- Year 2016
- Genre Retro SynthSynthwave
- Country France
- Label Blood Music
- Rating Solid
Blood Music has been a prominent force in the synthwave/retro synth genres this year, releasing new full lengths from Perturbator, GosT, and now Tommy ’86 in the span of a couple months. Perturbator’s latest ‘The Uncanny Valley’ was a disc that got regular listens from me and provided that perfect mix of neo-noir synths alongside some guest vocal spots and aggressive beats. While I haven’t spent much time with GosT’s new record yet, I figured it’d be better to check out ‘Transhumanism’ from Tommy ’86 first as it hasn’t seemed to have generated the same level of hype as the other two. You may not have heard of the French producer yet, but he’s been at it just as long as Perturbator and has explored similar sci-fi and futuristic themes. ‘Transhumanism’ and ‘The Uncanny Valley’ may bear resemblance to each other with a similar emphasis on futuristic melodies that transport the listener to another planet, but Tommy ‘86’s ideas manage to distinguish themselves and if you’re a fan of Perturbator you’ll want to check this one out as well.
There’s a good alternation between softer tracks that let the eerier melodies get under your skin and up-tempo pieces that have a driving beat aggressive enough to shake your walls at higher volumes
Where ‘The Uncanny Valley’ incorporated guest vocal spots, ‘Transhumanism’ shies away from any vocal work and instead lets its instrumentals weave a futuristic narrative. Set in the year 2332, the material explores a world dominated by machines where AI has surpassed mortal intelligence. Though there aren’t any lyrics, Tommy ’86 presents a cohesive narrative and compared to some of the other synthwave projects out there he is able to compose in a way where each song seamlessly flows into the next. After a mellower intro that establishes an ominous yet intriguing tone, the synths launch right into aggressive beats that will have you moving along. ‘Transhumanism’ front loads its guest spots, with Perturbator and Dan Terminus contributing additional instrumentation on the second and third tracks (in that order). From there on Tommy ’86 lets his compositions do the talking, and there’s a good deal of variation to the material. There’s a good alternation between softer tracks that let the eerier melodies get under your skin and up-tempo pieces that have a driving beat aggressive enough to shake your walls at higher volumes.
Admittedly during some of the more up-tempo moments where the driving beats take over, there are quite a bit of similarities between Perturbator and Tommy ’86. Both have a knack for these futuristic soundscapes that use a dance floor beat as the base and layer melodies over top of them that suck you in and create all sorts of fantastic sci-fi imagery. Where the two differentiate themselves is during the softer moments, as I think that Perturbator wins when it comes to the louder, in your face tracks with the driving beats but Tommy ’86 has the edge on the slower, moodier songs. The Last Judgement and Command and Control in particular are excellent mood pieces that let up from the dance beats a little bit and take on a more of that John Carpenter sound. That’s not to say that the up-tempo tracks don’t have their moments, but I found myself gravitating towards the slower, introspective leaning ones just a bit more often on repeat listens.
‘The Uncanny Valley’ still has the advantage when it comes to the synthwave/retro synth album that has stood out to me the most in 2016, but ‘Transhumanism’ is no slouch either. Tommy ’86 is more than capable when it comes to merging dance floor beats with cybernetic synths, all wrapped in a neo-noir sci-fi aesthetic. A few moments do drag and I have the same complaint with this one as I do Perturbator, which is that at over an hour in length the album feels just a bit too long. But overall, the exploration of slower, unsettling synth melodies and driving beats is incredibly appealing and Blood Music has a stranglehold on this genre.