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Synth Album Review: "Flashbacks" by Kushna

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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

Kushna’s Flashbacks is a layered, textured album of synth-based music that combines the building blocks of classic synthwave in a fresh way to produce an album brimming with gentle melancholy, bursts of shining light and energy and sonic moments full of yearning for times past. The mixture of melancholy and brightness is compelling for me on this album.

There’s a compelling fullness and depth of sound on Flashbacks. This richness of tones, timbres and dynamic ranges results from Kushna’s meticulous layering of a wide variety of synth sounds along with the deep throb of big retro drums and a landscape of bass that adds shape and direction to the other sonic elements. The way each unique synth element interacts with the others is nuanced and contributes to a cohesive flow from track to track on the album.

I also enjoy the way that Kushna creates melodic patterns that shift and shimmer. They are somewhat fragmentary and relatively repetitive, but they still carry emotional weight. I especially like the way that each different pattern moves and intertwines, shifting through various iterations as each track unfolds. The variations and combinations add to the feeling of sonic complexity on the album.

There’s also the overarching feeling of yearning for times past that permeates this album. Many of the melodic passages are imbued with a sense of aching to relive the past, a feeling of melancholy that is both painful and wistful. I also enjoy the flashes of more upbeat, energetic music that leaven the nostalgia with more positive emotions.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“The Collision” comes to life with airy, drifting breaths of synth moving into wide open space. A solid, slow series of extending, textured and deep notes pushes into the music as a higher, oscillating pattern of shining synth is joined by the solid reverberation of big ‘80s-style drums. A descending melodic line of warming, medium-high synth now transitions into a circular, swirling pattern of repeating notes.

Deep bass and drums add their weight and forward movement to the music, as the track breaks into a gentle wash of sound overlaid by tightly stacked patterns of moving notes. I am drawn to the melancholy feeling emanating from the melodic line that falls and floats through the track. Those circling, glowing notes slowly spin over the pulses of drums and bass the bass now dark and dropping lower with the drums throbbing over it.

There’s a delicate breath of caressing sound as a nasal, medium high synth climbs up in a wandering, light melodic pattern to open “Return To Home.” The melodic line is tinged with sadness as elevated, glistening notes twist and shift over the heavy throb of the drums. I enjoy the way the melody has a light touch that belies the emotional depth of it, speaking of a nostalgic kind of sadness.

The beat adds its rich pulse as rising clouds of thicker, harder-edged notes climb under the gentle nasal synth as it rises upwards in slow patterns. A glistening high synth sings out and deep bass notes reverberate below it. The heartbeat of the drums keeps on moving under the melancholic, shifting notes.

“Inside The Night City” leaps into life with hard hitting oscillations of deep rough bass and a thick, pounding drumbeat. Lunging, medium-high synth bursts into the music in quick, bright flashes that climb and descend over the beat’s weight. The medium-high synth is muffled underneath a quickly spinning, metallic arpeggio that climbs and descends over the distant beat.

A shiny lead synth plays a pattern that bounces as the nasal, round synth that cuts through plays an uneven pulse of shifting notes. The pulsation breaks into angular patterns of melodic sound that have a pleasing hypnotic quality as they move across the weight and strength of the drumbeat and the bass before fading out.

A sweep of air and a round, warm arpeggio that oscillates through the track kicks off “Sky Walker.” I like the way the medium high, chiming synth plays a driving, bending melodic line that twists and wriggles over the heartbeat throb of the drums. There’s an acceleration in tempo and quick, shining bursts of synth cut in as an oscillating bass pattern shifts underneath. The lead melodic line is touched by yearning emotion. It has a harpsichord sound to it that is kept moving by the drumbeat.

The track returns to a pattern of shifting, bending synth notes that turn over the thick throb of the drums and the high shine of synths that flash over it. The beat gets into my head along with the surging oscillation of slightly hard-edged synth that fades back into the rush of air and rain.

“Merging Power” begins with tense, elevated synth moving above full bursts of thick, slightly saw-toothed synth that flows out over a dark throb of edgy bass. A slowly rotating arpeggio of diamond bright notes turns behind a steadily rising synth melody aching with loss.

The fullness of that mournful melodic synth line returns to the climbing, sharp notes that move in waves. The music creates a feeling of being surrounded by a cloud of sound as elevated, nervous synths add tension and the massive drum sounds support the other elements of the track.

There’s a reggae-esque downbeat and a bouncing pattern of medium-high synth along with a thready, fluting melodic synth high in the background to launch “Flashbacks.” The beat and bass have a thickness as they put forward motion into the track. I am touched by the way that the lead melodic line brims with a feeling of nostalgic yearning.

The thin sound of the high, fluting synth contrasts with the strong bass and drum pulse. The track returns to the metallic synth that has the feeling of dreams of times past while gentle, elevated notes move behind it. The thin synth bounces back and forth in an uneven pattern over the beat’s surging rhythm and the weight of the bass.

Conclusion

Flashbacks is enjoyable to me because it is ear-grabbing and full of textural, tonal and dynamic variations that keep it fresh and interesting. Kushna has been evolving his style and approach to synth-based music and I feel that he’s reached a high point with this album.

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