A Must Listen: ‘The Rise of the Synths’ EP 2 Is Pure Gold

Perhaps you thought they couldn’t keep up the momentum. Perhaps you thought wrong.

As filmmakers Ivan Castell and Javip Moreno work diligently on their globe- and generation-spanning synthwave documentary The Rise of the Synths, Lakeshore Records has provided us with some great companion music. You’ve already heard EP 1, what with its appearances by Giorgio Moroder and Carpenter Brut and such. Now, coming out tomorrow on Bandcamp, is companion EP 2, replete with the likes of Com Truise, Code Elektro, Gunship, and more. And it kills. It just slays. (Pre-order it today, just so you can wake up to it in your inbox tomorrow. Just a suggestion.)

In some ways, EP2 is the lighter side of the two Rise companion releases. This isn’t to say it’s dreamy or filled with sunny sprites of effervescent luminosity. It’s just that, when compared to the dark riffage of Dance with the Dead, the hyper-compressed, macabre French Touch of Brut, and the haunting black mass of Moroder and Raney Shockne, the roster on EP2 is a bit less intense and perhaps more nuanced. It touches on a more contemplative aspect of the human condition. Although this doesn’t mean it can’t be as dark, I suppose.

As I did with the first EP, I’ll cover each of song here.

Chrome Canyon kicks it off with the haunting “Deckard Returns,” an obvious reference to Rick Deckard, the main character in both Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and its film adaptation, Blade Runner. It’s a soaring introduction to the collection, offering up cinematic twists and turns that show Canyon’s undeniable qualification to lend any number of fine sci-fi films his talent for synth scores. (I like Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music a lot, but this cue shows that Canyon would have also been a wise choice to score Blade Runner 2049.)

Next up is Britain-based band Gunship, which on “Vale of Shadows” provides a full-on vocal number the likes of which has endeared them greatly to synthwave fans these past couple years — like John Carpenter meets Judas Priest.

This expansive cut pulls out all of the stops, unleashing an array of gigantic, fuzzed-up, and crystalline synths over which vocals wail and under which a snare slams its way with a crunchy crush. It’s an intense, rewarding experience.

On “Fatal Affair,” Australia-based Power Glove — known in the mainstream for their score work on things like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and its sequel — do get a bit dark. The array of spectral and fuzzy synths, haunting piano runs, and tight beats on “Fatal Affair” fosters an overriding sense of inner struggle. The song rides a waxing and waning spectrum of emotion that builds up as much suspense as it relieves.

Com Truise, a mere week before releasing Iteration, his best album yet, makes an appearance on the soundtrack with “Idle Withdrawl.” It’s a quintessential Com track from the artist otherwise known as Seth Haley, who will make an appearance in the Rise documentary. Everything from the malfunctioning rhythm to the complex interplay of busted-up synths fused together with catchy melodies has that Com DNA all over it.

“Idle” starts out a bit on the bleak side, but as the song progresses over its somewhat atypical structure, its denouement is a hopeful one. The army of synths shines in a major key in an almost triumphant fashion.

Swedish synthwaver Robert Parker comes at us with “Silver Shadow,” which is a healthy serving of glitchy, fuzzy French Touch. It’s loaded at the bottom with a driving club beat and at the top with searing guitar solos and icy-cold strings; with a middle filled with stirring synth gesticulations. It’s quite the banger. I often imagine what it would be like if Parker and Daft Punk teamed up for a film score. It might sound somewhat like this.

Equally Swedish producer Waveshaper‘s “A Mission to Remember” also trends toward French Touch territory with synths that invoke Minitel Rose’s “Zombie Lady” from the classic Valerie and Friends compilation from 2009. I really like how much of a fun banger this cut is — Waveshaper is definitely another soul who should team up with Daft Punk.

The collection concludes with Vehlinggo friend Code Elektro, whose podcast on the making of his Wolf album has been heating up this modest blog. For Rise, the eminently talented Code Elektro offers up the richly evocative and cinematic “Black Rain.” I’m biased, because I’m a huge fan of Code, but let me put this out there: This intricate synth cue is sui generis among the other cuts on the compilation. In his sleep, the Danish producer creates music that rivals the best output of composers like Johnny Jewel, Cliff Martinez, and Jóhannsson.

On “Black Rain,” it feels like Code Elektro is giving us a glimpse into his future, and damn is it bright.

Overall, EP 2 succeeds. It doesn’t rehash the first EP, but instead builds on its themes. Together, the two compilations execute well the dual purpose of serving as a companion to the Rise documentary, while also introducing the artists to a new audience. On EP 1, some might have come for the Moroder or the Carpenter Brut and stayed for the OGRE. On this one, they run toward Com Truise and along the way meet Code Elektro and Robert Parker. It all underscores just how important these Lakeshore Records releases are to this scene.

EP 1 is available now all over the place. You can buy EP 2 on Friday, June 9, via Lakeshore’s Bandcamp and a week later on all the digital stores.

About the Rise Documentary

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 actively lent his support to the synthwave scene he helped inspire. If you’re into the synthy space, this is your time.

Also, hopefully, Castell and Moreno make their way Stateside, so that certain people of letters can have a presence in their film. Wink wink. Certain such folks can dream.

You can track their progress on the Rise Facebook page. For more information, visit the official site.

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