Album Review: Lazerhawk – Dreamrider

As a pioneer of synthwave music, Lazerhawk and his music are familiar to most fans of the genre. 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!, and College. Although those releases now show their age with repetitive song structures laden with uncomplicated rhythms and melodies, there is an undeniable enthusiasm and excitement in the recordings that has helped them remain attractive in the wake of the genre’s incredible evolution. In the five years since Visitors, the world has received one brilliant new synthwave release after another. New and talented musicians have flocked from other musical endeavors to take a shot at the burgeoning synthwave scene, each one pushing innovative approaches and greater technical skills. In short, the genre has transformed from the simplicity of Lazerhawk’s brand of Synthwave 1.0 into a more elaborate, sophisticated, and rewarding musical style. Sadly, Dreamrider feels like a belated and apologetic attempt at a serious musical endeavor from one of synthwave’s absentee founding fathers, and it has no chance of competing with modern releases in the scene.

The disappointment of Dreamrider should be no real surprise, as Lazerhawk’s last effort, 2013’s Skull and Shark was a largely disposable effort in its own right. Its flaws were somewhat forgivable for its earnest attempt to contribute to the then-new darksynth style, and a pair of songs stood out as moments of excellence amid the otherwise dreary and dull recording. As with its predecessors, Skull and Shark struggled under the weight of repetitive compositions, but unlike Lazerhawk’s first two efforts, the melodic features of its audioscape were too bland to compensate for the changeless rhythms. Hope springs eternal for the music fan, however, and it was difficult not to feel excitement at the possibility of a triumphant return for Lazerhawk in the form of Dreamrider, especially after a glance 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” is actually a full-length song that establishes a precedent for the album with an unyielding beat and structure, maintaining a straight trajectory for its duration. The introduction of new melodic elements throughout the song offers a few surprises, and the first half seems like a pleasant, albeit minimal and withdrawn, effort that could play in the background of a room without causing consternation. But the simplicity of the structure denies any possible reward for seeing the music to its end, 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 nice moments with agreeable melodies, and new elements arrive as it progresses for a small amount of variety, but the static beat grows tedious before the track even hits its midpoint. A brief break in the center creates a reprieve and an opportunity to hope for something new and refreshing to arrive, yet the same beat returns with its trudging simplicity to apathetically grind out the rest of song. The feather light synth tones that ping and echo across the surface of the beat, although mildly pleasing, cannot compensate for the mindless drone of the rhythm, and “Cruise” offers no incentive to finish its first playthrough, let alone return to it for a second listen.

The unfortunate pattern of songwriting lethargy is cemented on the ironically named third track, “Feel the Rush Tonight.” A pretty vocal contribution from Gunship is a welcome addition, though the brain-beating simplicity of the underlying structure is enough to send a listener scrambling for the controls by the end of the unnecessarily long five-and-a-half minute piece. The track could easily be salvaged with a break that introduced distinctly new song elements or a willingness to trim two or more minutes from the song’s redundant length, but the final result is a wearisome effort that pales in contrast to vocal compositions from other artists in 2017.

The first three songs inflict minor wounds on Dreamrider, but “Somnus” is a grievous blow that brings the album to its knees with a fulfillment of Lazerhawk’s potential for mind-numbing music. The handful of interesting melodic elements present on Dreamrider‘s opening tracks dissipate entirely before the album even reaches its midpoint, making “Somnus” an irredeemable effort that fails to deliver a single interesting or remarkable moment. It drones on for over four minutes with virtually no deviation in its sparse, downtempo delivery, and the result would feel more at home on a debut recording from a young synthwave enthusiast than on the fourth full-length release from an innovator of the genre. Miraculously, the follow-up song, “Dreamrider” manages to be even less imaginative, and it is the title track that sadly delivers the killing blow. By the time “Dreamrider” reaches the end of its five-minute running length, 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.

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 songwriters from around the world, Dreamrider is a tragic offering that provides no comfort for fans who waited four years to hear from Lazerhawk. The recording’s potential, based on releases that are already out of date and elementary by Synthwave 2.0 standards, is left completely unfulfilled. Fans who are only superficially familiar with the genre may convince themselves to like this one, but everyone else can safely avoid this one and preserve their fond memories of Lazerhawk’s early albums in the process.

Rating: 18 / 100

The album:

The artist: