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Synth Album Review: "Boardwalk Arcadia" by Pat Dimeo (and Guests)

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Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!

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Initial Impressions

The Motion Epic’s Boardwalk Arcadia is drenched in mingled melancholy and hope. The songs capture a state of existence between past and future—teenage dreams and their fading and changing into something different as people mature, and a yearning for a time free of cares and the world’s weight. Pat Dimeo’s expressive, aching voice mingles with music that is lush, well-produced and creates a balance between “retro” and modern sounds. This is an album of summer memories fading into washed-out Polaroid dreams.

The magisterial vocal performance that Pat Dimeo puts in on Boardwalk Arcadia is one reason this album stands out for me. His voice is sometimes trembling and aching but at other times exudes bright energy. I find that he’s at his best when emoting and singing with a pained tenderness that Is heart-touching. The way he interprets the lyrics that he writes adds to the overall quality of the music too.

Another aspect of Boardwalk Arcadia that drew me in was the performances of all the musicians. The fact that the drums, percussion, saxophone and keys are all performed rather than created in a completely digital environment adds an immediacy and strength to the music. There’s a sense of connection that fills the music on the album.

Melodic writing is something that Pat Dimeo does well and it shines through on the album. Each melody has a core of expression about it that adds to the total package. He has a knack for imbuing even the more uplifting melodies with a core of melancholy that only enhances their emotive qualities.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“You’re Not Ready” glows into life with deep, steady waves of bass and and a round sounding synth carrying a gently revolving arpeggio. Flashes of synth with a gritty edge are joined by a strong retro drumbeat and the glowing synth pulses move above the solid sonic base. Pat Dimeo’s smooth, rich voice glides out carrying the rising vocal melody as the beat drives on.

I am compelled by the aching, hopeful feeling of the emotionally rich lyrics and vocals of this song. Sparkling synths shine out over the bass and drum heartbeat, while the feeling of summer heat and young love pours out of the music. Benjamin Harrison’s sax solo leaps and cascades in rich, reedy warmth and full expression as the big drums push on.

A filmic tale unfolds in the lyrics of this song. We open on a scene of two friends punching out of work, cashing their pay checks and then "headed on the highway, got to the beach to get some sand stuck at their feet.”

They see “those muscle boys and them short skirt girls” and her “eyes keep wandering.” There’s a well-written line as the narrator says, “You feel the waves washing that scar right off your heart” but in spite of that the past still doesn’t go away.

The “happy young American” is shaken up by the girl he’s in love with. The narrator says, “Got her feeling mighty fine, sweat it off” but adds that he should “quit taking her for a ride” because he’s not ready and “all she wants to do is dance.”

Strong imagery comes through in the lines, “Burnt skin, heart on fire” as “he held her hand and it felt just right.” The narrator asks, “Are you ready boy?” and again repeats that all she wants to do is dance.

The “happy young American” has his guitar strapped on his back. He’s building up his confidence because “maybe a kiss will solidify that love” so he should give it a try. I enjoy the image in the lines, “Pump that chest, shorts too tight, got that cigarette burning right.”

Warm arpeggios playing on a delicate synth wash out over the unique beat of the drums to kick off “Love Somebody.” The solid throb of the drums underpins Pat Dimeo’s caressing vocals that are full of hope and dreaming. The arpeggios keep easily spinning and the drums, bass and synth all move in sync.

The breathy vocals brush over the ears and the chorus moves over the shifting synth chords. I enjoy the cadence and energy of the quickly sung chorus. Pat Dimeo’s voice is ideal to express the song’s emotions. Sparkee’s dense, slightly fuzzy guitar solo cuts in, dancing and leaping through the track, while the beat keeps everything moving.

A tale of a young man dreaming of being a rockstar and living life unfolds in the lyrics of this song. As the song opens, the narrator talks about being in a “New York State of mind.” There’s a feeling of this young man escaping a small town. He’s “got a whole lot to say, gonna take a ride and get away this time.”

On a “boardwalk Arcadia” he talks about how the summer breeze has a hold on him. He adds that it’s “like paradise judging by the orange skies.” He talks about being thick-skinned and a heavyweight, but he is still “the loss for words that you never say.”

In the chorus he says he’s come pretty far while “pretending I’m a real big star” so he’s going to celebrate with his “jean jacket on.” There’s a tip in the jar and he’s “gotta catch a break.” He still says, “I figure that I've come pretty far. Ain't wasted talent baby.”

Now he’s “underneath the covers on a Friday night” laying awake and thinking about how “I gotta make it right.” He’s been “soaking up the sun and going out of sight” so now he wants to love someone.

The narrator reminds us that “they build you up to wear you down” and that while it might seem “safe and sound” it’s a trap. He isn’t willing to “rest his case” quite yet because “these fireworks show a glimmer of hope.” He talks about having a lot to prove before he “fades out” and adds that he “ain’t giving up on you.”

There’s a feeling of momentum and success as he talks about being “like a rolling stone calling checkmate” because he’s “the loss for words that you never say.” He again talks about how he’s “come pretty far pretending I’m a real big star.”

The image of his boots shining as they hit the stage is contrasted with the emotion in the lines, “Kick the tip jar, won’t catch a break.”

“Merry Go Round” comes into life with a full, bubbling percussion sound that taps into the track along with washes of sweeping synth. The drums make a stereophonic journey back and forth between channels and ghostly, hollow synth climbs along with guitar-like notes.

I am drawn to Pat Dimeo’s voice and its soft touch as glittering synth breathes into the song. A chiming synth glistens and sparkles over the soaring vocals. The whole track is full of feelings of ease and touching emotion.

