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Best of Tangerine Dream:
Marakesh & The Midnight Trail

What’s old is new again. Welcome to 80s nostalgia and the rise of synthwave.

For the 5th & 6th entries of “The Best of Tangerine Dream”, I’d like to introduce you to an unlikely hero in the annals of TD’s discography.

One of the truly astonishing developments in recent synth history is the rise of synthwave, a fascinating aesthetic which combines Miami Vice with Blade Runner, John Carpenter with Back to the Future, and somehow stirs it all into a pot and out comes Linn drums, DX7 chords, and Juno leads.

There’s much more to it than that of course, but over the past decade or so we’ve seen synthwave arise in the far corners of the interwebs and steadily gain prominence until it’s almost commonplace to hear synthwave in today’s top hits! From Taylor Swift to The Weeknd, 80s nostalgia in now embedded in the fabric of modern pop.

What is particularly bizarre about this turn of events is it suddenly renders 1988’s Optical Race musically relevant—an album which marked Tangerine Dream’s full departure from the warm analog synth jams of the 70s/early 80s and their embrace of “digital computers” and keyboards for a far more (at the time) contemporary sound. This was accelerated by the exit of longtime TD member Christopher Franke and promotion of Paul Haslinger to Edgar Froese’s right-hand man.

Marakesh (holy changing 6/8 & 4/4 time signatures, Batman!) & The Midnight Trail are exemplars of this once-dated and highly-contested style which I now posit is rehabilitated thanks to today’s synthwave supremacy. In the late 90s or even early 2000s, I wouldn’t have dreamed of producing a track which approximated the sonic signature of Optical Race. But fast forward to 2016, and I felt intellectually justified in recording Redwood Sunset Drive, an obvious homage to late 80s TD and the synthwave vibe.

Still don’t believe me? Listen to synthwave tracks like The Other Side of You, Neon Sunrise, Warm Breeze, Jason—heck, even How Do I Make You Love Me?—and then listen to tracks like Marakesh & The Midnight Trail, or Mothers of Rain (which I’ll cover later in the series), and then try to tell me they aren’t all of a piece.

I wish Tangerine Dream’s followup albums in 1989 & 1990 had maintained this level of sonic clarity. While there were some highlights to come, Optical Race occupies a special place in my heart—not just because it was the first full Tangerine Dream album I ever heard, but because it’s TD at its most synthwave…some 20 years before the 80s became cool again.

(Also, that’s got to be one of the most awesome album covers in all of Tangerine Dream’s discography! I still have the CD with the cutout cover where you can lift the white part up and see all the geometric colors underneath…)

Coming up next in the series: Shape My Sin.

/// October 22, 2022 ///