Synthwave has experienced a rapid and continuous evolution since its emergence in the late 2000s, and Greyskull’s 2017 debut album Eighties Kids perfectly embodies that mentality of growth and experimentation. The recording pays homage to foundational releases of the genre while refusing to be complacent with an established sound. Nearly every track throws in one or two new ideas to crack the mold. That willingness to take risks is not without its pitfalls, and several songs suffer from their inclination to explore, but when the risks pay off they place Greyskull in an elite group of songwriters in the genre.
Things kick off with “Run for the Treeline,” an understated and shadowy slice of music that contrasts its stiff beat with crystalline tones. The song is burdened with a repetitiveness that prevents it from fulfilling its potential, but the intriguing melodies that emerge serve as a primer for the excellence that follows.
“When I See Her, I’ll Tell Her” summons up the nostalgic magic of College’s Heritage, blending hopefulness and regret into a single emotion. Greyskull navigates diverse musical terrain on this one, opening with a swelling, ambient-driven soundscape pierced by a soaring melody before confidently yielding to a funk-inspired bass interlude. From there, new layers build the density and complexity of the song until its explosive climax at the four-minute mark. The music is subtle, patient, and willing to deliver singular moments, qualities it shares with the best songs in the genre.
The most compelling and surprising track to emerge from the recording is “Flashlight Tag.” Its opening section is underpinned by a punchy beat while coarse bass notes swell and push along the feather-light melodies that float on the surface. Abruptly, Greyskull drops his meticulously layered opening to introduce a remarkable musical moment, featuring what could be called the synthesizer approximation of a lute. The simple yet elegant string melody is quickly reinforced by the familiar, coarse bass notes, effortlessly building and shifting back into the song’s main section. Like “When I See Her, I’ll Tell Her,” this track is a masterwork of subtle song progression.
“Picked Up From the Dance” is particularly notable for its willingness to incorporate new sounds, including a crunchy electric guitar that carefully manages to not overwhelm the melodies that twinkle and pulse around it. Of everything on the album, this song is the most experimental, delivering a wealth of disparate textures and audio pieces that somehow come together into a cohesive whole.
The biggest disappointments are the two vocal tracks. “Outside My Garage” is easily the most upbeat song on the album, but Stephen Galgocy’s vocal delivery feels thick and ungainly. “Save the Clock Tower” is another track that harkens back to early College releases with a minimalist beat and melancholic melody. Regina L. holds up her end of things adequately enough, though the song suffers from monotony and a quirky melody that feels forced when the human voice and synthesizer attempt it together.
I never like to mark down an album for having too much material, especially in a digital age when listeners can so easily curate their collection to play the songs they like. Still, the 60-minute run time of Eighties Kids feels unnecessary, and the exceptional moments are sometimes difficult to uncover amidst the surplus of songs. A tighter, more refined package could have marked Greyskull’s debut as one of the best synthwave albums to date.
In its sum, Eighties Kids comes together in powerful, if a bit of a lopsided, package. A lengthy runtime obscures the essential moments, and the songwriting ventures have a tendency to fizzle. However, the experimentation and song diversity frequently propel Eighties Kids into exciting new territory without compromising the nostalgia and magic that define the genre. Inspired songwriting paired with the bold, confident choices Greyskull makes with his variety of synthesizer effects put him at the forefront of the scene, and Eighties Kids should not be missed by fans of the genre.
Rating: 87 / 100
Buy the album: