Album Review: Morgan Willis – Supernova

Do you like feeling good? If the answer is “yes” or at least “sometimes” then Supernova is an album for you. It’s hard to imagine being upset listening to the recording’s disco-flavored rhythms and soothing melodies, creamy bass beats, and gently robotic backing vocals, all delivered with immaculate sound production. What Supernova lacks in songwriting depth it makes up for with its attractive finish and irrepressible positivity, taking the feel of old school synthwave and shifting it into a softer space that should appeal to just about every fan of the genre. The generous 15-song tracklist certainly has its ups and downs, though a handful of highlights are worth picking out from the pack and enjoying numerous times.

Throughout Supernova, there’s a commitment to the nostalgia of vintage cartoons, and that sense is established immediately on the appropriately titled “Opener,” as Marko Maric narrates the plight of an interstellar knight crossing the universe to find his true love and vanquish an evil force. It’s a goopy and deliberately silly introduction that will feel familiar to anyone who grew up on the slapstick absurdity of Masters of the Universe and other cartoons of the era. The intro may very well be a make-or-break moment for some listeners due its comical nature, though those who embrace the album’s penchant for genuine childhood nostalgia — and the PG vibe that comes with it — will be happy to take the journey alongside Supernova in his journey through space.

The title track is the first full entry, and it’s a perfectly chosen one, lightly trotting along with a midtempo pace accompanied by touches of French house and space disco in the percussive accents and bassline. A heavily distorted robot voice chimes in over the top, and the song quickly envelopes the listener with its warm synth melodies. The music maintains a straightforward approach in its structure, and the idyllic sound production makes it easy to slip into the groove without any strong desire to leave.

“Midnight Radio” follows with an even more prominently disco-flavored tune that aligns itself closely with the blend of genres that comprise synthwave’s origins, albeit with a softer, dreamier sound. Like “Supernova,” it moves along with little deviation for nearly four minutes, contentedly sticking to its pattern-based songwriting approach and pleasantly pulling elements in and out to alter the soundscape. At this point, listeners will have to confront the album’s biggest potential drawback: Morgan Willis often delivers everything a person needs to know about a song within the first minute. Very few notable changes or surprises arrive beyond that point, and unless the piece is especially attractive or provides an unusually rewarding level of interplay in its elements, there often isn’t a lot of reason to see it through to its finish.

Fortunately, several songs turn out be well worth sticking with. “I Miss You” is a casually funky piece with a nice touch of melancholic longing, and “Beyond the Stars” offers up a cosmic creation with a healthy dose of positivity. “Andromeda” arrives near the midpoint with the recording’s most enjoyable entry. A simple bass beat gets the track rolling with the help of some shimmering ambient tones and the album’s signature robot voice. Morgan Willis proceeds to subtly lay down new elements to build up a healthy composition before opening up into a delicate, jewel-like melody that bounces along on the rhythm. A second, brighter synth joins in like a space trumpet calling out to unite intergalactic allies in Supernova’s quest, and the entire piece feels like a satisfying bit of musical storytelling.

“Professor Omega” delivers the album’s most comical and memorable entry, opening with a reverb-heavy spoken word track over the deep funk of the bass, mixing in candied synth tones before breaking into an attractive vocal performance from Paradise Walk with strong influences of ‘70s funk and soul music. “Dark Empire” adds a welcome bit of variety to Supernova with an ominous and serious-minded piece, though it never abandons the colorful, cartoonish vibe of the rest of the album.

Unfortunately, several other entries are less remarkable, including the final five tracks. “Go Back Home” is particularly bland, trudging along without any particularly strong melodies or memorable moments, and it comes across as a cookie cutter version of some of the better creations on the album. Although these final songs maintain Morgan Willis’ remarkably high production value and likable overall tone, they’re missing the catchy melodies and inspired spark of songs like “Midnight Radio” and “Andromeda,” and the album consequently loses much of its flavor and appeal down the home stretch.

Despite the relative homogeneity of the recording and the presence of several forgettable entries, it’s well worth traveling along with Supernova for its finest moments. The recording may not be the best album synthwave fans have ever heard, but it’s equally unlikely to turn listeners away. The groovy, melodic tracks that fill the recording are perfectly presented with immaculate sound production, and the nostalgic appeal of the knowingly cheesy conceptual theme makes it an endearing piece of musical confectionery with a warm and inviting tone. If you like feeling good, Supernova is an album for you.

Rating: 75 / 100 (Good)

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