Michael’s inward-looking gift to the synthwave world
In early 2019 a quiet campaign was gathering. A man was missing, hadn’t been seen for some time and his label were keen to find him. Milk carton style missing posters were soon cropping up on social feeds. Momentum was gathering. Soon the public were on board and the campaign was in full swing.
That man was Michael Oakley.
Soon he surfaced with a couple of well-timed singles that were glimpses of the new album that was on its way. And thus we were treated to ‘Introspect’. An 8-track journey though some truly authentic 80s retro wave.
Michael’s transition on the New Retrowave label has been marked by some fresh and daring music that dares to take those 80s influences we are so used to hearing in synthwave and dipping it in even more hot, fresh, 80s sauce.
After a small intro track we are led straight into ‘Left Behind’. Michael immediately throws us some New Order / Depeche Mode beats and synth chords that conjure up images of suited New York yuppies and car phones. But this is more than a homage, more than a nod to those electronic gems of 30 years ago. It’s fucking legit. Michael’s lyrics talk of pushing, ditching your bullshit and working harder. And whilst the track was written long before this album’s conception it feels like a message to everyone who loves this scene. You aren’t going to get all this on a plate – Go out and get what you want or be left behind. And It perfectly sums up the proceeding 6 tracks. They feel like a labour of love with the long hours spent getting the right balance, gifting us all with the fruits of Michael’s labour.
Previous readers will be very aware of my views on people in the scene who feel that are owed success (you can read that post here) so Left Behind feels like a statement. Plus it’s catchy as HELL and the video one of the most stunning pieces of work to come into the scene. Watch it here.
Next up is the lower tempo ‘Crystal Ships’. Michael sings of relationships, friendships and the what-could-have-been’s. It’s a track that feeds into any love-struck teen or grieving relative. There are some wonderful synthy panpipes that keep the mood soft but are balanced with some rich and heavy guitar solos. The whole track musters up images of melancholy endings and unfinished business. The production value (which is reflected throughout all the tracks really) is consistent, professional and satisfying. It’s a great song. A personal favourite.
Sticking with the theme of professionalism, Michael is joined on this album by the wonderful Dana Jean Phoenix. One of the hardest working musicians i’ve ever known. Their duet track ‘Now I’m Alive’ has the hallmarks of an 80s movie title track. Dana and Michael’s vocals work really well and it sounds really authentic (there’s a pattern emerging with the album!). The track’s pacing is perfect and the chorus wraps you in a blanket.
The penultimate tack to Introspect is ‘Push it to the limit’. It feels like Scarface fan, Oakley’s homage to the 1983 classic and he totally he owns it. It’s unapologetically upbeat, full of energy and a fucking jam of a tune. Play it in the car with the windows down and the sound up. Trust me. It’s the guilty pleasure of the album for me.
What grabs you more than anything else after listening to Introspect is just how different this is in a scene where, by its own definition, it’s so easy to duplicate what others have done or get caught up in producing something that sounds like *insert synthwave artist name here*. Michael has thrown down tracks that ooze professionalism and stand out in a busy crowd. The album is so satisfying that the majority of people I have spoken to about it have had it on repeat for at least a week.
If you are in Toronto this summer, Michael will be performing at the Outland Synthwave event. Dana Jean is also on the bill so we can expect that smooth duet at some point in the evening.
Introspect is wonderful. Buy it and appreciate some true craftsmanship from one of the scenes most legitimate artists.
You can buy it on Bandcamp here. There is also a vinyl which looks great.
Now you’ll have to excuse me, I need to return some videotapes.