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Synthpop Album Review: "Retrospective" by Positronic

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Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.

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Initial Impressions

Positronic’s Retrospective combines a luscious sonic palette, powerfully emotional melodies and intensely expressive vocal performance to take listeners on a journey though joy and pain, loss and triumph. It is an album of complex and considered synth pop that I find quite pleasing to hear.

The first element to Retrospective that compels me is Positronic’s voice. He has a resonant, emotive singing voice with a broad range. He uses his strong voice to imbue the songs on the album with intense feeling and engaging expression. His voice can grab hold of your heart and fill it up with deep sensations.

There’s a directness to Positronic’s song writing on this album that cuts right to the emotional centre of humanity. His words lay bare hope, pain, loss and happiness as they explore all of the variety of experience that is a part of our lives. I enjoy how clear and sharp his words are as they encapsulate all of the emotions they seek to express.

Retrospective’s sonic palette has a clarity and depth to it that I find engaging. The synths cover a range of tones and timbres that can evoke warmth, roughness and glow as well as adding instrumental colours reminiscent of harpsichord, piano and a string section. All of the sounds are pin-sharp and clear including the dense bass and propulsive drums.

Another powerful aspect to this album is Positronic’s melodic writing skills. He creates melodies that are as direct and emotive as his singing and song writing. They can soar with elation or ache with loss, but they are never over-complicated. Positronic has the ability to add just enough of the right notes to make sure each melody works well.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“Revelation” comes to life with deep, sharp-edged bass that rumbles into the track along with quick pulses of jagged sound. Solid, weight bass oscillates underneath a bright, throbbing synth line and the drum’s steady thump. I enjoy the level of depth that Positronic’s strong, emotive vocals add to the music. The melody mingles melancholy with more positive feelings.

A broad, metallic sound echoes in the background as Positronic’s voice climbs up, a contrast to the pain and regret in the words. Vaulting, shimmering medium-high synth dances through, adding more warmth to the song. The song ends on airy, drifting synths shot through with sunny arpeggios.

The narrator addresses the song’s subject and tells them that they see “the stars shine in your eyes…the moon glow in your eyes” and he knows that one day those things will crystallize and “you’ll fall before you rise.” He adds that it will “come back down to you to suck it up and still be true.” It won’t be easy as “the life you chose with no more lies” will “crumble before your eyes.”

In the chorus, our narrator says, “I see it in your eyes, you feel it in your cries” He goes on to talk about feeling “the pain in your goodbyes” as he adds that one day, “you’ll realize and see the truth left in my eyes.” Once again, it will come down to the other person to “suck it up and see them through” until the day that “you’re left with no more tries and start to fall before you rise.”

Deep bass throbs powerfully under a repeating melody with a positive brightness to start “Always.” Bells ring out over the propulsive drum and bass oscillation as Positronic’s voice carries a lyrical melody. A raised, sweeping synth sound moves behind everything as the chorus vaults upwards, full of resonant warmth.

A series of bright, bubbling synth sounds add another texture to the music, rippling along in a shining wave. I find myself drawn in by Positronic’s strongly emotional performance in this song. A slowly shifting series of descending synth chords break in and the cascading synth moments add texture behind the vocals.

There’s an exhortation at the start of the song when the narrator says, “Always try to hear what wisdom whispers in your ear.” As he addresses the other person in the song, he talks about how they keep “what’s locked inside your heart.”

He adds that “when life is alone, life is dead” but “maybe it’s all inside your head.” He talks about the person “feeling alone” when they feel pain, but they are “feeling pain you’ll feel again.”

The chorus calls out for the other person to “always ring out across the land, always know when to cry again.” He points out that the truth is endless and so they should “always believe in wisdom.”

There’s a sense of blocked emotion as the narrator points out that “all the love we share is not enough to show we care” and in spite of “the pain we feel inside” it still isn’t enough to make us cry. The inability to express these emotions “hurts your dreams.” When it comes to change, he says that “the emptiness that fills our hearts is the perfect place to start.”

