The synth revival has been on an upward trajectory for a number of years now, with the Drive soundtrack acting as a catalyst, and the music of Stranger Things enhancing and expanding the reach, interest, and influence of the instrument and music laden with it. But like all trends, they fluctuate, and there is always one hyperfocused sub-genre that gets more attention than others.
In the synth world, the focus has recently been on the synthwave genre, but other aesthetics such as lo-fi and chill synth have been making serious waves. Music featuring classic synth textures have developed and become increasingly proficient across the music world over the last few years, but synth music isn’t exclusively an 80s soundtrack based style.
My personal foundation is rooted in the synthesizer-influenced vocal pop and the dancier side of things, less in soundtracks. I tend to focus my efforts on promoting songwriting that has evolved with modern trends.
That being said, this is the best synth songs of 2019 list, curated by myself along with the fine folks at Indie Discotheque. This list being genre defined but not genre-specific, the goal here is to find the true crème de la crème of synth-filled music of the year, a balance of both songs that are attractive to connoisseurs of synth and music that has found reach and made an impact across the world.
1. Tycho - Easy
The new album from Tycho, Weather, was polarizing for many fans with the introduction of Saint Sinner on vocals. I think the move has only enhanced the palette of textures to draw from and has since inspired alternate versions of music that would not have otherwise existed. “Easy” is one of the top tracks from the year’s windfall of new tunes, utilizing voice as an instrument.
2. The Chemical Brothers - Got To Keep On
“Got To Keep On” come along builds upon and reinforces the legendary status of The Chemical Brothers. It’s a song that successfully utilizes rhythmic synth, minimalistic percussion, chants, chimes, and perfectly placed samples, skillfully maintaining intensity throughout.
3. Manila Killa - 1993
An introductory track for the album and an outlier that I hope will provide inspiration for future Manila Killa releases, “1993” brings a hearty layering of warm synth within a modern production aesthetic.
4. Moonlight Breakfast - Dance Moves
The bass groove Moonlight Breakfast brings us in "Dance Moves" is too bouncy to leave off this list. This thick, juicy synth serves as a foundation across the entire track. The wispy arpeggiation acts as a wonderful bridge between verse and chorus, with stunning vocal production that keeps you singing along.
5. SYML - Clean Eyes (The Midnight Remix)
The Midnight has the fan base they do for a reason. Their ability to take this SYML song and make it unmistakably their own is remarkable. The production and synth work is fantastic, even better than the original, from the vocal processing to the synth work.
6. Hot Chip - Hungry Child
When an album like A Bath Full of Ecstacy is released, the question wasn't should a Hot Chip song be on the chart, but which one? “Hungry Child” opens with very dissonant chords, includes an intense vocal, and keeps our interest with plucking string-like textures.
7. Voyage - Hyper
You could drown yourself in new synthwave releases, but Voyage has taken the aesthetic and upped the game in the production aspect of this style of music, diving into some elements of chill synth while maintaining tempo and ignoring trends in filters and distortion on “Hyper.” The clarity in this track is divine.
8. Hotel Pools - Nightshade
The lo-fi synth sound is taking over right now, and there’s great promise in Hotel Pools, the project from Ben Braun of Mackintosh Braun fame. Hotel Pools is a fitting name for this project, where every sound is relaxed, filtered, and liquid, either through drunken distortion as you lay on the deck or floating on your back in the pool itself. The synth work is brilliant on “Nightshade,” and remains my favorite Hotel Pools song to date.
9. Gesaffelstein - Forever feat. The Hacker & Electric Youth
As a whole, I wound up feeling a bit deflated about this year’s Gesaffelstein release, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t absolute gems on the record including “Forever” featuring The Hacker and the mesmerizing vocal stylings of Electric Youth.
10. Cavego - Hunderfossen
“Hunderfossen” is a track that is so bouncy and playful, how could I not make a place for it on the year’s best of synth list? Cavego writes music that isn’t just fun to listen to, but fun to try to play on your own, with memorable melodic phrases and sound effects layering.
11. FM-84 - Bend & Break feat. Ollie Wride
Just when you think the power ballad might be completely dead, or you ponder whether anyone could possibly write a power ballad you hadn’t heard before, FM-84 releases “Bend & Break,” and your jaw drops to the floor with how stunning its beauty is.
12. French79 - Hometown
The clear, staccato percussive elements are forward in the mix, with French79’s arpeggiation demanding we swim in a sea of synth. The vocal in “Hometown” is fragile and raw, blending surprisingly well with the momentum of the music.
