synthetic (adj.) – artificial, fake, false, fabricated
supersynthetic (adj.) – very synthetic, synthetic to a greater degree; also, above or beyond synthetic (compare to: supernatural).
First Blush’s sophomore EP, composed of a diverse set of 6 tracks, has now been made available online (stream at firstblushmusic.com). Led by composer, keyboardist and vocalist Charles Sekel, with Zak Croxall on bass and Zach Honoroff on drums, First Blush is finally starting to pin down their sound with this collection. The theme, of course, is the idea of “synthetic” – synthetic relationships, synthetic music, synthetic emotions.
The EP starts off strong, with its most well-crafted and polished song, “Off the Lights.” This song is a raw, honest look at a relationship between two people, and an encapsulation of that relationship. The words are definitive (“You’re an angel and I’m alive”; “Yes I know, it’s all over, all over, all over.”) But these quiet, introspective moments are quickly drowned out by cries of “Turn off the lights!”, and bursts of instrumental interludes (the moment after the first chorus, when the drums and synth line come in full blast, may be the most beautiful moment of the album; in fact, the magic of this EP really is in its transitions between disparate song segments). This drowning out signals that denial, and darkness, are where the song’s protagonist wants to remain. Despite his knowledge, he doesn’t want to shed light on a relationship that seems super-synthetic.
The next track, “Supersynthetic,” begins with an extremely cool synthesized riff; now we aren’t talking about “synthetic” in a metaphorical sense – we’re talking about synthesized music. This track is an homage to the ’80s, with its dance groove and simple vocal melodies, but also with its subtle melancholia. Again, the switch from part 1 to part 2 is the highlight (you’ll have to hear it to agree with me). Fittingly, there are effects on the vocals throughout the entire track, but on part 1, they sound muffled, trapped. In part 2, we get a feeling of breaking through, as the vocals take on more of an echoing and reverberating effect. These subtle touches are integral to the song, and wouldn’t even be possible without the technology that this track seems to be celebrating.
“Velvet” and “Velvet Remix” as a couplet explore the “meta” definition of synthetic by demonstrating that the same elements (chords) can be combined in different ways to produce totally different pieces of music. “Velvet” and “Velvet Remix” differ greatly in style, tempo and mood. One has vocals and lyrics, and the other doesn’t. (In fact, on “Velvet,” we have Charles’s most alluring vocal performance. There is also a lyrical reference back to the “Off the Lights” theme: “You may be perfect / but not down to the bone.” The listener can’t help but wonder, who is “you?” The angel, or the one who is alive?). “Velvet” even uses real instruments, whereas “Velvet Remix” does not (but would one be able to tell? Hmm.). This is “synthetic” in the sense of fabricated, man-made. What makes music real is the choices that create it. Here, First Blush has decided to forgo making the choice between the two tracks, to show us just how delicate this process really is.
“Venture” and “Pack it Up” are also really well-constructed and fun to listen to. Zak’s bass part on “Pack It Up” and Randy Runyon’s guitar solo on “Venture” are high points of those tracks. In fact, the instrumental prowess of all four musicians is apparent throughout the EP – it’s hard to pick out the best parts. And the producer, Pat O’Leary, also deserves a nod for carefully mixing the songs.
What else is synthetic? Oh right – this review, probably. I’ve gleaned the above interpretations from my own listening, but that’s just my mind’s handiwork. If you take a listen to this EP (which you should!), you may feel different things, and project different meanings onto the songs. And that’s what makes music itself supersynthetic – something that is inherently synthetic that is somehow transcendental.