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Synth Album Review: "Chaos Mesa" by Woves

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

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Woves’ Chaos Mesa combines intricate, highly original synthscapes with Emily Zuzik and Josh Ricchio’s well-crafted lyrics and their emotional, expressive vocal performances. The songs travel across the fraught terrain of love, loss, pain and pleasure that we all experience as human beings existing in the world.

While Chaos Mesa might be classified as synthpop, the musical backing of the album is full of more intriguing sounds than one might expect from the usual synthpop release. There are jagged, broken moments along with a textured and nuanced series of sonic layers that combine to weave sonic tapestries that seize my ears and won’t let them go. I enjoy the effort and skill that went into creating the album’s fresh sound.

The wordcraft that both Emily Zuzik and Josh Ricchio bring to Chaos Mesa is another compelling aspect of the album. They create lyrics that cut clearly to the emotional centre of the topic about which the song is written while also providing poetic moments that are touching and emotive. Each song captures a particular situation with strength and immediacy. I find all of those qualities deeply engaging.

On top of their songwriting chops, Chaos Mesa also gives the pair a chance to showcase their voices. Both band members have strong, distinctive singing voices that are able to translate the emotive power of their lyrics into expressive vocals which are a major part of the immediacy and clarity of the songs as a whole.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“Release” commences as angular, shadowed synth trembles out with a distorted, distant twisting feeling. Emily Zuzik’s emotive, expressive voice carries the lyrics while shining synths flash and the pounding drums burst. A twisting, medium-high synth wriggles along with the vocal melody that effectively combines gentle feelings and uplift.

Rising clouds of shimmering sound intertwine as the rough-edged power of the slowly spinning synths adds more weight. Emily Zuzik’s vocal performance showcases the strength and emotion she can bring to bear. There’s real drama and energy in the gritty, shining synths along with climbing, ethereal notes that weave with Emily Zuzik’s voice.

The narrator speaks to the song’s subject in a verse that speaks of invisibility as it says, “you once said that you were naked in a city where they worship what you wear” and talks about how the song’s subject’s memories are “fading” as he watches them vanish.

Our narrator reminds the song’s subject to “give it time to leave it all behind” and let his spirits rise. She talks about starting the fire so they can “climb up to the roof and watch it burn.” She adds that “not everybody is invited” but is unconcerned.

She addresses the song's subject and reminds him that while he’s having a “hard time with the changes you say you’re seeing in this town” she knows that it’ll pass and they’ll be the “strong ones still hangin’ round.”

Quickly bursting, medium-high sounds move gruffly below an open-voiced, panpipe synth carrying an aching melody as “Used To Heartbreak” opens. Josh Ricchio and Emily Zuzik’s voices are chanting and broken as they come in. Angular, throbbing synth propels the track along with hard-hitting drums and sharp-edged bass. Josh Ricchio and Emily Zuzik’s expressive voices intermingle, echoing out while the guitar carries slightly jangling, thick notes that weave into extending melodic lines.

The varied percussion has a lushness to it and I feel that the vocal duet blends into an harmonious whole. The chanting of the two voices is joined by a nervous arpeggio that spins wildly over the heavy bass pulse and drum throb. The vibrating bass is cut into by delicate, crystalline sparkles below the vocals. The vocal melody is catchy and dynamic while Emily Zuzik and Josh Ricchio ’s voices are well suited to each other as the chimes glitter in the distance.

The narrator wonders, as the song begins, who put the other person in their current position and adds that there’s “just so much that we don’t know.” She addresses the song’s subject and tells them that "I’ll let you make the first incision, it just seems the way to go.”

Our narrator asks the song’s subject to “follow closer to me.” She goes on to say that she’s accustomed to heartbreak but she wants to “die in your arms to tonight.” She adds that she needs “an alibi to stay alive” but that the other person is “inconsequential with your heartbreak.”

There's a strong statement as the narrator says, “You think you know but I say you don’t.” She continues as she says that “we know you better.” I enjoy the imagery in the words, “I can see your ghosts, they wanna love you the most.” Our narrator talks about how the song’s subject will “never be deader” as she sees his ghosts.

