It’s become equally rare and exciting to hear a classic style of synthwave performed well, especially from newcomers to the genre. In a year when several founding artists have struggled to produce quality music, Overvad provides a fresh voice and commitment to the sounds of Synthwave 1.0 the genre can use. In short, the six-song Massive Scoop EP is a reminder of what made retro-themed synth music great in the first place. This is Overvad’s first release, but it’s impossible to tell from the many excellent and well composed pieces that comprise the recording. Overvad cites Lost Years as his primary influence, and the vast, space-centric sound of Massive Scoop delivers an admirable emulation that frequently surpasses the repetitive tracks on Lost Years’ seminal recordings thanks to original and innovative song structures.
It’s clear upfront that Overvad has a gift for music production. Massive Scoop’s mix is clear and wide open, allowing the bass to expand with impressive impact and the high notes to roam freely through the audioscape. All elements have space to breathe, and the interplay between them feels three-dimensional. Massive Scoop is a professional effort that sounds as good as almost anything in the genre, and Overvad frequently matches the quality of his mix with beautiful and subtle compositions that progress through a series of cinematic moments. True to his interests in progressive rock bands like Pink Floyd, Overvad smartly saves his best moments until late in a song’s running time, allowing the first half to build anticipation that pays off when the music reaches its culmination.
Unfortunately, the excellent moments on Massive Scoop don’t arrive right away. The title track that opens the recording is by far the weakest entry, and despite its four-minute running time, “Massive Scoop” feels less like a complete song than an overly long intro. The piece tends to feel redundant, with few interesting melodies to grab onto and no real changes in structure to keep listeners interested. Fortunately, the disappointing “Massive Scoop” is quickly redeemed by “Red Nebula,” which offers the first taste of Overvad’s true potential.
Featuring a prominent voice sample of Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Red Nebula” delivers a series of eerie melodies that build through a masterful arrangement. The crystalline tones of the opening soon take a backseat to a prominent synth melody, which in turn yields to a gleaming succession of notes near the midpoint. The organic transition into each new phase expertly builds tension and rewards a listener’s patience, and the climax is accented by subtle percussive shifts and a return to Picard’s monologue late in the song. The result is an understated effort that creates a transportive experience, especially on a good pair of speakers or headphones.
A brief decline occurs on “Cop 555,” which suffers from too little deviation in its beat despite some enticing melodic elements. The song is mildly attractive, though it pales in comparison to the entries around it, making it a bit of a speed bump in the road to Massive Scoop‘s excellent back half.
“No Tail Lights” contributes to the car chase theme of older synthwave tracks like Nightstop’s “LA Heat” and Miami Nights 1984’s “The Getaway.” The track builds slowly, opening with a tense underlying rhythm and the sound of a sports car firing up and speeding out into the night. Overvad maintains suspense across the first half of “No Tail Lights,” adding new melodies in one moment, dropping the beat out from under the song in the next, and weaving a nuanced story through the interplay of the various elements. Deep, pounding bass beats support the succinct melodies and drive the music forward to an electrifying midpoint. It’s easy to feel a chill when the synth lead enters the picture, rising over the composition with a dominant and dramatic flair. Compellingly, the end of the solo turns out to be a transition point, and the lead synth quickly returns with an altered melody to carry the song into new territory. The ensuing transformations, accented by a series of perfectly placed breaks, are nothing short of sublime.
Riding the immense success of “No Tail Lights,” Overvad launches into the EP’s longest track on “Space to High.” The song is comprised of three basic parts, including its opening section, a lengthy break in the middle, and a final section that echoes the earlier moments. The progression is intriguing, and though the track is missing the peaks and valleys of “No Tail Lights,” its many shifts and melodic progressions keep things exciting enough to justify the eight-minute running length. It’s a brighter, more optimistic sound than “No Tail Lights,” and it contrasts nicely with the music on either side of it.
“When Planets Collide” rounds out the EP with Overvad’s darkest entry. Its somber melodies conjure up the coldness of distant space, and mechanical percussion contributes to the feel of remote space-age technology. As with other entries on Massive Scoop, Overvad withholds the song’s key melody until the stage is set for an impressive entrance, and alterations to the beat near the midpoint generate satisfying shifts in the audioscape beneath the spacey synthesizer notes. The immense array of effects and the inspired interaction between them reward active listening, and the song’s patient delivery becomes increasingly satisfying on repeated listens.
Massive Scoop‘s six entries represent a remarkable, though somewhat lopsided effort. Two of the songs don’t live up to Overvad’s potential and are easy to dismiss. However, the remaining pieces reveal genuine songwriting chops and an endearing affinity for early synthwave music. In a genre that’s losing of many of its innovators and undergoing rapid diversification, Overvad’s skillful commitment to a classic sound is a welcome addition. Several songs, such as “No Tail Lights” and “Red Nebula” could be structurally classified as progressive music, and they represent a more intelligent and innovative approach to songwriting than the repetitive structure of their inspirations. Massive Scoop is exciting in its own right, and if its songs are an indication of Overvad’s future endeavors, then fans of early synthwave have plenty to look forward to.
Rating: 83 / 100
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