Synth Album Review: "Neon Dreams" by Oceanside85 and Guests

Updated on July 7, 2020
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Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!

Album artwork for "Neon Dreams," by Oceanside85
Album artwork for "Neon Dreams," by Oceanside85

Initial Impressions

Strong vocals and rich synth sounds interlock to produce music that has emotional power and engaging sonic landscapes on Oceanside85's latest album entitled Neon Dreams. This album takes the building blocks of synth-based music and infuses them with a new energy and purpose.

It helps that Oceanside85 has one of the best singing voices in the scene. There’s power, intensity and emotion pouring out of her as she sings.The thoughtfully chosen synth melodies, the synth sounds themselves, the great guitar work and the sheer scope of different styles and feelings on Neon Dreams all combine to create one of the most enjoyable vocal synth albums I’ve ever heard.

Review of "Neon Dreams" by Oceanside85

No review of Oceanside85’s music is complete without mentioning that voice of hers. Oh that voice! It can belt out soaring notes, caress the ears with smoothness, tremble with emotion and send energy cascading through the air. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a delicate love song or a banging floor filler, she’s got the pipes and the style to suit. As if that wasn’t enough, she is a great crafter of melodies for that delicious voice of hers.

Not only does Oceanside85 craft melodies with the best of them, but she is a talented lyricist. Whether she wants to pierce the heart with a song of love and loss, express passion or explore ideas, she has the songwriting chops to do so. Strong vocals are one thing but when you add great lyrical material to them, the combination is unbeatable. She has a good ear for creating imagery with words and she also knows when to cut loose and have fun.

Neon Dreams weaves together a wide range of different electronic and synth music styles from straight up synthwave to some funky house and tracks with a more ambient sensibility . All of the elements of these tracks are well handled and create good vibes that suit the feeling of each track. The choice of synths, guitar parts and the mixture of bass and drums all work to define styles and weave together to support Oceanside85’s voice.

This album is also full of great guest performances from the likes of Cody Carpenter, Color Theory and Sellorekt among others. All of these artists are talented all on their own and when they contribute their talents to provide strong backup for Oceanside85 on Neon Dreams, alchemical magic ensues. Their contributions add depth and texture to the songs on which they appear and form a “dream team” on the album.

I'd also like to note that Till Wild did a great job of mastering on the album and helped it sound as polished and cohesive as it does.

Neon Dreams weaves together a wide range of different electronic and synth music styles from straight up synthwave to some funky house and tracks with a more ambient sensibility. All of the elements of these tracks are well handled and create good vibes that suit the feeling of each track. The choice of synths, guitar parts and the mixture of bass and drums all work to define styles and weave together to support Oceanside85’s voice.

My Favourite Tracks

“Neon Dreams” opens with atmospheric bass cascading down over solid drums as Oceanside85’s smooth, strong voice drifts through that pulsing bass landscape. I was drawn to the way that her vocal melody soars over a wandering high synth line before the lead synth punches out with energy and a feeling of soaring that matches her singing voice nicely. I also enjoyed the punchy feeling of the guitar part on this song.

This is a song that speaks of hope, love and loss in an uncertain world. The line, “You never know how things will flow but I know you're with me where ever I go” nicely describes that mixed emotion. Sometimes, as the lyrics say, you have to take a chance on someone even if mistakes are made along the way.

I was drawn to the lyric that says “when it’s dead and dull and the feeling gets me blue, I just stop so I can breathe in more of you” because it creates a powerful image of an inspirational person. The importance of living in the moment is also emphasized in the line, “who knows what the world is gonna do so I’m making every second count with you.”

The song turns slightly melancholy in the lines, “Loving the memories that bring pain and happiness, you made me better than I was” but the song still emphasizes the importance of taking a chance in life.

There’s an ear pleasing combination of bright ripples of warm synth and passion-filled guitar tones on “Tattoo" float out as a smooth, pulsing beat moves through the music, so easy and relaxed. It was great to hear Oceanside85 show a softer, gentler side to her voice on this song. I was pulled in by the warm arpeggios whirling through the track that infused it with the delicate feeling of light ocean waves.

This is a song that had some wonderful imagery for me. I was so compelled by the line that says, "We burned with passion on the edge of a knife, in the city we raged against the light.” It creates an almost cinematic sensation.

The image of someone’s memory “like a tattoo” that lingers in the mind is strong and the feeling of defiant love is powerful in the line, "burning through the night, running out of time. I’ll never let you fall, or leave you behind."

“Float” has a “wet” feeling to the production as a delicate wash of synth notes moves into the openness of the track around it. The deep, moving bass line rises and falls like deep water as Oceanside85’s strong voice carries out through the ripples and washes of sound. I deeply enjoyed the passion pouring out of the vocals on this song. There is definitely a floating sensation about the song.

