Synthwave is usually a genre steeped in melodrama and a larger than life aesthetic. This should be no surprise when you consider that the genre’s umbilical cord stretches into the 80’s, not a decade known for its finesse (and that’s an understatement if there ever was one). However, like all musical genres, synthwave has been experimented upon and with, its basic ideas stretched to make new shapes, sounds and images. Thus, the field of minimalist synthwave exists. A good example is Spectral Lore‘s Voyager EP or the latter part of 65daysofstatic‘s Music For an Infinite Universe. The style features the hallmark reliance on synths, clearly artificial guitars and drums and all the rest of the trappings of the synthwave genre but toned way, way down. The vibe is of sleek elegance and contained city-scapes, rather than ever increasing grandeur and scale.
This kind of diminutive power is very much the driving force behind This Week In the Universe. Their debut, self-titled album explores the many ways in which synthwave can be contained, ranging from lush synth tone to another, all the while leaving the listener beguiled and intrigued rather than overwhelmed or enraptured. The trick lies in the variety of the album; in lieu of flashy hooks and churning riffs, This Week In the Universe must instead rely on a varied and rich palette of tones and sounds to make sure we’re still listening. And that’s exactly what they do.
“Second Castle” is one my favorite tracks from the album because it showcases a lot of what makes This Week In the Universe great. From the guitars making sporadic appearances in the background, through the main synth line and its beguiling simplicity and all the way to the “bigger” choruses, the track just exudes an effortless vibe of cool. Other highlights on the album include the slightly faster “Blockbuster”, with its reoccuring main synths backed by a stockier, more rich drum parts or the trippy “Sleepwalker” at the album’s very end, one of the weirder and more fanciful tracks on the album (as its name might hint at).
Overall, the album is a beguiling kind of solid. No part will leap at you and grab you by the throat, nor it is meant to. This Week In the Universe relies on enchantment rather than aggression, undoing much of the current fashion in the synthwave genre. Considering that this is a debut release, it makes me excited to consider this duo’s future works and career. In the meantime, put on your flashiest sunglasses, pour yourself a cool drink and let’s go into a color-muted future!