Makeup and Vanity Set & Sferro – Wavefinder Review
Once every few years an album comes along that reminds me of why I started writing about music the first place. “Wavefinder” – the astounding collaboration between Sferro and Makeup and Vanity Set (MAVS), is definitely one such album. On the face of it, you wouldn’t
Once every few years an album comes along that reminds me of why I started writing about music the first place. “Wavefinder” – the astounding collaboration between Sferro and Makeup and Vanity Set (MAVS), is definitely one such album.
On the face of it, you wouldn’t expect a collaboration album like “Wavefinder” to be so brilliant. Sure, both Sferro and Makeup and Vanity Set (MAVS) have honed their superb synth skills for over a decade – but their production styles are vastly different.
Sferro’s work is decidedly digital, featuring brilliant melodies driven by a disco heartbeat. MAVS, on the other hand, has honed his analog feel – slicing through soundtracks and albums alike with a keen edge of atmosphere.
So, I expected “Wavefinder” to be good – even great, given the sheer experience and quality of musicianship from these two artists. Truthfully though, I also expected some fragmentation – a certain disjointed feeling that is frequently noticeable with similar collaboration albums. It’s a sad fact that often when artists collaborate, there is a clash. Sometimes it’s ego, sometimes it’s production style, or wanting to go in different conceptual directions. Sometimes the final tracks just seem out of order. After listening to dozens and dozens of collabs, I can tell you there’s always something…
“In a lot of ways… the music sort of… tells me what it needs, you know? Then I just sort of let it happen.”
But then, as the first remarkable ripples of “Wavefinder” washed over me, I realized this record is something special. There is no clash – in fact, the opposite is true. The diverse styles of Sferro and MAVS complement one another in a unique way, merging into a gestalt of splendid sonic bliss that neither producer would have likely created on their own. From the initial vox-like trill of ‘Cursors’ to the final 90s-infused ambient decay of ‘Do You Really Want An Answer,’ every track on “Wavefinder” is truly exceptional.
Between syncopated kicks and stuttering hi-hats, there is a tangible atmosphere that pulls you in, demanding your attention. Brilliant polyphonic melodies emerge in perfect counterpoint to thick, juicy basslines – all punctuated by eccentric synth stabs that give the tracks an intense sense of movement and groove. And, of course, all of these elements are masterfully mixed and mastered. All of these different elements complement one another perfectly – much like Sferro and MAVS – and the end result sounds magical.
Throughout the album, there is a pervasive 90s nostalgia feel – which makes sense considering Sferro revealed during our interview that several of the tracks were actually outtakes “Emotion Engine.” Often the synth leads or stabs are also just slightly detuned, filtered with the analog wow and flutter warble of a VHS cassette in a very similar technique used in MAVS’ latest EP, “Gradient Ultra.” (Both of those releases made our yearly top 10 lists in 2021 and 2022 – and you should absolutely listen to them if you haven’t already!)
But, for MAVS and Sferro, that lush analog sound was not infused into “Wavefinder” for the often-cited stereotypical reason of feeling “warm” or “fat” – but instead to add a sense of organic decay and randomness. Chance.
“Anytime I can add unpredictability, I’m surprised by what it’s doing…” MAVS related in the same interview. “In a lot of ways, [through analog effects] the music sort of… tells me what it needs, you know? Then I just sort of let it happen.”
Surprisingly, Sferro also related that although his workflow is digital, chance plays a large role in his production as well. “I can’t really explain it, but it happens to me digitally as well, because my computer sold. Like every render, dude… every render is different.”
“I don’t want to do the typical synthwave stuff anymore. I’ve done that beat and that to death… so the early 2000s, late 90s kind of thing – that’s what seemed attractive to me.” – Sferro
Perhaps most surprising is that MAVS and Sferro had never created together before, in spite of growing up within a few miles of one another in northern Ohio. In fact, the closest they had come to working together was when they both independently created tracks for the Demin’s “Initiate (Remixes)” – which happened to be very important to the genesis of “Wavefinder.”
Demin’s work sounds a lot like a sort of shimmering Com Truise. In fact, when “Initiate” was released, it led many to speculate that Demin may actually be a side project of Seth’s. This rumor is false, of course – as MAVS related perfectly in our recent interview, “…having talked to Seth over the years, I know that he’s into drum and bass and other stuff…. it would be weird for him to just do another thing that sounds like Com Truise.”
In fact, that sound – the Com Truise sound – is quickly becoming it’s own small microgenre called “Datawave,” Similar to how HOME’s work spawned Chillsynth. After working on the Demin tracks seperately, MAVS and Sferro thought that datawave sound would be perfect for “Wavefinder.”
“I didn’t want to deviate in the remix too much from [Demin’s] sound because I liked the sound. I was curious about the ‘datawave’ space…. so I just sort of leaned into that for the remix…and… it felt good. [Later] when I started to dig into the stuff [Sferro] had sent me, it just seemed like the logical progression, like the place to go. You always want to do something that’s exciting to you…and in that moment, that was what was exciting.”
But, in spite of finding inspiration in the Com Truise / datawave sound, no part of “Wavefinder” feels pastiche. Instead, the entire sound feels somehow new again – like re-experiencing your favorite movie for the first time. (Or, in my case, my favorite album.) That… genuine feeling – I think that’s what makes “Wavefinder” feel so special. At times it feels like so much synthwave today has been over-produced and polished into nothing but a rose-tinted mirror. It’s so incredibly refreshing to hear two old-guard synth artists creating sounds so new and fresh.
Like I said in the beginning of this review, it’s rare to find a release that reminds me of why I started writing about music in the first place. Those are nice words, sure – but what does that really mean? Well, the reason why I started writing about music was because I wanted to share the music that I loved with as many people as possible – and that sort of sums up how I feel about “Wavefinder.”
I love it.
Top tracks: “Hit Bit,” “Rubber City,” “Memory Screen,” and “Wavefinder.”