ECCO CHAMBER #08 – 2023 Albums of The Year [ feat. Simple Sauce, BarbWalters, Makeup and Vanity Set, Luxury Elite, desert sand feels warm at night, MidSpring Memories, Runners Club 95, OSC, YOUTH 83 & Eyeliner]

The FutureSounds staff writers conclude 2023 with their top album picks of the year.

Rob Dyson’s Picks

OSC The Alpine Suite [Self-Release]

It’s not (necessarily) a reflection of this past troubled year, that this writer’s two picks of the best of 2023 are both from January — but my choices did set an incredible bar for instrumental electronica…

First up is an album of pure ambition, the masterpiece that is The Alpine Suite from OSC [released on physical by TimeSlave Recordings]. Intended as a series of movements in the tradition of a suite of classical compositions, it veers from glacial beauty to lounge jazz retrowave – with all the hallmarks of OSC’s constant personal evolution and the artistic challenges he sets himself. Recurring motifs and melodies flow in and out, changing slightly and rewarding the listener who doesn’t skip, pause or (gasp) would dare separate tracks into playlists. Split into four ‘movements’, mountainous and majestically themed. Snowcapped, Arête, Massif, and Interlocking Spurs evoke vast cold landscapes – but never stray far from the warmth of OSC’s masterful and playful brand of electronic experimentation and accomplished composition.

For me, this album personally and perfectly soundtracked a short ski break in the mountains of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and uniquely matched the breath-taking, alien-like, environment. I would recommend everyone immerse themselves in The Alpine Suite for pure escapism and to hear the work of a true artist who never stops experimenting.

YOUTH 83Progress Way [Self-Release]

My second long player of choice is YOUTH 83’s Progress Way [self released]- which both complements and jars with OSC’s The Alpine Suite; like a dark and moody sibling. Standout track ‘Wave Rush’ is a wall of synthetic arpeggios and a foreboding, almost groaning, deep melody – evoking Ted Hughes’ iron man striding across a darkened countryside, edging towards an unsuspecting and hopeless human population.

Brooding. melancholic and reflective, Progress Way is part digital sci fi trancewave, part long country drive, and – for me – reflects the anxiety of 2023, but – makes it head-noddingly danceable in parts (a welcome respite). Crunchy, squelchy, big beat, and (somewhat) nightmarish. That’s a fair analogy of the year I guess.


Enzo Van Baelen’s Picks

Luxury EliteFashion Pop [Self-Released]

Just when you think the Vaporwave scene could be about to shift into something sonically and experimentally unrecognisable from its origins, something reassuringly familiar comes along to remind you that the classic style still has legs.

‘fashion pop’ is classic Vaporwave in production, but gone are the lo-fi characteristics that underpin early classics in her canon, like ‘World Class’. Instead, this album marks a nostalgic shift for the artist that moves Luxury Elites’s production into an era of crystal clear, surround sound.

It might not be a new idea for Vaporwave to step out of the shadow of the 1980s, but ‘fashion pop’ makes the 90s feel like a brave new world.

Sadly, I’m one of the many fans who curse themselves everyday for not picking up a cassette from Pacific Plaza Records when they dropped in the Summer. Here’s hoping for a reissue…

Honorable mentions

We were lucky enough to book Lux for an incredible set at FlamingoFest late in late 2023. Having worked with her on a number of occasions, it was one of my personal highlights of the year to have the best seat in the house for her incendiary set at Catch One.

There are times when the hard, everyday routine of running a small label can be punishing. But moments like that make it all worthwhile, and that’s a memory I will cherish as long as I live. Hopefully we can all do it again next year.

Special mentions to Eyeliner and Runners Club 95, both of whom returned in 2023 with excellent LPs. And to the aforementioned Pacific Plaza who smashed it this year and also put out the excellent ‘[PlayStation] jungle.psx’ by US Golf and ‘The Great Escape’ by slowerpace 音楽, which is getting a vinyl release on MPF in 2024.

Makeup and Vanity SetFM [Electric Dream Records]

For my Synthwave pick I’ve also gone for an album that feels like a stylistic and sonic throwback. In doing so, I’m not making a statement on the health of the scene. There’s plenty of exciting and experimental Synthwave out there.

I could easily have picked the 8-bit classic ‘Virtual Burnout’ by LukHash, which dropped in October. Or Duett’s slick collaboration with YATTE, ‘The Minute’; both of which stand strong after repeat listens.

Maybe it’s the passing of time, of nostalgic loops closing ever tighter. But for many of my peers, people who came through the ‘golden years’ of the genre, there’s just something magical about the classic Synthwave sound.

It’s something of an outlier dropping in 2023, but right off the mark, ‘FM’ makes me feel like I’m discovering Synthwave for the first time all over again.

A personal highlight is Blame it To The City, a collaboration with Mitch Murder with vocals by the aforementioned YATTE.

It could’ve been released a decade ago, but it feels as fresh as Outrun could ever sound.

Honorable mentions

Whilst ‘FM’ (and 2022’s CJ Burnett album ‘Heat in the Streets) renewed my love of the classic Outrun sound, it didn’t stop there.

Look out for ‘Masters of Outrun’ in 2024; a retrospective collection of early and bona-fide Synthwave classics. The presentation by Glenn Jones is going to blow your minds (but I can’t say any more just yet!)

Honourable mentions also, for the Makeup and Vanity Set & Sferro collaboration ‘Wavefinder’ – a Datawave classic that sounds like Com Truise remixed Apex Twin. Vehlinggo’s interview with the Ohio pair is well worth a read!

