Synthwave (and often synthwave-adjacent) artist Makeup and Vanity Set’s new album, FM, arrives as the genre creeps ever closer to its 20th year. It’s been around so long and changed so much that the genre born of nostalgic tendencies is now in a position to make a listener nostalgic for nostalgia. This is exactly what FM does.
FM, which comes about six months after MAVS and Sferro released their datawave-blasted Wavefinder LP, is a striking record in the sense that it just might be one of MAVS’s most classic synthwave-sounding collections. Even when he was releasing albums like the ever popular, Godzilla-tackling 88:88 on Telefuture in 2012 or the Charles Park trilogy in the years before that, MAVS occupied a darker, less overtly retro lane than folks like Telefuture labelmates Le Cassette, Vincenzo Salvia, and Rolly Mingwald, or those in the foundational Rosso Corsa Collective, such as Miami Nights 1984, Lost Years, and Mitch Murder.
But this time, MAVS has crafted one of the best synthwave albums to never have been released during that classic era of around 2009-2015 — tucked between the earliest, most French Touch-infused years (coexisting with the Drive soundtrack) and the post-Stranger Things-debut era that probably ended sometime during the pandemic.
Hell, he’s even brought along Mitch Murder for a collaboration on one of FM‘s standout cuts, “Blame It To The City,” which also features the fantastic vocals of Austin, Texas-based creative force Yatte. (It’s the sole vocal cut on the record.) The bouncy, minor-key number comes off like one of the key singles from your favorite 1980s film soundtrack — the kind that saturated the airwaves and exhausted the inventory of every record store, mall-situated or otherwise. At its core it has MAVS’ trademark rhythm section that is too big and clean to actually be from the 1980s, but it nevertheless triggers the vibe. This makes it pair well with the pads, piano, Tangerine Dream marimba, clavinet, leads, and other elements that erupt from MAVS’ and Murder’s synths. Atop are the smooth, memorable vocals of Yatte (AKA Alex Chod), who sports a Sam Sparro timbre. Now this is good, classic synthwave.
Let’s take a look at a few more of the 10 songs on the record. Opener “Sensation Station” kicks off the record with a bubbly synth hook and a mid-tempo dance-floor beat, and this being MAVS the synth arrangement grows faster, dirtier, and more complex as the track progresses. “Easy” follows it with a sea-salt wisp of neon-lit art deco that flows effortlessly atop a V8-powered montage of Nagel-crafted moments. If I ever start that classic synthwave publication I’ve previously teased, I’m going to retrofit this gem into the mix. And I’ll probably get away with it.
“Leisure System” is a funk/boogie number that largely recalls the early ’80s work of folks like Patrice Rushen or The Dazz Band, but with a delightful twist: a heaping serving of cascading arps that would make the Ed Banger crew proud.
Moving down the list a bit, we find “Reel to Reel,” a great companion piece to “Blame It To The City.” (If he ever does this song live, I could see the former being a type of long intro to the latter.) It’s an eminently danceable number with an attractively minor-key synth arrangement and a monosynth lead that smoothly moves along the mix on a wave of ethereal lubrication.
Album closer “FM Waves” ends the record on a tender, emotional note; almost like a pristine lullaby to help us come down from the big energy. We’ve had a killer-good time in this world of classic synthwave informed by the timeless tendencies of Makeup and Vanity Set, but now it’s time to take a breather (or, alternatively, wake up from one helluva dream). What a ride it’s been! More of this, please.
MAVS is prolific. His Bandcamp page, which alone has 65 albums, EPs and singles, is not even a comprehensive representation of the amount of work he’s released in the past 20 years. (I’m pretty sure that page doesn’t have all of the podcasts and films and such that he’s scored, either as MAVS or under his real name, Matthew Pusti. And then there are all the subscriber-only songs.) Even so, he deftly avoids one of the biggest pitfalls of his fellow prolifics: oversaturation, boredom, and reliably diminishing returns. FM is a record that affirms his ability to dodge those curses easily.
It makes me wonder what else Pusti has in mind for us. We won’t have to wait too long to find out.
FM is available digitally and on vinyl via Illinois-based Electric Dream Records. It’s on streamers, too.
BTW, I’ve been promoting You Drive, Pusti’s side act with Jasmin Kaset for years and it’s wild that more people haven’t gotten on board. Don’t sleep on this one.