Photo: Wyatt Troll / Courtesy of Crammed Discs

Doctor Fluorescent’s Debut Is a Relaxing Retro Synth Ride

Doctor Fluorescent's debut album is a chill piece of songcraft steeped in vintage synths and other retro electronic sounds.

Doctor Fluorescent
Doctor Fluorescent
Crammed Discs
28 February 2020

Doctor Fluorescent’s debut album is an interesting piece of electronic songcraft. Los Angeles-based musicians Eddie Ruscha (who goes by the stage name Secret Circuit) and Scott Gilmore have each released albums of their own. Doctor Fluorescent is their first collaboration together, and they’ve put out a record steeped in vintage synths and other retro electronic sounds.

The vibe of the album is established with the first song, “Spirits Alone”. Synth and drum pad sounds right out of the early ’80s open the song, with a distinctive repeating arpeggio serving as both the hook and the track’s bedrock. Heavily electronically distorted vocals languidly sing barely decipherable lyrics, as if the sound is more important than the words. Another early ’80s sounding electric guitar tone interrupts the song midway through for a simple solo and then becomes the new anchoring sound for the back half of the track.

Doctor Fluorescent could’ve stuck with this Knight Rider meets Miami Vice tone for the whole album, but Ruscha and Gilmore aren’t interested in just doing slight variations on the same idea. “A Museum” has a jaunty vibe, with high-pitched synth melodies, twinkling and crashing background noises, more incomprehensible distorted vocals, and interesting percussion, including xylophones and a recurring flex-a-tone.

“Bamboo Horses” shuffles along on a synth snare and hi-hat beat, and throws in a bunch of different guitar and synth sounds. Constantly pinging wood-like sounds give the song the impression of bamboo, at least until it hits a wall in the final minute, going into a slow-moving, much less busy section to fade away. “Butterfly Jury” is relaxed and low-key, with fluttering sounds and smooth jazz guitars giving the whole track a very chill vibe. The back half of the song uses metal glockenspiel-type sounds to adjust the basic feel of the track.

While most of the songs on the record seem easygoing and relaxing, there are a couple of notable exceptions. “Doctor Fluorescent’s Emporium” is a chirpy, cheesily cheerful synth tune overlaid with a voiceover making the song a faux ad for the titular store. The speaking voice is intentionally awkward, and much of the monologue is just a little off-kilter. Phrases like, “Open seven days a week / 23 hours a day” and “Every Wednesday between 9:00-9:45 pm, we offer 40% off of all of our spy equipment” are intriguingly weird. And the voice is mixed just a little underneath the music, so multiple listens gradually reveal more weirdness.

“These Are My Eyes” has the catchiest hooks on the album, with an earworm of a piano riff and an easy listening style vocal melody. The vocals are distorted as usual, but the arrangement is sparse enough that they stand out. The lyrics, with lines including, “Why don’t you know / These are my eyes” and “Why don’t you know I can feel / When you’re underneath my eyes” provide an unsettling counterpoint to the upbeat music.

Doctor Fluorescent succeeds in creating a relaxing retro vibe with the bulk of this album. It’s a breezy, easy record to put on and just chill. But that also means that a lot of the individual songs, while interesting from a sonic standpoint, don’t really have a strong hook or melody to make them stand out. That is why “Spirits Alone”, with its distinctive synth loop, is memorable, and why “Doctor Fluorescent’s Emporium” and “These Are My Eyes” make a bigger impact on the album. If Ruscha and Gilmore continue their collaboration in the future, more focus on melody will help their music feel distinctive amongst their synthwave brethren.

RATING 6 / 10