Music Reviews by a Synaesthete: Vampire Step-Dad

21 February 2017

I've mentioned in the past that I've been bumping around on the edges of the synthwave community for a couple of years now in various ways.  A couple of weeks ago I got a ping on Twitter from an artist performing under the handle Vampire Step-Dad.  During the course of conversation he mentioned that he'd put together an EP called A Night In the Life of..., and would I be interested in giving it a listen?

I'm always down for some new music, and said that I'd write a review of his work from a synaesthete's perspective.

So, here we go.

The first track is called Thursday at 7, and is pure 80's sitcom cheese.  Imagine the intro for a television show like Full House, where this week's episode is being set up (in this case, probably the pilot episode), complete with laugh track.  There's only a little time to grab the viewer's attention, so the boiled down premise of the show comes at you like a bowling ball down the alley.

And then the Bela Lugosi voice kicks in.  I cracked up when I heard the thick Dracula accent.  Yup, this chap definitely doesn't take himself too seriously, and seems to be setting us up for an album that's a good time first and foremost.

First music track: Invitation.  Lovely little silver orbs tracking the hi-hat cymbals and a picked out melody, and then a wave of warm reddish pixels spill in from behind my left shoulder as the running bass line jumps in.  The melody starts, something I can best describe as the Noteman sample from Amiga MODs of days gone by, almost mournful because it's a single hand on the keyboard picking out notes.  I kind of feel sorry for it, and want to sing along with it.  Then what I think is a synthetic panpipe picks up the chorus and I have to hold myself back from laughing, not because it's inherently funny but there's a pressure at the back of my throat that threatens to turn into a belly laugh.  Silly little flutters on the left and right track the melody's counterpoint as yellow waves swim in my vision.  White sparkles seem to answer the panpipes, a second or third voice through an open window.  I alternately want to laugh and cry listening to this song.  It fits together like a conversation where the people aren't together but are speaking alternately in a fashion that suggests a whole conversation.  Think music video for an 80's love ballad and you pretty much have it.

Second music track: Daydreams.  A running gumband bass and lots of little bright gold 16th notes dancing up and down the scale forming a backdrop for the rest of the song.  Another melody picked out by a single hand on the keyboard that suggests just falling asleep - it's nice and warm and feels soft.  Guitar licks that feel hard and make my hands twitch as a single white bar splits my vision horizontally; a black line seems to bounce and trace the guitar's notes on the left-hand side.  Then the guitar turns almost triumphant and takes over the melody, relegating the synthesizer and bass almost to a suggestion because they get lost in the explosion of white light that only fades as the mixdown does.

Third music track: On the Run... Again.  The deceptive ticking of a drumstick hitting a tambourine right before a thick, gooey purple bass sloshes in and rolls around in between my ears.  A faint yellow and blue synthesizer bounces around inside my ears like a Superball on crack and an angry, defiant white guitar screams in between my eyes.  The drums make me want to get up and walk around, more like a deliberate swagger wearing shitkickers out of every badass action movie from the 80's - "Get.  Off.  Your.  Ass." they seem to say.  More Noteman 16th notes pick at the palms of my hands as I want to sing along with that guitar to let the pressure in my sinuses out.  The whole song seems to bounce up and down happily and silver starbursts flare and fade inside my right eye.  Another yellow synthesizer pulsates inside my eyes right before the panpipes blossom and caper on top of that sticky purple bassline, and then the guitar makes my wrists and forearms bend and curl backwards.  Then the song abruptly dismantles itself, leaving only the tambourine.. right before the chilly bassline gushes out of the floor and splashes me.  That is easily the weirdest thing I've felt in a long time.

This album's really shaping up into a fun experience. We're talking, "Holy shit, did I just pick that lock?!" fun here.  Next track: You Must Feed.  Sounds vaguely Vampire LARP here.  Let's give it a go... holy shit, a prancing bassline right out of the gate, straight off the set of Buckaroo Banzai.  Ominous and wet concrete gray with fisheye-lens waves of synthesizer cords cresting and breaking, and a single bouncing sphere of another synth skipping around the scale.  An ever-so-slightly dissonant wing like a whale fluke, sinister and chilly and making everything curl in on itself like paper burning in a fire.  The guitar makes its entrance again, screaming and soaring like a bird, making everything fold and crease like someone folding an origami figure that makes it hard to see what I'm typing if I concentrate on it too hard.

At the end of You Must Feed I bought the EP.  It's going on my phone right now.

Now, I'll admit that this article is a couple of days late in coming (as evidenced by the timestamp on this post).  Two things have prevented me from finishing this review in a more timely manner.  The first is work calling an all-hands week, which meant that I've been in meetings pretty much twelve hours a day.  Exhausting, no matter how you cut it.  The second is that writing the above reviews required an excellent pair of noise cancelling headphones and listening to each track multiple times with the gain on my sensorium turned way up.  Great for capturing details accurately but it also lends itself readily to sensory overload, which seems to have done a number on me in the past couple of days.  Massive discomfort aside, the act left me kind of numb and having difficulty concentrating.  So, rather than keep pushing off posting this review until my senses return to (my) normal, I've decided to pull the trigger on this post and get it out there.  I hope that the review I've written so far is interesting in some way, and makes you curious about Vampire Step-Dad's body of music so far.  Give his work a listen.