Today I’m doing things a little differently. I have done album reviews in the past but I’ve never sat down and reviewed an entire band discography before. In the case of the band I will be talking about today, Neon Arcadia, it makes sense since they don’t have a full release yet. They do have a six song album that is coming out on April 17th, 2020 (which is available for pre-order right now), but at the time of this writing that release is still several weeks away. At any rate, I found their singles on Bandcamp to be compelling enough to be given the full Retro Danger Zone treatment, so I will be diving into their full single-ography at length today.
Neon Arcadia, a synthwave outift hailing from New Jersey, consists of four members, but as you will see later on they often augment their lineup with a number of other musicians. The list of additional artists Neon Arcadia has worked with is impressive. For fans of the synthwave genre I have to say, the gang is all here: Megan McDuffee, Polemic Heart, Tom Selica, Pretty Glass Folk, and several other artists have been featured on their releases, so it comes as no surprise that their music is on par with some of the best of what synthwave has to offer. In addition, Neon Arcadia often collabs with a number of artists that aren’t necessarily confined to the synthwave genre, making for variety in their music that, in my opinion, is so sorely needed in synthwave today.
I first found out about Neon Arcadia via one of their members many inspirational video posts on Twitter. I was instantly intrigued by these posts and decided to check Neon Arcadia out on Bandcamp. I’m glad I did, and I have become a lifelong fan as a result.
I will be talking about Neon Arcadia’s discography in reverse chronological order, from their newest release to their oldest release. I know I should be doing this in chronological order and talking about Neon Arcadia’s growth and how their music evolved with each track, but in listening to their music I decided not to do that. Rather, I opted to review their music in the order that I heard it. I only found out about them recently, and I listened to their newest tracks first and then slowly went through the back catalog. This is how most people who are curious about Neon Arcadia’s work are likely going to experience their music, so in a way this review is actually in chronological order, at least in terms of how I experienced their music.
Then again, I took a bit of a detour at the end of this journey, so any supposed rules that were supposed to be adhered to have been thrown out. So, without any further ado, here was my experience of listening to every single Neon Arcadia has released (so far) on Bandcamp:
Kicking things off with a cover here. The source material this is drawing from,“Easy Lover” by Phil Collins, has the same dramatic intro: Intense drum rolls and cool sounding synth sequences. Neon Arcadia’s version features sound design that is somewhat more modern (the bass and kick hits way harder than the mix Phil Collins went with), but it is still very much true to the original, albeit with less rad 80’s guitar licks (more on that later).
For this track Neon Arcadia tapped the talents of A/C St. Claire and Emma Rowley, both of whom share vocal duties on this track. The original Phil Collins tune also has dual vocals, namely between Phil Collins and Philip Bailey.
It was an interesting artistic decision to go with Emma Rowley for Philip Bailey’s vocal lines. If you haven’t heard the original do yourself a favor and check it out, as Bailey’s pitch perfect falsetto (which was one of the many elements that formed Earth, Wind, and Fire’s signature sound) definitely hits some notes that aren’t easily accomplished by male singers.
Another notable difference between this song and the original is the fact that Neon Arcadia opts for a saxophone solo instead of a guitar solo during the bridge. This sax solo (possibly delivered with midi as I see no credit for a saxophone player on the Bandcamp page, but I could be wrong) fulfills the same purpose as the guitar solo in the original: It provides a compelling bridge that brings the music to new heights before hitting the chorus one last time.
This cover was an interesting, modern take on an old classic. It hits hard, has instrumentation that varies from the original, and this cover even introduces a new and different dynamic with the vocal lineup. I love it, on to the next.
Glitchy electronic noises reminiscent of turning the frequency dial on an old school radio greet the listener at the onset of “No Time.” There are some foreboding tones here, leading me to believe that I’m about to hear a heavy darkwave track. This turned out not to be the case, as this dark atmosphere lifts and an arpeggiated bass and a glitchy, high pitched synth arp hit after the intro, followed by the vocals.
The vocals on this track are interesting in and of themselves. The main vocal line is doubled in the verse with a much lower, baritone voice singing the same lyrics. The pre-chorus has higher pitched “Ahhhhh Ahhhhh’s!” (this is a precise musical term) singing along with the main vocal line, heightening the drama as they continue well into the chorus and the main hook:
“With our lives in front of us there’s no time to be dangerous.”
