FutureSounds staff writers give their pick of 2022’s best albums…
CJ Burnett – ‘Heat in the Street’ [Self Released]
So much of my energy in 2022 was expended in the day-to-day running of our labels, the launch of FutureSounds live events, and filming for the Nobody Here project, that (aside from TimeSlave projects) I found myself with little time to seek out Synthwave as a fan.
When Fakeman’s Synthfam article dropped last month, I found myself contemplating my own relationship with the genre for the first time. And at times last year I’ll confess to having felt a little burnt out.
After ten years as a fan it’s hard to reconnect with the feelings you experienced first time around, especially when it becomes your day job. But sometimes all you need is a little time apart, and something exciting to pique your interest.
Within 48 hours of reading that piece, I’d started working on new music for the first time in several years, fallen down a rabbit hole of new Synthwave releases, and discovered my favourite album of 2022: Cj Burnett’s ‘Heat in the Street’.
They say the honeymoon period in the early days of a relationship is the most exhilarating and intense; and ‘Heat in the Street’ took me back to those first dates.
In fact, exhilarating and intense might be the perfect words to describe an album that conjures images of a Michael J Fox thriller that never was. This music stirs a feeling of wistful nostalgia in me; a longing to go back to the future.
The sound design is flawless and crisp, and the songwriting is immense. Frantic arpeggios and rolling baselines proliferate, accompanied by an array of epic synth leads. It’s Outrun, pure and simple – and it never sounded fresher, or more vital.
CJ Burnett is proof that Synthwave is alive and well.
Enzo Van Baelen
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – ‘When the Lights Go’ [Self Released]
Orlando Higginbotham waited 10 years to release this latest collection of tracks but you’d be wrong if you thought it was a hiatus. There’s been an abundance of remixes, live DJing, collaborations, contributions to songwriting and running his own label ‘Nice Age’.
This extended period of alternative works has allowed him to come back full circle and learn a trick or two which has led to an astoundingly well-produced album. He’s a guy that’s never really given much thought to genres but if you give this baby a go, you’ll be treated to some euphoric floor-fillers at one end (Forever) and some heart-wrenching ballads at the other (The Sleeper).
Interestingly, despite this predominantly being a collection of dance tracks with a lean towards ‘house’, there’s none of the restrictive ‘four to the floor’ beats you’d associate with the genre. Expect the unexpected throughout.
Albums with such a wide range of genres can lose their way a bit but this feels very cohesive which is testament to what Orlando is trying to achieve. The signature track of the album is definitely ‘Crosswalk’ with a truly unorthodox collection of synths in the outgoing segment. In all honesty I don’t recall a track on here that I passed on which is why it’s my favourite album of the year; definitely worth waiting a decade for.
Pizza Hotline – ‘Level Select’ [Self Released]
My ears were subjected to non-stop sound in 2022 and I’m only now taking stock. Long commutes gave me the chance to check works-in-progress. At work, teaching instruments to teenagers, I was bewildered by a Bloc Party renaissance and thrilled to discover The Rah Band were a Tik Tok phenomenon. In July, my child was born and we stayed calm with Suzanne Ciani and got silly to speed garage. I took a time machine to 2010 when making the Wichita LimeWire album Upload 2 Me, and back further still when learning Boogie basslines for my new role in Iversen. Donor Lens were booked to DJ vaporwave tunes in Leeds, only to spend 6 hours fielding requests for Chinese pop songs. Doing the FutureSounds FM podcast and Ecco Jams roundups has kept me connected to new music, plus it has been a privilege to perform and attend live shows such as the Double Vision event.
On that note, Pizza Hotline’s Level Select is one of my records of the year. It came out right at the start of 2022, and crystallises a cultural moment. Many producers are having fun with breakbeats, bootleg samples (see Kieran Hebden’s club smash ‘Looking at Your Pager’ with its 3LW vocal), and 6th Generation console nostalgia. We met half-way through the year at Pure Life’s festival in London, then later bonded on air over Ryland Kurshenoff’s amazing YouTube mixes of VGM bangers, as well as the liquid gold on 4AM Breaks.
Level Select is the most successful album by a single artist at capturing this kind of DJ/compilation-style flow and sense of journey. It is deep and heady, while melodic and fun at the same time. I know a kid who sings along with the tunes in his car seat, and I’ve seen the same tracks go off in a club. I’m excited for more Pizza Hotline music next year.
Your Sister is a Werewolf – ‘Summer Break’ [TimeSlave Recordings]
‘Summer Break’ contains some of the more authentically-80s sounding music to emerge from the synthwave scene in 2022, and at its core is some serious musicianship and composition from Your Sister is a Werewolf.
