Monday 17 July 2017

Dark Music Review – Akuma

Dark Music Review – Akuma

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Akuma Album Art

Album description: Lovely Dark Work! ALEX and Tokyo Rose team up to make a killer album. Packed with plenty of dark synth, hard-hitting beats and retro-electro sounds. AKUMA is a fresh sound and experience for the Darkwave lovers. Turn this one up and enjoy.

I’ve been very slow to get my backside in gear and properly check out the whole darkwave / retrowave music genre. Awhile ago, heavy metal magazine Metal Hammer wrote an article about it, talking about artists such as Perturbator and someone else I’ve sadly forgotten. While it piqued my interest and sent me off to listen to a few YouTube vids and tracks on Bandcamp, I didn’t really click with it, and so moved on.

Maybe it wasn’t the right time for me, or maybe I just hadn’t landed on a musician that grabbed me by the hair and licked my neck until I went “Wow!”. (That’s a strange image, no idea where that came from). It was on re-watching a film that I realised that the seeds of attraction had been planted years ago. That film was Drive and the reason was its soundtrack. One of the standout tracks of that film was Nightcall by Kavinsky. Another is A Real Hero by College and Electric Youth. There is a really great article about the origins of synthwave on the NewRetroWave website here if you want to read about these artists, Drive, and other people that have made their mark. 

I recently joined Bandcamp, which is something I wish I’d done a few years ago. Most of my music review copies come to me via Bandcamp codes, so you’d think I would have signed up for a free fan account to make full use of it right? I said I’ve been slow. Since signing up, I’ve been browsing around and discovering a lot more music. I think Bandcamp is now my favourite music discovery avenue at this moment in time. On one of my many browsings, I came across Akuma, and it blew me away.

Many of the tracks feature a vibe that seems half 80s videogame score, half neon-painted future dystopia. They make great use of pulsing beats and echoing electro-notes to create soundscapes that contain movement, lightness and heaviness at the same time. And I haven’t even mentioned the infectious melodies that dance around in the top layer, ones that wriggle their way into the ear and are still knocking around in there when you are trying to get to sleep later that night.

The two standout tracks for me are Akuma and Cursed. Akuma begins with what I’d describe as an insidious beat, one that just has a darkness to it. Everything fuzzes up with another layer before Rachel McAlpine’s syrupy vocals emerge to reset the pattern. It feels like a hot, dark track, the various elements creating some great contrasting sensations, such as space and constriction.

Cursed begins with a slight dab of vocals and an airiness that pretty much sets the tone. When the stronger beat and lyrics begin,the swells of rhythm create a dizzying intoxicating effect, which is further enhanced when a kind of duplication occurs to expand them a little later. The effect is added to by twinkling chime-like notes behind the lyrics, notes that sit nicely above the deeper beat and create a teasingly balanced soundscape.

There are tracks that are slower paced, more meditative affairs, such as Delete Soul. Delete Soul is a track that starts low and chilled, and builds in intensity as its playing time progresses, the soft “Oooh” of a female vocal the thread that holds the listener’s hand through the peaks and valleys of synth. Okay, I now realise that I have three favourite tracks.

Akuma is an album that got its hooks into me and seems to have given me an opening into a music genre that I’d only gently bounced off before. There is a dark warmth and sinister edge to many of the notes and beats, like the pounding soundtrack to an 80’s slasher flick or the nostalgia of playing 8-Bit videogames on crappy fat-backed TV’s with dodgy RCA cables, the kind that make the image crackle if moved. This attraction surprises me, as I’m not typically a nostalgic person and I don’t really hanker for the days, or technology, of my youth either. So kudos Akuma, kudos indeed.

Visit the Akuma page on Bandcamp for more info at this link.

You can watch the video for title track Akuma below, a video that further plucks at the themes I’ve mentioned above:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Akuma
Album Artist: ALEX and Tokyo Rose
Label: NewRetroWave
Album Artwork: Ariel ZB 
Released: June 23, 2017