WARNING: This article is a long one. For that reason I will put the TL;DR version here: SPOILER This album is a masterpiece. An instant classic from an artist who has already proven himself time and time again to be one of the greatest synthwave producers of all time.
If you have the time then read on. The reason this review is so long is because I typically break down the music I am listening to and talk about each track play by play. The more I listened to this album the more I found to write about. Lost in a Dreamworld is packed with solid instrumental tunes, killer vocal tracks, and collaborations which feature some of the greatest artists in synthwave. There was a lot to discover within the 11 songs on this album.
On a more personal note, it’s safe to say that, if it wasn’t for Betamaxx, I would not have gotten into the synthwave genre. He was my gateway drug to a world full of vintage synthesizers and drum machines. Betamaxx’s 2015 release, Plug & Play, introduced me to the true potential of the genre, as that album reaches what I believe to be the height of what synthwave is capable of. Sure, I listened to synthwave prior to 2015, but no release made me fall head over heels in love with the genre quite like Plug & Play did. I’ve been a die hard fan of synthwave ever since. So, for better or for worse, Betamaxx is the reason that I started this blog.
Lost in a Dreamworld was quite the ride so, if you’re willing to take this journey with me, strap in, hit play on the following tracks, and read on.
A synth pad rings out in the darkness, its filter modded by an LFO. This synth pulsates along to the beat, which has yet to be established by any percussion. Its steady pulse is heightened by the bass, which fades in around 20 seconds in. A distant arpeggio appears, adding more drama and a heightened sense of movement in the music. The rhythm of the LFO is more clear in the synthpad now; it swishes at a steady 8th note pace, along with the 16th note pace of the synth arpeggio accompanying it.
White noise fades in around 34 seconds, reaching a climax that signals the drums around 38 seconds in. The drums add a a cleverly syncopated kick and a snare on beats two and four. The high hats on the offbeat have a very curious sound design to them. Are they high hats? They almost sound like a cross between a shaker and a guiro having its tines scraped.
Having established this laid back, mysterious atmosphere, Betamaxx introduces a lead that sounds like a synthesized version of a distorted electric guitar. The bent note melody that it carries is wonderfully expressive, screaming through the ethereal void of the instruments that accompany it.
There’s a great transition around 1:36 that signals the end of the synth guitar solo. A high resonance, filter swept synth rings out, introducing another synth guitar (or is it just a straight up guitar? I can never tell these days. A clever producer can get a synth to sound like anything). The sound design on this guitar is a sharp contrast to the previous synth guitar. Rather than going with a distorted lead, this guitar is clean, with a healthy amount of delay/reverb/chorus. It plays its plucked lead along with a synth pad that sounds like a slightly distorted guitar playing power chords softly in the background.
Another blast from the high resonance synth sounds out its call for a transition around 2:14. A synth pad choir adds its angelic voice to the mix, lofting the already floaty music to new heights, giving me the sensation of flying.
Things reach a fever pitch, with layer after layer working perfectly in tandem, until that high resonance synth (which serves to signal transitions on this track) rings out around 2:52. We’ve reached our destination now. My landing gear is out, and I softly touch the ground. The bent note, distorted guitar lead comes back, wailing its emotive notes over the accompaniment. There is no percussion to support it this time, making the melody feel more free and expansive without the drum’s clearly defined beats to contain it.
Warm synth pads play out “Crimson Silhouette,” along with a high pitched chirp from a synth that sounds as if it is blinking in and out of existence. This track ends as it began, with an atmosphere filled with mystery and wonder as it slowly fades off into the distance.
Given the title of this album, Lost in a Dreamworld, “Crimson Silhouette” is quite the apt introduction. It’s easy to get lost in this track amongst all of the layers of dream-like synth pads and soaring melodies.
Lost In a Dreamworld shifts gears on track two with a busy drum beat kicking off “Never Sleep Again.” A guitar riff enters shortly afterwards, drenched in reverb, sounding much like the kind of guitar sound design you would hear in a song by The Cure.
19 seconds in Vandal Moon’s vocals hit. That’s right, Betamaxx tapped the talents of Vandal Moon for this track. Vandal Moon’s music is top notch in and of itself. Couple his talent with Betamaxx’s talents and the end result is this track—a fantastically catchy vocal synthwave tune.
The bass enters along with the vocals, adding a steady 8th note pulse that relentlessly drives the music forward. This bassline highlights every chord change, which is an interesting effect as the guitar riff playing in the register above it is static, working over every chord change that the bassline hints at. Betamaxx is flexing his abilities as a composer here, as the guitar melody ostinato works over a number of different chords.
Vandal Moon is flexing his abilities as well, as he turns a line as minimalistic as “I will never sleep again” into a complete chorus that is catchy in both its melody and its simplicity. He overdubs his own voice throughout the track, adding interesting counter melodies and harmonies that work over the main vocal line.
After the second chorus (where a bridge typically enters) Betamaxx throws in a synth solo around 1:49. This synth is, like the guitar, soaked in reverb, with a stern dose of chorus and delay for good measure. This synth solo adds to the already dreamlike atmosphere of the track, which is a nice touch, but it also works ironically with the subject matter of the song. The protagonist described in this song’s lyrics can’t sleep, and yet he sings about his insomnia over synths that could be used to score a dream sequence in a film.
An open high hat enters in the offbeat around 2:40 that adds a fair amount of rhythmic variation to the track. It’s a dramatic shift in rhythm as, up until this point, a closed high hat was clicking away in the drum track at a steady 8th note pulse. This offbeat rhythm goes along perfectly with the rhythm of the bass. When the open high hat hits it almost feels like this track is suddenly in half time, even though I’m pretty sure that the tempo has not changed at all. This effect really opens up the track, making it feel as if there is a bit more space for the synths, guitar, and bass to riff in the space opened up by the percussion.
A little after three minutes the track begins to fade. Vandal Moon’s vocals are brilliant here, as lines like “Uh oh you’re mad, oh no you lied” are blended with the line “I will never sleep again.” The repetition of these lines really hammers home the idea of insomnia through obsession.
The titular track of Lost in a Dreamworld opens with a lush synth, drenched in reverb and delay. Drums enter around 15 seconds in, adding a syncopated kick to the steady 8th note rhythm of the synth. This synth hits a little harder on the downbeat, while closed high hats accent the offbeat. White noise gathers around 15 seconds in, adding a stormy atmosphere to the track as it sounds like a strong gust of wind. This white noise picks up steam, dies down, and comes back in intensity when, around 30 seconds in, a tom roll hits.
This tom roll signals the entry of the bass as a resonance heavy, filter swept synth blasts over the mix, adding some drama to the intro. The low, sustained notes in the bass thicken the track, adding depth as a soft synth pad and an arpeggio play over it.
Around 46 seconds in a guitar enters the mix, with much of the same sound design that was heard in the guitar on the previous track. It’s a classic sound that was very much a staple of 80’s music. Chorus/reverb/delay is a guitar sound that will never go out of style, as this combo is still in use today by a variety of guitar driven bands across a variety of genres, from pop to rock to shoegaze. It’s a versatile sound, too, as it also works here in a primarily synth driven track.
The windswept white noise from the intro comes back to signal a breakdown around a minute into the track. The drums cut out and another synth enters the mix. I absolutely love the sound design on this synth, even though it did cause me a fair amount of confusion. At first I thought it might be a vocoder, as it has an almost vocal quality to it. Then I thought, “What is being said, exactly?” I can’t make it out, and that speaks to Betamaxx’s genius when it comes to synth programming. The sound of this synth is heavy on the white noise, swishing in a way that definitely sounds like air being passed through vocal chords. Is it a human voice, though? It doesn’t matter. This is one of the coolest sounding leads that I have ever heard.
At 1:17 the drums come back, along with several other layers that were playing previously. The white noise lead is less present in the mix now (but it is still very much audible), adding its melody to the myriad of other parts that play along with it.
Once again, as with the previous track, a guitar ostinato is used here that works over every single chord change (how does he do it?). It adds an almost canon-esque quality to the track as this single, repeated piece of music works well over all of the layers that accompany it. The resonance heavy synth blast that signaled the end of the intro comes back around 2:03 to signal the next transition, along with a tom roll and a crash cymbal on the downbeat.
Two guitars enter here (I’m pretty sure they’re both guitars but, synth sound design being what it is in 2019, I’m never certain). Both guitars play separate, two bar lines that work perfectly over the four bar chord progressions that the light, airy synth pad and low, sustained bass are playing. We are truly lost in a dreamworld here, as the sound of the track sounds both massive and intangible. I’m floating through the clouds, unsure of where the music will take me.
Another crash cymbal on the downbeat is used to signal the breakdown that happens around 2:33. The white noise lead (that was used to great effect earlier) re-enters the mix right around the time that the drums cut out. Like any good composer, Betamaxx is brilliant at recapitulating the main theme in a way that is both seamless and unexpected. The arrangement choices in “Lost in a Dreamworld” give it its own form and structure, but in a way that does not make it predictable.
A huge chord hit rings out around 3:20, and a new lead enters the mix. It sounds out its sustained, long release melody for a few bars until a furious, resonance laden arpeggio hits around 3:35. Windswept white noise returns, and “Lost in a Dreamworld” starts to sound even more massive. I’ve lost track of how many layers are working in concert at this point. It’s brilliant. How can anyone get this many instruments working together, with such varied sound design, and have it not sound terrible? There’s a fine line between a wall of sound and a wall of shit. This track accomplishes the former all while living up to its title.
Claps hit around 3:49, signaling a fade that makes one layer, a 16th note arpeggio, really stand out in the mix, even as it and all of the other layers around it draw to a close.
It’s worth mentioning that there was one thing about this “Lost in a Dreamworld” that drove me nuts: At 4:14 I swear I hear talking. It’s very low in the mix, so I can’t exactly make out what is being said. I checked several times to see if I’ve gone insane and am now hearing voices. This talking, along with the white noise lead that sounds like a vocoder, drove me mad. It’s spooky to swear you heard voices and then check the same spot in the track over and over again, unable to make out what is said. Did Betamaxx capture an EVP with this recording? Is Betamaxx’s recording studio haunted? The ghostlike presence of these voices in “Lost in a Dreamworld” impart a small amount of spookiness to this track. Have you ever had a dream where someone was talking to you but you couldn’t understand what they were saying? That dream is now the basis for an instrumental track.
“Skyhigh” kicks off with a killer bassline and a very large, spacious sounding clap on beats two and four. Right out of the gate we have an infectious dance groove and the vocals haven’t even hit yet. A synth brass lead enters around 17 seconds in, followed shortly after by Glitbiter’s vocals.
The talent Betamaxx tapped for this album is truly impressive. Betamaxx alone is worth listening to, but if you couple him with a great vocalist like Glitbiter it brings his music to the next level. Every one of the featured artists that Betamaxx collaborates with on this album is worth looking up, so do yourself a favor and check out Glitbiter’s recordings on Bandcamp. It’s well worth the effort.
“Skyhigh” is fire even before the chorus hits. I’m already down with dancing to this track, and I haven’t even reached the main hook yet.
Betamaxx adds some interesting layers to accompany Glitbiter’s singing. What I believe to be a guitar (synth guitar?) enters around 36 seconds in, but it is so inundated with reverb that the notes are hard to distinguish. The counter melody this creates against the synth brass lead is interesting in that it is less defined, having an almost spectral presence in the mix.
A tom roll hits at 49 seconds in and a xylophone-esque synth enters the fray, along with a synth pad that plays chords in the offbeats. Synthwave ska! Did Betamaxx just invent a new genre? More melodies come in, including a synth that sounds like a guitar, leading me to believe that the previous section was… Not a guitar? Betamaxx is so damn clever at sound design that it’s honestly anyone’s guess. Only Betamaxx knows for sure. This time the synth guitar’s notes are less ethereal, creating a more sharply defined melody against the xylophone synth and Glitbiter’s vocals.
If there’s one thing I can say about this album it’s that Betamaxx is a genius at making several melodies work together in a way that they sound separate and distinct, and yet they don’t overwhelm the vocals in the mix. Most music listeners will probably focus their attention on the melody of the vocals in this track, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you ignore all of the other layers at play here.
Laser blast toms hit at around 1:57, along with a laser blast-ish sound from a cleverly programmed synth. The track suddenly gets less busy here, as the xylophone-esque synth and soft synth pad get removed from the mix. Glitbiter’s vocals really shine after this transition, accenting the line “You’re like a storm that makes my heart beat so fast.” I like to think that all of the laser blast sounds which signaled this line were intended to be a synthesized imitation of thunder.
Glitbiter shows off her impressive vocal range and flare for melisma in this section as layers and previous themes are constantly being added and removed, all over the infectious groove created by the drums and bass. Another laser blast tom and a reverse cymbal ring out around 3:21, and Glitbiter overdubs a second harmony vocal line over the syllable “Bye” from the line “Why did you say goodbye?”
This, for me, personally, is the climax of this track. It gets intense here, as the “bye’s” stab relentlessly on the first beat of each measure, followed shortly after by the line “I want to take you…” The mix is less layered at this point, focusing the attention of the listener on the heightened drama in the vocals. Another laser blast tom at 3:49 signals the entry of a lush synth playing an 8th note arpeggio.
Tuned synth percussion hits around 4:14, hammering the downbeat. If this doesn’t get you out of your seat and moving nothing will. I’d like to think that, in an alternate universe, this track is a huge dance hit and I’m already sick of listening to it due to it being overplayed on the radio. But no, I live in Universe B, for boring, bland, and banal. A world where top 40 dance music never gets this intense and exciting.
A crash cymbal hits at 4:40 and some of the drums cut out, leaving only the tuned synth percussion and a kick on the downbeat. The bass accents the offbeat here, pounding away along with the lush, delay heavy synth arpeggio heard earlier. The last “bye” from Glitbiter hits and everything cuts out, save for the delay in the synth arpeggio, which echoes and decays into silence.
I still have half of the album to go and I think I’ve already stumbled upon what could possibly be the best synthwave dance track of 2019. The only way I’m going to find a better one is if Betamaxx manages to outdo himself on the rest of this record.
An audio filter masks the full frequency range in the intro to “Vacation.” It starts to lift about 10 seconds in, followed shortly after by a massive drum hit. The sound design on this hit is very curious. It kind of sounds like a huge splash. Did someone just drop a car off of a two story building and into a swimming pool?
What follows after this splash is quite easily one of the greatest synth arpeggios that I have ever heard. This bandpass filter (I think? I’m not an expert on audio filters) arpeggio has a really classic sound to it that I swear I’ve heard before in a track by Tangerine dream. Sure, the lead that plays here is well composed and it adds a pleasant melody on top of everything, but the arpeggio in this section really steals the show. It’s fast, slightly syncopated, and, above all (I can not stress this enough), the sound design on it is Badass with a capital “B.” Is CD Projekt Red looking for some killer music to add to Cyberpunk 2077? They would be fools not to include this gem.
Claps hit around 30 seconds in and a tambourine enters the mix (and I believe a shaker—there’s a lot of interesting percussion here in general). A bell-like melody enters, playing off of the high resonance lead that was established earlier. Again, all of these instruments are nice, but I still can’t get over that arpeggio I mentioned earlier. It’s still going at this point in the track, and as far as I’m concerned it’s doing the heavy lifting here. It’s too good. Too powerful. Nothing steals its shine until two separate leads enter to play above it.
Around a minute in one of the leads drops out, leaving the more bell-like synth lead to take over the track. There’s a curious square wave blip in the music here, offering interesting, syncopated rhythms with its single note. This blip functions as if it was part of the drum track, adding yet another layer to the percussion.
Claps hit around 1:31 and the high resonance lead comes back to accompany the bell lead. This establishes the twin lead as the main theme of the track, meaning an exposition section is right around the corner.
Sure enough, around 2 minutes in a reverse cymbal and a tom roll hit and a ripping guitar solo enters. The liner notes on the Bandcamp page credit Robert Parker and George Hetzer for the guitars on this track, so hats off to both of them. This guitar solo kicks this track from overdrive to hyperdrive, furiously adding its distorted melody to the the many instruments working in concert underneath it. A growling synth adds yet another layer of badass to the mix, working in tandem with the ever present badass arpeggio, pushing this track to the limits of badass-itude.
A tom roll hits at 2:33, introducing claps on beats two and four. The guitar is still shredding here up until around 3:04 when another tom roll hits, introducing a new synth and a new melody. Claps are replaced by a snare on beats two and four. This lasts until 3:33, when another tom roll hits (it’s synthwave, so of course shit HAPPENS when toms hit) and the guitar comes back with a vengeance. Actually, it’s two guitars now, each with different sound design. Twin guitar lead! YES! We already got a twin synth lead and now we’re getting a twin guitar lead? Twin twin leads!
Yet another tom roll hits at 4:05 (shit HAPPENS when toms hit), introducing another synth bell to play out the song. The mix is less busy now, as layers are removed and the track winds down. What ends this track? A tom roll! Because, as I have already established, shit HAPPENS when toms hit.