The joy and hope of new love is reflected in this song. The narrator talks about seeing the object of his affection smiling with a “look in your eye” as the thrills from the rides “keep us going at times” and the sparks “fly like the 4th of July.” It isn’t just for the easy moments either because he adds that he’ll “come running in the toughest of times.”

He says, “We found love on a merry go round” on the “south side of town tonight.” There is a contrasting moment in the song as he asks, “Love won’t you let me go tonight?” as it is love on a merry go round after all.

Rising synth chords climb underneath brighter, lambent synths to start off “Runaway.” Pat Dimeo’s vocals are so smooth and full of deep emotion as a crystalline synth carries over the smooth beat and bass depth that supports it.

The whole track has an open feeling as Michael Oakley’s chiming, glowing synths accent the pained, lost vocal melody. The guitar-like synth plays a melody that is so full of hurt but also tinged by a tentative hope, it’s my favourite element in the song.

Feelings of drifting, running and escaping permeate this song’s lyrics. Our narrator has a wry smile in my mind as they say, “Don’t kid yourself, it’s quite alright. I know you’re not in bed tonight.” They talk about how “this boardwalk town just gets me right.”

There’s an ache as the narrator says, “They’re closing down, you’re on the line.” He talks about finding the ride “getting tough” before he says that “these parking lots help me unwind.” The feeling of being unable to escape the past flows out of the lyrics.

A high school bell sharpens his focus as he says, “Let me be your getaway ‘cause I am a runaway too.” The narrator talks about how scars don’t fade and in spite of that adds, “No second thoughts, don’t be afraid ‘cause I am a runaway too.”

Understanding is expressed by the narrator as he observes, “You’re crying now, he’s left you in a state of doubt and when you call he’s not around.” He adds that he “never had a fighting chance” after he quit his job and packed up. He ends with, “I guess it all means nothing now. Do you know?”


Oscillating, full pulses of gentle synth with a pillowy surrounding feeling bring “Gateway 76” to life. They are joined by a high, glittering synth carrying a wandering melody that drifts out in pure waves over the bass waves. I got the impression of misty pink clouds cut by sparkling sunlight. I also enjoy the positive energy exuded by the melody as it intricately intertwines.

The solid beat underpins a darker, sharper-edged synth oscillation as a fragmentary melodic pattern begins to form. Waves of shimmering light pour from the open feeling, medium-high synths while a vaguely string-like synth flashes and dances over the beat, rapidly playing arpeggios that fade away.

"Worlds Apart” comes to life with a steady pulse of slightly choppy bass underneath a floating background of interlocking synth. Pat Dimeo’s voice cries out, so full of deep emotion and the song swirls with ease. The drum pulse supports the aching, powerful vocal melody and the feelings that it expresses. I enjoy the mixture of the track’s airy glide and the way the vocals are so full of wounded love.

The song begins to crescendo and a yearning guitar-like synth arcs upwards, pouring out the mixture of ache and hope that permeates this album. There’s a massive drum fill and then Pat Dimeo’s trembles with fragile delicacy. The howling synth doubles the vocals and adds more shine and yearning to the track.

A mixture of love, doubt and hope moves through the lyrics of this song. The narrator talks to the song’s subject and acknowledges that he fell in love with her over the past summer and knew it was wrong. However he still promises that “now you need somebody, just rest assured I’ve got you covered.”

He asks her to “hold on, feel the waves crashing at your feet” because “I don't wanna wait forever. I just wanna be right where you are.” He also realizes that they are worlds apart but asks, “If I could be your promise, would you lie with me where you are?”

Now the amusement park is empty and “this loneliness fills the void.” There’s pain in the narrator’s words when he talks about always being her friend even though “what hurts so bad is that I don’t matter.”

A jazz organ-like synth with a full tone shines out over the steady beat and Pat Dimeo’s classic voice swells into “Teenage Fever.” Every element of this song is imbued with good feelings and youthful energy. The music fades out for a moment and then grows again as the bright, rich synth calls out.

Summery nostalgia oozes out from the song and seizes the listener. The whole song is like a faded Polaroid. Benjamin Harrison lets rip with an ultra cool, jazzy sax solo that cuts right to the heart with its passion. The reedy voice of the sax adds more depth and energy to the song.

An ‘80s teenager’s life is captured in the three lines, “Lighting up another cigarette, the smoke is going straight to my head, holding up your mixtape on cassette.” He’s “offing your name in permanent red” because he’s looking for trouble. He talks about chasing dreams in his “Thunderbird 85.” He says he’s “got his motor up and running” and all the boys hear him coming so “ain’t nothing gonna stop me now.”

The character he addresses still knows how “to break my tendency to slip out right when my mood gets rough.” He promises that he’ll be a perfect lover who won’t “leave you under the bleachers where we first made out.” There’s passion as he talks about having “teenage fever” as he drives into the sun. He adds, “You still know how to break my heart.”

I especially liked the line, “The nights just get me chasing the taste of summer and regret.”

“Piers and Souvenirs” opens with a hollow, descending bass pulse and a higher sweep of sound. Bell-like tones and a glittering line of elevated synth shift over the trickling, round drums and a sweep of medium-high synth. The synth carries a drifting pattern of notes over the percussion’s easy ticking and a robotic voice in the distance. This track was ideal for closing out the album and leaving the listener thinking about it.

Conclusion

"Boardwalk Arcadia" is a summery, nostalgic album that is full of aching emotion, excellent performances and gives one the feeling of a kind of melancholy longing shot through with hope. Pat Dimeo has created one of my favourite albums of 2021 so far.

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