Tuesday, August 30, 2016

CTRL ALT ESC's Commencement

By Jerry Herrera

CTRL ALT ESC is a Canadian duo from Toronto that have entered the synth pop/rock arena with both some catchy tunes and somewhat ironic sensibilities. It’s always an interesting and enjoyable challenge to decide whether an act is making music one would hear in the ‘80s or making music inspired by retro influences. It’s a fine, ever shifting line between the two and I don’t think many artists have a clear idea themselves. What we get then, are moments where the music takes us back to that era and moments when the genre is pushed forward by retro inspired creativity.

Commencement is an album that does both, sometimes in brilliantly timed shifts or additions of instrumentation, other times it can be a bit like a kid playing with a light switch. I think this is more a symptom of the vocal synthpop genre than anything else. It’s difficult to be a “serious” band when your influences can be seen as cheesy or “lol so retro.” You can’t really write a pained love song when you’ve got video game blips on the track, for example.

However, Commencement hooked me right away. Access is the cyberpunk intro to the album that does a great job of getting those hairs on the arms standing up before dropping us into Your Love Is Dangerous, which is itself full of ‘80s swagger and confidence. It’s definitely Robert Palmer through a dystopian lens. The following tracks are in both theme and construction similar to the first proper song. There’s not a question that these dudes are talented and have an ear for that retro sound, across the board. There’s both rocking guitars and synths, a little bit of pop and R&B flavor, plenty of 8-bit arcade accents and lyrics about fast women and guarded hearts abound. Indeed, I kept thinking of Shattered Dreams by Johnny Hates Jazz when listening to Commencement.

This is also the album’s (only) weakness. Every song has vocals and I fully admit to being a hypocrite for simultaneously loving vocal synth and also using that as a mark against an artist. But a top to bottom album featuring vocals is going to blend together at some point. Even vocalists I love deeply aren’t featured on every track by a given artist. This is also meant to say that I think the musical content on the album is plenty meaty, and some instrumental tracks here and there would be most welcome.

 All that being said I think that the foundation is there for an amazing synthpop band and I get strong Chromeo vibes from these dudes. Probably the most praise I can give them is for their cover of Bizarre Love Triangle. It’s a wonderful homage to the original without trying to outdo it, or take it in a boring, twee direction. Remember Frenté? The last track, One Shot, is an emotional synth ballad about being a tough dude with a broken heart that evoked some bromotions from me.

Commencement is above all things, a pop album. From the production value to the songwriting, the aim is clear that this act wants to go places on retro synth wheels. Their sound for the most part seems to aim to be mistaken for actual ‘80s pop hits, as if seeing their name on the charts next to Hall and Oates, Glenn Frey, and Robert Palmer wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. I’m already picturing their music featured in the opening credits of a crime/romance drama, the title of the film spelled out in neon cursive as CTRL ALT ESC sings about mean streets and tough women. An enjoyable first effort, and enough genuine artistry to warrant an excitement for what comes next for these guys.

CTRL ALT ESC presents Commencement, available for purchase on their Bandcamp page here and comes very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Synthetix Sundays

Marko's back and rockin another massive episode of Synthetix Sunday for your listening pleasure, only on Radio Pure Gently!

Thia episode features interviews with the slasherwave visual artist of choice, the one and only Ariel Zucker-Brull. Marko's also getting down to business with the Bishop Of Battle himself, Bob Battle!

The usual peanut gallery of regulars is also rockin the scene with Paul Dress2Kill Daly, Dallas' Synthetix Spotlight and Quality Time With Shithouse all ready to rock you how you need to!

There'll be tonnes of hot new tunes and a whole mess of giveaway download codes for those listening live too!

Tune in to Synthetix Sundays LIVE on Radio Pure Gently here, at 10pm Perth, Australia time. Please click here to find out when this is in your part of the world. As always the fully downloadable show will be posted here on Monday along with the featured tracks from Quality Time With Shithouse.

