There are some who say that the sheer number of releases that fall under the “synthwave” umbrella is overwhelming, to which I don’t entirely disagree for it is hard enough for me to keep up with them all in terms of just simply listening on top of actually trying to write up a review as well, and therefore it is unfortunate when so many releases fall through the proverbial cracks.
Now despite the fact that I listen to a lot of synthwave, and also review it sometimes, that does by no means make me an “expert” on it nor would I ever claim to be as such; I see myself more of a keymaster than a gatekeeper. I also try not to involve myself in seemingly endless and, let’s be honest, pointless debates on what is or isn’t synthwave, which subgenres certain releases actually fit into, and so on and so forth, etc.
What I can do however is help to do my part in shining the spotlight on certain releases which have not only fallen through those aforementioned cracks, for one reason or another, but struggle to even be categorized within a certain subgenre or just synthwave in general. I often wonder why this happens in the first place, of which I am sure there can be countless reasons that are more or less unique to the consequences surrounding each specific release, so there may not really even be a general reason, or if it can even be avoided.
Such were the things I mused when I gazed upon the cover art for the recently released album by low.poly.exception entitled MEGASTRUCTURE(S). I try not to judge anything by it’s cover, as the old saying warns, but while listening to the album I couldn’t help but stare at the art because it reminded me of something although I wasn’t sure as to what for the longest time. I finally figured it out, but before I reveal that revelation I think it prudent for me to somewhat discuss “cyberpunk.”
Admittedly I don’t know much nor, as I stated before, will I even pretend to know everything about it either but it’s a versatile genre which has permeated it’s way through a variety of media before it ever mixed with synthwave. However, much like synthwave is often inspired by other media from days gone by, it makes sense in context that cyberpunk and synthwave would inevitably meet in such a way what with the likes of Vangelis‘ score to Blade Runner being arguably a precursor to most modern takes. To be clear this is not the distinction that I made when I gazed at the album art for MEGASTRUCTURE(S), despite of course there being many of such towering buildings within Blade Runner, but rather another movie popped into my mind instead which much like the album itself has often been overlooked and lost in the shadows of others: Dark City.
Released in 1998, Dark City is a science fiction film that mixes cyberpunk with film noir not unlike Blade Runner and much like it the film did poorly at the box office. I hesitate to talk too much about the plot, less I spoil it for those who have yet to see it, but the film is twenty years old now so I don’t know what to tell you other than it’s worth watching regardless. Anyway, the movie more or less deals with a man who finds himself trapped in a simulation by higher beings and then utilizes untapped abilities to thwart their plans and free humanity.
Does that sound familiar?
It should, because that’s more or less the plot to The Matrix which came out not but a year after Dark City. Now, yes, one could say the similarities are consequential and the fact that The Matrix was much more of a success over Dark City can be attributed to many factors such as having better marketing, casting more well known actors, and being an all around more action packed popcorn film than a more serious and thought provoking pseudo detective film.
Which I think are all fair assumptions on my part and while the point here is not to argue over which one is inherently better, as I do enjoy both of them for their own reasons, something can again still certainly be said for the unfortunate nature of which Dark City finds itself in the collective memories of society. Thankfully it has found a bit of a cult following in recent years not unlike Blade Runner, although maybe not as influential but still getting it’s due in some form.
This is not to suggest that MEGASTRUCTURE(S) was directly influenced by Dark City, as I am never one to put words in the mouths of others, rather once more it’s just what I thought of when I saw the album art and listened to the music. Much like how there is the lighter side of synthwave with your outrun, retrowave, chillwave, et. all, and the darker side with darkwave, dark synth, etc. there also seems to be your different shades of cyberpunk infused synthwave as well which some like to call “cybersynth.”
To tie this all together, The Matrix is more your “lighter side” of cyberpunk whereas Dark City is appropriately titled as your more “darker side” and this is where I personally see MEGASTRUCTURE(S) and low.poly.exception as a whole; it’s on that darker side of the spectrum. It’s not flashy, needlessly drenching itself in neon and chrome, nor does it try to be something that it’s not as it not only has the look but, more importantly, it has the feeling.
Much as I discussed in my review for Sekond Prime‘s Dark Awakening, the true essence of music is in its ability to instill within you the feeling of an experience in some other world and low.poly.exception masterfully accomplishes this in MEGASTRUCTURE(S). This shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to those “in the know” as low.poly.exception is actually the side project of Neon Shudder who, under that banner, has also released a number of impressive cyberpunk albums such as arguably their most well known work entitled Cadence.
Cadence, like a few other albums under the Neon Shudder moniker, is a concept album which is connected to those others through a carefully constructed story. Most will boast about their synthwave albums being concept albums, such as those which are touted as being “soundtracks to films that do not actually exist,” but Neon Shudder goes where most don’t by supplying context through the use of PDFs which are bundled with albums such as Cadence which contain short stories and novellas.
There is certainly an argument to be made in terms of how much context one should be supplied with when it comes to concept albums and the like, again a topic I touched upon in my review of Sekond Prime‘s Dark Awakening, because obviously the more information you’re supplied with the more it’ll influence how you experience the music. It’s a delicate balancing act to say the least.
In contrast, acts like Die Scum, Inc. proudly take a minimalist approach through what they call their “Notion Picture Soundtrack” series of albums wherein they simply supply you with a basic premise and then declare that you should just “let your imagination and the song titles take you from there.” One method over another in such a regard to storytelling is by no means “right” or “better,” rather in the end it just simply comes down to how the artist themselves prefer to tell their story. Speaking of Die Scum Inc., they’re featured in MEGASTRUCTURE(S) on the song “POISON.sys” and it’s a real hard hitting treat of a track when you consider that their own last album, The Epoch Code, was also an overlooked cyberpunk masterpiece in its own right; my rather unique review of which you can read right here.
How about the rest of MEGASTRUCTURE(S)?
Well it’s interesting because while low.poly.exception is by definition a “side project” to Neon Shudder it doesn’t actually feel like one, rather it feels like it’s own fully fleshed out idea and identity. Probably because it is as one only needs to scope out it’s Twitter account to know what I mean as this isn’t some thrown together half-baked concept, haphazardly filled with B-Side material; low.poly.exception brings it’s A-Game not only to this latest album but all the others that came before. You might not spot them getting any plays on some iffy lists which exclude them, as they certainly do belong, but low.poly.exception and Neon Shudder both deserve your attention regardless.