Times are tough. That goes without saying. However, there is some medicine to help us get through it all, thanks to B•R•A•U•N and Highway Superstar.
Here are two releases that are often sunny and uplifting, but also rather relaxing, even when they dive deep into sometimes challenging realms of contemplation (got that?). During times like these, I’m thankful these artists are creating such music.
B•R•A•U•N – Silent Science
The Portland, Oregon-based B•R•A•U•N (AKA Ben Braun) released a masterpiece on Oct. 6. Let’s just put that out there. Silent Science is well-written, well-performed, well-produced, and, well, just so damn good. Cuts like “Lose It All,” “Too Long,” and “Gardens” underscore the stunning brilliance of this release.
Braun’s cool, ethereal vocals roll slowly over tight, synth-driven and guitar-flecked arrangements that pair the better angels of classic chillwave and modern synth-pop. The color palette and vibe of the songs is at minimum relaxing and at best sunny and uplifting, with songwriting so solid that each nook and cranny is loaded with some memorable melody, riff, or rhythmic affectation.
“Swimming” is laden with an airy flute that’s light as a feather but hugs like a warm, giant bear. “Washed Away” pairs cinematic arps with an OMD-infused synth riff and a tight and splashy rhythm track. There’s even an M83-style sax part that flies over the mix just like on your favorite Brat Pack soundtrack. (Important Note: Charlie DeChant of Hall & Oates plays that lovely sax.) The other aforementioned cuts get in your head and never leave, not that you’d ever want them to.
Lyrically, Braun — whom you might know from synthpop group Mackintosh Braun — taps into the very visceral idea that technology has torn us apart and made life harder. This isn’t progress we’re living in right now. When blended into the instrumental choices of the album, the message isn’t as terrifying as it sounds. Nevertheless, the music isn’t our soma. It’s there to serve as a catalyst for us to come up with better solutions to the mess we’ve made.
Whatever you do, buy this album. Buy it as soon as you can. Below are some of the cuts I mentioned (the ones that are available). To hear the rest, buy the album in digital, cassette, or vinyl forms via record label Diving Bell’s Bandcamp page. (Also, it’s better for you to listen to the cuts yourself, lest I pollute your experience with inadequate comparisons to one of a basket of artists that comes to mind when I experience Silent Science.)
Highway Superstar – ‘Maybe I’m Fallin’ In Love’
Next up is the new single from Israeli producer Highway Superstar, the purveyor of synthwave whom you might have heard on the Kung Fury soundtrack or opening for Tame Impala (as a keyboardist with Reo) in Tel Aviv. He’s collaborated with Perturbator and Futurecop! and remixed the likes of Televisor, Frankmusik, and Tesla Boy.
Anyway, in an evolutionary bid that began on his 2015 album Endgame, the producer has taken his synthwave game to a place that’s better described as “1980s inspired modern synthpop.” It’s a tad like the approach St. Lucia took on their latest album, Matter, with a shade of Chromeo and even Paula Abdul.
The song fits the sunny criteria I’m looking for right now. The catchy synth hooks sparkle with a bright light over a freestyle-esque beat, while vocalist Sharon Chidersky’s pipes proudly ponder the distinct possibility that she’s falling in love and what that means for keeping her feet firmly planted on the ground.
I can see some outlets thinking this song is too ’80s while others will think it’s not ’80s enough. I think it’s just right. You can buy it today via Highway Superstar’s Bandcamp page.
If you want to learn more about Highway Superstar (AKA Alex Karlinsky), check out the interviews he’s done with Vehlinggo. Specifically, his insight into Drive and his assessment of the legacy of David “College” Grellier.