'Dead calm and zero degrees'
Best track: riptide
click album cover to listen
This scene of ours bangs on about 80’s nostalgia like it’s the only thing that makes the synthwave waterwheel go round. This attitude is likely to leave some artists behind in their pursuit of greatness as others try to remould the genre on their own terms. ‘Hunter Complex’ is indeed one of those artists trying to forge their own way in music. This latest helping titled ‘Dead Calm and Zero Degrees’ does very little to showcase itself as a synthwave album. Instead of perhaps looking to synthwave for ideas as seems to be the norm of late, Lars Meijer has gone straight to the source, and with a pretty high success rate too!
Rather than talk about each individual track, I’m going to highlight the best ones and do my best to delve in to my limited musical brain and point out what they do that’s different to the status quo of synthwave. The first thing you need to know about this compilation is that it is entirely instrumental, and you might think it’ll feature a load of filler tracks which has become quite common on synthwave albums in the last few years. However I would say Lars has made a good go at avoiding this to give each track it's own personality.
‘Bitter Cold’ is a solid nod to the 80s in terms of sound but less so in terms of synthpop and more in the way of an edgier alternative feel. ‘Louder Than War’ reviewed this album and said that this could be a lost ‘Simple Minds’ B-side which is bang on the money! It has a happy-go-lucky blend of new wave and warm synth tones that do little to match the name of the title of the song. ‘Blue Tornado’ harbours many of the elements required to make a score for an episode of ‘Baywatch’. The low end fuzz-bass synths are a page out of ‘Bart Graft’s book, that’s not to say this is something he coined in the genre. It really ascends in stature up to the crescendo and then peters out to almost nothing, you’ll feel like you were in a trance for the best part of it which is bloody magical.
‘Hot Streets’ is a ‘Jean Michel Jarre’ – Oxygene inspired number with its slow progression not only in tempo but also the long-drawn out synths moving from the backdrop and in to the limelight as the track builds. There’s even a part of the track about a third of the way in that reminds me of the extended intro to ‘Hold Me Now’ by ‘Thompson Twins’. ‘We Fly At Dawn’ begins with a hugely panoramic blast of multiple synths that will bring out any number of emotions depending on the person and the mood they’re in. These are followed closely by a surreal mix of more ‘Jean Michel Jarre’ and ‘OMD’-infused synths that ooze out a real Persian feel. I particularly love the long, drawn out ending. I might sound crazy but this track took me to some of the most memorable scenes of the movie ‘Apocalypse Now’.
‘June Gloom’ is a diverse collection of heart-warming and magical synths that take centre stage. It’s probably the happiest track that once more does little to describe the meaning of ‘June Gloom’, that is of course of we are talking about the same fog that hugs the Californian coastline in late Spring. Of all the tracks on this record, I would say this one comes closest to synthwave, Lars had to throw a bit of it in there for us right?
My personal favourite is something well worth waiting for if you’re the type to listen to an album in its entirety. 'riptide' is a tranquil yet exciting piece that offers bundles of inspiration, and with a catchy hook, it’ll be the track that you remember most from this album. It's a hugely different take on the commercial release by 'Vance Joy' and despite that one catching my attention for about a week or so...this one will live a lot longer in my memory. Whether or not it was an aim when creating it, try to imagine you’re the first arrival to a large swell off the coast of Santa Barbara. There’s no one else around to share the awesome feeling that the humongous waves bring, the sun is still low in the sky and there’s nothing that can ruin this day for you. The tempo is perfectly timed and your heart rate might even slow down a bit if you're lucky enough to realise the abundance of style in this track.
I repeat what I implied earlier, this isn't really a synthwave album. But it will appeal to lovers of synthwave because Lars has skipped the middle man and gone straight to the 80's for inspiration, plus it'll inspire the minds of those into soundtracks set aside for the kind of films featuring big landscapes and drawn out solos by the narrator. It's an astonishingly serene album that has the ability to calm as well as provide a much-needed injection of mind cocaine. As a big fan of bands like 'Sigur Ros', 'Mogwai' and 'The Album Leaf', I found that this album invited me to take a break from conventional synthwave and revisit the music of late-teens Joe and rediscover all his so-called 'feelings' of those times. What a wet blanket I used to be!
On a serious note, I really would recommend this album no matter what subgenre of synthwave you tend to listen to most, it'll appeal to the masses (if you can call us that in the synthfam) as it's a perfect mix of melancholy and uplifting feels as you'll see from the radar chart below. I personally don't see this leaving my list of top 5 albums of 2020. joe ward 9/10
a visual representation of the album:
if you're in to this, you'll also like:
bart graft, Don dellpiero, chase yesterday and gibarian.