Vįr+üål Åįrßñß & h º r ¡ z º n щ ¡ r e l e s s have paired up to create a very interesting mix. While h º r ¡ z º n щ ¡ r e l e s s will prefer a more “traditional” approach (if there is such a thing within the genre), Vįr+üål Åįrßñß’s use of samples creates a contrast that is definitive to the album. He uses a variety of samples but prefers to keep the voices at their original pitch while slowing them down. This, coupled with slow backing tunes and reverbs, creates a subtle, but easily identifiable sultry mood. One can picture a couple about to have sex for the first time to ✻ ✼ ✽ L0vįng❧Y0u ✻ ✼ ✽.. There’s a clear feeling of desire, but also an intention to enjoy every moment of the experience.
This is presented in alternation with h º r ¡ z º n щ ¡ r e l e s s’s equally relaxed, but more melancholic work. The pitch shift and slowed-down samples combine to create a distinct feeling of tiredness that is prevalent in the genre. Or rather, a feeling of satisfied weariness, like one would have after a concert or after finishing a marathon. There is a certain liminality to this “half” of the album, created in part by the slow vocals, as well as a feeling of finality.
The two sides of the album are connected by a feeling of deep relaxation, even if caused by very different things. With these two moods, similar in form but so different in feeling, these two artists have created an interesting experience. Perhaps it mimics the mixed feelings one might have while enjoying the company of a certain someone one has a history with. Or perhaps the remembrance of a lost love, remembering the good times one had while remembering the current loneliness.
Carpenter Brut mentioned in an interview with Synthspiria that his music doesn’t have an insane number of fans, and the reason he gave for this was:
“People need to be ‘in on the prank’ to enjoy what [he does]”.
At first glance, this could be chalked up to a common behavior with some music fans, where the listener is expected to “dig deeper” about the artist in question, and enjoy the works more often for their background than for the work itself. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Leather Teeth is an fascinating album because, when compared to the artist’s previous work, some might feel it’s Brut’s worst so far. Too far departed from the last albums, too cynical, too different. And that impression could remain.. until the listener sees the videos that go along with each song. The videos present the audience with a unique story in a format very seldom seen in synthwave. The classic story of the bullied nerd, turned to darkness and out for revenge.. Presented through the lens of everything and everyone else,a complete outsider perspective. It created context for the album. And then it all makes sense. It’s what brings it all together.
First up, the slowest song in the album. “Leather Teeth” is very grandiose, very over the top, and is the closest to CB’s older work. The inclusion of the choir is especially notable as it establishes a leitmotif of sorts. It’s as if the song was heralding the coming of a great calamity, and the video shows this perfectly. It serves you different pieces of footage of different dead jocks and cheerleaders, paired with flashes of newspapers reporting on these mysterious killings. And then at the very end, just to completely drive the point home, the video lays it very clearly for you: No one is safe from the Midwich Monster.
Here, the beat picks up the pace slightly; “Cheerleader Effect” shows the “descent to hell” of our main character, Bret Halford. The song itself has this rock ballad feel to it, as if to try to show Bret’s sensitivity, or loss thereof. The video shows parts of Bret’s life, how he gets beat up by bullies, how he’s in love with Kendra McCornish, the cheerleader, who, in keeping with genre tradition, wouldn’t even fart in his general direction. But here’s the interesting spin, the video makes a point of showing Kendra being slutty and all, partly to show what hurt Bret so much, and partly to show, with some moderation so as to not blow its load too early, the excess of the era, a common theme throughout the album.
