Over time, it has been apparent the crossover between EDM and Synthwave audiences would eventually affect the sound of Synthwave as a whole. This happened with Darksynth, where Metalheads and the kids who left the Dubstep and Electro House boom went to make their brand of bass-in-the-face tunes, and now it is heading to the other parts of the scene. I could point easily to talents like jacket., Eightecs, and Oceanside85, but I would argue few have been as interesting as Jonny Fallout.
It is hard to track any of these artists and their timelines, unfortunately, but I can at least say Jonny’s output goes back as early as 2018. A lot of scattershot releases that felt more like an artist putting together their sound through various singles and EPs filled the void until about May 2021 with the “Escape from Ultra City” EP. The cinematic piece cemented Fallout into Synthwave amidst other releases of EDM and Future Funk among other genre explorations, but this only feels like a footnote compared to the buzz around September’s “Slow Burn”. This may possibly be connected to the charity fundraiser he hosted in August with the help of several B-List Synthwave names to form what I would personally have called a perfect start to the indie Synthwave scene, but whether the rightfully earned goodwill from that was a factor or not, the promise of a debut album was something many were excited about. A month and a title coined by fellow writer Jason Fox, we are here, so what did we get with “Cybertherial”?
Remember how I called Jonny’s earlier releases “an artist putting their sound together”? Perhaps I was a little too literal on that front, but that isn’t a bad thing. A number of these tracks are remakes of older tracks with a lot of potential, refined in the eyes of new production techniques and more obvious Retrowave influences. Together with a master from Tokyo-based producer XENNON and a few new tracks, the result is a beautiful release that, in spite of its short comings, was a very enjoyable release to dive into.
So how does one describe this album? Well, you take the more melodic side of Synthwave, you add in some Trance basses, vocals from various EDM sample packs, the occasional guitar, and some occasional Future Funk and EDM drum groove. But I would like to point to that Trance angle, as I think that is an important lane. The early inspirations to what became “Trance” as it is now come from early 80’s Synthpop, and I have a feeling Jonny has fully touched upon those. Anne Clarke, New Order, even some early Darkwave like Clan of Xymox’s “A Day”. When you start to put this in perspective, the mesh of genres becomes less of a shock and more of a moment of brilliance that balances both retro and modern sounds.
“Hypnotized (Cybertherial)” and “Magic Love (Flux)”, the opener and closer respectively, makes this almost impossible to ignore by channeling the Electro Trance sound that would have been a lot more popular in the early half of the 2010’s. Both execute the blends of these sounds with Retrowave masterfully, with “Hypnotized” blending the 80’s delay guitars with a more melodic sound channeling Above & Beyond into the album’s clear winner, whereas “Magic Love” has him warping into Andy Moor with the heavier bass that meets quite well with the Synthwave tom fills and drum grooves. “Forever (Tonight)” crashes through a more classic Trance sound, speeding through an Outrun sound complimented by a guitar you will sooner hear on a Crush 40 track than any Synthwave or Trance anthem. “Don’t Leave (When You’re Sad)” leans into the cheeseball Progressive House that would have found its way onto Trance labels, but the Synthwave drums keep a really nice groove that makes it stand out compared to those original tracks.
But Trance and Synthwave is not Jonny Fallout’s only trick up his sleeve. “Slow Burn” leans into various Chill sounds, “We’ll See It Through (Anthem)” translates the Future Funk grooves of the original into Synthwave drums and adding further atmospheres to lift it up, and the trio of “The Number”, “I See It In Your Eyes (Galaxies)”, and “Phantom Heart (Oblivion)” find various ways of attempting to adapt to transitional Synthwave. Unfortunately, “I See It In Your Eyes” is the only one of these that sticks the landing, “The Number” tries and fails to mesh a clash of guitars with the guitar arps as the weakest instrumental here, while “Phantom Heart” lacks any real standout melody or element that carries the track along.
What is quite a standout, however, that I alluded to earlier within any Retrowave release is the vocals. Normally, when vocals are on a Synthwave track, they are either brief cut up samples or a hired vocalist credited as a feature. However, following the spirit of Jonny’s EDM influence, he takes various vocals from sample packs to form full vocal tracks across the board. As a former bedroom EDM producer who used to do this sort of thing, it is fun to hear this come together from even vocals that I personally have or used to have, but it has some mixed results.
“Magic Love” transforms the female vocalist into Aruna, and the male vocal is an interesting touch that works shockingly well in spite of the contrast. This is easily the highlight of the vocals alongside “Hypnotized” playing a similar lane, and “I See It In Your Eyes” plays into a more Pop vocal that can only be described as somewhere between Ariana Grande and Haley Williams [of Paramore]. Unfortunately, “The Number” falls short on this lane as well and the vocal blend doesn’t meet the heavier guitars all too well, and the vocal pitch shifting in “Forever” felt strangely out of place. The mixed results have me strongly wishing for some collaborators in the future, I’m sure even a Trance singer or two might be willing to hop on.
The last thing to mention here has to be the sequencing, and just how well it is done. If there is one thing that really keeps the record from wearing itself thin at all and what a producer could really take away from this album is how to sequence one. The album really brings you through a lot of emotions, and wears them on its sleeve, maximizing them at peak moments in the sound like “Forever” and “Magic Love”. Even in spite of my complaints, I might still keep the entire record on my iPod Touch, because it is that solid as a complete experience.
Overall, a solid, promising debut album from Jonny Fallout. In spite of its shortcomings, it has some magnificent highs that will keep me returning to it. The daring experiments throughout make it an absolute ride, meshing all of these sounds with Retrowave elements, making it inviting for many to give it a shot. Feeling a Strong 7 on this one, but a very high recommendation. There is a chance some who check this album might enjoy it even more than I did, that’s the magic of releases like these.
Perhaps there is a big takeaway you could take from many of these releases. Jonny Fallout, eLxAr, Sapphira Vee, Neaon, these artists among others all delivered records with varying levels of quality this year, but I still give their highlights a listen and admire their daring approach. I still remember them and will be going back to their releases, in the case of Fallout and eLxAr, they are doing this on their debut albums. So if these releases can find their own way to stand out and offer something new to their community, I have to ask all of the other unchallenging records I frustratingly sat through to get to “Cybertherial”: What’s Your Excuse?