Tag Archives: retro synthwave

Scandroid Album Review

Scandroid is a self-titled, full length album released in November, 2016. A cyberpunk tale, this album follows its protagonist Red as he roams the streets of Old Tokyo for the elusive revolutionary sound which will gain him entry to Neo Tokyo – a flying behemoth in whose shadow the ruins of Old Tokyo lie. Accompanied by a suite of lyric videos that serve as visual aids as you delve into this cyberpunk dystopia, Scandroid is an album well worth experiencing. So, let’s begin!

2517

The year is 2517, and we are in Old Tokyo. This synthwave track sets a steady pace, the strings a constant companion for the occasionally driving, occasionally frantic drumbeat. Older minds than mine note that the sound is reminiscent of the Blade Runner movie score (the original, not that other one) so I’m just going to roll with that assessment. By itself, 2517 puts you in mind of a relentless march towards something, and as an intro track, serves to bring you calmly into the storm that is the…

Salvation Code

This is what we’re looking for in Old Tokyo. A dance-worthy rhythm carries Red’s story to our eardrums. Lyrically heavier than 2517 (which is not hard, to be honest), Salvation Code gives context to the listener. Red searches for the Salvation Code, whose transmissions, “coming from [Red’s] savior” are “analog and digital” – indicating that the end goal is to bring the two together. But who’s this savior? Why is there a divide? Is Red alone?

Aphelion

At least one of our questions is answered rather swiftly. Red is not alone in the streets of Old Tokyo. Aphelion, an android, also walks the “empty streets”, and the two seem to strike up a romance. The lyrics strike a sombre note, and the synth beat gives you the feeling of being swept up in an epic, if tragic love story. Aphelion being the point in the orbit of a planet, asteroid, or comet at which it is furthest from the sun, you can understand why we get such lyrics as “so far away from you, my winter has begun”. This song is half-ballad, half-dance track and leads smoothly into the rest of our journey.

Shout

This 80’s hit is surely one of the most recognisable songs in the world, and the cover fits perfectly in the theme of this album. Now that Red and Aphelion are on this journey – analog and digital – we start to hear more of the retro sounds of the 80’s (to which this album can easily be seen as an homage) which are integral to the Salvation Code. The song serves as an anthem, declaring that the current world order is something that we “can do without”. The Salvation Code will help Red and Aphelion usher in something else, and they are marching towards that future.

Destination Unknown

This instrumental track zooms in at breakneck pace, invoking images of our revolutionaries running through the streets, fleeing forces unknown, going towards a, you guessed it, destination unknown. The song alternates dizzy highs and vertigo inducing drops which simulate the kind of adrenaline rush one might experience whilst running for one’s life.

Connection

After this frantic chase, Connection offers us a different look at the situation in which Red and Aphelion find themselves. Themes of defecting, deactivating and stepping outside of the accepted parametres of human-machine relationships are dominant here. Red and Aphelion are essentially, well, engaging in some very taboo intimacy. The pair forsake perfection in favour of making connection, and the uptempo electric guitar in the chorus brings us along for the ride. The lyric video is a voyeuristic look at our singer playing an arcade driving game, overlaid with lyrics, sound waves and all sorts of grainy goodness as he tries to drive inside the lines. Make of that what you will.

Datastream

In my opinion, the sexiest song on this album, Datastream seems to be a flashback to a past relationship. Whether this is Red or Aphelion’s reverie is a little unclear to me, but given that Red is our POV character, I’m going to say this is his memory. Which makes the lyrics very interesting, given that Red is most likely fully human. Synth, electric guitar and an ever-present drumbeat drive this song forward, pushing home the intensity of the lyrics and the sentiment behind them. The chorus speaks for itself:

Open yourself to me 
Prepare to entwine 
Breathing in binary 
Our systems aligned 
Searching for frequencies 
And scanning through time 
Both lost in the datastream 
That’s linking our minds 

Empty Streets

This song, another flashback, gives more insight into Red’s past. Through the lyrics, and the lyric video, we learn that Red’s previous lover is gone, replaced by a clone, and that whilst the streets of Old Tokyo are frequently referred to as being empty, they are, in fact, littered with drones and have other residents. Red, though human, is made of “blood, circuit and bone”, which may explain his quest to find a new path outside of binary thinking. At the end of the lyric video, we see Red and Aphelion meet for the first time. The song itself is frantic, putting you in mind of the kind of haphazard behaviour one might exhibit whilst listless due to loss.

Awakening with you

This is the origin story of how we came to have an Old and Neo Tokyo – the awakening of Atom 7k and EEV. Watch the lyric video because, well – the story is awesome.

Atom & E.E.V

A soulful instrumental, Atom & E.E.V gives you time to sit, hydrate, and think about what you’ve just listened to, learnt about and… yeah… enjoyed. I’ve got to say, by the time I arrived at this point in the album I was ready to call myself a retro synthwave fan and buy merch. Let this song mellow you into the oncoming conclusion of this concept album. Here, we get a glimpse into what the Salvation Code may sound like, as analogue instruments solo over heavy, pulsing digital instrumentation.

Neo-Tokyo

Perhaps symbolically, this video sees us enter the game we’ve so far only seen from the analogue world. In the lyric video Red is on a motorcycle, driving to… look, at this point I don’t know if the destination is still unknown. But all this time, we’ve been watching Red. And we get a look inside his head, where he’s thinking about Aphelion, and how, in the streets of Old Tokyo, they look up and dream of Neo-Tokyo, who’s shadow hovers above. Our lovers and dreamers are determined as ever to make it to their personal heaven, and the Salvation Code is the key.

Pro-bots & Robophobes

Whilst Datastream is the sexiest song on the album, Pro-bots & Robophobes stands out to me as the best track (we all have our opinions!). It captures the essence of this album in 4 minutes of story-telling, eerie and determined vocals with driving synth underpinning everything. The lyric video, with a totally different visual style to what we’ve seen before, offers us a glimpse into what the war which led to the divide between Old and Neo-Tokyo was like. Hint – it’s humans. We are the problem. Watch it below to get all the same feels as I did:

Eden

What is a concept album if not a mind-ensnaring tumble through the creator’s mind? Eden, which has an official video (yep, not a lyric video, a video video) pulls us firmly out of the digital world and into the analogue. And what a transition! Red (Scandroid’s Klayton – you may know him from Celldweller) wanders through “Eden”, where lyrics about an eternal where “I am yours and you are mine” are juxtaposed over a dead city. Presumably, this is Old Tokyo, through whose ruins he wanders, looking at old religious iconograpy, encountering a simple bot still running though its humans have long been gone. We’re looking at the fall-out of a war where two sides which worked hand-in-hand found themselves suddenly opposed – and destroyed Eden in their wake.

Singularity

And so we reach the conclusion of our journey – without a lyric video to tell us what ever really happened. Singularity’s video brings us back into the arcade, but it’s a still image. So… Did Red finally make it to Neo-Tokyo only to discover it a barren “Eden”? Was the quest all for nought, as he wandered the brilliant streets whose vast foundation cast Old Tokyo into shadow? Where is Aphelion? Did Red starve to death (because there’s literally nothing edible in sight in Eden)? In the end, Scandroid leaves us with more questions than answers – which is fitting for a cyberpunk saga.

All in all, this was a solid album, displaying all the best parts of nostalgia whilst skipping over all the worst. Give it a listen if you’re looking to dip your toe into synthwave, cyberpunk, or retro music… or you just like concept albums.

Mood Rating: Enter the datastream, and get in touch with a world beyond the binary. Let Scandroid take you to a world where humans realised their potential as creators… then messed it all up. Because it’s so on brand.