With its dramatically retro synthesizer tones and unapologetic ‘80s nostalgia, outrun is the heart and soul of the synthwave genre. It’s the first and foremost form of synthwave music, served up from a hearty musical stew consisting of vintage elements like ‘80s Euro disco, movie scores, and video game soundtracks wrapped up in ‘00s house and other electronic music from the new millennium.
Since outrun is now over a decade old and quality new creations in the style are nearly non-existent within the broader synthwave genre, there may be no better time than now to reflect back on the 10 best outrun albums.
For more information on outrun and how it relates to the entire synthwave genre, check out What is Synthwave? 2018 Edition.
This list is limited to full-length albums with one entry per artist and attempts to balance a recording’s overall quality with its innovation and influence at the time of its release. In many cases, early outrun albums have not aged well, but because of the impact they had on other artists they are given high placement on this list, in some cases over more well-developed albums that came after.
For example, Ace Buchannon’s Magenta Nights would have scored much higher on the list if it had been released in 2013 rather than 2018.
That said, let’s dive into the Top 10 Outrun Albums.
10. Ace Buchannon – Magenta Nights (2018)
The newest entry on this list, Magenta Nights is one of the finest true synthwave recordings in terms of its songwriting and overall quality. From high-energy thumpers like “Buns of Steel” and “Mano a Mano” to chill, saxophone-driven creations like “Forbidden Dream” and “Magenta Nights,” the album offers a diverse array of music with top-notch execution and production. Its release in 2018 was a welcome surprise in the declining days of outrun.
9. Lazerhawk – Redline (2010)
Released in 2010, Redline is one of the earliest full-length outrun albums dropped on the world, and it helped spark a flood of new creations in the style. Although many of its entries don’t hold up well to newer recordings, its uncomplicated songwriting style and lo-fi mentality made it a perfectly accessible album with plenty of nostalgic appeal upon its release. Along with the follow-up album Visitors in 2012, Redline remains one of the most widely heard and influential outrun albums ever recorded.
8. Nightstop – Dancing Killer (2017)
Dancing Killer marked a return to a traditional synthwave approach following Nightstop’s venture into darker songwriting territory on Streetwalker. The album features a slightly evolved version of the outrun sound, though its spiritual heart remains firmly rooted in the original style, delivering detailed and frequently unpredictable compositions that earned it a spot on the Top 10 Synthwave Albums of 2017.
The sultry saxophone of “Flesh” combines with the melodic groove of “The Cage” and “Back Alley Business” for a distinctive approach to the genre, while “Dancing Killer” commits to a classic outrun sound. The result is a recording with a healthy variety of music that exceeds many of its predecessors.
7. Waveshaper – Exploration 84 (2015)
Waveshaper is one of the most recognizable synthwave artists working in the main genre, and Exploration 84 reveals the artist’s commitment to investigating new ideas for the style. Tracks like “The Arena,” Midnight Stroll,” and “Chasing the Clone of Myself” feature remarkable musical character and highly memorable melodies that couldn’t be mistaken for creations by any other synthwave artist.
Although some fans prefer the subsequent Station Nova album, Exploration 84 holds a more traditional outrun sound and an earlier release date, making it the best representation of Waveshaper’s discography for this list.
6. Betamaxx – Plug & Play (2015)
With rich production and some brilliantly melodic songwriting, Betamaxx’s Plug & Play serves up authentic ‘80s vibes with a dreamy delivery. The album contains some of the most memorable songs ever written in the genre, occasionally working in candied chiptune tones for a hyper-nostalgic sound. Although the quality of Plug & Play‘s song selection is sometimes inconsistent, its finest entries are among the best outrun tracks ever produced. “Dreamer,” “Take Me Back,” and “Life on the Grid” are exemplary creations that stand at the heart of the synthwave genre.
5. Droid Bishop – Beyond the Blue (2014)
(No Bandcamp preview available.)