What to say about this, beyond it being a catchy line that is instantly memorable? I’m not sure what it means, as it is open to multiple interpretations. Is Neon Arcadia eschewing risky behavior in an attempt to obtain brief, fleeting, pie in the sky glory? Are they condemning the crazy things that people do for clout in this day and age (as also evidenced by the line “Save your throne for somebody else”)? Only Neon Arcadia knows for sure.
I got lost in the lyrical content of this song so I haven’t addressed the accompaniment very much yet, but this track contains a symphony of synth arpeggios in different registers that all blend together perfectly. The breakdown right before the chorus at 1:04 is particularly well done. Its onset is signaled by a waterfall arpeggio of glitchy synth notes, followed by a cool, retro-inspired square wave arpeggio, and ended by a drum fill that leads right into the chorus and the main hook of the song.
The square wave arpeggio continues straight into the chorus, cutting through the mix but also blending nicely with the other synths, the percussion, and the bass arpeggio. The accompaniment here, on a whole, provides an elegant backdrop to the vocals. It brings the chorus to a crescendo just as the catchiest lines are being sung.
When the first chorus ends at 1:30 the drums cut out as the last word, “dangerous,” echoes into the musical space provided for it. The listener is left with a sustaining synth in the upper register and two arpeggios: The ever present bass arpeggio and the glitchy, high pitched synth arpeggio, both of which are heavily used staples of this track. The sustaining note that is present here really stands out, as it acts as something of a musical palate cleanser before the drums return and the next verse starts.
The breakdown at 2:45 signals the outro of the song and, just like the intro, it uses the glitchy, radio frequency drift sound that was featured so prominently at the start of this track. The main hook is sung again and that glitchy synth sound from the intro draws the track to a close.
Altogether “No Time” is a well composed, well arranged, and well written tune; a solid addition to my Bandcamp synthwave collection. There’s just one more thing that, just like the lyrical content of this song, I can’t ascertain the meaning of with 100% certainty:
The single artwork. It’s a rabbit, with a moon in the background, sitting on the neon grid all synthwave fans should be familiar with by now. Is this a reference to Alice in Wonderland? That makes sense. That rabbit is constantly running around, shouting “Oh dear! I shall be too late!” in the story, so… Maybe? That or I have completely missed the mark on this.
OK, I’m just going to ask. Would someone please tell me what the synthwave rabbit means? I’m too dumb to figure out the symbolism here.
A rapid, three octave 16th note bass arpeggio opens up “Daydreams,” followed by a synth with dreamy sound design, making this track live up to its title right out of the gate. 17 seconds in the drums hit, and the vocals enter.
The vocals in this track are passionately delivered by Tom Pino, who navigates a melody over a busy terrain filled with synth arpeggios, all tied together by the undulating bass arpeggio that stays underneath it all, driving the music forward.
Sadly, I could not find any written lyrics for this song (did I miss something?), but Neon Arcadia explains that “Daydreams” is a song “about those times when we are hard at work, thinking about all the things we would love to do instead.” I suppose there isn’t too much of a need to publish the lyrics as Pino annunciates clearly in his vocal delivery, and the line “Don’t forget about your daydreams” hits close to home as I am writing this a few hours before work. Who can’t relate to this song?
After the first chorus a melody enters at 1:28, delivered by a synth with a healthy amount of vibrato. White noise and tom rolls heighten the drama, highlighting the simple melody that the lead plays. This exposition section continues with a change in tone at 1:46. Here another melody enters, accompanied by a very curious percussive effect that I can’t quite put my finger on. The sound of it is reminiscent of a record being scratched, but it clearly isn’t. What is clear is the effect this sound has, as it adds an interesting rhythm to an already busy track.
Pino delivers another verse amongst the hectic atmopshere until 2:22. At this point a burning guitar solo enters, adding yet another instrumental interlude to this tune. This solo is wonderfully expressive, full of bent notes, whammy bar dives, and screaming harmonics. The 16th note arpeggios that enter at 2:40 are particularly virtuosic, showing of the skill of guitarist Joshua Lopez. On top of being flashy, the note choices in this solo are very tastefully done, and I always appreciate that. A lot of notes played in not a lot of time will never impress me as much as a guitar solo that actually fits the music.
