LA synthwave duo The Midnight have released their new album MONSTERS. Tyler Lyle and Tim McEwan take a deep dive into 80’s and teen nostalgia with this album, balancing the whirlwind ride of teenage romances, 80’s synthwave and a blend of modern dance-pop and soaring synth-led film scores.
As we have heard in the past, the pair deliver an album that is built for “cruising through the rainy streets at night while contemplating lost love” with the rocking keytar-sounding solos and heavy synths, but there is plenty else dripping with 80’s nostalgia. There are moments of soft reflection like on “Helvetica” and soaring duets like “Monsters.”
To get a better idea of what they were looking to do with this album, we asked The Midnight to break down the album, track-by-track, in a Director’s Cut feature. They go into the ideas and inspiration behind each track.
Pick up your copy of the record here and listen as you read.
1. 1991 (intro)
Tim: 1991. The birth of the internet. The promise of connection.
2. America Online
Tim: This sets the tone for our album. We’re in the era of connectivity. Gone are the days of being a kid, riding around on bikes, exploring the world around you. You’re a teen now and your nights are spent online in your bedroom, logged onto chat rooms, while the door to your parents is shut and you are searching for your own identity.
Tyler: This track was basically done and we’d decided to do it as an instrumental, but at the last minute I decided to try and write something. By that time we knew what the album was about roughly. This became the premise of the record- is love necessarily reciprocal- is hate? What is intimacy without proximity? Are we really connected at the bottom of all of this, especially when “all of this” is mediated by so many layers that seem un-human.
3. Dance With Somebody
Tim: We had the hook sitting around for a long time but the verses were so hard to crack. It took us many re-writes to get it right. From a production standpoint I wanted this one to be a bop that you could throw on while getting ready to go out but while still having a deeper meaning behind it.
Tyler: This was tricky. We re-wrote the verses to this at least four or five times. We knew what the hook was, and we knew we wanted the narrator to give a kind of invocation to lose yourself to the music. We carry so much armor around. I never thought much about dancing until I went to a religious college that forbade it. When I escaped that place (I only lasted a year), I decided to dance at every opportunity. Sometimes the only way out of your head is to get into your feet.
Tim: This is perhaps the most nostalgic song on the album for me. It was the track that took the longest to get right because it was early on in the process and it set the tone for a lot of the other tracks on the album. I wanted to drench the listener in nostalgic and wistfulness. Memories of being young and falling in love for the first time. The kind of all-consuming love that makes you want to run away together. Like it’s you against the world. I wanted to create a ton of space around Tyler’s voice so the focus was solely on the story.
Tyler: The first sketches of this song started in Laurel Canyon in my first months in LA. I was in the midst of heartbreak and in the perfect place to write a wounded, backward look at love. That song survived in many different forms (the way a lot of songs do) over the years, and found its way pretty quickly and effortlessly onto this album. It serves as a voice of what’s to come.
5. Dream Away
Tim: This was a sketch I had called “Far, Far Away.” I just knew I wanted to evoke a journey to a distant land. A lot of 90s world music came to mind. The big inspirations for this were artists like Deep Forest and Enigma and those Pure Moods compilation CDs from the 90s.
Tyler: To waste your life asking the wrong questions, building the wrong reality is one of the saddest heartbreaks. I wrote this song initially as part of a podcast series I did between ‘16-18 while reading a lot of Emile Durkheim. Maybe the answer is to let go of the fantasy so that you can start living in the more disappointing, but real world. Maybe not?
6. The Search for Ecco
Tim: This is a clear homage to the video game Ecco the Dolphin. I have vivid memories of playing it when I was a kid and how much the soundtrack and visuals informed me. This is the “Arcade Dreams” and “Tokyo Night Train” of this album.
7. Prom Night
Tim: As a Scandinavian, this is a strictly American thing and I was inspired by the movies I watched as a kid that all depicted prom as this coming of age thing that everything led up to. I wanted the track to feel like it could play at the end credits of a film like The Breakfast Club.
Senior Prom 2004
She was a cheerleader. I was a nerd with a lisp on the debate team who had never been kissed. Against all odds, when I asked her to go to prom, she said yes.
The afternoon of the dance, we were walking, side by side in the early evening light, talking about nothing in particular. We’d become better friends in the weeks leading up to prom. She wore a pink silk dress with long pink gloves that went almost to her elbows. Suddenly I felt something new. She looked at me, and I noticed her looking. Her eyes were fixed. She had a curious smile. I noticed our hands were almost touching. In that moment, I felt abject terror; like the world was opening up to swallow me whole, like I was about to jump off of a cliff into nothing. I saw the window closing on the moment, took a big breath, and against all odds, moved my fingers towards hers, she moved hers towards mine. All of a sudden, there we were, in a miracle of a moment, suspended in bliss. She became my first girlfriend.
And yet, time takes no prisoners.
