Album Review: Wolf Club – Chasing the Storm

Packed with accessible vocal melodies, dreamy synth tones, and contemporary creative sensibilities, Chasing the Storm is a defining album in the second generation of synthwave music. Fans of the genre’s relatively new but increasingly deep and powerful alliance with modern mainstream pop will find plenty to enjoy on this release, from downtempo, introspective pieces to bass-heavy synthpop tracks, all delivered with impeccable vocal performances and attractive audio production. Nearly every entry on the recording offers something different and worthwhile, making it one of most complete and rewarding releases within the rapidly expanding subset of popwave music to date.

In terms of style, Chasing the Storm lands on the outer edges of the synthwave genre. There’s no mistaking the synth-heavy style that is a direct and immediate evolution of early outrun and dreamwave, though it shares nearly as much in common with albums like Katy Perry’s Witness and Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman as it does archetypal synthwave releases like Miami Nights 84’s Early Summer and Lost Years’ Amplifier. Like their contemporaries in Gunship and The Midnight, Wolf Club has taken the classic outrun sound and pulled it into a significantly softer, dreamier space and dressed it up with ‘10s-era production techniques and contemporary pop vocals for a uniquely enticing effort with wide open commercial appeal.

The recording kicks off with “84,” a romanticized dreamwave piece with soft instrumentation that will resonate immediately with fans of Timecop1983 and FM-84. The gently melodic synth tones and soft beat paint a drifting, serene composition, and the breathy vocals glide effortlessly through the audioscape for an immersive and contemplative listening space. It’s a surprisingly low-key way to introduce the album, though its short running time makes it an effective invitation to explore deeper into the recording.

“Summer Nights” follows up with a slice of candied FM-radio pop music, practically glistening with its bright synth tones and energetic vocal performance. It’s a perfect counterpoint to the opener, shining through with a significantly cheerier disposition than “84.” Its deep, casually funky bassline leads perfectly into a lively chorus with a vigorous vocal hook for one of the most upbeat entries on the recording. In fact, of all the melodic gems on Chasing the Storm, “Summer Nights” feels most likely to be true mainstream hit, and it’s not a stretch to imagine it in playlists, podcasts, and other outlets alongside top pop names for Summer 2018 mixes.

The complementary tandem of the opening two pieces almost feels like lucky track placement until “Things Were Simpler Then” arrives in the third spot. Swinging back into downtempo songwriting, it offers a deeply sentimental vocal performance across an ultra chill outrun-style structure, adding even more depth and satisfaction to the album’s opening moments. The uncomplicated rhythm section acts as a perfectly unassuming backdrop for the luxurious vocals, which dominate the well-deserved spotlight. At just three minutes long, the track is also perfectly succinct, breaking off before it can lose any of its high appeal.

Incredibly, the excellence of the three opening tracks continues unabated through the next several songs. “Chasing the Storm” is a midtempo piece once again built on a classic synthwave frame and packed with shimmering synth melodies that ripple across the steady beat and interplay effortlessly with an airy singing performance backed by modern effects. The music wraps up listeners in its wistful nostalgia, rising and falling through the composition for a gently rolling entry that subtly builds to its chorus, then pours through the speakers like liquid gold. Fans who enjoy Ollie Wride’s singing collaborations with FM-84 will find plenty to love in the title track.

As an utterly modern piece of nostalgia for the past, “Chasing the Storm” perfectly represents what popwave is about. The dreamy soundscape and modern vocals combine for a enticing listening experience that could never be mistaken for a vintage recording, yet conjures up a deep sense of reminiscence all the same. It is the synthwave equivalent of an analog photo, transforming the memory of the past into something remarkably sweeter and different than it actually was. By viewing ’80s music through neon-tinted glassed with modern frames, Wolf Club innovatively reimagines classic synth sounds for a 21st-century pop audience.

Wolf Club’s mastery of synthetic longing doesn’t let up for the remainder of the recording either, delivering 10 full tracks with hit after hit of infectiously sweet soft synthwave packed with strong vocal hooks that will latch onto a listener and hold on for days. Whether it’s the deep bass of “Caught in the Night” or the light rock elements of “Heartbreak,” each song has its own personality and works well within the overall tracklist.

Notably, the group has limited their song lengths to three-and-a-half minutes or less. Unlike many synthwave producers, Wolf Club has humbly and respectably recognized that they are not writing a progressive concept album, and have appropriately cropped their song lengths to match the pop format. The result is a collection that leaves the ears longing for more, asking listeners to return time and again to tap into the well of sweetened synth music for a brief and refreshing drink from its cool waters.

Wolf Club’s newest album is also notable for offering a tracklist without a single instrumental entry. While top popwave artists continue to pay tribute to the traditionally instrumental nature of synthwave on their albums, Wolf Club has shrewdly identified the high demand for vocal tracks among their target demographic and delivered a payload of accessible and engaging tunes that feel familiar on the very first spin of the record.

Chasing the Storm is not an album for old school synthwave fans to dive into and reminisce about their childhood playing NES games in the ‘80s, nor is it a venture into sci-fi soundscapes packed with homages to retrofuturistic movie soundtracks. This is an unapologetic slice of contemporary pop music built around the most modern elements of synthwave, offered up as a soundtrack to daydreams and contemplative night drives. It necessarily won’t appeal to a portion of traditional synthwave fans, though it provides a broader, more accessible piece of nostalgia that will reach a wider demographic than its outrun predecessors. The effort is likely to pay off in a big way for Wolf Club.

Chasing the Storm is a vital and inspired release that forms a pillar on which all future entries in its style will stand. As an essential contribution to the emerging style, it declaratively stakes its claim alongside artists like FM-84, Gunship, and The Midnight in the popwave pantheon and enthusiastically invites everyone to experience its shimmering, melodic mastery of the art form.

Rating: 92 / 100 (Outstanding)

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

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For more info on synthwave, check out What is Synthwave? 2018 Edition, Why Darksynth Deserves its Own Genre, and Popwave – The Playlist

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