Complemented by session players that have worked with the likes of Blondie, McCartney, Michael Jackson, Toto & Steely Dan (& the fretless bass on ‘Fun While It Lasted’ is very Pino Palladino-esque); it also features one of the scene’s current leading talents, OSC. A special touch is cover art by legendary horror movie artist Matthew Peak! The cassette gets lots of love in this house.
Neon Nox – ‘Payback’ [NewRetroWave]
2022! – Much like that famous chocolate-loving ambassador, you truly spoilt us. Whilst it might not be with tasty nut-based treats, instead 2022 brought a plethora of new music across our favourite genres.
The first of these came just at the end of the year in the form of Neon Nox’s ‘Payback’. A true return to ‘classic’ synthwave, Payback is pure outrun and dreamwave at its finest with a HUGE darksynth track in the form of ‘Dopamine’ with scene favourites, Powernerd.
I was taken back to the early days of my Drive-inspired rabbit hole sessions into the unknown, discovering these well-produced, slick collections of synth-heavy tracks with so much attention to detail.
Payback takes us back to the time of album’s created for b-movies that never existed with the hero who’s poster we never got to adorn our bedroom walls and school books. A fantastically fresh album that truly embodies the spirit of synthwave. Payback is released by New RetroWave.
Nmesh – ‘Further Regions: 20 Years of Exploration’ [Geometric Lullaby]
2022 also brought us the definitive collection of ground-breaking and pioneering works of psychedelic Vaporwave from Kentucky’s own Nmesh.
The 28-track collection ‘Further Regions: 20 Years Of Exploration’ celebrates Nmesh’s history of mind-bending soundscapes and sheer breadth of talent.
No matter if your poison is plunderphonics, industrial or full-out experimental, Nmesh’s 2022 collection will have a track to suit. Presented here, remastered and with a physical release via Geometic Lullaby, Further Regions is the journey that everyone will take at some point – it’s just a matter of when, not if.
… Oh, and if you’re quick off the mark there are still copies of the vinyl edition available to pre-order.
Power PCME – ‘Seeking Existence in the Auroral Chorus‘ [My Pet Flamingo]
My second choice for album of the year came out towards the end of 2022. Seeking Existence in the Auroral Chorus by PowerPCME is another short album that finishes with a set of remixes, and taps into 2000s breakbeat sounds.
This one is much noisier and darker however, balancing beautiful moments with occasions where the drums teeter off-grid (‘I Heard Her in the Dawn Chorus’) or threaten to disappear into distortion (‘There Was Information’). A love for classic Squarepusher and Boards of Canada shines through, combined with a fresh signalwave edge. This album spoke very directly to me.
An honourable mention goes to another perfect pairing: eventual infinity’s Deep Cover, and Winterquilt’s Monster Island and the Satan of Fire. These two albums came out at the same time and typified 2022’s style-smashing (see also: Fire-Toolz, Death’s Dynamic Shroud).
Expect new music from Donor Lens in 2023 that attempts to channel some of these dancefloor and genre-diverse influences.
Death’s Dynamic Shroud – ‘Darklife’ [100% Electronica]
Darklife’ represented something of a shift for DDS, who’ve been releasing material (sometimes as individuals, often in pairs, only once before as a trio) since 2014.
I had the fortune to catch them live at Electronicon in the Summer, and it was a life affirming experience. As performers within the Vaporwave scene they are almost without peers – the chaotic energy of their shows is all encompassing.
Whilst never self-identifying with as Vaporwave per se, their rise to prominence came with the patronage of the scene and that show-stopping set at Electronicon 3 proved that they retain healthy roots there.
That said, Darklife lays down a new marker in their evolution, retaining the chaotic glitch for which they’ve become know but adding a neon sheen that might serve them well as they approach the fringes of what might be called the ‘mainstream’ of electronic music.
None of this matters though; the album is as exciting as we’ve ever heard them and my highlight track ‘Neon Memories’ is simply stunning.
Enzo Van Baelen
Various Artists – ‘It’s a Vaporwave Christmas vol.3’ [Pacific Plaza]
It might not be ‘in season’ now, but my second pick for ‘album of the year’ is a vapor-inflected late year entry from Pacific Plaza Records, which I previewed before its release on this very site.
The label’s third installment in their “It’s a Vaporwave Christmas” series really hit me in the xmas feels, with huge variety between big party tracks and nu disco, lo fi meloncholic vibes, and achingly nostalgic slushwave, transporting me to Christmases past.
It features the likes of Seabaud, Trucks Passing Trucks, VANITAS命死, Timeshare ’94, Discoholic, DATAGIRL & Nanoshrine – and it’s a welcome antidote to the usual Christmas tracks we’re force fed by the mainstream every year.
Pick it up and watch it change your family Christmas forever!
Thursday 5th January, 2023