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The narrator asks if they can just “stay awhile” and concludes as she tells the song’s subject not to “go hiding from your heart.”

“Something Sweet” has a rich depth with a hissing background, rapidly trickling xylophone-like arpeggios and a deep, shifting bassline. I enjoy the passion and dreamy sound pouring from Emily Zuzik’s voice. A tremulous organ-like synth adds energy as it quickly pulses and the vocals are smooth and emotive over it.

Vibrating, dense bass throb is joined by rapid trickling, round synths falling through the music. There’s a choppy vibration added to the vocals as the organ pulse adds motion and shine to the music and the percussion is full of fresh sounds.

The steady organ pulse breaks into a medium-high synth that wanders and slides along over the guidance of the easy-going drums. Emily Zuzik’s voice distorts and the smoothly lapping synth pulse mingles with the ear-grabbing percussion and a swirling background. The vocals capture the feeling in the lyrics well in this song.

The song starts out as the narrator talks about “platform gazing” on a September evening with the “sweat running down” and waiting for “the break.” She adds that, “nothing seems to help this.” Everything is airless until the first thunder of the storm and then the narrator calls out for the rain to "fall down on you, fall down on me.” As it falls on both of them together it’s like "the heat on something sweet.”

Our narrator feels the rain “rolling off my head like tears down my cheek” in a moment of release. She and the song's subject will share a “smile and a laugh like we’d known all along” as if this was destiny. It’ll be like “the train stopped moving and this moment would last forever.”

A buzzing, swirling synth background laps in undulating waves as the drums all flow in a quick, popping line to start “Upside Down.” The funky percussion and guitar have a surging pulse aas Emily Zuzik and Josh Ricchio ’s vocals mingle. The slap bass has an elastic quality that fits in well with the other elements.

There’s a doo-wop feeling to the music and the song showcases Emily Zuzik’s strong, smoky voice. The popping, leaping quality of the musical backing adds a unique energy to the song. Emily Zuzik chants into open space as climbing, glowing notes unfold. Josh Ricchio ’s voice is also pleasantly powerful and poppy.

There's a contrast between the jumping percussion and the flowing musical background. The two singers voices mix and the trickling, tripping percussion shapes the music. All of the sonic elements are layered and intermingled into a dense, detailed torrent of synth sound and percussion.

Confusion reigns for our narrator as she talks about not knowing “when to end or where to begin” as she is turned upside down. She adds that she doesn’t know “how to sink" and can’t say “when to swim” but that the “only sound can come from within.”

The narrator is having a sleepless night “chasing regrets from the past again” and thinking about negative things about which she feels badly. She goes on to say that each time “I turn away” it’s another way in which she is frozen but she tries to “play it off like a warrior.”

Now our narrator addresses another person as she talks about her choices catching up to her. She doesn’t think “you’d want to stay next to me” as she keeps “moving to distract myself from the reason that’s right there.”

She begs the other person’s forgiveness for not always seeming happy but adds, “I’m trying to change the story that will get me there.”

“1 am” opens with steady, rough, low synth pulses and Emily Zuzik’s voice chanting. The whole song grows in volume as rapid synth rushes in the background. Emily Zuzik’s voice is airy and gliding as the slowly revolving arpeggios are joined by dense throbbing drums.There's an intensity of feeling in Emily Zuzik’s vocal performance that I find irresistible. A delicate, glowing piano gently dances as the hollow drums pulse and the gruff bass growls.

The vocals gain depth and imbue the song's lyrics with greater emotion. Bass waves spread out and as slow, powerful arpeggios spin.The piano takes on a tense brightness while the arpeggios wheel and the gritty bass adds weight. The vocal melody is pained, but Emily Zuzik’s voice soars up, rich with expression, as it crests and the the song fades on shining piano and grit.

Sometimes we’re drawn into relationships that aren’t good for us, but we can’t always escape them. This song tackles that idea as the narrator begins by saying that she saw the other person called her at 1 a.m. but “I knew better not to take it.” She talks of a “familiar rush” and adds that she’s not sure if she can “make it.”

