Fred Vanterra – Waikiki Synth – Album Review
It’s almost too easy to picture Fred rocking the heck out in his living room with the synths blasting through the speakers all around him. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he ends up in some kind of studio or whatever to make the finalized product you’re listening to…I’m just sayin’ that this dude could probably light-up a house party like nobody’s business. Y’all know what synth-enthusiasts are like…they’re a wild bunch to say the very least – they’ve just got energy & passion that hits different than the rest seems to.
Do you have to be a huge fan synth sounds in order to like or love Waikiki Synth? Not necessarily I guess – but lemme tell ya, it sure will help. There’s really nothing else to be found here in this lineup of songs; you’re not going to find Fred busting out the saxophone or hauling out the French horn – this is as purely dedicated to a single instrument as you’re likely to ever encounter…which honestly makes it quite the trip. Fred Vanterra loves what he’s creating and how he creates it…and I can’t say I blame the guy.
Friendly vibes start up the record as Fred takes ya straight to “Waikiki Beach,” which is more or less filled with synth steel drum sounds to form its melody…probably a bit of the ol’ synth wooden xylophone in there too…you get the idea – it’s synth, but not synth…that’s the beauty OF synth – you can do a ton with it, and chances are, half the world listening wouldn’t even know otherwise. All-in-all though, it’s a good start…once Fred finds his way into the wind-synths, you get even more vibrant melody added into the mix and the heart in this opening track really starts to be revealed. He hasn’t gone with anything too overtly complex here – he’s got an idea, he’s focused in on that, there’s enough variety & variation to keep us interested & engaged, and the melody is undeniably pleasant…it’d be weird to complain about all that, so I won’t! “Waikiki Beach” is chilled out & low-key…a song that’s easy to get along with.
“Waikiki 2” arguably has a bit more depth to it…it’s a little more textural and fuzzier compared to the clean & clear vibes of the first track on the record, but the energy comes along with it as well. It’s definitely the kind of cut that is fairly representative of the album, more-so than the way it begins – Fred gets right into the stuff he’s jamming on, and “Waikiki 2” is more of a reflection of that than the opening track would be in that regard. Do I like it? Do I love it? It’s alright…I’m not opposed to it. What I hear is the potential for the average set of ears out there to mistake its textural aspects for a lack of clarity in the production, but that’s always been the risk of using certain synth sounds. At least to some degree – I know a whole bunch of people that love that extra fuzziness some sounds can supply, and if you’re one of’em, then “Waikiki 2” is probably more for you than “Waikiki Beach” would be. I’m more of an ideas & melody guy at the end of the day…”Waikiki 2” has plenty of both of those, so it gets my approval overall.
Now…if you’re asking if I personally PREFER clarity, then in most circumstances, the answer is yes. Like, the moment that “Waikiki Bit” began, and the space allowed for that extra clarity to come along with its 8-bit inspired sound as the song started up, you bet – that’s much closer to what I’m personally looking for. Or even in the breakdown mid-song, which was freakin’ brilliant if you ask me…in fact, I’d go as far as to say that was the main highlight in “Waikiki Bit” as far as my ears are concerned – I really enjoyed that…but I also really enjoyed the depth in the low-end vibes and the back & forth moments you find in the second-minute of this tune. The most riotous or intense moments of sheer synth blasting atcha…I dunno…on some spins I felt like that was welcome…sometimes I felt like it approached some big & wild remix-like version of the core of songs like “You Spin Me Right Round” and didn’t quite have enough of the uniqueness I was looking for in that one specific aspect of the song. I definitely never turned it off or turned it down though, so there’s that…”Waikiki Bit” is still the full audible slice of fun its intended to be.
In my opinion, Fred could potentially serve himself and the music he’s making just a bit better by leaning on a few different variations of the synth sound he’s rocking with…there’s a lot of similarities in many aspects of the tracks that this record has, and it’ll be more of a challenge for the average everyday listener to know what their favorites are in that regard – make sense? It’s not until you discover what each cut’s own defining sonic element truly is that you really have that opportunity to separate the songs in your mind and know what it is you like more, you following me? For example – you’ve got the 8-bit-esque sound of “Waikiki Bit” – or on a song like “Waikiki Gemini,” you won’t find that similar level of definition until just after that first full minute has past – but it’s those surrounding pieces that end up becoming the most memorable moments and defining aspects of these songs as opposed to the amped-up celebratory synth sounds. I feel like many of us would probably feel like we’ve heard some sort of version of those throughout music’s history in some way – but the elements that surround those BIG synth sounds, where the music peels back a layer like it does around the 2:40 mark of “Waikiki Gemini” – you’ll find there’s a stellar amount of uniqueness that probably deserves to be in the spotlight more.
Or again, LISTEN to the way “Waikiki Seared” comes out at the very beginning will ya? Awesome! I love the definition you’ll find there, and of course, as the title would imply, those magnificent searing tones you’ll discover. Same thing though – in my opinion, Fred could probably give them a bit more time in the mix…though I did appreciate the fact they came back mid-song too. Is it all note-perfect? Honestly I’m not so sure about that if I’m being real with ya about the solo parts of a song like “Waikiki Seared” – but I do know this…it’s those same spots that will have you appreciating the fact that a record like this is PLAYED, and not merely programmed. Overall, there’s some seriously inspired musicianship at the core of a cut like “Waikiki Seared” that was all-out magnificent to listen to, and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Vanterra’s got some superb classical training quite likely in behind the scenes. All-in-all, I felt like I got pretty obsessed with this track…I like what it shows us…you can hear Fred’s incredible skills – which is great – but you can also hear that he loves texture, loves tone, loves SEARIN’ YA with some real scorching hot elements, and knows how to make a breakdown stunningly effective, and perhaps more importantly than any of this, he reveals some real humanness behind the synthetic sound goin’ on.
“Waikiki Europe” is probably more along the lines of what I was expecting to find on an all-synth record – this is that glow-sticks up, bombastic style of sound that’s got energy, pace, and beat as the priority above all things, ready to take the party to the next level. And for many of you, it probably will. No judgments here – if “Waikiki Europe” is more suited to your personal taste, rock on and rave it up as far as I’m concerned. I love moment like around the 2:30 mark in this track where you get that one tiny spot of fresh air, right before you surge back into the savage energy of the main melody…it’s effective, and it’s noticeable. Having said that, it IS harder to argue that a song like “Waikiki Europe” is recreating the wheel so much as it is rolling along with what’s tried, tested & true within the digital realm of sound – but there’s no doubt that music like this continues to remain on the surface of the scene for a reason too…which is the fact that people still love this kind of energy to this very day. It’s that stompin’ beat & surging neon-style vibe that is fairly synonymous with synth sound…ultimately, there is less identity in a song like “Waikiki Europe” in the sense that it’d be much harder to tag directly to Fred Vanterra from a playlist of Electro/Synth songs without peeking at the titles & names, but it’s still a quality cut. It’s always up to the artists & content creators how much they wanna prioritize their own uniqueness or showcase creativity – and it’s always up to me to point that out, and advocate on behalf of doing that.
It’s been interesting to have labeled this whole record and its songs with that “Waikiki” stamp to it all – I’d be the first to admit, I’m not entirely sure where that comes from or why it’s particularly applicable – but to be completely fair to Fred, I’ve never been there myself. Maybe this is what Waikiki sounds like from the moment you open the front door of your hotel there until the moment you go to bed at night – I couldn’t honestly tell ya. I do know that it’s a very, very long way away from where his own home-base is based out of Germany…so I’m assuming it was one mighty memorable vacation that inspired this lineup of songs for him. As we head into the “Waikiki Abyss,” there’s no doubt about the cohesion in this synth-based set-list…everything you’ll hear definitely belongs on this record together in terms of the whole ‘if ya like one track you’ll like them all’ method & approach. I’m a bit more A.D.D. in that regard with the music I tend to listen to, and probably would need more variation in the sound overall as time goes on…but if I ever felt like I was in that dedicated-synth mood, I’d know I could turn to Waikiki Synth to supply it for sure. “Waikiki Abyss” is a bit tougher to analyze critically at song seven in this lineup of ten…a bit harder to say whether or not it feels like it’s doing much different than what Fred has already revealed to us within the other songs. It does confirm that he continues to excel in his craft, and within the idea he had for these cuts thematically, but yeah…hard to say if it pushes the album further forward.