David Foster Wallace says that every love story is a ghost story too. If I can forget how that relationship ended, and forget the string of love and loss over the next decade; if I can trim the footage just right, the memory still plays like a love story, forever in bloom, suspended, impossibly holding that pink gloved hand. And, if I really focus, I can balance myself in that moment, standing between two worlds, with that interior voice imploring me, “hey. idiot. hold her hand.” Some ghost stories are love stories too.
8. Fire In The Sky
Tim: I had a track that I had called “Creatures in the Sky” and Tyler had a song called “Fighting Fire.” For a long time I couldn’t find the right way to crack the code on that song but it all clicked when I thought about combining the two and, as a low key homage to the 90s TV movie of the same name, called it Fire in the Sky. This was my “in” to approach the track. It gave Tyler’s rebellious song about passion and a relationship doomed to fail a science fiction twist that made it feel like a Midnight song. Now it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.
Tyler: This started as a co-write in LA, and I really wanted to figure out a way for it to exist on the record. Tim hacked away at it for a long time without much progress, until one day he cracked it. I love this track.
9. Monsters (feat. Jupiter Winter)
Tim: From a track perspective, I wanted the verses to have a LoFi feel and then drop into something big and bombastic. It was really when Lelia Broussard of Jupiter Winter featured, and it became a duet, that everything really fell into place.
Tyler: The thought of former lovers through the lens of Frankenstein’s monster appealed to me. Everyone we’ve loved is a part of us, like having emotional limbs sewn together. What happens when that love dies and you’re carrying around parts of the failed love for the rest of your life? It was great to feel this song out by playing it live with our guitarist/bass player Lelia Broussard (who is ½ of Jupiter Winter), and we love what she adds to the record.
Tim: “Helvetica” is all about those late nights spent alone, online. The pale light from the CRT screen reflecting up on our face while the world around you is fast asleep. But are connected into a world of possibility. Chat rooms & kindred spirits. Connection. What we all hoped the internet would be.
Tim: My job on this track was simple: to get out of the way of the song. It needed to feel stripped down and just be in support of Tyler’s amazing performance.
Tyler: I moved from LA to New York in 2014 a week after I got married. It’s such a difficult city to live in. Most New Yorkers would claim that it’s part of the charm. We moved into a tall glass tower in Downtown Brooklyn with a view from the 25th story of Fort Green and Bed Stuy. I was transfixed by the lights at night, all the while dealing with the major life change of a new wife, a new city, and a disruption to my normal “day job” which was writing songs with other people. It was a lonely time. I wrote a lot of songs in that season though.
12. Deep Blue
Tim: This was the last track we did for the album. The skeleton of the song was written on tour in spring 2019 for a movie and then later reworked into its current form. When Tyler first sang me those verses, I think we both hi-fived.
Tyler: We’d been approached by the director of a big Hollywood blockbuster type movie who wanted to work with us to create music for the film. While we were on tour in Columbus, Tim and I had an off day and thought that we should use it to work on the music for the film. So we booked a studio, sketched out a demo pretty quickly, then went to Olive Garden to celebrate. Tim totally gutted the original production and instead of a happy, major key, up-tempo celebration of falling in love, it became more ominous, more brooding, and more fun.
13. Night Skies
Tim: This is your classic The Midnight “cruising through the rainy streets at night while contemplating lost love” type track. Tyler originally wrote this and sang it as a blues style song and then I threw his voice through a vocoder.
Tyler: I wanted to write a blues song in the Midnight Universe. This was my attempt. Tim and I worked on this one together in Atlanta, and it came together really quickly. “A million horsepower no steering wheel” was the inspiration for the song- someone just so out of control and with so much intensity. It’s the first part of a tragedy we all know.
14. City Dreams (interlude)
Tim: Vaporwave in its purest. The echoes of “Seventeen” ties it back to the start of the album and really makes it clear that all of this was a memory. A photograph that is now faded.
Tyler: We wanted the colors of “Seventeen” to come back near the end of the record and give some space before the denouement. This is the palate cleanser.
15. Last Train
Tim: Very similar to “Brooklyn” in that it needed less production and the song needed to be front and center. No flashy synth or solos to take the focus away from Tyler’s voice and the story being told. I was Tyler’s idea to end the song with the line “we are all one beating heart.” Perfect.
Tyler: There’s a dark/light symmetry to the record, and last train was one of the last songs we wrote for MONSTERS. There seems to be a connection for me between the naiveté of “Prom Night” to the worn and weathered-ness of “Last Train.” Maybe they’re the same people? Maybe not, but I feel like “Last Train” moves us out of adolescence and prepares us for the setting of adulthood. “City Dreams” feels like the interlude that speeds up time, and suddenly, our protagonist is ten years in the future, but the same themes keep echoing back. Love still cuts like a wire. It’s no less of a risk, but the hope is that we grow, we learn how not to be totally overwhelmed by these feelings, but to embrace them. This song is a glimpse at the lessons learned in adolescence and the mystery that still survives into adulthood.