There’s a revival afoot. Climbing up from the ashes of the equally beloved and derided eighties is a new movement of synth pop and synth wave. The soundtracks of classics like Terminator and more modern media like Stranger Things and Drive have thrust the gritty neon-soaked genre back into the public consciousness. Since the beginning of its revival, it has strived to move in new directions, often dark and terrifying, submerged in a thick layer of oil black atmosphere. J.G. Thirlwell (aka Xordox’s) latest record, Neospection, calls to mind all of these elements and blends them with a layer of cyberpunk for an extra hit of industrial future synth.
The opening track, “Diamonds,” works well to set the stage for the rest of the record. Its deep and pointed synth lines come across as aggressive and direct, while a bright tone hovers in the background in an almost post-rock manner. Much like the actual gem it is named for, this song twinkles like engagement rings reflecting neon signs in a seedy part of Las Vegas. Dark streets and steam hover all across the imagery of this track, setting up a wonderful atmosphere with which the rest of the album plays.
The next major standout on this record is “Pink Eye,” which has a deep burbling synth that rapidly hits, all across the song. This could easily be the soundtrack to a chase scene in Drive, but there is an element of noisiness and aggressiveness to the synths that set them apart from much of the synthwave revival of recent years. This is violent and powerful; about one minute into the song, intense drums wash over the entirety of the track while the same violent synths threaten to drown out the melody and any semblance of standard audience appeal. The track takes a step even further about three quarters of the way through, once the intensity increases, and pointed bleeps come in to derail the song into total chaos. While the track itself may be rather chaotic, it is perfectly balanced and winds the listener up before setting them down cautiously towards the end, with a beautiful unwinding of the previous onslaught.
The most notable track on this album is the epic “Asteroid Dust,” which calls to mind exactly what one would think: space. The build on the track is phenomenal, starting with a light hum of static before blowing completely into a space mountain-style atmospheric drift that seemingly builds into nothing until around halfway through the track when the synths let loose in a spiraling pattern that is sure to excite and intrigue any seasoned listener. This number, too, has a perfect wind down that even features a sound clip that would be right at home on an Amnesia Scanner record, creating a uniquely beautiful symmetrical end to the record.
Synthwave was never destined to die. Despite its humble roots in the early days of popular electronic, we have found ourselves unable to let go of its futuristic sound. Lucky for fans of the genre, Xordox brings back the knifes edge to the often sickly sweet world of synth, reminding listeners that below all the glowing neon lights, there is still a seedy and humid darkness waiting to swallow it all whole.