Top Ten Retrowave Albums of 2016
10. Morgan Willis - Miami Calling
At 25 tracks (!), Miami Calling, the debut LP by the Frenchman Morgan Willis is a bit a of a slog to listen through in one sitting, but it's undeniably one of the most interesting albums this year. Coming in right at the end of the year, it plays as an unabashed love letter to Miami Vice and Jan Hammer's score, and gets us as close as possible to the 2nd part of the soundtrack of the mythical series.
9. Hyboid - Terrör of the Üniverse
An album that went largely unnoticed by the larger synthwave fandom, Hyboid’s Terrör of the Üniverse is a feat not just because it was recorded entirely with vintage synths (Oberheim DMX, Roland TR-606, CSQ-600, Juno-60, SH-09, Korg Polysix, Mono/Poly, Arp Axxe, Octave Kitten…) and effects. It’s also a window into the producer’s childlike creative mind and fascination with 70s Kraut sound and pop culture of the yore and shines a bright beacon in our often stale musical niche.
8. Makeup and Vanity Set – Brigador Opus
Makeup and Vanity Set is probably one of the most overlooked modern retrosynth (thanks Vehlinggo for making me confident to use this term more ;)) artists, especially in the increasingly crowded (and derivative) dystopian, “darkwave” subgenre. His releases stand on top of his peers, and his Brigador that came in 2 parts and an EP is definitely worth your attention if you’re into sprawling, narrative soundscapes.
7. Trevor Something – Soulless Computer Boy and The Eternal Render
After the gloomy Death Dream LP, the world sighed in relief when Trevor came out of nowhere in August 2016 with a brand new waporwave-tinged album that marks his return to more classic Trevor Something sound, but also shows his irrefutable growth as a musician. Next stop, we’d like to see some growth as a vocalist *wink*.
6. John Carpenter – Lost Themes II
John Carpenter fans squealed in unison when the Master of Horror himself showed up in 2015 to deliver a whole album of original, dark synth compositions that seemed ripped straight from some unreleased movie of his. The fans hollered in climax this year when the Master delivered a swift sequel of dark, brooding compositions that was a harbinger of a sold-out tour in summer and fall 2016.
5. Peter Zimmermann – Eine Nacht Mit Peter Zimmermann (Part I)
Anyone trying to break the boundaries of retrowave today deserves at least a shoutout, but Peter Zimmermann, a young German dude, delivers that in droves and so deserves a spot in this list. Your go-to album when you tire of the usual tropes, Eine Nacht is a mix of synth styles and feels with a tongue firmly planted in cheek.
4. Waveshaper - Station Nova
Released in April 2016, Waveshaper’s follow up to 2015’s Exploration 84 deepens the space saga this masterful producer is weaving and further cements Sweden as one of the bastions of modern synthwave. Perfect listening while landing on the Moon.
3. Robert Parker - Crystal City
Robert Parker has already established himself as one of the retrosynth names to look out for in the years past capable of hitting a wide range of styles and registers in the synthwave spectrum. Crystal City is then his flagship album, that establishes his core sound and prowess with keys and knobs. An album to make you dance – and long for the years long past at the same time - from the first minute.
2. The Midnight – Endless Summer
A sequel to the fan-favorite Days of Thunder from 2014, Endless Summer epitomizes the most emotional, wistful of modern retrowave. Tim & Tyler are an amazing team and champions of great production values, and while the worldly charm of their vocal tracks really helps bring new audiences into our beloved music genre, personally I preferred the bare-naked brilliance of the instrumental version of the album (The Comeback Kid is perfection).
1. Atlas - FM-84
By far, the best – and one of the most anticipated (hi MN1984!) - release of the year, Atlas is a dream modern synth pop album, mixing the right amount of nostalgic wistfulness with a knack for superb production. Equally a fruit of labor of Col Bennet and Ollie Wride, the main vocalist on the album, it is a super-potent cocktail of emotion, flawless vocal delivery, clever pacing and FM-84's signature synth work.
Droid Bishop - Lost In Symmetry: Just under 30 minutes, didn’t really qualify as an album, but is full of awesome.
Syntax – Transmissions: Sequel with more chilltronica-meets-synthwave by one of the nicest guys on the scene
CONFRONTATIONAL – Kingdom of Night: Massimo Usai nurtures his sound that outgrows the boundaries of the genre and paves a way to a possible trilogy.
Ludrium – Through Sentient Eyes: Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and Cody Carpenter thrills us with each new volume in his prog rock meets 16 bit RPG meets retrosynth space opera.
Ben Businovski - Gotanda's Maserati: Ben delivers at first glance typical italo-disco tropes with lots of style and self-awareness.
Satori in Bed – Short Notice: the master of lavish arrangements and one sexy mother ducker, Satori in Bed continues the teachings of his gone-too-soon master Prince
Absolute Valentine – Police Heartbreaker: Not many know Johann Derimme has his fingers in plethora of retrowave releases. His latest LP shows the guy has solid skills as a producer as well.
Unrelated to albums per se but I want to say big thanks to unsung heroes of the scene such as Marko Maric of Synthetix Sundays and Noah Kaufmann of Synth Waves on KFAI 90.3 who relentlessly promote our ever expanding scene!