Hot take: the “spaghetti Western” is not credited nearly enough for its contributes to our contemporary culture. People look on the genre mostly with disdain, as it has become a byword for pulp and low production value. Which is all true but that didn’t stop spaghetti Western from irrevocably influencing science fiction (through vessels like Star Wars, Firefly and, more recently, Samurai Jack), fashion (through their copious of denim and ponchos, among other things), and, yes, music. From acts like The Shadows through trip-hop, the blasted landscape of the desert, the hero’s journey prefigured on top of it, and the overall sensation of shimmering heat (all staples of the spaghetti Western) has underpinned diverse and prolific styles of music for decades now.
Which makes you wonder why it took so long for synthwave to tap it, especially considering that trip-hop has been borrowing from it for years (here’s just one of many examples). Well, the wait is over since we now have Lazy Laser, a project all about doing just that, “that” being finally merging the aesthetics and sounds of the Western with synthwave. On the project’s debut release, aptly named Ride on Space Cowboy, acoustic guitars meld with synths and crunchier, distorted, electronic guitars to evoke that very unique aesthetic of epic science fiction meets an early Eastwood film and by Jove, it’s wonderful! The merge creates a sort of expansive and evocative synthwave, curbing the excesses of the genre into something both more intimate and more far-flung, tinging the music with a sense of wonder that is frankly addictive.
You can check out “A Tale From a Dead World” as a good starting point. The opening guitars and drums have spaghetti Western written all over them. You can frankly see the gritty hero coming over the hill on their horse, a cigar in their mouth and a hand on their trusty revolver. But then the synths come in, augmenting the gallop like pace of the drums, creating a faintly futuristic and satisfying vibe that is then reciprocated from the very same drums, as they take on a more electronic tone.
These elements duck and weave around each other, as the synths and the guitars exchange roles for lead and backing instrument. When the synth is in the lead, it has this crunchy, lush, irresistible tone to it, plunging firmly into the synthwave influences that pulsate throughout the album. Finally, the track’s outro features those aforementioned electric guitars, giving the last minute or so of the track a decidedly heavy vibe.
On other tracks, The Shadows comparison is even more blatant. The opening to “Sunset Raiders” is one of those. If you had told me this was a track from their self titled release, I wouldn’t know it wasn’t until the synths kicked in. This is a high compliment, since The Shadows are one of the most underrated guitar bands around and Lazy Laser evokes exactly the same kind of wonder and sense of space that their music is famous for. It’s a joy to hear how much the guitars on this album aren’t an afterthought, receiving pride and place in the composition alongside the more electronic elements.
That dedication to all parts of the craft is what makes Ride on Space Cowboy. What might have otherwise been a simple, gimmicky album is instead a fully fleshed out musical creation. Sure, the main draw is the idea of melding these styles together but you stay for just how good the music is, regardless of its novelty. Add to that the “lyrics” to the album hide a science fiction concept story to go along with it, and you can see why this is the full package instead of some afterthought. Lazy Laser has created a genuinely effective and enjoyable synthwave album while looking to new places for influences and if that’s not admirable than I don’t know what is. So, do me a favor: find a wide-brimmed hat, maybe a bourbon, an open plain, a laser blaster or two, and play this album loud. See you at the sunset.