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Synth Album Review: "Play '80s" by Karl Vincent

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.


Initial Impressions

Karl Vincent’s Play '80s is a well-produced, aurally fulfilling album that exudes lush, engaging retrowave goodness. It combines some absolutely undeniable melodies with a wide-ranging sonic paintbox to create classic synthwave with real quality in my view.

Karl Vincent understands the elements that comprise classic synthwave and deploys them in a satisfying way on Play '80s. He combines absolutely banging drums, strong melodies and well-done interactions between synth parts to create ear-catching tunes.

The sound quality of Play '80s is excellent with every element clearly defined and sharp. There’s nothing muddy or rough about the production on the album. It seems to me that Karl Vincent took his time and paid attention to the details which has resulted in a high-quality sound.

I also appreciate Karl Vincent’s abilities as a melodist that are on full display here. He creates memorable melodies that are expressive and have staying power. I find myself humming them after I hear them which is a good sign. They’re infectious and bursting with energy and light.

All of the synth instruments on Play '80s are well-chosen and weave together auditory patterns that keep the ears engaged. There are interesting contrasts and combinations between the different synth parts along with an enjoyable drum sound and nice bass support on the tracks. Taken together, they create a pleasing whole.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

"City Dreamers” leaps to life with bursts of round synth sound over a smoothly flowing bassline as bright, equally smooth, metallic lead synth carries a shining and twisting melody over the solid pulse of drums. I enjoy the soaring feeling of the lead melody as a distorted, light-filled synth carries it above the drum and bass throb with short, trumpeting bursts of sound.

The track breaks into slap bass that moves above an even deeper field of moving bass. Metallic, shining synth floats in before some hollow panpipe synth carries a melodic pattern that trickles through the music. The soaring, rising melody flies over the drive of drums and bass below it as it keeps moving forward. The track ends with the slap bass line, a glowing, synth pulse and the panpipes.

A classic retro percussion flourish launches into a steady pulse to open “Find Me In ’83” while a leaping, glittering synth carries the energetic main melody over the top of the percussion. I enjoy the feeling of nostalgic hope in the melody, harking back to a time when the future felt brighter. The angular bass pulse that weaves in between adds support as the melody flies out.

Hollow pipe synth doubles the brighter, xylophone-like sound that moves with it to add an airy feeling over the drums and bass. The yearning, positive lead synth melody glows out over the other musical elements throbbing under it. A quick, uneven pulse of shiny synth wriggles above the bass propulsion and the unique drum sounds. An oscillating, medium-low synth pulse is joined by flickering chimes that add more sparkle. Once again, the warm movement of the melody shimmers through with chiming sounds.

“Florida Summers” basks into life with synths that are warm and full like the sun on a Florida beach, full of glow and shine. I enjoy the angular quality of the melody as it moves in a bouncing, energized line. The drums are solid with some interesting percussion sounds over a steady bass pulse. The whole track supports the shiny, angular melody with its minor key tinge as a ringing synth carries a tight, quickly evolving melodic pattern.

A synthesized sax calls out in a sharp pattern of notes that cut into the track’s open soundstage, adding a sharp sound over a bouncing surge of bass. The drums push the track on under a whistling synth that moves with the main melodic pattern while that sax sound cries out in punctuation of the melody and we return to the "A" section again and fade.

Trumpeting synths cut into open space, playing a triumphant melody to start off “City Dreamers Vice.” An oscillating pulse of glistening sound leaps underneath victorious, dynamic bursts of brassy synth. I enjoy the qualities of uplift, progress and rising power over the charging throb of the beat and bass.

The track enters a segment in which a medium-high synth with a computerized quality plays a sharp, quickly moving pattern of intertwining notes while the brassy synth bursts out in fast, tight lines. There’s a return to the vaulting melody that fills me with feelings of action, adventure and a sensation of surging forward, flying out in a bright line while the trumpeting synths burst out in flashes of intense light.

“Sunset Beach” comes to life with a caressing synth flow that has a warm, enfolding feeling along with softly brushing percussion. I am drawn to the impassioned, feather-light melody carried on the sax-like synth as it moves over the throb of drums and rich bass. Glimmering chimes float around the delicate sax melody as bright sparkles of higher sound glide above the deep throb of drums and bass.

Shimmering, glassy notes move across the drum and bass tapestry while round, medium-low synth sails in. The sax melody is so gentle, full of a sense of settling in at the end of the day. A glockenspiel adds more delicate notes while the the drums and deep well of bass support the other musical elements while extended sweeps of synth move and we return to the dreaming A section melody, everything so smoothly floating and moving through.

A gust of wind sweeps into the music along with a quick series of drum fills and a rapidly repeating melodic line to begin “Arch Rider.” I am enamoured of the tense, ready feeling of the melody in this track. The drums add a steady pulse and thick synth chords with a rough edge swell along with jangling, xylophone like sounds

The repeating, driving melodic line adds a powerful surge of energy as it whirls out over the throbbing drums and pulsing bass. An electric guitar sound howls and leaps, crying out wildly over the hypnotic synth line and the throb of the drums. There’s a feeling of pent up power throughout this track.

“Journey” starts with a steady oscillation of jagged bass, pounding drums and a tense arpeggio that spins out into something warmer. The massive drums pound onward and a rising, positive synth lifts the music up. I am drawn to the feeling of open vistas and growing horizons in the glowing melody.

The melody climbs up over the drums as they throb, guiding the music in a sunlit line. Arpeggios dance out while a more minor key feeling briefly touches the music. The beat’s pulse goes on as the listener is carried on the melody’s flight. The track bursts with great vibes and fills me with a sense of adventure and dreamy journeys to new lands.


Play '80s bursts with a heady cocktail of positive nostalgia, melodic magic and a well-chosen synth palette. Karl Vincent is a synthwave alchemist and I think that he's definitely on the way to making gold with his music.