von kaiser 

'landline'

Best track: crystal lakes

click album cover to listen

von Kaiser have been busy going through a period of personnel change, or personnel addition I should say, perhaps. I've been told it's out with the old and in with the new from jake, david, Kaylin and Andrew, who now form the new-look lineup and they haven't kept us waiting long for their first album together as a four-piece. 

 

they've titled this 14-track compilation 'landline' and I've just spent the last hour or so being enthralled at the feel-good factor it brings to me. but in all honesty, this buoyant feeling i get isn't new for me when it comes to listening to work by von Kaiser. 

the opening track titled 'armitage' strays away from the norm of what a lot of synthwave albums open with. instead of a progressive instrumental, we are treated to what could very well be one of the singles of the compilation. the use of a very wild sounding retro guitar mixed with rich synth tones gave me the sense that this album wasn't going to rely too heavily on one or the other for things like melody and solos. all-in-all it's a very memorable track. then 'jetpacks' enters the fray, a track that epitomises everything from a typical 80's love story. cheesy lyrics, male vocals backed up by the voice of an angel in the choruses and of course the smooth guitar solo half-way though. to top it off, we are even served generous helping of sensual sax-solo for the outro of the track! delicious!

'black rain' whips up a frenzy of multiple synth melodies and tones from the off but structurally it's quite a simple song. a quick electro guitar solo towards the end remains one of the more simplistic solos you'll hear from von Kaiser. it's a nice track but not one that grabs me like some of the others off this album. track four is the first single released from this compilation as well as the title track.'landline' dishes out a pretty sweet electronic harp-sounding riff with cool his 'n' hers lyrics. the saxophone that has become synonymous with these guys makes a welcome appearance too. I think it's a good choice for a first single as it's quite a commercial sound, however it's not a strong synthwave piece. but if that was the pint...it's a thumbs up from me anyway!

'flashbacks' offers another shallow-structured setup but really showcases the lungs on the lead vocals. 'shadowrun' is heavy once more on the synths, and I particularly like the less-refined analogue-ness of the synths used in this track as well as the guitar solo, with some pretty quick fingers in action I might add. and then...boom! we arrive at my favourite track from the album. I go weak at the knees for ballads, especially those within the synthwave spectrum. 'crystal lake' is a beautiful song and it's absolutely bursting at the seams with all that we recognise of the 80s. the tempo, the male vocals accompanied by the beautifully dulcet female tones in the choruses as well as the dreamy guitar chords all combine to make a truly wonderful dreamwave ballad. this is a must listen!

'night driver' is a full-bodied late-eighties sounding pop-piece that makes use of doubly-sexy solos from the guitar and saxophone. something I've realised by this point is that almost every song has sonorous male-driven vocals  with the addition of sweet and soft female vocals. I just need to point out that it works brilliantly. we're now on to track number nine 'stars and satellites' is a very slow yet rich-sounding song. it almost feels like an interlude based on its simplicity, though at the same time it feels pretty damn euphoric to me!

the outro then becomes the intro of 'mixtape', one of the more conventional synthwave tracks from the album. the male and female vocals take it in turns to fuse with the catchy synths. another pleasant track, if slightly underwhelming. but hey! when the standard is so high, it's to be expected! 'blood moon' then provides a slightly darker sound to the rest of the album. it's a bold sound that would fill-up a concert hall beautifully. the female vocals really suit the feel of this track. my only reservation is that I think the saxophone could have been spared from this song. and that's not a slur on the quality of the sax, I just don't feel it has a place here.

'wolfhart' has the potential to be another single from the album. much like 'landline' its a good commercial tune with plenty of pop elements that would appeal to those that might find the hardcore synthwave stuff a bit too much. 'transporter' is the second to last track and dishes out a suave-sounding synth riff. the arrangement is fairly simple once more, but with many tracks at this stages of albums, you feel it is leading to something bigger. and as hoped, it does. 'eta' has some back-to-basics synths entwined with strong vocals and gorgeously-deep echoes that makes this track one of the biggest from the whole album.

what we have here is a strong outset from the shinier four piece from grand rapids. every department from vocals, guitars, keys and percussion is energetic. part of me had hoped for an instrumental, and this highlights a slight lack of variety on the album. musically they are all very talented and I hope that with some time to sit back and assess their baby, that they will start to expand on these talents. not only does this album have fourteen tracks, but the majority of the tracks themselves are also long, making it quite long in todays world. this aside, von Kaiser have done extremely well to merge lots of strong aspects without any one particular area taking all the plaudits. this really has the feel of a bands efforts and not just a lead with their back ups behind them. i'm going to assume big things are coming from these guys. 8.5/10 Joe ward.