The next song, “Monday Hunt,” picks up the pace again. The galloping beat, super common in metal and rock, suits the theme perfectly — as if to put you in Bret’s place, charging a horde of enemies and mowing them down. Regarding the video: Suffice it to say that YT had a choice between the original and a version in which brand logos and dismembered limbs crudely cover everything, and it chose the latter (Be sure to read the apology letter at the beginning, written with utmost sincerity and regret.) It shows how Bret kills, one by one, all the jocks that tormented him, including Kendra herself. The interesting thing here is, Bret kills everyone in his list here. The crux of his story isn’t his revenge; that gets dealt with as fast as possible. By the end, we see Bret fully embracing his persona, by completely tearing off his burnt skin (warning: Utopia District does not endorse removing scar tissue or damaged skin for dramatic purposes or otherwise. Seriously, don’t.)
“Inferno Galore” is also very much like CB’s former work, very fast, very heavy on the synth. Again, picking up the pace, as if to show everything coming to a boil, slowly but surely. The video hits the nail millimetrically on the head. Now we see a much bigger interest in showing the environment in which Bret and everyone else was in. And, once more, the decadence of the era, now much more intensely. There is a hard shift from kinda light-hearted to full dark near the end of the song. This is, again, so you don’t forget the looming threat of Leather Teeth who, even if he already has embraced being a rockstar, still engages in being able to do whatever he wants and will just kill for pleasure.
Songs keep getting faster still, we’re coming close to an end. We now see the second time vocals are used. Pure 80’s hair metal tropes here, as expected from Bret’s band, “Leather Patrol.” Everything from the lyrics to the beat of the song and the instrumentation screams hair metal. Except, perhaps, for the drums in certain parts, where they sound decidedly synthesized, so as to stay “in-genre” and not just make a hair metal song. We’re treated to some insight into the life of excess that Leather Patrol lives, from crowded concerts to steamy exchanges with fans.
A well-deserved break, a much more calm and much more cynically comical song. We’re fully on keytar territory here, and the beat is casual like a month’s end Friday at the office. It oozes of sleaze, like a Cocaine Cowboy. Pure 80’s sound tropes all around. The song is a shameless tribute to synthpop and the video keeps up by being a full tribute to 80s commercials. We have scantily clad girls with guns, mascots, and a nice news report on Rev. Godshyne’s fall from grace and eventual grisly death. It’s not very clear whether Leather Teeth killed him or if he just drunkenly stumbled into the plane’s turbine, but it doesn’t matter, as the idea here is to show how he was punished for his excesses and scams.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, it is time. Time to open this pit up.
The climax of the album. Everything reaches a boil as we’re treated to the peak of the high. The fastest song, where we see the logical conclusion to the whole album’s overstatement of things. The guitar delves almost into power metal, with its hard but energetic sound. The synth’s arpeggios make the song sound almost like a classical piece; The whole song has an intense vibe of not-so-faux sophistication the artist is known for. It shows us how Leather Patrol, which is Leather Teeth’s band, wins every award at the HTV awards, and we’re treated to all the “music videos” of the award-winning hits (Once again, YT chooses crude censorship of nudity, and not violent murder. How admirable!). Almost as if to show you Bret is pretty much invincible now, he interrupts the video and shows his face, taunting people, daring them to stop him. The ending is very much the climax of the album, punctuated by lightning and all.
The album ends with a song that goes into Miami Vice territory of synths, initially trying to ease the audience. Like it was trying to say “Relax, man, it’s just a tv show, not real!”. After the album reaches its highest point speed-wise, coming down to almost the same speed as the first song is a logical step. But then, almost at the end, the song reiterates the album’s overstatements, to finish with a choir reminiscent of the first song. The album finishes with a threat/promise that Bret Halford will return for the movie’s sequel, which, when presented simultaneously with the song’s ominous ending, continues the statement presented before with a “…or is it?”, like it was trying to tell the audience it may escape Bret, but not for long. He’s too powerful now. So now, all that is left is to await the punishment, the real scourge that is Bret in Leather Terror.
Leather Terror, the follow-up album, is scheduled to release in early 2022. Be sure to stay tuned!