And of course to Timecop 1983 whose output continues to disprove the law of diminishing returns; ‘Searching for Tomorrow’ is excellent from start to finish and will be available on vinyl via TimeSlave Recordings on the February Bandcamp Friday.


Thom Hosken’s Picks

Eyeliner brb [My Pet Flamingo]

It’s been a difficult year for musicians and music scenes with a continuing cost of living crisis and our means of promotion at the mercy of Marvel villains like Ek and Musk.

Despite this, I’ve been proud to plough on, helping to put on and play live shows, including the FutureSounds gigs North and South of the river and the Vaporwave events on both coasts of the USA. The Donor Lens tune ‘Turn The Fridge On’ (a breakcore track about lukewarm Cardiff beers) hitting a million streams on Spotify was a surreal milestone too. On the podcast front, I hosted and interviewed desert sand feels warm at night, Shirobon and XWaves at my home studio.

Musically, I really enjoyed digital fusion records from the likes of Fire-Toolz,   Bart Graft and Eyeliner. Eyeliner’s brb is a composerly effort with a trademark sound palette, a playbox for its talented creator. It is an instrumental album with resurrected and rehabilitated 80s/90s workstation sounds suggesting beautiful worlds and stories. Should you want more personal context, Enzo’s interview with Eyeliner is an illuminating companion to this miniature MIDI masterpiece.  

Runners Club 95 – Sponsored Content [My Pet Flamingo]

My final pick would be the long-awaited album from friends Runners Club 95 – Sponsored Content. This is probably their most experimental album in terms of styles covered, dipping into VGM on the track ‘c u ;)’, plus some anime piano moments and even a text-to-speech signalwave track that scratches a similar itch to Eyeclick’s recent 👁​点​击​と​👁 LP, which I reviewed here. It’s the pop banger ‘Serena’, featuring Maria on vocals that I enjoy most though. Seeing it live in LA was a real treat; a movie moment. 

To come in 2024: a new Donor Lens album (finally!), more podcasts, more live shows, more projects, a documentary, some actual Vaporwave?!


Patrick Fakeman’s Picks

Simple Syrup – Bloom [Business Casual]

Simple Syrup returned in 2023 with the infectious and nostalgic Bloom. The 15-track opus is a wonderful mix of vapor cuts with more than a hint of 90s influence and samples drizzled on top.

From the bass-heavy, dreamlike Don’t Be Afraid to the vapor-breaks of Sky Mirror, Bloom is a plethora of soundscapes that collectively celebrate vaporwave’s pallet.

At nearly an hour long in length, Bloom is more than worthy of your full attention. Repeat listens allow for picking up on the intricacies of the sound design whilst also specifically realising just how much fun this album is to drive to!

For me, Bloom represents the ongoing appreciation of vaporwave, old and new. The continued retrospective approach along with more than its fair share of future-facing production. A genre and an album that is not afraid to push the boundaries.

Barb Walters – Love [My Pet Flamingo]

Those that regularly read our Ecco Chamber reviews and choices will know that I am more than a little bit fond of the continued high quality celebration of funk and disco that is Future Funk. This summer was no different with BarbWalter’s releasing the energetic Love.

Kicking off with a heavy sample of the instantly recognisable Absolute from Scritti Politi, the album’s title track grabs you by the ears and doesn’t let go.

BW’s upbeat style coupled with the warm production are a sonic summer hug when relistening in these darker months. Never is this more true that with R&B, a skilfully utilised sample from the Mac Band’s Roses Are Red. A track with such infectious energy, I included it on this year’s Fakeman opening set for FlamingoFest is LA this last November.

Always entertaining, BarbWalters releases are a joy, Love being no exception.

By way of an honourable mention of my own, it would be amiss of me not to mention the wonderfully authentic Sunday Lonely Night from Vantage (with Hibiya). This beautiful homage to Japan’s City Pop era is an ear-worm in the truest sense. Check out the full release on Bandcamp to also experience the excellent Future Funk remix.


Jay Sabourin’s Picks

desert sand feels warm at night / Mindspring Memories – Desert Memories [Geometric Lullaby]

A wonderful collaborative album between two illustrious artists. Desert Memories is a gorgeous slushwave & ambient record with dreamy instrumentation and haunting pitched down vocals.

Featuring lovely 3D rendered artwork by zer0れい this album tells a tale through 7 tracks, and in true ambient style totals an impressive 1 hour 10 mins of luscious melodies and gorgeous musical movements.

At no point does it a drag and the whole piece gently pulls you through a mystical journey. From “opening the book” all the way through to “closing the book” this is a musical page turner. Best enjoyed in full, somewhere you can close your eyes and enjoy the ride.

Runners Club 95 – Sponsored Content [My Pet Flamingo]

The super Swedish duo behind Vaporwave staples ‘Panama Papers’ and ‘No Sugar Added’ returned with a bang in 2023. Their newest offering – Sponsored Content – delivered something a little different to their previous work, although the roots were still firmly planted in rich Vaporwave soil. OK, so I know this was already picked by Thom, but I’m going with it regardless. It’s that good.

The album leans heavily on a sophisti-pop sound with touches of euro-pop, experimental electronica, Bossa Nova and even drum and bass (see ‘C U ;’).

Expect less “classic Vaporwave” in this one, although the omnipresent feeling of nostalgia is still clearly there. The duo instead opting for a more naturalistic sound in terms of both vocals and in the songwriting; a path which mirrors their fantastic live performances at the first FutureSounds event and their legendary Econ 3 set. (See also their live record: Live at Pad Chennington’s Block Party).

It’s hard to pick my favourite tracks from the record as they all slap and they all offer something unique. But I’d firmly recommend putting the whole record on before the year is up.

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