Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Aysyne's Double-Edged Synth

By Michael CA L

A couple of weeks ago Aysyne, a synthwave artist that's been enjoyed by those who know his work but has remained on the edge of the scene simply because his output has been relatively infrequent, released an excellent new EP (his first multi-track release, as far as I can tell) called Double-Edged Synth. The release includes a compact (four tracks totalling seventeen minutes of play time) yet high-quality group of tunes that each contain a certain quicksilver fluidity and chromed smoothness within its movements.

These sleek sonic shifts are attractive to the ear and are the result of an artist who understands and utilizes the potential that electronic-based music has within it to provide its listeners with transitions that inspire consistent "ahh, yes!" moments. Until a couple of weeks ago, the only hard facts I'd gathered about Aysyne were what had been revealed on his  Soundcloud and Bandcamp pages. I knew that he resided in Northern Ireland, that he predominantly tagged his music as synthwave, outrun and, more generally, as "80's", that he'd sporadically been releasing singles through these avenues for about two years, and... Well, that was the extent of the known facts as far as I was concerned. Beyond this, all that was known to me about Aysyne came from my experiences hearing the artist's music, which, of course, had nothing to do with truths and instead had everything to do with my own, highly subjective understanding of a somewhat mysterious artist's creative output.

Whether my thoughts on this matter are worth a damn is also a matter of opinion, but hopefully you'll bear with me and find something interesting hidden within my ramblings as I try to regale you with my quest to learn more about Aysyne the person and Aysyne the creative force. This review is, at worst, the long-winded attempt of a synthwave music lover to pigeonhole something that is slightly genre-blurring and difficult to classify. At best, however, it's a round-about effort to give credit to and shine a broader spotlight on an artist that's doing something interesting that not many other artists are doing. And he's been doing it from a relative offstage position, no less, and this needs to change. Whatever the case may be, Aysyne's Double-Edged Synth EP is worth enduring my meandering writing for.

Since stumbling upon his first several singles about two years back, Aysyne's particular musical style seemed to me to be 80's-inspired but also containing currents - sometimes subtle, sometimes more overt - which spoke of 90's electronic music influences. Among the synthesized sounds of eighties-era pads, bass lines and lead melodies, there was often a steady 4-4 beat, build-up, chord change or a particular cue within the arrangement that had echoes of early-mid nineties EDM, trance and progressive house music like that of genre powerhouses Underworld, Paul Van Dyk or Orbital. Many of Aysyne's early tracks, including "Sparkle", "Corpses", "Fragment" and "Bleed", have clearly identifiable eighties and nineties reference-points that reveal to me a producer who knows exactly what great eighties-era synthesized dance music was all about, yet a producer who also has an acute knowledge of where it all went beyond the end of that decade.

Aysyne was, a few years back, and, still to this day continues to be, one of the only retro-inspired artists I'm aware of that openly, frequently, unapologetically and skilfully blends eighties synth-based sounds with the sounds of the electronic genres that came hot on their heels in the early-to-mid nineties. The Double-Edged Synth EP retains this characteristic in songs like "Sound the Alarm" (the release's powerful opener) and "Man Down", with their modulated, sweeping intros, hard and driving 4-4 time signatures, and their stabbing lead-synth melodies. The other two tracks on the EP, those being "Nite Life" and "The Lakehouse (a Synthwave Love Story)" are distinct from the aforementioned by leaning quite heavily on a more distinctly eighties influence, yet they still retain a blend of both eighties and nineties sensibilities.

"Nite Life" has a kind of freestyle-esque vibe to it that is reminiscent of legendary eighties artists such as Shannon or Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. The synth lines on this track are light-footed, sassy, and full of attitude, which was the name of the game within the freestyle genre. "The Lakehouse (a Synthwave Love Story)", on the other hand, starts with a kind of disco or italo-influenced closed hi-hat beat with a layering of lead synth on top of it. Upon first hearing this opening beat, I was instantly reminded of the opening rhythm of Killing Joke's "Love Like Blood" as it was played during  live performances throughout the mid-to-late eighties. This being one of my absolute favourite eighties songs of all time, I was hooked by "The Lakehouse" instantly, with my appreciation growing deeper with each subsequent direction with which the song moved.

