Synth Album Review: "Megawave" by Dana Jean Phoenix and Powernerd
Megawave is an album by the classic synthwave vocalist Dana Jean Phoenix and the talented producer and synth wizard Powernerd. It’s an album that bursts with energy and fun, but the songs do sometimes have a lot more than that to them. It’s a showcase for Dana Jean Phoenix’s singing abilites as well as the musical chops of both her and Powernerd (as well as the talented Jan-Friedrich Conrad). There’s some great futuristic imagery and moments of jazzy, funky musical fun.
No review of any project that Dana Jean Phoenix is involved with can fail to mention her voice. The woman has a great set of pipes that can caress or belt out tunes with real guts. On top of it all, she is a lyricist who knows how to write a good, poppy tune but is also aware of how to convey messages in her songs without going too far over the top and preaching.
Powernerd’s ability to write great tunes, create slick production values and make his music work with Dana Jean Phoenix’s voice is another asset to this album. He’s also a mean synth player who can really bring the funky, jazzy elements into the music. I also want to give a shout out to Jan-Friedrich Conrad’s solo synth parts on the album because they have a great jazzy feeling to them that lifts the songs up to another level.
I also want to mention the fact that I heard a good dose of early-‘90s R&B sprinkled throughout the songs on Megawave. I love the uplifting, energetic vibes that I felt this gave to the album. I am a huge proponent of keeping synth music alive and vibrant by continually innovating and adding or experimenting with different sounds (even if they’re retro in nature).
I will now comment on the songs I most enjoyed on the album. I’ve already reviewed the songs “Megawave” and “Figure Me Out” in single form, so I am not going to comment on them here even though I enjoyed both immensely.
“Fight These Robots” opens into a steady, throbbing beat and the energetic synths that kick in along with Dana Jean Phoenix’s catchy lyrics and strong voice. The funky synths are paired with a cool groove and the chorus works its way into your head. I also enjoyed the jazzy solo that Powernerd takes on synth. Powernerd also knows how to bring the funk to this music.
This song is just a ton of fun. I love how it starts with that chorus and then kicks into some lyrics that are super playful. I chuckled at, “I’m cybertruckin’ from the future/These polygons keep rocking on- they don’t stop.”
What’s interesting is that while the song is fun, it has a point to make. As the lyrics say, “Evolution revolution’s the solution” and talks about how “in this present day these robots want the same old/Can’t handle changes…” Dana Jean Phoenix goes on to say, “But too bad, cuz this is rad-i-cal like all thngs altering/Stay stagnant and we’re done.”
There’s an idea of people as “bots held in stasis, they call mem-o-ries” and the lyrics continue, “Their program’s limited and stuck in their own matrix/dying like imitations.” The words say, “Now come see how it is, how it is when we flip, rewrite this script/Change their nodes to be exposed to this neon sun.”
The message of this song is summed up best in the lines, “We’ve got to gear up, not give up/Cuz if we’re going out, let’s do it together yeah!”
I like the feeling of the beat on “Living Rent Free” along with the drums and synths that have a light touch. The track hits with another super cool groove which has a ‘90s R&B feeling to it. I found myself dancing in my chair. Dana Jean Phoenix fills her voice with passionate energy here which just adds to the fun. Jan-Friedrich Conrad’s keyboard solo shreds and flies, infused with big energy as it jumps along.
This song is a comment on how we have to resist being manipulated by the forces around us and sold on certain ideas. As the lyrics say, “Don’t let what’s happening outside/Affect your core behaviour or change your heart and mind.”
I also enjoy the imagery of “the pill they served you was a lie/To convince you that the only way to live is to be unkind.” I also enjoyed the notion of the conscience “livin’ rent free inside your head” that forms the chorus of the song.
The temptation being sold to us all is to ignore questions of “wrong and right.” As Dana Jean Phoenix says, “That’s how they take you for a ride/Telling you that logic doesn’t have a human side.” However that conscience is “stuck inside of your head/you can’t get rid of me that easily.”
“Sunrise Stance” is a track that exudes positive energy. I like the house/disco feeling of the beat on this track. The lead synth shines brighly along with Dana Jean Phoenix’s voice that soars out over the track. Once again, Jan-Friedrich Conrad takes a jazzy, cascading keyboard solo here that adds the right touch to the track.
“Sunrise Stance” celebrates love and upbeat energy, the lyrics mirroring the dancey nature of the bass and beats of the track. I am drawn to lines like, “you see me shining purple diamond in your eyes/And you know your future’s good with me on the horizon.” This is a comment on how the best kind of love “keeps changin’ up and gettin’ strong every damn day.”
The chorus is infectious and talks about how good it feels to groove! The song goes on to say, “keep goin’ bae/we got all the time, time, time/to really sweat and grind.” Rather than rejecting this, the words remind us that “it’s beautiful in it’s humanity” and that even though some people “claim it’s just for vanity” it is really “soul right.”
The remix is a lighter, more crystalline vision of “Figure Me Out.” It has the same energy as the original but over all it is brighter and higher. There’s less of the growl that the slighty grittier synth gave, but I like how the New Arcades remix reinterprets it without altering the initial character of the song. The shiny nature of the synths here gives the track overall a feeling of being easier and more laidback. The tempo’s about the same and those same great lyrics are all present, but it just has a softer touch on the ear overall. I always find remixes quite interesting because different people just have a different ear. In this case, I feel that the track was different enough in remix that I didn’t mind both versions being on the same recording.
The sound of that ultimate old school video game “Pong” is what opens the track and as the drums and bass come in, everything feels quite technological and computerized. There’s also a funky slap bass that comes in before the main beat hits hard and Dana Jean Phoenix’s strong voice kicks in. The vocal melody is pretty catchy and energetic and I also enjoyed the jazz organ feeling of the synths here.
This is a triumphant sci-fi anthem that is uplifting and energizing. It has a story to tell and it does so in a fun way. I like the images in the opening lines, “In the vacuum of space shooting front ways/Hyperdrive at the speed of god rays/Takin’ fire I can feel ship shifting/Lazer cannons online keep resisting.”
The song calls on us to “fire back - don’t stop now” and talks about how we need to “find that key, fulfill our destiny.” There’s a message of survival in the line, “Crash landing’s still good cuz we walked away” and the sense of adventure in the idea of sneaking into the fortress with the Megawave and then moving “through the power corridors and guarded hallways/you to my back and I got yours like always.”
As the song continues there’s a sense of progress in the words, “I feel the power pullin’/Fillin’ me with the energy of destiny/I say ‘bring it on’ cuz I’ve got the moves moves moves yeah.” The track moves onto an evocation of the intense emotion that is being shared when the lyrics say, “Can you feel the beating…/Oh it’s so radical/It’s ethereal/Unbelievable.”
The spoken vocal part is also well done. The lines are especially enjoyable when Dana Jean Phoenix says, “We’ve become one and the universe is wide open/We are no longer slaves, but masters of our own destiny/And everything looks beautiful/The way it’s supposed to be.”
At the end of the day, Megawave is an album that had me moving and grooving. There’s a lot of spunky, funky energy about it along with a dash of thoughtfulness in the lyrics. Dana Jean Phoenix is one of the scene’s best vocalists period and I am quite taken by Powernerd’s abilities as well. This is definitely one of my top synth-based albums so far this year!