix of darkwave, smooth synth goodness, rib-rattling basslines and even a little sax which is always welcome.
First track, aptly named ‘The Beginning’ kicks things off nicely with a playfully twinkly intro before deftly switching gear into more menacing territory with some dark and dank chords of doom. This was a strong contender for second favourite track on the album, but more of that later.
Arnie fans will no doubt appreciate the nod to ‘Commando’ with next track ‘Green Berets for Breakfast’, and it’s an absolute stunner. Vampire Step-Dad really gives Carpenter Brut a run for the money on this adrenalin-charged, power-synth and guitar-packed showpiece. This is without a doubt my favourite track on the whole EP. I’m sure many others will agree.
‘I Want the Stars’ slips things down a few notches; a beautifully arranged track combining fierce kicks with a vibrant lead synth that projects an almost sad and lonely vibe at times. There’s a lot of warmth here, but it’s slightly offset by a melancholy jaunt across the minor keys. I admit to swaying a little to this track, and had I a lighter to hand I may just have held it in the air.
The last thing you want to do when there is a vamp in town is break curfew. Seriously kids, get home before nightfall. “Breaking Curfew” is another stunning track heavy on soulful synths, and if you love sweet sax solos you’re in for a little surprise. Personally, I don’t think sax is used enough in synthwave, and so it’s always great to hear. My only niggle, and it’s only a small one, would be to hear a longer solo, but maybe it’s a teaser for things to come in the future.
If you’re a synth-loving, pedal-pumping petrolhead with a penchant for driving fast (Synthetix FM in no way endorses or encourages speeding) and you’re wondering whether Vampire Step-Dad has any tunes just for you, you betcha. ‘Ten and Two’ has everything you need for a law-abiding and enjoyable drive. Dark synth stabs, crisp, steady kicks and rolling bass will have you putting on your bestest ever mean face and chasing down the horizon (whilst obeying all road signs and speed limits along the way).
Music arrangement aside, one of the biggest challenges for a producer is thinking up new and exciting names for their tracks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better track name than ‘Please Jan Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em’, and again it conjures up all sorts of images. In my case it was an enraged Jan holding his Moog Voyager aloft before a terrified crowd. This is most definitely my second favourite track on the entire EP. Fat synths, robust percussion and heartfelt guitar merge effortlessly into a killer track thoroughly deserving of its promising title.
So come on, loosen those collars and stick on a little ‘Sweater Weather’ this summer. Just don’t loosen them too much. You know what vamps are like when those necks are on show. ‘Sweater Weather’ comes very, very highly recommended by Synthetix FM, and is available on Bandcamp here. Oh, and there are stickers too! We do love a bit of merch here at Synthetix FM.
Engines and Engineers: Examining the Machinery Within MoTER's Omegadriver
By Michael CA L
Firmly embedded in a corner of 80's-inspired culture are images of retro-futuristic road vehicles. Sometimes these machines are driving through empty desert roads that go on for eternity towards an unreachable vanishing point in the lonely distance. Sometimes these machines are actual production cars from the eighties era, brilliantly painted or fully-chromed and cruising fast along palm-lined coastal highways in a race against the setting sun. Sometimes these machines are airborne, hurtling through the void of space towards destinations unknown and for covert purposes. Sometimes these machines are moving at blinding speeds through the stimulus-choked streets of a metropolitan gridscape, the towering skyscrapers on each side of the median blurring into a barely broken flicker as the headlight beams bounce off of the endless reflective panes of glass or halogen signage that make up the street-level scene. The scenarios (of which these are but a few) are many, but whatever the vision, the concept of The Drive is truly a central feature within the 80's-inspired visual aesthetic, and as fans of synthwave and other retro-electronic music genres will tell you, it's also a fundamental aspect found within numerous 80's-inspired sounds.
Nearing the end of 2015, a new rider cruised into Retro City with a sound, feel and demeanour that made people take notice. Hailing from Greece, the oh-so-appropriately named MoTER (aka Konstantinos Karydis) introduced himself in October of last year with a self-titled debut EP. Arriving as a relative stranger in town, within several short weeks it seemed like very few hadn't become acquainted with MoTER's sleekly produced, finely-tuned, densely-packed and all-pistons-firing model of 80's-inspired electronic music - a model that contains a levelled and measured intensity, a kinetic propulsiveness, and an edge-riding element of threat to it that instantly brings to mind the vehicular side of retro-synth and has The Drive written all over it.
MoTER has now expanded on his sound by releasing his second EP, titled Omegadriver, which retains the same compactly-assembled chassis and built-for-cruising mechanical elements that made his first offering stand out, yet this time around he brings the listener a fresh set of wheels on a body that's been overhauled with new textures, colours, curves and lines. Opting for the trimmed and compact precision of the EP format once again, the four tracks on Omegadriver each deliver a powerful, punchy dose of fuel-injected sound.
Outside the melodic and structural differences in each track, there are several attributes shared by all four that create a cohesion like that of the finest machines that own the highways and passages of the real world as well as those of our fictional retro-dreams. Dense, precise kick beats and spiking snare hits pull the tracks forward relentlessly with the force of a warp drive, and dense, overdriven basslines veer up the center lane boldly with an arching, bending intensity that clears their own space between the differing melodies and are impossible to ignore. Cruising above the undercurrents of bass, melodic stabs, crystalline bells and shimmering chimes cast vivid, high-altitude glare over the low-frequency floods of synthspace that lie below.
Like any engine that's been pushed too hard across pathways that are too risky, at pivotal moments within the tracks there are rhythmic catches, shudders and glitchy irregularities that are at once perfectly timed and beautifully, refreshingly unexpected. And like any motor that's been pushed to its limit countless times, these moments are the sonic equivalent of red-hot cylinders that have burned themselves into a state of backfire, and sound off as if to remind the driver that no thrill ride can be sustained indefinitely without moments of mechanical slippage and the reorganization of timing within the fiery machinery.
MoTER's newest EP Omegadriver is quite honestly one of the few releases I can remember where each track is so well-crafted that selecting a highlight is a serious challenge. Could it be "Cathedral", with its absolutely blistering wall-of-sound and measured, deliberate idling speed? Maybe it's "Airstrip", with its ice-winged takeoff followed by its unforgettable chorus melody? Perhaps it's one of the album's opening tracks, "Oslo" or the eponymous "Omegadriver", with their steady, arpeggio-regulated atmospheres of controlled motion through harrowing obstacle courses. Call me indecisive or call me uncertain, but don't call me indifferent, because MoTER's second release, in all its revved-up machinery, is as powerful an EP as I've heard come out of the retro-electronic scene in many years, and this artist's efforts are bringing new meaning to the term "audio engineer".
MoTER's Omegadriver comes very, very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM and is available here through the Werkstatt Recordings Bandcamp website.