When music magically appears in my inbox I get excited. This has been happening more and more often as of late, and I can not encourage it enough. Don’t get me wrong, I will go out of my way to find music I want to listen to and review, but if someone saves me the time of ferreting this stuff out it is always greatly appreciated.
So naturally when the song “Summer Love” mysteriously ended up in my Bandcamp collection I was overjoyed. Not just because I got some free music, but also because the track itself was truly a mystery.
Let me back up: I got a Bandcamp code for this tune via DM, I downloaded it, and that’s all the information I had. I had so many questions: Why, with over 200+ synthwave albums in my Bandcamp collection, do I not know who Juri Love is? Why can’t I find a Bandcamp page for Juri Love, the singer on this track? Given the state of the world right now, is anyone falling in love this Summer and, if so, are they doing it remotely? Of all the reviews I’ve done for this site I truly went down a rabbit hole for this one.
The first piece of the puzzle was figuring out who the artists that made this track are. Boytavibes, the producer of the beat on this track, is a synthwave artist hailing from Brazil. From what I can hear of his previous work he has a penchant for creating infectious grooves with a retro flair. Boytavibes’ music is, by and large, on the lighter end of the synthwave spectrum—the polar opposite of the Darkwave sub-genre. Instead of heavy, distorted bass and a beat you can headbang to, with Boytavibes’ music you can expect lots of sexy saxophones, funky basslines, and ambient synth pads.
Juri Love, the singer on this track, is somewhat of a mystery. I had to do a lot of Googling to find some information on her so my apologies if I don’t have all of my facts straight. As mentioned previously I could not find her Bandcamp page. As far as I can gather Juri Love is a Japanese American singer, model, actor, and educator who has done a substantial amount of work teaching music to at-risk youth. In short, Juri Love is an absolutely fascinating artist and I could not stop reading about her, as her accomplishments are numerous and impressive.
So, all told we have an artist in Brazil and an artist in America coming together for this track, which was put out by RetroSynth records. I can not wait to talk about this single as it falls squarely in the City Pop genre. As any reader of this blog would know I am enthusiastically in favor of City Pop making a comeback, to the point where I am heavily emotionally invested in its revival simply because I can not get enough of it. So, without further ado, I am going to dive head first into both the music and the pool featured on the cover art of “Summer Love.”
I hit play and right off the bat I am greeted by synths that conjure up the sound of air rushing through wind chimes. Ambient synth pads provide a cushion for a synth melody that is light as a feather. The sound of birds chirping further heightens this light and airy feeling, much like a warm, passing breeze in Summer.
Key word: Passing. This relaxing atmosphere is quickly interrupted by a bass drum that hits rapidly and out of nowhere, accompanied by a solid bass groove. Spoken dialogue in Japanese enters. I look to the lyrics on Bandcamp to see if there is a translation for this dialogue, but sadly there isn’t any (if anybody knows what is being said here please hit me up on Twitter).
White noise gathers at 22 seconds in, creating an effective riser for the synth pad that hits a second later. This ambient synth pad strikes a chord that hits like a blast of warm Summer air. I’m already in my pool recliner chair, clutching a drink with an umbrella in it. The bass groove that accompanies this pad is off the chain, accented by the thump of the kick drum.
Around 32 seconds in a synth with retro sound design plays an upbeat melody, accompanied by the ebb and flow of chill synth pad chord changes. A drum fill hits at 40 seconds and Juri Love’s voice enters.
I was so elated and pleasantly surprised when the vocals on this track hit. Juri Love’s mezzo soprano is cheerful and upbeat, and she hits just the right vibe that this track was going for. In the verse her singing is, at times, accompanied by a whistling synth that has a very metallic, tuned percussion sort of sound to it. This synth hits perfectly, adding just the right highlight to Juri Love’s vocal performance.
The fact that Love is a skilled singer fluent in both Japanese and English makes her voice absolutely perfect for the City Pop genre. I’m hoping that either 1.) More Synthwave producers call upon her talents for more City Pop collaborations, or 2.) She puts out more City Pop independently, as she is an accomplished musician in her own right. All we have of her work thus far on Bandcamp is just this one track? Come on, people.
At 1:18 a drum fill hits and the chorus enters. The lyrics are simple yet effective:
“Summer love, Summer love
Do you wanna be my Summer love? Summer love?
Someone I love.”
Listen, if you’re looking for pithy lyrics that plumb the depth of human emotion then look elsewhere. This track is the cover art that adorns it. It wears its pool on its sleeve.
In the second verse Boytavibes adds some string synths that serve to break up the repetition (heard at 1:55), as this counter melody was not present in the first verse. Boytavibes adds a few of these nice touches in the second half of the song (again, to break up the repetition), as the lyrics and melody of the vocals are repeated. Another good example of this would be the furious drum fills that enter in the second pre-chorus around 2:20, which were not present in the first pre-chorus.
