+ Producers, Composers, Synth Heads and Sci-Fi Nerds, our new course with synthwave pioneer Com Truise: Mid-Fi Synthwave Slow-Motion Funk, is out now!
By Brandon Miranda
Built upon the ethos of experimentalism, Ghostly International is an independent record label that “straddles stylistic divisions” and carves “out space where sounds and ideas can cavort without inhibition or category” (their words!).
Their roster is comprised of musicians and multidisciplinary artists, each with their own singular visions for the future, encouraging the challenging of aesthetic and cultural traditions at large. Since its inception in 1999, Ghostly has grown from a small boutique label into an internationally recognized platform — and it’s their attention to fostering artists’ creative visions that has helped secure that growth.
Home to household names like Tycho, Com Truise, and DRAMA, Ghostly’s work doesn’t stop with just music. Through supporting visual artists, designers, and technologists, they’re creating a dynamic, multifaceted culture on the cutting edge of electronic art today. Here are some of our faves — starting with someone near and dear to Soundfly…
We might as well start here with Com Truise (Seth Haley), since we here at Soundfly just launched our brand new course, Com Truise: Mid-Fi Synthwave Slow-Motion Funk. If you’re looking to learn how to create that retro ’80s sound drenched in nostalgic synths and drum machines that Com Truise is known for, and peek behind the curtains to get a look at his process, definitely check it out!
And now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s hear how Com Truise describes his style in his own words. According to him, “it’s as if Joy Division, New Order, and the Cocteau Twins, were routed through the motherboard of a waterlogged Xbox.”
But as an extremely prolific creative, Haley consistently churns out music under at least three different pseudonyms. On top of his artistic endeavors, he regularly releases podcasts, remixes and graphic design works to his Twitter and SoundCloud followers. With a combination of bold experimentation and highly consistent sonic output, it becomes evident how and why the music Com Truise has become so influential over the past 10 years. Every record oozes vast creativity, incorporating an evolving internal narrative that follows an android astronaut as our journeying hero through space (and the music corresponds).
A personal favorite of this author’s in particular, Kllo knows no boundaries when it comes to genre. The Melbourne-born cousins Chloe Kaul and Simon Lam combine moments of house, techno, hip-hop, garage, even trap and R&B. However, this menagerie of styles is always done with intent and is successfully strung together with Kaul’s sultry vocal and Lam’s warm piano playing.
Their success, however, was not earned without its stops and starts. After the initial success of their first full-length album Backwater, in 2017, Kaul and Lam decided they needed to take a break and separated in order to travel and pursue their respective individual careers. It wasn’t until their reunification in 2020 that Kllo create their most prolific and experimental work yet, Maybe We Could.
This incredibly unique record combines sample-based electronic music with powerful drum grooves and haunting, smooth vocals. Almost R&B leaning, yet clearly produced from an electronic perspective, Kllo truly exists in a sonic category of their own.
If Tycho needs any introduction, then let me lead with a just few of his accolades. Tycho’s Scott Hansen is a two-time Grammy-nominated electronic artist that has produced and collaborated with greats including (but not limited to) ODESZA, rum.gold, Maggie Rogers, Portugal the Man and Benjamin Gibbard, as well as countless films and commercials.
The music of Tycho is anchored by analog synthesizers, downtempo guitars and spacey elements such as breathing and weather sounds, as well as chops of live broadcasts. A self-pronounced gear head, Hansen has a clear passion for the process of music-making, stringing together themes of nostalgia, longing and childhood with melodic guitar lines and lo-fi analog media. Tycho straddles the threshold between pop and experimental music, courageously traveling to where most experimental artists fear to go; making catchy, memorable melodies and blending the ear-worm qualities of pop music within the framework of experimental electronic music.
Hana Vu is the perfect example of a young prodigy. Before the age of 20, she had opened for acts Soccer Mommy and Wet, produced and wrote her own EP, and even secured credits for Willow Smith. That initial momentum has only continued and she’s gone on to make some of the most emotion-provoking albums of her career (and something says that she is still just getting started).
Lyricism is the core of Vu’s work; she pushes her creative limits by finding unique ways to place herself in the mentalities and emotions of her writing subjects. The lyrics for her dual EP, Nicole Kidman/Anne Hathaway, were penned by watching episodes of The Hollywood Reporter’s “The Actress Roundtable” — and then conjuring backstories for the women on screen.
Vu’s lyrics are deep, exploring emotions by using vivid imagery while revealing very little about herself — it is almost as if she wants to open the door for listeners to place themselves in the feelings of her characters too; a format in opposition to the normalized first-person perspective of most songwriting today. Vu speaks about these things through the vantage point of imaginary (yet relatable) beings.
