Summer – the time of year when every moment spent indoors feels like a missed opportunity to take a selfie on a rooftop. Here in Chicago this is especially true because of our brutal winters. We still go out to bars and concerts, or go ice skating, but many will hibernate in their apartments. This starts to change a bit, of course, in spring. I’ve noticed that when the thermometer goes a single degree over 50° there are exponentially more people outside doing stuff. The same thing happens to the nightlife too, as I can expect to hear more drunks hollering at each other even later into the night during the warmer times. The fact is, we are just greedy for summer and warm weather.
Summer affects just about everything – our mood, outlook, our clothes, what we eat and drink, the type of movies we want to see, and of course the music we listen to. Music is an integral part of how we enjoy summer. The “song of the summer” is a thing for a reason. When summer starts inching closer I’m always looking for the perfect song I could listen to while on a beach playing volleyball or just laying around getting horribly, terribly sunburnt.
The rapidly growing, and fascinating 80s-inspired sub-genre, synthwave, has so much to offer fans of the 80s, and as it happens, summer enthusiasts. As a huge fan of 80s nostalgia myself, it’s exciting to see synthwave artists create not only amazing new songs, music videos and albums but also witness their contribution to video game soundtracks like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Hotline Miami and Impact Winter and even movies like Drive, Kung Fury, Stranger Things, and arguably, It Follows.
Of all the music that gets me ready for summer, synthwave is by far my favorite. It makes you want to go outside and dance on a fictitious beach somewhere where everyone is super chill, wears neon, rides on roller skates and probably has sculpted abs too.
I’ve scoured the internet looking for the best summer synthwave playlist out there, but couldn’t find one, so I decided to make one myself. Check out the best summer-soaked songs that synthwave has to offer:
Mitch Murder – “Ocean Avenue”
“Ocean Avenue” was the first song that turned me on to this oddly specific subset of music. It was winter at the time and I was in need of some seriously bright and sunny vibes. Mitch Murder knew exactly how to cheer me up. Each note in this song is so streamlined – nothing feels out of place. This is often what makes great pop music – an algorithmic sequence of melodies tangled so seamlessly it’s as if the song was the answer to an algorithm. Hyperbole aside, the inoffensiveness of tracks like “Ocean Avenue”, “Breeze“, or “Alright” are essential to what make them fall perfectly into the category of a great summer track.
Bachelor of Hearts – “Total Love”
Nothing says summer like a teen romance and that’s exactly what I think of when I listen to “Total Love”, Bachelor of Hearts’ last song on his debut EP of the same name. This breezy tune is vibrant, crisp, sexy and may or may not require parental supervision. For all you teens out there, grab your crush awkwardly, turn on this song and pucker up because there’s no better way to enjoy it… Just don’t do it where anyone can see. People hate teenage PDA.
Bachelor of Hearts, or AKA Butch Van Love (dude’s already got a great name for porn) is a newcomer to synthwave but you wouldn’t know it listening to his clean production style. Compared to his earlier work, he tones down the reverb which enables a killer soft rock guitar solo to steal the show.
Mitch Murder & Kristine – “Alright”
“Alright” has got to be one of my all-time favorites. Mitch Murder and Kristine came together and made one of the slickest, smoothest, most alright songs dedicated to summer. So If you’re, like, totally tweaking about your dead-end job and cripplingly high rent you’ve been paying, just relax and listen. You’ll hear how “Alright” sets a gentle mood for turning down in the sun after a long work week.
In fact, don’t just listen once – listen maybe two times or more and you can appreciate how like so much of Mitch Murder’s other songs, this one has that trademark layered, deep, robust synth. But unlike most of his other work, this one’s accompanied by Kristine’s effortless vocals. For someone from Greece, she easily pulls off an American accent. She really does sound like an 80s pop singer.
Myrone – “Summer Rain”
When 80s hair metal collides with 90s racing games you get Myrone. He’s the shredder behind a new indie video game, Drift Stage, a side project called Snaked, and plenty of high-octane, guitar-driven tracks fit for driving at high speeds or for playing air guitar. I often listen to Myrone while playing first person shooters to pump me up. In between kills I sometimes can’t help but sneak in a few riffs on my air guitar, but it’s not a strategy I recommend if your K/D ratio is of primary concern.
Myrone’s inspirations aren’t difficult to see. Hair metal bands like Van Halen, Bon Jovi, and Motley Crue are all likely primary influences. 90s anime TV show soundtracks also come to mind like Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Digimon and Dragon Ball Z. The intros for these shows were meant to get you excited for the episode and they often did by being hair-brained, over-the-top and up-tempo. These are the same qualities of most of Myrone’s tracks, just check out “Run”.
But “Summer Rain” marches to a different tune than Myrone’s Drift Stage soundtrack. The entire song is basically a four minute-long mellow guitar solo. If most of Myrone’s songs sound like they should be used for the intro of a kid’s cartoon show, then consider “Summer Rain” the outro – the part where the hero, against all odds, is shown marching on assuredly towards victory and definitely does not get killed by Freiza.
Sellorekt/LA Dreams – “Open Air”
The intro to “Open Air” is a fitting soundscape to hanging out at an L.A. beach. The sound of crashing waves and calling seagulls fade into high pitched synthesizers that evoke both optimism and a sense of adventure. As the first song on the album, Vivid Colors, it makes for a great table setter. It’s the type of song that could ensure that this will indeed be the best day ever. Even in the dead of winter.
Estate + Liquid Pegasus – “Tendency”
Although released over two years ago, “Tendency” from Estate + Liquid Pegasus never gets old. I’ve listened to this song more times than I could count. And it’s easy to understand why this song is so addicting – the funky baseline, the sun-soaked synth and the earworm chorus are irresistible. A few other artists have agreed, including Satin Jackets and Keenhouse who both remixed it (the former artist’s remix being more popular than the original.)
I’ll admit that neither Estate or Liquid Pegasus should necessarily be considered part of the synthwave club, but I think their sound is derivative of the 80s – a time when disco and funk were suddenly shunned by the mainstream in the U.S., but still lived on in other countries, especially Europe. The end of disco was disappointing to say the least. It previously provided an outlet for expression among minorities as well as the LGBT community and was known for its inclusiveness. Think of Liquid Pegasus as an artist who thrived in an alternate reality where disco didn’t die, but instead evolved.
Deep cuts: Check out my playlist for even more summer synthwave.