The first full-length album from COUTOUX (pronounced "KOO - too") comes to us care of KILL ALL MUSIC, a self-described "anti-label," which is fitting because to nail down exactly what COUTOUX should be labeled as would be akin to correctly identifying the true origins of some mutated abomination as it sludges it's way through the irradiated wastelands in a post-apocalyptic Earth. You may very well call it industrial metal, due to it's at times heavy hitting and seemingly unrelenting assault, but at other times it does relent a bit and eases quite quickly into an unnerving sound of atmospheric electronic doom metal by way of experimental dark synth. Perhaps we need to step back a bit and look at the prior analogy to some Godforsaken hellspawn and how it moves about because, in such a way, COUTOUX feels like it's own beast which can only be described as "sludge synth."
The G, an "LA guy in Singapore," burst onto the scene this year with his debut album Postcards from LA which the man himself describes as "a love letter to the California coast. I made it while I was preparing to leave, and wanted to express my feelings for the stretch of coast from Santa Monica to Santa Barbara—which has so much romance for me. It’s a deeply nostalgic record, which to me conveys warmth with maybe a touch of sadness." His sophomore release, Cosmopolis, is very much attuned in the same way as it's been touted as a "retro-futuristic road trip" since its release. "It’s still road music" The G declared. "So in that sense it is similar to Postcards. But it’s about the future, with all its promise and foreboding, and it’s about the romance of looking up to the stars and wondering what’s out there." The G went on to elaborate, explaining that "I think it has a lot more emotional range than Postcards. So much synthwave is emotionally monotonic—like, “summer, summer, summer” or “dark, dark, dark.” Cosmopolis is a bit of both. There are upbeat songs, like “Arcology” or “Reunited,” and moody ones, like “Shadows in the Neon Rain” or “Stars That Fade.” I’m not always in the same mood, so why should my music be? I’d rather take listeners on a journey. A lot of my favorite albums take that approach, like 88:88."
Synthwave is, in many respects, a hard musical genre to nail down and many disagree as to what exactly categorizes any particular act as such beyond the simple utilization of synthesizers. While most might immediately conclude that it involves imitating the sounds of the 1980s, there are those who blur that decade divide and bring in influences from the 1990s as well. Such is the case regarding Robots With Rayguns, an act which has been in the scene for quite a number of years now, who describes themselves as being "inspired by 80s and 90s electro, breakbeat, and RnB." Indeed, with catchy beats and a healthy dose of vocal sampling, one gets the sense that their music would have been right at home in a dance club from that era or featured quite prominently on MTV alongside La Bouche and C+C Music Factory.
When Detroit based artist/producer Klayton, known also for his electronic-rock project Celldweller, debuted his new synthwave project of Scandroid last year it was met with overwhelming critical acclaim and fanfare. The self-titled album was a wonderfully written and performed piece of cyberpunk oriented synthwave, weaving an interesting and compelling story within, which brought together a well rounded auditory experience that begged to be listened to all the way through from start to finish as a result. With such a highly successful and equally praised debut the main question to ask, now with the release of Monochrome, is "does the follow up rise to the same level as it's predecessor, perhaps even going beyond, or does it suffer from a sophomore slump?"
Hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, the synthwave producer known as Skeleton Beach released his first album, Being There, in January of this year featuring his own unique blend of ambient darkwave. He has since followed it up with the Last Night Alive EP, which was released earlier this month, itself a sort of self-described "bridge" between his first album and the next which is currently in production. Although relatively new to the synth scene, Skeleton Beach has been making music since his early teens starting with the drums before moving on to guitar and eventually piano; all self-taught by just playing what "felt right." Therefore it comes as little surprise that he's been able to take to the synth genre so quickly, notably after being introduced to electronic music through Radiohead, Squarepusher, and Burial. Though what truly inspires the sounds of Skeleton Beach are the horror movie soundtracks of yesteryear, especially those by John Carpenter, and the heaviness of black metal, doom metal, and stoner metal with bands such as Sleep and Sunn O))) constantly in his listening rotation.
When one thinks about synthwave they more often than not conjure up images of neon landscapes made up of transparent grids, sunsets, beaches, palm trees, fast cars and anything else that may fit into such an aesthetic. That said, one does not tend to think about upside down crosses, demons, serial killers and an overall sense of evil in turn. However, for every genre that has ever existed there lies a much darker side, a subgenre which turns things on their head and produces a much more heavier sound in response. For synthwave that would be darkwave or darksynth, either seem to be interchangeable for the most part, with well-known acts such as Carpenter Brut, GosT, Perturbator, and Dance with the Dead carrying the torch. Of course, for every well-known act, there are those who are scratching, clawing and going through hell to be noticed, many of whom were influenced by those already leading that proverbial charge. Gregorio Franco is one of those dark souls of the synth and, if what he's produced thus far is any indication, he is not only one to keep an ear to the ground on but one to keep an eye out for as well.
Before rocketing straight into the music it's equally important to take a moment to admire the cover art for this release, which is wonderfully done by Grinwise, as it depicts a massive decapitated robot head floating ominously over a planetoid with it's vast visage looking down upon an awed figure; which is exactly what it feels like when listening to the Arrival EP by Sekond Prime. While this debut EP certainly has a good head on its shoulders in terms of having its mind on synthwave, the body of work itself transforms into something else entirely as the songs roll out: that of a wholly unique sub-genre which can only be described as "spacewave."