With an 80s edge as sharp as the one carved by The Human League paired with the same spiritual zeal of Stevie Nicks, the latest single from the ever-ascending Australian pop icon, ELSKA carries enough of the nostalgic new wave feel-good factor to leave you exhilarated by the swells of retro aesthetics, but Flashbackis so much more to an ode to seemingly everyone’s new favourite era.
The juxtaposing lyrics reminisce on crying on the bathroom floor – yea, we’ve all been there – while the shimmering aesthetic of the track affectingly attests to how we all have to write our own redemption story, which also goes for survivors of sexual abuse and assault. If the sticky-sweet hooks in the stellar four-to-the-floor bop don’t convince you that dark days don’t set a blueprint for your future, just wait until the harmonies start to layer into a synthesised choir.
Prior to the release of Flashback, ELSKA performed at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, collaborated with the world-renowned Brad Hosking on a track, and became a semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition. She has come a seriously long way since she made her debut in 2018. We can’t wait to see her make more Olympian strides.
Flashback was officially released on October 6; stream it on Spotify.
Love it or hate it, the retro-futurism of synthwave and retrowave is here to stay, at least until a new sonic trend comes along, which is hopefully sooner rather than later because the music industry can only take so many up-and-coming artists assimilating The Midnight, Gunship, and Timecop1983.
Whether you delve into R&B, rock, pop, or electronica genres, you are bound to find artists struggling to leave the neon-soaked iconography of the 80s in the rearview mirror and determined to tap into society’s lust for nostalgia.
The 21st-Century Obsession with 80s Aesthetics
The music industry is far from the arena choked with retro-futuristic aesthetics; the wider landscape of pop culture is luminous with backlit lights; films such as the 2011 hit Drive, the Hotline Miami videogame, and TV shows such as Stranger Things can all be pinpointed as culprits in this cult-like obsession with nostalgic synth-driven soundscapes.
While neither electro-pop nor synthwave has ever been fully shunned from the mainstream, it is back with an analogue vengeance with more artists inclined to tap into the feel-good factor of nostalgic melodies, characteristic synth lines and pulsing rhythmic beats and patterns.
It is far from just the addictive hooks perpetuating the appeal of the retro genres. The desolation, dystopia, and isolation of the COVID-19 era have also been attributed to the unreckonable force of retro-futurism.
During the multiple lockdowns, which paused live music and left people confined to their homes, people found themselves finding escapism via music, and notably, there were few better escapist avenues than the ones synthwave provided. Take the success of Charlie XCX’s album, How I’m Feeling Now, and anything the Weeknd has ever created as a prime example; The Weeknd is still the most streamed artist on Spotify with 111.2 million monthly listeners; his hit single, Blinding Lights broke records after it became the most streamed single history. To date, it has garnered over 3.827 billion streams.
A Brief History of Synthwave
Synthwave started to emerge in the mid-2000s, when the French house producers, David Grellier and Kavinsky started to emanate 80s film soundtracks in their soundscapes.
Other musicians and producers who jumped on the bandwagon were keen to assimilate the likes of Tangerine Dream, New Order, and Gary Numan, while visual artists were instantly obsessed with neon lights, Ferraris, and pretty much anything to do with Miami, and John Carpenter seemed to be at the epicentre of it all until the premiere of the Ryan Gosling film, Drive, in 2011. Shortly after, the likes of Cassius, Stardust, and Daft Punk played a pivotal role in the glamourisation of 80s imagery.
Initially, synthwave represented a rejection of the 90s sonic styles; today, there is little semblance of rebellion with the mainstream appeal of it. Even Taylor Swift has hopped on the bandwagon with her 2022 album, Midnights.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Just as the rock and hip-hop genres managed to diversify themselves, we have little doubt that innovative artists will come along with the ability to make the synthwave sound a little less derivative. However, as nostalgia is much a part of the music as the 4 / 4-time signatures, which provide a kick on every beat of the bar, and the staple drum machines and synths, it’s unlikely that the evolution of the genre will ever blast into an entirely new stratosphere. But for what it is worth, Synthwave has already spawned swathes of subgenres. To name a few, they include:
Dreamwave – the downtempo sister of synthwave, which comes with higher tones and higher frequencies.
Scifiwave – an iteration of synthwave with a heavier emphasis on orchestral and cinematic synthetics.
Vaporwave – a more satirical and ambient exploration of 80s and 90s stylings, which is often confused with synthwave.
Sovietwave – surreally everything that it says on the tin; soundscapes which euphonically encompass the fall of the Soviet Union.
Darkwave – a darker and more gothic approach to synth wave; a genre defined by the sounds of Carpenter Brut and Perturbator.
When we asked AI to predict the future of the genre, it had even bigger ideas, envisioning the genre reaching even bigger heights with augmented and virtual reality immersive experiences for music fans, hologram-littered visual shows and entire festivals dedicated to synthwave artists.
Time will only tell if the genre can sustain its legacy, but as technology evolves, there is plenty of expectation that synthwave will follow suit. Although, after the excessive appropriation of the 80s sound, there is every chance that a new revivalist era will begin.
If you know exactly how it feels to be caught out as one of love’s fools, the resonance you’ll revel in when the soulfully hair-raising chorus in Alen Chicco’s latest RnB pop single, Another Love Song hits will cut straight to the core.
The definitively 80s synth lines leave the hit awash with lush reverb as Chicco’s dynamic vocal timbre evolves around the tension-fraught build-ups and classic pop crescendos constructed by the funk-laden basslines and atmospheric drum fills.
