California based Synthwave artist, Scattle, has been an artist I’ve been keeping a very close eye on ever since I first heard his tracks featured in the 2012 indie game Hotline Miami. A game as intense as it was infuriating, Scattle, as well as the variety of other artists featured in the game such as Carpenter Brut and M.o.o.n, helped make the experience an altogether amazing ride thanks to their wonderful music making abilities. Mixing both trancelike electro and wonderfully catchy 80s-esque synth melodies, each track featured in game was one I would have a hard time forgetting, a feat repeated in the game’s sequel Hotline Miami 2, where the soundtrack shone just as wonderfully thanks to their efforts. Scattle in particular, in both games, created what were some of my favourite tracks from each, with tunes such as Knock Knock and Bloodline being some of the best examples of Synthwave I can think of.
So imagine my pleasant surprise when I find that on March 3rd, Scattle had released his newest EP: The Plug. So many questions filled my head! What genre was it? Is it more juicy Synthwave? Is it an entirely new direction? I had to give it a listen.
What I found in the The Plug was Scattle’s first foray into Lofi Hip-Hop, with a combination of jazzy samples and jaunty, swung rhythms running through the majority of the EP. I should point out before I continue that I, personally, am quite fond of the Lofi/Lofi Hip Hop genre. First experiencing it through my various forays into the depths of soundcloud, artists such as Jinsang have been making incredibly atmospheric, chilled out, and pleasantly jazzy tunes using the Lo-fidelity synths, swung drum loops, the sampling of jazz songs and acoustic instruments, all with a sprinkling with a rough, vinyl-esque quality. It’s a combination which I find really appealing, leading to the end results often being intensely listenable, perhaps addictively so. This is not to say that Lofi Hip-Hop is for everyone; a lot of critics of the genre find themselves reaching the conclusion that these tunes are riddled with repetition and lack substance due to the heavy reliance of endlessly looping rhythms and melodies. That said, for me at the very least, they have the capacity to be both trancelike, yet still incredibly engaging depending on the melodic structure and the samples chosen.
Unfortunately, I feel like The Plug’s material falls into the exact line of criticism that many find themselves coming to when listening to songs of this genre. I found it, unfortunately, kinda boring and noticeably repetitive. For a grand majority of the project, I found that each track was lacking in terms of melodic structure, more or less sticking to a repetition of smaller samples over unchanging rhythms. These repetitive rhythms are, as I have mentioned, not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to Lofi Hip-Hop, lending a perhaps hypnotic and atmospheric quality to a song, but when the samples and melodies are too basic, the repetitiveness begins to stick out far too much. It makes most songs on the EP seem overlong and rather dull, which, considering the length of this project isn’t exactly huge, is quite an unfortunate outcome. An EP like this shouldn’t feel like a slog, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was struggling to continue listening as each song came and went. From the beginning of the album to the end, I was, for the most part, begging for more substance to each track, something I found disappointing considering Scattle has been especially good at creating engaging melodies in the past.
This is not to say that the album is entirely bad. It’s not unpleasant on the ear, nor is it offensive or unpolished. I would even say that near the end, the tracks became far more engaging with songs such as the titular track The Plug capturing a melodic quality that was mostly unseen in the tracks previous, but on the whole, I found myself unenthused by the majority of the EP. If you’re a fan of Lofi Hip-Hop and can find yourself being more forgiving of repetition, you may very well like this project, but I personally hope that Scattle, if he continues to follow this genre, manages to implement his understanding of melodic structure in his next projects. Without it, the constant usage of simplistic rhythms, bass-lines and samples will not be enough to keep my interest.
The Plug is currently available on Spotify, Apple Music, and on Bandcamp.
Review By William Harmar