In all seriousness, this track is easily one of the most epic instrumental synthwave tracks of all time. Scratch that, it’s one of the most epic instrumental tracks ever made, period. It transcends genre. There are so many things going on in “Vacation” that it’s tough to keep track of everything, which makes it perfect for repeated listening as there is always something new to discover every time I listen to it.
It’s worth mentioning that Robert Parker co-wrote this track. His name needs no introduction to most fans of synthwave, but if you’ve never heard his music before click here, because you’re missing out. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Betamaxx collaborated with some massive talent for this record. Put Betamaxx and Robert Parker together, two of the greatest synthwave producers of all time, and it’s no surprise that the end result is “Vacation,” one of the greatest instrumental tracks ever made.
This track also wins a lifetime achievement award for “best sound design on a synth arpeggio.” Someone please send me that preset. I could listen to that arpeggio with a heavy four on the floor beat all day.
A waterfall arpeggio appears in the intro of “Opaque Fog,” trickling its notes over a driving bassline. White noise gathers and explodes around 10 seconds in, introducing a kick and a high hat that add movement to the music. A snare joins in later, and when the entire drum kit is fully realized it sounds a lot like a Roland TR-808. The waterfall arpeggio is still present as the drums play, accompanied by a synth pad that drones out a single chord.
A new chord progression enters around 45 seconds in, followed shortly after by a tom roll. The percussion changes dramatically at this point in the track. Did I hear maracas? That waterfall arpeggio is still going, adding an enigmatic air to the atmosphere of this track. The title makes sense when you listen to the music, as the waterfall arpeggio mysteriously shrouds all of the layers that accompany it.
A curious white noise hit occurs around 1:04, sounding like a jet stream of water splashing against a hard surface. Couple that sound with the omnipresent waterfall arpeggio and the title of this track and we have a water theme going on. Betamaxx is conjuring the sound of fog via electronic instruments, with no actual water or water vapor being involved whatsoever.
Another jet stream hit occurs again at 1:15, once again introducing the snare and full drum kit. A synthesized church bell rings out, masked slightly by the continuous waterfall arpeggio. There’s an almost mystical air to the track now as instruments shimmer, enter, and then vanish as mysteriously as they came. White noise periodically gathers and exits in gusts of air, bringing the fog with it.
Is that a guitar at 2:15? It’s cloaked in a miasma of sibylline accompaniment so I can’t quite make it out. A synthesized oboe enters the mix around 2:28, heightening the musical drama.
This drama hits its zenith at 2:39 when massive, low pitched toms enter, echoing out into the vastness of the convolution reverb hall that they reside in. Suddenly it all becomes clear: This is an orchestral piece, Betamaxx style. It belongs in a movie. Is Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance looking for incidental music? This is the perfect track for a scene involving a Gelfling exploring a misty, secret underground waterfall hidden somewhere in the deepest recesses of Thra.
These orchestral hits continue, heightening the tension even further. The 808 is long gone by now, replaced by cavernous low tom hits and torrents of wind formed by white noise. A drone oscillates back and forth between two notes as the waterfall arpeggio returns.
Then, as mysteriously as all of these instruments entered, they vanish without a trace, leaving nothing but silence.
As Betamaxx has already stated on Twitter, “Opaque Fog” is an homage to Software’s classic 1987 track, “Digital Dance.”
You can listen to the original Software track Betamaxx is referring to here. I want to get into the similarities and differences between these two songs, but unfortunately I’ve already gone on for too long about everything on this album. Perhaps that is an article for another time. I highly recommend listening to both tracks back to back and taking in the effect that Software’s “Digital Dance” had on Betamaxx’s “Opaque Fog.” It’s proof that, rather than following current trends in the genre, Betamaxx tapped into the true source of synthwave for this album.
Remember Jack Horkheimer? Sorry, I couldn’t help but bring it up. This track’s title reminds me of Jack’s signature, lisp infused catch phrase that began every episode he hosted: “Greetings fellow stargazers!”
Jack opted for Isao Tomita’s synth version of Claude Debussey’s “Arabesque No. 1” to introduce episodes of “Star Gazers,” but this tune would have worked equally well.
The arpeggio and soft synth pad that open up this track definitely have a spacey feel to them. Another, much more prominent synth pad fades in, bringing with it the vastness of the universe, followed by a much buzzier, sawtoothed synthpad that sounds even larger.
