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FM-84 ‘Atlas’

Let's get this out of the way: Atlas is a profound masterpiece of an album done with an almost unfathomable attention to detail. The wait after FM-84's Los Angeles EP from 2015 was rather long but well worth it.

Filip grew up on a diet of Masters of Universe, Nightmare on Elm Street and MTV.

Email: filip.galetic@newretrowave.com

Art by Signal Noise

Art by Signal Noise



Let’s get this out of the way: Atlas is a profound masterpiece of an album done with an almost unfathomable attention to detail. The wait after FM-84’s Los Angeles EP from 2015 was rather long but well worth it.

FM-84 a.k.a Col Bennett, a Scottish-born transplant to Northern Cali, luckily resisted the impulse I’m sure he had, and that is to quickly churn out a sequel to his much revered short-play release, universally praised by critics and audiences alike.

Instead he embarked on a thorny path of really figuring out what he wanted to do and then really made sure that his vision came true.

The result is this breezy, brazen, cinematic journey of mere 46 minutes, but filled to the brim with genuine heart, soul and some unmatchable synth wielding chops.

I said brazen because in 2016 we still haven’t really seen a mass breakthrough of the classic synthwave sound (the kind established now quite a long time ago by the „fathers“ MN1984, Mitch Murder and others) that cherishes cinematic scope, heavy sense of nostalgia and clinging to carefree days.

No, that remains a steadfast niche genre, while the offshot of synthwave, dark synthwave is quickly gaining new audiences and almost mutating into a genre of its own.

So yes, it’s pretty brazen to stay true to your own artistic calling and make an album that might not get chewed up by horny adolescents, but will surely be remembered as a pinnacle of the craft among those that care.

The reason it works seems to lie in the fact is that Mr Bennet doesn’t just play, arrange, mix and master his creations, but truly uses all of the tools availabe to him to paint with sounds. And he paints gorgeous, sunset-tinged, IMAX sized odes to summer, feeling deeply and falling in love madly, and looking back fondly on the experience.

The emotions Atlas stirs are not easy to describe but this comes close: you know how when you just come to the beach for the first time in the year, every cell in your body sort of exhales everything it’s been accumulating and you truly start being present in the moment? That’s what Atlas does to you.

Or another way to describe it: you know how when sometimes, when you’re in the middle of having a time of your life, you catch yourself looking back at the experience BEFORE it even ended, and you become a little bit sad? That’s what Atlas will do to you.

‘Saying a lot without using any words’ seems to be the operative phrase for FM-84, so then it’s pretty surprising he actually added tons of vocal tracks on this album as well, the majority of them penned with the vocalist sensation Ollie Wride from the UK.

The chemistry between the two was immense which resulted in three synth pop 32-carat diamonds that are absolute highlights of an otherwise near perfect album and can be listened over and over again in new ways each time.

To say Wride has a good set of lungs would be a complete understatement, as there seems to be simply no note he can’t hit with total command and perfection.

His singing hits the sweet spot between Freddie Mercury’s sheer vocal range and pitch and Roland Orzabal’s (Tears for Fears) expressiveness and vulnerability.

On the closing track aptly named Goodbye (hopefully not for long – at some point FM-84 was resolute to end this project and start something new – luckily he didn’t – chalk it up to artistic pressure) his vocal guest is not just someone born in the 80s but someone who actually made a name for himself in that decade.

Mr Clive Farrington, of When in Rome, borrows his warm vocal chords to sing out this ambiguous ballad (did they say goodbye in the end?). If you’re not sure who When in Rome were, like I wasn’t, know that in 1988 they had a hit called The Promise that sounded A LOT like New Order.

‘Goodbye’ is actually a much better song than that one. Musically belongs somewhere in the late 80s (maybe even very early 90s) as well, with it’s sophisticated, marine feel. It’s practically begging for a video featuring a yacht and the sailor pattern.

On Atlas, FM-84 lovingly honors the fans of Los Angeles (including yours truly) by giving plenty more of that sublime, picture perfect cinematic epicness.

But we get to have the cake and eat it too.

This closing track as well as Tears and Jupiter for example, prove that FM-84 decided not to stay firmly in one place, dared to enter new territories and expanded his repertoire. And boy oh boy, he made it.

At a time, when retro synth production – and not to mention music production at large – can seem very cerebral and almost calculated, FM-84 sends us a gentle message in a bottle reminding us music is about listening with our hearts.






Review overview


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