2019 was a fantastic year for synthwave, with a greater variety of music in and around the genre and more professional producers throwing their hat in the ring than ever before. Old school outrun music is in decline, but the synthwave genre lives on in new and exciting ways.
This was an ultra-competitive year, and albums that would’ve landed at the top of the list just a year ago barely earned an honorable mention in 2019. Unlike last year, no distinctions are being made for subgenres on this year’s list; it’s the best of the best from all corners of synthwave.
Without any further delay, these are the Top 10 Synthwave Albums of 2019!
10. Isidor – Avalon Quest
The only creator to land on this list each of the past three years, Isidor’s Avalon Quest delivers the artist’s vigorous, high-energy cyberpunk music with frequently brilliant results. The songwriting is exciting, the production is solid, and the album stays entertaining from front to back. Tracks like “Children of Cyberpunk,” “Gates of Chaos,” and “Orion Blade” are as good as anything Isidor has released to date, which means they’re at the top of the mountain for cyberpunk synthwave.
9. DreamReaper – Liminality
DreamReaper’s unique brand of self-described ‘cyberfunk’ music delivers everything the name promises and more. By effectively taking darksynth and injecting it with catchy melodies and some irresistibly funky songwriting, DreamReaper has crafted one of the most unexpectedly addictive albums of the year. “Renegade” almost single-handedly propels Liminality onto the list of best albums of the year. The song is that good. Put this album on repeat and leave it.
8. Scandroid – The Light
Scandroid’s fourth album is an often-surprising and adventurous outing that draws inspiration from a huge variety of genres, including synthpop, post-punk, and chillwave, rolling them into the artist’s uniquely recognizable brand of synthwave. The Light‘s original tracks offer plenty to explore on their own, while a terrific selection of remixes from artists including Lucy in Disguise, Turboslash, and PRIZM help cement this one as one of the best releases of the year.
7. Signal Void – This Liminal Reality
From a series of under-the-radar singles to a full album packaged in beautiful, concept-specific album art, Signal Void is a creator who seems to have gone from obscurity to top-tier status overnight. The artist’s rich production lends itself to immersive cyberpunk tracks with some of the most understated and serenely beautiful melodies to ever grace the synthwave genre. Songs like “Gaia,” “The Revenant,” and “Moving Mountains” are subtle masterpieces. This Liminal Reality is a solid release in its own right and promises to be the start of a remarkable career for Signal Void.
6. Wayfloe – Neon West
Wayfloe’s debut album Neon West has helped the duo steadily and deservedly build up a loyal following throughout the year. The group’s blend of modern EDM and synthwave is underscored by a pervasively dark cinematic feel that is unlike anything else in music, past or present. The title track perfectly represents Wayfloe’s ability to craft haunting, downtempo pieces, while the EDM-inspired “Scarlet Speedster” is a more accessible piece with Billboard aspirations. Perhaps most notable, however, is “Fractions” featuring Jessie Frye, which is an instant classic that took the top spot as the best synthwave song of 2019.
5. Phaserland – Flip the Switch
It’s impossible to dislike Phaserland, a synthwave mainstay and one of the few quality artists whose music remains stylistically connected to the early sounds of the genre. Phaserland’s brand new Flip the Switch album carries on in the vein of 2017’s oustanding Cosmic Boundaries, and it’s loaded with chilled out, cerebral entries. “Flip the Switch,” “Prism Blast,” and “Flamingo Juice” are just a few of the many highlights from this long-awaited recording. It’s jazzy, it’s groovy, it’s fun. It’s Phaserland.
4. Fury Weekend – Escape From Neon City
Fury Weekend’s well-balanced production style provides the perfect platform for the artist’s unique blend of rock and retro synths on the invigorating new full-length album, Escape From Neon City. Vocal collabs represent several of the standout tracks, including pairings with Scandroid, PRIZM, and Megan McDuffee, while instrumental pieces like “Oblivion City” are perfect for late-night drives.
3. Michael Oakley – Introspect
While many synthwave artists are unable to break from a one-dimensional creative approach to their music, Michael Oakley embraces influences from a huge variety of authentic ’80s releases for an album that is diverse, exciting, and occasionally transcendent. This short but sweet recording is one of the great highlights of 2019 and touches on ’80s nostalgia in a way that nothing else on this list does.
2. Waveshaper – Artifact
The most traditional synthwave album on this list by a long shot, Artifact reveals Waveshaper’s ability to evolve and innovate without losing touch with the genre’s roots. The album’s brilliant sound design takes the chunky charm of 16-bit video game soundtracks and rolls it into deceptively complex songwriting sections that reward repeat listens. Artifact is arguably the best album to date from one of synthwave’s biggest names, and it deserves to be in every fan’s collection.
Picking the top 10 albums was an immense challenge this year, and it was tempting to name 20 honorable mentions. But these few in particular are more than worth the time and energy to seek out.
Cassetter – The Fugitive
Moonrunner83 – Hearts on Fire
New Arcades – Returning Home
Inexedra – Retrohack
Wolf Club – Frontiers
1. Kalax – III
In a year of great releases, Kalax’s III stood above the rest with its high quality and remarkable consistency. Nearly every song on the hefty tracklist is worth keeping in regular listening rotation, and a variety of guest vocalists help keep things interesting from start to finish. Standouts include “Out of Time” with PYXIS and Jay Diggs, “Calling” with Frankmusik, and the gorgeous instrumental opener, “’86,” though it’s easy to put III on from the beginning and let it play straight through. The album’s slick production, beautiful songwriting, and high level of consistency make it an easy choice for the best synthwave album of 2019.
Enjoy all the best synthwave music of 2019 in Iron Skullet’s Synthwave / Retro Electro playlist on Spotify.