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Retrowave Album Review: "Memory Tapes" by Popcorn Kid

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.

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Overall Impressions

Popcorn Kid’s Memory Tapes is full-blooded ‘80s retro goodness that doesn’t apologize for going down that path. What the album does do is combine strong vocal performances, memorable melodies and expressive synths into a package that has a cohesive sound and layers of musical depth.

Popcorn’s Kid’s grasp of what makes ‘80s-style music so enjoyable is on full display with Memory Tapes. He walks the fine line between cheese and earnest emotion perfectly, capturing the elements that we all love in ‘80s pop without giving in to the worst excesses. I find myself re-listening to the songs just to savour the burst of nostalgic pleasure one more time.

The guest performers on Memory Tapes are another stellar part of the album. Noxigen, LAU and Sarah Kneeland each bring their own unique vocal styles to bear in the music and contribute to the high quality of the music. They fit into the ‘80s vibes without falling over into pastiche which elevates the music to another level.

The melodic writing on this album is superb. The melodies that are crafted by Popcorn Kid and his guests are strong, deeply felt and engaging. There’s a sense of earnest expression in them that I find touching and they have a hummable quality to them that, for me, is the mark of a well-crafted melody.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“Memory Tapes” kicks off with a steady, weighty bass oscillation that is joined by muscled, pounding drums and a shadowy synth growl as bright, climbing chords rise and circle while the bass keep on throbbing and there’s a sound reminiscent of a clock ticking in the background as bells shake in a silvery line while the sweeping darkness moves below them and silence falls.

A powerfully driving retro drumbeat pounds the music forward while the percussion is full of entertainingly varied sounds as “Familiar Stranger” opens. Sarah Kneeland’s poppy, expressive voice has the right vocal character to fit into the retro vibe. The vocal melody is devious and a bit sexy as the beat throbs onwards. Glowing chimes ring out in extended notes before there’s a break into hollow, popping percussion. Sarah Kneeland’s voice climbs over the shining background while the bass and drums pulsate.

The open-feeling percussion has a trickling quality to it as the smooth, emotive vocals glide over the bell-like, medium-high synth swirls. The vocals leap up again and sweet and warm disco strings flash in while the beat propels the song. The song moves into a segment with flickering, shimmering high synth bells and a wandering, sharper-edged, lower synth over the bass oscillation. Strings sing out again while the beat’s thick throb keeps up the energy levels in the music.

Sometimes we meet a new person and it seems like we’ve known them forever. We’re deeply attracted to them, even if they’re strangers to us. As the song starts, the narrator talks about how she feels “that look in your eyes, I know I’ve seen it” and even though the can’t remember where, she can’t forget it. There’s a sense that she knows “your walk and the way you talk” already. The narrator feels like “the past meets the future” and adds that the new person seems “so exciting” that she wants to get to know them better.

In the chorus, our narrator asks the familiar stranger if she can know what’s on their mind. She adds, “I am free if you’ve got time” and continues by saying “let’s get stuck in this moment.” Now she meets the person, drawn to everything from their name to their “firm handshake.” She wonders if asking the person if they “care to stay” might be asking for too much.

The narrator sees this person again and says that when she saw them, something started ringing. She points out that their “slight little smile’s got me singing.” As they exchange glances, she asks “Am I who you’re searching for?” because “you won’t regret it.” She adds that she loves “a second chance when I can reach it.”

She can see that the other person is nervous but the narrator concludes, “We keep getting closer let’s see what you’ve got in store. Ooh you won’t regret it!”

“Cité Du Vice” begins with a tight, sneaky, gruff synth line that moves with the steady drum bounce while a rippling synth arpeggio shifts in a repeating pattern. Elevated synth bends and twists while Noxigen's lyrics whisper. Silvery bells add a metallic rattle while the synth melody aches and unfolds in a shining line that doubles Noxigen’s emotionally rich vocals.

