It should be of no surprise that the first companion EP to the crowdfunded, forthcoming synthwave documentary The Rise of the Synths features a contribution by Giorgio Moroder and his writing partner Raney Shockne.
The still-in-production film will sport an impressive array of interviews with pioneering and modern synth artists — College, Electric Youth, Com Truise, Lazerhawk, Maethelvin and dozens more moderns and potentially Moroder and John Carpenter, who’s lent his support to the synthwave scene he helped inspire. If you’re into the synthy space, this is your time.
In addition to the presence of Moroder/Shockne, the first Rise companion EP includes Carpenter Brut, Dance with the Dead, OGRE, Lazerhawk, Mega Drive, and Voyag3r — most of which will be interviewed in the documentary.
The EP, which comes out May 1, is no gimmicky release, either. Each artist has contributed a top-notch song to the project. Here, I’ll touch on all seven cuts.
Are You Prepared for This?
The EP kicks off with the Moroder/Shockne cut, “Triage,” which I’m told they made especially for the EP (a status shared by all of the other songs on the collection).
The opening part of the song is a slow-building mix of wordless female vocal chants (the only vocals on the EP) and cold, foreboding synths that shut down and give way to a kinetic arpeggiator, spectral screeches of eternal dissonance and intense washes of Badalamenti-isms and orchestral maneuvering. It’s a strong cinematic opening for the EP.
Next is Carpenter Brut’s “Night Stalker,” which Vehlinggo premiered in March. It’s a dark and dirty French Touch-infused synthwave number that would function well as the bad-ass backdrop to a cinematic montage of some sorts — say a fight, a bomb defusing, some kind of race.
California-based Dance with the Dead makes a noteworthy contribution to EP 1. Like Brut, the DWTD duo of Justin Pointer and Tony Kim generally mix basic retrosynth elements with some club action (and guitars). Here, with “Dead of Night,” the duo mixes a driving disco backbeat with epic guitar riffs and leads and fuzzy, assertive synths straight out of the wheelhouse of Carpenter (John). This is one of the EP’s standout cuts, for sure. I haven’t always been into DWTD, but cuts like this are making me more interested than ever.
Next up is Vehlinggo favorite OGRE (AKA Robin Ogden), contributing “Rebar (Prologue).” The UK-based synth composer is well-known in circles for his nuanced and warm scores for stories yet-unwritten. Take a listen to his 2012 classic 194 or 2016’s Calico Noir. Or dabble in his various collaborations with American Dallas Campbell, such as All Hollows’ or the re-score for Night of the Living Dead. You’ll find work that’s dark, considered, and that just plain kills.
OGRE is an international treasure and his presence on EP 1 just ramps up the collection’s quality.
Synthwave pioneer Lazerhawk, AKA Austinite Garrett Hays — who along with Michael Glover, AKA Miami Nights 1984, is half-owner of pioneering synthwave label Rosso Corsa — brings “A Hero’s Journey” to the collection.
The cut is a cascading array of synths, smoothly interwoven in a suspenseful fashion, buttressed with distorted-guitar riffs, orchestral theatrics and a big, gated snare. It’s the type of complex arrangement that’s classic Lazerhawk and the type of work that Michael Mann would have surely loved in the 1980s. What’s noteworthy is the six-minute powerhouse manages to maintain an air of humility despite its ambition.
With “Stargate,” Mega Drive brings the listener back to the fuzzy kinesis she got used to after the Brut-Dead two-fer. The Dallas-based Mega Drive — who has been making synthwave for several years — contributes an impressive swirl of dark synths that follow the general theme set for EP 1. There’s a whole lot of reflection going on, to be sure, but it’s paired with often wrought action.
In the closing cut, Voyag3r’s “Appearance of the Mysterious Traveler,” EP 1 indeed saves the best for last. The retrosynth/progressive rock band offers up a feast of a song. Supported by drummer Greg Mastin’s acoustic and electronic playing and keyboardist Steve Greene’s deep synth-bass, Aaron Greene’s spacey surf-guitars get tremoloed up and fly over Steve’s warm synth pads and related accoutrements. Buzzy, analog monosynth leads come out and play, sometimes joined by chunky, distorted guitar riffs, both working their way over a positively tight arrangement that maintains the overall dark nature of the EP, while also providing some kind of transition to what could be on EP 2 — which will give us Com Truise, Code Elektro, Power Glove, and more.
Voyag3r’s seven-minute, multi-movement epic closes with a searing, multi-facted guitar solo that would make David Gilmour proud. It’s a damn shame when it fades out. I could easily have experienced another 10 minutes of this song, with each instrument taking turns with lead and support and seeing to it that I’m given the ability to transcend into something — to some celestial plane rife with revelations about the true meaning of myself, “the Self,” and perhaps even why we’re all here. I dunno. With Voyag3r, anything is possible.
Perhaps what Voyag3r leads the way on, and which the other artists help to move forward, is to give rise to a whole new meaning behind the title, “The Rise of the Synths.” It’s not merely that old and new synthesizer-driven music is becoming more popular than ever. It’s that it has the ability to allow for us to rise above and become our true selves.
To order the EP, you can get it directly from Lakeshore via its Bandcamp page. (It’ll be available on Apple’s music services and Spotify in mid-May, but why wait?). EP 2 is coming in June.
(Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to include embeds of all of the tracks.)
The Rise of the Synths documentary is currently in production, with lead filmmakers Ivan Castell and Javip Moreno visiting their interview subjects in countries around the world. You can track their progress on the Rise Facebook page. For more information, visit the official site. (Full disclosure: If Castell and Moreno come to New York, they’ll interview yours truly.)