Although not as well known as similar artists like Lost Years or Lazerhawk, Garth Knight has been a significant contributor to the history of synthwave music with past releases like 2013’s Goliath, which was a vibrant and exciting outrun release for its time. The artist’s newest effort, KITT, maintains much of the same style as past recordings, which is sure to please long-time fans, and it delivers a healthy amount of music across its 14-track playlist. However, the album falls into some badly outdated songwriting decisions that feel depressing within the scope of modern synthwave. KITT is consequently interesting as a piece of nostalgia for old school synthwave fans, but not much else.
The album’s hefty 68-minute running time kicks off with “Legend of Unicron,” featuring a breathy and ominous voice clip from Unicron himself. The darkly mechanical track is somewhat unique for Garth Knight, delivering a grim musical vision that sits in alignment with modern cybersynth music. Thumping bass beats and steady, pacing melodies comprise the engine of the song while chime-like effects and dramatically retro synth tones come in over the top for a densely layered piece, offering more than enough detail and inspired creative decisions to hold the listener’s interest. It’s easily one of the best entries on the recording–at least for its first few minutes–and smartly placed in the pole position.
However, “Legend of Unicron” unnecessarily dips into a protracted outro that runs for the final two minutes of the song in a repetitive dirge. The outro kills nearly all of the value of the rest of the music, inexplicably dragging it out well beyond its relevant running time. The repetitive, club edit mentality of the section is a clear remnant of synthwave’s early days, and unfortunately, its presence on “Legend of Unicron” won’t be the last time listeners are forced to confront it.
“Interface” follows next with a distinctly funkier and more light-hearted track with a retro electro sound that recalls synthwave’s early and close relationship with house and nu disco music. As can be expected from Garth Knight, the song is extremely linear in its composition, delivering its full form upfront and sticking to it for the duration. Fortunately, the track clocks in at under four minutes and the mellow groove is easy to slip into, making it another one of KITT’s best entries.
Later in the album “Prime Operator” offers a more nuanced songwriting approach with a low-key, retro science fiction atmosphere packed with small accents and details that subtly play off one another with surprising success. Glitchy electronic data scuttles across the base of the song while crystal-like tones ring out gently through the air. The effect is the audio equivalent of a spotless production facility piecing together small, elegant machines for a contractor’s covert infiltration missions.
Another highlight comes in the form of the funky “Make You Mine,” which has enough of an irresistible groove to keep it interesting for its full four and half minutes. The catchy synth melody is echoed by a gentle, robotic voice over a detailed bassline while light synth tones splash out bits of color through the soundscape for a classic piece of Garth Knight disco, and the song works well as a counterpoint to some of the grittier entries on the album.
Unfortunately, other highlights are hard to find. “Pursuit” is a perfectly tedious example of outdated outrun, droning on with merciless repetition for six full minutes and offering only one (slightly) meaningful shift in the composition. For those who follow EDM more closely than the increasingly progressive and pop-structured styles of synthwave music, there may be no issues with the song and its minimalistic approach. But for anyone who appreciates a touch of variety in their music or a release from the veritable water torture of a constant, unrelenting beat in their electronic music, “Pursuit” is enough to send a person scrambling for the controls.
Few other songs improve over the bland, incessant thumping of “Pursuit,” and the unnecessary five and six-minute running times lead to long stretches of doldrums. Track after track of 4/4 beats and lifeless synthesizer melodies start to make the walls feel like they’re closing in, and playing through KITT’s 68-minute running length in one shot is like standing next to a jackhammer for fun.
As a listener, this songwriting style could be powered through in 2010 or 2012 when there was relatively little synthwave music in the world and the sound was still fresh, but the genre has exploded and evolved rapidly since then, making synthwave’s early, linear songwriting style feel distinctly outdated. Something around 20 minutes of music on KITT is salvageable for the modern synthwave fan. The rest is interesting only for a taste of nostalgia of the Synthwave 1.0 songwriting style, which has become almost non-existent in 2018.
Outrun purists and those who can settle into the groove of strongly repetitive rhythms will find enough moments to make KITT worthwhile. Everyone else, particularly those who have already slogged through thousands of overly long synthwave songs with a static beat and structure, would be better off looking elsewhere for their synth satisfaction.
Rating: 50 / 100 (Mediocre)
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