Synth Album Review: "Static"—The Less Dead
Tokyo-based synth music creator The Less Dead has teamed up with Millennium Falck and Ampholyte (on one track) to produce the soundtrack to a horror movie that doesn’t exist entitled Static. The passion for cinematic albums in the synthwave community has been long standing and The Less Dead’s foray into that territory is a lot of fun. Clearly he and the collaborating artists share a similar vision of what makes a good horror score and have taken to exploring it with gusto.
The Less Dead and his collaborators were faithful to the concept of a score to a movie that’s never been made and so the tracks on Static vary in length like they would on an actual film score. I like this approach because it strongly creates the impression of a flowing storyline that has a distinct arc and each track sketches out a strong mental image as the story unfolds.
No good horror movie score would be complete without generating a sense of tension and fear. There are definitely moments of that nature on Static. One of the best examples of it comes in the form of "The Room." The dark drones that start out the track, the heavy thud of the bass and a distorted piano that meanders repetitively throughout create a feeling of growing discomfort and dread.
Static finds a good balance between mood and musicality. Some darksynth, to my taste, is too short on melody and too heavy on the atmospherics to stand repeated listening. I think The Less Dead has managed to generate the necessary mental imagery while still creating tracks that have a strong melodic component to them. I was especially enamoured of the melody played on guitar on "15 Miles East." It was energetic, catchy and driving. I felt that, as the first track, it was engaging introduction to the story.
I’ve already discussed some of the tracks that I found interesting, but I’ll add a more comprehensive run down of all the tracks that really caught my ears and talk a little more about the elements that I enjoyed most in them.
One of Millennium Falck’s collaborative contributions “Fahrenheit” was a track that really stuck with me. I enjoyed the way the track began with dark, ghostly winds sweeping through as its mournful synth arps are joined by an equally melancholy piano melody. The music drifts through a landscape of loss and deprivation and conveys a strong sense of yearning for things gone past.
The sense that one is about to discover something horrible pervades “Jane Doe.” I enjoyed this track because of imagery it managed to create. From the arps that swelled out of the darkness of the background to the contrast between higher and lower pitched synth lines and the way the tension builds, all of the moving parts of the song turned the screws and managed to create a sense of dark discovery.
Another particularly enjoyable track for me was “Starlight.” It’s airy, spacious and drifting with a sense of uplift to contrast with the weight of much of the album. There’s a synth with an almost vocal sound to it that pulses through the track. The clouds part to let in the starlight of a clear sky and for a moment, hope seems to have flickered to life.
Ampholyte’s contribution to the album “The Machine” was a track that got into my head. The pounding beat, the unsettling mechanical sounds that start it off and the contrast between those and the catchy melody that was created for the track made it especially compelling. I was also a big fan of the “pan flute” sort of synth that was included on the track.
“Traffic Chase” was a nice slice of Outrun-style driving music. The imagery of the road rushing by is strongly painted by this track. All of the various elements conspire to generate an intense feeling of speed. The warm analog sound of the synth playing triumphal notes enhances the cinematic feeling of the whole piece.
At the end of listening to Static, I felt like my brain had been taken on a musical exploration. All of the contrasting parts, the balance of melodic and atmospheric tracks and the way in which tension grew, was released and began building again throughout the album transported me through the world that The Less Dead and his collaborators created in a rather enjoyable way.