At first glance, it’s tempting to classify C. Samms’ Synthetic Properties as a piece of particularly tight, energetic vaporwave – a more tastefully orchestrated strain of the genre birthed from the internet’s neon guts.
However, besides some shallow aesthetic and sonic tics, the album has less to do with vaporwave and more to do with its more streamlined forebearer – ‘80s synth pop.
There are some flourishes of late ‘70s Italo-disco skirting the edges of these glittering tracks, too, though they’ve been scrubbed clean of their sweaty, human groove and molded into enormous slabs of glowing synth. It’s all chrome, no sequins.
References abound (look no further than the video for single “Valley Uncanny,” which manages to be every ‘80s music video you’ve ever seen at once), and obvious sonic touchstones are everywhere, right down to Samms’ cavernous baritone, echoing richly against the glassy textures surrounding it.
But when you’ve got the ear, overly-referential hero worship can easily become utterly-enjoyable homage, and Samms has the song-writing chops and pop instincts to back up all this neon nostalgia.
The album is blinding, bulletproof and endlessly listenable. It employs its 10-tonne drums, popping bass and weapons-grade synths to take you on a kaleidoscopic trip through a Memphis-designed madhouse. And it’s got some intriguing things to say about digital life, love and human (and near-human) nature to boot.
Many of the tracks are instrumentals, with the swirling, chest-swelling “Hex” ranking among the album’s best. However, Samms is more than capable of writing a good old fashioned pop song too: the aforementioned “Valley Uncanny” is another highlight, riding enormous synthetic bass and a bone-quaking vocal.
Samms cites New Order, Kraftwerk, Oppenheimer Analysis and Absolute Body Control as influences, though none of that will be surprising after listening to Synthetic Properties. What is surprising is what Samms does within the ethos of his more experimental forebearers; condensing their groundbreaking synth work into towering glitter bombs of pure pleasure.
The ‘80s never sounded so huge.
- Kaelen Bell
Published in Volume 73, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 27, 2018)