Tribute albums in synthwave are not new. There have been several releases over recent years on a variety of labels; Retro Promenade’s “Twin Peaks”, “Tron”, John Carpenter and “Batman" tribute compilations immediately come to mind. In addition to this, many synthwave artists have created concept albums that pay homage to classic movies and themes from the 1980s.
“The Grid”, the latest release from the U.K.’s Occams Laser, and continues along these lines. In this case it takes the form of a tribute to the movie “Tron", specifically the original 1982 film. Occums Laser is no stranger to tributes. In addition to having his tracks ‘Flynn Part I’ and ‘Flynn Part II’ included on the aforementioned Retro Promenade “Tron" tribute album “Grid Knights”, many of Occurs Laser’s own releases have also been tributes; “The Road To Fury” (“Mad Max"), “Judgement Day” (“The Terminator”) and “Midnight Escape” (TV and B-horror soundtracks).
In his own words from his Bandcamp site, Occams Laser (Tom Stuart) explains that “The Grid” is a concept album based on the 1982 film Tron. Comprised of 17 instrumental tracks all designed with the aesthetics and feel of the original 1982 film… the tracks are completely original, and written specifically for this project. The album as a whole is designed to work almost as an alternative soundtrack to the original film. With the names of each track providing some sort of ‘CLU’ to what part of the film it was made for.”
Stuart also notes that he used many ‘modular' based (synthesizer) instruments in making the album, as a homage to the movie’s original composer Wendy Carlos, who primarily used modular synths for the score.
The sound and production on the album is excellent. Stuart has lovingly and respectfully crafted music that fits the scenes that each piece has been written for – if you’re familiar with the movie, it is fairly effortless to picture the accompanying visuals in your head. Song titles such as ‘Flynn’s Arcade’ and ‘He Fights For The Users’ immediately give you an idea of their respective scenes. (Personally ‘He Fights For The Users’ is also one of the standout tracks – heroic and uplifting with a driving melodic synth riff). When reviewing a title such as this it seems rather pointless to write a track-by-track overview, and indeed it is. Instead I suggest getting into “Tron” mode with a pair of headphones, putting on the original movie with the sound muted and seeing where things take you. As a side, It would be safe to say “The Grid” would work just as well as an alternative soundtrack to “Tron Legacy”.
So, “The Grid” stands up as both fitting tribute to “Tron” the movie but also as a standalone piece of instrumental synthwave. It was in this manner that I first approached listening to this album, quite by accident I might add. I was auditioning several albums for review and had the music player window hidden. It was not until I was near the end of listening to “The Grid” that I checked the title and liner notes and became aware of the “Tron” connection which made complete sense. As the album has also has a classic 'synth soundtrack' feel to it I couldn’t help thinking that several of the tracks would easily work in the Netflix series “Stranger Things”. Maybe fans of that show might want to check out Occams Laser to get their synth fix since the actual soundtrack for the show does not exist (as yet). Who knows - maybe that will be Occums Laser’s next tribute project…
“The Grid” is available on Bandcamp here, iTunes here and Spotify here and comes very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM.