Let me start this article by simply saying I love Let Em Riot’s music and I love this album. As with all music, different albums speak to different people. This one speaks to me. If you are short on time like I usually am, here's my recommendation: Go buy it. If you want to find out a little more about one of the best albums the summer has to offer read on.
Years Later is the long-awaited 2nd full album from California synthwave artist Let Em Riot. With catchy pop hooks and thought-provoking lyrics, Let Em Riot once again delivers an album that’s a joy to listen to from beginning to end.
Picking up where 2016’s The Futurist left off, Alan Oaks once again delivers another 10 tracks that combine his signature synth-pop sounds with breezy soCal guitar riffs. The album explores love, troubled relationships, and the memories of youth. It’s hard to single out some of the more memorable tracks on the album as each one is so polished and unique, but here are just a few of my favorites.
Kicking the album off is the appropriately titled track “Ready to Start.” With its punchy guitar riffs and percussion, Alan comes right out the gate with a very strong song that easily could have been blasting out of everyone’s radios in 1987. It's a great driving rock track that sets the tone for the album with a focus on Alan’s great guitar work.
While I enjoyed the album opener, it was the second offering “Getaway” that sold on the album. While the track domes in with simple drum beat and bassline, it wasn’t until Alan delivers the hook with the lyrics “Only one look to make the heartbeat. What if we could drive all night.” that I immediately felt compelled to hit the rewind button and pay careful attention to everything else this beautiful track has to offer. The lyrics, the story, and delivery, it's just so good.
While the uptempo tracks offer so much appeal to the pulse, for me it’s the slower tunes that give the album depth and allow it to breathe a bit. “Please” and “It’s Not Alright” are perfect examples of songs that are designed to let the listener settle into the album after such a strong opening. Both of these tracks feature on-point vocal delivery, great melodies, and some truly amazing hooks.
As with most of the album, much of the lyrics can be left to interpretation. That’s one of the things I enjoy best about Alan’s work. It’s a mold that allows you to press in your own hopes, dreams, reflections, and self-doubt. Each song can be stripped down to an experience that varies from listener to listener.
This takes us close to the outer edge of the disc and my favorite tracks on the album. “Black Ink” delivers more than a just good melody to me. It's a heavy nostalgic sucker punch that takes me right back to my awkward teenage years. These were times before I knew the person I wanted to become. These were the days where I looked to mixtapes and Trapper Keepers to help keep my disheveled life together. Back in those days, nothing mattered and everything mattered. It’s a song drenched with defiance where we scribbled on our book covers, drew on our sneakers, and chased girls. For me, “Black Ink” captured this moment perfectly. It's a perfect example of everything I love about synthwave.
One of the most unusual aspects of Alan’s creative process is the way he is constantly revisiting his older works by retouching, remixing, and at the end, breathing new life into them. This methodology was practiced heavily on his 2016 Album The Futurist where many of his songs were reworked and remastered from previous releases. While opting for mostly original songs with Years Later, he does a wonderful re-imagining of “Say.” This track was previously featured on a 2012 NewRetroWave compilation entitled The 80’s Dream Compilation Tape. The exercise pays off leaving “Say” with the perfect punctuation to an incredible album.
Years Later is up for pre-order on Bandcamp along with several great purchasing options. NewRetroWave has gone all out on this one and is offering two styles of vinyl, compact disc, cassette, and MiniDisc. Do yourself a favor and pick yourself up a copy of this album before it sells out. If you are a Let Em Riot fan or even if you are just discovering his music, I can say with 100% confidence that you will not be disappointed.