Electric Dreams – Morgan Willis ushers in the start of a new decade with ‘Dreamer’
France. Birthplace of synthwave. Home to the masters of the craft. As a movement and progressive scene, we have France to thank for some of the very DNA of modern synthwave music. So it comes as no surprise that Frenchman Morgan Willis finds himself as one of the most skilled artists in the scene.
Morgan, who hails from Marseille, has kick started 2020 with Dreamer – A feel good collection of 13 tracks that have his signature sounds stamped across them. Here are some of the highlights for your consideration.
Lou and Gui (intro) – Morgan’s soft palette of synth tones comes straight off the bat with this opener. Wonderful harmonies with elements of Vangelis and the 1975. Cinematic in tone.
Dark before the dream (feat. Parallels) – Vocalist Holly Dodson (from Canada’s established and long standing synthwave band Parallels) lends her soft and distinctive vocals to the first full track of this album. Morgan’s style, in my opinion, is traditional in his use of beat and chord progression and it’s very evident here however that it has always been more about how the music makes you feel. Hints of Sophie Teenage Dream spill through your brain as the track progresses. Which can only be a good thing given how fantastic that album was. Morgan’s use of synths is like a warm blanket that wraps you up and reminds you that it’s all going to be ok.
Back to the Start (feat. Nina) – UK based vocalist Nina is next up to guest on Dreamer with Back to the Start. Much like Holly, Nina’s vocals fit Morgan’s style very well. The track certainly presents as faster paced than the proceeding numbers but continues the feel good vibe that Morgan has always been famous for.
Daydream – Daydream marks a darker tone at the near mid-point of the album. Morgan’s dream theme hits terminal velocity here with a track that is almost hypnotic in tone. It builds for around 3 minutes before the satisfying baseline kicks in and throws you back out of your trance. Strong Tangerine Dream vibes on this one.
Rabbit Hole chasing you (feat. KEL) – Morgan’s collab with KEL was originally released back in the summer of 2019 and solely grounds itself in dreamwave territory. Morgan’s choices around who he chooses to collaborate with on his top lines are always going to be a key feature of his work and KEL presents as another strong choice.
Dreamer – Dreamer took me back to Morgan’s Miami Calling days. The subtle beats and higher synth chords act as almost an interlude to the suitably titled next track.
New Life – As the title suggests, New Life is all about excitement and anticipation. It starts peacefully in layers of synth and harmonies and then busts into a bright and satisfying beat. You can practically feel the grass growing as Morgan takes us through. The track does have a quite disturbing and dark last 20 seconds that pull you out of this musical love-in but gets you ready for the C.O.M.A to come..
C.O.M.A – Where New Life brought the sunshine, C.O.M.A is darker. Certainly, as concept albums with a story go, Morgan is very good at conveying those developments musically. Its lyrics are dark but hopeful and whilst it is a clear departure from the previous track’s positivity, it does make you want to dance. A good live track, me thinks!
Teenager – My personal favourite track of the entire album is Teenager. It’s classic Morgan Willis and is everything I love about his work. It’s light, it’s melodic and it’s got a great kicking baseline. There is no need to try and over describe a track when it just fits. Teenager makes me happy and it’s an absolute joy to listen to.
We Are Young! – It’s montage time as We Are Young! begins to round off the album. This fast-past piece feels determined to ensure that you come out of the album feeling as fresh as you possibly can and dripping in dreamy synths.
Forever – And so we come to the end of Dreamer with the appropriately titled Forever. Hints of Moroder’s Gina and Elvira’s theme are present here as this 9 minute closer plays through. It’s a fitting end to an enjoyable journey-album.
For me, Morgan Willis is underrated. For nearly a decade now he has been producing strongly recognisable work with consistent quality and thought. Those French synthwave roots continue to ground through Morgan and his work. Dreamer represents an album that firmly reminds us all why we found ourselves here. It’s a lovely collection of tracks that left me feeling as energised as a good night’s sleep. Morgan is one of a handful of artists who you can detect within 20 seconds of any track of his playing and his venture into the world of dreams continues that precedent. He is the cream that rises to the top.
Setting a strong benchmark for 2020, Dreamer is out tomorrow, 3rd January on Outland Recordings. Buy it here
Now you’ll need to excuse me, I have to return some videotapes