I first discovered Baldocaster via Synthwave Twitter(TM) and the #synthfam hashtag. I think someone retweeted one of Baldocaster’s many Twitter videos into my feed and I was instantly intrigued. Baldocaster has a penchant for making short Twitter videos that feature his many talents with using synthesizers and drum machines. It’s pretty obvious, even from the short duration of these videos, that the man is a master at what he does. His online antics garnered an instant follow from me, and I’ve been listening to his music ever since.
Today I wanted to talk about one of Baldocaster’s recent releases, Solare. He tweeted this four track EP out not too long ago and, since I am a fan of his work, I gave it a listen. I’ve decided that this EP deserves the Retro Danger Zone Treatment(TM), which means writing an unnecessarily long, track-by-track breakdown of media that can be easily consumed in less than 15 minutes (unlike this article). So, without further ado, here is my review of Solare:
“Galileo” kicks off with an ambient synth pad and a simple melody with a shaky pitch. The bass starts to fade in 13 seconds in along with some white noise later on. Percussion has not entered the mix yet so this atmosphere feels very nebulous. Everything is adrift here in the vacuum of space, untethered by the clearly defined beats that a drum would establish. This atmosphere builds up and dies down until about a minute in when a sharp, high pass filter synth with a somewhat slow attack cuts through the void.
This synth signals another buildup as the instruments around it reach a climax. This buildup quickly dies down around 1:18 as everything cuts out. The echo of reverb is the only thing left as white noise gathers and builds, leading to the explosive entry of the drums into the mix.
This intro is just plain fantastic. Baldocaster uses dynamics and clever sound design to create an atmosphere of awe and wonder. Then, just as the listener is settling in to what sounds like an ambient chill-out track, a thunderous kick drum and a bass arpeggio hits at 1:22.
The cutoff filter opens up on the bass arpeggio, signaling a return of the shaky pitch synth that played the melody in the intro. This lead soars above all of the instuments in the mix, reaching new heights in the upper octaves while the pounding drums and driving bass arpeggio accompaniment continue underneath.
The lead reaches a climax and ends around 1:53. The bass is the most prominent instrument here, and it sounds absolutely badass. If there’s one thing I wish synthwave producers would do more of it’s the use of basslines that don’t just play the root note of the chord. Baldocaster accomplishes that and then some here with a compelling bass line that is accompanied by a heavy hitting kick drum and subtle white noise.
Around 2:03 a square wave arpeggio joins the mix, dripping with reverb and delay. An open high hat hits at 2:12, introducing a soaring, almost violin-esque synth that plays a note high above the register of all of the other instruments in the mix. This soaring synth sounds wonderfully vintage as the sound design on it is reminiscent of the high pitched synth that plays in the introduction to “Cars” by Gary Numan.
A drum fill plays at 2:32 and we’re back to the main theme. Once again the bass synth opens up its cutoff filter and the main melody comes back. Up until this point I was under the impression that this track was through composed as no themes had been recapitulated yet up until this point. The recapitulation of the main theme is brilliant here as the transition is as flawless as it is unexpected.
White noise and a heavy kick sound out at 3:04, bringing an end to the main theme. The outro of “Galileo” feels a bit like the intro to the track in that there is no percussion, and the same ambient/chill/adrift in the vacuum of space vibe returns. That is where the similarities end, however, as new instruments are introduced in the outro. A choir-like synth plays out “Galileo” while a sparkly synth arpeggio chimes along with it. The bass swells at the very end, opening up its cutoff filter to give a low baritone blast that ends the track in dramatic fashion.
This is the track that sold me on buying this EP. Baldocaster tweeted a link to his Bandcamp after he released “Solare” and I’m so glad that I clicked on it and checked it out. As mentioned earlier I was initially drawn to Baldocaster’s music via the incredible work that he posts online. However, as evidenced by this track, those short clips on Twitter are really just a sample of what he is capable of doing.
Thudding, percussive bass and synthesized panflute with a heavy amount of delay kick off “Motion.” This track is aptly named as the rhythm of these two instruments introduce a lot of movement to this track as soon as you press play.
Later on a kick drum is introduced into the mix, playing right along with the bass, making the already percussive bass hit even harder. A shaker joins the percussion, moving along at a steady pulse that puts even more driving rhythm into this piece.
At around 22 seconds in an evolving synth pad enters, its slow attack increasing in volume gradually with each chord that is struck. A kalimba-esque synth joins the fray, adding its tuned percussion arpeggio to the busy layers that accompany it.
At 33 seconds in a synthesized flute plays the lead, heightening the drama and further adding tension to this already hectic track.
This tension reaches a climax until white noise enters around 1:03. The synthesized flute lead plays a descending resolution to its melody and “Motion” quickly fades to silence.
At only 1 minute and 13 seconds I would have liked the ideas in “Motion” to have been expanded upon. That being said, this track is short but sweet, and it plays out like a short burst of manic energy before quickly dissipating into the ether. This track accomplishes its namesake exceedingly well, so perhaps no more was necessary.
There is an air of mystery surrounding the introduction to “Map to the Stars (Part 1).” A square wave lead cries out as a steady pulse plays underneath it from a much buzzier, sawtoothed synth. The low, sustained sine wave bass that plays below everything in the mix adds to the mystery, giving an almost ominous tone to the music.
At 21 seconds in a rapidly ascending and descending synth arpeggio joins the mix. This synth serves to build tension until the kick drum enters around 41 seconds in. At 57 seconds white noise is added to the mix, signaling the entry of the full drum kit.
This is a brilliant transition as another synth is added to the music right when the drums hit. The notes this synth plays act as a counter-melody to the synth lead from the intro. Together these two synths add a call-and-response dynamic to the track. The square wave lead calls out and the response comes from the newly introduced synth, which sounds much sharper and more resonant.
