Star Noir’s debut full-length album paradoxically represents the most vital aspects of synthwave music along with its most pernicious. Society is a product of the genre’s inherent accessibility and its promise of a spotlight for anyone with the desire to make the music, and as such, it deserves acknowledgement for its ambition and optimism. Yet like thousands of similar synthwave releases, its potential is left entirely unfulfilled, and the final creation is simply one more piece of refuse on the piles of lackluster music that litter the streets of synthwave city.
The actual content of Society is far less interesting than what it represents. In fact, about the music itself, it’s nearly enough to say that it doesn’t exist. It is the crayon stick figure of a music recording, one that could be perceived as a person or a dog or perhaps an oddly shaped building depending on which angle it’s viewed from.
It’s impossible to classify Society as a synthwave album, as the bones of its songwriting have too little meat on them to represent any meaningful form of orchestrated audio. It occasionally resembles an artless piece of meditative piano music, but nothing about it relates to the retro ‘80s stylings of synthwave.
Almost in a subconscious acknowledgement of the crudely composed creations on the recording, Star Noir has placed voice clips all around the audio stick figures in an attempt to clarify them and potentially give them meaning. Instead of clarifying, these pieces only further distort and make even more bizarre the ugly, insubstantial entries on the tracklist. The result is a nondescript assemblage of sounds that relies on the accessibility of human speech to hold together its repetitive and emotionally barren synthesizer tones.
The music may be valueless, though Society is worth exploring for its role within the synthwave genre. As it turns out, the artist’s own concept for the album serves as a perfect guide for that exploration. According to Star Noir’s Bandcamp page:
Society was produced as a statement against the way things are in Humanity [sic] today. We all know something is wrong with the way things are going and this is my way of speaking out about that.
I hope you take the time to listen to this and find your own message from it. It’s time we all started fighting back as a human race and together we can change Society [sic].
Since the idea behind the recording is ambiguous at best and apparently wide open to interpretation, here is one possible take on the story behind Society.
A small group of creators, nostalgic for their youth and the sense of wonder that inevitably fades in adulthood, formed a small settlement on the fringes of the music world where they could build monuments to the past. Their creations were often simple and lacking the polish of their contemporaries, though the earnest enthusiasm and moderate skill behind them resulted in surprising and occasionally beautiful pieces that became notorious in surrounding settlements.
The appeal of these early creations inspired others to join the new society, and it wasn’t long before even more talented creators arrived, building larger and more impressive works in the name of synth nostalgia. Over the course of a decade and beyond, this small society grew into a gleaming city, sparkling on the horizon and calling out with a neon-hued beacon of light, summoning a steady migration of disenchanted creators from surrounding electronic cities. The neon light shone so brightly it even caught the attention of those outside the music world.
As would-be artists flocked to the shimmering lights, the society eventually found it could not sustain the immense number of newcomers. Those with little experience or talent began arriving in exponentially greater numbers than those with meaningful ability. The former group’s ugly and haphazard contributions to the society began blocking the streets, draining the power grid, and polluting the water, eventually stealing away the beauty of the larger monuments.
It wasn’t long before a kind of dystopian society was born beneath the neon beacon. In the shadow of the light’s prismatic brilliance, a slum developed, cobbled together with makeshift laptop apps and free plugins. Soon, the talented founders of this once-great society abandoned their efforts and set out to pioneer new sounds in other parts of the world. Disappointed by the ever-growing blight of the slum, many of the city’s most ardent supporters left with them.
With no principles, no benchmarks, and no standards for their creations, those living in the slums rapidly expanded their numbers and infiltrated every sector of the city until their society became a wasteland of ghastly creations. The magic of the nostalgic dream drained away and the once-gleaming society entered an irreversible decline, diminishing in relevance on the edges of the electronic world until it crumbled into neon dust and scattered across an empty desert.
This is one potential vision of Star Noir’s Society, except it is no fiction. It is the impending reality of the synthwave genre, and the artless, crudely sculpted efforts of creators like Star Noir–earnest and genuine though their intentions may be–continue to sound the death knell for the genre.
Synthwave is not jazz piano or realist oil painting. It does not require artists to spend years laboring over their craft before they can create meaningful content worth sharing with discerning adults. In many ways, this accessibility of synthwave is one of the most vital and exciting parts of the genre.
Synthwave is a form of music by and for the people, and it is worth remembering that many enjoyable creations have been built in bedrooms and basements by those with minimal resources but strong conviction and a natural aptitude for songwriting.
However, the accessibility of synthwave music often conceals its depth, and amateur musicians, riding high on the relative ease with which they’ve put together a series of notes with a beat behind it, are led to believe they’ve created something meaningful, perhaps on par with recordings from artists who have dedicated years or even decades of their lives to developing their skills as songwriters.
Everyone who believes in the value of art and the human spirit behind it should support and encourage the beginner’s optimism and potential. But that earnest moral support should never lead to illusions about the integrity of an artist’s creations or words of empty praise.
Those who support and promote the “I-can-do-that-too” mentality without an honest appraisal of the results are supplying the nails to hammer closed synthwave’s coffin.
So here it is, the wicked, heartbreaking truth synthwave society refuses to tell its would-be producers, the ones who have chased its glimmering beacon with hope swelling in their hearts: no aspect of life, particularly not artistic endeavors, unlocks it secrets for the eager novice. There is no replacement for long-term conviction, struggle, and hard work, and no number of YouTube tutorials can change that.
Failure is the first meaningful step toward progress, and all great bands and music artists have a terrible demo or other debut in their past. It’s possible that Star Noir will one day be one of the finest artists to have ever graced the synthwave city, and his name will be illuminated in the brightest lights on the main street. But no amount of evolution or advancement in the producer’s ability from this moment forward can retroactively alter the reality that Society is, in fact, a disastrous effort.
Rating: 5 / 100 (Disastrous)
Song Variety: 0
(Click here for a full explanation of the grading scale.)
The Album: Bandcamp