The second chorus plays out much like the first chorus, and it continues until the bridge hits at 2:52. Here the percussion drops out and the ambient synth pad that introduced this track returns to the forefront. Spoken dialogue in Japanese enters, which hearkens the listener back to the intro. The chill vibe of the intro is also recapitulated here, again taking the listener away to a nice warm place during the height of Summer.
After the bridge an unapologetically 80’s inspired drum fill hits at 3:08, signaling the return of the chorus. The lyrics and melody of the chorus repeat as Boytavibes layers on more synths, creating a crescendo that builds up until 3:48. At this point in the song the once frantic and busy percussion is reduced to a cleverly syncopated clap, kick, and cowbell.
We have finally arrived at the outro of “Summer Love,” and what an outro it is. Love repeats the chorus as the mellowest of all electric guitar solos plays along with her. The tone and playing on this guitar solo is silky smooth. All of the note choices, vibrato, and bends here are just so spot on, creating a memorable outro for this very memorable track.
At 3:56 a snare hits and the full drum kit comes back along with the bass. The sexy, clean tone guitar solo plays out the track as retro sounding synths add chords and counter melodies to the tasty riffs that Boytavibes lays down. And with this peppy, upbeat-yet-relaxed atmosphere (which is just so true to the City Pop genre) “Summer Love” ends as it slowly fades into silence.
So there it is, “Summer Love” broken down and given the standard, unusually verbose Retro Danger Zone treatment. Now comes the part where I offer my final thoughts:
This track was an absolute joy to listen to. I am writing this in the Summer of 2020, just days after this track was released. It has been, to put it bluntly, an absolutely wretched Summer.
I, like many people around the globe, have essentially been robbed of enjoying Summer this year. Listening to this track marks the first time that I have done anything even remotely Summer related since 2019. Pretty much everything I’ve done lately is an activity that I can do indoors year-round, such as playing console video games or huddling in the fetal position, praying that everything returns to normal. It barely feels like Summer is even going on right now as for me, personally, Summer usually means going down to the local beach in Salisbury, Massachusetts. Normally during this time of year I would be there, eating copious amounts greasy beach pizza and visiting the local seaside arcade.
I still have all of the playlists and burned CDs (I’m old and I have an old car so yeah, I still burn CDs) that I made specifically for the ride down to the beach. These playlists and CDs have gone largely unplayed this Summer, as there will be no trip down to the beach this year. There’s just no way in hell that I’m going down to the ocean to sun bathe in a Petri dish that likely contains a deadly virus.
I think about all of the artists that pushed back the release of their albums this Summer, as the business model for artists typically involves a tour after an album release. Were there any feel good Summer hits this year? The kind of songs that gets you pumped for the warm weather and a trip to the coast?
Well, yeah, there was one. It’s called “Summer Love.” It was written and performed by Boytavibes and Juri Love, and it’s one hell of a track. “Summer Love” is the feel good Summer track of 2020, in the midst of what is, objectively speaking, the worst Summer of all time. I needed this track so badly. This song is the first bit of good news that I have received in a long time.
In that regard “Summer Love” is something of an anomaly. Also, unless I’m missing some key releases here, I think it’s safe to say that a track like “Summer Love” is fairly uncommon in the Synthwave genre. For the most part the Synthwave producers that are taking on the City Pop genre are doing so instrumentally, sans vocals. Who out there in the Synthwave genre is putting vocals in their City Pop inspired tracks? Not many, for sure.
I loved this track, but that does not mean that it is 100% free from any criticism. I would have liked this tune to be a bit more prog-y (if that is a word), as classic 80’s City Pop often is, with more complex chord structures and changes (the both of which are very much a hallmark of the genre). There was a nod to that side of City Pop at the end with the guitar solo, which was deeply satisfying. I also would have enjoyed lyrics that were perhaps a bit more robust in their depth, but to be fair the words to this tune are simple, catchy, and memorable, so in the end I guess that’s all you need.
In all honesty none of these nitpicks really mean anything at the end of the day, as for the four minutes and thirty seven seconds that “Summer Love” played I imagined I was in my car in July, on my way to eating artery clogging fried food and obtaining the firepower of a double ship in Galaga. I forgot all about being under what essentially boils down to house arrest with no date for parole. Instead, I was preoccupied with the fact that City Pop is back in 2020, and it still sounds amazing.
On Boytavibes’ Bandcamp page it says “Get ready for the Citywave.” I sincerely hope that this is a direction that more Synthwave artists decide to go in in the future. There are a few artists taking up the challenge (relatively recent releases such as Beckett’s Tapeless and Wolf and Raven’s Lap of Luxury come to mind), but for the most part City Pop, and especially City Pop with vocals, is one of those areas of the 1980’s that has largely remained untapped and unmined by Synthwave producers. City Pop deserves a revisit now more than ever, and in my personal opinion a City Pop revival would go a long way towards injecting new life into the Synthwave genre. Get ready, you say? I’ve been ready, I’m just waiting for more Synthwave artists to pull the trigger.