Beyond the Blue is a hefty piece of space synthwave packed with song after song of innovative and borderline progressive music. The title track itself is a masterwork of the genre, featuring unexpected compositional twists and deeply engaging melody lines. Accented by vocal entries like “Out of My Mind” and “In Your Love,” the album provides a variety of bittersweet moments with the first generation of synthwave’s signature dose of surrealist imagination. Beyond the Blue is also more subtle and nuanced than almost all other outrun albums, making it a truly unique entry on this list.
4. Mitch Murder – Current Events (2011)
In terms of ‘80s sentimentality, few synthwave creators can hold a candle to genre pioneer Mitch Murder. The artist’s 2011 recording, Current Events, takes sound bites from ‘80s news broadcasts and expertly weaves them into charming, beautiful, and occasionally melancholic creations, each one with its own unique personality.
From the soft synth tones and iconic voice of Tom Brokaw on “Looking Back” to the wistful “Palmer’s Arcade” and the funky “Inner City Chronicles,” Mitch Murder delivers a meaningful variety of music with his unmistakably detailed and authentically retro take on the outrun style.
Although Current Events isn’t the artist’s only worthwhile album, the subtlety and inspired craftsmanship of the recording make it the most memorable and influential full-length release in the artist’s discography.
3. D/A/D – The Construct (2013)
An immensely inspired jewel of retro synth music, The Construct contains a well-realized musical world that rivals the most immersive recordings in any genre. The high variety of its tracklist further pushes it toward the top of the list of best outrun albums.
Upbeat, space-flavored outrun sounds sparkle on “Backbone of the Night” and “Orion Beach” while “Titan” pounds out an epic, industrial-minded track with remarkable vision and songwriting twists capable of sending chills down the spine. A beautiful and sentimental vocal entry on “Love Will Make You Stay” further solidifies D/A/D’s full-length masterpiece as one of the most worthwhile outrun creations ever recorded.
2. Lost Years – Amplifier (2013)
Arguably the clearest example of true synthwave music, Lost Years’ Amplifier is not only the go-to reference for sounds of the genre, it’s also one of the most well-realized and consistent retro synth creations of the past decade. Danceable space disco and electro-flavored tracks like “Amplifier” and “The Second” co-exist with somber cinematic pieces including “Park Avenue 1989” and “I Simply Am Not There” for a diverse recording packed with remarkable throwback flair. Years after its release, Amplifier remains a pillar of outrun music in terms of its innovation, production, and overall songwriting quality.
There are dozens of other great outrun albums in the world, and no Top 10 will satisfy every fan of the genre. The following is a list of albums that were considered for the list but ultimately didn’t make the cut.
Botnit – Vivid Memories (2013)
Danger Mode – Activation (2015)
Garth Knight – Goliath (2013)
Jordan F – Timelines (2016)
Timecop 1983 – Journeys (2014)
Tokyo Rose – The Chase: Last Run (2017)
Vincenzo Salvia – Auto Radio (2013)
And the number one outrun album…
1. Miami Nights 1984 – Early Summer (2010)
Listening to Early Summer conjures up images of sun-baked beaches and boardwalks, late-night seaside drives, and carefree days dropping quarters into arcade machines. Miami Nights 1984 delivers this vision of the past with some of the most engaging melodies ever recorded on a synthwave album, and the result is nothing less than music magic.
With equal doses of sunny optimism and wistful longing, Miami Nights 1984’s Early Summer is one of the most emotionally complex outrun albums available, and it perfectly captures the genuine retro ‘80s vibes that define the first generation of synthwave creators. The lightly grainy audio production further helps the recording feel like a lost artifact from the past.
Along with Lazerhawk’s Redline, this album brought the outrun genre out of the deep underground and into significantly broader consciousness in 2010, and it stands as a cornerstone of the entire synthwave genre. The album’s songwriting has aged significantly better than its contemporaries, and it remains a highly enjoyable listening experience today.
The combination of its immense influence on the genre and its overall quality makes Early Summer the number one outrun album.
Did your favorite outrun albums make the list? Leave a comment below with your picks.
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