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THE B-LIST: You can never have too much synth or sax

The best in synthwave

This week, you're getting a two-fer: Two lists for the price of one!

When it comes to music, my tastes cover the full gamut of highbrow (operatic rock like Queen) to hipster (Sufjan Stevens) and melodramatic teenager emo (My Chemical Romance).

But one of the biggest chambers of my heart is reserved purely for nostalgia. The bands that either were big in the '80s (Journey, Duran Duran, Toto) or the bands that emulate that most neon/pastel of decades.

And that's where synthwave comes in. According to Wikipedia, synthwave is "a genre of electronic music influenced by 1980s film soundtracks and video games; it expresses nostalgia for 1980s culture, attempting to capture the era's atmosphere and celebrate it."

Also known as outrun, retrowave, darkwave, chillwave and vaporwave — they sure do love waves, huh? — synthwave is heavy on Casio keyboards and saxophones. It evokes mall arcades, California beaches and "Miami Vice." It's the perfect music to blare on your stereo as you drive down dark, neon-lined highways with the windows down.

And YouTube is chock full of playlists you can stream for free. Here are seven great channels — and eight great bands — to check out for that full synthwave experience.


7. ThePrimeThanatos. Thanatos promotes new artists every week with official music videos, hosts a perpetual livestream of synthwave and has dozens of playlist compilations. He also has another channel — ThePrimeCronus — full of epic orchestral music reminiscent of video games and fantasy films.

6. Astral Throb. A relatively new channel specializing in cyberpunk synthwave reminiscent of "Blade Runner."

5. Odysseus. Stylized futuristic art meets themed mixes (dystopian societies, cyborgs, spaceships) on this wonderfully prolific channel. Odysseus has a new mix at least once a week.

4. New Retro Wave. The place to check for brand new releases and full albums from your favorite bands. They also load regular playlists highlighting the best singles from the previous month.

3. Confused Bi-Product of a Misinformed Culture. Probably the greatest mixer on YouTube, Confused perfectly pairs and blends the component songs in his mixes, which cover a HUGE array of styles to fit any mood: techno, dubstep, trip hop, future funk, progressive house, psychedelic trance, electro swing (and yes, those are all distinct genres of music). He also has a superb horror synth mix every Halloween.

2. SoulSearchAndDestroy. My latest find has almost 100 (yay!) mixes available to stream, perfectly paired with gif backgrounds from '80s and '90s anime series.

1. Asthenic. These playlists may be shorter than most (few are longer than 30 minutes), but they're all sublime, a balance of soothing covers and haunting synth songs you can chill out to.


8. Futurecop! This band really loves "The NeverEnding Story" and "Jem." Their music is equal parts heroic fantasy and magical-girl-playing-a-keyboard. Somehow it works!

7. Timecop1983. You can almost see Don Johnson leaning against a pink covertible when you listen to these guys.

6. L E T E M R I O T. I just discovered this band and I'm angry they don't already have five albums out. A lighter, better-at-enunciating version of A-ha, they have a smoother, softer sound than most.

5. Nina. Synthwave needs more lady vocalists, dangit! Thankfully Nina is around to fill that Pat Benatar-shaped void with a powerful voice over evocative beats.

4. Gunship. What would you get by smooshing the aesthetics of "Mad Max," "RoboCop," "The Lost Boys" and "The Breakfast Club" together? Gunship! With songs that swing from ominous apocalyptic warnings to bouncy video game vibes to teenage angst, this band always delivers the goods.

3. Dance With the Dead. If Dr. Frankenstein was abducted by aliens and they teamed up to resurrect zombies with pounding music, this would be the result. Ideal music to exercise to – just imagine the aforementioned zombies chasing you.

2. FM-84. The pinnacle of California beach music. Lead singer Ollie Wride can do no wrong, and their album "Atlas" is one I have in constant rotation.

1. The Midnight. This band is so retro, most of their albums are only available on cassette tape. Thank goodness my car still has a tape deck: The Midnight was my first synthwave band and remains my all-time favorite, with songs you'd swear were on the "Risky Business" soundtrack. Such super smooth grooves!

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at

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