Quality Time With Shithouse Feature Tracks:

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Alpharisc - Alpha Dream

By James Mann

Within the last several years the world of synthesizer based music has grown immensely. Bedroom artists are emerging through the plethora of digital audio workstations and managing to produce retro and 80s inspired music right at home. (I will admit some more memorable than others) Alpharisc is what I would call Australia’s not so hidden gem. Shane Yates has been producing music for years. His powerful and confident range of sounds demonstrates this proficiency with such clarity, and anyone who has had the fortune of listening to his extensive discography knows what I’m talking about. Beautiful production, dynamic arrangements and an overwhelming nod to the sensibilities of yesteryear with undeniable excitement and energy. However, the approach in producing Alpha Dream was quite different for Shane, and the sounds will not only change the way you think about Alpharisc, but music in general.

What I’ve come to sincerely appreciate about Alpharisc is the range of influences he employs when it comes to producing music. Electro, house, ambient, downtempo, soundtrack scoring and much more. Through each piece there are tinges of these inspirations present, yet the majority of his work under this moniker has suggested a strong love affair with the 80s…until now. ‘The way I put together the release was noticing a theme with a handful of the tracks I had been making, so I decided to keep the feeling similar. Soundtrack, chilled out ambient nostalgia. The tracks were all made around the same time, with a few of the chord progressions coming from projects from the late 90's (Body Swap & Exactly Where I Was Sitting).

Alpha Dream delivers the most mature and flushed sounding tunes I’ve heard from this Melbourne based producer. A remarkable and memorable foray into a wonderland of sounds, touching on horror and Italo themed compositions, early 90s world house, dystopian David Lynch soundscapes, downtempo and psy-chill, music that would hang with the best of Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive and beyond. This release has such detail, thought and atmosphere as each track truly stands apart with it’s own identity. There is simultaneously a sense of cohesion and umbrella of moods which tie everything together effortlessly, while instilling an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and contentment.

Body Sweep opens the dream and strikes through the senses with a Fulci/Italo inspired masterpiece, arpeggiating through your fears and vulnerability while evoking such strong imagery. It’s updated from a late 70s analog horror wonderland with a percussion backing that pulls the composition years ahead. A unique pairing of sounds that Alpharisc creates for himself and listeners. There is a roominess and space which occupies between the notes, as his production and equalizing allow for such beautiful effect. What a strong opener, as the ominous melodies of horror make it for an ideal score. I’m dreaming already.

Switching gears and blasting through world house sounds of the early 90s with downtempo and breakbeat finesse, Heart Breaker takes you to those better years. Already I love that Alpharisc isn’t pinning himself down in just an 80s sound, he unapologetically steers you into music he loves and what he is inspired by. It makes these beautiful and brassy chords and licks that much more appealing. Underwater sounding plucks over gorgeous and open floral pads immediately take me back in time with a smile. There is a nostalgia here with the playful melody that dots the synthscape, and I fully relate to this. Fantastic.

Exactly Where I was Sitting channels the true Lynchian side of Alpha. Mulholland Drive comes to mind. Analog and gorgeous glassy synths create a telling landscape with vibrancy with ominous overtones. Staying true to his love affair with video game inspired music, a chip tune/NES synth lays over the arrangement to make for a unique and telling combination. He really manages to nail such a strong chord progression. Another facet of the Alpharisc project that satiates the ears and demonstrates the versatility of this producer. Already the notion and memories of his past work are temporarily forgotten, these are new sounds and they are simply scrumptious.

Free Fall immediately signals a strong Boards of Canada sound. Atmospheric, downtempo with a cyclical percussion. Being that BoC is one of my all time favorite bands, it’s no surprise that I adore this track. Touching on their influence with his own interpretation makes for an entirely refreshing and new experience. The bridge is highly emotional and executed so well. I just LOVE that Shane is taking his project in such a new direction. This is honestly a sound I wouldn’t have expected to hear from Alpharisc, but the need for an artist to not just reinvent but also produce music for themselves and not just to satiate fans is paramount. I had a chance to catch up with Shane and he told me this about the work and some of the Boards throwback sounds.’The difference with this release is the two decades of Boards of Canada influence that some may be able to identify, I have been quite fond of their music since I accidentally discovered them in 1996 with their EP Twoism.’

Living in Misery is a downtempo beauty. Hypnotic, emotional and reminiscent of early Massive Attack with an almost dark wave approach. Combining elements of Clan of Xymox with an ethereal draw playing out, I simply love this. A trip hop beat drifts through the swirling pads and creates a confident and stunning arrangement I just get lost in. Pensive and sad at the same time, Living In Misery is one of my favorites on Alpha Dream. This is the essence of dreaming.