At the end of the day, he says that “however long, however far, whatever it takes, wherever we are…” he will always hold onto the other person. He goes on to say that no matter what happens, he’ll never let them hit the ground. He concludes, “However far that we’re apart, you’re always locked in my heart.”

“Karma’s Forest” comes into being with a throbbing, propulsive beat and expansive synth lines that flow out hypnotically. A tambourine adds more metallic sounds while quick, dynamic synth bursts in. I am drawn in by the gentleness and expression of Positronic’s voice. Darker, heavier elements shift above the beat as flying, dancing synth skips along over the vocals.

The melody, so pregnant with feeling and depth, is carried on a medium-high, resonant synth as bubbles of gossamer synth float through in the background. The angular dynamism of the end of the song slowly fades into quiet.

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The narrator addresses the object of his affections and asks them to take some time and “discover these things that I have left for you to find.” He adds, “when your dreams have turned to nightmares” that the other person should open their eyes to “see me who was always here before you.”

Our narrator talk about going into the forest to “live deliberately” and realized he hadn’t really lived at all. Out there, he realized that in trying to see how high he’d climbed, he found his “fall from what I always kept my eye on.”

What he’d always kept his eye on was the fact that he cares deeply for the person he’s addressing. In reference to himself, he says “someone’s empty, someone cries, some one lives to be seen by your eyes.” The narrator adds, “Someone needs you, can’t you see that your someone was always me?”

The music falls right into a steady beat as the full melody sings out to kick off “Moving On.” I enjoy the way that glittering, sharp chimes sparkle behind the yearning, reaching melody. Digital-sounding, rippling synth adds sparks of light to the music and Positronic's voice rises, full of earnest feeling.

The beat throbs with strength and starry twinkles move through above the bass rumble. Open, jumping synth adds ornamentation while the lead vocal melody flies upwards. Rumbling, rough edged bass supports the spinning melody.

This song is about losing sight of clarity in a complicated world. The narrator talks about how we’ve lost focus because “we made up our minds to touch the things out of sight.” He points out how alone we feel in the world we’ve created, not knowing that “everything’s alright” through it all.

The narrator talks of “moving on, pushing on, hoping to get away” while he waits for things to go his way. He adds that things get complicated and we “lose sight of the things we really want.”

He concludes by saying that he’s moving on, even if other people want to stay. He sees them “trying not to lose yourself as you let life erode you.”

“Ride” opens with twisting, gritty and deep synth sounds that wind through over the throbbing drums and dense bass. Synths with a computerized feeling are infused with light as they climb and intertwine with Positronic's luscious and enfolding vocals. I am attracted to the way that the lead synth creamily sings out as the pained, dreamy vocals flow.

The main melody is encouraging as it sings out, so round and satisfying. Sweet, earnest synth strings double Positronic's trembling and intent vocals as the melody flashes with crystal blue feeling. The string-like sounds are full of delicate hope while an arpeggio arcs in a sparkling line that lifts the whole song. As the track fades, it leaves true rest behind it.

Escaping from a life of loneliness and loss is this song’s theme. The narrator calls out to his loved one to take a ride with him “anywhere we want to go” adding that no one else need know about it. He recognizes that the other person feels “afraid of yesterday” and that he can’t stand to be “alone, all on my own.”

There’s yearning as he says that he hopes the other person will come with him, adding that they know “deep within your heart you can let go of your fears.” He points out that all he wants to do is ride. He goes on to say, “Baby you can take your time, maybe some day you will change your mind.” He finishes by saying that he’ll always be “standing by your side.”

A dense, twining melodic pattern moves into “Dance With Me” as the drums and bass move underneath a unique piping, gruff synth. I respect the dedication that Positronic has to expressing every emotion deeply in his singing here. A flashing synth with a crystalline edge leaps out in a shimmering melodic pattern, bouncing over the bass while the chorus flows out.

