Here are my favorite synthpop, futurepop, and darkwave songs of August 2023. If you want to follow my music discovery this year, subscribe to my 2023 playlist on Spotify. New songs are added every Friday. Sort by Date Added to see the new tracks appear at the top of the playlist.
10. Unity One – “Lightseeker”
It’s been a minute since we’ve heard from Unity One. The futurepop duo’s debut album, Awakening, arrived five years ago, and then they somewhat disappeared. “Lightseeker” is a welcome return of the type of big-room club music the band does so well. This is a catchy-as-hell track built on an ecstatic, pounding beat.
9. Daniel Hall – “Stone Cold”
I’m still absorbing the new album from Australian musician Daniel Hall, but upon first blush he’s moved on from covering current affairs on his last album. On new LP Navigate, he’s tackling one of the liveliest topics in music: love. “Stone Cold” exemplifies his approach to the subject matter, cleverly snagging your attention with morbid lyrics like “stone cold killer…” before pivoting to the unexpected denouement, “of love.”
8. Kanga – “Bad Girl”
Kanga, long-running darling of the underground darkwave scene, is leaning heavily in a broad pop direction on her latest output. That’s never been more apparent than on “Bad Girl,” which finds her singing over a fun, playful beat about how much she loves to dance. This could easily be a Rihanna song. The vicious tenor of songs past takes a backseat here, though Kanga’s handling of the male gaze hints at darker elements of club life.
7. IIOIOIOII – “Frozen Sea”
North Carolina’s IIOIOIOO know how to wring incredible atmosphere out of their synthesizers. The mood hovering over “Frozen Sea,” their latest single, is a dark, misty haze, dotted with elements of mysticism they project through lines like “The crystals form our bond encased in glass.” I especially love the way singer Chris Gurney punctuates each line of the chorus with a drowned cry of “Froooooozen sea.”
6. System Syn – “Kill the Light”
In anticipation of a forthcoming new album due out in September, System Syn has so far released a pair of singles. “Kill the Light,” the second single and the album’s title track, isn’t as visceral an experience as previous single, “Ashes in the Wind.” But careful listens reward with charming sounds like the delicate plinking of keys as well as Clint Carney’s superb songwriting. This entirely compelling (and I suspect autobiographical) song concerns the plight of the troubled artist: “You punished them for loving you and told them it was art.”
5. Unitcode:Machine – “Cold”
Last we heard from Texas-based musician Unitcode:Machine, he’d released a grinding thumper called “Undone” that was among my favorite tracks in March. He’s done it again. Latest single “Cold” rolls right into my wheelhouse with smoother, emotionally charged lyrics that demonstrate a more melodic side of the project. Like “Undone,” there are three different takes on the song, but I’m partial to the Beborn Beton remix.
4. Vandal Moon – “Satellite”
California duo Vandal Moon toss a grenade into a fire on this one. “Satellite” takes an unexpected but powerful turn into electro-industrial territory. Everything about this song goes hard as fuck. The beat roils, their guitars shred, layers of outrageous sound burst into the mix, and those improvised “HUH!”s get me every time.
3. Cold Connection – “Bright”
Swedish duo Cold Connection remain one of the best new synthpop acts on the planet. “Bright,” their first new song since their career-making debut album, offers more of the majestic synthpop I just devour. Buoyant synth riffs. Steady, pulsating beat. And gorgeous, elegant vocals with a touch of melancholy.
2. Kite – “Remember Me”
On their second track of the year, Kite does what Kite does best: rich, bombastic soundscapes that absolutely transport you to another dimension. “Remember Me” is a bloody beast of a song, clocking in at over eight minutes, yet it never once feels tiring. That’s a mean feat considering the lyrics are barely more than Nicklas Stenemo singing “Remember me” again and again in his trademark vocal somersaults.
1. Frozen Plasma – “Let It Rain Love”
Beloved German duo Frozen Plasma tries something different on their latest single, “Let It Rain Love.” It works for me. Felix Marc performs most of the vocals in a spoken-word cadence that makes the track feel incredibly tense. By the time he arrives at the chorus, now singing with sheer joy, you can’t but help burst with delight.