Synthwave is a genre that has taken a life of its own recently. Between movie soundtracks and mainstream pop stars adopting the genre more and more frequently, this current era will look back at the defining albums that have shaped this new movement. While some have contributed to popularizing the genre, others have solidified a new generation that is very much redefining its rules. When the pioneers pass down the torch, evolution happens, and the bodies of work that shaped the genre into what it is today are definitely a mix of classic and new. Here are the 10 greatest Synthwave albums of all time:
10 “AKUMA II” (2019) by Tokyo Rose & ALEX
Tokyo Rose and ALEX are quite an impressive team. Having worked together on multiple projects (outside of their solo outings), including two full albums, the pair has more than once proven themselves to be two of the most accomplished artists in the Synthwave universe. That said, out of their entire body of work to date, it is their second team-up album “AKUMA II” (the follow-up to 2017’s “AKUMA”) that solidified them as all-time greats.
From its very first single “Affliction”, released with a stunning animated music video, “AKUMA II” immediately let people know that it was raising the bar to new heights, and fans were in total shock. The Darksynth album is strong, sinister and as bad-ass as you could expect a Tokyo Rose & ALEX album to be, and their impeccable production work made it one of the few Synthwave albums to ever chart on Billboard. “AKUMA II” is an absolute banger, and that undoubtedly deserves its place in the Synthwave hall of fame.
9 “Galactic Melt” (2011) by Com Truise
American producer Seth Haley (A.K.A Com Truise) is a true legend of Synthwave, and some would even argue that he is one of the essential pioneers of the genre’s current incarnation. He has been around for the better part of a decade now, but nothing has proven his ultimate OG status more than his groundbreaking 2011 debut album “Galactic Melt”.
The soft, dreamy and groovy style of this album is, in the eyes of many, a masterpiece that could entirely be credited for the rise of the popular sub-genre known as Chillwave. Com Truise delivered a unique album composed of incredibly clever and complex melodies, genius sound design, and an overall vibe that was unheard of at the time. His following albums have all been successes of their own, but nothing can beat the raw mastery of “Galactic Melt”.
8 “Night Drive” (2018) by Timecop1983
Any Synthwave enthusiast, old or new, has heard the name Timecop1983 before. And if they haven’t, they have at least heard his music before, without being aware that it was him. After all, the Dutch producer has given us some of the genre’s biggest go-to hits of ever made, most of which are tracks from his 2018 album “Night Drive”.
And it’s not like “Night Drive” was a breakout hit for Timecop1983 — he was already one of the biggest stars amongst the community, but it was definitely the album that made people understand that no one was going to take his throne anytime soon. His talent and his mind-blowing ability to capture the atmosphere and aesthetic of the 80’s through his incredible productions is unparalleled, and he definitely brings the “retro” in the term Retro Wave.
7 “Sleepwalking” (2018) by NINA
Nina Boldt, better known as NINA (or the Mother of Synthians), is definitely one of the top muses of the Synthwave world. A powerful presence with a vibrant creativity, she is not afraid to change things up, and she has done an amazing job at developing a sound with a very strong identity, which she showed off in quite an efficient way in “Sleepwalking”, her 2018 fan favorite debut.
The German singer-songwriter shocked everyone with a genuinely brilliant first album, full of now iconic hits like “Beyond Memory”, or the title track “Sleepwalking”, which was praised for its amazing vocal work and breathtaking music video. The neat production style found in “Sleepwalking” has definitely become a bit of a signature for NINA, and her music has largely proven to be some of the greatest and most beloved Synthwave out there.
6 “Neon West” (2019) by Wayfloe
As far as Synthwave goes, it is safe to affirm that Wayfloe, the mysterious duo from Canada, is slowly turning into royalty. Their unique artistic universe has a highly unpredictable nature, and a sound beyond anything the genre has ever known. In a few words, Wayfloe have developed their own style, and their debut album “Neon West” is an artistic triumph that nobody saw coming. From its very first notes, the album immediately confirmed the duo’s status in the community.
Wayfloe are one of the few entities that are versatile enough to incorporate a variety of music genres in their Synthwave based sounds. Whether it’s Hip-Hop, Rock, Electro or Pop, their ability to add their own spin on any genre is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. They are not afraid to experiment, and they make every single song something truly special. MixMag reported in 2020 that their second album (titled “Celestials”) is officially on the way, and needless to say, we are waiting for it with impatience.
5 “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” (2011) by M83
Anthony Gonzalez, more commonly known as M83, is a true prodigy that has been around for quite a while. He has a style that differs from any other artist in the Synthwave world, and it has proven so successful that he was able to branch out into massive projects. Between making the official soundtrack of the 2013 Tom Cruise film “Oblivion”, and composing an entire score for the Cirque Du Soleil’s 2017 show “Volta”, it seems like there is nothing M83 cannot do. And his 2011 album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” is probably the biggest example of Anthony’s endless imagination.
This album is a work of wonder that took the entire world by storm, mainly thanks to his timeless classic “Midnight City”, which has since become the single most famous Synthpop song of all time. The highly cinematic aspect of his music is what makes it stand out, as M83 manages to seamlessly blend a colossal variety of genres to create something that feels out of this world. “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” is not only one of the best Synthwave albums ever made. It is easily one of its most unique.
4 “Love Is Dead” (2018) by CHVRCHES
The endeering sub-genre known as Synthpop has had quite the reinvention in the past decade. And no one in this current era has mastered the “retro yet modern” art of Synthpop better than UK-based band CHVRCHES. Lauren Mayberry and her band mates have had such a monumental impact on the genre in the last few years, they have become the face of Synthpop in the eyes of the world. And it is all thanks to their third album “Love Is Dead”.
This fun, energetic and quirky album has met a level of success that has yet to be equaled in the Synthwave world. With some of its songs having been streamed over 100 million times on Spotify alone, “Love Is Dead” is actually the genre’s biggest album ever made in terms of pure numbers. It is a true work of art that will go down in History as a pillar of modern Synthpop.
3 “Endless Summer” (2016) by The Midnight
The Midnight is probably the most well-known Synthwave entity when it comes to mainstream audiences. The American/Danish duo has become king of the genre over the years, and few Synthwave artists have as much recognition as them. Many of their songs are undeniable classics, and a majority of them are from their 2016 album “Endless Summer”.
A highly respected body of work, “Endless Summer” is an essential of Synthwave culture that redefined the genre’s standards in terms of style and quality. With songs like “Sunset” and “The Comeback Kid”, the album is a real love letter to the 80’s and its very particular aesthetic. The Midnight is one of the few Synthwave entities to have charted on Billboard, and “Endless Summer” definitely paved the way for more artists to do so.
2 “Tron: Legacy” (2010) by Daft Punk
Synthwave is a music genre that is very cinematic by nature, so it is no surprise that one of the greatest Synthwave albums ever made is an actual movie soundtrack. It is also no surprise that Daft Punk is behind yet another one of the greatest albums of all time. Go figure.
Disney’s “Tron: Legacy”, the sequel to the 1982 cult classic “Tron”, was released in theaters in December 2010, along with its unbelievable soundtrack from the robots of Paris. The instrumental album is a cinematic and groovy trip in the futuristic world of Tron, and it greatly contributed to the popularization of the Synthwave genre with general audiences, especially with the now legendary banger “Derezzed”.
Disney has recently announced that a new Tron, film starring Jared Leto, is in development at Disney, and while there has been no official announcement about Daft Punk’s possible return for a brand new soundtrack, our fingers remain crossed, and fans are hopeful. After all, the Tron franchise has become synonymous with Daft Punk, and it is all thanks to the timeless piece of art they have given us with the “Tron: Legacy” soundtrack.
1 “OutRun” (2013) by Kavinsky
To be perfectly clear, no list addressing the best of the best in the Synthwave genre would ever be complete without Kavinsky making an appearance. He is the definitive god of Synthwave, and the vast majority of artists that are redefining the genre today were inspired by his work. And if you ever need an explanation as of why… the answer is “OutRun”.
A powerful and inventive body of work, “OutRun” is a masterpiece in every imaginable way. Every single song in the album is considered to be a classic of the genre, with the legendary “Nightcall” being widely regarded as the single greatest Synthwave track of all time. And if you have seen the 2011 movie “Drive” (starring Ryan Gosling), it is not difficult to see why.
To this day, “OutRun” is Kavinsky’s latest outing. But it seems like there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel, as the French producer officially confirmed via Instagram in 2020 that a new album is on the way, and that we should expect it this year. This return will mark the end of a 7 year long hiatus that has definitely left fans hungry for more music.