I first got into synth-based music through retrowave and it remains one of my favorite sub-genres. It has continued to expand in sound quality and many artists are developing it in new and exciting ways. This article rounds up some of my most beloved 2021 releases that capture a nostalgic spirit, while extending the music in fresh directions.
"Diamond Field" by Diamond Field
I enjoyed the strong ‘80s pop vibes that emanated from Diamond Field. It took me on a luscious, well-produced sonic tour through compelling melodic writing, first-rate performances and engaging lyrics. I was pulled in by the dynamism of the album that got to the essence of what made ‘80s pop great without resorting to cliché.
I found the sheer caliber of the guest performers to be impressive on Diamond Field. The vocal guests all showcased their unique voices well and many of them also contributed superbly crafted lyrics, compositions and arrangements. The instrumental guests imbued all of their performances with deep musicality and demonstrated top-notch chops on their instruments.
Andy Diamond, the man behind the whole project, managed to create active music full of the restless energy of the ‘80s on the album, while avoiding pure pastiche. Diamond managed to produce an album that felt all of a piece while smoothly combining retro sounds and modern production. I enjoyed the engagement I felt while listening to the album.
Another reason I enjoyed Diamond Field was the top-notch production values of the album. Each sound was super sharp, clear and full of auditory detail but they all combined into a harmonious whole. For me, the quality of the album is evidence of the intense care that went into making it.
”From City to Beachfront" by Beckett
I was so strongly attracted to From City to Beachfront because of the way that Beckett channeled the jazz fusion elements, smooth glide and funky beats of city pop on the album. It captured the energy of the genre which grew up in Japan’s technological explosion during the ‘80s.
The way in which Beckett approached the melodies on the album was a strong factor for my enjoyment of it. He wrote catchy, clean and positive melodies on the album that embraced jazz’s influence on city pop. Beckett remained firmly rooted in Japanese pop’s deeply melodic nature on From City to Beachfront.
I also had my ears caught by the synth instruments that Beckett chose to use on From City To Beachfront. There was a creamy smoothness and easy going feeling about the sound palette on the album that I enjoyed.
The instruments ranged from shimmering chimes to tasty jazz organ and from energetic piano to luscious xylophone. I was also pulled in by the classy guitar sounds and sharp, clear horn punctuation on the album.
For me, From City To Beachfront’s most compelling aspect was the pastel hued imagery it created for me. It generated a charming, nostalgic retro vision through it’s funky “city” vibes and smoothly cruising, sun-drenched sounds.
”Miami Squeeze" by Zak Vortex
Zak Vortex’s Miami Squeeze was an energizing, lushly varied album that blended retro-inspired synths together in an engaging style. It had the virtue of being full of vintage synth sounds that interacted in a fresh, new way.
I was first drawn to Miami Squeeze by its high level of audio production. It had an intensely clear soundstage in which the different elements stood out sharply while still coming together in a harmonious whole. I was also attracted to the textural details of the music that were enhanced by the high production values of the album.
Another aspect that enticed me about Miami Squeeze was Zak Vortex’s facility with synth sound combinations. He chose unique synthesized instruments like kalimba and hang drum that each had different tonal and timbral qualities. His ability to contrast and complement shimmer, grit, shadow and uplift as he combined different synth elements resulted in a varied and compelling end result.
The melodic quality of this album was a strong factor in my enjoyment of it. I felt that Zak Vortex composed melodies that were deeply expressive and emotional. I was especially enamored of his skill at hovering in between variable emotional states