Vagrants cluster around an oil drum fire with their backs to the cold night of the city. Environmental sensors that ought to sniff out smoke and flame dangle above, the all-seeing eye of the city put out by the criminals that filter through this district. You walk on by.
As I’ve previously mentioned I have a predilection towards a certain sound when it comes to synthwave. I want the musical scales to tip either in favour of a pastel-hued Miami sunset or polluted rain hammering into asphalt. Judicator is an example of that second sound. The latest album by Calgary-based artist Stilz, Judicator is the story of a vigilante killer shining the light of hope exclusively by means of muzzle flash.
The introduction, the title track, these songs aren’t here to welcome you in. They’re the sounds of someone polishing their guns while they watch the evening news as the anchorman relates another tale of tragedy. Food grows cold in its tray. Anger heats up. A synthesised beat breaks through as the steady realisation that something must be done takes hold and Stilz leads us into the album proper.
There’s a filmic quality to Judicator. Tracks underwrite your own narration with the occasional prompt from drum machine or synthesiser solo to spur your imagination. Don’t Look Back stands out for me with its sibiliant snare taking on the wheeze of a dump valve, the steady advance of a predator stalking you through a clattering machine shop. Judicator is an album ready to be played while you write, code, or are indulging in a marathon gaming session. It’s music to keep time to; a clause here, a headshot there, a description of high-beam headlights in city smog.
Something must be done. You started by sawing the butt off of your shotgun, dripping etching onto serial numbers along the rim of the shells, turning an old belt into a sling you could wear inconspicuously under your coat. It lead you into the worst part of the city. A hab-block where the system had failed, leaving salted ground where nothing good could grow. A door thumping with bass and the acrid scent of PCP2. You open the door. You step into the room.
Judicator is, according to both Stilz’ bandcamp page and my internet searches, a rerelease. It’s telling, then, that the standout track of the album doesn’t appear on the original release. Desire ticks from ear to ear in its stereo mixing, threatening up front with the vocal sample before delivering a chilling piece of synthwave that evokes the villainous reveals of old horror movies and blends it with fuzzy electro. At $4 the album represents great value for money, but if you’re on the fence about paying up for Judicator you ought to be able to make your mind up before bandcamp starts prompting you to support the maker of this piece of dark synthwave.
Judicator by Stilz is available from the artist via bandcamp.com.