'5 years' (various artists)
Best track: parallels - the magic hour
click album cover to listen
We admire many in this synthwave scene of ours, some we are fortunate to call friends. But one certainty persists; if you're looking for journalism, discussion and dissection of the artists, history and DNA of synthwave, you generally end up (or start) at Aaron Vehling, AKA 'Vehlinggo'.
Vehlinggo is a multimedia five year labour of love encompassing a podcast, a blog, and latterly Aaron's music compilations - 'Vehlinggo Presents". This brings me to throw a spotlight on his brand new, ambitious, offering: 'Vehlinggo Presents 5 years' - which as the title suggests celebrates five years of his project.
Masterfully curated in cooperation with artists Vehlinngo can comfortably call admirers, influences and friends, this album gifts us new and previously unreleased tracks from artists who lay the breadcrumbs of his journey; each representing a milestone in the evolution of this genre we adore so much. The album is, Aaron posits, designed to flow as one soundtrack, so let's dive in as intended...
We open with Metavari's 'Be What You See (extended)'; originally a short, one-minute track from Metavari’s 2017 EP, Tetra A.D. The 'extension' refers to Metavari responding to Aaron's call for a track for this comp, which provided him the impetus to return again to "finish" this ethereal, bold and haunting album intro.
Next; already probably my favourite Parallels work when teased as a radio play single ahead of the release (we played it our own show a couple of weeks back), the flow from Metavari makes 'The Magic Hour' somehow sound more anthemic and beautiful. The Don Henley throwback riff and Parallels' pure and driving vocal make this sound like an instant classic.
Highway Superstar brings a well loved early synthwave sound. And lending her sweet vocals is fellow Tel Aviv based producer, songwriter, singer and film composer Zoe Polanski - embellishing the track with a dreamy and gorgeous ambience.
Another very early artist to inarguably co-create the scene, Anoraak, brings some italo disco with cool melting synth lines to the mix with 'Panarea'. One imagines this is the part in our imagined movie the protagonist seeks the femme fatale in a stylish early 80s discoteque. Anoraak describes his track as sounding "like a ride on a hovercraft between the Sicilian islands over a hot summer sunset" and who are we to disagree?
Continuing this literal who's-who of the birth of synthwave, in comes FM Attack, unmistakable and suave. We pump our fists and shift our hips to 'Paradise'.
Bunny X's distinct Bananarama-tinged synthpop comes correct with a dancefloor ready Morodor-style bassline (actually the work of long-time producer Conrad Kaneshiro). 'Revolving Doors' pleads a tale of teen romance "hoping their love will change".
The party relentlessly continues, with the head bopping darker house sophistication of Maethelvin willing us to 'Dance through the Night'.
And then we emerge, blinking as the sun is rising - soundtracked by an exceptionally unusual, east Asian instrumentation-sounding The Midnight track, 'Sometimes She Smiles'; which brings to mind Alt-J and strains of Bon Iver. Sad, longing and the antithesis of what we know from The Midnight - but sublime nonetheless.
In Mirrors then comes in with the slightly foreboding 'Gold' produced by the inimitable Johnny Jewel, whose label 'Italians Do It Better', houses the band. Frontman Jesse Taylor describes the track as representing "love and hope and promise and infinity. It’s also quite mysterious and dangerous.” it's worth mentioning this is an instrumental version of the track which will be on the upcoming full length album. We can't wait to hear the vocals on this to take it to the next level.
VH X RR, brings a little new wave electronica, very similar to what we hear in the last FM Attack album, artists like Vandal Moon and Honey Beard. I love this throwback to bands like Psychedelic Furs and the synth pop UK bands of the mid 80s.
Johan Agebjörn and Tom Hooker next ask us have we 'Ever Been in Love' [Wolfram dub mix], in a tasty slice of synth electro. We could be cruising the dark streets with this tune pumping urgently through the tape deck...
Diamond Field and Dana Jean Phoenix then really switch things up - Dana delivering her characteristic high energy vocals that make her one of the most sought after collabs - in this highlight of hand claps, harmonies and popping candy.
Betamaxx brings brand new track, 'HI-NRG' into play, although it's name belies an undertone of intrigue and mystery. Chiming bells play against whirling synth, like a call and response. A very sudden final note drops us straight into Mecha Maiko's woodchime inflected 'Selfless', a song that chirps buzzes and fuzzes with a disconcerting air.
Forgotten Illusions' 'Girl on Video' starts dark and dirty like Glass Candy and when the lead synth melody begins, we could be sitting alongside Ryan Gosling's the driver, on a 2am heist. I hope we pull if off because what follows is the penultimate, wonderfully named 'Your Phone is Off The Hook, But You're Not' by Deadly Avenger. The feature of a late 60's hammond organ line and a dark live drum sound, gives it the feel of a dangerous escape or the chase scene of the piece.
And we finish things off with some shredding guitar being prowled and punctuated by a dazzling display of keys by the one and only Le Matos in 'Rage of Honor'. A modernised homage of outrun and B movie avenging which bounds and builds until an ambiguous faded outro.
And there we have it. I wager only Vehlinggo could pull off such an impressive response from a set of peerless producers and musicians. It demonstrates Vehlinggo's membership, position and admiration in the synthwave phenomena. I not only recommend this compilation as a celebration of where this scene has come from, its roots, and forefathers, but also its future. It also offers a caution: for the scene to survive and evolve, artists could do well to stop 'trying to make synthwave' and just create, innovate and play. The most authentic music comes not from emulation, but from the sum of our influences emerging as something new and downright fresh!
Everyone of this extraordinary record represents this ethos - and that's why they will all survive longer than any scene. rob dyson 9.5/10
a visual representation of the album: