Massive. Epic. Monumental.
These terms often come off as cliches, and their overuse in music descriptions has diminished their relevance as descriptors. But in the case of Isidor’s new full-length album, 3218, there’s simply no way around them. From the moment the album’s intro on “Star Sheriff” gives way to the thunderous bass and gleaming synth melodies, “massive” is the only word that can properly describe the power behind 3218. When the understated and beautiful “Touch the Sky” reaches its conclusion, “epic” is nearly the only term that can do it justice. And by the time 3218‘s musical journey across diverse soundscapes draws to a close, it’s difficult to deny the monumental imagination, atmosphere, and overall quality that permeates the recording.
Isidor only recently emerged on the synthwave scene, releasing his first full-length album, Dark Night Genesis, in 2016. The music on 3218 reveals a deep appreciation for and understanding of the genre, though like many of the best synthwave albums, Isidor’s influences are not limited to its foundational contributors. Touches of classical music shine through in one moment, science fiction movie soundtracks reveal their atmospheric influence in another, and female vocals with a distinctive Serbian flair give the music a refreshing flavor that stands apart from the synth music coming out of North America and Western Europe. Isidor is a self-identified sci-fi geek, and 3218 is his vision of the future, heavily inspired by sci-fi movies, video games, and TV shows. 3218 is no mere soundtrack, however. It is an artistic triumph in its own right, and it delivers an experience that is every bit as rewarding as the best parts of franchises like Star Trek and Mass Effect.
3218 promptly establishes its musical might on the opener, “Star Sheriff,” which proves to be one of the album’s most invigorating entries. A bright melody slides across a roaring bass track that feels like it could do structural damage to a room at high volume. The energetic percussion delivers an unrelenting audio strike, pounding out three and a half minutes of masterful space synth. “Soldier of Fortune” follows on the heels of the opener with a more relaxed, but no less robust delivery, churning out deep bass notes while a beguiling melody guides the monstrous track throughout much of its duration. A handful of breakdowns clear the air just long enough for the towering percussion to re-assert its dominance each time it enters the soundscape.
The album’s aggressive opening moments are broken up on the fourth track, “Touch the Sky,” which delivers the recording’s first taste of emotional songwriting. The adventurous track has an undeniable optimism to it, though it’s frequently undercut with a touch of melancholy, as though the brilliance and magic of touching the sky might actually be the last thing a person ever does. The aforementioned female vocals float softly above the music, lending an angelic touch to an already mystical audio space. In one moment, monstrous percussion hammers down and collides with crystalline melodies to scatter sparks of pure euphoria across the listener. In another, sparkling synth notes glimmer on the surface of the dense rhythm, like luminescent minerals capturing moonlight on the craggy surface of a remote planet. The contrast of textures and effects on “Touch the Sky” is nothing short of sublime, and it contributes to what is likely the album’s strongest entry.
The majesty of “Touch the Sky” brilliantly descends into the enigmatic “Secrets of the Universe,” the album’s most minimal and downtempo track. If “Touch the Sky” is a glorious and tragic ascent into the heavens, then “Secrets of the Universe” is the fallout of that Icarian act, the audial equivalent of tumbling through space as the fabric of the universe is rent apart. “Secrets of the Universe” is the album’s longest entry and also the only one missing Isidor’s signature crater-forming bass beats, making it a singular and exquisite moment in 3218‘s landscape.
Isidor immediately returns to form with the effervescent “Stardust,” which establishes momentum that ensuing tracks maintain through most of the recording’s back half. The primary melody on “Stardust” is an exceptionally bright string of notes that recalls chiptune music and cheerful video game soundtracks, yet between these playful moments, “Stardust” surprisingly hammers out some of the album’s most aggressive songwriting. Coarse, grinding rhythms recall the darksynth efforts of artists like Perturbator and Carpenter Brut, providing remarkable contrast and complement to the song’s more ebullient moments.
Unfortunately, the unrelenting excellence of 3218‘s first six songs diminishes slightly in its back half. “Timeline” and “Grid Surfer” pass by unremarkably, if competently, with both songs leaning on a static beat for their duration and growing stale before their conclusion. “Solaris Rising” fares marginally better, but offers little that couldn’t be found in earlier tracks. The Japanese folk sounds of “The Last Geisha” help it stand out from the pack, and a compelling mix of melodies also give “Apollo” a unique personality.
However, any slips toward mediocrity are immediately forgotten on “Sirius A,” the album’s final entry. Opening with a deceptively relaxed attitude, the song quickly expands into an elaborate and ever-evolving creation that serves as a fitting conclusion to Isidor’s space voyage. Of all the tracks on 3218, “Sirius A” is easily the most cinematic. Its beautiful song composition builds tension, unveils secrets, and delivers enough unique moments to create a sense of constant progression. The result is a singular piece of musical storytelling that remains riveting throughout its duration. Just as “Sirius A” reaches its full form, Isidor drops the bottom out of the song, leaving the listener abruptly stranded in a moment of dissipating audio, and then, agonizingly–silence. It’s a majestic and inspired piece of music that is capable of inducing chills multiple times in a single listen. The excellent pacing and interplay between elements make “Sirius A” the most intelligent song on the album, and they cement Isidor’s status as one of the most gifted songwriters in the synthwave game.
Taken in its entirety, 3218 is a first-rate showcase of synth splendor. The immaculate and spacious sound production gives every song the strength of a titan, and Isidor’s brilliant songwriting exploits that potential to its fullest. From the immense power of songs like “Star Sheriff” and “Touch the Sky” to cerebral moments on “Secrets of the Universe” and “Sirius A,” 3218 delivers numerous rich and rewarding compositions that tower over the efforts of lesser songwriters. Isidor’s densely constructed songs provide enough depth and subtlety to reward numerous listens, and the 12-song selection is beefy and diverse enough to justify the effort. A handful of less interesting songs late in the recording do little to diminish the mastery exhibited on 3218‘s best tracks, and the overall album quality reaches the high mark for the genre.
Massive. Epic. Monumental. Choose any adjective you like for Isidor’s masterpiece, there’s no denying the awe-inspiring accomplishment that is 3218.
Rating: 97 / 100