The drums cut out at 2:48 and Lopez plays a truly epic run of notes that brings “Daydreams” to a climax just before Pino’s vocals return to deliver the final chorus. The accompaniment cuts out at 3:25 and Pino delivers the last line “Don’t forget about your daydreams.” Wow! What an outro. This is one hell of a way to end a track. I’ve listened to a lot of synthwave tracks by now and most go with the formula of making the intro also serve as the outro. That’s fine, and that works as a songwriting form, but man do I appreciate it when an outro is worked on to be this separate and distinct from the rest of the song. Neon Arcadia really stuck the landing on this one.
“Crimson Staircase” is quite the departure from everything I have heard from Neon Arcadia thus far. On their Bandcamp page Neon Arcadia explains that “This is a track that was written with inspiration from artists like Disasterpiece and Le Matos, producers like Matt Leslie and horror scores from People Under the Stairs and Child’s Play.” This becomes readily apparent as soon as the track starts. Spooky sound effects and the sound of rain greet the listener’s ears upon pressing play, followed shortly afterwards by a repetitive creepy piano (electronic harpsichord?) motif that is reminiscent of so many memorable horror movie soundtracks (I’m looking at you, Halloween). This reverb laden riff is accompanied by ominous bass tones that fade in and out, adding to the suspense.
Percussion enters around 37 seconds in, signaled by an eerie synth that cries out into the dark atmopshere. The dead thud of a kick drum adds accents to the creepy vibe of the music up until around 48 seconds in, when the full kit enters and a solid drum beat is established. I’m bobbing my head now. Am I supposed to bob my head to horror movie music?
More scary sound effects are added. I hear the rushing of wind, the rattling of bones, and furious drum fills that are accompanied by the occasional swell of a detuned violin. This track reaches a climax and then comes to a halting crash around 1:50 as a bass drum signals the ending, echoing off into the void. A ticking sound, accompanied by a low pitched bell, plays out the track into eerie silence. Is American Horror Story looking for a new theme for their upcoming tenth season? Pull the trigger on this track. I want to see Macauley Culkin commit ghastly crimes to this tune.
The beginning of “This Future” plays out like a synthwave film noir. A saxophone plays amongst the sound of thunder and a pounding 8th note synth bassline. Vocals enter after a very nicely done saxophone solo by Artem Zhulyev, accompanied by shreddy metal guitar riffs and a resonance heavy synth melody. The vocals and guitar are handled by none other than Pretty Glass Folk, who is an amazing artist in his own right, so once again Neon Arcadia is working with another solid musician on one of their tracks.
At the 52 second mark the accompaniment is simplified. A a lo-fi drum track keeps the rhythm with white noise while a synth bell plays in the background. This opens up musical space for Pretty Glass Folk to deliver his vocals, which are punctuated periodically by saxophone riffs.
This section is the calm before the storm that is the chorus. The drums hammer out a frantic, tom heavy rhythm, and the guitar returns to deliver an equally frantic riff to accompany Pretty Glass Folk’s passionate singing.
When the verse returns this track switches gears as the percussion gets less frenzied, with the kick drum holding down the beat along with the 8th note bassline heard ealier. The pre-chorus that follows has the same vibe as the one before it: Heartfelt vocals? Check. Shreddy metal guitar licks? Check. Nicely done saxophone riffs? Yep, it’s all there. That’s when Neon Arcadia and Pretty Glass Folk completely hoodwink me into thinking that the chorus is returning, but no. Some intense drum fills hit and BAM! Epic sax solo!
I haven’t said anything about this thus far but it’s worth mentioning: Neon Arcadia has a way with dynamics. They’re exceptionally good at getting quiet or loud depending on what emotion or tone they want to evoke. The result is fantastic, creating peaks and valleys in their music that I deeply appreciate.
I digress. After this blistering sax solo the chorus returns, and it has all the hallmarks of the previous chorus. We got busy riffs! The drums? Busy. The guitar? Busy. But instead of sounding like a mess with a ton of things happening all at once it all works perfectly, bringing the music to soaring heights along with Pretty Glass Folk’s vocals.
After this last chorus the intro is recapitulated in the outro. This is, again, a good use of dynamics. Everything is crazy in the chorus, with so many sounds flying into my ears, and then we’re back at the start again, with the sound of thunder, an 8th note bassline, and a mellow saxophone wailing out into the night. There’s a lot of passion in this song, and it’s all brought to its full potential via the brilliant use of dynamics—loud and soft, busy and laid back.
