Lazerhawk’s role as a pioneer of synthwave music is undeniable. The artist’s first two albums, 2010’s Redline and 2012’s Visitors, remain pivotal and essential contributions to the genesis of retro synthesizer music alongside releases from Miami Nights 1984, Futurecop!, Kavinsky, and others. However, the genre has transformed dramatically since then, evolving into a much more elaborate, sophisticated, and rewarding style of music.
Sadly, Lazerhawk has not progressed from the rudimentary songwriting of his early releases, and Dreamrider feels like a belated attempt at a serious musical endeavor from one of synthwave’s absentee founding fathers. With its archaic song structures and overly long track lengths, Lazerhawk’s brand of Synthwave 1.0 has no chance of competing with the best modern releases in the genre.
The disappointment of Dreamrider should be no surprise, as even Lazerhawk’s strongest releases, the aforementioned Redline and Visitors, now show their age with repetitive song structures filled with uncomplicated rhythms and melodies. The undeniable enthusiasm and excitement in the recordings remain clear, though the high degree of monotony makes them difficult to enjoy in the wake of the genre’s incredible evolution.
Lazerhawk’s last effort, 2013’s Skull and Shark, has fared even worse. The album was a largely underwhelming effort upon release, and although its shortcomings were somewhat forgivable for its earnest attempt to contribute to the then-new darksynth style, only a few songs were worth hearing among the otherwise dreary and dull recording. As with its predecessors, Skull and Shark struggled under the weight of repetitive compositions, but unlike the first two albums, the melodic features of its audioscape were too bland to compensate for the changeless song structures.
Given the nature of past releases, it was a safe bet that any new Lazerhawk effort would be a disappointing one. Hope springs eternal for the music fan, however, and it was difficult not to feel excitement at the possibility of a triumphant return for the artist in the form of Dreamrider, especially after a glimpse at the colorful cover artwork.
However, from the opening notes of the album’s first track, “Neon Dawn,” it’s clear the simple, monotonous compositions of Lazerhawk’s past efforts have not evolved in the seven years since Redline was released. In fact, they’ve somehow degenerated. Although it feels like an intro, “Neon Dawn” drags out to a full-length song that establishes a bleak precedent for the album with its unyielding beat and song structure.
The introduction of a few new melodic elements over the course of the track offers some surprises, and the first half seems like a pleasant, albeit minimal and withdrawn, effort that could play quietly in the background of a room. But the simplicity of the music denies any possible reward for close listening, and it ultimately cannot come close to justifying the five-and-a-half minute running time.
“Cruise” follows up the intro track with a downtempo pace and subtle, spacey synth notes. Once again, the song delivers some agreeable melodies, but the static beat and general repetition grow tedious before the track even hits its midpoint. A brief break in the center of the song creates a reprieve and an opportunity for something new and refreshing to arrive, yet the same beat and reverb-heavy instrumentation return with their trudging simplicity to apathetically grind out the rest of song. The feather light synth tones that ping and echo across the surface scarcely contain enough identity to compensate for the mindless drone of the rhythm, and although “Cruise” is one of the album’s best tracks, it offers little incentive to hear it more than a few times.
“Feel the Rush Tonight” is similarly enticing at first, featuring a pretty vocal contribution from Gunship that will feel warmly familiar to fans of Modest Mouse, though once again the simplicity of the underlying structure makes it difficult to endure the unnecessarily long five-and-a-half minute piece. The track could be elevated quite easily with a break that introduced distinctly new song elements or a willingness to trim two or more minutes from the song’s redundant song length, but no such salvation ever arrives, leaving the music to trudge on interminably.
The first three tracks inflict minor wounds on Dreamrider, though they are actually the closest thing to highlights the album can offer. Entries like “Somnus” and “Mirror Between Worlds” strike grievous blows that bring the album to its knees with a fulfillment of Lazerhawk’s potential for mind-numbing music.
By the midpoint of the album, it’s heartbreakingly clear there’s no point in persisting into the remainder of the album. Those intrepid enough to make the journey will find a musical wasteland that somehow exceeds the futility of the recording’s first half. “Cool Breeze” marks the last landmark of mildly interesting music before listeners must tread into an unyielding abyss.
Like other early contributors to the synthwave scene, Lazerhawk has been unable to keep up with the genre he helped shape, and instead seems to have actually regressed. Dreamrider is a grating and often tedious effort that would be an underachiever as a debut album, even in 2012. As a release from an established artist in 2017, dropped into an ocean of synthwave music highlighted by brilliant and innovative releases from artists like Phaserland, Nightstop, and Wolf and Raven, Dreamrider provides no comfort for those who waited four years to hear from Lazerhawk.
Fans who are only superficially familiar with synthwave music may convince themselves to like this one, but everyone else can safely avoid it and preserve their fond memories of Lazerhawk’s early albums in the process.
Rating: 18 / 100 (Terrible)
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