Timecop1983 – Running in the Dark

bandcamp, 2016

We live in an age that seems to suffer from an identity crisis. The cause of this is certainly debatable, but it’s likely due to many factors: the splintering of culture, the breakneck speed of modern life, the constant search for immediate meaning, the constantly growing population…..we can go on and on. Whatever the cause, more people are looking backward than ever before, and there comes a point when you wonder why.

The Eighties are a popular target, and it’s not just for nostalgic purposes (though I freely confess this is certainly a factor for me). Many people exist who are drawn to the 1980s of the United States in spite of the fact they were born in the following decades. Clearly, there is a reason.

Beyond the decadence of shows like Miami Vice, which exhibits indulgent materialism and the perceived cool that came with it, were a wide range of movies that were personal and deeply genuine, with an emotional spectrum created by the emerging sound of synth-based new wave music. The music has become to symbolize the coming-of-age angst of the films, while also recalling open white linen jackets and neon-streaked lines of slick Ferraris cruising the downtown strip. These are powerful connections, regardless of their origin.

Jordy Leenaerts has no doubt felt these effects. It’s tough to determine whether the Dutch artist, who records as Timecop1983, encountered the Eighties first-hand or through the ever-expanding retro scene lead by works such as Mitch Murder’s musical discography and Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Drive. We must remember, however, that examples such as these are undoubtedly modern works which are inspired by the Eighties rather than simply mimicking them.

Timecop1983 has carved its own corner into this burgeoning scene by focusing on what Leenaerts calls “a melancholic and romantic feeling” perhaps best expressed by the filmography of John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). In Hughes’ films, there’s a good deal of idealistic longing expressed by the main characters, who struggle to find themselves while caught in a web of social expectation, among other stresses of the industrialized West. Hughes’ films are noted for their soundtracks, often brought to fierce emotive life by bands of the time, and Timecop1983 aims to recapture this fiery vulnerability that has likely been experienced by every modern young person in some manner or other.

Running in the Dark is a seven-track EP of instrumental songs that Leenaerts composed for his live performances. What’s remarkable is how well these tracks fit together; they are inspired, infectious, and cleverly assembled. The 80s synths are deliciously airy, drifting through simple but affecting melodies within a pop framework; sometimes Timecop1983 teams with synthwave vocalists, and while these instances are remarkable indeed, the project’s strength lies in its instrumentation, as it is here. The keyboards are anchored by thudding 4/4 beats that powerfully offset the music’s grace; these are delicate but potent emotions, and the music portrays this perfectly. While retro/modern acts like Perturbator and, at times, Mitch Murder himself, focus on the sci-fi or action-film culture of the Eighties, Timecop1983 is concerned with the battleground inside, always restraining aggression in favor of mood.

“Come With Me” is both anthemic and hopeful, “Running in the Dark” swells with escapist drama, and “Dimensions” inspires and thrills with its glittering yet introspective refrain. And yet, the EP is not simply a tribute to the 80s, but also a product of the times that have passed since. Leenaerts keeps the listener guessing with percussive shifts, filtering effects, techno-inspired loops (“Somewhere We Can Go”) and a refined cinematic angle (“Visions”). But Timecop1983 is in no way defined by studio trickery. Regardless of the modern stylistic touches, the music’s heart thumps strong and clear: this is music about emerging and discovering, about recalling past loves, about dreaming of and reaching for the ideal. It is about the realization of genuine emotion, and the exploration that follows. These are timeless and transforming themes, which explains, perhaps, the project’s popularity among young and old throughout the world.

Regardless of the level of your attachment to the 80s, Timecop1983’s music is still noteworthy. Its singular identity, meticulous craftsmanship, and wistful energy combine to provide a listening experience that satisfies through its rhythms and lifts through its complex but powerful emotions. Add the retro layer, however, and Running in the Dark, along with the rest of the project’s discography, moves into another space entirely. This is music created with deep respect for a particular era in history, and while it certainly succeeds at engaging multiple eras at once, Leenaerts is careful to keep the blood of the Eighties pulsing and vital. Somewhere, John Hughes is surely smiling.

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Ocean Shores – Luminous Romance

Illuminated Paths (IP-382), 2017

Sliding between genre borders, Luminous Romance from Ocean Shores is a wondrous and intriguing piece of work. Buried under lo-fi static like the best mallsoft, defined by simple looped retro-plunderphonic melody, and versatile enough to dwell in the background or as primary audio, it’s an album that shows a marked evolution from earlier releases.

As its name implies, Ocean Shores aims at capturing the relaxing sound of beach-music ambience. Most tracks feature a guitar or horn melody that drifts through loops with airy ease; some of these tunes may be recognizable as instrumental easy-listening versions of pop songs, but with Luminous Romance, Ocean Shores has either nabbed from the fringes of obscurity, or is now using original compositions. I suspect the latter. Gone, too, are the well-used “weather channel” samples and broken transmission structure; it’s now mostly about the music alone.

Mostly. One of the techniques that Ocean Shores has used is manipulation of static; at unanticipated intervals, the music will become even more drowned and fuzzy than it usually does. This effect plays a couple of important roles. First, it adds a layer of drama that keeps one’s ear guessing. More impressively, it creates a sense of place: the changes could be caused by an old-school radio losing its signal, or by the natural distortion of the listener diving underwater, whether the radio is poolside, at the edge of the beach, or on the deck of a boat drifting lazily in the shallows. It’s much more organic now, and as a result, more effective.

“Return” is vintage Ocean Shores, enhanced and refined, with a perfectly timed break and guitar chords that don’t stick to your brain quite enough, bearing you along the gauzy summer afternoon. “Not Enough Time in the World” starts hesitantly, as if the radio is searching for a clear signal, then locks in, the saxophone capturing timeless connection and possibility – this is a luminous romance after all. The wonderfully loungey “Perfume and Cigarettes” perfectly illustrates the unknown potential of new romance, while the repeating (and irresistible) melody would appear to hint that the whole thing is ephemeral, despite its initial allure. Similarly, the flamenco-style string-plucks of “Meaningless” are a nod to the joys of the superficial, and the links to intentionally soporific mallsoft are impossible to ignore. Well played, Ocean Shores.

Luminous Romance ventures beyond the gauzy sands and waters, however. The album’s second half delves into the experimental. The bittersweet synths of “Window of Opportunity” carry a tinge of regret – one of the first times Ocean Shores has let it slip – while the loops retain the mallsoft connection. “Patience” is its atmospheric cousin, with light congos and airy keyboards wavering with a touch of shadow. The metaphorical sunset continues with the chimes of “Closing Time,” as beautiful as they are melancholic, before the downtempo guitar of “There is No Escape” sadly watches the vestiges of light shimmer on the shrinking waves.

Luminous Romance can surely be labeled idealistic – a large part of the attraction – but there’s a retro kitsch that makes the whole thing just a tiny bit insincere, and endearingly so. Is nostalgia’s hold as strong when you know it’s nostalgia? I, for one, am unsure. I’m far more certain, however, that Ocean Shores is a sneakily talented assembler of vibe, with just a bit of commentary gliding beneath the glossy surface. Come to Luminous Romance for the bright melody, sun-soaked atmosphere, and radio-broadcast audio trickery, but stay for the passing hints of buried meaning.