Get to know Runaway Droid:
I have written about Runaway Droid before. He's an incredible synthwave artist from...where else?...Helsinki. This is his fourth full album release (three prior albums being "Fragments" in Dec 2018, "Explorers" in May 2019, and "Giant Space Lasers" in August 2019). He's a metal guitarist who decided to create retro electro/synthwave music influenced by '80s pop culture, and in this most recent album, you can really hear echoes of newwave, post-punk, rap, and pop (thanks also to the amazing collaborators on the album).
Let's dig in to the "LIGHTYEARS" album:
"LIGHTYEARS" released on June 12, 2020 on Spotify and Bandcamp. This album contains nineteen (yes...nineteen) tracks featuring various different styles of retro music. Runaway Droid also enlisted the help of talented artists like CZARINA, R0kyu, Mark Cooper, Levinsky, Colin Cayvz, and Millennium Falck to really push the boundaries of synthwave and bring in some much needed variety.
Let me give you a quick rundown of the tracks found on this album:
"F.U.N.K." - As the name implies, this track literally tears into a sweet funky vibe, and it makes me think of '80s tracks by Michael Jackson. One minute into the song we hear some traditional synths come in before returning to the funktastic song for the 2nd half.
“Moonwalker (feat. CZARINA)” - As is the case with many synthwave songs, this track and style drive me mad with memories of certain artists or songs from the late '80s. CZARINA, a producer and singer from NYC (soon to be residing in Spain) lends her unique post-punk/cyberpunk vocals to Droid's smooth synths. Almost three minutes into the song, a wicked electric guitar riff comes in to add to the already edgy and progressive vibes. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album, hands down.
“Binary Stars” - Here we jump to an atmospheric sci-fi melody featuring tight synthy pitch bends to transport us to distant worlds with the piano carrying throughout.
“Hellbound (feat. R0kyu)” - Mr. Droid decided to dig up a track from days past and have R0kyu lend his vocals to bring us a nice alternative, slightly industrial synthy track with nice underlying guitar hooks.
“Factory Reset” - This cool driving beat is layered with all kinds of synths in various states of modulation and effects. Around a minute and half in, we get treated to some energetic synth verse to really make us feel like we are either in a futuristic chase or the birth of some infernal machine.
“Trek Wars (feat. Mark Cooper)” - Folks are always going on about how synthwave needs to change, progress. Let me introduce you to Mark Cooper from Detroit. A producer in his own right, Mark creates retro themed songs, many with funk, disco, rap, and hip hop elements (with the moniker "Player One"). In this track, he lends his rhymes to a sweet trippy song laden with Star Trek references. This is yet another one of my favourite tracks from the album.
“Way to the Stars” - I'd have to say this is, next to Memory Core, one of my two most favourite songs from the album. Perfect rhythmic synthwave tinged with a cyberpunk element. It features a memorable melody and cool vocoded lyrics.
“South Beach Chase Sequence” - As you'd expect from the name of this song, we get treated to some banging early '80s car chase music. Replete with sampled police radio chatter (fun fact...it's Mr. Droid and his girlfriend) and a driving beat with climactic chords. Half way through the song, a fresh synth is added to really bring up the melody quickly followed by some electric guitar to really get our hair standing up.
“On the Line (feat. Mark Cooper)” - Mark Cooper makes his return on the album with some vocoded singing that elicits sounds of future funk. In the background, we have sweet synths driving a hook and some electric guitar to add depth and energy to this pulsing and slightly aggressive song.
“Robots Just Wanna Have Fun” - I'm always proud when I hear a song and can name the artist right away. This track is signature Runaway Droid. Some of his favourite synths and reverbs are here, with simulated brass and strings that have a great chorus element. It's euphoric, with the Droid's skilled electric guitars driving in as the second half of the song approaches.
“Memory Core” - Next to "Way to the Stars", this is my other most favourite song on the album. It reminds me so much of a Starcadian or Icarus production. Sweet vocoded singing over a beautiful and uplifting melody with excellent chord progressions.
“Rocket Machine (feat. Levinsky)” - The Finns team up here with vocals from Levinsky himself (heck, even his singing has a Giallo sound to it). Strong synths underpin the vocals, both industrial/punk and goth at the same time. Fear not, there is of course cool electric guitars and pitch bends to really give you a jolt of life.
“Infiltrate” - This reminds me so much of early '90s trance, maybe even rave. Lovely retro sounding compressed synths with euphoric climbs and drops with an intense urgent beat underneath.
“Thunder In Your Eyes (feat. Colin Cayvz)” - Here we have vocals courtesy of Vegas artist Colin Cayvz. I can't put my finger on it, but something about the vocals (Colin can really hit some notes here) reminds me of hair metal or glam rock from the '80s. Electric guitars, driving synths, and Colin's peaking vocals really make me think I'm listening to the soundtrack of the Transformers Movie.
“Last Defence” - Slow and purposeful, the fifteenth track on the album uses some sweet retro cyberpunk synths to evoke some sort of climactic reckoning. I'm reminded of the movie Lawnmower Man (crap movie, not to be a reflection on this song). I think it's the retro "virtual reality/cyberpunk" vibes throughout the song. Another of my favourites from the album.
“Reconfiguration - Cyberpunk Mix” - Cool pounding bass and filtered beats and chords take us on a hard and futuristic adventure with choice arps and elaborate high notes. The Droid is having fun here with all kinds of effects on the various instruments, expertly put together with great phrasing to keep us hooked until the end.
“It's My Life (feat. Millennium Falck)” - Another collaboration between Finns, this time we have Millennium Falck lending his vocals to a cover of Bon Jovi's "It's My Life". The boys unleashed this amazing cover live at Helsinki Synth City Winter Warmer in February 2020 (they made the track just two weeks before the concert, and practiced it during soundcheck), and here we have a studio version. Falck's urgent vocals compliment Droid's use of synths and electric guitars to really tickle our nostalgic feelings. I'd be a damn liar if I didn't admit this is one of the best songs on the album. Well produced, great singing, neat supporting vocoder and guitars. What's not to love?
“Rocket Machine - Instrumental” - Subtract Levinsky's horror themed vocals, and this track sounds somewhat different. It's more traditional synth or even soundtrack now. Perhaps another contender for a Transformers Movie OST track.
“Thunder In Your Eyes - Instrumental” - Like the previous track, if you remove Colin's vocals, the song changes somewhat. To me, this version is like the theme song to some '80s space opera cartoon (think Ulysses, Voltron, Star Blazers, or Robotech). You can hear Runaway Droid having fun with all the instrumentals at his disposal.
This album is Runaway Droid's largest release, and it's filled with amazing tracks and collaborations to really satisfy any synthwave/cyberpunk/funk listener. The man just cranks out quality releases. He's in good company in Finland, and I've tried to list the other artists over there, but the numbers just keep growing. At this rate, I think we'll all be speaking Finnish this time next year. On this fourth album, Mr. Droid has cemented himself as one of the best out of an ever growing Nordic onslaught of synth musicians.
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