As for the lyrics and their meaning I think this tune is open to interpretation. With lines like “in this future/I wanna be/I’m gonna make it on my own,” is this song about controlling your own destiny? That seems to be a theme in Neon Arcadia’s music. Ultimately I don’t know. I didn’t read that far into it, and I don’t think I was supposed to. That being said, considering the futuristic city artwork of this single and the noir atmosphere in the track, clearly it’s about… The future? Listen, I got nothing, and I’m fine with it. “This Future” is a solid tune.
I hit play on this track and I am instantly greeted by an atmosphere that I can only describe as incidental music to Disney’s The Lion King, but with a synthwave touch. Interesting synthesized wood block percussion laden with reverb and delay accompany a droning choir and an ambient synth pad, all of which come together to sound like a cicada on a hot summer day.
This is not a diss. I love The Lion King, I love Disney, and I also love this intro. This is not hackneyed and cliched synthwave that I’m dealing with here, as I can’t think of a single synthwave artist that has a similar intro in one of their songs.
During the intro the rumbly bass builds and builds, a low tom roll and a cymbal hits, and the full drum kit is introduced. This is where things get particularly dramatic. Synthwave Lion King! I love it. The drum fills here are just plain brilliant and I’m pumped for what the rest of the track has to offer.
Around 40 seconds in the vocals hit, sung by none other than the dude from Polemic Heart (yeah, I don’t know his name, so that’s his name now). Polemic Heart makes, like everyone that Neon Arcadia collabs with, fantastic music all on their own.
I’ve always found the dude from Polemic Heart’s voice to be interesting and different from most artists in the synthwave genre. He kind of sounds like a less smokey/gravely version of the singer from Silversun Pickups, but with hints of Gary Numan and Mark Mothersbaugh thrown in. It’s also worth noting that Polemic Heart does not strictly produce synthwave, as their music often traverses a number of other genres, from synthpop, to indie electronic music, to chillwave, just to name a few. Neon Arcadia will not hesitate to work with someone regardless of what genre of music they are currently producing, and I really think that makes them somewhat unique in the synthwave genre.
Anyway, back to the music. The Lion King vibe goes away when a heavy 8th note bass line hits at the onset of the chorus. A soaring synth with an almost violin-esque type sound design ramps up the intensity to provide perfect accompaniment for Polemic Heart’s vocals.
After the chorus a square wave synth solo hits and the music gets less busy. Some layers are removed to allow the drums and the synth to shine. The drum fills here are frantic and furious, in sharp contrast to the laid back synth solo that plays in this part. It’s a nice dynamic that works well and segues smoothly into the next verse.
This next verse is when Polemic Hearts hits me with a pleasant surprise. Dual vocal harmonies! Is this the other member of Polemic Heart? I believe it is. That or all of Polemic Heart’s music is sung by one person, in which case my mind has been permanently blown. That one vocalist would have to be pretty versatile.
At any rate, the dual vocals that come in here really bring “Animal Instict” to the next level, as it is a perfect blend of all the elements that make Neon Arcadia and Polemic Heart’s music so good. Great accompaniment and great vocals? You can’t ask for much more in a synthwave track, unless you’re one of those weirdos that hates vocals in a synthwave track.
The chorus hits again and goes down much like the previous one, but what happens after it is brilliant. We get another square wave synth solo, just like we did after the first chorus, but this time we get dual vocal harmonies to go along with it. This, for me personally, is the climax of “Animal Instinct.” The heavy 8th note bass line continues and transitions into the repetition of the chorus, but this time the chorus features a breakdown that plays out the song. The drums cut out and we’re left with Polemic Heart’s vocals, bass, a square wave synth arpeggio, and the choir from the intro to end the track. Epic!
At this point I haven’t touched on the lyrics, but I feel like they’re pretty straight forward, and obviously that Lion King intro (and outro) plays into it. “Animal Instinct” is an interesting metaphor for love, because love can be conscious and have a lot of thought thrown into it, but obviously there’s a deeper, much more subconscious, primal, instinctual element to love that we can’t deny.
