easy listening / sequencer & MIDI / synth pop / new age
RIYL – Donkey Kong, Super Mario and other Nintendo 64 music; vaporwave, Eyeliner
This ‘album’ gathers commissions K. Yamato stashed away for years. Only after seeing the new online interest for 90s game music did he share them. Some tracks glean from other media, but everything has a certain 90s-VGM flair here.
The early lower-bit jingles make a brief but fun cherry on top. The rest is a tour in digitized MIDI bursting with color. Mallets, synth pads, slick bass, bells and adorable flutes are on the menu. Versatile as expected, Yamoto shifts from 16-bit Outrun synth-pop to deluxe 90s chill-out. Somehow “Pleasant Specter Lever 6” merges a heaven-sent unicorn lullaby with summery disco.
Yamoto fills these bite-sized songs with sweet, romantic melodies, never letting them ramble. The “Spa Tape” tracks near this but their refreshing synth textures won me over. Spa music needs space to breathe after all.
CW is like playing Kirby for half an hour: a quick, simple pick-me-up with no pretension. Anyone curious about 90s VGM and/or the cuter side of synths should look here. No more Yamoto albums followed, but his Pleasant Specter EP from months before is your next step.
For more great video game music on the obscure side, see my top five
As mush as I adore synths, my #1 band didn’t actually use them much. Superstition was the one Banshees album to use them beyond cameos. Guitars were their clear specialty, but I do wonder where more keyboard would have led them.
This metaphysical b-side is one in few exceptions. Beyond Siouxsie and one quiet guitar, it’s all misty fairy synths. Believe it or not, “Sea Of Light” sounds like new age Banshee-style. An uneasy mood sneaks in even so via Siouxsie’s vocal as she sings of near-death experiences. The effects on her voice resemble a distant call for help or gathering wind. This results in a unique middle ground between peace and danger.
It was way past midnight
and she still couldn’t fall asleep.
This night the dream was leaving
she tried so hard to keep.
And with the new day’s morning
she felt it drift away.
Not only for a cruise, not only for a day.
– Double, “The Captain Of Her Heart”
A summer mix invoking the romance, mystery, scenery and varying emotions of a lavish cruise as it begins a long journey overseas. Think sipping a cocktail as you watch the sunset, a romantic embrace by the docks or a suited pianist enchanting the crowd during their buffet.
This naturally doubles as a spotlight for the sophisti-pop genre best known for Sade and Prefab Sprout. Its cross of slick production and synths with elegant piano, strings, clean guitars, sax and/or brass has close ties to this imagery. Many songs take influence from lounge and jazz; others are simply eighties pop with a swanky attitude.
- DOUBLE – the captain of her heart
- VIKTOR LAZLO – balade de lisa
- JEANNE MAS – lisa
- GAZEBO – lunatic
- ABC – confessions of a fool
- MURIEL DACQ – tropique
- STYLE COUNCIL – the boy who cried wolf
- ALASKA Y DINARAMA – un hombre de verdad
- LUXURY ELITE – blush
- A.V. WALKER – night silk
- MOODOID – kasbah
- KIM WILDE – deep in the european soul
- MIAMI SOUND MACHINE – surrender paradise
- PRESUNTOS IMPLICADOS – no hay palabras
- YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI – brand new day
- SERI ISHIKAWA – quantity of love
- ANNA DOMINO – bonds of love
- GEORGE MICHAEL – the strangest thing
- BRYAN FERRY – windswept
- DEBBIE HARRY – strike me pink
- BEATA KOZIDRAK – zal my tamtych noci i dni
- THE PAINTED WORD – night after night
- ENZO ENZO – pacifico
synth pop / chillwave
RIYL – Brothertiger, Eyeliner, Luxury Elite’s With Love, Esprit Fantasy – virtua.zip
George Clanton’s past making eccentric vaporwave as ESPRIT Fantasy informs his pop songs in interesting ways. He may sing and arrange his songs into verses and choruses now, but vaporwave’s neon shades plaster themselves all over just as they did before. He developed a great ear for that glittery pastel side of eighties synths on the part-composed, part-sampled ESPRIT album virtua.zip, and that stays his strong point here. His tones resemble sea creatures jumping from digitized sea in euphoria; it’s a hugely endearing effect.
George’s vocal style gets overbearing on occasion, but he does bring a lot of energy to these songs. As on Brothertiger’s new EP, it’s refreshing to hear a ‘chillwave’ vocalist this dramatic. Instead of drifting along a shore, he reaches for the stars, bringing this album to metaphysical peaks even at a slower pace (“Wonder Gently”).
By far my favorite is “It Makes The Babies Want To Cry”, where adorable peaks of synth propel his easygoing melodies into pure bliss. The momentum he builds toward the first hit of the chorus makes it so much more exciting.
♥︎ – “It Makes The Babies Want To Cry”, “Never Late Again”, “Keep A Secret”
art pop / darkwave / synth pop / ethereal wave / chamber pop
More like this – Susanne Sundfor’s The Silicone Veil, Goldfrapp, This Mortal Coil’s It’ll End In Tears, The Changelings’ “Season of Mist”, Anna Von Hauswolff’s Ceremony
This new Greek artist taps into so many of my favorite things here. Thalassa sweeps over your ears with dramatic strings as Ioanna swoons like a lost 4AD siren-singer, all backed by a gothic synth pulse. A few cliched electro-beats (as on “Messenger”) dull some of the personality in this delicious fusion, but her choruses and melodies are dense enough to keep out of potential dryness. Shout-out to “New Geometry” for her entrancing chant-singing (“Hesitation / I found the answers in your / Hesitation…”) and the crumbling urgency of “Roseate”.
♥︎ – “New Geometry”, “Roseate”, “Out of Focus”, “Swan”, “Ammonite”
synth pop / dream pop / minimal synth
More like this – Glass Candy’s Beatbox + “I Always Say Yes”, Robert Gorl’s “Mit Dir”, Pink Industry’s Low Technology, HTRK’s “Chinatown Style”, Nouvelle Phenomene’s “Caresse”, Depeche Mode’s A Broken Frame
Some cliched 808 aside, Soft Metals show a great ear for that colder edge of analog synths the minimal wave fans crave without getting obvious. Like their own name suggests, it’s all about the contrast of softness (as in airy/gentle) and metal (as in sharp/gritty).
Thankfully, they’ve cut out most of their debut’s repetition for a subtler and more flexible sound here. Hypnotic arpeggios in the vein of a lost sci-fi OST merge with a slick bass pulse and immersive pads to find a middle ground between EDM’s energy and space music’s weightlessness. The occasional hint of Glass Candy is another plus.
The 100% synth setup is a great balm for Patricia Hall’s already elevated vocals. She has a bit of a dream-pop approach that gives even uptempo moments like the acid-house “In The Air” a sense of flight. Not the most distinct singer of this kind, but refreshing to hear in a minimal synth context.
♥︎ – “Lenses”, “When I Look Into Your Eyes”, “Hourglass”, “Tell Me”
synth pop / sequencer & MIDI / vaporwave / synth funk
More like this – Eyeliner’s High Fashion Mood Music + Larp Of Luxury; Kobayashi Yamoto’s 商業的な仕事 1993 – 2004 + 快い亡霊 OST; Luxury Elite’s Fantasy
Eyeliner’s crystal-clear sound revitalizes late 80s/early 90s electronic music with optimal charm and without reducing it to another snarky joke. Instead, Buy Now takes you to an easy-going virtual world of polka-dots and pastels. Like the giddy cover art, the album doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it doesn’t need to when we’ve had this many vaporwave projects sulking in cyberpunk/ambient gloom.
That said, his research of this music is serious, interpreting a full rainbow of sounds and moods with accuracy. These include ambitious electro-disco (“Pinot Noir”), hold music, hints to library music, new jack swing (“Sneakers For Men”), a cross between The Knife and 80s funk (“Showbiz”), and Miami Vice tension (“Pictionary”).
Some striking cool-down moments (”Payphone”, “Venetian Blinds”) and soulful flutters aside, Buy Now highlights the toy-like gloss of digital synths over more accepted analog tropes (to most amusing effect on “Toy Dog”). Oh, and if that drunken Seinfeld intro had you doubting the powers of slap bass, this is the album to convert you.
♥︎ – “Toy Dog”, “Showbiz”, “Payphone”, “Private Hospital”, “Pictionary”
synth pop / dance-pop
More like this – Prissa’s Ni tú ni yo, Bertine Zetlitz’ “Girl Like You”; Annie’s “Greatest Hit” + Endless Summer EP; Sally Shapiro’s ”I’ll Be By Your Side“
Thanks to a lack of English information, I knew little beyond the title of ‘Chilean queen of electro-pop’ the evening I first heard Javiera Mena, but I was right to trust the album’s shower of acclaim. “No Te Questa Nada” (a divine cross between sophisti-pop and Cocteau Twins) proved the perfect match for the fading sunlight outside my window that day, and the grandiose energy of the album’s second half kept me engrossed until the end.
Other highlights include the fierce climax of strings in “Hasta la Verdad”, the endlessly soaring choruses of “Luz de Piedra de Luna” and an A+ Miami-freestyle resurrection in “Aca Entera”. The latter is adorably kitsch but topped with affirming light and sincerity.
As “Aca Entera” demonstrates, there’s something genuine about Mena that sets it apart; like Nite Jewel and Twin Shadow, I get the impression Javiera’s approach comes more from respect for her synth-pop roots than any kind of mockery. Her strong ear for melodies and glittery synths make this a satisfying album.
♥︎ – “Hasta la Verdad”, “No Te Questa Nada”, “Luz de Piedra de Luna”, “Sufrir”, “Aca Entera”