“Upgrade” by Watch Out For Snakes



Burial Grid and the Uneasiness of Reality.

It’s funny these days to look back not but a couple years ago as I once lamented that the small area of the world in which I call home, the northeastern region of the United States known as New England, was seemingly without a synthwave scene to call it’s own. I used to watch from a distance with envious eyes at the growing scenes on the west coast, down in the south, and across the pond among other locations in the world as synthwave artists emerged from those locations, releasing albums as well as performing live shows; where were they locally?

Turns out they were always here around me just waiting, willing, and able to make their presence known when the time and opportunities presented themselves and now I can proudly say that, yes, New England does in fact have a synthwave scene. Which is to say that for some time the only synthwave act in the area that I really knew about was Crockett who produces out of Boston but, thanks to Scott Forte (who lives in Maine) and his label RetroSynth Records, I became aware of a number of other synthwave acts in New England. Ray Gun Hero, from Massachusetts, and Straplocked, from Connecticut, are just a couple notable examples of such local acts who are signed with RetroSynth Records.

WhereWeGoArtYet there are still those in the area who are trying to make their way onto the neon soaked grid, currently buried deeper in the more rural areas of the region, and are looking to make a name for themselves if only given the right opportunity. Burial Grid, from the western Massachusetts town of Northampton, is one such act as they recently released their debut album entitled Where We Go and for me to try and accurately describe it’s bizarre background and inspiration in detail would not do it justice.  Continue reading

Greed is Good: The Influence of 1980’s Business Culture on Synthwave

At the risk of sounding like a broken record I would like to reiterate that by no means do I consider myself to be an expert in anything nor is it really my place to ever pigeonhole someone into a certain genre or subgenre less they declare themselves as such first and foremost. That said, in the past couple of posts I talked about two such things in regards to subgenres with “spacewave” and “cybersynth” respectfully but now I come to a bit of an impasse due to the fact that, while there is a certain theme of which a few artists have written their music around, there really isn’t a clearly defined name for such a subgenre.

Some call it “officewave,” others “yuppiewave,” whereas I have personally bounced around such terms as “wallstreetwave,” “stockmarketsynth,” or “businesswave.” Again, none of these are wrong per say nor are they entirely right due to there being no real clear consensus just yet or at least one that I can decipher. Then again, as stated before, I’ll always leave it up to the producers themselves to define and label their own music because they know it best.

Nonetheless, much as “spacewave” concerns itself with themes of invoking imagery of space and “cybersynth” is drawn from the cyberpunk genre, this particular subgenre seems to be inspired by a rather specific aspect from the 1980s: namely the crossroads of greed and excess between the rise of wealth and the culture of business. If it’s to be assumed that a lot of synthwave is simply inspired by both media and culture of the 1980s, as well as more modern takes on the decade, then I think that this particular subgenre does as well albeit with a more focused look towards certain examples. To me, at least, said examples of inspiration seem to range from period appropriate film releases such as 1987’s Wall Street to the somewhat modern examples found in 2000’s American PsychoContinue reading

Running in the shadows of cyberpunk: a look at the works of low.poly.exception and Neon Shudder

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.

a2147311192_10Such 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.”  Continue reading

“Dark Awakening” and the Experience of Music

sekondprime_dark_awakening_coverCertain types of music, like any other form of media which hold the same sway over our subconscious, have an innate ability to make us feel as though we’re someplace else. When I first encountered Sekond Prime, through my review of their debut EP which was appropriately entitled Arrival, I labeled it as “spacewave” and it’s a term which Sekond Prime has since proudly embraced. Such a declaration on my part was by no means a sort of tongue-in-cheek display but a true testament to the power which Sekond Prime wields; their music made me truly feel as though I were in space.

Ever since I were a child I’ve dreamed of space. I’ve been forever enamored with the idea of the infinite unknown and have spent many nights looking up at the stars, wondering what was out there to be discovered, and yet lamenting the fact that I nor countless others, save for the chosen few who make a career out of it, shall ever venture forth. So instead I spend my days ironically with my head buried in books, movies, and anything else that’s science fiction rather than fact.  Continue reading

The Horrornauts: A Night with The Horrornauts

a0690430991_10I’m not usually one for lists, but I feel compelled in this case to break down the following in such a way as to the Three Reasons Why I Love The Horrornauts:

  1. They remind me of a band that would play during the horror host segments of a cheesy midnight movie. You know the kind I’m talking about, right? Elvira, Mistress of the Dark? TNT’s MonsterVision? USA’s Up All Night? Well, then again, maybe you don’t because they’re not as prevalent as they used to be although there’s still some out there carrying the freak flag high. Count The Horrornauts among them, even if perhaps that were not their original intention, because they’ve certainly got that aesthetic down.

2.  They’re like synthwave meets psychobilly. I went through a bit of a weird musical phase during the late 90’s/early 2000’s which saw me digging hard on 1950’s surfer rock, rockabilly and then, by extension, the more modern equivalent in psychobilly. It all more or less started one night when a friend of mine, who often listens to more “out there” music, introduced me to the band Deadbolt. Well, the movie “Six-String Samurai,” which featured The Red Elvises, also helped. Anyway, listening to The Horrornauts transported me back to those days.

3. They’re uniquely original. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t saying ‘uniquely original’ kind of redundant?” Well, like my friend Echosynthetic said in his review over on The Horrornaut’s Bandcamp page: “The Horrornauts have managed what most bands struggle with… using their influences without becoming an imitation.” Now, while I can’t rightfully sit here and tell you exactly who or what their influences are I can at least tell you who and what they remind me of as I’ve already done above. Is it accurate? Maybe. Maybe not.

The point is this: in a genre filled with neon sunsets, grids, palm trees and fast cars there exists certain acts which don’t tie themselves down so tightly to synthwave in terms of making the synth the driving force behind the music. It’s there, for sure, in the music of The Horrornauts but they’re not subservient to it as they instead harness it for their own purposes to make some killer music.

Alex Barbarian: Nerves

a0434194987_10This past year has seen a real surge within the synthwave scene from a steady rise in live shows to an overall increase in acts, albums, and tracks but depending on who you ask will also depend on if this is all a good thing or not. Some say that it’s a simply a case of the more the merrier, meaning that the more acts there are the more the genre as a whole gets noticed, grows, and flourishes in turn.

However, some are just as quick to point out the old “too many cooks in the kitchen” proverb, citing a heightened sense of saturation which has unfortunately lead to some acts becoming casualties in the seemingly never ending “release wars” where acts are pushing out material at a breakneck speed.

Regardless of your position on the matter, something can at least be said for any act that doesn’t get the attention that they so rightfully deserve and especially at no other time than right after releasing a full-length album. I myself am no saint and will publicly admit that, while I knew full well that Alex Barbarian released their album Nerves back in October of 2017, it wasn’t until recently that I actually gave it a proper listen and I’m glad that I finally did because again it is just tragic how much this album got overlooked; it only has two purchases on Bandcamp as of this writing, in fact, and one of those is me! Stop and listen to this right now:

Hailing from Huntington Beach, California, Alex Barbarian has masterfully crafted a rather haunting assortment of slow, calculated, and methodically heavy bass-laden synth tracks that border on the surreal and remind me very much of Trevor Something in the album’s overall execution. Such a comparison is by no means done to overshadow the uniqueness of the tracks here, but rather a familiar similarity as a gateway for those who may still be unsure if they’re ready to turn the key on such potential that’s to be unlocked and experienced.

Said potential comes in the form of quite an eclectic mix in terms of the tracks on the album, offering something for everyone, from the more ambient ones like “The Tension” and “The Thoughts,” to the equally impressive vocals on others featuring Krista Marina, namely “Bliss” and “Yucca Field, Pt. 2,” whose voice helps to add a mesmerizing infusion of slow jam synthpop and jazz sensibilities.

Then, of course, there is Alex Barbarian himself whose dulcet tones are themselves quite fluid in sound and are able to really convey a raw emotion in the process. Some might find them to be a bit emotionless, perhaps maybe even a tad too robotic, but I feel that would be simply making a gross oversimplification as I couldn’t imagine any other type of vocal work at play here in this video:

Alex Barbarian has been rather quiet since the release of Nerves, having only released a few tracks over on his Soundcloud, but you can also follow him over on Twitter too. Show him some love, ya’ll, seriously. He absolutely deserves it.