Due to the very nature of the synthwave scene’s obsession over 1980’s pop culture, many of the genre’s mainstays have chosen to present themselves as a character by often creating elaborate worlds that tie into the concepts of their releases. Amongst the crowd of noun-verbers there stands one peculiar oddball who’s been absolutely on fire for the last few years, opening up for such acts as Carpenter Brut and TWRP. Brimming with love for performing in cozy looking dad jumpers, utilizing vintage synth tones, and reaping the nostalgia of 1980’s sitcoms with his ravenous fan base of “step-children,” there is of course no other act quite like Vampire Step-Dad.
With a name like that, one can expect a lot of humor in the music and there’s plenty of it in VSD’s latest release entitled NIGHT:SHIFT. Hot off the heels of his excellent February release Love Bites, a dramatic love story between an immortal vampire and a very mortal human, NIGHT:SHIFT instead goes for a more thrilling 80s crime drama narrative. The story roughly goes as follows: vampire cop Lugosi has to work together with his human partner, Cusson , to stop crime while also protecting his gravest secret. As illustrated by the intro track ‘Thursday at 7’, which is a running gag in the VSD-verse where each album is introduced with a lovingly crafted pastiche of 80’s television show ads, this along with other side-splitting track titles, such as ‘I Can’t Believe The Bad Guys Killed My Entire Family Again’, helps to set the tone for a fun musical adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
But whilst the concept of this album isn’t exactly a high brow, Shakespearian example of storytelling, one thing that Vampire Step-Dad does take very seriously is the music itself. The album can be split into two distinct parts, musically: one of which is the longer, more energetic tracks that harken back to the intensity of such gems as “Green Berets for Breakfast [Redux].” For example, the title track, “Night:Shift Theme” is an absolute blast to listen to as it contains a top notch keyboard motif and a great little solo which cements the track as the highlight of the album. There is also the incredibly titled “A Good Cry / A Good Gun Fight” (what does exactly qualify a gun fight as being ‘good’?) which starts off slow, no doubt signifying the ‘Good Cry’ portion of the story, but later builds into a satisfyingly speedy conclusion with the delightfully cheesy chugging guitar that never fails to put a huge grin on one’s face. Some elements like that guitar are quintessential tropes of 80’s soundtracks, and yet nobody can recapture their magic with such playfulness and glee as Vampire Step-Dad.
The other half of the album are mostly shorter, one minute long or so set pieces. These tracks are more cinematic, often stripped down and lacking any percussive instrumentation and are often the bits where Vampire Step-Dad tries out something outside of his comfort zone. If there were a stand out track amongst these, however, it would have to be “I Can’t Believe The Bad Guys Killed My Entire Family Again.” This is due in part to the fact that the track doesn’t feature a single synthesizer, instead opting in for 1:21 minutes of moody, bluesy guitar noodling. On the other end of the spectrum there’s “Tracking the Suspect,” “The Pieces Come Together,” and “The D.A.’s Perfume” which all have very distinct choices of instrumentation and arrangements, harkening back to something I would expect to hear in a courtroom drama or in the Ace Attorney video games; VSD really nails the feeling of somebody trying to solve a mystery. Last, but not least, the track “VICE” stands out as being Vampire Step-Dad’s darkest work yet, featuring a deep, droning bass, layered with guitar harmonies and repetitive percussion and keyboard stabs.
All of these tracks represent Vampire Step-Dad’s exponential growth as an artist. With NIGHT:SHIFT, not only do his songwriting and production chops seem to get better and better, but the amount of variety on display is staggering. If there is one thing to complain about, however, it’s that sometimes the shorter, soundtrackier cuts on this LP can test my patience, particularly in the first half of the album when things seem to slow down to a crawl. Nothing is particularly wrong with any of them, per say, just that the tracklisting feels like it needs to be re-jigged a bit to create a more compelling listen all the way through.
That minor gripe aside, I can safely say this is VSD’s best work to date and I can only hope he continues on the path of improvement that he is on now. Love you step-dad, and can’t wait to see what production they cast you in next!