Album Review: Tokyo Rose – The Chase: Last Run

Tokyo Rose’s full-length album has finally arrived, and although it offers plenty of enjoyable individual moments, the relentless repetition of each song drives an otherwise solid recording off course. It’s hard not to compare The Chase: Last Run to other releases from the NewRetroWave label in 2017, and specific comparisons can easily be made to Kalax’s self-titled release: the album art is attractive, the sound production is solid, the melodies are alluring, and a brief listen gives the impression that a top-notch recording is coming through the speakers. But like Kalax, Tokyo Rose’s brand of synthwave music is distinctly outdated, and what would’ve been a fresh and exciting release in 2013 feels flat and tired in the final days of 2017.

There are two principal culprits for The Chase: Last Run‘s underwhelming performance. The first is the fact that many of the songs on the album were actually written and released years ago on Tokyo Rose’s Chases EPs. Although it’s not unusual for artists to re-release music from singles and EPs on subsequent full-length records, the amount of time that’s passed in this case makes their inclusion feel forced. For example, “Cruis’n,” the album’s opening track, was originally released in March 2014, over three and a half years ago. Fans who have been following Tokyo Rose for any amount of time may therefore find it difficult to classify The Chase: Last Run as a new album.

The other, closely related issue, is the fact that all of the songs, even the ones unique to this release, feel like they were written four or five years ago. Most entries on the album fall squarely within the Synthwave 1.0 style of songwriting, featuring a stiff, static beat that persists for the track’s duration while a similarly monotonous melody runs over the top. Each one sounds great for its first minute or two, but absolutely nothing changes as the song progresses, and what is exciting at the one-minute mark consequently becomes stale and wearisome by the four-minute mark.

If The Chase: Last Run had dropped in 2013, it would’ve been one of the finest synthwave recordings to date. Arriving late in 2017, after two or three years of rapid and exciting evolution and advancement within the scene from artists like Phaserland, Wolf and Raven, and Isidor, as well as darker artists like Fixions and Roborg, this latest release from Tokyo Rose simply feels belated. Compared to the best synthwave albums of 2017, The Chase: Last Run is in danger of being lapped.

The recording is not without merits, however, and even on the most repetitive tracks, Tokyo Rose offers up an engaging, casually dark atmosphere with exciting melodies. “Cruis’n” opens with a classic sound that recalls the formative releases from Miami Nights 1984 and Lazerhawk that helped establish the synthwave genre in the early 2010s, while songs like “Street Race” and “Need for Speed” have a more ominous, brooding tone with gliding synth melodies contributing to the sensation of a futuristic, neon-soaked city.

“All Night” delivers a pounding vocal track with guest contributions from LeBrock and Ultraboss. The deliberate, midtempo thumper is laced with Ultraboss’ signature style of electric guitar work while LeBrock contributes a unique and temporarily enticing vocal performance, helping the song stand out as one of the album’s most memorable entries. However, LeBrock’s emotional, shouted singing style never scales back even an inch, and the insistent yelling loses its significance before the song even reaches its midpoint. Combined with an unnecessarily long five-minute running time, the singing makes it easy to reach for the skip button well before the music concludes. Any amount of reprieve on the vocal track could repair the song, and quieter, more delicate spaces would accent and contrast with the existing intensity of the singing to give the outbursts a meaningful presence. But like everything on The Chase: Last Run, there isn’t a glimpse of variety in sight, and the relentless shouting wears thin quickly.

In fact, as the recording unfolds, it becomes clear there’s not only little variety within songs, but across them. The 16-track album is ostensibly packed with great music, though at least half of the entries are as similar in musical style as they are in name and theme. Tracks like “Hot Pursuit,” “Need for Speed,” “Tokyo Burnout,” “Midnight Chase,” “Gran Turismo,” and “Zender Overdrive” begin to bleed together in an anonymous blur of classic outrun-style synth music, pounding away with plain beats and drifting melodies. Despite the songs’ inherently likable sound, no amount of repeated listens can reveal meaningful distinctions between them, and their unchanging compositions make it difficult to enjoy each one more than a few times. The album would be excellent as the soundtrack to a futuristic racing game, but as a standalone musical effort the repetition and similarity between songs cause them to feel redundant.

Tokyo Rose has tried at least a little to break up the overall album composition. The rhythmic “Yakuza,” again featuring Ultraboss, and a vocal track with Roxi Drive, “Calling,” add a touch of variety, though they are not the recording’s best moments and do little to compensate for the dominance of their surrounding compositions. The final track, “Last Run” offers one of the album’s few satisfying songs that deviates from Tokyo Rose’s formulaic approach, providing a downtempo, melancholic piece that is more memorable than many of its counterparts, even if it suffers from the same monotony as the rest of the album. Outside of these few exceptions, the persistent theme of “futuristic cars go fast at night” turns the album into a droning audial experience much sooner than it should, and as a listener, it soon becomes difficult to give the album any kind of close attention.

What begins as an enticing musical journey, fortified by eye-catching artwork, glossy sound production, and engaging melodies, ultimately ends as a relatively superficial experience. The complete lack of variety within each track, as well as the minimal variety between songs, proves to be Tokyo Rose’s undoing, transforming what should be an amazing release into something of an also-ran. Synthwave 2.0 has been installed and running strong for over two years now, and there’s no going back to simpler days. Tokyo Rose’s full-length collection of songs is three or four years too late to make a meaningful impression in a scene that is increasingly loaded with talented and innovative producers. The Chase: Last Run is well worth taking out for a spin, but don’t be surprised if you feel like returning it to the garage after only a few laps around its neon nightscape.

Rating: 65 / 100

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