7   +   5   =  

Score: 5.5/10

Standout Tracks: Ready Waiting, Fooling Around

Japanese Wallpaper, aka 22-year-old Gab Strum, sets sail on dreamy ‘80s synth waves with his highly anticipated first feature-length release, Glow. The album presents itself as a more intimate and personal record than the more featured-artist material Japanese Wallpaper is famous for. Gargantuan hits like Breathe In, featuring Wafia, make way for Strum’s own processed vocals on this ten-track mission about illuminating the little moments in life and finding yourself in your twenties.

The album opens with a high-speed chase of euphoric electronic bubble-gum pop. Ready For It sees Strum lamenting about a fleeting moment he didn’t see coming and is a great introduction to the album that feels like a lush sugar rush. Pre-released single, Imaginary Friends is another solid effort dipping into the ‘80s synth sound that sees Strum questioning that confusing part of life that comes when transitioning from teenager to adult.

The production on Glow is immaculate and fully encapsulates the ‘80s sound which has resurfaced in recent years in mainstream pop. Melodic textures add a unique and personal touch to the sound, adding a level of diversity to each track. The downside is that Strum’s vocal ability fails to match the passion of the production and the themes he’s actually singing about, which often leaves the tracks sounding unmemorable. Strum is often outmatched by the female backing vocals in songs like Float. Here Strum recalls a quaint romance, treading water just before both parties take the plunge. Sonically the track sounds just like floating in an ocean with twinkling xylophones. It leads into the next song, Caving In—a sequel of sorts that presents itself as a more upbeat track, hiding darker tones under the surface of a romance that feels like it’s treading water.

The album starts to stall around the mid-point, where the tracks start to blend into one another; though the chorus of Tell Me What You Mean By That hits like a groovy chant, the likes you can imagine getting a live crowd roaring. The Stranger Things-esque production of lead single Fooling Around quickly picks up the pace, quite literally. A beautiful ‘80s inspired gem of a song with a genre-bending nod to liquid DnB in the bassline.

The storytelling here is very present and Strum should be commended on the way he manages to weave a narrative in these ten tracks that feel cohesive under the lush umbrella of the velvety ‘80s synth palette. Glow is a valiant effort of a first outing, with Strum’s production showing exactly why he was the winner of the 2014 Triple J Unearthed High.

Though, perhaps a feature here or there wouldn’t go amiss, it is clear that Strum is still finding his voice as Japanese Wallpaper, and I look forward to hearing him do so.

Japanese Wallpaper’s debut album, Glow, is out Friday, October 18th