Night Wolf describe their music as “Dark synthwave from the City of Angels.” This is short, sweet, and hits the nail hit right on the head.
It also conjures up some great imagery. A sun drenched city, named for heavenly beings, where dreams can become a reality. But the shadows grow long as the sun sets, base wants and needs stir and who knows what we’ll find beneath the glow of neon lights?
Contrasts are important when it comes to Night Wolf’s Prey. On Bandcamp they’ve included the tag “Synthwave 80s.” This is true, but there is a lot more going on here. For one thing, Prey is one of the most accessible retrowave albums I’ve encountered. All of the tropes are there: from the bi-lighting colour scheme of their artwork, to the beats, to the penetrating keyboard runs.
However opening track “Fallen” strays more towards EDM. Vocally at least. There’s a crystal clarity, a softer and more expressive tone than expected. Which helps a lot, because emotional complexity is at the core of this entire album.
There’s imagery of dying stars, smoke, ash and covering scars. It’s a plea for salvation. Not a demand or lasers-blazing fight for it. This is someone at the point of exhaustion. But despite the more delicate tone, “Fallen” still crackles with electricity.
Prey is full of banging club tracks. The title track is carried by a formidable beat, which meshes wonderfully with a pretty epic melody. There are no vocals here, but the momentum is relentless. The keys knife away at you. It gets louder and louder. As listeners we’re being hunted by something unnatural and formidable.
“Let You Go” is probably the most fascinating track on the album. During my first listen, I was certain that this was a cover, or at least sampling something familiar. It wasn’t, but Googling the lyrics pointed me towards “Baby, I’m Sorry,” from lesser 80s R&B band R.J.’s Latest Arrival. I’m reaching here, but I feel it’s worth bringing up. One of the joys of retrowave is that it not only fosters nostalgia, but exposes rabbit holes.
But what of “Let You Go” itself? It’s big, anthemic, and it drifts towards the intensity of euro dance. Another floor filler that, like “Fallen” contrasts the sounds with earnest, highly emotional lyrics.
Overall, Night Wolf’s Prey builds upon a foundation of 80s nostalgia, without being beholden to it. It pushes the envelope without being jarring or pretentious in the process. 2020 still may be young, but we already have a strong contender for album of the year.
You can find Night Wolf here: