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By Cole Sherburne

Born from the depths of Soundcloud and featured on channels like Electronic Gems, chillsynth is a relatively new micro-genre that is growing in popularity. Before I begin this list, it’s important to define what chillsynth as a genre even is. From New Retro Wave “Chillsynth is almost always much more down-tempo, lo-fi, and features lush synth pads with a lot of sustain, reverb, or resonance.” We’ll get back to that word resonance shortly. Like synthwave, chillsynth also takes from the 80’s in terms of sound and nostalgia. But where chillsnyth differs is that it’s also willing to take from the 90’s as well in the same respects. So here are 15 essential albums every genre newcomer should give a listen to. 

1. HOME: Odyssey

This is the album that started it all. Without this, chillsynth as a genre would probably not exist. Let’s get back to that word resonance. The reason this is so important is that this is not just a descriptor but a song on this album. A song that exploded in popularity. As of this writing the song has 100 million views on the Electronic Gems YouTube channel. After the release of this album and other works by HOME, artists started to reverse engineer HOME’s sound to try and understand how it was made and in doing so chillsnyth was born. This album features deep reverberating synths and rich texture. I always enjoy coming back to this album to hear where the unique sounds of chillsynth began.

2. Emil Rotmayer: Descend

Out of all of the albums on this list, Descend feels most inspired by the 80’s. Deep pulsing synths reverberate throughout the entire album. Tracks like S.O.L.O also makes use of guitar samples while K.E.Y.S… makes use of key samples. The bonus tracks such as Limit are some of my favorites on this album. Whenever I’m in the mood for some music dripped in 80’s style I give this a listen.

3. A.L.I.S.O.N: Space Station

A.L.I.S.O.N’s debut album is an iconic one. Featuring dreamy floating synths in every track. We start with Warm and Space Echo which have a lo-fi, nostalgic quality to them. Then there is Dejitaru Glow with its smooth piano bridge. It’s one of the earlier albums released in this genre and it still remains one of the best. 

4. Hotel Pools: Palmscapes

Listening to Palmscapes is like taking a summer vacation. I feel as if I am taking a stroll on the beach and soaking up the sun. This album features lush synths and punchy drum pads with some tracks leaning more on the punchy drums like Oceanside and Nowtro. Then there are tracks like Splash and Hunny which lean more on the lush synths. If it’s a bad weather day, this is an album I like to put on to imagine I’m at the beach and cheer me up. 

5. A.L.I.S.O.N & Hotel Pools: Ultrasound

This collaboration album between A.L.I.S.O.N and Hotel Pools is a match made in heaven. A.L.I.S.O.N’s dreamy synths combined with Hotel Pool’s sharp drum pads makes for a truly rich soundscape. Tracks like Silhouette and Stellar are great examples of this with A.L.I.S.O.N’s dreamy synths creating the melody while Hotel Pool’s sharp drums drive the beat and tempo. This is a collaboration that seems so obvious in hindsight that it’s surprising it wasn’t done sooner. 

6. Unfound: Anomaly

Anomaly is an album that features slightly harder/heavier? synths compared to others. But just like the other albums on this list the synths are still lush and the soundscapes are still rich in texture. This can be seen in tracks like Gamma Rays and Tremors. This debut album from Unfound remains a personal favorite of mine that I always enjoy listening to. 

7. VIQ: Crystal Shores

Crystal Shores may just be my favorite album of all time. Wait! I hear you gasp. Better than contemporary artists like Kendrick, SZA, Steve Lacy or classics like the Beatles, Queen and Steely Dan. Okay… probably not! But that being said I still love this album! It might be more accurate to say that this is one of my favorite chillsynth albums. It combines two of my favorite things, smooth dreamy synths and rich guitar tones straight from an indie record. You see this played out on a track like Mirrors which starts out with lush synths and smooth guitar tones laid on top of each other. They then slowly build before culminating in an exuberant chorus that makes me want to shake my head as I vibe to the groove. There are also tracks like Keep Breathing which make me feel as if I am dreaming with their soft vibrant atmosphere. Like chocolate and peanut butter I can’t think of a more perfect combination. 

8. System 96: Emotion

Much like the title suggests this is an album that is filled with emotion. Bright sensuous synths are present throughout the whole album, particularly with tracks like Autonomy or Imagine. Each track is filled with reverb and sharp drum pads to round out the sound. The emotion I get when listening to Emotion is simply pure bliss. 

9. Lucy in Disguise: Sunset Radio

I’ve always loved how Lucy in Disguise’s logo was designed. Sunset Radio’s synths sounds, like some of the other albums on this list, tend to be slightly heavier. This is one of the few albums in the genre to feature vocals tracks such as No Mind. This track features smooth vocals that feel straight out of a pop or indie song. Then there are tracks Heist Money with their deeper, harder synths that along with the title draw to mind a heist scene from an 80’s movie. It’s the perfect album for a drive during the sunset. 

10. Hello Meteor: The Coastal Obscure

“Ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time.” 

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When it comes to Hello Meteor there is no way I could only pick just one album. With a staggering discography consisting of 23 albums and 5 EPs, each with their own unique sound, The seagull has become quite the prolific artist. The reverb and ambiance on this album makes me feel as if I am floating in the middle of the sea. There are slower more downtempo tracks like A Shadow Entrusted and more uptempo tracks that make use of some guitar like Powdered Rouge. A peaceful listen from start to finish. 

11. Hello Meteor: Dark Secondaries 

“Dark Secondaries, a term used in the identification and classification of birds, represents the area that lies beyond memory and nostalgia. Our awareness held together by fragments of emotional, visual, and auditory input kept for a lifetime as stepping stones for a radiant mind to wander upon…”

Dark Secondaries is probably one of my top three Hello Meteor albums. It is also one of my favorite album covers from Hello Meteor. Not only is the ambiance excellent but the way in which this album incorporates vocal samples is second to none. Said samples have a warm quality to them and are mixed with reverb to give them an ethereal and nostalgic quality to them. Tracks like Burgundy Warm and Shearwater are great examples of this. Shearwater also makes use of guitar samples while Identification of Gulls makes use of flute samples bringing some sonic diversity to this album. It’s a nostalgic trip through memories past, from a time that never was. 

12. Hello Meteor: Seven Hour Sunset

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Seven Hour Sunset currently stands as one of my favorite Hello Meteor albums. This album is part of what fans are calling the Jaladri series.This is a series of albums that started with The End of All Know Land with each album containing lore, exploring a different part of the planet and telling an interconnected story. The beginning of this story is as follows:

“It is 1894. Following the first moon landing, Earth’s nations engaged in cataclysmic nuclear war, turning our once abundant planet fallow. By 1938, the decades-long space race had revealed Jaladri, a small planet where tropical, temperate islands blanket lush landscapes stretching beyond The End of All Known Land. Travel to Jaladri is arduous and lengthy, but soldier and civilian pathfinders brave tumultuous passage in hope of finding a solution for future and past alike.

It is 1991. Opportunity abounds on Jaladri, now fully colonized. The discovery of a precious algae offers hope for Earth’s arid fortune and a second chance for humanity.” 

The fact that an instrumental album can have such an intricate story blows my mind. I don’t know how the seagull does it but it’s truly impressive. Where this story goes remains to be seen but I can’t wait to find out. The album has some light jazz influences with tracks like Momentary Time Delay having a jazz-like drum solo and soft piano while Geothermal Solutions has some smooth jazz drum patterns. In addition, the ambiance on this album is simply excellent. The opening ambiance on The Cinder Caldera is truly mesmerizing as we hear the sounds of the ever churning lava flow while A Cave Underneath The River relaxes the body with its soothing sounds of the water flows. Out of Hello Meteor’s massive catalog I find myself constantly coming back to this one.   

13. Monolism: Watercolors

Just as a watercolor painting has spots of greater and lesser intensity, so too does this album making the name quite fitting. The album starts hard and fast with Frequencies before slowing down with vast and digitize. The intensity in this album feels like rolling hills as the tracks move from greater to lesser and back again. As with every other album on this list the synths are ornate and filled with resonance. It’s a colorful album that I always enjoy listening to.     

14. Division Street: Districts 

Drums are the main focus on this album with each song having smooth but ever present drum patterns that set the rhythm and tone of each track. Layered on top are of course some opulent synths to round out the sound as well as some guitar. There are tracks like Districts that are more fast paced with some quick drum rolls while other tracks like The Beaches are more down tempo with slower more laid back drums. It’s an unexpected combination when it comes to chillsynth but it meshes together beautifully. 

15. Euan Ellis: Luminescence 

Luminescence is another example of a chillsynth album featuring a vocal track with The Light. Compared to No Mind from Sunset Radio the vocals here have a more ethereal feel being covered in reverb among other things. Other tracks like Breeze feel as if I’m floating in the air staring out into the vast expanse before me while Orbit comes in with a faster tempo and harder synths that make me want to dance. It’s an enjoyable listen that still remains one of my favorite albums of his. 

Bonus! Angelux: Synergy

Remember how I said 15 essential albums. Yeah well I lied… Kinda. This is a bonus album I’m including because it pained me to leave it off the list. Synergy is an album where the synths are heavenly and the tempo is upbeat. Every track from Saturn groove to Sakura Dx7 to Nomada has a vibe that just makes me want to shake my head and dance. This is the most recent album on this list in terms of when it was released and it has quickly shot up to become one of my favorites in the genre. 

I hope you enjoyed reading this list as much as I did making it. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the music too! As you can see, chillsynth is quite the versatile genre that continues to grow every day. The future of this genre looks brighter than ever and I’m excited to see where it goes next. Happy listening!


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