Ellen Replay’s debut album Star Citizen 426 is a modest and subtly masterful synthwave creation that incorporates elements of classic synthpop, ambient music, space synth, and science fiction movie soundtracks into its tapestry of cosmic-oriented sounds. It delivers some of the finest and most addictive melodies of any release in the genre to date, and there is a natural confidence in the album that helps it stand out from the large crowd of newcomers to the scene. Star Citizen 426 is simultaneously epic and humble, clever and brilliant, and it progresses smartly through a diverse selection of tracks that remain interesting for the album’s entire running time.
There are two primary types of songs on Star Citizen 426: midtempo, synthpop-oriented tracks with punchy percussion, and epic, space-centric ambient pieces that perfectly convey the vastness and coldness of space. Despite their clear differences, the two types of songs work together organically, fully complementing one another and ensuring that no part of the album feels stale or redundant. Ellen Replay’s ability to adeptly alternate between the different tones is remarkable, and as a space-themed synthwave album, it’s comparable in many ways to Compilerbau’s masterpiece, Tachyon.
Ellen Replay’s interest in science fiction films comes through clearly in the music, and Star Citizen 426 often feels like the soundtrack to a throwback science fiction movie produced in the ’80s. That may sound like an oddly specific description, though the conflation of eras and musical aesthetics is reminiscent of Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 soundtrack for the re-release of Metropolis: modern for its time, but with a distinctly retro mentality.
The album opens admirably with “Little Bear,” a song that represents Ellen Replay’s ambient and pop influences equally well. It features succinct, straightforward percussion along with exquisite melodies and ambient elements that generate a decidedly somber tone. Dynatron-esque synth effects ripple across the soundscape like a space vessel kicking on the thrusters to brake for planetfall, and the retro science fiction vibe of the song is both immediate and impressive.
Star Citizen 426 hits its full stride on the third track, “Invaders and Visitors,” a striking piece of space synth that brings to mind classic releases from Laserdance and Proxyon, but with the Italo disco influence swapped out for a more serious-minded atmospheric approach. Its principle melody is nothing short of inspired, and the surrounding musical elements act as perfect support structures to entice and tease the melody in the spaces when it retreats into the shadows.
“Children of the Cosmos” comes next, and it represents the album’s first true ambient piece. The complete absence of percussion and rhythm beneath its gentle, rolling synth notes puts all the emphasis on the melodies, which are once again superb. The piece is only two minutes long, though its succinct composition offers a spine-tingling glimpse into the depths of space.
“FTL” and “Perseus” follow on the high success of “Children of the Cosmos.” They are easily the most upbeat entries on the recording, again echoing classic space synth releases, but with Ellen Replay’s synthwave twist. In contrast with the darker songwriting early in the album, these two tracks represent bright, almost playful moments. If Star Citizen 426 is understood as a concept album, then these songs represent an exploration of space characterized by wonderment and delight.
The enthusiasm doesn’t last long, however, as the album descends into much quieter spaces for its conclusion, first with another foray into ambient tones on “Lost in Space,” and then on the subdued beat of “Final Transmission.” Located as they are near the end of the album, the song titles and musical compositions of these pieces contribute to an interpretation of the album’s musical narrative: following the excitement of exploring the cosmos, Star Citizen 426‘s space traveler experiences a tragic malfunction and sends out one final plea into the universe in the hopes of an unlikely rescue. This sense is stunningly cemented on the closing track, “Cryosleep.”
As a conceptual musical creation, “Cryosleep” may be the most admirable song in synthwave history. The harsh, cold sound of forced breathing provides the rhythmic foundation, while brilliantly understated synth notes float out across the soundscape. The song is tranquil and tragic, every bit as beautiful as it is heart-rending, and it impeccably succeeds in capturing the intense loneliness and anxiety of locking down for cryosleep, preparing to remain adrift in space with no certainty of reaching a hospitable planet again.
More than any other song on Star Citizen 426, “Cryosleep” represents Ellen Replay’s phenomenal talent for achieving atmosphere and emotion with straightforward, relatively uncomplicated songwriting techniques. As with every entry on the recording, the artist intuitively selects the best possible notes to hit at any given time, generating musical creations that impress with each and every new moment.
Notably, Star Citizen 426 features a relatively short running time, clocking in at just over 30 minutes. The short length is admirable in many ways, as it ensures the album remains fresh and exciting on repeated listens. It’s also a testament to Ellen Replay’s willingness to keep songs to an appropriate length, something that almost all synthwave artists, even (if not especially) the most establishedones, could learn from. On the other hand, for a nine-track album, the running length tends to feel brief, and the high quality of the content makes it easy to want more.
Star Citizen 426 is a sleeper synthwave release that provides a deeply satisfying journey into outer space. Every track is exciting in its own right while perfectly complementing those around it, and the album’s brevity ensures that each entry remains meaningful on repeat listen. The album succeeds in nearly every aspect, offering a modest yet deceptively immersive recording with numerous highlights, and it is one of the best space-themed synthwave releases to date.
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