With half of its members currently riding the gargantuan swell of success from scoring a little Netflix number named ‘Stranger Things’, Austin-based electronic synth quartet S U R V I V E approach their sophomore full-length LP with courageous swagger, almost as if they knew the TV series would be a sure-fire hit and subsequently catapult them into stardom.
Prior to the sci-fi phenomenon, the group had enjoyed untold amounts of praise from synth aficionados who commended their use of minimalist and vintage analogue synths to create varied soundscapes that often generate bleak imagery. It seems the narrative themes of ‘Stranger Things’ have rubbed off on the remaining members, as ‘RR7349’ contains much of the bleakness and mystery put forth by the TV series.
The nine-track album is perceivably divided into three movements. A general sense of mystery permeates throughout, but the first half of the album connotes an uplifting, exploratory vibe, with multiple retro sci-fi conventions present. Opener, ‘A.H.B.’, is one of the more melodically accessible cuts, with its spacey licks and a discernible groove.
The synth veterans have always employed an approach of minimalistic production and tend to stay away from grandiose set-pieces. Subsequent tracks similarly signify a positive ambience; ‘Other’ is driven by juxtaposing high-pitch synths and low-octave bass, supported by searching arpeggios that beg the comparison with Jerry Goldsmith’s ‘Alien’ score and John Carpenter’s many sci-fi soundtracks.
Things take a turn for the peculiar with ‘Wardenclyffe’, its title aptly suggesting the name of a mental asylum set in a post-apocalyptic realm. Sonically, it’s the closest material to ‘Stranger Things’, with its lo-fi minimalist drum beat and chugging, out of tune synth leads. ‘Low Fog’ is undeniably the bleakest point on the album with its tangible imagery of layers of fog descending upon a desolate landscape, shrouding all possibilities of hope restoration. Throughout the ‘Wardenclyffe’ to ‘Low Fog’ sequence, there is a boldly identifiable notion of cold-blooded terror looming upon the listener, achieved by the quartet’s mastery of multi-layered synth at varying ranges and frequencies.
The final movement channels a sense of embrace and an overcoming of the terror that once loomed. ‘Copter’ is a display of confidence; euphoric synth leads and a commandeering melody transitions into closing track ‘Cutthroat’, a final celebration of triumph over the now defeated opposition. ‘RR7349’ is a headphones album; you’ll need a good pair to pick out all the subtleties and intrinsic qualities that come together to form a compelling narrative. Impressively, a compelling narrative created through solely instrumental composition.
‘RR7349’ is out now via Relapse Records.