I’ve amassed a large collection of vinyl over the years from my favorite genres of music (most notably R&B and Soul), but no genre in recent memory has deeply entrenched its hooks into me quite like synthwave.
I’ve eagerly swallowed the Red Pill, opening my eyes to a world of talented artists, vocalists, and music producers. And albums that take me on a journey into my own imagination.
And much to my wallet’s dismay—a lot of this great music has been released on vinyl. So of course I had to buy some.
In this article, I’m going to provide you with what I believe are the 25 best synthwave albums on vinyl (from my perspective only, of course)—just in case you’ve caught the synthwave bug like me (and have a little bit of disposable income to burn). At the end of my list, I’ll also include a handful of albums that I think are very worthy Honorable Mentions, as well.
One quick note: the synthwave genre is full of a diverse group of sub-genres. One sub-genre I appreciate, but don’t collect, is dark synthwave. So if you don’t see certain albums that fit into that subgenre, well, that’s why.
So let’s start this countdown off with an album by Morgan Willis entitled “Supernova.” Oh, and feel free to use the Table of Contents (below) to skip around as you please—my feelings won’t be hurt.
by Morgan Willis
An imaginative, upbeat sci-fi rescue mission
If you like positivity and explicit storytelling in your synthwave music, then Supernova is for you. This album, which comes on beautiful (and pretty unique) gold colored vinyl, feels like an intergalactic video game. But in its more quiet moments, it’s a romantic space opera full of love, loss, and redemption.
The story behind Supernova feels like something out of Japanese anime (I’m not even an avid anime fan, but just look at that cover). The evil Professor Omega has killed all of the universe’s heroes and has captured Princess Artemis, the sole love of the titular hero Supernova.
Supernova then embarks on an expansive journey to save Artemis, and musically, this album captures all of the hope, sadness, fear, and triumph you’d expect from an imaginative trip through space and time.
The second track “Supernova” is an emphatic hero’s theme, full of confidence and strength and determination. By the time we arrive to “I Miss You,” we get a Daft Punk-style longing for love.
“Beyond the Stars” reignites our optimism for a successful mission, before Willis brings in “Dark Empire”—and you feel this is where Supernova has truly reached his lowest point.
But this is a hero’s story. In fact, this album is the musical embodiment of the “hero’s journey.” The track “Victory” starts with catharsis and slowly builds to joy, and “Go Back Home” brings us back to the hero’s theme, but with the feeling that better days are on the horizon for both Supernova and Artemis.
What I love about synthwave is that it’s a musical art form crafted to allow the listener to actively participate in a story of the mind. Music in general can alter moods, but synthwave can expand imagination.
If you want a synthwave album that allows you to solely fill in the blanks—where there are no explicit characters or story present—perhaps Supernova is not for you. But if you can appreciate an album that provides you with a simple setup as a vehicle to take you on a beautiful auditory journey to parts unknown, find a way to track down Supernova.
My Favorite Track: Midnight Radio
A journey of aching wonder for yesterday
FM-84 (Col Bennett) describes his own classic album, Atlas, as “the sound of a summer long gone.” And while a lot of synthwave evokes a feeling of imagination, nostalgia, and perhaps even a bit of regret, nothing quite sums up all of these bubbling emotions like Atlas.
The album opens with “Everything,” a track that conveys boundless optimism—a world without limitation. I love the energy and wonder of this track.
And I think that theme—energy—is consistent throughout Atlas. Even when the album moves into bittersweet territory, on tracks such as “Tears” and “Chasing Yesterday,” it manages to lean more sanguine than melancholy.
When it’s all said and done, Atlas is a musical time machine back to your childhood—where the restraint of your own imagination was the only thing that limited your joy. Where video games, ice cream, summer camp crushes and water gun fights ruled the hot days of July and August.
And when it all ends, when it’s time to listen to that final “Goodbye,” you’re more appreciative of the time you had—despite knowing it’ll never return again.
My Favorite Track: Everything
A much needed retro blast of fun during dark times
The album GentleMann debuted at the perfect time. In September of 2020, the world was deep in the midst of a global pandemic, and it felt like there was no end in sight. And just a few months prior, people were taking to the streets around the world to protest police brutality.
Frustration and fatigue were at an all-time high—and there really wasn’t too much new artistic content to help bring sunshine to our everyday lives.
And that’s when NeverMann, a talented artist out of Sweden, dropped GentleMann—a 10-track fusion of synthwave strength, and at times vulnerability, that debuted on cassette, mini-disc and clear, pink-splatted vinyl.
GentleMann is often musically propulsive—tracks like “All 4 U” and especially “Cherry Baby” are very energetic and engaging. But when it does slow down a bit, on tracks like “Used 2 B” and even “Celebrate,” it gives off the introspective spirit that synthwave is so successful at invoking.
There are two tracks named after women on GentleMann. On “Jody,” which NeverMann mentioned was inspired by R&B artist Jody Watley, he pleads his case to a woman that he’s infatuated with. And on the highly infectious track “Andrea (Redux),” the saxophone solo (by Anton Krutov) is just so, so good.
