The Synthwave Radioshow
Best track: teenager
click album cover to listen
Morgan Willis. Where the hell do i begin?! I can honestly say I love his music, with its own unique style…it has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ if you will, because hand on heart, I can’t say for sure what it is that does it for me. It’s a style that’s remained within its self-made confines for quite a while in fact. I’m actually a big advocate of not resting on ones’ laurels and I truly believe we should always strive to deviate from the status quo of our creature comforts by thinking bigger and exploring avenues we’re not accustomed to. Let me be clear though, this isn’t to say Morgan Willis isn’t doing this and I’m sure he could come back at me with a thousand ways he’s pushing his boundaries. But to tell you the truth, I don’t want him to push too hard.
I first came to know of his music when he released ‘Sophie Teenage Dream’ in 2017. I then concluded he was one of the best out there when he created ‘Supernova’ in 2019…one of the best synthwave albums to ever grace this earth. And finally, I had my suspicions confirmed that he wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan upon the unveiling of ‘The Jenkins House’ earlier in 2019. Fundamentally, this guy combines the art of good story-telling and music to accompany it to absolute perfection. Synthwave has opened up the minds of many a story-teller where physics and sense needn’t play a role, and Morgan Willis is merely in the best mind set to do it.
The latest compilation from the synthwave supremo is titled ‘Dreamer’ and much like the albums I’ve already mentioned, it starts off with a definitive intro track, this one is called ‘Lou & Giu’. Short, simple and serene, it does what all his intros do by giving you a pretty good sense of what the dominating theme will be. I might be spit-balling here but he’s even given us our likely protagonists and we’re only one track in! ‘Dark Before the Dream’ ensues with the soft vocals of ‘Parallels’ who seems to be the ‘go to’ for collaborations of late. It’s a straight-down-the-middle dreampop number with simplistic percussion but plenty of layers of accompanying synths. It’s actually very similar in feel to the collabs we heard from ‘Parallels’ and ‘Futurecop!’ on his album ‘Voltrana’.
By the time we reach the lovely instrumental that is ‘Iza’, you begin to see many similarities between these tracks and those found on ‘Sophie Teenage Dream’. The difference being these have a bit more about them in the basslines and there’s additional structure throughout. The 2017 album played a lot on initiating a track with a single element and simply adding in new elements one by one until it all came together in a rapturous fanfare. ‘Iza’ begins with a divine classic piano and is soon accompanied by a romantic sparkle and soft guitar riff…and so on and so forth. You get the picture.
We then find ourselves listening to the second collaboration on the album ‘Back to the Start’ with the queen of synthwave herself ‘NINA’. Unfortunately, I can’t say it’s a particularly memorable track by both their standards. I’ll be the first to say that NINA’s vocals go hand-in-hand with pretty much anything in the mould of dreampop or popwave, but for me the magic just wasn’t there this time. I feel her vocals are better suited to something more heartfelt, ‘Diamonds in the Rough’ and ‘Automatic Call’ come to mind. Funnily enough, Morgan Willis actually went and did a remix of ‘Automatic Call’ and it was ace!
I’m not entirely sure who takes the credit for them but ‘Invisible’ is the first time we get to hear familiar vocals and they’re a prominent feature just as they were in the track ‘Hide’ from ‘The Jenkins House’. This track features the familiar building progression until it reaches its peak and has a surprisingly higher tempo than the intro suggests. ‘KEL’ lends her dulcet tones to form one of the softer underbelly elements of this album in the track ‘Rabbit Hole Chasing You’. This would be a strong contender for one of the single releases if I had anything to do with it, based simply on its pure and punchy choruses and heavenly interludes.
The thing that intrigues me most about this album is the decision to make the titular track a mere interlude. Most artists would lean towards making this track the most important one on their compilation. ‘Dreamer’ really is a very simple instrumental interlude that doesn’t really carry any weight of its own and at best might be the backing track to a mind-wander of one of the protagonists.
One of the best songs on this collection comes in the form of ‘New Life’, which when I first saw the title had me praying for a cover of a brilliant ‘Depeche Mode’ track…but alas it was not to be. Morgan tends to make his instrumentals at least five minutes long which is important when you build the tracks up progressively, it takes time to give each element of the track its own pedestal but it gives the listener a real chance to appreciate everything that goes in to the music. This instrumental brilliantly showcases every sensual synth and buzzing bassline and ensures that once all the ingredients are working in perfect harmony for the flourish, you are well-educated on every aspect of the tune. And he’s been doing it for the last 4 albums, he sticks to his own personal - rule number one…stick to what works!
There’s a track that I’ve had playing 7 times in succession as I write this, and that track is ‘Teenager’. And the reason is this…it is unfathomably good! Like so amazingly stupendously outrageously amazing! The early cosmic sounds used are straight out of ‘Supernova’, but just when you think this is going to be a futuresynth-styled track, it subtly alters itself into something that would fit in to ‘Sophie Teenage Dream’. It’s the loudest track on the album too with a prowling synth bassline and some quiet flailing keytar playing to accompany the musical components at their peak. It screams a message of positivity and hope due to a lack of flat notes and the best bit about the whole thing is the outro feels like an additional track that just gives you that extra 30 seconds of sheer euphoria. Not bad for an instrumental! I cannot stress how much I think you will enjoy this song!
‘C.O.M.A.’ was the first bit of insight we got in to what to expect from Morgan on this album when it was released in October 2019. It was an intelligent choice with a funky beat and is a definite floor-filler. He uses his trademark cowbell-infused bit throughout which is something you’ll have heard plenty of by the time you reach this track.
‘We Are Young’ has an early 90s feel to it with a higher tempo and random glistening synths thrown in for good measure. The percussion is different to the commonplace ones heard throughout this album, if anything it’s a step back to something a little less crowded and as such, makes this the track that stands out most. It’s probably the most genuine synthwave you’ll hear on ‘Dreamer’ and it’ll be very popular with those that like their popwave to pop. There’s also another nod back to ‘Sophie Teenage Dream’ as there’s a synth used for the outro of that album titled ‘Another Day’ and you’ll also hear it used in this track.
And finally, we reach the end of the album with the track ‘Forever’ with an intro that sounds a lot like the work of ‘Don Dellpiero’. Just as you think things are about to fade out, things take off just before the two-minute mark which prompts you double take at the length of the outro…8 and a bit minutes! What the f@*%?! Perhaps Morgan doesn’t want his work to end there, so we get a few extra minutes free to enjoy the simple beauty of ‘Forever’ with blissful transcending synths in the respite, cranked up percussions in the choruses and an insanely gorgeous ending with super soft repetitive synths. It’s a very beautiful way to end this compilation and I feel like I’ve listened to yet another story and not just a set of tracks lacking meaning or direction.
To round things off, I leave you with this. It’s very easy to listen to the first couple of tracks on a compilation and make up your mind about it. Most people want to be impressed from the off and they’ll move on if they’re not. Up until the titular track, chances are you won’t be wowed by what you’ve heard, but fear not. The final five tracks are ferociously good and may constitute some of Morgan Willis’ best work to date. It’s a shame these tracks arrive so late to the party! The collaborations are fine in their own right but don’t represent the best work on this album and based on these two aspects, the album doesn’t match the brilliance of ‘Supernova’ or ‘The Jenkins House’. What I do absolutely love though are the finer details, the little nods to previous works that have been inserted throughout this newest instalment. If you’re reading this Mr Willis, I implore you to give us more of what we hear in those last five tracks! They epitomise you at your absolute best. Joe Ward 8/10
a visual representation of the album:
if you're in to this, you'll also like:
futurecop!, don dellpiero, sunglasses kid and crockett