The problem for our narrator is that the connection feels good when things are happening but “leaves me hanging in the morning.” She adds that in spite of that fact, she wants to “listen to your every sound, throw away the warning.” The narrator goes on to point out that “they say bad news comes at night” but she's still “done with that storyline” at any time.

She acknowledges that the other person makes it hard for her to leave, but still says “I can’t take these little lies, can’t commit so freely.” The narrator wonders when the song’s subject will “stop with your chaos” and considers blocking their calls to “keep from getting so lost.”

There are still “lingering conversations, cigarettes by street light lines, mental examinations” and these “fleeting moments in the night” for the narrator and the other person. However these things are still “followed by silent weekdays” and nothing to “make it right.” The narrator ends by saying that now things are “only filled with bleak days.”

Hollow, open space is filled with a thick, distorted, medium-low synth pulse and interesting percussion to commence “Nova.” Emily Zuzik’s cool, drifting vocals are accompanied by rough-edged guitar strumming that cuts in floating notes while the varied, unique percussion explores an engaging sonic palette.

Bursts of medium-low, hard-edged synth pulsate and Emily Zuzik’ s voice becomes less cool and more earnest. Slicing synth cuts in and the cooler aspect to the vocals returns as they chant and the drums patter. The guitar repeats a hypnotic, volleying note pattern and the bouncing synth oscillation shifts.

The brighter chorus rises while stuttering, glitching sounds dominate the music over the bass oscillation. I am enamoured of the chaotic, broken feeling in the music that emphasizes the song’s lyrics.

Brilliant, blazing people are sometimes irresistible, but getting to close to the fire only burns us. This song examines the concept as the narrator talks about how the song’s subject hid in “garish costume” and turned “dials that led the way.” The song’s subject “didn’t want to steal the centre” but was still breathtaking.”

Our narrator was warned about the other person because they “always had more than you need” but she was out “chasing after glory.” It was only later that it became clear that “it never mattered if we bleed.” In spite of it, the other person “made the sun warm the sound.”

The narrator still acknowledges that the other person silenced their critics and “broke away when all was new” and that they both gave their souls to what they were doing. She adds that “genius comes in every taste” and that "someone else will take the praise.” Of the other person, she says “he earned the glitter phase.”

The song’s subject could “write the book, hoist the flag, shake the scene” and because they “always plant the seed, it never mattered if we bleed.”

"The Lone” opens with an ethereal vocal chorus and sharp, but swirling synths that rise into the music. Emily Zuzik’s voice is delicate and caressing, feeling lost as the guitar plays quicksilver notes and the percussion touches gently. Emily Zuzik’s voice is a little distant as it’s joined by flashes of warm notes.

Rapid, metallic clusters of arpeggiating notes twinkle through over the light percussion. I enjoy the way in which Josh Ricchio and Emily Zuzik’s voices intertwine in this song. A steady, low synth throbs and the guitar carries a dynamic, propulsive melodic pattern.

Hollow percussion shapes the music and the jagged synth edges slice in underneath the vocal chant, twisting and lacerating while the drums slip through. Crystalline arpeggios circle while the sharp edges slice below and the vocals are distant over the sonic tapestry surrounding them.

Obstacles rise to block our narrator as “a winding road leads on.” She wonders if she can “get you” and adds that “it’s not a matter if we can’t” or a challenge if they don’t connect. She adds that she’s doubtful and “all this noise makes me think we won’t.”

The narrator talks about how “The Lone” ride on “to a solitary beat” and that a “drum fuels the fire every time we meet.” She adds that if there’s method in madness, she bets “we’re laughing in the end” and “hopefully on the side that’s smiling at the stars again.”

At the end, the narrator hopes that they will “Feel the flame, fuel the fire.”

Conclusion

Chaos Mesa is a strong album for Woves. It captures their unique approach to synth-based music and demonstrates both their songwriting skills and their singing abilities well. I am intrigued and hope to hear more of their future work, just to see how they keep evolving.

© 2022 Karl Magi

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