Many synthwave albums attempt to convey feelings of longing or imagination or wonder with their music. And I think if you’re specifically looking for that when building your synthwave vinyl collection, you probably won’t be completely satisfied with “GentleMann.”
But if you want an album that fully embraces the 80s retro synth aesthetic, and builds on top of that with great original music production and vocals, I highly recommend GentleMann.
My Favorite Track: Acquired Taste
A hypnotic late night drive into the unknown
If I was forced to pick one synthwave album to give to a complete newbie, hoping it would be the gateway drug that would lead him or her down the synthwave rabbit hole, it would be Night Drive.
This album, by TimeCop1983, is spellbinding—it has a true hypnotic sensibility to it. And I think it’s an easily digestible album for someone that’s never experienced the synthwave genre before.
From “On the Run” to “Cruise” and “Afterglow,” you need to buckle up your seatbelt when you drop the needle on Night Drive, because you’ll be heading places you’ve never been before.
Parts of the album actually feel ethereal, like the track “Tokyo,” which features sweet, delicate vocals by Kinnie Lane.
By the time you get to the final track, “It Was Only a Dream,” you’ll awake from your enjoyable trance all the better for having listened to this instant classic from 2018.
My Favorite Track: On the Run
West Coast Dreams
by The Motion Epic
Great vocals, mixed with a beautiful homage to the 80s
If you want synthwave to transfer you back to an innocent time of young love and carefree summers, then West Coast Dreams by The Motion Epic needs to be in your collection.
Pat Dimeo (The Motion Epic) has the perfect voice for this genre of music. He would’ve been a natural fit during the 80s music scene. But now, in the 21st Century, his voice is a vehicle to a past you once knew—or perhaps wished you had once experienced.
The album (infused with blue and white colors swirling together on this impressive vinyl) begins with “Rumors,” a beautiful track that you could easily see being a hit single for a 1980s film. The saxophone alone on this track is fantastic.
West Coast Dreams then transitions into a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” You’re never going to improve on a Michael Jackson track, but The Motion Epic isn’t concerned with that. Instead, this cover pays respect to the original, while also adding Pat’s personal touch and sensibility to the track.
The songs “Homecoming Dance” and “Forever Young” might just be the standouts on this album. They will immediately remind you of high school romance. And if they don’t, they’ll at least conjure up memories of several John Hughes movies you’ve watched and enjoyed.
In my eyes, West Coast Dreams is ultimately about navigating love—the desire for companionship and the struggles to maintain it.
If you’re looking for a synthwave album that will tug on your heart strings and simultaneously warm your soul, find a way to pick up West Coast Dreams.
My Favorite Track: The Homecoming Dance
by Lucy in Disguise
A warm, mellow drive down the coast
Sometimes you want your synthwave tunes to remind you of movies and TV shows you loved.
Sometimes you want a synthwave track to be a bit moody or even sinister.
And other times, you may want a synthwave album to hit the right nostalgic beats to help unlock memories of your childhood.
And sometimes, well, you just want synthwave to be chill.
Something you can drop the needle on, slink back into your Lazy-Boy and vibe out.
That’s exactly what you get with Sunset Radio by Lucy in Disguise. This is a relaxing, borderline therapeutic, synthwave album that comes on vibrant orange vinyl.
When you sit down to listen to Sunset Radio, you can imagine being in a convertible, driving down the coast of California.
Just you, the open road, and a good feeling.
The opening track, “Coastal Drive,” definitely conveys this kind of vibe.
But oddly enough, the album’s not all quite like that.
The track “Airborn” conveys a bit of intensity, and even some mystery. And when you roll into “Heist Money,” suddenly the aforementioned convertible you’re driving down the coast has transformed into a getaway car.
Ultimately, what I like most about Sunset Radio is that it’s a surprising album. While it has overall mellow tastes, you never quite know what you’re going to get from track to track.
You can hear a little bit of a hip hop aesthetic in “Photon,” for example. And “Nightfall” sounds a bit like something you’d hear in the darksynth genre.
Sunset Radio never plays it safe. It’s never boring. And that’s why I love it.
My Favorite Track: Coastal Drive
by SelloRekT/LA Dreams
A nostalgic, great time
Night Moves by SelloRekT/LA Dreams begins with “Run All Night,” and it instantly reminds you of 1980s films you’ve watched and enjoyed over the years. In fact, this track feels so 80s, it would’ve been a great song to have played during a lengthy montage from an old school Michael J. Fox flick.
Part of what makes Night Moves impressive is its ability to not only remind you of 80s pop culture, but bring you back there in vivid detail.
If you lived through the 80s, it’s nostalgic for you. If you didn’t live through the 80s, you’re strangely nostalgic for a time you never experienced—and your imagination takes over from there.
For an album called Night Moves, you’d imagine it’s pretty laid back. But this album is full of 80s kinetic energy. But when it slows down, like on the track “While We Can,” it becomes saccharine in the best 80s way possible.
Probably more than any other synthwave album in my collection, Night Moves could not only work as a soundtrack to a popular 1980s film, but a soundtrack to 80s pop culture entirely.
If you’re looking for a synthwave album to take you on a fantastical journey through space, remind you of high school innocence, or transport you to a dreamy oasis after a long day at work, well, Night Moves probably won’t satisfy your needs.
But if you’re eager to listen to a record that will revert you back to a time of step aerobics, corded phones, Jheri curls and shoulder pads, Night Moves is the album you need.
My Favorite Track: Twilight Dancer
Girls on Bikes/Boys on Boards
A jam-packed day full of arcades and laughter
Girls on Bikes and Boys on Boards are technically two separate EP’s (and vinyl records). But in 2021, they were bonded together as a limited edition “Girls Meets Boy” pink and blue swirl vinyl LP.
And thank the Heavens (and Sofa King Vinyl) for that, as I feel that this is easily the prettiest synthwave vinyl record I own.
On top of that, this record just might be the most pure fun synthwave album I have on this list.
In fact, here’s my challenge to you:
On a day when you’re not in the best of moods, if you can listen to this Opus Science Collective (OSC) record for its entire 35 minute runtime and not emerge from it in a much more positive, joyful frame of mind…well…
Perhaps you’re not actually alive?
The song “Boys Fall Easy” will make your head nod and get your feet tapping, while “Lipstick & Lollipops” feels like a mash-up between an NES game and a Paula Abdul single.
The Girls on Bikes side ends with my favorite track, “The Ride Home,” which conveys the exuberance of a fun filled day—complete with candy, ice-cream and tons of laughter—coming to an end.
The Boys on Boards side of this record is similar to Girls on Bikes—but from a male perspective. The track “This Girl’s Hard to Read” could be seen as a direct response to “Boys Fall Easy.” It has a happy-go-lucky nature about it, but there’s wonder about the unknown layered throughout.
In the end, despite being two independent EP’s originally, Girls on Bikes/Boys on Boards is probably best listened to back-to-back. So it’s only fitting Sofa King Vinyl has fused both EP’s together in one attractive vinyl package.
If you need a jolt of fun and happiness injected directly into your eardrums, this is the record for you.
My Favorite Track: The Ride Home
Into the Night
A quiet, yet majestic, synthwave production
I struggled with adding L’Avenue to this list. Not because the music isn’t great—it’s fantastic.
But it being fantastic causes a bit of a dilemma.
I could’ve easily added Cherry Crush to this list, an amazing EP in its own right.
I could’ve also added the more recent follow-up Lemon Crush, which features a fantastic track entitled “Kelly” (check it out if you haven’t heard it).
But for this countdown list, I chose to spotlight their full-length album that came out in between those two EP’s—Into the Night.
This album, from start to finish, is quietly beautiful.
It has a majestic quality to it.
But the best adjective for it just might be sublime.
Listening to the track “Into the Night,” it has an expansive, dreamy quality to the music. You become a willful victim to its mesmerizing trance.
Moving onto the track “Prom,” the dream state continues. I like how L’Avenue doesn’t so much convey the conventional assumption of what a retro Prom would sound or feel like. Instead, for me, this track invokes the ideal imagination of what your Prom was like.
It’s more about fantasy—less about the musical “reminiscence bump” phenomenon.
Into the Night always has an ethereal tone to it. It’s wondrous throughout, but also feels a bit delicate.
I think that works to its advantage, as even a track like “Dance” maintains its fanciful nature.
Into the Night comes on sky blue vinyl and is definitely worthy of your collection.
My Favorite Track: Into the Night
by Your Sister Is a Werewolf
Journey through your imagination in a cinematic musical experience
I’ve mentioned a few times in this countdown that certain artists or albums sound like they could easily fit into an 80s film. Well, Captain Video by Your Sister Is a Werewolf might just be very close to the top of that list.
This is easily the most cinematic synthwave album that’s cracked this list. So it’s no surprise, then, that Your Sister Is a Werewolf (aka Josh Molen) is a television composer whose work has been featured on TLC and HGTV, among others.
With a name like Your Sister Is a Werewolf, you would assume that Captain Video would be an album full of foreboding menace. But it’s not.
Sure, tracks like “Digital Image Correction” and “In Abstract” have an element of danger conveyed throughout the music, but a lot of Captain Video is upbeat and even breezy.
Tracks like “Breathe Easy” and “Late Fees” (featuring the OSC) are fun and full of optimism. And “Jumping the Turnstiles” and “Slow Going” feel like they could be part of the score for a popular action-comedy flick from the mid-80s.
My Favorite Track: Slow Going
by Emil Rottmayer
A mind-expanding musical journey
Music is great because it’s all about how you feel. It’s not about “subtext” or “reading between the lines” or “connecting the dots.”
When I listen to Emil Rottmayer’s Detached EP, I feel like I’m going on a journey through space—seeing planets and lifeforms I never thought were possible.
This record, which comes on very nice 150-gram clear vinyl, takes you on a wild trip from the very first track. When you drop the needle on the title track, “Detached,” you’re gleefully lifting off to an unknown world.
That continues when you arrive to “Farout,” which pulls your further and further into its orbit full of punchy, dreamy synth vibes.
If careening through space and time had its own theme song, it would be “Farout.”
When we transition into “P.H.A.Z.E” and “W.A.V.E,” we start getting a bit of a deeper (and slightly funkier) synth sound. And by the time we get to “Limit,” there’s a celestial quality to the track that feels—oddly enough—quite limitless.
If you’re looking for an synthwave album that will take you to the stars and back—without having to call in a favor to Elon Musk—make sure you check out Detached.
My Favorite Track: W.A.V.E
by Mitch Murder
Travel back to a childhood of Saturday morning television, video games and no responsibilities
Mitch Murder’s Interceptor begins with an alarm clock going off. Suddenly, two young feet are heard frantically running down the steps to the living room to turn on the television.
It’s Saturday morning. And it’s going to be a magical day.
What I like about Interceptor is that it’s not so much trying to replicate the sounds of the 80s, as it’s trying to re-capture the 1980s zeitgeist.
Listening to the opening track, “Saturday,” makes you remember how it felt to begin the weekend gorging on classic cartoons and end the weekend watching an episode of “Miami Vice” by your dad’s side (much to your mom’s chagrin, of course).
The fun continues with “Race Day.” This track recalls the feeling of inviting a good friend over to your house to play a boatload of video games. Sure, it got competitive at times—hey, maybe even a bit heated—but at the end of the day, it was literally all fun and games.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper childhood if you didn’t attempt to watch movies you had no business watching. Listening to the menace that engulfs the track “Interceptor,” I’m reminded of the handful of times—as a kid—I sat down to watch something made for adults.
And how it went horribly, horribly wrong.
Sure, watching an R-rated flick when you’re a child is fun for a while—until something twisted comes on the screen, and the image not only scares you, but is burned into your mind forever.
Cheers to you, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall—you’ve successfully scarred me for life.
By the time it’s all said and done, and you’ve had all the fun and frights that one weekend can muster, you arrive at “Traces to Nowhere.” This track not only sends you to bed, but quietly tucks you in and turns off the light.
It’s official: the weekend of magic has concluded.
We may not be able to go back in time to re-capture the feelings of our youth, but spinning Mitch Murder’s Interceptor might just be the next best thing.
My Favorite Track: Breakzoid
by Mark Cooper
Synthwave, Hip Hop, and 90s Pop Culture
“I pack my bags and leave/Detroit at hyper speed/to a hidden land where nerds can truly be free.”
—Mark Cooper on the track “Main Purpose” on Test Drive
I’m always a fan of high concept albums, and similar to Morgan Willis’ Supernova, that’s exactly what we have here in Mark Cooper’s Test Drive.
What I like about Test Drive is that it blends genres, as synthwave meets nerdcore hip hop. And its lyrics are infused with 80s appreciation and 90s adoration.
In Test Drive, we follow a character named Player One, who is trapped inside a video game and needs to find the mighty Left Handed Power Glove—held by the SkyGodd, at least according to legend—to punch his ticket back to the real world.
Of course, the mention of The Power Glove (and no doubt the album cover itself) are callbacks to the Fred Savage 1989 flick “The Wizard.”
But that’s not the only pop culture reference you’ll hear on this album—and that’s one of many things that makes this album such a treat.
Synth and hip hop elements combine forces to bathe you in a nostalgic trip that’s truly unparalleled. Cooper has a track called “Toys R Us Kids,” which is all about singing the praises of how the famous toy store helped make childhood so memorable:
“Back when life wasn’t so complex/my action figures fit perfectly in my toy chest/to think that my childhood could be at risk/if Toys R Us never even exists.”
There are nostalgic easter eggs littered all throughout Test Drive, so get ready to go on a treasure hunt. If you were born in the 80s, and grew up in the 90s, you’re going to want to listen intently to catch as many references as possible.
Here are just a few that I definitely caught:
- Major Payne
- Knight Rider
- Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets Word
- Super Soakers
- Beanie Babies
- Saved by the Bell
- Itchy and Scratchy from The Simpsons
- Who’s the Boss
- Mighty Mouse
- Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers
- Bill Nye the Science Guy
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Star Trek
- The Proud Family
- Marvin the Martian
- Aaahh!!! Real Monsters
- Tiny Toon Adventures
- Super Friends
- Land of the Lost
- Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego
- Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner
- Darkwing Duck
- Bobby’s World
- Jackie Chan
And listen—anytime you can find a way to drop Stick Stickly from Nickelodeon into your rhymes, well, you have my respect.
With creative lyrics, good storytelling, and great production, Test Drive comes on clear vinyl with a pink and blue splatter effect.
And it needs to be in your collection.
