Welcome to Electronic Playground. In this weekly column, we will cover tech-heavy music that is a large segment of the Alternative/Indie movement of today. In general, these bands do not see the popularity of some "less out there" acts, so do not be discouraged if you haven't heard of them. We will focus on all types of electronic music in a genre that is known for its subcategories.
As we did in last week's segment, we will be discussing another one of the major bands responsible for the synth wave revival of the 2000s and one of the few keeping the genre growing, even today. The Midnight, composed of New York's Tyler Lyle and Danish-born Producer Tim McEwan, met in Hollywood in 2002 and began writing together. Inspired by the soundtrack to the movie Drive, the duo focused on synthwave electronic music. As are with many other bands in this synthwave genre, The Midnight is able to maintain relative obscurity through use of visual arts and not much readily available information about them. On the band's official web site, the only information provided is that McEwan is a Danish producer and that Lyle is a songwriter from "the Deep South."
The Midnight sound familiar to other acts in the segment in terms of musical quality, accuracy, and production value and really stands up against any other group I have covered in this series. The songs are heavily beat driven with explorative synth melody overlay and vocals produced to perfection. The vocals are smooth and folksy, very reminiscent of Bono from U2. Normally, I would hate that, but the full coverage from the melody and beat surround the vocals to create quite the total package.
The Midnight - The Comeback Kid
This song is incredibly reminiscent of the 80s sound, so much so that fans have paired the group's music to popular 80s movies, such as The Karate Kid featured in the YouTube video above. This song, from the group's Endless Summers LP was our first foray into The Midnight's sound and inspired much of the review in the sound column. The intro beat quickly identifies what you're getting with The Midnight. Repetitive synth beats over a deep drum track laden with vocal fills coming from the background quickly fill as the we prepare for the verse. The lyrics describe overcoming not life's typical challenges, but also major demons such as substance abuse. Our main character has endured a lot and had their fair share of suffering, but they are finally able to come back and fight without distraction. As you take in the these vocals and absorb their meaning, a synth-driven lead track (which models a synthesized guitar solo) comes in at the end to build toward the breakdown. The song is completed by an electronic mellowing process as instruments begin to disappear.
The Midnight - Vampires
Right off the bat, this track comes in with heavy horns (saxophone specifically) over a soft beat, which take you right back to the dark alleys of an 80s movie soundtrack. When asked, the band said, "Vampires" is a song/video straight out of the New York Wall Street 80s, American Psycho scene. Using comic-book style drawings, the song follows a story for the viewer/listener. The vocals come in way sooner in this track, which is a bit of a blessing. Sometimes it gets exhausting having to wait to find out whether a track will feature vocals at all in this genre (the band has one available if you would like to listen). It's just nice to know where you're going. The sax is very present throughout the song, only ceding when the verse begins again. This draws comparisons to a couple of our other faves, GUNSHIP and M83. A simple timed beat holds the melody during these sections. The horn sections basically serve as chorus portions for the track and deliver quite the solo at the end. Just as we begin to feel total "Lethal Weapon-esque" overload, the repetitive bridge lets us know we are going to stay here for a while. An odd sounding synthesized instrument provides an outro of sorts, which is unique sounding despite many of these bands pulling sounds from the same pools.
How to Listen:
Not going to lie, we are not going to deviate much from our setups of the past few weeks. The synthwave/retrowave movement participants share many characteristics that help to tie the music back. Unlike some of the other bands featured recently, you should have no problem finding access to The Midnight. Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and many more feature their music and full catalogue (including bonus tracks and instrumental albums). Bigger speakers are going to help hold the beat down for you, but with The Midnight, the melody is not always entirely forwarded and supported by the bass line. The melodies is carried throughout by a secondary timing that keeps everything moving right along. Headphones are a great way to listen, as usual, but to feel the deeper, darker sound of songs like "Vampires," listen to a decent car or home stereo system. The Midnight are more similar to GUNSHIP than most others in the synthwave genre, which is actually quite the compliment. Rather than emulating music of previous generations, the duo attempt to achieve retro sounding music by utilizing the tools of today's generation. As was said in the song reviews, these tracks are produced and mixed beautifully. Listen to the transitions as frequencies cross over from speaker to speaker and put yourself back in the 80s. The Midnight have changed their sound throughout to maintain relevance but maintain a style that has brought them popularity in many circles.
Band review: 4.8/5. A really great band. We hate to keep ranking them all so highly, but these are the bands on the forefront of this genre for today's generation and really set the standard as to what this type of music should sound like. We find ourselves wishing the vocals were a bit more dynamic at certain points, but they are certainly more than sufficient most of the time. Perhaps some more listening will bring this out for us. Tell us what you think.