Synthwave and cyberpunk often go hand-in-hand, or at least that’s the prevailing narrative, but I’ll be completely honest: I’m getting a little tired of the drab, dark, foreboding aesthetic of neon lights in rain soaked cities filled with technological marvels and atrocities, etc. Now I don’t mean to shame anyone with such an open admission of my own preferences, or how others use music as their own personal escape in turn, but I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to listen to the cyberpunk subgenre of synthwave due to the fact that reality feels more cyberpunk than ever. I dunno, it’s just been hard for me to “escape” when the line is blurred between worlds; I can’t say I’m excited at all for Cyberpunk 2077 either.
So, what have I been listening to as of late? Well, if the “cyberpunk” subgenre of synthwave is its science-fiction then the subgenre known as “fantasynth” would be, as its name suggests, one that delves into the realm of fantasy. I know it could also be mispronounced as something to do with Fanta, the soda, but I’ll leave such a concoction up to a certain Twitter account. In any case, I can’t take the credit on the name “fantasynth.” In fact I only recently became aware of its existence through the tags at the bottom of the Bandcamp page for one of my absolute favorite synthwave artists: Paladin. If that name sounds at all familiar to visitors of this site, well, that’s because I’ve talked about them a bit before.
To which I’ll now talk about them some more…
Paladin labels their music not only as “fantasynth” but as “wizard disco” and “cosmic synth.” Regardless of what they personally call their music, I find it all to be nonetheless relaxing and hypnotic in a very soothing kind of way. I guess it’s that sense of mysticism and otherworldly nature that just appeals to my senses, especially these days as I alluded to previously. It’s all very “sword and sorcery,” unabashedly so as Paladin wears it like a shield of honor; it’s the kind of music that invokes imagery of mist rolling through ruins of an ancient civilization.
“Cavern,” off of Paladin’s “Rash Boon,” has not only become my favorite track of theirs but it’s also quite possibly one of my absolute favorite synthwave tracks that I’ve ever heard thus far. High praise, I know, for a track which is rather simple in design. Yet, I can’t deny the fact that it just hits me differently in ways I cannot accurately describe. Other than to say that it gives me goosebumps each time, what with its fanciful ability to conjure up imagery in my mind unlike so many other songs. It’s mysterious, haunting, and yet warm and inviting while also being quite catchy and “funky” at times. I suppose, in a way, it is very “Wizard Disco.”
Some might say, okay, but what’s the difference between “fantasynth” and “dungeon synth“? Well, to me, “dungeon synth” is the darker side of “fantasynth.” I mean, simply based on the name alone, “dungeon synth” is all about dark, dank, and dangerous deathtrap dungeons whereas “fantasynth” is a little bit more light in fare, yet still magical, like exploring a wizard’s tower.
However, to me, “fantasynth” doesn’t just stop at something out of Dungeons and Dragons, no, because “fantasy” is, as it’s textbook definition describes, “the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.” Like I said before, cyberpunk is becoming more and more of a reality but I’d be hard pressed to believe that I could walk into the middle of the desert and find a portal to another dimension. Such is the concept behind Sky Yamaha’s latest release, “The Mirage is the Portal.” Now I’m not trying to put worlds into Sky’s mouth, because they have not tagged their own music as such, but I still feel it to be all very “fantasynth” regardless in my own mind and ears.
Yet, again, it’s seriously hard for me to put that feeling into words, because listening to the album hit me in such a way that’s quite emotional. Honestly, I’ve listened to a lot of synthwave albums over the years but this is one of the few that truly hit me in the proverbial “nostalgic feels.” It’s probably due to the fact that it’s very “new age” like, conjuring up memories of growing up in the 90s listening to such music thanks to albums like “Pure Moods,” but mostly for its aesthetic which is very much in line with FMV games of that decade as well, such as Myst; an influence which Sky points out on the album’s Bandcamp page.
Sky’s music is the kind that makes me light a candle, turn the lights off, and lay down to meditate while I listen along. “The Mirage” might be “The Portal,” but their music in general is truly “the key” in helping me to “unlock” my mind and escape the stress which has become associated with the real world lately. “Inter Dimensional Travel,” in particular, just hits all the right notes to the point where I truly do feel like I’ve gone through a portal and have been transported back in time. After all, in some theories, time travel is less about traveling actual time and more in line with sliding over to an alternate dimension. However, much like a mirage, the feeling is fleeting as the track eventually ends… thankfully, I can hit replay!
Regardless of your preferred subgenre(s), at the end of the day, we’re all looking for a way to escape for a little while. For some, that involves imagining ourselves walking down those neon lit and rain soaked streets of a dystopian cyberpunk metropolis. For others, it’s about finding that portal to another dimension in the middle of the desert or exploring a castle engulfed by mist within an ancient realm full of magic and cosmic wonder. Whatever the case might be, in terms of your escape, I truly hope that you enjoy your stay wherever the music takes you.