Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
Cookie-cutter synthwave songs are becoming an unfortunate reality as the genre becomes more popular. People can, if they’re so inclined simply find some drum patches, some synth patches and VSTs and kind of assemble all of the elements into something roughly approximating synthwave. This, thankfully, is not what Neon Arcadia does. Their latest single "Cruise Control," in collaboration with Tom Selica, is far from a clichéd synthwave song. It isn’t a stereotypical piece from many angles. From the very beginning, the drums are not what one would necessarily expect from a traditional synthwave song. This, of course, is down to actually using a real drummer, as opposed to using virtual drums on the song. The drummer’s metal background comes through and adds a nice edge to the music.
The synth riff that underpins the track is rocking but also has a bright quality that contrasts with the darker washes of sound that drift underneath. The overall sonic effect is to generate a mental picture of the road unfurling like a grey and black ribbon under the wheels of a car speeding heedlessly on and on.
There’s a balance between a sound that lifts you high into the air and the darker undertones that are delivered by the lyrics. I also rather enjoyed the “break” section with the piano lines and synth melody that drifts over them. After the break, the jazzy synth line that kicks in adds to the sonic quality of the music. Overall, the effect manages to generate strong images in the mind’s eye.
The vocals are strong and delivered with a real punch. The sense of being on the edge between darkness and light, control and loss of control comes across well in the music. The image that leaps into my head is that of a car rolling down an endless freeway. I got lost in the reverie of pavement blurring under the wheels and tin he sense of ceding control to forces that cause us to drift onwards down this road, regardless of our will and intent.
At the end of the day, so much of synthwave comes down to generating images and producing an effect of filmic quality. One of the reasons why I personally enjoy the genre is the fact that the songs tell stories or more accurately, snippets of a larger story. I always feel like I’m seeing clips from a film that paint one clear image when I hear a good synthwave song. I’d have to say that, in my view, Neon Arcadia and Tom Selica have created such a piece with Cruise Control. I hope that there will be more collaborations between the two artists in the future!