My Favorite Track: Toys R Us Kids
by Arcade High
Synthwave that’s ripe for the dance club
Arcade High’s New Impressions grabs you by the collar immediately when you drop the needle.
It wants to yank you back in time.
Get you onto a retro dance floor.
Make you bust a sweat ‘till the morning sun rises.
Can you keep up?
Hopefully so, because there’s some great tracks on this vinyl record, which notably comes in vivid orange (and really pops from a visual standpoint on my Clearaudio Concept Black).
The bold, colorful artwork was done by James White, and it stands out from the crowd in all the best ways possible.
The first track, “Radio,” is a gem of a song that features sweet, pop-friendly vocals from Slyleaf.
New Impressions maintains the high octane dance club vibes through most of the album, with tracks like “We Were Titans” and “Select Start” being most notable.
But I like how, by the end of New Impressions, the album gets a bit more reflective.
The final track, “Only Memories,” gives the sense that the retro dance floor you were transported to has long since vanished. And all that remains is the present moment—and a wandering mind gazing into the rear view mirror.
Well, that and an amazing, bright orange colored vinyl record.
My Favorite Track: Radio
by Sunglasses Kid
A synth-pop journey back to the 80s
If ever there was an album that re-captures the spirit (both real and imagined) of high school in the 1980s, it’s the debut album of Sunglasses Kid—Graduation.
In fact, I think what works so well for Graduation is it just feels so legitimately 1980s. While a track like “80s Baby” pays homage to everything that made 80s pop culture so memorable—Full House, Michael Jackson, NES—the song “Can’t Hide” (featuring great vocals by Miranda Carey) could fit in nicely on a local pop station in 1985.
Ultimately, I really like Graduation because it gives you the best of both worlds. On one hand, you get great instrumental tracks (like “Friday Night”) that beautifully re-capture the synth spirit of 1980s pop culture.
And on the other hand, you have tracks like “Just Another Day” (vocals provided by I Am Harlequin) that feel so old school, it’ll cause you to double check that you didn’t accidentally drop the needle on an actual pop record from the 1980s.
Graduation is a nostalgic 80s explosion for your ears and needs to be on your radar.
My Favorite Track: Can’t Hide
An airy, mysterious dreamscape fills your room
In many ways, I feel that Metropolis by Marvel83’ shares some semblance to L’Avenue’s Into the Night.
With that said, it feels like Metropolis has a bit more mystery hiding beneath its surface, while Into the Night is a bit softer around the edges.
But I think these two albums would actually be very nice compliments to one another if you were looking to have a dreamy, synth-inspired vinyl evening.
Ironically enough, both albums also feature a track called “Into the Night.”
But while L’Avenue’s “Into the Night” is a much more airy, Marvel83’s “Into the Night” is darker in tone. It’s still a fairly optimistic track, but it’s laced with bits of trepidation.
Part of what makes synthwave fun is that every listener sees something different when they listen to a given track. The visualization that music creates is personal—what you bring to the album as a listener helps create the world you imagine when you drop the needle onto a record.
When I listen to Metropolis, I see dark, rainy streets.
I see tall, shiny buildings, decked out in gaudy neon signs.
In many ways, I see a Blade Runner-esque world when I listen to Metropolis.
And while a lot of synthwave will transport you to the past, it’s always nice to appreciate synthwave (or in the case of Metropolis, dreamwave) that can catapult you into the future.
My Favorite Track: So This Is For You
A chillwave album full of synth songs ready to take you outta this world
The great Rod Serling, who created the classic series “The Twilight Zone,” said the following before each episode began:
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and timeless as infinity.
It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.
This is the dimension of imagination.
This is exactly how I feel when I listen to Rosentwig’s self titled vinyl record, a compilation (or greatest hits, I suppose) album put together by Eye Witness Records.
Available on violet and clear colored vinyl, this album lifts you off your feet and whisks you away to another dimension.
The track “On the Inside” sounds like something you’d hear as you’re leaving earth and traveling through a worm hole to another plane of existence.
Rosentwig successfully manages to be both welcoming and otherworldly. “Red Moon” feels like you’re approaching an eye-opening new celestial body, while “Infinite Adventures” conjures up the exciting idea of exploring the unknown.
Pick up the stylus and move it over a couple tracks and you land on “On My Way,” a song that makes you feel as if you’re arriving on a foreign (yet exciting) new world.
“Singularity” is appropriately mind-bending, but by the time we finish the record with “Mind Palace,” I got the sense that all this wild intergalactic wonderment had finally been met with some internal equilibrium and serenity.
While Rosentwig is a compilation album, and therefore didn’t have the same “vision” as a traditional LP, these ten tracks are an incredible journey into the dimension of imagination.
My Favorite Track: On My Way
Kinentic, pedal to the metal synthwave
Redline is an exhilarating album to listen to. It invokes driving down dark, abandoned streets at break neck speeds.
You can hear the engine revving.
The feel of the tires spinning furiously on the pavement.
The blur of the world passing by you.
