Welcome to Neon Index DX! Instead of focusing on multiple albums of already released albums per issue, the Deluxe edition will be looking at soon to be released albums in a deeper manner. Except for the length, the same rules apply, as stated in Neon Index 0.
In this issue we find the courage to shoot for the stars — Courage by Sonic Gap.
This is Neon Index.
Wake up. It’s a new day on the horizon. Wonder what does this one bring to your life? Maybe it’s another routine workday. Maybe you’re too lazy and tired to do something interesting, and just need a breather. But maybe this day is one of those days where you look to the future and try to change the status quo. Life was never easy. It always meant walking forward, taking risks, thinking differently, but also just enjoying it when you can. It does take guts to go through with your plan, to try and reach your destination, your dream. No matter how far you’ve come, remember that where you are now is thanks to yourself. Remember that it took and will take Courage to keep going.
Courage is the human story on life itself — the daily decisions and struggles each one of us faces, and what it takes to go through them — an Electronic and Synthpop 12-track album, with cover art, writing, mixing, and mastering, done by the artist himself, totaling for a runtime of 44 minutes.
As a sentiment, courage can be very straight forward to explain, as we have very strong associations in relation to it. Thus, Sonic Gap takes a very minimal approach to its cover art. You could remove the name and artist and still understand what the album is about. It holds a silhouette of a man jumping off a cliff into what looks like a whirlpool. Any of us who have jumped off a board, not even mentioning a cliff, know, that even if it is quite safe, it can be a heart-wrenching exercise in battling your own fear. The art is dominated by two colours, black and blue, focusing on the pool itself, even when the action of jumping as such seems like the spotlight. The whirlpool itself, has a certain vagueness to it, making it mesmerizing. It does seem threatening at first, but the need to explore it is great. Simply put, with the cover art, the artist represents life situations where we jump into danger, making this an elegant introduction to the contents of the album.
Just as you need to be courageous through various situations of your life, sometimes when you don’t even expect it, Courage is filled with a variety of styles, techniques, and influences, to never leave you bored. It is hard to just grab this particular album and throw it into a genre box, which plays in its favour. For most of the tracks the connector can be considered Synthpop, for synthesizers are heavily used and beautiful vocal lines are ever-present. The primary influence of Courage is the 80s, more specifically the nostalgia for that decade, but though some of you may rush to slide it in the Synthwave can, it is better to hold off for now. While the influences are the same, they are digested and presented in a whole different way — more ambient, dreamier, funky, and experimental. You’ll find bass synth mixed with orchestral strings, catchy guitars mixed with the vocoder, relaxed synthetic arpeggios with acoustic drums. The connecting factor are the vocals themselves. They are high, unique, and genuinely have a retro sense to them. It’s not hard to imagine taking an instrument or two from the pool for this album, but if you take away the singing itself, its not unrealistic to assume that the vision would not be as strongly realized.
The structure is simple. When talking about something this straightforward, there really is no need to have a narrative base. Of course, there are metaphors and symbolism, but the message itself is quite clearly relayed through the music, taking full advantage of its medium. The album does have a build-up to its theme though throughout the album. From the beginning to end, every track has a situation presented where one would need some courage, except for the last track, which is courage in its raw form. There is a certain charm to the simplicity of the presentation, but the complexity of the execution, where you don’t need to feel heavily invested to relate. Courage is built to play with your heart strings by instinct alone.
Track I — A New Life
A New Life is a song most fitting to start with, as not only is its name representative, but its topic too. The track is crafted as a melancholic space adventure, a mission to find a new world. It would take a lot of guts to be one of the astronauts, or even be responsible for those people from the helm of the station. Space holds our imagination due to the number of variables and surprises we can encounter. What we know is not necessarily what we’ll find, there’s always a chance of something going wrong. The strong cosmic and relaxing atmosphere supported by the soft synths with a slow arpeggio in the background, and the hopeful and exciting 80s melody, definitely makes one feel lost in space, anxiously waiting for their destination. It’s also heartwarming to hear multiple samples in different languages, suggesting that space is a frontier that humanity can only explore as one.
Track II — Funky Artifacts
Bravery comes in many forms. Much of the time its quite hard to break the mold and societal norms the people around us expect one to abide by. Funky Artifacts takes to implementing more funk and soul into its mix for a more energized song. Electric guitar is used to a great effect to inspire making a difference no matter how small. This is also were we can hear the great vocals for the first time, with some wonderful writing. The singing doesn’t necessarily stay in the spotlight, but rather embraces the instrumentation to achieve a harmonious balance. The style is a bit punk, a bit pop, which adds that more style to the topic about being different. It’s also interesting how you can go about interpreting the name — either rebellious misfits which tend to think outside the box or forgotten relics which are better left in the past.
