Album Review: Efence – Lost Future – Iron Skullet

Iron Skullet

The debut album from Efence is a minimal and understated effort that succeeds on the strength of its gorgeous melodies. While many synthwave creators lean toward increasingly elaborate percussion and dense compositions, Efence allows every note and beat to be meaningful. As Lost Future unfolds, its serene, slightly melancholic atmosphere begins to feel like its own world, with each track representing a visit to a different corner of the self-contained universe. Many of these experiences are genuinely surprising and immersive, and though a late-album collapse mars its overall quality, Lost Future stands as a gem of modern space synth.

In a surprising way, Efence’s music feels like the space-themed parallel of dungeon synth artists like ElixiR and Sequestered Keep. The sparse compositions and static song compositions rely on their melodies to guide them, and the atmospheric throb of the music becomes a mesmerizing musical journey into another plane. The opening seconds of “Journey” in particular ring out with the familiar drone of old school dungeon synth, though the brighter, spacey tone of the lead and the four-on-the-floor rhythm shift the tone into something unique to Efence.

Notably, Lost Future is the kind of album that demands to be played from the beginning. With the exception of “Spaceflight,” attempting to select a single song to enjoy from the album often feels futile. Only when the album is allowed to play out, with each piece accenting the others around it and contributing to the overall experience, does the full magic of the recording reveal itself.

The first three tracks perfectly establish Efence’s distinctive style and introduce listeners to the world of Lost Future. The magic and excitement of ’80s-era science fiction pervades the recording, and the artist’s interest in the genre is evident from the first track. “Restored Memories” opens the album with a sparse, midtempo beat, and though it’s relatively unremarkable in its own right, the melodies that soon enter the picture are nothing short of captivating. The strength of the melodies validates the sparseness of the supportive rhythmic elements, and their interplay slowly draws listeners in with a captivating embrace across the song’s three-minute duration.

“Restored Memories” carefully avoids monotony by maintaining just enough variety in its melodies to remain interesting, a pattern that the next track, “Home,” follows with an even higher level of success. The song is laced with some of the most enchanting and meditative notes to grace a synthwave song to date, and once again, the underlying rhythm provides a suitably subdued backdrop for the synth lead that takes the spotlight.

The third entry, “Spaceflight,” is the crown jewel of the album, and it’s a perfect representation of Efence’s unique songwriting strengths. The track relies on one beat and one key melody for its duration. In the hands of almost anyone else, this approach would fall flat on its face. Yet Efence adeptly varies the melody, teasing it in the early seconds before fleshing it out late in the track and adding inspired touches beneath and in-between the most prominent moments. The result is a subtle and inspired creation that mesmerizes with its measured repetition, and it’s one of the most exciting and singular synthwave songs of the year .

Ensuing entries maintain the pattern established in the opening moments, and though there are few surprises in terms of composition, every track has its own personality. “Fragment” is a haunting intermission that feels like a visit to a destroyed space vessel drifting across the galaxy. “Airglow” is a more energetic piece with light, darting melodies that conjure images of a meteor shower, and “Exodus” is a somber, percussion-driven piece that elicits the sense of venturing into alien ruins. The immersive quality of each song is remarkable, and Efence smartly limits the length of each piece to allow its repetition and engaging melodies to remain meaningful.

Not all is perfect on Lost Future, however. The compelling melodies that drive the first two thirds of the album begin to unravel by the end. “Cassette” represents the album’s first dip in quality, and its unremarkable tones are too minimal to prevent the unchanging beat from wearing out its welcome before the song’s conclusion. “Far Away” and “Raw” suffer similar fates, with EDM-flavored rhythms throbbing away beneath relatively uninspired melodic components. The closing track, “In the End,” is easily the album’s weakest point, as it not only offers some of the least engaging musical components on Lost Future, but it also runs twice as long as the other tracks on the album. This leads to an overly long piece burdened by its unvarying structure. Lost Future easily could have wrapped after “The Lost Planet” for a shorter, but more highly engaging product.

Although the album’s drop in quality comprises a large chunk of the album’s back half, it is relatively easy to overlook in light of the highly endearing nature of the recording’s early entries. As a debut album, Lost Future represents a gleaming new talent in the synthwave galaxy, one that should appeal to fans of the core genre while pulling in listeners who enjoy more minimal, experimental branches of the electronic music tree. Efence’s influences from pioneers like Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream come through in the finished product, and it lends the music an accessibility to audiences outside the usual synthwave scene.

Efence’s unusual tone and approach to songwriting are a meaningful contribution to a genre that has become impressively committed to diversification. Efence’s sound is not unique solely for the sake of sounding different, however. There is an honesty and open-handed quality to the songwriting that is at once humble and impressive. Although the album overstays its welcome with unnecessary additions to its back half, it frequently offers intriguing, immersive, and satisfying tracks that are worth revisiting multiple times. Lost Future is a voyage through a musical world filled with mystery, melancholy, and a bit of whimsy, and its finest moments are treasures waiting for those willing to explore.

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