“A Chinese cop from Vancouver lost his partner during an undercover mission in the local Chinatown and has to go to L.A. to pursue the investigation with a hard-boiled American Nam vet cop.” So reads the plot synopsis of Tough Job, which isn’t a real movie at all. Instead, it’s a conceptual framework on which Thomas Joly has based an album’s worth of synthwave tracks that recall ’80s film scores.
This seems to be Joly’s standard operating procedure. As Jupiter-8, the Vancouver musician has dozens of fake soundtracks in his catalogue, from the jock jams of the basketball-themed Swish to the analogue-synth horrors of Texas Werewolf. (He also has a couple of genuine scores to his name, which suggests that he actually knows what he’s doing.)
Tough Job is a strictly retro affair, to be filed alongside the works of Vangelis, John Carpenter, Harold Faltermeyer, and Jan Hammer. Or, for that matter, like-minded contemporaries such as Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon (Stranger Things) or Disasterpeace (It Follows). A few tracks—“Chinatown”, “Kwan and Yee”—incorporate pentatonic melodies, but the album as a whole doesn’t rely too heavily on stereotypically “Oriental” sounds.
What it does do is evoke the rain-slicked, neon-lit streets of a B-movie Vancouver that only exists in Joly’s imagination. It’s a nice place to visit, but be careful crossing the street—you never know when a high-speed police chase might break out.