With some of the juiciest vocal hooks we’ve heard this year, which prove the singer-songwriter’s capacity to incorporate all of the hallmarks of a perennial pop earworm while never compromising on the viscerally raw emotion, the industry should be eating out of the palm of his deft hands and pop fanatic sycophants should be breaking down his door.
Check out the official music video for Another Love Song by heading over to YouTube.
With a music video more compellingly dystopic than the latest season of Black Mirror, the standout single, Migrate, from Robert Ramirez’s debut LP, is one small step for synthwave and one giant leap for synthkind.
As the polyphonically playful synths hammer down in a scintillatingly ethereal atmosphere, the Migrate lyrics and music video tell the tale of an android venturing to an underground lab where human emotions are extracted and sold. Given the rapid rates of technological progression and the rising levels of ennui, the concept that brought Migrate viscerally to life under Ramirez’s deft touch as a composer and sonic raconteur of space-age tales won’t be farfetched for long.
Boldly going further back than most synthpop artists dare to roam, Ramirez also dabbled in late 70s-esque synthetics reminiscent of Thomas Dolby, Telex and Yellow Magic Orchestra.
The official music video for Migrate Premiered on July 13th; stream it on YouTube.
With an edge of 80s synthpop sharpening the future-embracing textures in the ardently dreamy release that picks up plenty of visceral weight from the crooned harmonies, the latest single, A Long Goodbye, from Positronic will warm even the most sub-zero souls.
Odes to the 80s can often sound trite at best – there was never any danger of that with the reminiscences to icons of aural cool such as Editors, noted through the harshness of the snares, the chillier timbres and the sheer depth of emotion in the vocals.
The unassimilated gravitas of A Long Goodbye starts to make infinitely more sense with a glimpse at the artist and producer’s biography; the solo artist has been in the synth-pop scene since 1988, spurred on by the love of The Pet Shop Boys, OMD, Erasure and Depeche Mode. The Cali solo artist is just as talented as the artists he pulled inspiration from.
A Long Goodbye will officially release on March 31st; hear it on Positronic’s official website.
If it’s been a while since a debut single has left you utterly obsessed, delve into The Spheres’ alternatively inclined amalgam of 80s synth pop, indie-rock, and dance, The City of Lights. From the suburbs of Toronto, the duo lit up the airwaves with their infectiously hook-rife account of the frontman’s complicated relationship with his city of birth, Karachi, Pakistan. “In the city of lights, you die just for dreaming”, is cuttingly efficacious in alluding to the toll it took on the singer-songwriter and producer Reza Habib.
With the vibrato in the vocals spilling evocative kryptonite across the catchy synth-pop melodies, The City of Lights will blind you with its luminous soul before the solid riffs and punchier vocals conclude the track on a raucous high that will leave you itching for more. Thankfully, that itch will be scratched as more singles from the debut album will drop before its full release in Spring 2023.
Stick The City of Lights to your synapses by heading over to Spotify.
With scratchy Covenant-Esque synths and atmospheric beats that build a portal of 80s nostalgia, Autoleisureland’s seminal electro-pop single, Infiniti Drive, is a ride you will want to take time and time again. While the crooned vocals bring the stylistic indie soul, the brooding groove-deep beats take the steering wheel with your rhythmic pulses.
Autoleisureland may be new on the retro-modern synth-pop scene, but the Sunderland, UK-based founding members Paul Woods and David Brewis earned their electro stripes in the critically-acclaimed indie-soul band, The Kane Gang before launching the title single from their upcoming debut album, which is due for release on November 25th.
Infiniti Drive was officially released on October 14th. Check it out for yourselves on YouTube.
Norwegian artist F/L/P couldn’t be more of a force to be reckoned with, especially on the basis of his latest single, Ride With Ya, which was written and recorded with the USA artist DAMOYEE over the course of the global lockdowns in bitter-sweet anticipation of the world reopening.
The bass-heavy 80s synth pop track will undoubtedly be a hit with fans of Tame Impala or anyone that can resonate with the overarching themes of isolation and separation. The single efficaciously encapsulates how those yearnings for reconnection can keep us going through the fervid passion in the prominently vivid vocals that dominate the lush sweeping synths that are definitively 80s. The sweetest spot hits with the unexpected but appreciated all the same guitar solo, which riffs even more emotion and gravitas into the synthpop earworm that proves romance isn’t dead, it has simply been isolated.
Ride With Ya is now available to stream on Spotify.
In one of the most cinematic synthpop scores you could ever hope to immerse yourself within, Crossing Oceans, taken from Ivan Kangur’s 2022 album, Anno Domini, is an 80s soundtrack to synaesthesia.
After taking up classical piano at the age of 14 at the Royal Conservatory of music and working his way through his grades, he discovered his passion for composition, which ultimately saw him joining a new wave band in the 80s and film scoring. His third album, Anno Domini, is a continuation of his love of pop and sonic cinematics; from the first hammer of the analog synth, Crossing Oceans, keeps true to its titular nomination; the strident progressions break borders in the universality of their appeal. Delve right in; the water is lovely.
Crossing Oceans is now available to stream on Spotify.
After garnering tens of thousands of streams with his feel-good grooves released since his 2019 debut, the euphorically provocative pop sensation, Dante Beverley has declared The Party Never Dies with his latest single.
The 80s-inspired rhythmic riot exhibits a brand-new sonic signature that you’re going to want scribbled across your playlists; it also sets the tone for his forthcoming EP, due for release in early 2023.
The 22-year-old Rotterdam-hailing singer-songwriter takes influence from the likes of Bruno Mars, The Weeknd and Michael Jackson; notably, his inclination to enliven through disco and funk textures led the way in The Party Never Dies. Oscar Wilde would be proud of his revival of 80s synthy hedonistic pop.
The Party Never Dies is now available to stream on Spotify.