Album Review: New Arcades – Nothing is Lost

The Midnight. FM-84. Timecop1983. New Arcades. These artists are re-shaping and redefining a corner of the synthwave genre with their beautiful synth melodies, emotive vocal hooks, and an emphasis on dreamy, immersive soundscapes. With New Arcades’ latest EP, the duo deserves to be mentioned alongside the best known creators within the expanding realm of popwave music, delivering a solid five-track EP packed with engaging compositions, memorable singing performances, and the intangible that causes music to linger in the memory and demand repeated listens. Nothing is Lost may not be perfect in every regard, though it has more than enough character and favorable qualities to overcome its minor shortcomings

Although New Arcades have been producing their particular brand of synthwave music for years — and have created several gems in the process — Nothing is Lost feels like a clear breakthrough for the pair in terms of songwriting and overall quality. The songs are deeper and more nuanced than nearly anything in their past discography, and each of the five entries is a worthwhile creation that fits neatly into the album’s tracklist. New Arcades’ style has a nostalgic property that recalls ‘80s film scores and movie soundtracks, though like all popwave, the retro aspects are prominently mixed with modern influences for a fresh, hybrid sound that has evolved beyond the work that inspired it.

Nothing is Lost opens up with a casually beautiful instrumental piece on “Afterlight.” The tone of the music is sentimental with an optimistic strength behind it, lending it an unexpectedly inspirational quality. Following a lead section comprised of crisp percussion and a pacing rhythm with celestial synth melodies, New Arcades inserts a well-timed break into the track, dropping the bottom out of the composition and sending it into an airy, tranquil space, making the main section feel fresh and attractive when it picks up again. It’s a concisely written and well executed piece that wraps up after four minutes without any wasteful or unnecessary parts. “Afterlight” is practically an archetype for practical and effective synthwave songwriting, and it sets a precedent for the rest of the album’s high quality.

“Inhale” follows with the EP’s first vocal track, delivered perfectly by guest artist Lula. The delicate lilt of her voice might require a small adjustment period for listeners, though by the second or third trip through the song her indie pop-style performance feels completely natural within New Arcades contemplative soundscape. Like all popwave, her style is distinctly 21st century, and has none of the retro ‘80s pop inflection of traditional synthwave music with vocals, and the piece is likely to appeal to listeners who prefer post-millenium pop genres to previous eras. As with the opening track, melodic tones flash throughout the song like silvery beams of light glittering down from synth heaven, impeccably accenting and complementing Lula’s voice without compromising her position in the arcades

“Wait for Tonight” and “We Can’t Turn Back” continue the EP’s vocal entries with in-house performances from New Arcades. The duo’s background in modern rock is patently clear in their singing deliveries, recalling mainstream alt rock and even ‘00s-era pop punk, effectively separating the group from artists like The Midnight and FM-84 and placing them more in alignment with Let Em Riot. The combination of the vocals with the soft synthwave sound may surprise new listeners, though the seemingly unrelated styles meld together easily, giving the duo a unique sound that won’t be mistaken for anyone else.

In each of the two songs, New Arcades’ singing performances are clean and attractive, exceeding many of their past efforts in terms of accuracy and overall appeal. The melodic hooks on these tracks are deep, capable of pulling in listeners and holding them fast for the duration. The tracks’ quiet, introspective moments prep listeners for a large dopamine payout and then cash in with perfectly timed emotional crescendos. “We Can’t Turn Back” in particular has an addictive quality that increases across repeat listens, and it’s easy to come away from the recording with one or both songs firmly lodged in the memory.

A second instrumental piece bookends the album, taking listeners home with another serenely optimistic piece in “Our Place in the Stars.” Sandwiched as they are between the two instrumental entries, the vocal tracks become the literal heart of the recording, and together the five songs represent a tidy and complete effort that’s enjoyable from start to finish.

If there’s any complaint to be made about the album, it’s in the production, particularly on “Inhale” when the bass beats feel like they’re clipping, though none of it is significant enough to seriously diminish overall enjoyment of the music. Nothing is Lost may not have the creamy, picturesque audio production of some of the most prominent soft synthwave releases, though it far exceeds albums like Timecop1983’s Night Drive and Kalax’s self-titled release with its compelling songwriting.

Nothing is Lost is not just a breakthrough for New Arcades, but a significant release for popwave music in general. In comparison to the formulaic creations coming from other artists in the style, New Arcades has paid careful attention to detail and placed emphasis on meaningful melodies. The duo’s extra effort is worth its weight in gold. The instrumental pieces are slices of pure synthwave tranquility, and the vocal entries add enough distinctive character to keep the music fresh and engaging. Nothing is Lost is consistently enjoyable from start to finish, and anyone who loves The Midnight, FM-84, or Timecop1983 should have New Arcades high on their list of go-to artists.

Rating: 90 / 100

Songwriting: 10
Execution: 9
Production: 7
Song Variety: 8
Consistency: 10
Memorability: 10
(Click here for a full explanation of the grading scale.)

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