A drum fill hits around 1:26, bringing with it a torrent of white noise, which is again used to signal a transition at 1:29. The full drum kit cuts out, leaving only the kick drum on the downbeat. A rapid bass arpeggio is introduced here, its frantic nature counterbalanced by the much more laid back and relaxed lead that slowly plays above it.
Around 1:44 more percussion is introduced as the clack of a typewriter-esque high hat enters the mix. The dynamics at play with this high hat are baffling. I can’t tell if delay is being used to make it echo or if subsequent hits were programmed to have less volume, thus creating the audio illusion of an echo.
Resonant white noise gathers and explodes around 1:58. Is this white noise also signaling another transition? If you said yes then you’ve been paying attention. The drums cut out once again and we’re left with two synth arpeggios, one in the upper register and one in the lower register. Shortly afterward a percussive, metallic arpeggio enters the mix, playing its high pitched arpeggio along with the two other arpeggios that have already been established.
The kick drum returns around 2:16, bringing with it a mellow synth pad that slowly fades into the mix. A shaker enters shortly after, creating a rhythm that, along with the kick drums, relentlessly drives the music forward. A chime-like synth plays an arpeggio in the background while a much more prominent synth plays an arpeggio in the foreground, further heightening the musical drama.
At 2:30 a very curious sound rings out. The best way I can describe it is perhaps Baldocaster figured out how to recreate the sound of an airhorn on an analog synth. Someday I plan on deconstructing this sound so I can figure out how Baldocaster did it but sadly, for now, that sound remains a mystery.
This synthesized airhorn is followed by a drum fill that reintroduces the full drum kit. The music kicks into hyperdrive here. The same arpeggio that was playing in the breakdown gets re-introduced on a synth with different sound design. It sounds a bit like the previous synth only perhaps the cutoff filter has been opened up. The arpeggiated bassline featured in this section is particularly dramatic, mimicking the rhythm of the arpeggio that plays above it as a soft, ambient synth pad plays in the background. Stuttering, resonant white noise bursts accompany the ambient synth in the background, making the music here feel vast, epic, and triumphant.
This section is very much the peak of “Map to the Stars (Part I)” as each layer compliments each other in a soaring crescendo. This track has so many peaks and valleys, but this section stands out above all the rest as all the elements of it come together to form an absolutely breathtaking display of electronic music wizardry.
The high intensity of this section comes to an end at 3:20 when a low, ominous synth bass note hits and the drums cut out. This bass note, along with the synth chime arpeggio, fades off into the outer reaches of space, drawing the track to a close.
The warm crackle of vinyl introduces “Map to the Stars (Part II)” along with a high pitched drone. An ambient synth pad plays a relaxed chord riff in the background, adding to the lo-fi ambience. A synth with a tinge of reverb and delay enters, playing an 8th note arpeggio.
The bass enters around 18 seconds in, hitting a low note just as the ambient synth pad becomes more prominent in the mix. This effect increases the musical tension before the lead enters around 33 seconds in. This lead acts much like a synthesized violin, reaching lofty heights as it plays its upper register notes with wonderfully expressive vibrato.
There’s no percussion in this track, so the listener’s ears are very much focused upon this lo-fi ambience and the lead that cuts through it. This track sounds like it would be at home in an old science fiction film, perhaps for a scene depicting a harsh and desolate Martian landscape, or a space station full of freighters that are docking after a long journey through the vast reaches of the cosmos. There’s a relaxed feel to it that brings with it an air of mystery.
Windswept white noise gathers at 1:03, sounding like a gust of air all while an arpeggio, lead melody, and lo-fi ambience continue in the background. The lead exits around 1:21, leaving a high pitched drone in its wake. An ambient synth pad, bass, synth arpeggio, and the warm crackle of vinyl play out this track, bringing with it the very same emotions that were evoked in the intro.
I know that Spotify playlists for ambient/lo-fi/chill-out music is particularly popular these days (presumably for studying, which doesn’t work for me because I’ll probably just end up studying the music and not the textbook), so if you’re a fan of that kind of music I can not recommend “Map to the Stars (Part II)” highly enough. Put it at the top of that playlist. Make it track one.
So that about does it for Solare. I’ve broken down each track and given my thoughts on each one. What are my thoughts on the album as a whole? Altogether this is a brilliant collection of tunes that Baldocaster has masterfully crafted and compiled into one short but sweet EP. Solare is exactly what Baldocaster purports it to be on his Bandcamp page: “A cinematic EP with roots in soundtracks & Berlin school electronic music, inspired by the journey of Galileo.” I could defend every word of that statement. The four tracks on this EP are highly cinematic and could easily find a home in a science fiction film soundtrack. There are definitely elements of the Berlin School of Electronic Music in Solare, namely the ambient synthesizer sounds and arpeggios that are used to give each track a “spacey” sound. The last track in particular, “Map to the Stars (Part II),” is reminiscent of early Berlin School electronic music in that it lacks percussion and relies heavily on ambient synth sounds.
As for Galileo’s journey, I can only assume that Baldocaster is referring to the Galileo probe, which was a NASA mission to Jupiter that was launched in 1989. That’s quite the journey to document sonically. The Galileo mission is responsible for a number of scientific discoveries regarding Jupiter and the Jovian moons, and the probe orbited Jupiter for a number of years before its mission was brought to an end. In 2003 Galileo was sent into Jupiter’s atmosphere where it encountered crushing pressure and temperatures in excess of 152 degrees Celsius, the combination of which quickly vaporized the probe.
So yeah, that’s definitely a journey that deserves a soundtrack.
You can listen to Solare via the following media outlets: