ARTIST: S T F U
RELEASE: What We Want
RELEASE DATE: 29/07/16
RECORD COMPANY: Unsigned
Synthwave and its many relatives in genre has managed to stay relevant since its creation in the early eighties, with modern audiences revisiting and connecting with it as a respected musical art form. This relevancy has appeared concurrently with the chronological heave of the genre through history, which makes reimagining and re-creating synthwave more and more of an epic task that requires equally as epic skill. The construction of an original synthwave sound is therefore one that should be thoroughly appreciated and applauded… And with their album What We Want, collaborative heavyweights S T F U aim for that very feet, with colour and darkness, echo and hum and a time-travel through musical history. S T F U is a pairing of two very talented musicians from some very important and skilful bands; Dean Garcia from seminal alt-rockers Curve & the electronically dark SPC ECO and Preston Maddox of the brilliantly original Bloody Knives. The pairing of the two brings into question what the S T F U record would sound like, and instead of joining forces to create something reminiscent of their own projects, the pair have collaborated to compose a full-length album of darkwave jams.
The album opens with the allusive and complex ‘Secret’ which could have acted as the soundtrack to either Tron movies. Its sound is desirably enjoyable and dreamy… Punched along steadily by a classic eighties drum beat and hi-hat tap, coupled with the stadium synth born and bred in the dark corners of the eighties. While the music screams darkwave and the mythical symbolism of a metropolis covered in neon, the vocals seem trance induced and soaked with dream pop sensibilities, which gives the song a wavy and contrastingly great quality; all soaked in a well-produced mix. Following on from ‘Secret’ is the trap influenced ‘Second Time’ which is built on a colourful sound collage and hip-hop style drums. These elements purposefully drown out the husky, reverbed vocals and although the song begins interestingly, the soundscape and trap drums become boring, and the vocals seem like they should feature on a remix. It is not until the three minute mark where the cover of noise lifts up to present some interesting and beautiful synthwave beats. ‘Do It Now’ continues this trend, except it maintains a more interesting and engaging sound and utilizes a more upbeat-dance inspired sound in its favour. The song morphs fantastically at around the three minute twenty mark to include a slower and denser projection before slipping back into the synthwave dance of the songs opening.
The album continues with ‘New Shadows’, a thick and dense synthwave track that hears the band using post-punk drumming and atmosphere to emphasise the slower and more downtempo aspect of the track. The vocals, again, sound husky and distant, occasionally coming close enough to the listener to obtain any connection… One must congratulate the fantastic airy-production of this song that does the band so many favours; evoking imagery of the classic industrial darkwave city that the band sounds like it is playing at the heart of. ‘Deeper’ begins with an interesting echo, which eventually bellows into the double tap of a hi-hat and a similar beat that has been utilized previously on the album. The vocals on this track are at their most substantial and interesting, with the deeper and heavier sound that could have sat brilliantly on the previous songs. ‘Deeper’ sees the duo take a step into a heavier and twisted sound, one that rises above the quality of many darkwave bands, creating something entrancing and wavy.
The albums greatest track follows, ‘What We Want’ (the title track) presents itself as sonically different with a heavier and trip-hop influenced drum sound. The song is brilliantly placed, with a Tricky influenced style of production and a neat mesh of sounds that blend together to form the soundtrack for a dirty groove packed dance. Here, S T F U mix the vocals intelligently with the beat and grind of the drums and bass; and meld it all together beautifully. ‘Trickery’ is a mesmerizing downtempo piece of music, with a refreshingly dreamy amount of echo and drums that sound like they were pulled straight out of a downtempo dream pop tune. The vocals sway away upon the trippy mix and intricate backing to fully enhance the duos skill at mixing, song writing and production. ‘Slow’ sounds like a mix of draft songs thrown together for an album filler, with vocals that literally must have been recorded out of boredom; as they do little but act as a fly metaphorically buzzing around the listeners face as they try and look closer at the song. The closing song, ‘Promise’ begins interestingly and features a neat bird sound in the background of the soundscape, but ultimately comes across like a glossed up industrial song with an edgy chorus and churning poppy lyrics that sound like a Filter song with more noise.
Making an album can be tricky; what songs do you put on? How much music should there be on the album? What songs fit well together? Etcetera. And although this album is wholesome, absolutely majestically produced (possibly the greatest I’ve heard in a little while from an alternative band) and skilled in its creation, I do not think S T F U have considered all these questions thoroughly. The album runs near the sixty minute mark and if one listens to every song intently it feels like you’ve run a marathon and back again. Sure, there are some genuinely brilliant songs on here, but over half the albums tracks begin interestingly and different from the others, then promptly slide back down into the same sound that you’ve just listened to for the last five tracks. Darkwave and synthwave are tricky genres to project over an entire album, as the sound of the eighties drums and buzzing keyboard may cross already covered territory; so I am glad that S T F U have included some fantastic takes on trip-hop, trap and downtempo music. The vocals, which sound like they have just come straight from a clean-style teenage metalcore band, take attention away from the interestingly painted sounds and on some tracks (not all). And in retrospect, the technical wizardry that appears sonically in the music is something that I believe the duo attempted to bring to the vocals on some songs but instead sound like musical experiments never touched upon and drawn out for… I don’t know. BUT… And I emphasise the BUT, as the album does have many good qualities and talent held within.
The album soars with its soundscapes and waving sound, and the production (as I stated before) is of a brilliant and talented quality. Most of the instruments feature great performances and there is thoughtful effort placed upon the fantastic tracks on the album. And yes, there is some fantastic tracks, some that propel the album forward, showcasing the greatest features of synthwave and darkwave while the band add their own, dreamy touch. All in all though, the band have released an interesting album full of alternative highlights and intelligent song writing. I believe that perhaps the album could have benefited more from the bonkers-genius noise dance of Maddox’s Bloody Knives, whose feedback inspired experimentation could have enhanced and fully propelled the album to even greater heights. The band do manage to pull it off themselves for the most part, colouring the listener with dreamy soundscapes and evoking imagery of cities and industrial structures, through skill, talent and sound.
3.5 / 5
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Cam Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on the Australian heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.