Synthwave Sunday: Arcade High, Kingdom
Not all synthwave is of the dark and heavy variety this blog usually traffics in. Some of it just straight pop, just with a supremely retro aesthetic. And just like the dark stuff, the latter takes influence from the same ’80s movies, soundtracks, tones and grooves we all love so much. Arcade High are one of the best of those groups.
The Pittsburgh duo spent a year and a half crafting the songs on Kingdom, and the results show: the album is packed with complete, masterful songs from start to finish. Everything about these tunes is just so fucking masterfully done; the structures are sound, the turnarounds and transitions have that pro finesse of songwriters, the beats hit hard, the dynamic range is wide… the songs are just fucking good. The tones are also just straight nasty on this record; the keys, the synth drums, the funky synth bass, the vocoders, the occasional, pointed use of chiptune patches — all of it.
In a largely instrumental genre, Kingdom serves as a case study of just how much vocals can bring to the table. The dreamy, dulcet voice of Hayley Stewart — who you might recognize from GosT’s “Without a Trace” — makes “Phone Lines” a standout, with an instantly repeatable lyrical hook and simple, but effective, radio-ready melody. “Cool Inc.” is a danceable fun-time banger that sounds like it could’ve been on Chromeo’s 2004 breakthrough She’s in Control if the latter had pulled a bit more from the ’80s sonic palette instead of that of the ’70s. The self-titled album opener is the perfect kickoff, with both a strong, vocoder-laden hook and a beat with boatloads of sidechained compression that would hit hard as fuck at the club. The instrumental and less vocal-forward tracks, like the album’s final three, don’t have the same staying power as the above, but they add to the overall feeling of this album and make it what it is: an instant synthwave classic. Extremely well done through and through.