There’s a certain warmth to analog synths that many are now focused on exploring and replicating. In this young and still-emerging revival scene, known colloquially as retrowave, that brings out the best of 80’s synth music the same way Kickstarter has with NES-era video games, many are fully embracing this warmth, all the while augmenting the staple sound – the calculated and gritty urban futurism of the soundtracks for movies like Drive and Blade Runner – to work it into house music, progressive electronic, and synthpop. As a genre, it’s captivated us here at Heavy Blog – we did a starter kit on it, and I wrote an article on a notable album in the genre featuring The Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciatio – and it’s apparently also got the attention of the folks at Relapse Records, who are putting out the second album by S U R V I V E (henceforth without the spaces), a synthwave/experimental electronic quartet intent on recapturing what made that vintage analogue sound so special.
Although this is only the group’s sophomore album, it’s clear from the get-go that the musicians involved in RR7439 are well-versed in the genre: most of SURVIVE’s strength comes from their ability to craft tracks that feel truly unique within the world of synth revival, despite building almost entirely on genre tropes like arpeggiated melodies and simple kick-snare bass patterns. RR7439 feels intimately familiar from the get-go; the pulsing synths and chattering drums fit together immediately into arrangements that trade in the sparkling sheen of originality for the time-worn, trusted of authenticity, and the group is better off for it. Whereas other artists layer their compositions with uptempo beats and bass-driven bursts of sound, SURVIVE tend to deal in minimalism, letting each melody and composition twist its way through several simple variations and rhythmic change-ups before fading out.
Each track rests comfortably at around four to six minutes in length, which is the optimal amount of time for the compositions to fully flesh themselves out without overstaying their welcome, and although the album’s sound is certainly cohesive as a whole, every song has its own identity: opener “A.H.B.” pulses and grooves at a middle tempo, whereas its immediate follow-up, “Other,” feels more foreign and spacy in nature, veering almost into the same realm of musique-concrete by way of spaceship hardware that the newest release from experimental hip-hop trio clipping. integrated heavily. Songs ebb and flow in scope and tension as frosty, high-pitched arpeggiations and whirring bass tracks fade in and out of focus. The nature of the compositions creates a chiaroscuro effect of sorts, letting the synth’s sound define the music, rather than vice versa.
Although it’s far from the genre’s apotheosis, RR7439 is an enjoyable experience that differs from the usual 80s-synth-revival fair because of its minimal and atmospheric nature. Very rarely does the band offer much in the way of anything beyond contemplation and relaxing, chilled-out synthesizers, but this in of itself makes RR7439 a breath of fresh air within a genre that mostly aims for the intense and energetic side of what’s possible. This isn’t an album that’s going to cause a redirection in the genre’s momentum or a redefinition of retrowave’s meaning, but it certainly holds merit for the way it plays with just what it means to be creating synthwave in the midst of this niche genre’s outward explosion in popularity.
Survive’s RR7439 is available right freaking now on Relapse Records and can be bought from the band’s Bandcamp.