This track features Tom Selica on vocals and guitar. Do I have to tell you that he is also a synthwave artist? His name is Tom Selica, so yes. Yes he is. You can check out his stuff here.
This track is fun, upbeat, and uptempo. At the start of it an audio filter masks the drums in the intro. Then a riser hits, along with a snare roll, and the track shifts gears with a feel-good synth lead. There’s a great distorted bassline that keeps things heavy, all while occasional synth leads lighten up the overall feel of the track. Tom Selica’s vocals are very reminiscent of pop punk, so the nostalgia on this track is delving into territory that synthwave doesn’t normally get into. There’s a section of the 80’s that is practically un-mined by synthwave at the moment, probably because it is generally music that doesn’t really employ the use of electronic instruments.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t pop punk more 90’s/early 2000’s? Well, if you think that, then I feel bad for you, because that means you’ve never heard of The Descendants.
The piano breakdown at 1:45 is a complete surprise. What? Isn’t this a feel good track? I was dancing not one second ago and now we have sad piano. The drums cut out and a lonely piano full of melancholy brings the whole vibe of the song down. Tom Selica’s voice gets autotuned while a sorrowful synthesized flute lead amps up the sadness factor. Did you hear that? It’s the sound of every synthwave purist’s head exploding as a tinge of emo just got added to a synthwave track. Deal with it.
This breakdown is doing a lot of things simultaneously, and I applaud all of it: 1.) It defies the synthwave genre in terms of what sounds you can add to the genre and what can work 2.) It’s completely out of the blue, yet it breaks up the feel of the track in a delightfully unpredictable way, thereby making this song less one-dimensional, and 3.) It pisses off every person who has ever posted the YouTube comment “THIS TRACK ISN’T 80’s ENOUGH!” on a synthwave track.
Hats off to you, Neon Arcadia and Tom Selica, you’ve done it.
The breakdown ends with a kick drum fill and a sample from a racing video game. This sample drove me crazy. I swear it’s from Ridge Racer but it might be from F-Zero GX.
*inserts a mini disc that has not been played in ten years into a Gamecube*
Ok, it’s not from F-Zero GX.
This is the point where I realize that there are a lot of racing games that shout “3, 2 , 1, GO!” at the start of a race. Could someone please tell me what game this is from? It drove me crazy.
I suppose it doesn’t matter where this sample is from, as the effect it has in bringing the listener out of the breakdown is undeniable. This race is on! The full kit comes back and a synth lead rocks out. Tom Selica’s vocals make a triumphant return and, along with the synth lead, they bring the track to a climax. “Cruise Control” comes to a screeching halt shortly after this as the track ends and Tom Selica’s voice trails off into the distance.
As for the subject matter of the lyrics, I think this song is about having a good time and losing yourself in the moment. And what better subject matter for a song that isn’t particularly worried about what genre it neatly fits into? Don’t overthink this one (that’s my job), just enjoy it for what it is.
“Desire” opens with staccato synth chords on the downbeat, playing along with the ominous rumble of deep bass and the periodic sounds of electronic glitches. Distorted, synthetic drums enter, accompanied by a faint, delay heavy synth arpeggio. Megan McDuffee’s voice enters shortly afterwards, along with a bell-like synth that adds to the decidedly dark accompaniment.
Yep, Neon Arcadia is working with yet another amazing synthwave artist, and this time it’s Megan McDuffee. At the time of this writing she has won multiple awards for her work on the soundtrack to River City Girls, a retro-style beat ’em up that I have played through multiple times because it’s just that good. If you haven’t heard her work then you need to. It’s not just me saying that her work is fantastic. Her resume and list of accolades should be proof enough.
Megan McDuffee delivers her sultry, passionate vocals over a low, helicopter blade 16th note bassline that nudges this track into darkwave territory. The whole effect plays out like a synthwave version of Nightwish as a synthesized bell adds appropriately dark accents to the vocal melody.
The chorus kicks in a little after a minute in as a resonance heavy synth hits a baritone blast, adding even more bass to the already heavy bass line. McDuffee’s vocal range goes even higher, making it really stand out amongst the lower register accompaniment.
At the end of the chorus there is a breakdown where the drums cut out briefly and the same bell-like synth that introduced McDuffee’s vocals returns, adding yet another eerie melody to this track. The percussion in this tune is interesting throughout, as various glitchy, heavy, syncopated rhythms add to the intensity of the music. The drums amp up in particular right around 2:24 as various tom rolls impart even more drama to the already dramatic music.