One of the many elements within "The Lakehouse" that reinforced my appreciation was a beautiful transition from disco beat to a cracking, delayed snare hit which beautifully steers the song onto a kind of focused, stabilized pathway but adds a heaviness and intensity that's a pleasure to perceive. After several bars of this brooding splendour, the track suddenly pulls up into itself with a rising sweep and explodes into a beautiful culmination of layers. With all the various song-sections being utterly gorgeous as they stand alone, to hear all of these elements work together creates music of unbelievable potency, resulting in a song as close to perfect as I've come across in synthwave in a long while and the absolute perfect way to close the EP.

So I guess in the end I've been able to cultivate my own personal, very positive opinion about Aysyne's music both old and new, but that hardly counts as knowing anything about the person behind the sounds. "What's inspiring him?" I would think to myself. "How's he hitting this sweet spot between the eighties and nineties so effectively?" I wondered. Beyond guesses regarding his creative interests and inspirations, I didn't know a single concrete fact about the artist beyond the country that he calls home, as indicated on his social media pages. Synthetix Sundays radio DJ Marko Maric, however, recently changed all that by having Aysyne as one of several guest interviewees on his program on Sunday, May 17th. From this interview we listeners learned that the accurate pronunciation of the artist's synthwave moniker is "a-sign" with a long "a" vowel. We also discovered that the artist's real name is Micky Dodds.

On top of this (and forgive me if you were savvy and "with-it" enough to tune in to the live broadcast and this information is now yesterday's news to you), we learned that Micky wasn't born during or in close proximity to the eighties decade like a number of synthwave producers and fans, but was actually a reasonably mature music lover and aspiring musician during the years when the synth-pop era was at its peak, when its dominance on radios and in clubs began to wane, and when nineties electronic music started rising from its ashes. When I heard this fact, things really clicked into place. Here was a guy who had not just been an enthusiastic listener during this almighty time in music history, but had also been a young man who was observing, with clear eyes and a critical-minded head on his shoulders, the immense, genre-shaping shifts that were taking place. Here was a guy who was old enough to appreciate the new musical moulds of the times that were being created as well as the primordial clay from which they were building themselves. But wait. On top of this, Micky Dodds was also an aspiring musician at this time, which means that in addition to the aforementioned, he was actively examining and experimenting with the technology, both hard and soft, used to create the beloved sounds that were being produced during this vital era.

So now after appreciating Aysyne's music for two years without knowing a thing about the artist himself, I'm hit with these revelatory details and it all starts to make a lot of sense to me. Perhaps the blending of eighties and nineties synthesizer sounds and styles, as complete-sounding and striking as they are, were an inevitability for a guy like Micky, who was, after all, actively engaged in both the admiration and creation of music during this unique period of transition in the history of synthesized music. Perhaps, considering this perfect storm of coincidences, he was destined to compose music such as the beautiful work found on the Double-Edged Synth EP - music that has all the mood, flavour and sonic textures of the best synth-centric music from the eighties yet is also comprised of the pulse, expression and rhythmic sensibilities that made some of the nineties electronic genres hugely appealing.

Maybe I'm onto something here, but just as likely I'm fulfilling the self-made prophecy that was stated earlier and this review is simply a long-winded, subconscious attempt made by a synthwave music lover to pigeonhole something that is somewhat genre-blurring and difficult to classify. I'd like to think that it wasn't all in vain, though, and that at least some aspects of my tirade have generated some curiosity or, better yet, enthusiasm in readers to hear Aysyne's latest release. I sincerely hope this is the case, because the Double-Edged Synth EP comes very, very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM, and is truly a chrome-smooth, beautifully arranged, comprehensively executed amalgamation of eighties and nineties-inspired electronic brilliance.

Double-Edged Synth is available in digital formats on Aysyne's  Bandcamp page here.

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