Scanning the airwaves for the most horizontal slices of the chilled of synth sub-genres, Dom takes a look at some of his selected tracks from the past month.
I always thought January was meant to be a quiet time. Apparently release schedule trends mean nothing to the chillsynth scene and we have seen a massive outpouring of releases in the first month of the year! For all you reading, here are a few choice highlights to enjoy...
Monoscape–Elysian Valley (Single)
Early in the doors for 2022, when I placed this one down for this selection, I had no idea this would make its way onto the most popular chillsynth collection which dropped whilst writing; definitely a track deserving of that recognition. Sticking to a core structure that seems routine at face-value, with its breakdowns being used to unpeel the layers of sound, it’s an uplifting chord progression that sets the tone of the track from the off with its opening filtered pads and genre-typical synths and stabbed bassline sticking to a core structure here.
The analogue synth sound and sustained notes dropped in from the sky give the whole track an initial air of familiarity which could risk giving this track any way of standing out from the crowd, but somehow it manages to carve its own way with an air of pleasant confidence. The drums, again, are breaking no new grounds here in the main beat, but I don’t get the impression that they are wanted to–where there is opportunity, there is however depth with subtler percussive layers with hearty width that gives a richness that leaps out at each minor and major drum fill.
This is one to enjoy the waves of filters and pleasing melodies passing over each listen, and I look forward to what more 2022 will offer us from Monoscape.
Bite the Boxer–Candlelit Days(from the EP‘ Half Awake in the Half Light’
Is this even chillsynth? It has some of the hallmarks for sure. The laid-back tempo, the pads which draw you into this world crafted by Roland enthusiast Matt Park, even the “bell synth” lead which starts with a simple phrasing, before shifting off with almost unworldly tone would, as sound palette goes, certainly lead you us to think this can only possibly be there for that longed after retro aesthetic.
But this song, has a darker side to many – at least melodically, particularly after the one minute mark. Perhaps this is an intended metaphor – no candlelight can last forever and must eventually succumb to darkness, no matter how bright it is at its peak. There’s also hints of crackle noise which would easily be mistaken for the soft sound of burning materials, and the softest of bass tones as undercurrent throughout.
It is a beautiful and at time delicately layered piece – the width of its stacked drum textures, which at first are wilfully dragging but slowly increasing in depth, betray a desire to take us to the song’s peak, before reaching a swift end. With stereo panning akin to Strawberry Fields, expect to really hear this one in completeness only when enclosing yourself in your own headphone world.
*not yet released on bandcamp
Youth83 – Window Watcher (Single)
Where to start with this – it’s currently available on YouTube and Soundcloud, and whilst the name bears a striking similarity to recent release of yours truly, the appeal here is far from one of personal vanity. This is a short, almost euphoric piece which stands out for its virtue of restoring some faith that this scene need not grow stale anytime soon.
Firstly, the tone, which is very much set by its initially crumpled breakbeat, reminds me greatly of the classic indie-dance era of the mid-90s. Think Clubbed to Death, Future Sound of London and the like – if the genre takes a further dive in this direction, I won’t be complaining. The LFO’ed pads, which seem to straighten out when the beat begins, are a standard trope but used with a beautiful subtlety of changes in the layers here. A simple stab punches through with waves of layers and offset harmony beneath.
A wash of sound breaks the flow just as this song is starting to really travel, with the main pad’s staccato chops taking full effect and a wonderful synth wobble greets us to draw the song to a close. A really gorgeous listen.
My one and only gripe is that at a mere 2 minutes 31 seconds I am unsure if this is done to avoid criticism of ‘stale’ repetition (a common complaint usually reserved for online feedback to new artists putting themselves in the firing line of armchair critics) – However, Youth83 is a well-established artist with considerable following who needn’t worry about such concerns. Admittedly their sound is sometimes closer to blending chill sounds with synth-pop vocal stylings, but when looking at this richly textured piece alongside similar tracks such as ‘Cat Café’ and ‘Euphoria’, I don’t understand the reasoning for cutting this one short just as it gets going. Here’s hoping an extended mix will make its way out sometime soon.
Emil Rottmayer – Reflect (Single)
Not one I’m going to spend too much time on as an obvious choice but sneaking in right at the end of January here comes one of the greatest of the scene dropping another gem.
If you don’t know Emil’s work, you’ve a lot of catching up to do! Take the afternoon off and take a deep dive with no turning back. Lofi’ed arps, long drawing pads, beautiful melodies, jaw-dropping stops, warm retro-synth layers for sunny days, or long drawn out nights. This one delivers 100% with expectations, and his classic track evolution never leaves you waiting.
Merkel - Winter Days (Single)
Tucked away on SoundCloud and no where else it seems, Merkel has only a handful of tunes available, but I hope will quickly gain the assurance to deliver his work through the other music platforms in the future.
Winter Days, contrary to the suggestion of the title, is a song to fill you with a warming glow. Throughout it nurtures a simple repeated lead refrain, a first with only the occasional, but highly effective variation.
It’s bass sound and supporting pad sounds are typical of the genre but the manner in which it plays them against the secondary lead synths allows the tune to evolve and develop on top of the repetitive elements.
It runs along with an uplifting chord progression and is another one to use its two differing breakdowns to give us a peak under the layers and enjoy the vivid soundscape beneath - this is so much easier to hear with the choice to give the mix a chance to breathe by using an open and clean sound in all the right places.
When the final quarter of the song features its final triumphant melodic conclusion, it is hard not to be left with a longing to go back and listen to the journey of how we arrived here again. A wonderful song from an artist that I hope we get to hear more from in the future.
And a quick mention for….
NØVMBR released a new album titled TeleVisions; driving unashamedly directly into the zeitgeist of the chillsynth genre with a heavy slice of cassette filter. Whilst the titular track may be gaining the most momentum for now, it’s the arpeggiated lead line offset against a warm bass bounce during the short and sweet ‘Color (Interlude)’ which for me is the most stand-out part of the album.
King Palm also put out a new 6 track EP Air Travel which will surely appeal to the broadest spectrum of listeners. Top highlight has to go to the upbeat ‘Radio Waves’ for breaking out from the rest of the EP, and skirting around the sound of some 90’s Trance without losing touch with the relaxing vibes.
Post compiled and presented by Dom Cresswell, Chillsynth Contributor for Forged in Neon. Dom is the face and sound of AUW, his own music project which considerably evolved from his stint at the London College of Music & Media, and has remained heavily influenced by the synthesizer hardware legends of the 1980s. As an in-house remixer and producer for the Happy Robots label, he was the producer and engineer for the Arthur & Martha album 'Navigation' (acclaimed by The Guardian, NME, Uncut, and played on BBC Radio 1 and 6 Music).