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Synth Album Review: "Johnny Synths" by Network Nick

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


Overall Impressions

Network Nick’s Johnny Synths takes a progressive, unique approach to synth-based music. He uses a plethora of retro synth sounds to create music with depth, shadow and surging energy at its heart. This is a highly individualistic and ear-grabbing collection of tracks which I enjoy hearing.

The synth palette on Johnny Synths is full of fascinating textures, tones and timbres that run the gamut from rough-edged shadow to flashing light. The lead synths are sometimes aggressive and sometimes smooth, evoking everything from charging energy to funky groove. I enjoy the inventive ways that they’ve been combined on the album.

Another element of Johnny Synths that I enjoy is the way in which Network Nick layers sounds. He has a facility for building up audio layers from percussion and bass to the intricate interrelationship of intermediate tones and timbres to lead synth melodies. They all weave together into a sonic fabric that has depth and richness within it to keep my ears engaged.

Sonic imagery is also a big part of why the album succeeds in my view. Network Nick establishes distinct moods and emotional states as he combines all of the different musical elements on the album. He can imbue music with warmth and ease or ramp up the tension to make the listener look over their shoulder. The way in which all of the elements combine draws out emotional states and mental impressions from each track.

I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of the guest artists on Johnny Synths. Daria Danatelli, Scott Miller and Pete Fraser who each brought their own talent to bear on the music. Having them on the album adds more depth and richness to the musical expression that Network Nick creates in the music.

My Favourite Tracks Reviewed

“Absolute Scenes” comes into being as heavy, rough-edged synth bass descends below a voice over from an ‘80s documentary on video games, adding an ominous feeling as minor key notes on a trembling keyboard and a buzzing, medium-low synth carries a trembling melody that adds to the feeling of incipient threat along with the solid power below it. I do enjoy the sample of the plea to start playing at the arcade again before the track fades out.

A jumping, popping drumbeat is cut into by quickly pulsing, elevated synth notes and a deep, segmented bass throb supports the other musical elements as “Vincenzo” begins. A repeating, twisting note pattern descends rapidly, feeling nervous and tense. The oscillating bass drive and the solid drums add to the hectic motion of the track. A piano repeats an echoing stab and a distorted voice writhes over the heaving, subdivided drums.

A skittering and broken vocal pulse adds a slightly uncomfortable feeling to the music while an insectile sound chitters dryly and wobbling bass flow drops. The piano is bright and harsh as it hypnotically repeats the same hard-hitting notes and the medium-high, tense synth cries out in a slowly melancholy pattern. Layer on layer of sound creates an ear-pleasing tapestry from the trembling bass throb, to the harshly hitting piano notes and from the distorting vocals to the aching medium- high synth.

“Upside Down Great White Shark” comes to life with solid, steady drum beats and a bass throb that comes in between the beats to form a bouncing pattern. Tense synth repeats a relentless pattern that slowly descends through the open soundstage of the track.

The pattern expands and swells, gaining power as hollow, distorting sounds pop and flow into open air. The drumbeat and alternating bass won’t quit and rapid metallic, melodic percussion clanks and shifts with a pleasingly unique sound.

The elevated, tightly-wound synth writhes and the popping, breaking percussion blends with the repeating, melodic pattern. The music rings and jangles, throbs and pulses as ominous weight swirls in the depths far underneath. The track ends on distant, tense synth flowing into open space

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Echoing, tight notes climb with quick bursts into open sonic space as “Stockpiling Shoulders” kicks off. String-like notes rush in to add texture and a xylophone adds a metallic feeling through as a heavy bass throb moves below. Double bass like notes carry a dynamic pattern and the xylophone clanks brightly. Rapid note clusters leap in and fade while a robotic, distant voice chants.

The double bass has a bursting, angular dynamism that adds more propulsion over the hard hitting drum beat. A digital-sounding synth carries a dancing melodic line while medium-low synth with a distorted feeling follows the throbbing drums. A twisting, robotic voice adds an enjoyably unsettling quality to the music.

Piano notes drift in, playing a melodic fragment that has a certain pain in it. Hollow, bubbling synth creates a textural feeling while the heavy weight below urges it on. Washes of rich strings add more depth and the fragmentary piano still feels melancholy.

“Obelisks Speaking “ opens with blaring synth that carries out in quick sonic pulses that rise and fall over the bursting drumbeat. Quickly rising, hollow sounds move above an oscillating bass line and the brassy, high synths carry a leaping melody that speaks of progress.

I am drawn to the catchy funky feeling to this track. A guitar-like sound surges and funky, nasal synth cuts in before chiming synth chords shine over the relentless bass oscillation. Full, nasal synth whirls out in sharply angled sounds with a jazzy sensibility and guitar cries out in descending, shifting lines.

Bass throbs below extended synth chords that shape the music while the glimmering chimes add light. Nasal, elevated synth breaks in while the oscillating bass adds even more motion and the guitar chords charge, all the musical elements interlocking and forming a tapestry.

A classic retro-sounding drumbeat is joined by the hissing slide of a hi hat as a deep bass throb with a slinky feeling to it wriggles through “Meeting Room Liaison.” A broad, medium-low and rough-edged synth carries a syncopated riff with intense funk to it. It’s doubled by the bass while a guitar brings a hip shaking line to the music.

Deep, sexy bass and pulsating drums add to the vibes emanating from this track. The percussion keeps hissing, the guitar writhes and gyrates. The lead synth has a clean, brassy feeling as it lays out a sensual melodic pattern. The sax howls and gasps, twisting through the track, as an elevated synth solo cascades and bounces. The solo is carried on a tight and shiny synth tumbling down over the jazzy sharp horns and the hard-hitting percussion.

“Murder On Rollerskates” starts off with rapidly oscillating bass and quickly spinning, shining synth arpeggios that weave together in a rapid whirl. Elevated, sharp synth cries out a melody that is full of melancholy feeling, minor key and wandering. A repeating, medium high, shimmering synth carries a dynamic, propulsive pattern.

The synths twirl through the track as the thick bass oscillation drives in. I am drawn to the desolation of the melody carried by a wide-feeling, open and emotive synth. A groovy, medium-high, cutting synth pattern creates a hypnotic sensation and adds even more momentum below the hurting high synth that floats out over all the motion and energy below it.


Johnny Synths showcases Network Nick’s unique approach to synth-based music. He takes quite a few intriguing, enjoyable departures from the usual synthwave album to produce an end result that's fresh and keeps me listening.

© 2022 Karl Magi

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