Following the endearing but somewhat unpolished Datsun Showdown album late last year, Moonrunner83 is back with a more complete and attractive offering on Streets. The six-song EP offers a wall-to-wall selection of vocal tracks, each one with its own distinctive delivery and memorable chorus hooks. The modern sensibilities of the singing styles, along with the dreamy synth tones and soft beats of the instrumentation, plant the release firmly within the realm of popwave music that has expanded rapidly in 2018, and the recording holds many redeeming qualities that will please fans of the style.
Streets begins on “To the Coast” with Vik Kapur on vocals, and the songwriting will feel welcome and familiar to fans of newer releases from Timecop1983 and The Midnight. Like all popwave, Vik Kapur’s singing style is distinctly rooted in the 21st century, in this case bringing a soft rock flavor and a notable vocal twang to the track. Synthwave fans who prefer the genre’s original ‘80s influences will certainly struggle with the non-retro approach, though the contemporary flair of the vocals is delivered with complete confidence and backed by enough professional production to win over those looking for fresh ideas in their synthwave music.
Kapur returns a few tracks later with even stronger results on “Another Life.” This time, the light, optimistic tone of the opener is gone in favor of a significantly more brooding, introspective atmosphere. Once again, Moonrunner83’s lush production is rooted in earlier styles of outrun and dreamwave, but given a significantly softer touch that carries the vocals along on the musical equivalent of purple nimbus clouds. Kapur’s voice comes through with a relaxed poise that perfectly matches the underlying music, and there’s an emotional quality in the delivery of the chorus that is the clear mark of creators who are inspired by their craft.
In a perfect complement to the tone and style of Vik Kapur’s singing, Streets features four tracks with emerging synthwave star vocalist Megan McDuffee. The singer and producer not only contributes multiple worthwhile performances to Streets with her luminescent voice, but shares co-writing credit with Moonrunner83 for the songs she appears on.
Her first performance comes on the title track, which is easily the most ominous entry on the album and the one with the most traditional synthwave sound. A serious-minded effort with a modest beat and supple melodies that balance Megan McDuffee’s striking vocal performance, the piece paints an emotional picture of desolate streets and impending rainstorms. The anticipatory vocals of the verse section lead subtly into the chorus in a gratifying interplay, while a saxophone solo bursts into the middle of the song for a welcome and well-executed break.
McDuffee’s other efforts on the album often lean toward lighter and more optimistic approaches with a stronger incorporation of modern mainstream pop. “Among the Stars” and “Deep City” close out the recording with pitch-perfect performances and memorable chorus hooks supplemented by the serenely gentle instrumentation. The tracks notably feature collaborations with producer Die Scum Inc. and they’re among the best the EP has to offer.
“Deep City” is particularly worthwhile for its surprising emotional twist, sliding between a melancholic verse section and a vibrant, sunny chorus. Despite the powerful tonal shift, the artists’ transition between sections is effortless and gives the music an engaging emotional texture, helping it stand out from the stable temperament of its preceding tracks.
The only disappointment on the album comes from “Run for Cover,” a vocal tandem between Megan McDuffee and DC Motion. The core of the song is attractive enough, though it soon crashes into a cringeworthy chorus performance from DC Motion that shatters the trance-like nightscape of the album and creates a glaring contrast with McDuffee’s glossy, understated approach.
The male singer pulls heavy influences from modern electronic rock and blasts them across the song with a shouted, warbling delivery that sounds like Scandroid’s vocals being played through a bicycle horn. The skip button only grows more enticing when a saxophone solo honks and squeals its way through a surprisingly brazen solo near the midpoint.
It’s worth mentioning that Moonrunner83 has released an instrumental version of Streets, which is a generous option and one that certainly raises the quality of “Run for Cover.” However, like nearly all music written for vocal leads, the melodies and song structures of the instrumental versions are often too plain to be significant on their own.
Still, the single entry that runs astray does little to impede the album’s overall momentum, and the other five tracks all hold highly redeeming qualities with unique personalities. Like Nina, New Arcades and Wolf Club earlier this year, Moonrunner83 has given the world another concrete example of just how strong popwave music has become in 2018.
Many of the most talented new synthwave artists are choosing to dedicate their energies to more modern, vocal-driven sounds, and these creators regularly outperform those working in the older, retro-‘80s form of true synthwave in terms of quality and inspiration.
The results are satisfying. Moonrunner83’s latest effort is a welcome contribution to the rapid evolution of the synthwave genre, and those willing to embrace its forward-thinking orientation will find plenty to enjoy.
Rating: 88 / 100 (Great)
Song Variety: 8
(Click here for a full explanation of the grading scale.)
Listen to Moonrunner83 and similar artists in Iron Skullet’s Popwave / Dreamwave playlist.