13. Storme - Queen
Her voice sounds fragile at first, but the music sure finds its way to being simultaneously dreamy and majestic. When Storme announces she is my queen, I’m sold. From there forward we are looking higher and we find ourselves soaring, wrapped in a cloud of pulsating synth textures.
14. Twinkids - Eighteen
Whisked away to a return to innocence, trash-talking and promises made that are impossible to keep. Beauty has been created by Twinkids that I find difficult to describe, with enveloping synth and stunning pitch-bending solos.
15. TR/ST - Iris
There’s always a place in my heart for the dark side of synthpop, and TR/ST has established himself as one of the modern masters. “Iris” is a track that maintains and builds upon prior work, demanding repeat listens.
16. Kalax - Calling feat. Frankmusik
Frankmusik has really grown as a vocalist over the years, and I love how he pairs with a composition provided by Kalax. This is music that is on par with modern a-ha, both beautiful and uplifting. This track is appropriately named, not because you’re waiting for the call, but because you truly do feel a “Calling” while listening.
17. Jordan F - Final Flash
There's something special about "Final Flash." It's an instrumental synth journey by Jordan F that provides distinct song segments, keeping your interest across the piece. The arpeggiation in the track is the ear-grabbing constant, tying it all together.
18. Jessie Frye - Fantasy
It's her voice. I'm completely obsessed. Every time Jessie Frye is featured, whether it be her own work or on the work of others, I seem to hit that re-post button and the track winds up in one of my best-of lists. Her voice on "Fantasy" is simple and beautiful, and one of the best tracks of 2019.
19. Morgan Willis - Hide
"We don't have to" might be my lyric of the year because it's so awesome to sing along to. The music accompaniment Morgan Willis has created in “Hide” is light, a twinkling air in the synth, with steady, grounding tones of bass.
20. Futurecop! - We Belong feat. Parallels
I always love Futurecop songs with featured vocalists, and Parallels have proven to be a great pairing. While some fans prefer the instrumental version, “We Belong” is a track that rises to the next level with voice included.
21. Lune - Forêt de Crystal
This style of music is a wonder on its own. The lo-fi aesthetic is all the rage, but “Forêt de Crystal” has a warmth and an implied clarity that would normally seem muddy. Not so with this music. Lüne brings energy and bounce that is suitable for the dancefloor.
22. Brothertiger - Shallow
Turn off the lights, fall down between the speakers, and let this one play at high volume. The synth textures, chords, and vocal processing in this ballad are absolutely gorgeous, surrounding you. You'll find yourself singing along with Brothertiger at the top of your lungs, right on target.
23. Last Island - Let’s Go Somewhere
The style of songwriting and the modern take Last Island bring us on this instrumental is exactly what I hope for when seeking out today's best synth music. This could just as easily be a sing-along pop song with a vocal, and that's a tribute to the songwriting here.
24. The Weeknd - Starboy (Bestrack Remix)
Did I ever think I’d have a track from The Weeknd in this list? No. I didn’t. But Bestrack has outshined the original, giving us a visionary side of a song that wasn’t in focus before. Between the foundation synth, guitar textures, and flute accents, this is a version I can get behind.
25. Grum - Lose Control
Is the Grum we remember, the one we know and love, having returned from his escapades in trance? Not exactly. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about “Lose Control” among other songs on this year’s Deep State album that reaches back and blows the dust off of some of that classic Grum feel.
26. The Bad Dreamers - New York Minute
The lyrics are so descriptive and really tell the story in “New York Minute,” a wonderful synth ballad by The Bad Dreamers. It explores the thrill of finding an instant attraction, time spent over the course of a weekend, and the uncertainty that follows as one returns back to their home.
27. She Past Away - Durdu Dunya
She Past Away brings us our dose of perfectly produced arpeggiated synth texture. It's a style of Depeche Mode and New Order inspired greatness that always manages to stay relevant across the years, ideal for dark dance floors everywhere.
28. Vast Hill - Heartbreaker
The synth revival of the late 00s and early 10s was an amazing time. “Heartbreaker” from Vast Hill has a lot in common with the output from that era. A little bit of disco awash in synth textures, and a dreamlike, heavenly vocal that will keep you singing on the dancefloor.
29. Gemini Rising - Speed of Sound
One of my personal favorites of the year, the music of Gemini Rising had me on binges of repeat listening. The synth work is nuanced and the songs are wonderfully composed, but it's the vocal performance that draws you in and keeps you salivating for more. I can’t get enough.
30. Digital Shades - Summer Rain
Everything John Kunkel of The New Division sings on is gold. There is something about his voice that draws me in, wholeheartedly, every time I hear him. Digital Shades is a project with him and James Meays of Missing Words, and the production of the synth work in "Summer Rain" is exceptional.
Here is the playlist: