Scandroid came out of nowhere last year to be one of the more notable success stories in the exploding synthwave scene. The self-titled debut married cyberpunk, new wave, and a more modern industrial feel to create something irresistible (the “Shout” cover is truly something else). The project, started from noted musician/producer Klayton (Celldweller, Circle Of Dust), and the unexpected emphasis on impressive vocal melodies was a nice touch. The record still had that cinematic feel, but individual songs certainly stood out more than you expect from a synthwave release.
Here on album two, Scandroid doubles down on that song-based emphasis, as there are certainly some truly exceptional tracks throughout Monochrome. The record is far from a singular listening experience. This sophomore release feels much more like a collection of individually great moments than a cohesive unit, but aside from a couple stumbles, Monochrome is actually more consistently enjoyable and engaging than its predecessor. What set the project apart from the beginning was flipping the style on its head. Synthwave was always a dreary style, even at its brightest, because its sci-fi and horror themes of evil, destruction, and civilization in ruin were always present. Scandroid, even moreso on this second record, adds (humorously enough) more color to the style. You have some Daft Punk-isms, a wider array of 80s influences (post-punk, Top Gun, and synthpop), and a some great cinematic instrumental numbers. There’s a real brightness and cheeriness to these tunes (notably “Future Bloodlines” and “Rendezvous”). The story is about a world where the truth is hidden (feel possible?), and while not all the tracks are obviously optimistic, there’s a hopeful sense that the good guys prevail. Scandroid’s gloriously buoyant jams help carry that theme across wonderfully.
The choice of covers here is curious, to say the least. The Star Wars “The Force Theme” is simply fine, but it’s “Thriller” that both succeeds and fails the hardest. Vincent Price’s iconic narration can’t really be replicated, and much of the cover sticks a tad close to the (admittedly classic) original. This version is still incredible, but if Scandroid leaned a bit further from the original (how about some heavy bass lines?), we’d have something special. The bonus track, PYLOT’s cover of Scandroid’s cover (odd choice, to be fair), works a little better as a hip-shaking number, but I think the original version of the cover (confused yet) is a better song.
Ultimately, Scandroid’s sophomore release lives up to its predecessor not by upping the ante but by choosing a different path. Monochrome‘s songs are often individually incredible, and it’s impossible not to feel the sonic joy that Klayton pours into this project. Scandroid is easily the most gleeful synthwave project, and Monochrome is his purest expression of that sense of fun.