As the 1980s continues to disappear further into our cultural past, it seems our yearning for it only grows stronger. Despite us now approaching our second decade of the 21st century 80s nostalgia is more tangible now than it ever has been. You wonder how long the idea of VHS tapes, hairspray and revere collared shirts can hold a place in the cultural zeitgeist. We hope it’s a really long time, because our love for a bygone era has fed an amazing community of synthwave artists. Here are 10 essential synthwave songs from 2019.
Electric Youth – ARAWA
More balmy and less anthemic than their debut, Electric Youth’s follow up album Memory Emotion is still a great listen. There’s a few tracks on there that deserve special attention but especially this, which is achingly pretty. Bronwyn Griffin’s voice is sheer perfection, both sweet and sighing at the same time. Bittersweet magic.
Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Starcourt
It simply isn’t possible to provide a yearly rundown of synth music without mentioning Stranger Things. The show has been an important point of entry into the mainstream for synth music and the accompanying soundtracks are consistently excellent. There was plenty of new material released for Season 3 earlier this year, but ‘Starcourt’, the soundtrack for the titular shopping mall and/or Soviet research base, is the best.
Trevor Something – Know It All
Ever enigmatic and never copied, the mysterious Trevor has been one of the most consistent artists on the scene. He may have died, and then been reborn on Bots Don’t Cry, but this latest EP is among his best yet. ‘Know It All’ is everything great about his sound: it’s melodic, but bruised and distorted. Romantic but nihilistic and defeated. Brilliant song.
The Midnight – America Online
The Midnight make it onto this list every year – and for good reason. ‘America Online’ blends synth music with touches of trop-house. There isn’t much from the late 80s / early 90s that hasn’t been fooder for the nostalgia market. Yet the band are able to tap into the fuzzy memories we have for the early internet, the familiar alien language of dial-up, and the clumsy charm of early chatrooms. ‘America Online’ captures a hazy vision of those days when MSN was a teenage essential and you’d get kicked off Space Cadet Pinball whenever your Mum decided to call family. It may be nostalgia but it’s novel too, and feels fresh and inviting – with a killer hook.
Zyodara – Honey Dip
Synthlounge, I guess? Whatever it is I love it. The smooth shuffle beat is rarely seen in these environs but they sound great here, paired off with glassy & loungey keys. It’s almost impossibly smooth, and unlike anything I’ve heard this year.
Power Glove – Hunters
The Aussie duo’s Throwback EP was a Halloween treat and this was the best track – something fans have waited a long time for. Since appearing on the Hobo With a Shotgun soundtrack back in 2011, we’ve waited for an official release. It sounds better here than ever – riding an insistent synth groove made for car chases and sessions on the treadmill. It’s balls to the wall sci-fi melodrama and we love it.
Krosia – Night Sky (feat. A.L.I.S.O.N)
Krosia’s Azur Collection is the culmination of a fantastic year for Krosia. After his debut track ‘Azur‘ caught our eye with it’s sunny feelgood sound, ‘Night Sky’ takes it one step further. The melody on this is such an earworm and the beat clicks into it perfectly. Krosia’s really mastered this fuzzy, lo-fi sound that operates around simple but bouncy melodies – and the pairing with A.L.I.S.O.N, a long time influence, is perfect.
Com Truise – Persuasion System
The title track from his EP-cum-album Persuasion System incorporates everything that’s great about the Truise. The tricky lattice of drum hits boom as the melody forms, reforms, dissolves and squiggles around them. It’s never really clear what we are meant to take from Com Truise songs, besides a glimpse of a nightclub in some far off futurescape. But because of their emphasis on atmosphere and introspection, these are songs that you can simply lose yourself in. Absolutely brilliant.
FM84 – Bend & Break
Beloved on the synth scene for their absolutely seminal debut Atlas, FM84 released their best track yet in 2019. ‘Bend & Break’ has that ‘band’ feeling that I love so much about their sound. The central melody may be a synth arp but the drums have a played live feeling even if they are digital, and subtle guitar plucking gives some texture before exploding into a stratospheric solo after the bridge.
FM84 have a way with these melodies that just swell and swell, intensifying into a level of prettiness that’s hard to describe. I love both versions of this song but the instrumental is actually my preference: it really allows that solo to land with added wallop. If you can listen to this and not feel a bit lovesick then there’s something medically wrong with you.
System96 – Perception
System96 had a really good year – any of his singles could have been here. ‘Perception’ has this amazingly floaty, atmospheric groove. It’s dreamy in a bong-haze kind of way, and has zero-g synth oscillations and some pretty forceful drum kicks to keep it moving at a good clip. The drum setup here is perfect; pillowy but urgent too. There’s a Com Truisey kind of, floating-off-into-space-but-thats-okay vibe to this, and I absolutely love it.
Read our 10 Essential Tracks From 2019 list here.