The Synthwave Radioshow
'calypso drip fm
Best track: reverse
click album cover to listen
The debut album from Brisbane-based Aussie synthwave smoothie, Gryff, comes at us with a Californian summer vibe, conceptually positioned as a feel-good 80s radio station; complete with a nice turn from scene stalwart and real life Nightride FM DJ Kaarin Zoe Lee playing the faux 'Calypso Drip FM' presenter.
Our fictional station neatly transports us from sun-bleached day to dance-floor funky night as the album progresses. In this humble reviewer's opinion, the long player's standout moments come in the second half - but there are some fine, commendable moments on 'side A' - so let's get into it.
First up is Dreams - a straight-up 80's pop number with a sophisticated production, and a catchy as hell refrain, made to be blasted in the open top with the road ahead and palm trees a-swaying. We're en-route to see our girl, by way of endless games of beach volleyball and past the arcade strip....I'm feeling an Aussie 'Go West' in this strong opener.
Next up is New Religion, with a sweet pulsing synth line carrying the track forward into the chorus which opens up as Gryff posits starting a new religion (I'm guessing the love kind, not awkward cult variety). Again, I'm hearing tones of classic mid 80's bands like Go West, and Living in a Box. In fact, the first three tracks on the album display Gryff's enviable ease at creating perfect pop(corn) - with lashings of his "producers' dream-recording vocal", smooth as aural butter.
Third in, Jessie announces itself with a sax solo, which I'm here for incidentally - making a welcome reappearance at the end of each chorus, and we're getting a feel for the album by now; up-tempo well-studied 80's pop, with Gryff's vocal giving us feel-good vibes as he implores to would-be lover/s to be the one to make life fun ;)
Waiting Up begins to introduce a funkier edge with a nice little "hey" sample; again pay attention to the production - each moment is filled with a break, synth pulse, nice percussive touch - like a guy that can't sit still, Gryff fills these tracks to the brim and rewards the listener with a smorgasbord of bleeps, riffs, rolls and sparkle.
Hollywood View, for me, is the weakest track on the album as we reach mid-point. Don't get me wrong it's still amiable and catchy - but I think it reveals Gryff at his most comfortable, lyrically and sonically.
However, by the time we hit Do You Feel Like This the formula gets mixed up a little with some nice horns at the start - again recurring as a post-chorus refrain. A sweet little rhythm guitar riff and a falsetto as we hit that chorus break lift this number up as we pass the album's halfway mark. A lilting sax brings this track to a sharp close, as Kaarin comes back onto the airwaves to separate day from night as "Calypso Drip FM" now moves into post-beach vibes and moonlit night life (the skit literally titled "Into The Night").
Something 2 Hold (1984 mix), has a funkier vibe and Gryff's vocal appears a little more sassy, and I really like this commitment to the concept of the album moving from sun-drenched day to evening seduction. The production on this reminds me of Powernerd and Dana Jean Phoenix's Megawave long player from early 2020.
Hotline meanwhile opens with the Kavinsky vibes, and then unleashes the electro-funk - thiiiis is more like it, and is a contender for my favourite track on the release.
Conceptually, Landslide could have made it into the first half - albeit the opening seconds sound like Duett (big compliment) and a great little spoken word break with Gryff's fantastic Aussie voice captured in classic 'phone message' audio sets it apart, then the sax is back and it takes us home to a short sharp end.
Reverse is - for me - the absolute standout, with a heavy Bad Dreamers influence - even employing a finger snap, and Gryff sounds the best he has; complimented by a superb and measured duet vocal from Primo the alien. Released already as a single of course, I would have loved to have seen more collabs on the album, as - and I mean this positively - it feels like Gryff pushes the songwriting out of his genre groove and makes something a touch more special. The sax on this is way awesome too.
Finally Voyager takes us home - where Gryff sings he "spent the night" and "fell in love" with the song's protagonist, and despite her not being "the one", on a consolatory note Gryff concedes that she did "get close to it". A solid tune to end on, and compliments Reverse in some ways, as perhaps a reflection on an affair that didn't live up to expectations.
And there we have it. Production wise, the album is hard to fault - although it can betray itself in part with an over-commitment to synthwave traits (pulsing bass, sax, twinkling synth lines). If you're a casual fan of the genre, Gryff literally hits all the right notes and plays to the crowd.
However, if you're looking for a record which expands on classic synthwave - blending different influences or sounds from more modern production or external genres, this isn't "the one". What you'll find is a guy making music he loves and a neat concept in which to showcase it....Perhaps we'll hear a progression on Gryff's sophomore outing, as he refines and explores outside of his spiritual home to let the rain clouds gather. For now though, enjoy another endless summer and tune that dial to "Calypso Drip FM" for the ride. rob dyson 7/10
a visual representation of the album:
if you're in to this, you'll also like:
moonrunner83, ace buchannon, at 1980 and powernerd