Quaeschning & Schnauss: Synthwaves (Azure Vista Records, 2017)
A two-week experiment, Synthwaves is the result of Thorsten Quaeschning (Tangerine Dream) and Ulrich Schnauss sequestering themselves in a room full of vintage synths, sequencers, and drum machines. The results are quite brilliant. The duo takes the listener on sci-fi adventures, flying them over space-like plateaus on far off planets, painting epic planetscape horizons where dual planets float in the distance, and flying them through uncharted areas of space with glisten stars and nebulae. It’s not astonishing that these two clearly adept musicians could craft such beautifully executed synth tracks but that they did so in such a short time and having placed particular limitations on themselves. Both a nostalgia trip for those who are 80’s synth music fans as well as a fresh take on the entire genre, Synthwaves is a demonstration of Quaeschning and Schnauss’ musical prowess.
“Main Theme” opens Synthwaves with deep bass and bright, dancing synths. The melodic patterns move about, connecting to one another in a stream of brightly syncopated tempi. “Main Theme” prepares the listener for what’s ahead as they sit in holding, ready to blast off into an epic soundtrack of space exploration and sci-fi worlds. The variations on the core melody in this piece are captivating. Indeed, once you allow this track to envelop you, there is no turning back and the need to listen to what comes next becomes urgent and, ultimately, welcome. “Rain on Dry Concrete” comes into the speakers with echoing sci-fi synths and syncopated shaker sounds. It most certainly evokes long walks in hot summer rain showers but in a far distant, technologically advanced future. “Rain on Dry Concrete” should be listened to with soundtracks for future sci-fi epics in mind.
“Slow Life” is just an astonishingly beautiful piece beginning with a simple melody played on piano which is wrapped in warm drones. Eventually, more sounds flitter into the speakers, as the title suggests, as the burgeoning of life is at hand. Deeper keys provide another melodic layer as they lead the listener into waves of textures that spark the imagination. Quaeschning and Schnauss hypnotize the listener as they ply their magic layers, building, peeling away, and building again. “Slow Life” is a magnificent feat of musical ingenuity. “Cats and Dogs” brings in a bit of a shift, with a view toward the use of percussion and the syncopated synths that travel alongside it. The piece builds as it reaches for an inevitable climax with melodies playing off one another amid dancing synths.
“A Calm Steady Flow” begins with robotic synths and percussion. Poltergeist like synth tones haunt the cracks and crevices of this energetic piece. There are also these small moments where particular tones and textures play amid the larger melodies. These choices are striking and the attention to detail evocative. “Thirst” leads into a trilogy of one word titled songs. It is the longest on the album, boasting an 8:11 length. This composition has a bravado to it, an epicness, the sort that screams space opera or hero’s journey. This track really does lead into a back-end trilogy to this album, with its soaring complex moments and its suggestive, triumphant atmosphere.
“Flare” is the penultimate track on Synthwaves and it dials down the larger sound and initially focuses on more somber moments. That said, eventually bright synths come to the fore and spark rays of hope into the darker, underlying tones. As “Flare” progresses, there are moments of rising electronic crystalline textures, glittering and dazzling. “Prism”, the album’s finale, comes into the speaker with iridescent fuzz, birds chirping, and slow glacial synths. It’s a track that soothes and memorizes and leads the listener gently into the fade at the end of the album.
It’s no secret that Quaeschning and Schnauss both are masters of their instruments and the genres in which they tend to produce music. As individuals, their output is brilliant and, as collaborators, it is that much more breathtaking. There is a depth here that many musicians could not conjure from older analog synths. Quaeschning and Schnauss evoke a warmth from stereotypically cold mediums, from dense fuzzy walls of sound to deep abiding warm tones that engulf the listener. There is a sonic story being told here but it will evoke different things to different listeners, as these things go. That said, Synthwaves is captivating and will immerse the listener in synth heaven.
Pre-order Quaeschning & Schnauss: Synthwaves at the Azure Vista Records Bandcamp Page.
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