There’s a very excited, nervous vibe in the air lately — at least at Vehlinggo — and so I’ve been listening to a lot of chill, downtempo, ambient, galactic and other forms of electronic music that focus on the contemplative side of things.
Now, this is mostly tourist work I’m doing. I haven’t gone down the rabbit hole, so much as I’m taking the packaged deal. I’ve gone back to the classics, like Jean-Michel Jarre’s seminal Oxygene or Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports. I’ve also been obsessing over Laraaji, the Philadelphia-born artist Eno has worked with in the past. I’ve been listening to others, too, like Tangerine Dream. But really, like I said, it’s tourist stuff.
Somehow, the tour bus ended up taking me to the outer reaches of the known galaxy. Hear me out. I’ve been enjoying the work of four newer artists FM-84, Syntax, Hello Meteor, and Qatarsis, who take the intimate moments of those pioneers and mix them with the best galaxy-minded work of composers like Vangelis and Steve Roach.
FM-84 Changes Identities
FM-84 burst onto the scene early last year with some 80s retrosynth cuts that had several more shades of organic qualities to them than typical synthwave. His generic, SEO-titled songs like “Delorean,” “Nightdrive,” and “Neon Sunrise” did not match the much more interesting music onto which they were attached.
But toward the end of last year and going into this year, the Scotland-born and San Francisco-based FM-84 has largely ditched the 80s retrosynth in favor of a palette made up of elements of film scores, Tycho, prog-rock, and downtempo 90s cuts.
His most recent release, “Jupiter,” from a forthcoming EP, largely personifies his new journey — and oh is it a welcome change. The 80s nostalgia he did was pretty good, but he seems much more comfortable in this new hybrid outfit. I look forward to the new EP coming in April.
Syntax Gazes Upward
San Diego, California-based Syntax is primarily a synthwaver, but underscoring all of that is a Vangelis-like celestial reach that defies any tired 80s retrosynth tropes. A year ago he did a song called “Stargazer,” that featured Droid Bishop. It was an ambitious and mind-blowing affair that really and truly conjures a sense of wonder in all who hear it.
A couple weeks ago, Syntax and collaborator HOME put out “Stratus,” an equally compelling work of art. Its spacey synths and driving backbeat showcase what would happen if Vangelis, Jarre, and Johnny Jewel were writing music together on the International Space Station.
Hello Meteor Lives Up to His Name
Meteor tends to label his music “80s dreamwave,” and in many ways it is. Certainly his earlier work is. Recently, though, he’s been putting the focus more intensely on his true colors: Interstellar arpeggiations that recall the coldness and vastness of the universe, while keeping one foot firmly planted in a true sense of “home.”
His latest single, “Dragon of the Black Pool (Laserdisc Revisit),” is a great example of his galactic talent.
It’s interesting fare. Unlike Syntax, though, Meteor’s use of retro drum samples doesn’t seem to serve the ultimate goals of the music. Implementing acoustic drum samples — either in the form of a real drummer or programming — could go a long way.
Qatarsis Creates ‘Illusions’
Germany-based Qatarsis creates some incredibly fascinating music. He typically doesn’t stick with any single genre, which can be refreshing. However, the bulk of his work, from the minimal and haunting “Medieval Memories” to the space-glitch of “Angels are Mathematical,” all showcase the artist’s deftness at expanding the mind without sacrificing the intimacy of serene moments.
On his most recent SoundCloud upload, the exquisite “Illusions,” Qatarsis uses the pulsating resonance of modular synths to create what could be the backdrop for a Lars Von Trier sci-fi film studying the apex of alienation and familiarity in transhumanism.
I realize this has been a bit of a wild post. It could seem like a stretch to go from the contained worlds of Eno and Jarre to far-off starscapes, but inherent in all of these artists is a true sense of how to balance the most close-to-chest ideas, emotions, and moments with concepts that transcend space and time.
If you have any suggestions for more music like this, email me at hello-at-vehlinggo.com, leave a message on Vehlinggo’s Facebook page or tweet at me.