The vocals are strong again and a glow suffuses every element as an elegantly cascading keyboard synth line whirls through. Glittering chimes skitter and skip over the drum and bass energy. The synths call out and mingle with the soaring vocals as the track flows onward.

This is a song about pursuing a more fulfilling life and focusing on better things. The narrator reminds us that “moving along in this world’s not an easy thing to do” adding that it’s hard to let go and “find out what’s in you.”

The person to whom the song refers says “we can dance all day, if the feeling’s right.” She adds, “We can live our lives and we can be free” and invites him again to “come dance with me.”

Our narrator asks us to take time and look around, realizing that it’s time to change because “things aren’t the way they should be.” The song concludes that we need to “take the time to only be yourself, only then you will know.”

“Lost In A Dream” starts out with an undulating synth line that skims along while the beat adds forward motion. I enjoy the full quality of Positronic's vocals as they ache with a sense of melancholy. The oscillating, shifting synth adds textural interest as an expanding medium-low line supports the resonant vocals.

Dense, interlocking synth lines twine through the music and now a hypnotically rising and falling line of a harder edged synth with a digital sound wriggles over the propulsive beat. Intertwining lines intersect and a buzzing, thick synth moves behind the vocals and all of the musical elements mingle.

Hope and an aching need permeate this song. The narrator watches the one he loves from a distance and wonders “if I might meet alone with you.” He talks about watching “the way you move” and how their smile “makes my heart sing.”

There is faint hope though as he feels that he’s foolish to “hope and think you would cross my way or make my day.” He wonders what would happen if "I told you that I care” or that his heart sings for them.

A rough-edged flow of dark bass shifts below glimmering chords to bring “Yesterday” into being. I am drawn to the contrast between the mournful feeling vocal melody and the gritty bass sounds that serve to emphasize its pain. The vocals vault while the harpsichord-like synth adds depth and dimension over the beat as it drives onward.

The chorus soars up and out while the gruff bass moves far below. The harpsichord-like synth plays a richly woven textured pattern and a piano sound carries a secondary melodic pattern that wraps around the harpsichord.

In spite of the pain of loss, caring remains after a relationship ends. The narrator talks about seeing someone he was once in love with standing by their window and wondering, “Are you happy or full of sorrow?” He speaks about recalling a time when it was only them before “we fell apart, neither of us knowing why.” The happiness stayed in his memory but it all fell apart when he remembers the past.

In the chorus he discusses how he remembers their words that now “fade away into the pages of yesterday.” He adds that the other person has likely changed with the times but he’s happy in spite of not having them around. At the end of the day, he concludes,”I wish you all the joy this life has to give, I only hope you have a chance to truly live.”

“Fade Away” comes into existence with sweeping, swirling synth whorls that shift along with an elevated, lambent synth. Positronic's emotional, pained vocals move over the gruff, throbbing bass and harpsichord synth. I enjoy the twinkling sounds that gently drift through while P expresses melancholy and regret.

Sparkling light flashes and the smooth, slow beat pulses to support the other musical elements. The tapestry of shining sounds intertwines before an elevated synth moves with percussion and bass. A synth string section adds an elegant element while the chorus flows out. Positronic's voice trembles with emotion as the flickering sounds all interlock in a flashing line.

This is a song of profound loss and regret. The narrator opens as he sits alone, staring into a dark room. He talks about seeing "the laughing faces that I once knew so well.” There’s desolation in the lines, “as I lay here helpless, I know my time has come.” The narrator says that it’s time for him to reflect on his life. He adds, “I melt when I’m asleep with all the secrets I can keep.” Now the narrator’s life “slips away” and he can only fade with it.

He talks about a life in which he never “had the chance to make my own home” or “break my own fall.” He talks about how “they” pulled him “in the way they thought I should sway.” He says he stood his ground but “now all I can do is fade away.”

Conclusion

Retrospective is an album that I enjoy for the rich mixture of emotive singing, musical depth and lyrical expression. It’s the kind of sophisticated synthpop that catches and holds my ears. I hope to hear more music from Positronic soon.

© 2021 Karl Magi

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