You wouldn’t think an album such as this could really sound mesmerizing, but it does. Its high octane nature created a unique kind of reverie for me.
Tracks like “Redline” and “Overdrive” feel like they hammer you into a high-speed rapture. And overall, what I appreciate about this album is that despite its relentless energy, it manages to be deeply engrossing without feeling overbearing or fatiguing to listen to.
“Distress Signal,” for example, is arranged in a way to vary up levels of intensity for the listener, and something like “The Fixx” sounds downright playful.
“Pedal to the Metal” ratchets up the intensity to an 11, before “Interstellar” brings the heat down and allows you to quietly catch your breath.
In the end, Redline reminds me of the DeLorean from Back to the Future. Sometimes its grounded, but moving at high speed. And other times, when it hits 88 MPH, it’s soaring to infinity and beyond.
My Favorite Track: The Fixx
Ride off into a dreamland of wonder and amazement
Nouveau Plaisir is a bit of a mix of two EPs by Stilz, one entitled For You and the other entitled Exogenesis. And what we have here is a great collection of tracks that are quite angelic in nature, and at times, give off cosmic vibes as well.
“Catch Your Breath” and “Aphelion” are slow and celestial, but “Scarlet Lips” is where the pace picks up considerably before falling back to a relaxed vibe with “Spiral Love,” which features hazy, calming vocals that I think work very well for this track.
However, most of Nouveau Plaisir features no vocals, which really helps you get lost in the emotions created by the chillwave tracks.
“First Kiss,” for example, is loving and reflective, while “Meant to Be” sounds almost inquisitive.
I like how Nouveau Plaisir is a quietly beautiful album, and yet comes with tracks like “Reckless Love” that have a bit of attitude.
If you want a chillwave album that’s elegant—and comes on clear vinyl with pink splatter—make sure you track down Nouveau Plaisir.
My Favorite Track: There For You
Kiss Me in the Rain
by Jessie Frye
An original synth pop album that pays respect to the past
There are a lot of artists in, or at least adjacent to, the synth pop space that are talented and put out great music.
Ollie Wride. NINA. Michael Oakley. Roxi Drive. Kidburn.
But what I like about Kiss Me in the Rain by Jessie Frye is that it feels old and new at the same time.
Tracks like “Angel” and “Faded Memory” (featuring Timecop1983) sound inherently nostalgic, and they’re definitely playing with a lot of the elements and instruments that create a bit of retro sentimentality.
But I actually don’t think Kiss Me in the Rain would organically fit into the decade of the 1980s. It appreciates the 80s, but sounds fairly modern.
And I think that’s what makes this album so special. It’s not easy to create a project inspired by an decade of music and culture without falling into the trap of just remaking what worked during that decade.
A track like “Malibu Broken,” featuring Ollie Wride, is a great example of this. It sounds retro. It sounds 80s. But it doesn’t sound of the 80s. And that makes it an impressive gem.
It’s a tough tightrope to walk, but I think this album succeeds quite well.
Whether it’s the slower paced “High” or the album ender “Wild in My Arms,” Jessie Frye’s Kiss Me in the Rain is a very nice, original entry into the synth pop world.
And if you’re looking to pick it up on vinyl, well, you have a lot of options.
This album has been pressed on red and blue vinyl, along with pink and red swirl vinyl, and even vinyl with colored splatter effects.
My Favorite Track: Malibu Broken
Eye of the Storm
by Ace Buchannon
A future full of robots never sounded so appealing
The artwork for Eye of the Storm (created by Atom Cyber) is completely appropriate, because when I listen to this album, I see nothing but robots.
And that could’ve been an easy reason for this album to journey towards the darker side of synthwave, but Ace Buchannon manages to keep Eye of the Storm fairly bright and energetic.
I’m always a fan of artists finding a way to add a good saxophone solo onto a track, and that definitely happens a time or two on Eye of the Storm. It helps keep this futuristic world relatively upbeat and lively.
Some of Eye of the Storm may remind you of sci-fi films you love. Other times, with tracks like “Mizukage Prototype,” you may be reminded of video games you enjoyed playing on NES or Sega Genesis.
Eye of the Storm also injects a little mystery into the mix, as well. With “Penthouse Hideaway,” you get the sense that something very romantic, and equally dangerous, is about to go down.
“Come Alive” might just be the standout track on this album, with a truly impressive vocal performance by Anna Moore.
Eye of the Storm, overall, is a very triumphant sounding synthwave album. And if you’re interested in tracking it down, know that it comes on clear vinyl with a very cool blue splatter effect, as well.
My Favorite Track: Come Alive
by The Midnight
Appreciate the 1990s, through the sounds of the 1980s
Good music always works because, well, it’s good. But good music is thoroughly enhanced when you can relate to it.
If you were born in the 1980s, you really don’t remember much of the cultural zeitgeist of that decade. Yes, there was the bleed over of pop culture from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. And while these decades have some things in common, they are fairly distinct from one another.
