Synthwave Album Review: "The Year Was 2120" by Peacecraft
Peacecraft has created a dynamic slice of synthwave on The Year Was 2120 that harks back to the initial excitement of the scene’s flowering. He manages to make musical moves that add freshness, dynamic energy and his own personal touch to the ingredients that make synthwave such compelling and enjoyable music.
The Year Was 2120 is defined by a tapestry of sound that spins out sonic tales and makes for a listening experience that is broad and varied. This is well-executed synthwave that grabbed my ears and didn’t want to let go.
Before anything else, this is an album that uses music to paint vivid imagery for the ears. Peacecraft does this by combining synths in interesting ways. I enjoy the fact that there are synth sounds that run the gamut from deep, hollow resonances to glittering chimes and from robotic feeling moments to much more organic sounds, despite everything being synthesized.
The sonic tapestry is also added to by the growl of guitar, seriously deep and thunderous drums at times as well as much more subtle percussion. There is also a thick upwelling of bass on some of the tracks that adds an additional element of power to the music. The ways in which all of the sounds intertwine and interact produce some intense moments as well as moments of delicate beauty.
Although Peacecraft says he came late to making music, he doesn’t show it with this album. The level of production on The Year Was 2120 is very high. It’s clear that he spent a great deal of time polishing and refining the sound. All of the musical elements are clear and sharply delineated, there’s nothing muddy or indistinct and all of the various parts of the music are given their appropriate due in the mix. I still feel like, as a whole, the synth scene has a higher level of production quality than many other genres.
This is also an album that used vocal samples to good effect. Those samples helped to set the mood and added an additional storytelling element to the album that didn’t go amiss. Peacecraft didn’t overuse them, but he did make sure that they were an effective part of the whole. They certainly didn’t take away from the cohesive nature of the album.
I got the feeling with The Year Was 2120 that each track helped to build on the previous track, working up to a total package that held together well and explored many themes and ideas while not becoming scattered and disorganized. The flow of one track to another made it a seamless listening experience.
Having said that, there were tracks on this album that stood out more than the others for me, so I’ll have a go at discussing the reasons why those particular tracks took hold in my head and wouldn’t let go.
“Life Begins Again” starts off warmly with a smoothly flowing beat and chiming synths that glow warmly through the air and space of this track. The delicate chimes brush over the surface of the track as a caressing melody floats through them gently. As the track develops, a stronger beat joins that warmly delicate sound and the tempo explodes as the track moves towards its conclusion, accelerating as it spins out on energetic beats and the chiming synth singing beautifully.
There’s a strong vocal sample in “Welcome to the Future” that sets the mood for the track. There are expansive, slowly evolving synth arps that rise warmly with that vocal sample. Those arps increase in speed as a bass pattern pulsates underneath them. The lead synth has the fluting qualities of a woodwind instrument to it as it plays a delicate melody over whirling arps and a strong rhythm that bursts with energy. I enjoyed the way in which the drums and the arps interlock with each other
“Radiation Summer” is a track that has a certain ominous darkness to it. The vocal sample consists of official sounding voices speaking of radiation danger moving over a slow, heavy beat and guitars that sing mournfully through it all. Arps begin to glisten over the darkness of the bass and the thunderous, slow drums. Those arps circle slowly as the guitar keeps crying out. I also enjoyed the melody that was tinged with sadness over all the weight of this track.
A line of poetry opens “Darker Times” along with a quick, dark throb of synth sound and a heavy kick drum that smacks into the track. The guitar along with gritty, pulsing synths bring darkness and tension into this track. Chiming synth adds a leavening touch but there’s still a great deal of shadow here. The contrast between the warm chiming sounds and the weight adds a nice balance to the track. I also enjoy the sound of the piano taking over the main melody work as the track progresses.
“Time Passes” has a very expansive feel to it. Various synth elements flow in and out of the music and a high, crystal synth plays gentle notes that move out through the rich background. We get a pulse of electric bass to match those steady drums and that weighty beat increases slowly in tempo as another flutter of drums comes in. There is a sense of positive energy that flows through this track, the heartbeat of the drums is strong and the melody churns with power. I also enjoyed the sensation of acceleration each time the beat ramped up.
The Year Was 2120 is a celebration of synth-drenched, atmospheric music that is full of strong imagery and a sense of movement. Peacecraft may have come late to the party but he’s a welcome addition to the world of synth music and I’ll be interested to see where he takes his music next.