Is PBS ever going to make another season of Cosmos? I could easily imagine this track accompanying Neil deGrasse Tyson’s narration.
45 seconds in a lead with portamento comes onto the scene. I’m weightless, adrift in the vaccum of space, when a synth blasts out its filterswept, sawtoothed warning. White noise hits, followed by a full drum kit at 1:35.
The appearance of drums is particularly dramatic here, as there has been no percussion up until this point in the track. I’m on a space walk now, tethered to a heavily syncopated drum beat. The portamento lead continues amongst the buzzy bursts of the synthpad that accompanies it.
A bent note lead enters at 2:12, soaring above the mix in grandiose fashion. It’s much buzzier than the previous lead, sounding much like a Moog lead that you would hear in classic, spacey sounding track by Vangelis.
“Star Gazer” is the kind of track that you would use to score a video of NASA’s Voyager 1 hurtling out of the solar system. Even if this track wasn’t titled “Star Gazer” this music would still make me feel like I was exploring the final frontier.
At 3:04 the drums cut out and we’re left with the arpeggio, synth pad, and portamento lead that began the track. I’ve docked at the international space station now, happy to be safe and sound after a thrilling ride through the void.
A kick hits on beats one and three while high hats hit the offbeat in the intro to “No Fun.” A brilliantly designed, chorus heavy bass sounds out its groove as a synth pad swells in the background. Claps and, for lack of a better term, pew pew laser toms hit. Then Mecha Maiko’s voice enter (I’ll say it again: The All-Star cast on this record is truly impressive. Go listen to Mecha Maiko’s music if you haven’t already).
Mecha Maiko delivers her vocal performance flawlessly on this track, adding vocal harmonies to her sultry voice as the driving accompaniment creates a somewhat dark dance beat for her to sing over. A pitch bent synth pad hits chords at 52 seconds in, signaling the chorus and titular line “I am no fun.”
This line introduces a rapid, arpeggiated pluck that adds a considerable amount of musical interest to the chorus. Once again, I can’t tell if it’s a synth or a palm muted guitar. Betamaxx is a master of sound design so, again, it’s anyone’s guess. The effect of this, however, is not up for debate, as it creates a frantic counter melody that goes along so well with Maiko’s longer, sustaining vocal melody.
A classic sounding, lush synth pad plays out in the post chorus, delivering a chord melody solo. This synth creates a nice instrumental interlude before the vocals hit again shortly afterwards. This synth continues even after the vocals hit, delivering melodies in addition to Mecha Maiko’s rich, dual vocal harmonies. Once again, I can’t keep track of all the melodies at play here, but it’s amazing how perfectly they all work together.
The pew pew laser tom from the intro returns around 1:56 and we again get two Mecha Maikos, both singing in unison. The synth lead cuts out, focusing the listener’s attention on the vocals as a light, floaty synth pad plays in the background. When I mentioned that the twin vocals are in unison I meant that both in terms of polyphony and as an interval. The same melody in the vocals is doubled here, thickening the vocal track and making it stand out.
The chorus comes back and, much like the previous chorus, it’s followed by another chord melody solo. The line that signals the solo, “What the hell is freedom with all these eyes on me?” hits hard here, with the echo of the reverb in the vocals blending into the synth that plays after it. Claps and a crash cymbal land right on the last word of that line. This creates an impactful introduction to the chord melody solo, which plays while a synth bell chimes in the background.
This interlude is very brief as Mecha Maiko’s vocals return shortly afterwards. Another pew pew laser tom hits and this track has some layers removed from it. The drums get less heavy here, creating more space for Maiko’s vocals to shine. The pluck is working overtime as another synth plays off of Maiko’s voice. There are at least three separate, distinct melodies here, played by various instruments. They all work perfectly together as accompaniment to Maiko’s vocals right up until she delivers the last line, claps ring out, and this tune abruptly ends.
We get disco right off the bat with this track, as a fast paced, four on the floor drum beat introduces “Disco Dreamgirl,” followed shortly after by a brilliantly syncopated synth bassline. I want to dance to this and we’re not even 15 seconds into the track.
An eerie synthpad slowly fades in and I’m hit with pew pew laser toms (I’ve decided that this is a precise musical term. Don’t dispute me). These laster blast toms are very much a staple of disco, so the atmosphere of this track is right on the nose even before all of the instruments come on to the scene.
