Album Review: Javarnanda – Archeosynth

Archeosynth is easily one of the most mysterious and uniquely satisfying synthwave releases to date. As the root word of the album title suggests, Javarnanda has created a recording that evokes images of ancient civilizations and their beliefs in powerful and sometimes dangerous gods of the cosmos. The dense amalgam of musical influences on Archeosynth is stunning, and there are few accurate comparisons to make between the style of the album and any of its contemporaries. That uniqueness alone would be commendable, though the high level of technical execution and frequently inspired songwriting place some of the album’s entries into an elite group. However, the album has two distinct sides to it, and its unlikely that most people will enjoy the album front to back. The final result sometimes feels like two separate EPs placed together to constitute a full-length album, and the brilliance of the opening moments tends to diminish as the recording progresses.

It has to be said upfront: Archeosynth has a sound that cannot be mistaken for anything else in the synthwave scene. Although it certainly contains elements of ‘80s pop and electro, these are mixed with diverse other influences that set it apart from all other retro synth artists. Javarnanda acknowledges an interest in an array of musical creations, from the psychedelic rock of Jade Warrior and experimental sounds of Ashra to John Carpenter soundtracks and traditional chants from around the world. Despite the vast differences between some of these styles, Javarnanda frequently manages to synthesize them into a remarkably complete style.

The album begins with a venture into the subtly dark and mysterious space of “Floods.” Sparse synth notes ping and echo across the soundscape before ominous ambient tones and a foreboding rhythm enter the picture. After a deliberate and expertly executed buildup, the music opens into bright synth melodies that recall ‘80s-era synthpop and Italo disco. The contrast of the menacing understructure with the pop elements is striking and somehow fully organic. Images of jungles and spaceships simultaneously come to mind, and the song creates a lush landscape of seemingly incompatible musical ideas to form a magical, cohesive whole.

The humble success of the innovative “Floods” quickly yields to the highly melodic and funky “Pitagora.” The track’s strong electro influence shines through unapologetically, and the music is rich with percussive details and elaborate basslines that weave a mentally stimulating synthwave composition. The masterful technical delivery of the track further heightens the track’s quality, and it deserves recognition as one of the best synthwave songs of the year.

“Zep Tepi” maintains the high levels of success established in the early going, offering a singular listening experience that is the equivalent of venturing into ancient Mayan ruins and discovering alien technology. The piece is guided by a beautifully efficient bassline while light synth melodies whistle over the top. It’s an atmospheric gem that succeeds on the strength of its immersive qualities, though the straightforward composition begins to wear thin by the end of its six-minute running time.

In fact, if there’s one complaint to be levied against Archeosynth, it’s the song lengths, which often exceed five minutes. Although Javarnanda’s elaborate and inspired compositions often manage to stave off staleness, almost every track would benefit from being a minute or two shorter. As it is, the musical elements that are surprising and delightful at the one-minute mark begin to lose their flavor by the end of the running time. Unfortunately, this aspect rears it head most strongly on the next three songs.

“Faith” is a beautiful, downtempo piece that feels like a vocal track in spite of its instrumental composition, and it has one of the most classic synthwave sounds of anything on the album. However, like “Zep Tepi,” the song’s straightforward composition can’t justify the five-minute running time, and the initially attractive and sparkling melody begins to wear thin by the end.

“Batista” and “Ararat” fare even worse, especially for fans of melodic, pop-oriented synthwave. Compared to the high level of detail in earlier tracks, the minimal, ambient-inspired compositions of these songs feel almost like long interludes. They clearly reflect Javarnanda’s interest in ‘70s avant-garde music like Ashra and Tangerine Dream, though they feel out of place in contrast with the earlier, melodic offerings, as well as the broader synthwave genre. The result is likely to polarize listeners, appealing more strongly to fans of sparse, downtempo genres.

Javarnanda briefly returns to a more conventional synthwave sound with the closing track, “Night Drift,” which delivers bright melodies and an urgent rhythm that propels the song forward. It’s a fine contribution to the tradition of synthwave music dedicated to fast cars, police chases, and scenic, moonlit drives, and it further reveals the strength and diversity of Javarnanda’s songwriting skills. However, on the heels of the relatively minimal “Cave” and “Pathway,” the song further complicates the album as a whole.

Taken in its entirety, Javarnanda’s sophomore album is an attractive but somewhat bipolar effort that feels like two separate releases pushed together. The opening tracks are densely composed, highly melodic efforts packed with percussive detail, while the middle of the recording provides thoughtful, atmospheric pieces that stretch out in a prolonged series of repetition.

It’s not exactly clear who the intended audience is for the album. The many different approaches reveal Javarnanda’s admirably complex array of influences, though listeners are likely to gravitate to one style more strongly than another. It’s difficult to objectively say that one approach succeeds more than another, especially when tracks like “Cave” and “Pathway” are beautiful and immersive in their own right, but because Archeosynth is marketed toward fans of the synthwave genre, pieces like “Pitagora” and “Night Drift” feel like the more ambitious and successful entries.

In spite of its contrasting compositions, Archeosynth remains an undeniably spirited and original creation that is capable of forming its own fanbase regardless of genre tags. It succeeds in the artist’s goal to create a synth-based album that explores themes of ancient civilizations, and the result is a conceptual voyage into history, science fiction, and superstition. The bold innovation and undeniable technical skill on display make Archeosynth one of the most remarkable albums of the year, even if some of its songs tend to be more rewarding than others.

Rating: 86 / 100

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