The chorus returns around 2:40 with the same resonance heavy baritone synth blast that introduced the first chorus. There is a breakdown at the end of this chorus as well, only this time it is followed by a synth lead that introduces each phrase with a short 16th note run that adds to the movement of the music. I think I’m seeing a pattern here, as Neon Arcadia likes to put the climaxes to their songs at the end of or during the second chorus.
In true Neon Arcadia fashion “Desire” picks up steam here, with many of the elements that were featured previously in the tune returning to bring the track to its zenith. The staccato chords from the intro return, this time playing along with a synth lead. Part of the chorus repeats, playing out the track to its abrupt conclusion.
Lyrically this song is well written as the words, along with accompaniment, tell the story of someone who is losing their mind over someone else. Is this a love song? Desire is an element of love, sure, but in some cases it can be one of the darker impulses within the full spectrum of human emotion. This track does a good job of bringing that concept to life.
Yep, I was originally going to go in reverse chronological order, from newest to oldest, but I can’t because that means the next song is a remix. You can’t listen to a remix first, right? You have to listen to the source material first, and then come to a decision as to how you feel about the remix? Right? That’s an arbitrary rule that I just made, and I’m sticking to it.
So here it is, the first thing Neon Arcadia ever put on Bandcamp. I hit play and a low bass rumble hits me, along with a sharp synth stabs. Farrahmon’s vocals enter.
Who is Farrahmon? I’m glad you asked. Who’s doing the asking? Me, and this took me down a rabbit hole, as I had never heard the name Farrahmon before listening to this track. A google search led me to a Facebook artist page and her other collaborations with artists. Apparently she is a vocalist for hire that can work in any genre.
So what is the story behind this track? Did Neon Arcadia have a killer tune that needed vocals and they found a gun-for-hire? Did they know this person and ask them to work with them? It paints an interesting scenario. They had a vision for this track and felt it needed a different voice, one other than their own, singing on top of it. I think it’s interesting that Neon Arcadia’s first single is a collaboration, as this would become a common theme in their future Bandcamp releases.
Farrahmon’s vocals are delivered passionately over fast double pedal kicks and… Acoustic guitar? There’s acoustic guitar in synthwave? Mom! Neon Arcadia is pissing off the synthwave purtists again! I love it.
By now the Neon Arcadia discography is coming into sharp focus. They were never a this-or-a-that. Neon Arcadia was, is, and always will be making music that they want to produce. They’re not always going to put what we have come to expect from synthwave into their music. There could be acoustic guitar. There could be pop punk. There might be bouzouki. Deal with it, because whatever they decide to do, it’s going to work, and it’s going to work well.
I digress, back to the music. The instrumentation in the verse here is an interesting assembly of double bass drum rolls, acoustic guitar, and various synth sounds—from pizzicato strings to rumbly bass to xylophone-esque, delay soaked synth arpeggios. It’s intense on the senses as there are a number of layers at play here. It gets busy but not so much that it detracts from the vocals, which are very clear in the mix. After the first verse the synth stab from the intro comes back, delivering its lead as it did in the intro over the continuous, rumbly bass.
Farrahmon’s vocals continue after this brief interlude in much the same register before a synth lead enters around 2:16. This lead has some really classic synth sound design that reminds me a lot of a lead that you would hear in an old-school 8 bit video game. It’s really the highlight of the song in my mind, with no offense intended to the production on the rest of the track. This solo screams and reaches peak emotional intensity as wave after wave of 16th note runs hit hard.
Farrahmon’s vocals return after this awesome lead to deliver the last chorus over the rumble bass and an acoustic guitar. The intro synth stabs come back, this time accompanied by the delay heavy arpeggio heard previously in the first verse. This time the intro serves as the outro, with some minor variation, accompanied by ominous low register sound effects and a dark ambience that brings the track to an end.
On Neon Arcadia’s Bandcamp page for this song they write:
Arcadia’s 1st official single.
This track focuses on the internal struggle we have with ourselves when dealing with depression. Sometimes we don’t know how to ask for help and we have the conflict of thinking we aren’t communicating properly or not speaking up.”