But what’s funny is that, if you were a kid in the 1990s, it’s easy to forget how much synth and electronic sounds you were bombarded with.
It was in our early 1990s movies. It was the underlying music in all our video games. And it could be heard even when you were trying to connect to the Internet for the very first time.
So it’s no wonder that The Midnight really leans into this—kicking off the album with a nostalgic trip back to PC computers and the sounds of dial up Internet via “1991” and “America Online.”
And nothing captures the merging of 80s sound with 90s pop culture quite like the track “The Search for Ecco.” This track is clearly inspired by the video game “Ecco the Dolphin,” which was one of my favorites on the Sega Genesis growing up.
And despite all of the great high tempo tracks like “Dance With Somebody” and “Deep Blue,” synthwave can be at its best when it leans into nostalgia by being bittersweet—a fondness for past days, yet a sadness for their impermanence.
And tracks like “Brooklyn” and “Last Train” invoke these feelings quite well.
My Favorite Track: Last Train
Dark All Day
An exciting journey into the science fiction genre of cyberpunk
If the cyberpunk genre had to pick one album to represent its very essence, it would be Dark All Day by GUNSHIP.
Listening to this album, you feel the lawlessness.
You feel the despair.
And sometimes, you surprisingly feel the hope for a better tomorrow.
The album kicks off with two tracks, “Woken Furies” and “Dark All Day,” that are full of both desire and desperation.
And when your new normal is full of torment, an uplifting track is always welcome. You wouldn’t expect to find such a thing on an album called Dark All Day, but when it arrives, it’s a blessing.
And that’s exactly what you get with “When You Grow Up, Your Heart Dies.” Beginning with a quote from the film The Breakfast Club, this track will inspire you to persevere through life’s tougher moments.
You can’t keep the darkness at bay forever, but even when it returns, it’s illuminated by the the desire to keep and maintain love inside a strange, digital-focused world.
Probably no song on this album best encapsulates this than “Art3mis & Parzival,” a track no doubt dedicated to the book “Ready Player One.”
Dark All Day also features a well executed—and slightly foreboding—cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”
In the end, Dark All Day never gives you exactly what you expect—and I love it for that. It’s constantly evolving track to track. Constantly stirring up different moods and emotions for the listener.
And that makes for not only a highly engaging listening experience, but one of the more notable synthwave albums in the genre.
My Favorite Track: Symmetrical
by Miami Nights 1984
A pillar of the synthwave genre
Turbulence by Miami Nights 1984 came out in 2012, and all these years later, it still sounds as modern as ever.
The opening tack, “MN84 Theme,” lasts only one minute and seventeen seconds, but it’s a quiet, elegant nostalgic trip back to the 80s.
The pace picks up with “Clutch,” and by the time you get to “Ocean Drive,” it’s a joyous—almost triumphant—experience.
“The Getaway” throws in some retro mischief and “Streets of Fire” sounds like it was directly influenced by the music of “Streets of Rage.”
Miami Nights 1984 (also known as Michael Glover) paints in a lot of different colors on Turbulence. Something like “Astral Projection” is downright trippy, while “New Tomorrow” sounds infectiously optimistic about the future (despite sounding pointedly old school).
This is just a great album through and through. And if you’re looking to capture this gem on vinyl, there are a variety of different options in the aftermarket. Perhaps the coolest one is the second pressing, which came on red glow-in-the-dark vinyl.
My Favorite Track: High Beams
Rebirth of the Machine
by Droid Bishop
A triumphant journey through a world of machines, algorithms and simulations
I gotta admit—this album had me the very first time I saw the cover artwork.
Why? Well, synthwave is often about emotions, nostalgia, and paying homage to the past. And my very first computer that I ever used was the Macintosh Classic.
So, seeing that computer (or perhaps a slightly earlier version of it) displayed proudly on the cover of “Rebirth of the Machine”…well…I was already getting the warm and fuzzies.
But, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the music. How does an album execute its vision? How does it make you feel?
From the moment the stylus hits the first track, you’re instantly hit with the sounds of mental transportation. You can feel the dreamy synth tones washing over, teleporting you back to the final two decades of the 20th century.
By the time we get to “Coming Alive,” the vibe is vivacious and full of color. In fact, as I listened to this track, I felt like I actually heard momentary nods to The Jackson 5’s “Dancing Machine.”
Maybe my head is still clouded, too caught up in the Macintosh Classic euphoria—but that’s often been my thought whenever I’ve revisited this track.
And, since this album is called Rebirth of the Machine, and “Dancing Machine” features lyrics like “at the drop of a coin she comes alive now”—well, it seems like almost too much of a coincidence.
Except for, you know, the pesky fact that “Dancing Machine” came out in the 1970s and not the 1980s.
Creative license, ya’ll. Just creative license.
Why must you ruin my theory?
Thankfully, whether I’m spot on with that connection or I completely missed the mark, “Rebirth of the Machine” has more than just a couple memorable tracks.
“Through the Night” is a song you could see played at a retro dance hall, and then there’s tracks like “Flight of Nostromo” which sound so beautifully cosmic, it’ll make you want to run out and buy an astronaut’s helmet.
Ultimately, when you have an album this good, it must end in the most triumphant way possible. So the final track’s name is fitting (entitled “Most Triumphant,” if you weren’t picking up what I was putting down), concluding this album on a thrilling high note.
My Favorite Track: The Simulation
– HONORABLE MENTIONS –
Okay, so whenever any kind of countdown list such as this occurs, some people will scan the article and immediately send angry letters.
Others may read the entire article—and proceed to send even angrier letters.
The crux of the letter?
“Why wasn’t MY personal favorite album not listed as YOUR personal favorite album?”
I get it. We all do it.
Well, actually I don’t. But I’m trying to calm you down a bit.
Is it working yet?
So in this Honorable Mentions section, I wanted to give a little shine to a handful of synthwave albums and artists that didn’t quite make my personal Top 25, but I believe are genuinely great and worth checking out (and buying on vinyl, too).
Like driving through a neon-lit city at night
There’s a pulsating energy to “Time Lapse,” the opening track of Kalax, that pops right off of this hot pink vinyl record. It almost sounds like the vibrations are shimmering, like reflections off windows in an endless nighttime cityscape.
A lot of synthwave makes you imagine fast cars, but on “Renegade,” I imagine a motorcycle traveling top speed down a futuristic city that resembles present day Tokyo at night.
One of the best tracks has such an aptly named title that encapsulates a lot of the synthwave genre—“Ephemeral Night.”
We romanticize the past—perhaps too much—and once we grow older, we recognize that life is ephemeral. I think this track captures this concept well, and really stresses the idea of living each day (and night) to the best of your ability.
Moody, and at times haunting, without being horrifying
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of the dark synth genre. I think the artists in that space are talented, but it just ain’t my particular cup of tea.
But I really like Terror 404 by Peturbator. I suppose it could work for a horror movie of sorts, but when I listen to it, I could see the music working very well in an edgy, modern day film noir flick.
Synth pop done to perfection
Kidburn’s vocals are excellent on Three—perfect for the kind of music he’s making. “In Your Eyes” is so wonderfully retro, and if “Murder on the Dancefloor” doesn’t get you to at least do a shoulder shimmy in your chair, well, you just might not have a pulse.
This album very likely would’ve made my Top 25, but it’s not currently on vinyl (nor does it appear to be heading to vinyl anytime soon, at least at the time of publication).
Beauty and grace from start to finish
This album by A.L.I.S.O.N is an exquisite production. Éternité is so chill, and so relaxing, you might fear that you’ll fall asleep and leave your turntable running for hours on end.
And while you’re asleep, you’ll likely have dreamed of venturing to other planets and galaxies, as this album will tap into your imagination like no other.
Calypso Drip FM
Neon colors. Hot red sports cars. Palm trees. And synth pop greatness.
Gryff is a talented synthwave artist out of Australia. And here, he creates his own slick, synth-inspired radio station—Calypso Drip FM.
This album just makes you feel good, and features some memorable saxophone solos.
You can pick up this album on light blue vinyl, which really goes well with the aesthetic of the album art.
Advanced Memory Suite
by FM Skyline
Music that conjures memories of personal computers and 32-bit video game consoles
Advanced Memory Suite by FM Skyline gave me the feeling of living inside a computer from the 1990s. And you wouldn’t expect that to sound relaxing, but this album definitely manages to make it so.
It also brought up memories of playing the Sega Saturn video game console—specifically the game Nights Into Dreams.
A short, chillwave album that packs a punch
If Rosentwig and Droid Bishop were capable of having a musical baby, perhaps he or she would make music that reflects the talent of System96.
Memories only contains seven tracks, but as the saying goes—quality over quantity is what counts.
The Never Ending
by FM Attack
A well-executed final album
To me, synthwave is at its best when it’s looking fondly into the rear mirror. When we’re not ready to say goodbye, despite knowing that yesterday is gone forever.
It’s probably only appropriate, then, to end this countdown list with the great FM Attack.
With reports that he may be calling it a career, his (presumably) final album (The Never Ending) is excellent in its own right, and becomes a bittersweet conclusion to a memorable 12-year career.
Synthwave is a unique genre of music.
It can invoke feelings of love or fright.
It can throw you into a time machine to the past or stuff you into a rocket towards the future.
It can drive you down the coastal streets of California. Or send you to another planet or dimension.
It’s not easy crafting a countdown list of the best synthwave vinyl records—even if it’s a list of your personal favorites. There’s no doubt that talented artists are missing from this list. There’s no doubt the worthy albums have been omitted.
But hopefully you’ve enjoyed this countdown. And if it sparks one or two people to discover a new artist, or purchase a new vinyl record, then I’ve done my job.
If you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to not only bookmark my Devoted to Vinyl website, but be sure to subscribe to my Devoted to Vinyl YouTube channel, as well.
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