Nostalgia for retro ’80s and ’90s consumer culture hit a high in the mid to late 2000s. Marketed media like “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” turned an entire generation from being disgusted by the loud fashion of corporate pastiche to deifying it. Suddenly it was cool again to have a poster of a vast gridded landscape oversaturated with neon pinks and reds.
Naturally, the accompanying music for this trend would be the futuristic synth tones that were the staple of sci-fi and horror soundtracks of that era. Specific artists like Tangerine Dream, Vangelis and Giorgio Moroder — whose legacies were beginning to look lost in time to the new millennium of music — were miraculously propped back up into aesthetic godhood. Synthwave became the trendy, internet-savvy music to listen to. This was, in part, thanks to popular bands like M83 becoming one of the early artists to adopt the new sound.
Just as quickly as the subgenre established itself, it began to break into different sounds. Obviously, M83 brought an accessible, poppy exterior to the genre that, for the most part, was inspired by very slow and contemplative synth music. Then there were artists like James Ferraro and Oneohtrix Point Never who took the consumer capitalist angle even further to make glitchy sound collages of 80s advertisements and pop culture references that can be practically qualified as satire. These would later be recategorized as “vaporwave,” a genre whose mention, depending on the person, might stir absolute dismissiveness or complete reverence.
Then there is the third type os synthwave. Arguably closest to its roots, focusing more on how synth tones are capable of creating contemplative atmospheres than catchy tunes or cultural think pieces. It’s not hard to see why ambience and noise were often intertwined with this style, and no artist did this better than Oneohtrix Point Never. The era in which he pioneered the style (often called the Rifts era in reference to the compilation of tracks released by him during this time), was defined by long-form synth tracks that sounded like they were directly pulled from the Sorcerer soundtrack or a Dario Argento film. By the 2010s, Oneohtrix was already shifting gears into more experimental music and much of the genre became focused on who could make the best “Stranger Things” clone. Synthwave has remained stagnant ever since.
All of this to say that Twin Galaxxies’s new record Imminent Reversal is an oasis among a vast desert.
Everything that made the synthwave genre so unique and exciting has miraculously been revived by the album. The first thing that sticks out is how patient it is. Imminent Reversal allows melodic phrases and textures to take their time entering the foreground of the music. Everything floats and meanders with a sense of confidence.
The opening track, “Triumph of the Object,” slowly fades in with an amorphous wall of ambient drone. There’s an enriched pensiveness that feels like the beginning of a meditation session. All of a sudden, the atmosphere is disturbed by a bouquet of iridescent synth textures blooming out of the murky primordial soup that is the background noise. It’s an intensely complex passage that takes the form of a seemingly straightforward musical progression. The track sets the tone of the record perfectly as it establishes that the music is not going to fall into the classic synthwave pitfall of taking an interesting idea and then repeating it ad nauseum.
Imminent Reversal proves to be conscious of the inevitable monotony that comes with synthwave and manages to add something new at every turn, whether it be a texture, a harmony or a completely new synth line that keeps the atmosphere from turning passive. Take the title track, for example. There doesn’t seem to be a single moment when something isn’t introduced or taken away in a manner that doesn’t contribute to the overall tone of the piece. It constructs itself into a towering force of pure synth that is both devastating and triumphant. In short, it’s one of the best synthwave songs released in a long time.
Meanwhile, Imminent Reversal continues down the analogue boulevard that it has built for itself. Toward the second half of the record, things start to get much more ambient. What was once multifaceted becomes stark and cloudy, forcing the listener to lean in. This seems to be Twin Galaxxies’s way of reinforcing the introspective qualities that the genre already has. Beauty itself unravels as the sounds bend and constrict into manifolds that — as the second half creeps to a close — reveal themselves to be soft blankets to wrap oneself in to prepare for the dreamscape.
If there is any word that should be emphasized when describing Imminent Reversal, it’s self-aware. Unlike many of their contemporaries in the genre, Twin Galaxxies doesn’t glorify the aesthetic that the genre was meant, in part, to satirize. At the same time, they don’t disrespect it either. It’s in this balancing act that Twin Galaxxies achieves true artistic freedom.
At the end of the day, Imminent Reversal was not made as some attempt to restore the genre to its former glory. It’s just art existing as art.
Daily Arts Writer Drew Gadbois can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.