Track III — Tetris Life
Who doesn’t like a good puzzle to solve? One may be a bit careful when the puzzle is their life though. It’s not easy to try and solve anything without proper instructions or even a good idea what you are to face. For some people, this puzzle may be unsolvable, permanently scrambling, or never complete. It may be most unappealing, since you don’t have a say in the matter of if you want to give it a try — you always are, and will be holding the Rubik’s cube of life in your hands. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, of course, puzzles are fun after all. This Italo Disco-inspired, graceful track keeps the rhythm of going forward — the only thing that is important in the hopes of finishing the puzzle. The mood is highly optimistic, but concerned at times, due to the punchy percussion and the energized synthesizers. The usage of the vocoder for vocals, gives the song a certain systematic feeling to the attitude, while the female speaking acts as direction, as a reminder in the back of one’s head to keep going.
Track IV — Highway 1
If you’ve been thirsting for some synthwave-y moods, you can hop into your car and take it for a high-speed ride into the sunset, if you dare. Can you take the stress and pleasure of rubber on asphalt? Highway 1 definitely brings a more playful atmosphere to the album. The topic of courage is still the same, but the track doesn’t make its point to make you feel uncomfortable, but rather the opposite. One can quite pinpoint the video game influences here of the 80s racing video games, especially Outrun. While the imprint is certain, structure and writing-wise the song is quite reminiscent of cinematic darksynth, with the high, almost screeching synths. Intentional or not, the outrun mix between the synthwave and darksynth, gives off a rather fun and energetic anxiety. And hey, who is to say that you aren’t driving away from a psychopathic killer?
Track V — Set and Forget
But there are times when you just have to make a decision on the spot. No time to think it over, just have confidence in your instinct. No matter what you have decided, you have to roll with it, and be courageous enough to defend your choice. Set and Forget continues the playfulness of the previous track with the mood of silly positivity. The song is quite reminiscent of 80s comedy shows, where this could easily fit as an opening theme. I kept expecting a laugh track to play, but maybe that’s one thing which should not come back. Sonic Gap relates well the spontaneous nature of those shows with a plain happy melody, warm supporting chords, silly-sounding samples, and lighthearted vocals. The darker aspect of making a choice on the spot is represented via a variation of the chorus, which makes a stark contrast to the rest of the song. Again, the vocals have a merit to being the glue which makes the song tick louder than it ever could on its own.
Track VI — Neon Light
Hope the car is still on because this rainy night deserves another ride. Neon Light is the more romantic side of the album — a conversation on freedom and the difficulty of achieving it. It isn’t rare to romanticize even the most basic of rights or needs. Freedom is what any human ought to have, but achieving true independence is a bit more than some can bite off. Everyone is depended on multiple things — family, lifestyle, friends, work, etc., and it can be a a true trial of fire to try and pull out your roots to move forward. A rainy setting, musically simulated and adjusted to the key of the track, is very fitting to this painful process. Loneliness and unsureness fill the air, the darkness of the night preventing the future. But it’s the neon lights which can guide you. The direction of the song is closer to rock ballad crafted through an electronic view. It is slow, touching, and highly moody. It’s quite polished with details such as the car turning on to give the necessary context and immersion. The greatly reverberated vocals make this already blurry, dreamy scene that much better.
Track VII — Momentum
Momentum is probably the softest synthwave track of the album, even though the theme of nostalgia doesn’t seem to be the inspiration here. Instead, this electronic sonata keeps drawing the darksynth cinematic inspiration. It starts slow, but as the name suggests, the song keeps building momentum to reach a climax. The instrumentation is quite minimal, keeping the number of synthesizers to a minimum, achieving a mysterious atmosphere. The generally low tempo, repeating patterns, drive the topic to its point. One must keep going, keep growing, keep working, to achieve the desired result. And as you keep on doing that, you slowly but steady build up speed and do it faster and more efficient. You do lose some humanity, becoming more machine-like in the approach, which Momentum tries to warn about.
Track VIII — Barking
Getting your voice heard is not an easy thing to achieve, especially when you try to shout in an ocean of noise. Just as you try your hardest, the others are doing the same, thus its more about the timing. You may have the best idea, the most objective approach, or knowledge beyond everyone else, but if no one can really hear you, it may just amount to the same as being silent. The 80s rock inspired Barking takes a contrasting approach to its writing. The mood and flow of the track is quite positive, with synthetic sounding synths and acoustic percussion and patterns, with even the singing driving the song into a danceable state. The lyrics go a bit deeper in the more forceful nature when this occurs. The title itself, is a conversation about the dehumanization in it. But, at the end of the day, it isn’t easy to shout in the crowd, it does take courage, and this internal struggle and emotion might as well tip the balance against the lack of humanity in the action as a whole.
Track IX — Influencer
Synthwave takes back the stage with Influencer, a cyberpunk-inspired track, seeking to explore the courage impressing or persuading other people with your own ideas. The nature of the topic goes hand in hand with the cyberpunk vibe as one does not necessarily need to influence with the best intentions in mind. Of course, they don’t need to be malicious either, but rather sit somewhere down the middle in the grey area. Whatever your cause to influence, being confident about the subject you’re going to push is important. As such, Influencer relates the same emotion of boldness with the thick bass and strong, but gentle, synth lead. But even the most influenced people get influenced back, the world is a constant flux of changes coming from every direction. Even this synthwave song is not excluded, with some chiptune sprinkled around. The addition does not feel detached, and does not take away from the energized flow, but rather adds detail, asking the listener to take a look at the other side of the coin as well.
Track X — Shadow Man
The album itself seems to keep building its own courage to present the more experimental side. Shadow Man can be best described as Synthpop Darksynth Funk. One would think that mixing these genres together would result in something to rival the turducken. But when you carefully select the most synergistic elements of those genres, the result is something quite wonderful. Flowing, catchy vocals for synthpop, the 80s horror aesthetic, and a killer narrative for darksynth, and light, dream-like electric guitars for funk. Shadow Man tells a tale of escape, of a shadow haunting you, who in actuality is yourself. You are your worst enemy, but do you have the bravery to accept and confront it? The track sets a groovy mood, mainly thanks to the repeating chords on the synthesizer and the lead electric guitar. There is a certain air of mystery and uncertainty, or rather a refusal to see the truth. Shadow Man throughout its playtime keeps a consistent power and adrenaline to craft the horror atmosphere. The track is sharply written to not overstay its welcome. It bears a certain similarity to a tv show opening, where its purpose is to drag you instantly, keeping your attention enough for the main event itself.
Track XI — Birds
There are things which one man just cannot achieve alone. Some things are too complex, tiring, or plain impossible. Now, get a group of people and you’d have far better chances at not only achieving your goal, but setting a whole new one. Get a few groups together and you may have a shot at the impossible. It’s quite awe-inspiring and heartwarming how far we can go together if we put our minds to it. Birds is all about that — working together, no matter the differences. Of course, working together is not inherently a human thing, but rather true for all kinds of life, birds including, which are used here symbolically. The track itself is rather relaxing, and though it takes tips from EDM, it may as well be a vacation on the beach. The synthesizer patches give the song a warm and tropical quality, especially the synthetic bird chirping. The tranquil atmosphere also has its place in the conversation, as internal peace or just fun, can be a side effect of the teamwork, or it can be interpreted as the ultimate goal, one where everyone must participate to even have a try at. Other instrumentation such as the percussion also gives off a certain foreign quality, which is also true for the vocals which have a heavy layer of effects applied to them. The singing isn’t the focus here, but a supporting part. In truth no instrument really pops out, but they all harmoniously play off each other.
Track XII — No Guts No Glory
We finish off with the climax of the album. No more subtle hints at being brave in certain situations, but a direct hit at courage. Everyone knows this type of courage — the one you’re conscious of, the one where you take risk to do the right thing. More often than not, this feeling comes from a stray word, an insult, a dare. Daring is what No Guts No Glory is. It is not only inspiring through the mix of the electronic and orchestral genres, giving a certain epic mood, but also contemptuous through the bold lyrics. The artist asks you if you’re ready to fight, because if you don’t, you aren’t getting far. The constant drumbeat, and clapping make it feel like an inspirational battle speech and a war cry at the right time. The usage of strings coupled with the high tempo relates the feeling of urgency. This helps the song not only by being the track to end the album on a high note, but by being quite fun in itself. Again, the vocals drive No Guts No Glory, with their uniqueness, intro truly striking the topic of courage into the ears and hearts of the listeners.
Courage is the electronic album which greatly focuses on one thematic bit and pulls every armament possible to drive home the message of bravery. Constructed on a variety of synths but made truly bright by the unique and thoughtful vocals, the album is sure to weed out any seeds of cowardice the listener might have.
Sonic Gap’s music has certain unique style. At times, it is quite hard to describe what it is, so you end up with some unholy amalgamation of genres, which even if pulled apart, don’t necessarily represent the music and songwriting as a whole. It’s indie and funky, but not really, it’s synthwave and darksynth, but only in parts, it’s cinematic, but still relies on vocals. In truth, it is all that and more, and it’s something to applaud. Taking the 80s influences, digesting, and applying them in a manner so interesting and different takes courage. Some people may not find what they expected, but it’s quite the point here. The tracks speak from the heart and embody the theme. Even if one does not quite get it, there’s no question that anyone can derive enjoyment from this album.
Courage by Sonic Gap is set to be released on the 29th of November 2019.
As always, the most representative track from Courage will be added to the Neon Index Spotify Playlist.
This was Neon Noir, and I’ll catch you next time.