Thursday, January 19, 2017
By Rick Shithouse
Lazerhawk is a name synonymous with 80s inspired synth and is a genuine legend of what it means to be 'synthwave'. Every Lazerhawk record has brought something new to the table over the years and has often marked the beginning of trends many other producers follow, as well marking time permanently in his fans' memories.
Dreamrider is Lazerhawk's new record and its timing of being released at the beginning of 2017 couldn't be more relevant. This album feels like a reset point and a fresh breeze coming in through an opened door that's remained steadfastly closed for a long time. The re-emergence of the importance of melody and emotion, revitalising my personal love of 80s inspired synth music while exploring the magical subtleties of music in a soulful and mature album.
In many ways one feels equal familiarity as well as newness in the sounds presented on Dreamrider. Not familiar in a worn out, already done way but familiar in feeling Lazerhawk's intimate melodies and structures washing over you. The opening piece, 'Neon Dawn' makes for a scene setting build that gives the perfect amount of epic power and emotional chords to caress you into a nostalgic REM phase of subconscious delights.
The concept of the Dreamrider was one I was taken with the first time I had the pleasure of enjoying this album in the December of 2016, before all the tracks were named and sans artwork. My initial impression of the music for the first time described to me a sequence of events echoed by an individual sleeping and dreaming at the bottom of the ocean. Although this concept is purely my own imagination there is a deliberate tidal and flow and power felt throughout Dreamrider that finds me being instantly transported to slumber in the darkest ocean depths.
The gravitational pull of the structures in 'Cruise' ease into oceanic undulations of slowly forming brighter structures that revel in the sedate pace and bloom into a slow motion emotional explosion of rich aural rewards.
Taking another tact, that quite too me aback upon first listen is the heavily New Order influenced 'Feel The Rush Tonight' featuring Gunship. I've always thought Lazerhawk's limited excursions into vocally oriented tracks was something he should explore more and in this song he's made a brilliant masterpiece of dreamy 80s inspired pop that cuts ever so slightly with modern flavours.
The languid pace that Lazerhawk eases you into through the opening tracks is an all consuming and surrounding atmosphere that comforts and inspires incredibly satisfyingly. 'Somnus' edges its way slowly into your consciousness in this manner and continues the deliberate pacing. Melodies barely raise their voices but shine with a warm embracing glow before exploding in graceful shower of musical light trails against the murky bassline. The narrative of this track is deep and intense, it opens you up and stares inside with wonder as you give yourself completely to it's inescapable, transfixing magic.
Lazerhawk often feels like his deliberate control and manipulation of melodies is taking all his creative strength to maintain. The epic magnitude of something as simple as the introductory passage to title track feels anything but effortless and gives the synthscape a presence that is tactile and omnipotent. The power of dreams is something mankind can barely comprehend and Lazerhawk's exploration of this as a musical dimension in 'Dreamrider' is unfathomably inspiring.
By the time 'Hypnic' kicks in it feels like a power surge of immense energy even though the beats per minute increase is marginal. The power becomes crystallised in descending melodies that bring to mind the times when French House music had a modicum of emotional investment in the melodies as a staple. The futuristic combination of sounds is powered by more epic and uplifting progressions of blindingly bright colours that move in beautiful new ways.
Dreamrider plays out as one of the finest arranged albums, track wise, I've heard in years. Each track's position is validated to perfection and 'Cool Breeze' echoes slight refrains from 'Feel The Rush Tonight''s New Order inspiration and takes it in a different direction. The water thematic continues to entrance the listener with a new palette of musically nautical flavours rising and falling with the ebb and flow of the tides.
Lazerhawk winds back the inspirational clock to the beginning in the following piece, 'REM', as a little early influences of Jarre/Vangelis/ YMO filter their way into the synthscape. This track has a more playful and atmosphere about it; even with a bassline that hints at nightmarish possibilities. The huge build and payoff never gets too dark, though and instead hypnotizes in a way that's more of a comfort than a threat.
'Mirror Between Worlds' has an entirely off kilter and skewed demeanour that does enter into darker possibilities and a great inky blackness of the unknown. The bassline follows a logical subconscious path while the layered melodies weave in and out of layers of reality and unreality, defying explanation and purpose that then forms into a joyous and lucid final act.
Much like our own dreams, the feelings in all the tracks on Dreamrider have an individual presence but rarely draws the entire scene for you. Instead we get broad brushstrokes of musical emotions that suggest more than direct and allow for many interpretations of what their meanings may be. 'Dream Within A Dream' has a serene sense of duality that rises with clean and clear passages that are backed by a muted disturbing tone, haunting the background pieces and creating the air of something not being right, just like when you realise you are dreaming but lack the control in the dream to do anything about it and allow the forces at play to take you further into your inward journey.
'Oneiric' continues to explore the dreamstate and goes even deeper into itself. The refrains are unmistakably Lazerhawk but the gauzy haze of trance inducing melodies are softened and curved, devoid of harsh edges and consciously aware that the slightest bump could wake you. You fall into the music without fear of crashing and it rises to meet you upon every single chord and heart beat.
The album begins to take you back to your consciousness with 'Awakening'. The passages are clearer and slightly more defined as you regain control of your mind. The haziness breezes out slowly and colours grow more vibrant. You can feel the clarity of the sounds invigorate you, bringing you back, relinquishing control for one more day.
I find it ironic that for a hugely conceptual experience such as this that the album finishes on such an absolutely scintillating high. I'm far more accustomed to the last tracks of concept records being more interlude/credit roll like and less of a climax but Dreamrider's final act, 'Dreams In The Dusk' makes for an incredibly deep and rewarding final chapter.
As if your subconscious decided that the dream wasn't over and was going to pull you back into your dream as one final plot twist this track exudes power and control by way of some monstrously dramatic percussion. The melodies reach out like vaporous fingertips, grasping at your mind to take you back into your subconscious and you feel yourself giving into the temptation in a deeply spiritual descent into your own mind. You fall back into your dreams with a smile as the melodies trail off into another dimensional consciousness you can't explain or understand; but you feel it resonate deep within your soul.
Lazerhawk's Dreamrider is one amazing creative work. The themes and concept are perfectly explored and executed in a way I've never heard before. The absolutely tangible emotional investment in every second of every track makes your feel as much as you hear and it holds you for the album's duration. Dreamrider is available on Lazerhawk's Bandcamp page here and is available in the usual array of digitally downloadable formats and is absolutely a Synthetix Reference Experience you must partake in.