It feels significant that some have labelled LA producer John Glenn Kunkel a new wave synth artist rather than a synthwave artist, and his latest EP as The New Division makes a case for the distinction. Fader features synthwave’s all-electronic 80s nostalgia, but largely eschews its heightened sentimentality and science fiction style.
The closest it comes is in the moody melodies and strobing background voices of the opening track, “One Night in Tokyo.” Atmospheric found audio–one of Kunkel’s trademark production touches–sets the stage in a shadowy city subway station before the track plunges into the deep, dark drama of an international love affair.
From that point on, it’s more straightforward dance pop, as Kunkel pours new wave attitude into thick, percussive synth arrangements and retro drum machine beats. The title track is the most club-ready of the bunch, with its timeless eurodance throb. It also gives Kunkel a chance to show off a soaring falsetto between its breakdowns and buildups.
Then there’s “Sextext,” maybe the best summary of how he wields his production chops in service of a mood. Each element, from the metallic bassline, to the stereo motion of the high synths, to the far-off electric guitar harmonies, contributes to a building sense of distance and longing. A cold outro culminates in an abrupt cutoff, and the tension lingers.
As a unit of six songs, Fader doesn’t have much in the way of an emotional arc–even 2017’s three-song single No Pride in Paradise broke into moments of acoustic guitar warmth–but each track finds its own flow. Kunkel keeps his beats moving with hard-hitting tom fills, and on EP closer “Video Vex,” a filtered snare that weaves its way through clouds of vocal delay.
In the end, it’s those fine-tuned minutia that distinguish a New Division track. Fader is one of Kunkel’s most direct, danceable outings to date, and where he fades out the synthwave cinematics, he compensates on the small scale.
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