If there’s one aspect that is definitive to vaporwave, it’s nostalgia. The same goes for synthwave, future funk, and all those genres that came to be with the ‘80s revival that has been going on in the last few years. All of these genres are defined, at least partly, as being a sort of lamentation for the loss of certain aspects of culture: fashions, certain sound tropes, certain places, and the general feeling of novelty there was towards technology. But more than grieving them, these genres celebrate those aspects, presenting them with a sleek coat of varnish so as to show them in a new context.
But the fact remains that these genres were born as a way to seek familiarity. It’s not terribly unlike what one might go through after they’ve lost a close relative. One might find themselves going through their belongings, remembering the times spent together, and later, trying to re-experience their presence. A cardigan with that special scent, a wristwatch only for special occasions, the uniform worn to work for so long. The same thing happens with culture; one might find themselves looking for these “talismans,” because their absence is simply too painful. In being defined by nostalgia, all the aforementioned genres are defined by loss. Music, among all art-forms, is reproducible in ways that no other artform is, and thus, can be revived more easily
Which brings us to the album in question. What better genres to explore loss, regret, and, of course, the acceptance and optimism for the future, than these? Where else might one find this kind of respite? In a statement for UD, Strawberry Station told us:
“It’s a story of how I processed living through the pandemic and lockdown on my own in a foreign country. It covers all the emotions I’ve been through in the past two years – isolation, depression, loneliness, and regrets about missed experiences. But also acceptance, hope and optimism for the future.”
Strawberry Station presents the listener with an album that is, by his own admission, a departure from his body of work. Lowlight 2 is a multi-genre affair, notably distant (for the most part) from his usual future funk. Apropos to what inspired it, the album has a very wide range of emotions, with very distinguishable passages of melancholia. The whole project is imbued with a lingering feeling of lethargy, which at times becomes much more apparent. Certainly, a feeling that will come across as all too familiar. But, as we’ll see later in the album, this is not a permanent state of being. And that, above all things, is the most important one to take away from this project.
Now then, on to the album!
Album Art By Strawberry Station
(As the tracklist was not finalized during the review process, the final tracklist differs from what is presented below.)
“Yes, No, Maybe”
Somewhat reminiscent in form and feeling of HOME’s Resonance. It fills the listener with a sensation like looking out the window of a spaceship. The repetition of the main “phrase” of the synth creates a sensation of calm wonder, a sort of relaxed uncertainty.
“Things You Can’t Fix”
The closest in sound to Strawberry Station’s former work that the album gets. The song opens with a robust bass section, punctuating with a playful “Oh well!” It’s a very stark (yet friendly) declaration of powerlessness. It’s a call to snap out of a funk and spring into action regardless of bad circumstances, which is very appropriate. This track marks the start of an emotional high in the album, if placed a bit early. This peak is signaled not by the tune, but by the beat.
The strongest song in the album. The beat in this track is decidedly in the trap side, which is then balanced by the synths, which keep it “on topic”. Strawberry Station noted this album marks his debut on the vocal section, and he does so outstandingly. Combining soft, harmonic passages with strong rhymes, he states, in very succinct terms, what he wants this whole project to be: “I’m staying right where I am, and I’m still here, under cloudier skies.”
A combination of the first and third track. Much more emphasis is placed on the beat, similar to a french house track. The feeling of uncertainty from before is explored again, in a much more confident manner. The vocals remain soft, as they were in “Still Here”, so as to signal the stability the artist had found and which inspired the creation of the album.
With certain shades of Trevor Something and Slick Moranis, the new sound grows more and more confident, this time entering the realm of synthwave. Of particular note are the vocals, which demonstrate how in his element Strawberry Station is with the genre. The faster pace and the lyrics match the title of the song, which continues the line of thought presented in the last track.
“Stay With Me”
In a marked change of moods, the album goes from synthwave to lo-fi. The title speaks of a separation, a plea of sorts. Which is, again, very appropriate to the subject. So as to not lose unity, the synths from the first tracks are reprised, and the sweet and playful voice sample used drives the point home in an almost painfully pretty way. It’s almost as if one were hearing the voice of a loved one in their mind.