Case in-point, “Waikiki Stardust” probably has some of the most variation within its ideas, melody, and sound – and quite likely, it’s going to become one of the most memorable cuts on this album over time as a result. I know I appreciate the extra details and depth that this track offers – I think Fred’s done an extraordinary job with this cut, 100%. A lot of that could come down to being more adventurous and ambitious – this track is nearly ninety seconds longer than the average track on this album, nearly reaching the five-minute mark with only one song on this record being longer than “Waikiki Stardust.” Sometimes it’s all about how we choose to explore our creativity or find new ways to fill the space we have in a song – I felt like “Waikiki Stardust” was kind of like the polar opposite of “Waikiki Abyss” in that regard. At track seven, I become worried that perhaps Fred had begun to run out of substantial ideas – but the following two tracks, both of which are the longest to be found on Waikiki Synth, prove that he’s still got TONS of incredible ideas to finish this album off strong. Love the straight synth-piano melody he’s got in here…it’s bold, it’s vibrant, it’s lively…and that main hook of…I wanna say…probably synth-saxophone – it’s also brilliantly effective. All-in-all, there’s no question that “Waikiki Stardust” is one of this album’s stronger cuts, and really gives this record the fresh breath of air needed to keep the people out there engaged and paying their full attention as Vanterra begins to head towards its ending.
After listening to “Waikiki City,” I really don’t think I have any other choice but to advocate on behalf of Fred using even more space within his music – the longer the songs have been, the more impressive the results have become. As I also alluded to towards the beginning of this review, clarity is also an extremely enticing aspect of music – and a track like “Waikiki City” is crystal clear in the production & mix as well. In tandem with the brilliance of some of Vanterra’s most unique ideas – I dunno what else to tell ya other than there’s a really good chance we all come to the conclusion that “Waikiki City” just IS the record’s very best song, or at the very least, its most memorable highlight. Honestly, I can’t say enough about it…it’s dialed-back, it’s smooth, it’s sensational…it’s freakin’ CLASSY and CHARMING too. I not only love the song, but I really love that it speaks volumes on behalf of what Vanterra is capable of on a whole different level than we’ve really experienced with this record…this song sounds like he really embraced his uniqueness & went after it with all his creativity, and expressive, exploratory tendencies. The man’s got a remarkable amount of talent when it comes right down to it…and while I might not be as convinced the entire set-list really allows us to appreciate that in-full, this song here certainly does. I felt like “Waikiki City” was the real crown jewel of this album overall, and a stunning venture into a whole different dimension of the depth in Fred’s music. Plus – those extraordinary bass-lines y’all! When you stack all that up, with the synth-sax leading the way, and the gentle atmosphere surrounding those two main elements…you’ll discover “Waikiki City” has everything it needs; it’s an undeniable gem.
As Waikiki Synth heads to a close, the final track “Waikiki Midnight” offers yet another of the album’s most noticeably unique ideas in the set – and I really thought it was a great song to bring this record to its conclusion. I’m not gonna be the guy to sit here and tell ya that it’s going to be everyone’s favorite – but I will tell ya that there’s a brilliant level of uniqueness and musicianship combined here once again that makes for a spectacular listen. The bass-lines – again – AMAZING stuff there. All-in-all, it sounds like a lounge act that has somewhat gone rogue, and come ALIVE right there in the room with ya – it might start out with a low-key & fairly traditional energy, but LISTEN to how “Waikiki Midnight” makes its transition along the way to reveal the spark of its creativity and real life in its veins as it plays on. It’s even got hand-claps at the very end, so that those of you out there that couldn’t spot this ending coming will be sure of the album being finished – you gotta appreciate that kind of thorough detail, am I right? Honestly though, “Waikiki Midnight” was one of those most pleasant surprises to me in this entire lineup…I think there’s an excellent chance that the ambitious uniqueness of the two songs prior really puts everyone in a great mood to accept this special, humble & quaint little ditty at the end of the album…but whatever your own reasons might be, I’m pretty positive you’ll love this last cut like I did. It’s fun…Fred’s had a lot of fun throughout this record…and for what’s been largely a dedicated synth journey throughout the lineup, he’s really traveled a long way from where it began to where it ends, and I think listeners will genuinely appreciate how much he’s accomplished with the songs on Waikiki Synth.
Find out more about Fred Vanterra from his official website at: https://vanterraarts.com
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