Have you ever attended a show and found yourself completely engrossed by the music; then 45 minutes later realize you’re in a completely different musical space, asking yourself: “how did we get here?” Well, plan on experiencing this every time you turn on a record by Brijean. Their combination of jazz, ’70s era disco and ’90s hip-hop will lock you into a sonic journey that feels equal parts improvisational as it does honed.
Brijean is the creative child of Brijean Murphy and Doug Stuart, Oakland-based musicians that have both had the pleasure to tour and perform alongside Poolside, Toro Y Moi, U.S. Girls, and more. After meeting on tour, Murphy and Stuart held a marathon of sessions to create their first few records. Stuart cites the music of J Dilla and Moodymann as inspiration and both musicians are moved by concepts of meditation and improvisation. Moreover, like many Ghostly artists, visual art plays a huge role in the experience of Brijean’s music.
Michael Greene, aka Fort Romeau, is a force to be reckoned with. Greene studied Music and Visual Art in Brighton, and after graduating, moved to London to join the electro-pop duo, La Roux, as part of their touring band. Greene signed with Ghostly and released his second LP, Insides, in 2015. With its eclectic mixture of house, ambient music and techno, this record accelerated Greene’s success and locked him behind the DJ decks, spending two years touring and performing around Europe’s top underground clubs.
Fort Romeau’s work can be classified as mid-fi techno music. It carries dark and open soundscapes rooted by a polished low-end that is likely to hypnotize an audience on the dance floor. While his music is typified by a deep commitment to aesthetic experimentalism, it still remains highly tonal and melodic. This creates the ultimate recipe for pulling listeners in and getting even the most dance-averse into tapping their foot.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
An artists’ sound is often defined by the tools in their sonic palette, for better or worse. But in an era where almost any sound or instrument is fully accessible (in some form), when an artist fully commits to just one medium of creative expression, they end up developing their own lane. This is exactly the case for Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith.
An American composer, performer, and producer originally from Washington — and someone we’ve talked about numerous times here on Flypaper — Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith predominantly uses Buchla modular synthesizers in her work. After having studied composition and sound engineering at Berklee College of Music in Boston, she returned home and was loaned her first Buchla 100 to begin a lifelong journey of study.
Already an experienced vocalist and composer, this medium of analog synths married itself to her creative process and has now become one of the defining qualities of Kaitlyn’s music, which is both streamlined and yet unpredictable and spontaneous.
I must be biased towards the Ghostly’s roster, because here again is another one of my personal favorites. DRAMA is a duo from Chicago consisting of producer Na’el Shehade and vocalist/songwriter Via Rosa. They combine elements of house music and R&B, creating ethereal yet grooving tracks rooted with undertones of love and heartbreak.
Both grew up with musical roots; Rosa touring with her parents as a child and Shehade spending his teenage years DJing at clothing shops and record stores. In 2013 they were introduced in Chicago where Shehade had been producing for local greats including Chance The Rapper, and Kanye West, and Vic Mensa.
DRAMA’s music has been described as “happy-sad,” due to Rosa’s poignant lyrics about love and heartbreak designed for healing and catharsis being balanced out by Shehade’s “throbbing synths and R&B.” The duo cites artists like Sade, Drake, Jon Brion, and Pharrell as their core influences as well as Billie Holiday and Toni Braxton as their vocal influences.
Cleveland-born, Brooklyn-based, Galcher Lustwerk lacks nothing in his work ethic and fearlessness as a producer. Attesting to his creative tenacity, he has released numerous singles and EPs, runs his own label, and also has also released multiple projects under the name Road Hog.
“Attitude” is the defining feature of Lustwerk’s music. Typically classified as Midwest house, he utilizes live drum sounds and instrumentation reminiscent of ’80s hip-hop, strung together with hypnotic techno patterns. Chopped vocals and hip-hop verses often run across the top of his soundscapes, offering a gritty yet sultry take on an already heavily industrialized style of music. As a sucker for anything with a floor-on-the-floor rhythm, as well as a passionate hip-hop listener myself, the music of Galcher Lustwerk holds a special place in my listening repertoire. I encourage anyone interested in experimental music to give his work a listen.
Don’t stop here!
Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with in-depth artist-led courses by Kimbra, Ryan Lott, Jlin, RJD2, and the newly released Com Truise: Mid-Fi Synthwave Slow-Motion Funk.
Brandon Miranda is a Soundfly Mentor. Click here to work with him to achieve your next musical goal.