Syncopated claps hit around 37 seconds in, introducing a stuttering 16th note synth arpeggio. This arpeggio is followed shortly after by more pew pew laser blasts, and then the main melody hits.
This melody fits the groove of the music perfectly. High pitched square waves accent the offbeats, playing in the rhythmic gaps between the phrasing of the melody. I could hear this track being a dance club hit, as this melody is instantly catchy and memorable. This is the kind of song that has its own dance invented for it.
Pew pews hit again at 1:40 and a classic, resonance laden, filterswept synth adds its own blast to signal the transition to the next section. The snare drops out as a synth that sounds like a police siren plays softly in the mix. Someone called the cops on this dance party because it was getting out of hand, so the music plays softer here in the hope that the party won’t get shut down.
A clap in the offbeat at 1:55 brings the snare back with full force. Another arpeggio slowly fades in, played by a synth that sounds like a cross between a flute and a xylophone (Flutophone? Xyloflute?). Claps are used again to queue a vocoder, and it is funky af.
It’s at this point that I realize that synthwave encompasses a number different sounds from the past, and these sounds are not always rooted firmly in the 1980’s. There’s a bit of the 70’s here, but it’s not just the fact that this is a disco track (italo disco goes well into the 80’s, so you can’t nail down a time period from genre alone). Vocoder solos, laser blast toms, and a driving four on the floor beat are all musical elements emblematic of 70’s era disco. Betamaxx is tapping into a number of different decades here. It’s brilliant because he’s taking this rich musical history, breaking it down, remixing it, and creating a solid dance track that works just as well now as it would have in the past.
This track comes to a musical climax during the vocoder solo as a number of layers work together here, making “Disco Dreamgirl” sound like a disco orchestra. The main melody that was introduced earlier returns, played by a staccato squarewave synth with a short release. A choir synth pad hits around 3 minutes in, adding yet another melody to the fray. How did Betamaxx mix this track? I can hear all of these instruments clearly despite the sheer volume of synths that are playing at the same time.
The pew pews and the filterswept synth come back at 3:43, signaling the breakdown. The snare drops out as the main melody continues to play out the track. Much like the previous track, “Disco Dreamgirl” comes to an abrupt conclusion, opting for a hard, dramatic stop rather than a fade. It’s a great dismount after an absolutely furious chorus that featured one of the busiest sections that I have ever heard in a synthwave track.
I hit play on this track and, noting the title, I was expecting a different tune to play. I was expecting a furious arpeggio and fast paced music, accompanied by police sirens. “Getaway” opts instead to introduce itself with multiple arpreggios that have a somewhat soft sound design to them. An even softer, ethereal synth pad joins in as well, creating a laid back atmosphere. A mellow, resonance heavy synth plays a melody amongst this swirling, light atmosphere, further heightening the relaxed feel of the intro.
At this point I get it: This isn’t the kind of getaway that involves a bank heist. Police chase music is something of a cliche in synthwave music, so that’s what I was expecting. I have to remember that Betamaxx doesn’t follow trends or put cliches in his music.
A reading of the lyrics explains it all: This is a romantic plea; he’s asking someone to run away with him and start a new life. I can’t help but feel that Betamaxx may have lived the lyrics that he is singing, especially with the line “Break the rules, run away from the city of steel.” Pittsburgh is Betamaxx’s hometown, and it’s been a source of inspiration for him on other tracks as well, so this is a recurring theme in his music.
I know that track order doesn’t matter in 2019 when people can just order tracks a la carte from iTunes and Bandcamp, but this tune is a nice change of pace from the previous, hard hitting disco track. I like to sit down to listen to albums in their entirety, so I always appreciate it when an artist puts time and consideration into track order. Thus far I haven’t mentioned the pacing of Lost in a Dreamworld, but if you chose to pay attention to that sort of thing it’s well worth the effort. This album is good for listening to straight through as it doesn’t place too many tracks with similar tempos in a row.
The drums hit after the soft intro and this track instantly becomes more intense. Claps hit around 57 seconds in and a vocoder enters the mix. The end of each of the vocoder’s phrases is marked by a high pitched, high resonance, high frequency pass filter synth that plays a counter melody. There’s kind of a call-and-response between the vocoder and the counter melody that works brilliantly here.
Another synth enters around 1:35 that responds to each of the vocoder’s phrases. Its response is more frantic, quickening the pace of the melody, but in a way that does not disturb the overall laid back atmosphere of the track.
