Synthwave pioneers GUNSHIP pick up where they left off and they brought along all of their friends. Unicorn is stacked with catchy tunes and guest spots.

Release date: September 29, 2023 | Independent | Facebook | Buy/Stream | Website

I’m not exactly sure what the connection to synthwave is for those of us that generally enjoy the heavier genres. Maybe it’s the beats, the industrial overtones, synth’s irrevocable connection to horror movies, or something else entirely. Regardless as a somewhat self-professed metalhead, synthwave provided some of the same release that I get from riffs and blast beats but it does so through a completely different sonic milieu. GUNSHIP is an entity that has, since the first moment that I heard them, continually captured my imagination through their songs, aesthetic, and ability to be unique amidst a host of synthwave acts that rely too heavily on a single aspect of this burgeoning scene. GUNSHIP’s self-titled album from 2015 has been in near constant rotation for eight years and its nostalgia-driven neon atmosphere is both warm and inviting from start to finish. Their follow-up three years later, Dark All Day, leaned into industrial a wee bit more and despite this fact that catchiness only slightly wavered. Another five years have passed and Unicorn is upon us and it is loaded to the proverbial gills with both songs and guest artists.

Given the slight changes in approach between their last two records I wondered if we’d hear a shift into a new direction but instead what I felt like what was happening was a slight fusion of what their two previous LPs offered and a healthy dash of sexy was added in. These songs ooze with style, sensuality, and are beyond catchy. “Tastes Like Venom” is a pleasant slice of debauchery and the resulting steam from two opposites attracting while being bolstered by an incredibly catchy chorus, snappy beats, and tempo changes that enhance the song’s dynamics: especially that final half-time chorus. The same can be said of the star-studded opening track “Monster in Paradise” which features Tyler Bates, Milkie Way, Dave Lombardo, and saxophonist Tim Cappello. This chorus to this track owes me months of back rent but keeps invoking squatter’s rights as it kicks every other song to the curb when its territory is encroached upon.

One of the potential downfalls of this genre is how it is often a rose-colored look at the past by nearly constantly invoking nostalgia. Early in their career GUNSHIP very understandably did this, but on this album they are embracing the future in a way that they haven’t before. One of the clever ways that this is accomplished is of course is using their impressive guest list – who are very often fixtures from the past – to embrace what the future holds. On their self-titled debut one of the songs that stood out for everyone was the nuclear powered “Tech Noir” which featured an introduction by none other than god of synth soundtracks, John Carpenter. On Unicorn, we get “Tech Noir 2” that sees Carpenter return but this time with a message of hope rather than damnation. Lyrically, the song follows suit and the chorus is led by Busted’s Charlie Simpson. This track is upbeat, irresistibly saccharine and just plain wonderful. Rather than look over a barren wasteland of the future this is an anthem of survival and perseverance that is impossible not to sing along with. Amazing stuff.

Have I said that this album is sexy? Because it’s downright amorous. “Weaponized Love” feels like their love letter to Nine Inch Nails with its lusty lyrics and beats and “Holographic Heart” – which features Britta Phillips – is pure Madonna worship in the best way. GUNSHIP is so good at weaving their signature sound through so many stylistic lenses which range from dance tunes to industrial bangers and back again that one could easily assume that as this album bounces from song to song that this is a playlist rather than an album. While in some cases this could be seen as a negative thing, for Unicorn and GUNSHIP in general this certainly works. This is an act that is apt at reaching into the inspiration junk drawer and always finding a handful of ideas that will suit their needs. If there is one complaint that I have about this record is that it is perhaps a little bit too long to be comfortably consumed in one go as things can run together a little bit, especially in the final third of the album. While some of those track – such as the captivating “Run Like Hell” – are excellent they seem to pale slightly to that bombastic beginning. Regardless this is a record that knows the vibe target and hits the bullseye every time.

Unicorn is quite the accomplishment in scope, guests, atmosphere, sex appeal, and general badassery. GUNSHIP have always seemed like an entity that could easily float into any space within the electronic music scene that they wanted to and bless their hearts they just don’t care to land in one spot. Their restlessness is nothing but a benefit for us as this record is a warm welcome back and quite the treat for those of us that have been waiting for years for that neon and chrome synthwave that they are so adept at creating. This album has been on repeat for me for months as I could always find a song to fit my mood or change it completely. I’ve always considered GUNSHIP to be at the top of their class and one of the premier acts of their genre and Unicorn does nothing but prove this further.

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