Hollywood Burns is being billed as one of the next big things in synth music. Label Blood Music, who at this point definitely know a thing or two about the genre, signed the artist because they saw something unique and special in his music that hadn’t yet graced our ears. And I’ll be damned if that isn’t at least mostly true. It’s hard to be fresh in a genre that already has a pretty distinct rulebook for how it should sound. Deviating and trying something new seems easy enough (just don’t follow the book, right?), but does it work in the end? It’s good that the guy behind Hollywood Burns, French producer Emeric Levardon, knows what he’s doing. His debut album Invaders sells the hype very well and he ushers himself in as a promising new artist for synth fanatics to gush over.
If I had to pick only one thing that truly sets Invaders apart from the pack, it’s the cinematic structure. Each song is a vast piece all its own. Thematically, the songs are all linked on the album which gives it cohesion, but each song is the soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t necessarily exist. It’s like listening to a seasoned composer’s collection of tracks that were written without the intent for them to score something specific, like John Carpenter‘s two Lost Themes albums.
Speaking of ‘The Master of Horror’, what distinguishes Invaders from the pack is its focus on soundtracking and capturing a specific science-fiction and camp horror film aesthetic with its sound. It’s more lighthearted than what an artist like GosT or Perturbator would attempt in the past or present. For instance, “Black Saucers” has a wonderfully playful bassline that just doesn’t quit. It’s all over the place and provides a deep, groovy rhythm that’s low key. “Came to Annihilate” has skittering synth rhythms that are bookended by eerie theremin measures. While theremin never oversaturate any one song’s mix, you’ll notice throughout listening to this album that it is most definitely one of the consistently standout elements. It’s used to great effect and really helps embody the cheesy sci-fi mood.
As such, there’s a great amount of melodrama, something synthwave always seems to capture well, but with Hollywood Burns‘ leanings it becomes something special. The vigorous and unapologetic orchestral intro track simultaneously captures Danny Elfman‘s quirky eccentricity and the grandiose theatrics of John Williams. In short: it’s beautiful. “Carnal Encounters of the Third Kind” is anticipatory and builds to an epic climax filled with buzzing synths and a powerful strings section. “Scherzo No. 5 in Death Minor”, one of the album’s very well picked singles, is a tour-de-force that really captures the essence of all that’s on display here on Invaders. The song is a stunning album synopsis action packed with synthisized arpeggios, mind-bending theremin leads and attention stealing orchestral flourishes. An ominous organ line at the end wraps the track up with a bow.
Levardon wasn’t content with just boldly being himself with the basis for his music on this album. He, too, finds places to experiment. “Bazaar of the Damned” has subtle West Asian rhythms and melodies, especially near the end. Not only do they bring much appreciated variance to the sound, but they imbue the track with different textures. I am reminded of the richness of Orphaned Land‘s profoundly cultured, earthy tones, the likes of which I gushed over in my review for their album earlier this year. “Survivors” is the sole track that features a singer (Florent Gerbault of Nord, FKA Light Deflection) and it’s a great fit! It comes off as an anthemic song fitting of the title. His light vocals pair well with the airy atmosphere that has slight tinges of disco influence with its quick string runs. It’s a great album closer if you don’t count the bonus track “Closing Titles” which is an orchestral delight that calls back to melodies and motifs found in other songs and expands on them.
One of the cool things here is what makes Hollywood Burns distinct isn’t overused to the point of detriment to his music. It’s somewhat subtle – you don’t hear theremin all over the place, orchestral arrangements are intelligently implemented, tones are varied enough to be fresh. I was able to repeat the record several times in a row without feeling sick of any one element, or the music as a whole. I can even excuse the artist reusing two tracks (“Black Saucers” and “Came to Annihilate”) from his debut EP First Contact because they fit so well here and they’re just wonderful in general. Plus, we get a stellar sequel track to ‘make up’ for it called “Revenge of the Black Saucers”.
I must say, the hype levied against Hollywood Burns is quite palpable, but it is also well deserved. This is to my memory (and taste) the freshest take on the synthwave sound I’ve heard in years. The greats of the genre are where they are because they innovated, but a genre doesn’t move forward without its new artists that are willing to do something different and progressive. With Invaders, that time has come. The aliens are at our doorstep, they want to meet our leader and I, for one, welcome our new alien overlords.
Notable Tracks: “Black Saucers”; “Scherzo No. 5 in Death Minor”; “Bazaar of the Damned”.
FFO: GosT, Meteor, Volkor X.