The classic, hooky chorus is spot on and the rippling arpeggio drifts while the bass pulses in a slightly uneven pattern. The sibilant vocals whisper before the chorus rises in a melancholy line and underneath it all the beat throbs out a slightly off-kilter pattern.

Noxigen’s voice hits the right balance of energy and expression. The sax wails out in bluesy notes that have the same ache as the vocals while the lush, deep bass and percussion pulse underpins the flashing, sparkling synths that chime and then fade out.

The daily grind is wearing down this song’s narrator as he talks about “heading back, dirty rag” before it’s closing time and he’s “getting sick of every day now.” The narrator is tired of a mundane 9 to 5 life, tired of the “burden of the broken” without any way out. He talks about being “treated like a rodent.”

Everything is reaching a crisis point after all the lost years as a “growing hate” rises inside of him and he’s “imploding” but he’s discovered a “brand new world” in the “city of vices” out there. The narrator no longer has to be “dreading for morning lore” because he’s “just found another way now.” The “little store, now no more” happened because change was needed and now he’s discovered the “city of vices.”

Jazz organ flows in a warm, bright melody that glides along with the full, rich percussion and a smoothly wandering bassline to start “ ‘80s Crush.” The overall impression in this song is one of gentleness and relaxation. Sarah Kneeland’s vocals are intense and impassioned while the metallic-sounding guitar doubles the vocal melody. The softly nostalgic quality of Sarah Kneeland’s voice grabs me and won’t let go on this song.

A funky guitar moves in, full of chilled out feeling, while the shining guitar notes pattern adds its own texture to the song. The vocals give full expression to the lyrics while the shimmering, elevated synths are joined by a sax that cries out, full of heart-tugging sensibilities. The vocals match the sax for passion and the big drums throb to support the other musical elements and the song ends on Sarah Kneeland’s voice alone.

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Nostalgia and yearning drip from this song. Our narrator reminisces about meeting the song’s subject “in the summer under neon lights” as they talked through the night until the sunrise came. They “put up those old cigarettes” and drove down the “long road that we would go down for years to come.” There’s fond remembrance as she thinks of “that old denim vest that sure was out of style” and how it’s still “soaked with cologne and smoke.”

Looking back, the narrator feels that life was so much easier when it was “just a drive down a winding road in 1985.” She recalls being “so young and bold” as they had wonderful times in “the night of 1985.”

The narrator also remembers that as they talked, the song’s subject said “Don’t be nervous” as her hands were shaking and he “grabbed and held them tight.”

“Free Forever” comes to life with a dense, undulating bass oscillation along with rapidly whirling, glittering arpeggios and drum and bass solidity. The guitar growls and I am drawn to the drama in LAU’s unique vocal style as she carries a rising, expressive melody over the guitar’s power. Cut-glass chimes play an addictive, hypnotic pattern while the bass moves actively below LAU’s strong voice.

Massive drums throb to guide the track while the cascading, glowing synths flicker and the guitar adds weight and energy. Dynamic, crystalline chimes repeat their ear-catching pattern before the guitar soars out in a shining, airy line. The guitar soars into the sky in a wheeling dance, spiralling through the sapphire blue. The song fades away on spinning arpeggios and LAU’s voice.

This is as song of escape and reinvention. The narrator addresses the song’s subject who is “running wild like thunder in the longest of nights” as they say goodbye. He points out that the song’s subject can’t tell and nor can anyone else “how to beat the pain, how to stop all the thoughts you have” or where they might wind up. The most important thing is to “make sure that you don’t come back.”

Our narrator asks “Can you feel your heart?” before pointing out that they know they can make it and adding “Thank the stars above that you’re no longer fading (and now you’re free forever).” A message of encouragement rings out as the narrator tells the song’s subject that it’s a “brand new start (on your own)” and they shouldn’t harbour doubts because they’re “the master of your destiny right now.”

