Retrowave and synthwave are in a precarious position. They’ve been there for a while now, ever since they enjoyed their first boom in popularity. Such a boom, alongside more money and space for new artists to exists, brings with it all sorts of weird side-affects. A good example is the recent, and troublesome, appearance of Perturbator in the news, as his album art was draped over the Facebook profile of a school shooter. Other, more mild, effects include templating, wherein artists fall into a rut trying to recreate the “glory” of the good ol’ days when the sub-genres were taking off. This creates a slew of artists trying very hard to make authentic and organic music but mostly failing, trying too hard to win something back which, in fact, has never been lost.
Hollywood Burns‘ Invaders lands in a weird and in-between place within this discussion on the plight of retro/synth wave (I’m just going to use synthwave from now on, you know what I mean). It’s an album that suffers from its structure, for some reason making the odd decision of placing its best tracks on its second half. On one hand, we can understand the decision; the first five tracks should be very familiar to anyone who’s up to date with the scene. “Scherzo No. 5 in Death Minor” for example channels the by now familiar horror/occult vibes of artists like Carpenter Brut while its predecessor, “Black Saucers”, rings of most artists being released on Blood Music today (on which label this record was also released). Which is not to say they’re bad tracks. The former especially has some really good ideas and cool line synths.
But they’re pretty regular stock within the context of the scene around Hollywood Burns; they don’t really leave their mark on the listener. This cannot be said for what happens further down the line however. Starting from “Bazaar of the Damned” and its original, orientalist vibes, and running all the way to the powerful “Survivors” and its extremely unique vocals, the second part of Invaders is excellent. More than that, it has its own personality, injecting the groovy lines with a mind of their own. Take “Revenge of the Black Saucers”, which nominally and actually revisits the first proper track from the album. It takes the “electro metal” approach of the original track (so dubbed for the electronic guitar riffs which are used within it) and fucks them up. Now, they’re much more interesting, diving in and out of grandiose modes, creepy ethereals and in general, a track structure that’s more challenging and out there.
We skipped over “Came to Annihilate”, which is a terrible mistake since it’s probably the most interesting track on the album. Using effect heavy vocals which remind us of the robotic “protagonist” of TWRP‘s releases, this track is everything the beginning of the album was not. It’s big, it goes places and it does more than just grooves hard. Without losing the power of the beat for a second, it explores danceable emotions that are more than just “holy shit” moments but also “wait, what just happened?”. This is so important for any artist making synthwave today; we, as a community of listeners, have already had our share of awesome moments. Now, we’re looking for something clever.
On the second half of Invaders, Hollywood Burns brings more than their fair share of interesting ideas which stir that sense of curiosity in us instead of just relying on the huge tropes of the style. A bit more editing work to cut into the flesh of the first half and remove some of the excess and Invaders could have been an amazing album. As it stands, there’s plenty of enjoy here if you’re willing to wade through the somewhat lackluster beginning. Perhaps down the line, with future releases, the project can trim up and deliver something tighter, worthy of the talent that obviously bubbles beneath the surface.
Invaders was released on April 13th (yeah, we know we’re late) via Blood Music. You can head on over to the Bandcamp link above to get it.