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Synthstatic by Skywave (Review)

Skywave offers an absolutely exhilarating ride through dreampop’s rawer, wilder side.
Synthstatic, Skywave

I first heard Skywave’s music on the two “Blisscent” comps that have come out in the past year or so. There was something about their noisy, lo-fi, feedback-ridden take on shoegazer and dreampop that immediately made their tracks stand out on the comps (and given the relatively high quality of music that characterizes those comps, that’s no small accomplishment). So when Synthstatic arrived in the mail, I was pretty excited. I’ve been stoked by the recent resurgence of dreampop, and was excited to hear more of Skywave’s particularly raw, noisy take on the genre.

Skywave’s sound is unabashedly lo-fi. Hiss and feedback are almost as big a component of their music as the guitars or vocals, and there’s little to no low-end to their music (the bass guitar sounds like it was phoned into the studio, or in Skywave’s case, the garage).

Everything sounds washed out, flattened, and trebly. At times, it’s almost piercing, but its rawness is also quite invigorating. Most people associate dreampop and shoegazer music with billowing clouds of sound that slowly envelope the listener. More often than not, however, Skywave’s music sounds like it’s trying to reach out and throttle you.

Synthstatic wastes no time at all lunging for the throat, as the aptly-titled “Tsunami” comes barreling out of the speakers on a wave of fuzz bass and stripped down percussion, followed by the buzzsaw guitars and detached vocals of “Here She Comes.” There’s an almost punk intensity to these tracks (think Guitar Wolf with less Ramones and more Jesus and Mary Chain) but the best is still yet to come.

Given my earlier comments, you might be led to think that there’s nothing particularly gorgeous or atmospheric about Skywave’s music. However, “Nothing Left To Say” easily dispels that notion. This song took me completely by surprise. I was expecting something noisy and overwhelming, but not something that moved so gracefully.

Skywave takes their noisy, stripped down assault and tempers it with the grey atmospherics of The Cure’s Pornography and Disintegration albums. The result is one of the album’s strongest moments, with the band’s lo-fi approach enhancing the song’s dreamlike, almost surreal sound.

“Nothing Left To Say” kicks off one of the album’s finest segments, and is followed by “Over and Over.” The most infectious track on the album, “Over and Over” is highlighted by it’s nigh-insidious danceability. Over tightly-wound drums and shimmering, death-spiraling guitars, the vocalist detachedly intones “Over and over, nothing can last forever/Over and over, suicide could be the answer,” resulting in a track that sounds as much like The Faint (or Dead Or Alive) as The Jesus And Mary Chain.

“Over and Over” is followed by “Fire,” the first Skywave track I ever heard (courtesy of Blisscent 1) and still a memorable one with its blasting drums and waves of tortured guitar noise.

The rest of the album continues with the assault, and thankfully never lets up for a single second. “Wear This Dress” could almost pass for a fun little 50’s pop ditty… if Buddy Holly had discovered feedback and distortion pedals back in 1958, that is. While the band’s sound can often be overwhelming, the stress of their noise actually manages to tear “Angela’s an Angel” to shreds; it’s quite a rush to hear the song finally succumb to the ravages of noise in its final seconds.

Finally, Skywave again summons the ghost of Cure recordings past on “Kiss” — this time its Japanese Whispers — ending the album amidst elegiac vocals, tribal rhythms, exotic melodies, and more shards of feedback. After the past few Cure releases, I’m tempted to send Robert Smith a copy of this track to remind him of how it’s done.

When I started listening to Synthstatic, I was excited but also a bit nervous. Sure, they sounded great on compilations, but that was just one track. Would Skywave’s sound hold up over an entire album, or would the noisy Psychocandy schtick grow old? I’m happy to report the former is true, even more than I had expected.

There’s something very raw and primal about this album. It’s in the way the feedback just seems to explode supernova-like, the way the icy shards of noise cast off by the band hit you like a sharp winter wind, both numbing and shocking at the same time. With Synthstatic, Skywave offers an absolutely exhilarating ride through dreampop’s wilder side, and I’m glad I finally got a chance to experience it in all of its entirety.

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