Farewell to FM Attack, a true original

Shawn Ward, aka FM Attack, just released The Never Ending. In a recent interview with Vehlinggo, Shawn stated that this will be the last FM Attack record. It is a fitting end to a stellar career in synthwave – as both one of the style’s early innovators and consistently excellent practitioners.

Rather than review the album (spoiler alert: I love it), I want to tell you what FM Attack’s music has meant to be over the years, and why The Never Ending is such a bittersweet moment.

I came to synthwave fairly late in the game. My background as a musician is in techno and indie rock, but I’ve always had a soft spot for ’80s pop music and retrofuturism. In the ’00s I tried making what I now recognize as an attempt to make synthwave – a mix of techno, chiptune and ’80s analog synth tones. But it never went anywhere. That said, when I did discover synthwave, several years later, you could say I was primed to love it. And I did – it felt like this was the kind of music I was always destined for, as both listener and producer.

One of the first artists I discovered was FM Attack. “Hot Girls in Love,” from Dreamatic (2009), had immediate appeal, with its energetic dance beats and catchy vocoder chorus.

The one-two punch of “With You Tonight” and “Magic,” from Deja Vu (2013) showed me what synthwave could do when untethered from its dance music roots. These are stellar pop songs, among the best ever written in the genre.

Since then I’ve bought every album FM Attack has put out, and blasted them on repeat for weeks after each purchase. FM Attack is one of the rare artists where I like almost every song in the discography, and only rarely skip ahead from one track to another. The melodies are catchy, the synths lush and dreamy, the arrangements tight and the production top notch. I’ve enjoyed the incorporation of post-punk and dreampop elements into his more recent work, and especially enjoyed his collaborations with Vandal Moon, who I also had the pleasure of collaborating with on “Stars That Fade” (and more, as you will soon find out).

Though my music doesn’t really sound like his, philosophically I’ve always seen FM Attack as a fellow traveler. When I listen to his music, I hear many of the same influences – from dance music to shoegaze – that I’ve always felt marked me as a bit outside the synthwave mainstream. I hear someone pushing the genre in the directions I want it to go.

So the release of The Never Ending is a bittersweet moment for me. It’s a great album – showcasing that unmistakable sound but with a number of key innovations. “So Blue” is probably my favorite track, which recalls the SF-based indie band Film School.

Meanwhile, the dance music edge that attracted me to Dreamatic all those years ago is back in full force on songs like “Hypnotize.” As I said above, it’s a fitting end for a stellar career.

…and that’s why it’s bittersweet. Never say never, I guess, but I don’t expect we’ll get another FM Attack album. The Never Ending really does feel like a bookend, so I’m just glad I could be along for the ride. My only regret is that I never got to see him perform.

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