Release My Army is an exceptionally well crafted tune that evokes strong images of a video game OST, but not just any game. Uncharted 4 and up when it comes to caliber. Arp oriented lines build around a somber mood while a breakbeat builds in the background. Steel and icy sounding pads come together for a powerful piece that comes in waves. Again the craft and innate song structuring Alpharisc has honed in on over the years plays out in splendid order. Industrial tinges and airy bursts of chords accentuate the orchestra inspired piece. Spectacular.

Paying homage to the one and only Erik Satie, Alpharisc embarks on his own interpretation of Gymnopedies. This has a Burt Baccarat sound, a jazz styled grounding of chords while a brassy lead take us through the familiar journey of one of the most lasting and beautiful pieces ever written. Instead of evoking feelings of sadness, there is a vibrancy in this though Alpha’s choice of synthesizers. Lasting and new, this is redefined in such an endearing manner. Massive points and impeccable choice to close out my dream.

What Alpharisc has managed to do in Alpha Dream is something exceptional. He demonstrated a remarkable proficiency in genres outside of previous releases, and the results are spectacular. Staying true to music that most inspired him in producing Alpha Dream, as an artist he broke through barriers and boxes, notions and assumptions that he may indeed just be one “kind” of producer. How terribly wrong could you be? As punishment I suggest looping Gymnopedies for a full day to instill a new kind of thinking. A different way of approaching music and expectations, as the two can coincide in not such an attractive manner. This came from the man who blew us all away with strong 4/4 130 BMP synthwave tracks we could only listen to while palm trees and beaches flew past, right? For shame. As for what’s next in the Alpha World? Lots. 'In the near future I’ll be creating some more Italo inspired beats, remixes and soundtrack themes. I am very happy I have a group of people following me, listening and sharing kind words about the music I make. To be able to make music I truly love and have others enjoy it, is a very rewarding feeling.'

The moods and results of this beautiful release take you through a different kind of nostalgia, and one that makes it one of the most appealing and varied releases of the year. Burgeoning synth artists, please take note. Different is OK. Different is good. Different is fantastic. Make sure you when you fall asleep tonight, you choose the Alpha Dream, it’s a game changer that will have you opening your eyes in an entirely new way.

Alpha Dream is available through Future Retro Music here and comes very, very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM,

Brighter Than A Thousand Suns - Alazia

By Andrew B. White

“Alazia" is a five-song EP of collected singles released by Brighter Than A Thousand Suns (BTATS) between 2015-2016. The band is essentially a three-piece made of husband and wife Angelika and Randy Roswell, Angelika handling the lead vocals and synths with Randy on synths, programming and guitars. Third member Andre Tangredi contributes some very powerful and tasteful drums, moving things away from a strictly programmed environment. It seems that BTATS have recently relocated cities and unfortunately Tangredi has not come along for the ride. Hopefully the band will be able to find a drummer with the same talents, and judging form the band’s YouTube videos, this could be a tall order as the man has some serious ability!

The ‘Suns note that the songs on this EP sit in more in synthpop territory while future releases will be more “darker and harder rock orientated". It’s not hard to see the band making this transition as many of those elements are already present here, although somewhat restrained. Angelika’s voice is powerful and definitely has the chops to sit along bands such as Paramore (which I’m assuming is the type of direction they intend to take). There are also similarities with other contemporary synth-based pop acts such as The Naked And Famous in evidence – the large choruses and hooks on ‘Reach Out To Me’ for instance.

Make no mistake – the songs on “Alazia" are big, professionally produced, polished and nicely arranged; the point of difference to other contemporary acts being the subtlety-honed 80s influences. There’s a lot of DX7 making itself felt on ‘Reinvent’, both in the marimba lead and synth bass, and that continues across many of the other tracks. Overall the EP sits somewhere around 1987 in terms of production and sound but has been brought fully into 2016 in terms of execution.

All of the songs are very good – catchy, well written and the performances are top notch. Again, I must mention Andre Tangredi who brings some real energy to the songs with his drumming. The music might not be to the liking of those looking for outrun or more retro 80s vocal pop, but if you are a fan of the later 80s and its sophisticated, heavily studio-produced sound, there is plenty to enjoy here.

You can pick up “Alazia" along with several other releases from Brighter Than A Thousand Suns over at Bandcamp here.

2DCAT - Regressions 

By Jerry Herrera

I have no trouble admitting I was drawn to 2D Cat because of the vocals. Vocal synthwave artists are becoming more popular and I think we have some extremely talented voices contributing to our scene and it’s very exciting to hear a new one, though from what I understand they have existed in some form for a few years now. Those of you that have already listened to Regressions will make the comparison to other female vocalists in the genre but I’m not here to compare and contrast. 2D Cat is perfect pop blended with bright synths and echoed snares, reminiscent of the heavy hitters of popular New Wave, but with more neon and lasers.

There are moments during Regressions that I feel like I’m someplace with lots of marble columns and billowy curtains, other times I think 2D Cat have taken space synth and given it pop sensibilities. Instead of long voyages across alien expanses, we’re gleefully planet hopping on autopilot because the crew is too busy dancing. I think this is more them incorporating a mountain of influences rather than deliberate track design. Still I think 2D Cat is an exciting project and I believe that “Believe” could have been a hit on the radio back in the ‘80s, or at least a retro inspired film/series. Take note, Duffer Brothers.

2DCat's  Regressions is available for purchase through Bandcamp here.

The Northern Lights - Into The Flames

By Andrew B. White

The Northern Lights have had a handful of very popular tunes on Soundcloud and it’s easily to see why. Along with a number of EP and album releases over the last several years, The Northern Lights have firmly established themselves as synth stalwarts with a lush, dreamy and emotional 80s sound tied together with some solid hooks.

Hailing from California, The Northern Lights loosely sit alongside fellow residents Sellorekt LA Dreams and FM 84 in terms of musical kin. As far as comparisons go, The Northern Lights get a little deeper and denser than LA Dreams’ freeway escapades. Unlike LA Dreams, on “Into The Flames” all tracks feature vocals that are presented in a less traditional way – positioned back in the mix, rather than out-front. They have a textural quality, somewhat reminiscent of the way Liz Fraser sang in the Cocteau Twins. There’s a melody and an obvious voice but you can’t really work out the words. This delivery helps to set The Northern Lights apart and give them their unique character. Everything is also awash in a lovely reverb that enforces the dream quality of each song and although that may imply ‘dreamwave’ territory, the music here definitely rooted in nostalgic 80s magic.

The four songs on “Into The Flames” make for repeated listening. Previous fans will not be disappointed. You can get the EP now for free (or name your price) at Bandcamp here and it's worth noting they have just released a mixtape “The Lost Cassette” featuring 16 outtakes from various Northern Lights projects available here.

Alleron - Mirage

By Rick Shithouse

Ahh nostalgia. Those intoxicating memories that bring forth such powerful and fanciful future fantasies. I've recently found a growing facet of my nostalgic passions is for that late 2000s period that ushered in the new generation of 80s sounds. One of my favourite crossovers back then were the 80s driven nu-disco/house sounds that have turned into Future Funk today, but the late 2000s iteration of these styles kept equal balances of funky 80s groove-centric homage and modern French House influences of the day. If you, too, yearn for the sounds of Casio Social Club, Breakbot, DigiKid84, Bestrack and a whole generation of other producers that were rockin the scene with these inescapably groovy sounds then you'll be wanting to grab Alleron's Mirage EP as soon as possible.

Spread across the four original pieces and three remixes are some heavy duty funk house sounds that roll like a summer tide and sway with a flow that's infectiously satisfying. Opening with the pulsing energy of 'You Should Not Come' we're given highly refined funk basslines cut up with precision and dexterity in the melodies and completely on point vocal samples.

The title track, 'Mirage' walks in with a funk fuelled swagger and more pefectly sliced and diced vocals. The music is hazy and full of summery vibes and takes its own very good time to land with a beat your just champing at the bit to feel. The choppy elements rock in perfect time with groove of the bass delivering thrills and chills in beautifully generous portions.

'Cobra' takes the rockin to dramatic highs and breaks things down in a superb display of stripping things back and building them back to incredible highs in that classic late 2000s style. It feels just as fresh and new as it did then, ironically. This kind of style had such a short lifespan before it moved into other directions that I'd find it very hard to believe anyone fell out of love with this sound due to over exposure to it, so that nostalgia level runs awfully high and true throughout the Mirage.

Completing the EP is slightly different take on the stylistic approach. 'Stratosphere' slows things down just a touch and in doing so brings in just a tiny shade of vapor aesthetics. The fit is like hand in glove and proffers many possibilities using vaporwave styled samples within the context of these movements,  travelling in a French House direction; not a Future Funk one. 'Stratosphere' rocks and pops along with a hypnotising momentum that takes you deep into Alleron's crafted Mirage.

The EP contains remixes from Absolute Valentine, Alpharisc and Niky Nine who each add their own little nuances to the original tracks and in particular Alpharisc's more direct French House remixing of 'You Should Not Come' even gives an authentic to the period nostalgic remix experience.

Alleron's Mirage is a vision that will satisfy those nostalgic cravings for a lot of different facets of 80s inspired modern music, get the vibe rockin and feel that flow on Lazerdiscs Records Bandcamp page here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Occams Laser On The Grid

By Andrew B. White

Tribute albums in synthwave are not new. There have been several releases over recent years on a variety of labels; Retro Promenade’s “Twin Peaks”, “Tron”, John Carpenter and “Batman" tribute compilations immediately come to mind. In addition to this, many synthwave artists have created concept albums that pay homage to classic movies and themes from the 1980s.

“The Grid”, the latest release from the U.K.’s Occams Laser, and continues along these lines. In this case it takes the form of a tribute to the movie “Tron", specifically the original 1982 film. Occums Laser is no stranger to tributes. In addition to having his tracks ‘Flynn Part I’ and ‘Flynn Part II’ included on the aforementioned Retro Promenade “Tron" tribute album “Grid Knights”, many of Occurs Laser’s own releases have also been tributes; “The Road To Fury” (“Mad Max"), “Judgement Day” (“The Terminator”) and “Midnight Escape” (TV and B-horror soundtracks).

In his own words from his Bandcamp site, Occams Laser (Tom Stuart) explains that “The Grid” is a concept album based on the 1982 film Tron. Comprised of 17 instrumental tracks all designed with the aesthetics and feel of the original 1982 film… the tracks are completely original, and written specifically for this project. The album as a whole is designed to work almost as an alternative soundtrack to the original film. With the names of each track providing some sort of ‘CLU’ to what part of the film it was made for.”

Stuart also notes that he used many ‘modular' based (synthesizer) instruments in making the album, as a homage to the movie’s original composer Wendy Carlos, who primarily used modular synths for the score.

The sound and production on the album is excellent. Stuart has lovingly and respectfully crafted music that fits the scenes that each piece has been written for – if you’re familiar with the movie, it is fairly effortless to picture the accompanying visuals in your head. Song titles such as ‘Flynn’s Arcade’ and ‘He Fights For The Users’ immediately give you an idea of their respective scenes. (Personally ‘He Fights For The Users’ is also one of the standout tracks – heroic and uplifting with a driving melodic synth riff). When reviewing a title such as this it seems rather pointless to write a track-by-track overview, and indeed it is. Instead I suggest getting into “Tron” mode with a pair of headphones, putting on the original movie with the sound muted and seeing where things take you. As a side, It would be safe to say “The Grid” would work just as well as an alternative soundtrack to “Tron Legacy”.

So, “The Grid” stands up as both fitting tribute to “Tron” the movie but also as a standalone piece of instrumental synthwave. It was in this manner that I first approached listening to this album, quite by accident I might add. I was auditioning several albums for review and had the music player window hidden. It was not until I was near the end of listening to “The Grid” that I checked the title and liner notes and became aware of the “Tron” connection which made complete sense. As the album has also has a classic 'synth soundtrack' feel to it I couldn’t help thinking that several of the tracks would easily work in the Netflix series “Stranger Things”. Maybe fans of that show might want to check out Occams Laser to get their synth fix since the actual soundtrack for the show does not exist (as yet). Who knows - maybe that will be Occums Laser’s next tribute project…

“The Grid” is available on Bandcamp here,  iTunes here and Spotify here and comes very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM.