NINA – Sleepwalking (2018)
NINA is a German synth pop singer-songwriter based in London, UK, who as part of the flourishing current Synthwave scene has been releasing handful of singles since the start of the decade. Now it’s time for her full length debut CD, titled “Sleepwalking“.
With its engaging compositions, impeccable vocal performances, and frequently exceptional production values, “Sleepwalking” from Nina fulfills much of the promise shown on the singles and EPs that preceded it. The album is plenty of successful entries to reward most synthwave fans, particularly those who are fond of the genre’s splinter direction into melodic / softer musical spaces.
In terms of style, Sleepwalking closely aligns with ‘romanticized’ form of synthwave music that’s become popular in the past few years, spearheaded by artists like Timecop1983 or The Midnight.
Like other releases in this vein, Nina’s debut album has little direct connection to music of the ’80s, but successfully captures the spirit of the era with a wistful, nostalgic evolution of synth-driven pop tunes.
In addition to the notably delicate instrumentation, the incorporation of modern mainstream touches to the songwriting, particularly in the vocal delivery, gives this type of popwave music a distinct character from the traditional sounds of ‘outrun’ synthwave, and it succeeds in its efforts to generate a comfortable and soothing listening space.
In terms of quality, “Sleepwalking” frequently matches and even exceeds its contemporaries, dodging the self-pitying tone of The Midnight’s album ‘Nocturnal’ and its grating melodic hooks, striking a tone that is accessible and relatable without being overly saccharine.
The blissful nature of the album is perhaps best represented on the title track, which kicks off with a subtly compelling rhythm and cinematic synth tones that perfectly support Nina’s faultless vocals. Considering the relatively small percentage of synthwave music with vocals, and the even smaller percentage of music with professional, pitch-perfect delivery, Nina’s masterful performance is a breath of fresh air, like escaping a room packed with amateur vocalists warming up for their appearance on the televised talent show du jour.
In contrast, Nina’s voice is effortlessly likable and unerringly precise, hitting the bullseye of every note. “Sleepwalking” is deceptively well written, and though its low-key approach is unlikely to grab serious attention on the first playthrough, repeated listens reveal the strength of its understated and immersive composition.
Another highlight is “Purple Sun,” which is a treasure of melodic songwriting. Once again, Nina’s flawless vocal performance and inherently attractive voice put the music into a space that few synthwave tracks have ever reached, and its brilliantly shifting underlying melodies.
Bubbling electronics over a sparse intro lead into the mysterious synth AOR of “It Kills Me”, and a nocturnal warmth exudes from “Beyond Memory”, demonstrating how NINA’s own brand of pulsating beats acts as a bridge between synthwave and synthpop.
Meanwhile, “Born To Live” is embroiled in confidence with a soaring chorus sweetened with a highly alluring almost spoken middle part.
The drive-friendly “Empire Of Love” lifts the tempo again with a glorious whirring synth solo to buoy up proceedings, but at the opposite end of the album’s colorful spectrum, “Diamonds In The Rough” is a perfect movie soundtrack-like ballad, also emulating some of the best in Scandinavian pop overtures and allowing Nina’s vocals to shine.
“Your Truth” is more compelling neon-lit synth lite AOR, with another rousing chorus and some guitar inflections combining with those vintage love theme Emulator voices as she confirms “I’ll be there for you”.
For a fabulously optimistic conclusion to the album, “80s Girl” comes beaming over like the missing theme song from the film ‘Mannequin’. With big Simmons drums, sampled orchestra stabs and driving synth-bass triplets, it is however delivered with subtlety and restraint so that it doesn’t turn into a Starship pastiche.
Nina’s “Sleepwalking” is a different beast in the current Synthwave scene. It’s very ’80s influenced, there’s lots of synths, but the core of the music is melodic pop with a ‘soundtrack format’. A highly enjoyable musical journey that’s strong on elaborated melody, and with a sound production above the common for this genre.
Think Laura Branigan or Kristine in terms of style. “Sleepwalking” deserves to be mentioned alongside the most prominent releases in the rapidly developing pop-synthwave style, and it deserves just as much success. Of course, it’s available on cassette, vinyl LP, and CD too.
You’ve seen it first here, at 0dayrox
01 – Beyond Memory
02 – Born To Live
03 – Sleepwalking
04 – It Kills Me
05 – Purple Sun
06 – Empire Of Love
07 – Diamonds In The Rough
08 – One Of Us
09 – Counting Stars
10 – Your Truth
11 – 80’s Girl
12 – One Uf Us (Instrumental Mix) [bonus track]
Nina – vocals
Richard X – synths, programming
Oscillian – synths, bass
Sunglasses Kid – synths, Simmons drums
D. Bedingfield, L. Fares, J. Wide – backing vocals
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