This is a song that encourages us to seek out love because time is short and to mindfully appreciate the world around us for the same reason. There’s such a feeling of ease in the line, “Been thinking a lot about you and me and which way this could go, so why don’t you lay with me in the long, long grass watching the waves flow.”

I was struck by the mindful quality in the words, "I’ve been thinking about time and how we are just a wrinkle in a hand, a small grain of sand” and also the emphasis that “we’re just one drop, but it makes an ocean.”

There’s some jazzy elements to “Across Time” like the funky lead synth that bounces through the track. There is a jazz influence to that main melody as it flows over the easy drumbeat and deep bass. I also was digging the jazzy synth trumpet and the hot slap bass. There were real guts to Oceanside85’s singing on this track.

There’s an enormous sense of possibility in this song with lines like, “I remember the way you said there’s no fate but we make” and a feeling of deep appreciation in the words, “Across time, you came for me, soldier of love." The ache is powerful as Oceanside85 sings, “I need your love, oh I need your love!”

“To The Limit” has a propulsive sensation to it with a solid, deep bass sound along with flickering bright arps and smooth mid-tempo drums. Oceanside85’s voice climbs over that deep throbbing bass and the shining stabs of synth sound. I enjoyed how the music grew and swelled in power to complement the strength of the vocal performance on this song.

This song powerfully portrays a sense of yearning for a beloved one in lyrics like, “Why does a piece of my soul feel like it’s frayed when you’re not there and you go away?” The wanting is laid bare in the lines, “You can take me anywhere. I don't wanna be alone. You can take the long way home.” I was also drawn to the expression of passion in the lines, “I want to meet you in the other world, meet you where the stars are fire, meet me where the sun explodes.”

I’ve always been a sucker for funky house music and “Xtra Special” delivers with slap bass, funky synth licks and a huge sense of fun. Oceanside85 shows her versatility as a vocalist here by delivering a pitch perfect set of vocals to fit the house vibes. When she hit those high notes, I just had to smile. This track could get a dance floor jumping in the first thirty seconds of playing it.

This is a song that expresses passionate love at at deep level in lyrics such as, “I’ll take you to the highest mountain. Yeah I know where we get off. I know that I’m gonna get you ‘cause you are what I want.”

That passion comes pouring out in the verse, “Come on over here, show me what you gonna do. You touching my skin, the rush comes again” and again when Oceanside85 sings, “ I’m givin’ it up, I’m givin’ it up because you’re extra special!”

“I’ve Been Waiting” is more of a classic synthwave song with that bass pulse and drifting synths. This is a track that has an appealing sense of melancholy that touches the vocals despite the way it surges forward. I enjoyed the added growl and weight of electric guitar that added more depth to the music. This is a track where Oceanside85 really belts out her vocals with emotion.

The sensation of pure love permeates every aspect of this song. There are some excellent images here in lines like, “I feel your energy like a supernova that has died” and “touched your twin flame long ago.”

The depth of feeling in the song is well expressed in the words, "The sea of stars will drown us, galaxies surround us. Trust in this love." I also enjoyed the lines, "Let your twin flame touch your skin, fill the space between us” and in the lyric, "I will bring your dreams to life, I’ve been waiting for you.”

There's also tenderness here in the words, “Now that I’ve found you, time to open up your eyes, heal your pain from those who hurt you” that was touching to me.

I was struck by the delicate jazzy organ that moves through “Neon Lights” as it added a lovely gliding feeling to the music. I also enjoy the sparkling, crystalline lead synth that flutters and floats. I am into the warmth and strength of the vocal melody, as well as the way that Color Theory and Oceanside85’s voices intermingle beautifully together. I thought this song had a gorgeous vibe to it.

Again the lyrics are strong as they evoke a feeling of love in lines like, “City sparkles with jeweled light as we move through the night” and “This moment’s all I need, you here with me. Why can’t time stop when I touch you?”

The sense of rushing forward into the future is strongly conveyed as Oceanside85 and Color Theory sing, “Racing to the finish line, we’re racing to the end of time, under the neon lights.” I was also drawn to the line, “In the twilight, when we we leave this place, let’s have an infinite embrace” for the earnestness of the emotion that it expresses.

Verdict

Neon Dreams has a rich mixture of strong vocal performances, top notch music that is full of melody and a wide variety of synth, drum and bass elements that intertwine well along with a breadth of stylistic influences which are all skillfully handled. Oceanside85 has also harnessed the deep talent pool of the #synthfam to create one of my personal favourite albums of the year so far.

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