Label: MOTR Records
Running time: 30:03
Synthwave is the best new musical genre you’ve never heard of, and following Matt Lambourne’s review of Perturbator’s new album this week, it’s a world rising in scope, awareness and popularity. We’re looking at the other end of the spectrum to big budget, glossy artists like Gunship, Carpenter Brut or Power Glove today, with the debut release from Widnes-based Masters of the Radio.
A brief primer – ‘synthwave’ is contemporary production values applied to an 80s electronic music aesthetic. It can be poppy and bright or distorted and heavy, and is best described as the love child of a hot day in Miami, 1984, and a shelf of John Carpenter movies (on VHS). Or if the music from Stranger Things achieved sentience and dropped the hottest album of the summer.
MotR tick all the right boxes – keyboard-driven sounds (with a few cups of chiptune in the mix too) with a splash of live bass and drums, lyrics celebrating a decade drowning in the best and worst of pop culture, and a visual style reminiscent of Green Day offshoot The Network. Their stated goal of being the best band on the planet is at once a lofty aim and fully in keeping with the tongue in cheek swagger associated with the synthwave movement. Egos writing cheques the bodies can’t cash, if you will.
The band also charted their development and the production of their debut on their YouTube channel, with vlogs and behind the scenes commentary alongside exclusive tracks and interviews.
Foreboding, spoken word intro ‘The Masters’ (another synthwave staple) leads into ‘Entertain My Soul’, setting the tone for the rest of the album with an Eighties pop melody over 8-bit bloops. Dips into instrumental pieces keep things interesting, and despite playing like a collection of songs than a coherent unit (closer ‘The Last Feeling’ doesn’t quite nail that ‘epic last song’ mentality), there’s plenty to enjoy here.
It’s a crisp, cleanly produced record, which works well on vocal-less tracks such as ‘The Synthesizer’ or ‘The Drive’ (indeed synthwave is a largely instrumental musical form), but elsewhere leaves the tunes lacking a heft that looms large in the overdriven, heavy metal style of many of their contemporaries. On a live stage, this would be an album unleashed.
The only real weak point comes from frontman Paul Ventux’s vocals – submerged in effects and wandering off-key as a result, he never seems very comfortable with his melodies. There’s some voice-finding to be done here, his affected style more akin to goth and EDM than synthpop.
What works in MotR‘s favour is that they are a relatively young band who clearly have a sack full of potential waiting to be developed. Standout tracks like ‘Radio Forever’ and ‘Wings’ showcase songwriting ability with plenty of room to (death) blossom, and they’re up against tough competition in a rapidly-crowding genre so need to carry this momentum into future releases.
Track of choice – ‘Radio Forever’
The Power Beyond is available to stream or buy now from Bandcamp, and you can find the band on all the usual social networks.