An obvious criticism of vapor-/retro-/[insert prefix]- wave is that the market has been way over-saturated for some time. Nostalgia for the retro-futuristic trappings of the 1980s has long been running hot; with the greatest impact naturally striking in the field of electronic music. Synths have come home to roost, but in an age where the means of production and distribution have never been more accessible; concerns about quality control and originality are entirely valid.
It’s easy to get lost in the crush; especially when your genre is defined by its appeal to a specific aesthetic. This is particularly true in regards to retrowave and outrun. I can’t say I’ve ever skipped past anything truly awful on the billions of playlists out there; rather I’ve had to move on because nothing was standing out.
However, Byte Mapper’s Digital Illusion feels different. “Feels” is a word I come back to a lot when I think about music from this sphere of electronica. Sometimes, something just clicks. There’s an uncanny appeal which, to be honest, can make writing reviews like this tricky.
Byte Mapper has a very firm grasp on what makes the best retro-ambient music – the ability to set a mood and maintain it without the whole thing becoming overly repetitive and tedious. As a whole, Digital Illusion is simply a relaxing ride. Roll up your jacket sleeves, hop in your Ferrari 328 and cruise along the longest coastline your MOS 6510 can muster.
That being said, the standout tracks on Digital Illusion make me glad that I didn’t just throw it on in the background. Second track “Soma” has a wonderfully uplifting, glittering-dream vibe to it. It’s also weirdly triumphant – I could see it playing over the credits of some ultra-obscure 8-bit JRPG.
“I Will Follow” is one of the album’s more spirited moments. It has more layers and is more dynamic. You’re heading into the hills, and you need a little something extra as you hit those trickier mountain passes. Closer “Mind Death” has more swagger to it; with a decent toe-tapping beat and meatier bassline. The breakdown near the end adds a cool little flourish to round everything off.
Digital Illusion doesn’t break new ground – but that’s the entire point. Byte Mapper has shown us how to do retrowave right; while also being distinct enough to make something that little bit more special.
You can find Byte Mapper in these places: