Synth Album Review: "Kaleidoscope" by Jack Alberson
There is a darkness, a tragic feeling and a depth to the sounds and words of Jack Alberson’s Kaleidoscope album. That said, it also has moments where a trembling light shines and flickers briefly—a sense of hope is not completely extinguished. The music here has a diversity and strangeness to it that combines flow and drift with glitch and grind. There are moments of clear sharpness and others of aggression and darkness. It is an exploration of the fractured landscape of hearts and minds that plagues us humans and I found it quite affecting.
The most powerful element that makes Kaleidoscope work is the lyrics. Jack Alberson has a knack for writing powerful words that create interesting images and convey intense emotion. Sometimes the words have an enigmatic quality to them where several meanings suggest themselves and sometimes they cut through hard and fast to slice to the heart of the matter. Either way, they are well crafted and pulled me into the songs.
There is also a lost, gentle and trembling quality to Jack Alberson’s voice. It caresses but often there are razor blades hidden in that softness. There’s something tragic in the sound of his voice but it can also have an edge to it. Sometimes that gentleness is far more effective than raging, screaming lyrics at delivering a sharp message. The tone of his voice suits the feeling of his music well.
That music on Kaleidoscope has rich nuance and shading. There are moments where it sounds harshly industrial and other times when it is much poppier and more energetic. The mixture of synth sounds of metallic and hard to soft and flowing is also balanced by a variety of guitar tones moving through, deep bass that underpins the music along with some very interesting drum beats and percussion sounds. As a whole, this album explores a wide range of sounds as it seeks to express the emotions of the lyrics through its soundscapes.
Now I will break down the songs that I enjoyed the most on Kaleidoscope and talk about what the factors were which drew me to those songs in particular
A powerful synth melody with an almost psychedelic ’60s feel to some of the sounds dances with the drums in the background of “What Do You Want Me to Do?” The track has a bit of a rock feel to it and there are also many interesting glitchy sounds along with that shiny, string sounding synth palette on this song. It was definitely an aurally interesting piece of music and one that had an energy that attracted me.
“Monitors” is a dark and strange lullaby, shot through with a sense of loss. Deep, extending pulses of bass flow out through the track along with floating synth flow. Jack Alberson’s voice is also gentle and caressing here, delivering the melancholy of the lyrics, backed by a tragedy tinged melody.
In the opening lyrics, there’s the notion that being “asleep like a monitor” still means being in a state of semi-wakefulness, never truly being “off. The song emphasizes that idea in the line, “You haven’t been turned off in a long, long time.” In a twisted way, the constant state of being awake is the “only way you’ll ever get turned on again.”
As the song continues, the lyrics talk about “blue movies” and emphasizes the sadness of faked intimacy with the question, “Is Hollywood the saddest setting/For faking intimate moments (with all those cameras)?” The song makes the point that these “blue movies” full of false desire fail to “turn you on, or relieve your stress” and that they’re “not the only way life manages to turn you off.”
I also enjoyed the idea of falling back into music as the words of the song say, “So you turn up your guitar and hope for the best.” As the chorus hits, it emphasizes the idea of being asleep like a monitor and adds “everyone’s sleeping tonight” as if to say that we are also all like the monitor that is never entirely off.
I was struck by the almost doo wop like beat of “Beloved” as it sways behind Jack Alberson’s soft voice. There is just an edge of glitch to this track and slightly dissonant chiming sounds in the background along with that bass guitar, the high pulses of notes moving through the track.
With Jack Alberson, even a love song has a melancholy turn to it. There is real emotion in the lines, “I live for waking up with you, with you/ Nothing else compares to you, to you/At least we know what love feels like/And now we know what we have to lose.” Even in the midst of this love, there is knowledge of its possible ending. Still, as the words say, “love is the simplest thing to do.”
The song’s melancholy only makes lines like “And at least we know what love feels like/Even in a world where nothing is alright, nothing is alright, nothing is alright” stronger and more effective.
“Divided States” is a track full of tension from a tight, nervous synth and the wall of dark bass shadows that rises under them. The drums are as tense feeling and everything is surrounded by reaching tendrils of darkness. There is a slow destructive aggression to the music here even when contrasted by soft guitar notes.
This is a song about watching the world go up in flames and seeing “our words tarnished with hate.” It discusses the increasingly divided political landscape we face as we “watch the families divide/dragging down where anger hides” and mourns how “our bonds disintegrate” and our hearts are “bleeding dry.” It adds the question, “Do you mean the words you say? You'd burn down Paradise today?
There is a flying, bright feeling to the lead synth in “Kaleidoscope” along with some unique drum sounds. The beat has a rebounding and leaping quality as Jack Alberson sings over it and there’s an ‘80s synthpop feeling to this track.
The jumbled wildness of a kaleidoscopic life comes through in the lyrics of this song. There’s a sense of worried energy in the opening, “I can't sit down, o I'm on fire/And nothing rhymes - it doesn't matter.” The next lines hold an ambiguity as Jack Alberson talks about a sentence but is he talking about a grammatical construct or being handed a sentence? He goes on, “Broke and I'm broken and nobody knows.”
Again the imagery of things spinning out of control comes into the song. The world keeps spinning “through the lens and set adrift” and life careens out of control each time the wheel of that kaleidoscope turns and “the colors shift.”
Ultimately the song reaches for the idea that “we’re powerless in the lion’s mouth/A calendar, or a ticking bomb/I spoke but it's token, when the jaws have closed.” In that kaleidoscope, “through the eyepiece, light reveals/All distractions bad to worse/In a fairytale ending I want it to be real” as we seek some relief from that powerlessness.
Kaleidoscope is an album that reflects a wide ranging exploration of moods, emotions and the current state of the world through the lens of diverse synth sounds, interesting beats and strong lyrics written and performed by Jack Alberson. I am intrigued by his unique vision and I’m looking forward to hearing his work in the future.