Various Artists – Neonautics v.01 (review @ Scene Point Blank)
Running nearly 70 minutes in length, the Neonautics v.01 compilation from Russian label skyQode collects sixteen tracks (many of which in album-exclusive versions) from a variety of European synthpop artists who clearly know their stuff when it comes to making catchy, danceable electronic music. Full of bouncy rhythms, lots of flashy keyboard and synthesizer, and awkward but lovable “English as a second language” vocals, the album would present a treasure trove of unheard material for those who thrive on this sort of energetic music. It also, unfortunately, has a downside: while a sense of pathos is effectively introduced into the music of Eurodance-influenced groups like Austra, Trust, and Chromatics, the artists on Neonautics aren’t quite able to do the same, ensuring the album often has a slightly cheesy feel to it.
That being said, the artists featured here do craft exactly the sort of music a fan of the synthpop genre would want to hear. Opening track “Your Love is a Criminal” by Electro Spectre has that dark sleaziness that Trust has all but perfected, with almost mechanized vocals and a stuttering rhythm, while Elace’s more cheerful “We’ll Meet Again” resembles a soaring ‘80s movie theme with cleverly doubled-up vocals. Swedish group Candide’s “Du Branner Mig” is one of the few tracks here that’s not sung at least partially in English, but the trumpeting keyboard parts and peppy beat ensure the track is still very listenable, even for those who would be turned off by not being able to understand what’s being said.
Even if the album becomes exhausting down the stretch, the tracks on Neonautics do offer up some variety in terms of the mood they create. Mechanical Apfelsine’s “Back in Time” stands as a ponderous, obviously techno-influenced track, while a piece like Sad January’s “Twilight Zone” is more mysterious and maybe even ghostly. Swirling synthesizer creates an ominous undertone in the generally poppy “Maximize” from Italian duo The Shade, and bloopy, breakbit keyboard work is the standout element in the somber “Fire in Your Eyes” from Syrian. After listening to the killer slap bass and punchy rhythm in Unity One’s “Tomorrow,” Dead Man Recovering’s “I Need Your Love” seems lethargic, but momentum picks right back up with “Time to Run” by Aeon Rings.
Both this track and the one after (EKAM SAT’s “Without You” have warbling, theatrical vocals seemingly pulled from the world of ‘80s Goth music and are contrasted by the brighter-sounding “(You) Won’t Regret” by WANTed. Kiss the Panther, meanwhile, deliver a piece that’s the closest this compilation gets to replicating classic ItaloDisco composition and sound with “Your Voice” and Suffocating Minds craft a sort of nu-metal-meets-synthpop opus in “Far Away” that manages to achieve some level of emotional resonance. Penultimate track “For Just One Second” by Supercraft shows up as the type of technopop track the world has been trying to forget since the late ‘90s and “Pray for Me” by Mental Discipline concludes the album on a slower, more thoughtful note.
The continuous, infectious energy level and overload of catchy melodies ensure that Neonautics would be ideal as background music and would make one helluva soundtrack for a workout video. That said, it’s almost imperative that a listener have some tolerance for cheese in order to truly appreciate the album. Many tracks here are at least vaguely reminiscent of one-hit-wonder electro (think “Runaway” or maybe even “Blue”) in that they don’t really develop so much as continue in the same manner for several minutes too many. I also can’t deny the fact that the nearly seventy-minute onslaught of steady 4/4 rhythms very well might drive some listeners to the brink of insanity. Still, even if Neonautics seems to provide too much of a good thing, fans of the synthpop genre will eat this album up. To that crowd, it comes recommended.