Benny Smiles came onto the synth scene via the amazing title theme to Hotline Miami 2. However his latest release ‘When We Touch’ couldn’t be further away from that cinematic sound, and the sound of synthwave in general.
‘When We Touch’ is mellow, beat-driven: a driving song if there ever was one. The beat begins as a simple kick-heavy stomp, but becomes increasingly tricky as the song moves, incorporating a range of sounds to match the expansion of each measure.
In between kicks, blasts of thick synth bass give the track it’s jaunty & slightly drunken momentum, offset by accents of a simple but catchy melodic arp. Vocal snippets flutter above the mix; robotic murmurs that give the song an unexpected warmth. These cut-ups are really the ingredient that makes everything gel, a small touch that gives ‘When We Touch’ a bittersweet twist.
The result is a robotic groove that can’t help but allow a little humanity to shine through.
Benny had this to say:
“The bulk of it was made in October 2016, on a Thursday afternoon. I know this because the working title was “Thursday Afternoon”. I feel like anything I make that I consider good usually hasn’t had a huge amount of interference from my conscious brain, so I tend not to remember how it came together. I do remember having to try multiple approaches to get the bass sound where I wanted it. It’s from the Minimonsta plugin, which I ran through a pair of Standard Audio Level-Ors for distortion.”
“Then there was some Valhalla Room reverb to give it a better sense of size and space, and some subtle delays (probably Echoboy) to help it groove. I like that cross-rhythm thing, where a pattern stretches out over several bars before it’s resolved rhythmically, and then even more bars before it’s resolved harmonically. It’s a delayed satisfaction thing. If you had to analyse on a technical level what it is that makes music feel the way it does, I think those two aspects contribute to the sense of “yearning” in this song, along with the repeating ostinato that opens the track. It’s quite reminiscent of the ‘A Real Hero‘ intro by Electric Youth.”
“Something about hovering around the 3rd and 4th degree of a scale while chords change underneath that, tends to bring a sense of nostalgia. I’m not thinking about any of that when I’m working, I just have a music analysis background, so it’s natural for me to break down what it is that makes songs feel the way they do. At least on a theoretical level. You can do as much of that as you like, but in anything good there’s a humanity and a magic that’s impossible to define.”