“See The Sunrise (Ft. Phaun)”
The second cheeriest track in the album by far. If the rest of the album was an exploration of present circumstances, See The Sunrise is the setting of a goal and a promise for the future: Eventually things will be better. The song states this with complete calm and conviction. It’s reminiscent of Macross 82-99’s “Aogashima Island.”
The mood changes once more rather drastically, this time into vaportrap. While not increasing speed, the song is very focused, as if made in a moment of pure inspiration. The vocals also change into something one might expect from the later works of Chester Bennington, only softer, so as to retain unity with the rest of the album. The most dramatic song in the album. While short and focused, it has a clear feeling of tension not seen throughout the rest of the album. It imbues the listener with the feeling of taking a big decision.
“My Oh My”
“My Oh My” feels like the climax of the album. It is the cheeriest track, and, in following with the themes explored throughout the album, speaks of a bright future waiting past the current hardship. In contrast with “See the Sunrise”, “My Oh My” speaks as if it were already in said future. Compared to the rest of the album, it’s relentlessly happy and playful. It would feel out of place in the album, were it not for the drums and beat, which keep the song in the context of the rest of the project.
“Filling In the Gaps”
Sounding like an early Aphex Twins track, “Filling In the Gaps” is once again a combination of the moods of two previous tracks. Here, the listener is presented with the focus of “Peace,” combined with the careful confidence of “Comeback Kid.” While one of the shortest tracks, it serves as a bridge between the earlier fantasies and real life.
We see some of the ideas explored earlier in the album revisited here. We have the vocals from “Comeback Kid”, the “call to action” feeling of “Things You Can’t Fix”, plus the addition of guitars and the fastest beat in the album. So as to cement its point, the album begins to close with this invitation to be optimistic while reminding that looking on the bright side means acting upon the things one is optimistic about.
“Bright Side (Reprieve)”
Finally, we reach the end of the album, which restates what Bright Side did, but shifts the pitch of the melody, giving it a sense of finality. But most importantly, so as to make its conclusion clear, the track restates (while lending the vocals more protagonism) what mattered most in the last track, and what is ultimately the whole point of the album: “we cannot erase the past, it’s a losing game”.
You can grab a copy of this cassette here from Business Casual Starting 9/17!
And so the album ends, in stark contrast to its hesitant opening, with complete confidence. This album shows us a more integral artist, molded by circumstances into a richer, more versatile musician. While certain passages feel slightly less confident than the others, the project manages to remain a cohesive story, and states its point loud and clear. This project, in line with the genres defined earlier, is defined by loss, but more so than loss, the will to overcome and dream of a better future.
As the name of this “review” might send some into a spiral of rather tiresome and nonconstructive thoughts about popular music (not in any particular genre, but the kinda thing that gets put in the radio and constantly repeated would come to mind first), it shall be prefaced with this: This review has nothing to say about the commercial appeal of one genre or song over the other, or the reasons for it. The discerning listener already knows what those may be, and the vices of the industry that engender that situation to a greater or lesser degree. And a non-discerning listener might find that the topic mentioned before is too big to fit completely here. Furthermore, the same goes for the validity of transformative works. It’s a somewhat outdated debate, too broad for this space.
Some time ago, I was on a train ride with some acquaintances. I had only discovered future funk and some of the genres with similar interests a few months before, and I was completely sold on them. So much that I even tried making a song! (which, sadly, led nowhere but frustration and an unused Fruity Loops .exe). One of those acquaintances was a digital artist like me, but came from a more musical background. His dad was a musician, and his mom was a producer. And he was telling us about a new album that had come out, which reminded me of my most recent discovery, which happened to be Groovy Godzilla’s Godzilla’s Summer Vacation. I started telling him about it, and I played “Beach Vibes” from my phone for him to listen to.