Toms hit at 2:03 and the vocoder cuts out. White noise enters, sounding like a passing breeze or the crash of the waves upon the shore. The frantic counter melody synth stands out more prominently here. This time its the synth that’s asking the questions and not the vocoder, as another lead enters to respond to it.
This interlude is brief as the vocoder returns 15 seconds later. The same call/response dynamic continues until around 2:54, when another synth pad is thrown into the mix to accentuate the melody of the vocoder. This synth pad cuts out for the responses that the vocoder receives, making the phrasing more dramatic.
Claps hit around 3:26 and the first breakdown of the track appears. The stuttering synth arpeggio from the intro is reintroduced, bringing the chill ambiance that started this tune back to the foreground. As this synth fades out a metallic (FM?) synth slowly fades in, bringing with it a low, sustaining bass. This effect is just sublime, bringing “Getaway” full circle with a different section that evokes the same relaxed vibes as the intro.
An arpeggio hits at 4:08, building the breakdown in intensity just before the vocoder returns. The vocoder line “Get away with me tonight” repeats and fades as the track comes to the close.
“Getaway” tells a story, not only with the lyrics, but with the instruments. I imagine the drums entering after the intro represents the busy, hectic pace of the city that Betamaxx wants to leave. The tranquil atmosphere of the intro is what he longs to return to, only he wants to return to it with the person that he loves. The responses to the vocoder lines are the responses Betamaxx is receiving to his argument for leaving, which are at times laid back, but at other times the responses are busier, perhaps representing worry or doubt.
The end of the track represents an agreement between both parties, as the mellow vibe returns while the line “Get away with me tonight” repeats. The couple leaves together and the track ends.
Track order plays a role in Lost in a Dreamworld once again, as this track is definitely a follow-up to the previous track. Together, “I’ll Walk You Home” and the last two tracks, “Disco Dreamgirl” and “Getaway,” form a three act short film, but I’ll get to that later. Let me start off by talking about the music:
A short, two beat phrase starts this track off, playing against a soft, single note drone in the background. The bass and drums enter, fully revealing the slow tempo of the track. Short, high resonance synth bursts accent the offbeats. This atmosphere paints the picture of two people walking home late at night, as the offbeat synth bursts are reminiscent of nighttime peepers chirping in spring.
The lyrics in this track are simple and minimalistic, but in just three lines Betamaxx tells a story:
walk you home tonight
We just had the time of our lives
And I want to live this moment forever”
The music in this track is equally minimalistic, as tranquil synth pads float in and out. A lead enters around 2:16, accompanied by syncopated wood block hits. This lead plays out the fade of the track as both this song and the album draw to a close.
As simple as both the music and the lyrics are, this track functions as not only the outro to the album, but the outro to the story being told in the last three tracks of Lost in a Dreamworld.
Think about it: We have “Disco Dreamgirl.” Two people get together at a club. Then we have “Getaway,” where the protagonist is asking someone to leave (presumably the club?) with them. That track is followed up with “I’ll Walk You Home,” so the couple did end up leaving together. Is Betamaxx scoring a romantic comedy?
That or I’m looking into things a little too deeply here. Judging by the length of this review I have a tendency to do that.
And, on that note, I’d like to offer my final thoughts on Lost in a Dreamworld: What would possess me to write such an insanely long review for this record? Maybe I’ve gone mad. Maybe I’m just long winded. Or maybe this album is just plain otherworldly and I felt compelled to talk about it at length because there’s just so much here.
The composition, arrangement, and sound design on this album all prove that Betamaxx is at the top of his game at the moment. He’s outdone himself here, surpassing the already high bar that he has set for himself during the course of his recording career. He even brought some friends along (Vandal Moon, Glitbiter, Robert Parker, and Mecha Maiko), all of whom are amazing artists in their own right, to bring his music to places it’s never been before.
The whole Betamaxx catalog is already the best synthwave you can possibly listen to. Lost in a Dreamworld stands out in that catalog as one of Betamaxx’s best albums (if not the best album he’s ever released), thus making it required listening for any fan of the synthwave genre. Wait, why do I need to drag genre into this? i wasn’t sold on synthwave until I heard Betamaxx’s music, so this album works for fans of music, period.
You can listen to Lost in a Dreamworld via the following media outlets:
Amazon Unlimited: https://music.amazon.com/albums/B07YXFDP7K