Album Review: CONNÖR – Part III: Living in a Movie

There’s a significant question nestled at the heart of Part III: Living in a Movie, and it’s one listeners must grapple with one way or another on their path to finding enjoyment in the album: does music, or art more broadly, need to be backed by strong technical skill to be worthwhile? 

Connör’s full-length recording is not a nuanced, detailed creation clearly crafted by the hands of a classically-trained artist or a professional producer. Nor is it necessarily worse off because it isn’t. 

Part III is a chunky, perhaps deliberately lo-fi synthwave offering that crunches, hammers, and plows its way through 15 tracks stuffed with B-movie themes and song titles like “Space! Baby” and “Assault on Precinct 66.” It’s not unlike a B movie itself, the kind whose low production values never hinder its joyful enthusiasm or stand in the way of its self-expression. Instead, it embraces its lack of polish and runs with it, for better and worse. 

Beneath the raw, pulpy production style, Connör reveals a surprising amount of inventiveness and enthusiasm for the music, and whatever the songs lack in polish, they make up for in spirit. If all synthwave creators approached their albums with the excitement and love that Connör does, the genre would fully double or triple in quality overnight.

Click into “Six,” for example, and experience a gritty, funky, dark synthwave mash-up with inharmonious melodies that sounds like its coming through blown speakers, and does so with complete joy and contentedness. 

If instrumental tracks like “Six,” “Daughters of Connor,” or “Face Melter” ever felt timid, bored, or afraid to reveal too much of themselves, they would be nearly unlistenable. Yet Connör appears to have such an absolute blast playing in the sandbox of music styles and cultural influences he pulls from that it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement and play along.   

Fortunately, a person’s enjoyment of Part III: Living in a Movie is aided considerably by a selection of memorable vocal tracks. As with the rest of the recording, the grainy, harsh production style and occasionally rough technical execution prevent these from approaching the realm of top-tier synthwave, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Connör doesn’t care about that world in the first place.

The listener who can disengage from the notion that a creative effort needs to shine the way Hollywood and the Billboard charts want them to will find engaging, likable entries on Part III that stand perfectly fine on their own. 

The first of these vocal tracks arrives on “All Our Heroes” featuring Doctormelodious, a piece that’s ostensibly a tribute to classic ’80s horror flicks, but with a unique twist. Instead of indulging in pure nostalgia, the lyrics acknowledge just how much time has passed since synthwave’s beloved decade and how much older everyone has grown. It’s a deliberately kitschy piece with a surprisingly grounded, melancholic touch, and the music pins it all together with a darkly energetic songwriting style. 

A similarly enjoyable piece arrives on the next entry with “Space! Baby” which offers a low-key, patient track threaded with dreamy, female vocals. Like “All Our Heroes,” the song is something of an overachiever, delivering far more satisfying content than a person would expect from an underground synthwave recording dedicated to horror movies.

Those songs are solid, but the real surprise on Part III: Living in a Movie arrives on the title track, “Living in a Movie” featuring Michelle B. It’s the purest pop tune on the recording, and in that sense, the most accessible as well. Yet regardless of style, “Living in a Movie” offers an endearing composition with a subtle depth and sophistication to it, and it’s the clear highlight of Part III.

A gritty, insistent beat drives the music forward while ominous synth tones add tension beneath Michelle B’s heartfelt performance. A brief piano interlude late in the track breaks things up just enough for Connör and Michelle B to make a satisfying return to the chorus and close the piece on a positive note.

Not only is the vocal performance appealing and the songwriting catchy, but “Living in a Movie” contains clever and imaginative lyrics that add real depth to the music. As the singer questions whether she’s the hero or antagonist of her own life, the song — and by extension, Connör’s full album — takes on a level of self-awareness that further diminishes the relevance of its technical shortcomings.

As an added bonus, Connör has included an alternate version of “Living in a Movie” on the back of the recording. It’s essentially the “unplugged” edition of the song, embracing an acoustic guitar and orchestral tones instead of the overt synths of the original. The result is every bit as satisfying as the original and is nearly guaranteed to stick in a listener’s ears for hours after hearing it.

As effortless as it is to find value in the title track, not everything on the album is equally enjoyable or even easy to make it through. “Road Trip” and “Cyborg City” in particular become noisy, chaotic affairs that are almost disorienting to listen to, and there are plenty of other moments that could be easily picked apart by anyone looking for faults. 

Yes, it’s an undeniably flawed album, though enjoyment of Part III: Living in a Movie will ultimately have a lot to do with expectations and the type of art and culture a person normally consumes. 

If you love small-budget indie comics, if you’re a frequent visitor to Tromaville, or if you love the seedy underside of counterculture art in general, Part III: Living in a Movie will give you your money’s worth. If, on the other hand, you’re the type of person who watches the Academy Awards and rates culture based on its commercial polish and marketing appeal, you likely won’t find a single redeeming moment in it.

Part III is the C.H.U.D. of synthwave: the person who appreciates its limitations as an independent creation and respects the love with which it was made will find a finished product that is far more enjoyable, self-aware, and occasionally more artful than its appearance would suggest. 

Rating: 63 / 100 (Adequate)

Songwriting: 7
Execution: 6
Production: 5
Song Variety: 9
Consistency: 4
Memorability: 7 
(Click here for a full explanation of the grading scale.)

Enjoy a wide selection of synthwave from all corners of the genre in Iron Skullet’s Synthwave / Retro Electro playlist.