Album Review: Ace Buchannon – Magenta Nights

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Magenta Nights is the synthwave album fans need in 2018. Magenta Nights is the synthwave album fans deserve in 2018. In the midst of a glut of amateurish and unnecessary synth music, Ace Buchannon’s full-length debut is like a shimmering oasis in the neon-blasted desert, providing a cool and refreshing drink of outrun music that will remind long-time fans why they fell in love with the genre in the first place. From uptempo and elaborate thumpers to low-key, sax-filled tracks with a mellow groove, Magenta Nights offers a healthy variety of music across its tracklist and delivers it all with impeccable production and execution. It’s one of the best synthwave albums to come along in months, and a must-hear for fans of the original form of the genre.

Following a brief intro track, Ace Buchannon flexes his songwriting muscles on “Buns of Steel,” a pounding piece of old school synthwave that busts through the speakers with more vibrancy than a thousand of its contemporaries combined. Irresistibly optimistic synth melodies flash across the soundscape alongside golden, chime-like tones, interplaying effortlessly with a monumental rhythm section that feels like it was ripped straight from an ‘80s high-energy aerobic workout video and injected with illegal cybernetic steroids from the future. It’s not only the best song on the recording, but one of the most immediately engaging and exciting pieces of true synthwave in memory.

The incredibly high standard set by the opener could easily lead to disappointment deeper in the tracklist, but those who are rightfully wary of the single-song-plus-filler album format can exhale. Magenta Nights is no one-trick pony, and although nothing else on the release quite meets the excellence of “Buns of Steel,” Ace Buchannon does a fine job of offering enough variety and depth to keep his audience engaged.

“Timelines” follows with the recording’s only vocal entry, a chill piece laced with slap bass and an understated synth melody that allows singer Noki’s voice to hold the spotlight for most of the duration. Bits of J-pop shine through while a short and straightforward guitar solo provides a useful break late in the track. It’s a solid creation all around, though Noki’s voice is a bit thin for Ace Buchannon’s lush and deep production and the melodies feel plain compared to some of the strongest entries on the album. This is particularly true as the song is sandwiched between the outstanding “Buns of Steel” and the similarly energetic and satisfying “Mano a Mano.”

Ace Buchannon’s next shot at a laid-back composition succeeds more fully on the saxophone-driven “Forbidden Dream,” which promptly drops into its steady beat and allows the horn to lead the four-minute running time with its handsome, neon-noir swagger. Although the piece features a linear song structure that is the death knell for other, less interesting producers, Ace Buchannon’s highly developed sense of melody charms the ears into sticking with “Forbidden Dream” for its duration without serious complaints.

Other highlights include the classic outrun sensibilities of “Breakout” and the irresistible allure of “Call Me,” which is propelled by vintage video game tones and a perfectly funky rhythm. “High Vibrations” is also noteworthy for an ultra-chill tone that summons up imagery of a hazy smoking lounge with robotic servers offering exotic and alien plants to puff on.

Despite the album’s overall excellence, a few songs never quite find their spark, particularly the two closers. “Promise” is a surprisingly generic synthwave track compared to the imagination of Ace Buchannon’s other creations, while “Magenta Nights” provides an enjoyable groove packed with dueling guitar and sax solos that simply overstays its welcome, especially once it slides into soothing but unremarkable ambient synth tones for its final minute.

Still, the recording’s missteps are minor and easy to forgive in light of the brilliance that constitutes the bulk of Ace Buchannon’s debut. Not only does Magenta Nights crest the recent tidal wave of subpar synthwave releases in terms of its songwriting and technical execution, it also delivers something that has become rare in 2018: Magenta Nights has authentic ‘80s nostalgia behind it.

The majority of current synthwave artists have either consciously chosen to move on to new musical ideas or are simply incapable of writing music that hits the sweet spot of synthwave’s original reminiscence, causing the modern genre to become increasingly untethered from the ‘80s influences that defined its first generation. In contrast, Ace Buchannon has struck retro pay dirt, capturing that subtle synthwave magic that conjures up wistful memories of the past in a gleaming, hyper-futuristic package.

Magenta Nights is unquestionably one of the best synthwave recordings of 2018, and one of the very few recent albums in the genre that fully taps into the nostalgic energy and imagination of early outrun, making it an elusive beast worth tracking down for every fan of the genre.

Rating: 95 / 100 (Outstanding)

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

Buy Magenta Nights: Bandcamp
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For more info on synthwave, check out What is Synthwave? 2018 Edition and Why Darksynth Deserves its Own Genre

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