I am not kind to music I dislike. I may note its merits, but I’m pretty adamant about my preferences when it comes to music in general. I have, more than once, taken a critical view of electronic music in my scribblings for this website, and in person, I assure you, I am even more vociferous.
However, every once in awhile I come across artists and records that force me to eat my words, and on that front, I couldn’t be happier. That artists and musicians are using modern technology I may be as leery of in authentic, creative, challenging, and innovative ways gives me a great deal of hope.
Below are listed some of the artists I have discovered over the last couple months that are doing just that, and — wonder of wonders — I actually enjoy listening to them! If they can win a diehard musical luddite like me over, just think about what that says about their talents.
Non Paradisi works on every one of my intrigue buttons. Not only does it sound like the middle ground between a John Carpenter score and the synthwave scene superstar Perturbator, but it brings a heavy influence from metal in.
Functioning like the soundtrack to Milton’s Paradise Lost, it manages to make old video game soundtracks both deeply cool and deeply threatening. Non Paradisi is a masterpiece. It’s endlessly entertaining and thoroughly engrossing. For this much synth to actually feel embracing to me is no small feat, and the song is certainly helped by its metal roots.
How do you make synthwave — the retro ’80s electronic subgenre previously mentioned — even better? You add gut-busting guitar solos. Of course you do.
Synthwave plays on a curious trick of nostalgia, I believe. Despite many of us Millennials having grown up in the ’90s, it’s the music of the ’80s that our parents introduced to us through cinema or the rudimentary 8-bit soundtracks to video games that synthwave really harkens back to. Adding in the guitar solos — another common feature of ‘80s music that we absorbed through our radios — effectively doubles this nostalgia factor.
But even that downplays the incredible amount of songwriting chops it takes to walk that line between legitimately badass songs that use nostalgia to an effective extent and simple nostalgia itself, all while not taking the whole thing particularly seriously. It’s juggling the equally heavy flaming swords of seriousness, self-awareness, and a sense of the fantastic, and Magic Sword manages to do it with ease.
Multi-instrumentalist Alpine is a never-ending font of inspiration. While composing jingles for commercials, background ambiance for shows, soundtracks for movies, and remixes of other artist’s work, he tirelessly releases a steady stream of new work on a regular basis.
Approaching electronic music producing more like a one-man-band than a producer at home at his desk, Alpine manages to inject soaring soundscapes with pounding rhythms, with tribalesque drums, with traditional French accordion music…and as wild as it sounds, it never stops short of being as ambitious and awe-inspiring as climbing the highest mountain in the range which from which he gets his name.
The use of real instruments to create traditionally electronically produced compositions makes Alpine’s music much more accessible to the electronic layman and imbues his work with a kind of grandeur that is often missing in overused synthy music.
Lights and Motion
Lights and Motion takes the soaring soundscape approach and dials it up to 11. Not many people, I believe, can wield their keyboards and dials with as much emotion and vulnerability as Lights and Motion seems to. Where “epic” seems to be a given in his genre, his compositions still manage to be quietly moving.
Teargas and Plateglass
If you mixed trip-hop instrumentals with a horror movie soundtrack, you might approach the apocalyptic wasteland inhabited by Teargas and Plateglass. This record came out awhile ago, but it’s one that I stumbled across around the time of its release, arrested by the bleakness of its cover, and it’s one I have returned to periodically over the years.
There’s something dark and mysterious in its brooding depths, but at the same time, it’s tantalizing in a dangerous sort of way. The hip hop-by-way-of-doom approach is utterly unique. I’ve never seen its like before or since with the sole exception of Forest Swords, who takes an even more avant-garde approach to his compositions.