A rough-edged bass oscillation and a gigantic punchy drumbeat are joined by glittering bursts of synth notes as “Moment in Time begins.” Noxigen’s voice captures a retro feeling and the propulsive beat accelerates forward, full of energizing motion, while the climbing, flying vocal melody echoes out.

The chorus echoes and swirls with sharp-edged synth that sails through the music. I enjoy how Noxigen’s guitar cries out a madly whirling solo, full of intricacy and richness, over the other dynamic musical elements.

The narrator says he’s “feeling lucky tonight” so he picks up the phone because he can’t help himself and gives in. He tells the person to whom he’s singing that “under city lights, we can go see the band, draw some lines in the sand.”

He starts out saying that “I’m kind of a mess though” so he asks to take it slow and figure out one another’s “merits.” He says he’s got a “sneaking suspicion” that they have a connection, but adds that time will tell.

However, his feelings begin to change as they sit, seeing the “skyline shining bright” and drinking a glass of wine. He realizes that “love is a potion brewing” and he’s falling for the other person.

Things have moved quickly as he concludes, “It seems to me that I’ll take you home tonight. I see no point in waiting.”

“Freedom” commences with a shimmering, slowly moving synth pattern that gleams as a gentle secondary synth moves. A steady bass and drum heartbeat accompanies the heartfelt vocals that Noxigen sings, full of delicate caressing emotions that tug at my own heartstrings.

Oscillating bass weight adds motion and shape to the music along with the drums while Noxigen’s emotional vocals carry a melody that is full of hope and tenderness. Round, warm synth doubles the vocals and now the saxophone carries an equally softly touching melody while light sparkles from elevated synths and Noxigen uses his full vocal range to powerful effect.

This song revels in the feeling of finding a liberating relationship. The narrator talks about how the other person’s light has blinded him while he hears “a voice tell me I’ll erase all sorrows.” Even if there’s a raging winter storm, it’s “bliss with your hand borrowed.” It’s just the two of them like “lone riders lit by the moon” and as the dawn sun rises “a love’s born in the wake.”

In the chorus, our narrator talks about counting “stars, battle scars” as the two of them are “bonding hearts.” They walk down the beach hand in hand and the narrator says that “you made me sing again.” He adds that he waited for “so long to feel like this” and concludes, “I believe I’ve found freedom.”

The beat has a propulsive throb and elevated synths carry a moving melody and Noxigen’s unique vocal delivery, trembling and powerful, soars out in ‘80s ballad style to begin “Lady, Lady, Lady.” The electric bass is active over the drums and the chorus is intensely emotive as the vocal melody aches and yearns, reaching out towards the listener.

The glowing, glittering synth palette has a shadowed tinge to it that contributes more melancholy feelings while the glistening synths burst and the beat and bass continue to propel the song onward. The vocal performance perfectly complements the lyrical content, brimming with feeling and passion while the synths slip along with ease and now oscillating, singing arpeggios dance over the drum heartbeat.

This is a song of a tentative, elusive love. The narrator starts off by talking about how both he and the object of his affection are “frightened by a dream” and how when “running like the wind, thoughts can come undone.” He goes on to talk about how they are “dancing behind masks” in a “pantomime” but adds that “images reveal whatever lonely hearts can hide.”

Our narrator implores, “Lady, lady, lady, lady don’t walk this lonely avenue” as he asks her to let him “touch that part of you, you want me to” and points out that he knows its in her heart to stay, but asks “When will I ever hear you say I love you?”

The narrator talks about how time is like “silent stares with no apology” as he asks her to “move towards the stars and be my only one.” He asks for her to reach into “the light” and feel the gravitational pull of love that draws her “to my side where you should always be.”

Conclusion

Popcorn Kid’s Memory Tapes is a retrowave album that gets down to business. It hits all the right emotional notes, exploits the varied musical elements it uses to full effect and gives the listener that satisfying hit of positive, touching ‘80s vibes that we all crave.

© 2022 Karl Magi

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