It was another day in another Facebook group of Sythwave crazed fans and musicians.
The difference between this day and any other day?
I asked a super vague question. Big mistake.
"Who here makes their own music?"
The engagement went through the roof! Even then, I got too overwhelmed. Hundreds of artists meant hundreds of tracks to sift through to figure out which I liked most.
After 1409813948239423 comments and reactions - I only received ONE message to my inbox.
That man was Toni Sunden. A Helsinki resident with genuinely INSANE musical flexibility.
In that message, he shared his album, Empty Rooms.
After a little back and forth and a bit of resistance from me due to my busy schedule, I found the time to finally give it a listen.
It became a rabbit hole of sound, melody, and deeply nostalgic familiarity.
I was hooked.
I told Toni myself, if I had my own private label, I'd totally be the one to sign them.
There are very VERY rare occasions where I find a random gem, and Toni is one of those artists.
So let's get on with the show!
As usual, you'll be doused with immersion, and the best way to do that is to listen to each track individually as you read.
Each title links directly to the track on Spotify.
(I have already stressed to Tony that he needs a Bandcamp. HOPEFULLY that will be happening sooner than later!)
The first song to hit off the album is a slow and steady flame that gradually builds before going out. Intro is the mere stepping stone upon the gates of an alternate timeline, where synths and guitar are the only deities we worship. The drum kick causes me to move my body as opposed to sitting still, like an outward influence is beckoning me to take that final step forwards. Although the track is short-lived, it trickles into the finale until it becomes a ravenous earworm that continuously replays in your ears. Oh, wait, the repeat button is on. Yet, I can still hear it, the chords play themselves remotely on my own heartstrings, and nothing like it comes closer.
Is it too late to start a private label though? Is it really?
Empty Rooms is the hit of the album. I'm not scared to make that judgment so early. The cold-wavey influence on the synth as Toni's voice calls out to me from a timeless euro-pop echo, is subliminal perfection to develop an addiction.
All of these elements collide to create a track that is impossible not to dance to! The lyrics speak deeply to the way we look for love; anything to keep us from self-reflection and being alone with our thoughts and actions. The guitar is tirelessly toying with my emotions, and I'm snapped back to just head bobbing my way to the chorus and realization sets in.
The faster you add it to your playlist, the sooner you get to hear it again.
...So do it.
Don't mind if I do - dance alone I mean...
The buzzing electronic soundwaves, along the trail of the bass guitar, ushers in Toni's melancholic voice. I find myself at ends with how much suspense the instrumental provides; mixed in with how the lyrics attempt to remain lonely. Then before I know it - a guitar riff full of soul is just a hand outstretched to keep the vibe going. By the end of this song I know two things for certain; I love both elements separate and together. 'Sunden envelops his lyrics with a revolving sound that keeps pace and passion in Dancing Alone, and that makes it a memorable piece.
I find myself cursing because I LOVE how playful Toni is with creating sound and a groove that sticks. This song sounds like a combination of '80s and 90's beat-em-up video game soundtracks, and silver-screen segways when the movie transitions into action. Each Interlude in this album is just an introduction into the next phase of Toni Sunden's synthwave exploration vessel. This being his first album that has strong synth-fluence - I can only hope that he doesn't stop here. From my outside window into his core - you could have told me that this was always his go-to genre. Take some time to listen to his other albums - and you'll be in for a shock. From soulful blues, to even his social media posts of him playing country on his electric guitar - it floors me beyond belief that Toni is so multi-faceted.
The coldwave blues continues, and the layers of electronica unravel those vocals into a beat that entices me more-so in the beginning and the end of the track. WHY? Because there is something to be said about the way Toni invites you in and sees you out of each track. The bounce of the keys and the ladder build-up finally releases that energy in the last 30 seconds or so. I'm greedy, and I wouldn't ask for a minute-long or longer guitar and synth solo. Great, now I'm an addict. Give me my fix!
80's hair bands and soft rock ballads are back. "On the Edge of the World" is proof. This is a love song. A slow dance on prom night. The disco ball, the sweaty palms on each other's hips and shoulders...
I am there. I'm back in 2009, but the theme is 80's and not some immemorable theme that I still can't recall. It's a Goodbye-ballad, a breakup ballad. All of it. Not many songs erupt into clouded memories of my younger years. There is so much to be appreciated about this track, it starts off slow and channels into an upbeat, multi-instrumental piece. Tambourines, drums, guitar...is that a banjo or still the acoustic? The synth in the background joins in to compliment, but it's by no means the main feature. Toni's talent is overflowing and endless.
So let us talk old school electro. The vocals are an echo. The synth is the star of the show. I can tell that there's an element of experimentation with this track! I could be wrong, and I'm not always right. If we got music videos on VHS - I can see the fuzzy static lines over Toni's iconic figure. No doubt. This track is no "Empty Rooms" but it has a place in the aesthetics we remember from days long since gone and faded.
My favorite element of this is the organ-like mimicry of the synth solo, just before that slow guitar stepped in to steal the show. If I could have that, the guitar, and drums on an instrumental track, I may not be able to hold off from the bait and switch of the sound.
I need more of that!
Toni adds the melancholia of his voice, almost seeming further and further away.
In so many 80's films, we see the hero having his doubts before the win, the suspense of getting the girl. Winning the game. Making a decision bigger than himself. This track embodies that moment! The ending, the departing of a sound imbedded in nostalgia. The trill of the thrill, so to speak. A constant loop in the back that changes in subtlety. Will it let go - should it invite us further? Will an unseen hero chase the sunset? I suppose we'll never really know.
In convoluted conclusion, in the sway of seduction, Empty Rooms has me not only excited for Toni's progression into the synth scene (If he chooses to stay), but also certain that more surprises await! I can only speak for myself and my own taste, but I know potential and power when I hear it. Toni has all he needs to set ablaze another coldwave inspired album! I cannot wait to follow his journey and get absorbed once again by his sound. Random opinion: I've heard Korine - and if Toni were ever to open for anyone I'd say it should be them.
But hey, that's just my 'lil insight!
If we ever see the light of day of live performances again - I'd buy those tickets myself!
Want to follow Toni? Wanna see what other wild, incredible sounds he plays? (You better!)
I'll link you up:
Album Cover Art: OXYCOLD