Synthwave has worked hard to shrug off its retro image. So what if it is a genre that is based heavily on the sound of what has gone before, what music isn’t? And if its origins lay in those early pop experiments as disenchanted former punks turned their attention to the new technologies available to them and in turn rewired and reinvented those early synths to do their sonic bidding, the equipment and people at its sharp end today are a world away from those days. In short, synthwave, like all genres, is a constantly evolving story and it is music made by the likes of TLF, a solo outing for Hadl, one half of Siamese Youth, who are writing the latest chapters. And Planet Sadness is the project’s debut album.

Kicking off with Honey H.I.V.E, we are immediately immersed in a world forged of layers of textured synths and gossamer electronic washes, sharp riffs and effected vocals. It is a sound built less on sucker-punch deliveries but more on the accumulated weight of those light but deftly woven layers. Individual lead lines and riffs might grab your attention but it is the subtle washes, the ebbs and flows of digital delicacy which are the real driving force here.

Dynamically it runs from the drifting beauty of Dune Detune, a song which rises out of ambient flows into a beat-driven slice of scintillating sounds to the spacious, riff-led This Planet Is Stranger, I Am Stranger and its more direct, less ornate soundscapes. There is shimmering futurism with songs such as Things Will Never Be The Same Again and subtle nods to the sounds of the past with Heroes and Stuff.

It’s a beguiling album, at turns nostalgic and steeped in melancholy, forward-thinking and adventurous, direct and dance fuelled, ambient and full of grace. And more often than not, able to mix many, and occasionally all, of these emotions and aspects together in a single song.

Synthwave may owe a debt of gratitude to the past but Planet Sadness proves that TLF’s eyes, at least, are fixed firmly on the future.


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