This is pretty dark and intense subject matter to kick off your debut with, but in many ways it’s just so true to Neon Arcadia. If you follow them on Twitter then get ready for some deep, inspiring, motivational Twitter videos. I got into this band by watching these videos, the majority of which often encourage self-reflection and mindfulness, so I find it just so befitting that that’s where their music is at, too.
Damn it, I knew I should have listened to this discography in chronological order. Oh well, I got here eventually. Wow, this is how Neon Arcadia presented themselves to the world. They’re still doing it, too. Still tackling difficult and emotional subjects, both with their music and on social media, and they’ve been doing it for 2 years and counting now.
For this remix Neon Arcadia tapped the talent of ICS, or industry city sleepers, for the task. Industry city sleepers is (according to their Bandcamp page) a now defunct electronic music project hailing from New York city. I listened to some of ICS’s work and this remix is very true to the artist that created it. ICS describes his work as “Breaks, blips, and sample mashing hashed against various instrumentation,” and that is very much what you get here in this remix of “Whispers.”
The intro synth stabs are still very much in place from the original, but this time they are presented with swells of a string ensemble-esque synth. Instead of the double bass kick rolls you hear in the original tune, in this remix the drum track is even more syncopated, with glitchy, synthetic drums that pop in and out of existence, often at unexpected times.
Resonance swells from a crunchy synth grind along with glitched vocals in the verse. After the verse the synth stabs that appeared in the original track return, this time accompanied with a chorus of sampled vocals that ooh and ahhh a melody of their own. The acoustic guitar comes back, only this time it has been chopped and sampled to form a different riff that still fits the song.
This track gets particularly intense around 1:45. As Farrahmon delivers the line “I’ve come undone” a blippy, synthetic kick drum pounds the first two downbeats of the measure. These kicks tether a symphony of extremely syncopated, glitchy percussion that has absolutely no regard for the downbeat whatsoever. The effect of this is incredible, giving Farrahmon a veritable symphony of intense rhythms to sing over. All of this leads to a breakdown around 2:13. The percussion stops and Farrahmon’s glitched vocals ring out over empty space that was previously occupied by an army of percussion.
Synth stabs return after this breakdown, accompanied by a high register, violin-like synth that was not in the original. At this point I’m thinking “Don’t omit the synth solo that was in the original track unless you have something better.” ICS definitely found the synth solo in the original as intense as I did, because it does return, only this time it plays over ICS’s signature syncopated, glitchy rhythms. This does, indeed, make the synth solo from the original track better.
The ICS remix of “Whispers” continues in this vein until the outro, which features the synth string ensemble volume swells that were heard in the intro, only this time a chopped-up, sampled acoustic guitar plays out the track, along with the delay laden synth arpeggio that can be found in the original recording of this tune.
What ends this track? It’s ICS, so it ends with a tape glitch. Were you expecting something else?
This is brilliant remix and I’m bummed that I’m a little late to the party, since ICS has since shuttered his musical endeavors under that name. He donates all Bancamp profits he receives from ICS to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center so, if you want to get some great music that supports a great cause, then you know where to find it.
Well, that about wraps everything up. I sat down, listened to every Neon Arcadia track currently on Bandcamp, and offered my thoughts on each track. Now comes the part where I sum it all up, so here it goes: Neon Arcadia is an incredible synthwave outfit that is challenging the genre. This was quite the journey, and it was filled with lots of unexpected surprises. If you told me that Neon Arcadia makes synthwave I’d say well, yeah. Duh. Their name has the words neon and arcade in it, so that right there should tell you what to expect. I was so pleasantly surprised to find a bit of everything in their music, and that’s why I felt compelled to write an unnecessarily long article detailing all of my feelings about their current discography.
At this point my Bandcamp collection has over 200 synthwave albums in it, and that number is rising every day. Needless to say, I love the genre, but at times I do get jaded with certain sounds becoming overused tropes that get rehashed and repeated to death. The purists out there want synthwave to remain in this static state, never changing until synthwave eventually kills itself with the sound of its own monotony. Neon Arcadia has no respect for that attitude, and in my humble opinion I think the genre needs more free thinkers that can re-imagine retro-inspired music. Neon Arcadia is exactly the kind of collaborative project that synthwave desperately needs right now, and I absolutely can not wait for the album that they are dropping on April 17th.
You can listen to Neon Arcadia via the following musical outlets: