Synth Album Review: "Let the Light In" by From Apes to Angels
From Apes to Angels’ new album, Let the Light In, is all about love lost, found and broken. It is an album of delicate, shining synths and beautiful voices and an album that cuts to the heart of the complex minefield that is human affection and love. I was touched and moved by the words of these songs and charmed by the music that supports those words.
This is an album characterized by the sense of wide open space. The production choices on Let the Light In emphasize a sense of airiness in which the different musical elements sit. It isn’t excessive but the spacious nature of the backing music definitely does allow the music to breathe and move smoothly.
The synth elements on Let the Light In tend toward the delicate, ethereal and flowing. There’s something brightly shining and sparkling about them with the occasional moment in which that shine is gently obscured by mist and a haze of melancholy, but even then there’s still a crystalline glow about the sounds that move across that airy backdrop.
This is music that may glitter but it is a glitter that sometimes has shadows and darkness contained within it. The songs on the album unfold emotions that aren’t all light and air. Let the Light In explores the more complex side of love and emotional entanglements. There are no easy pop song clichés here. We all know that human relationships are fraught terrain and From Apes to Angels are not afraid to plumb those heavier, more challenging depths. In fact, I feel it makes for a much more solid album in their willingness to do so.
I’m also a big fan of Millie Gaum’s voice. It has a delicacy to it but can also cut with diamond edges. There is warmth but it is warmth tempered by shadings that express the complex and conflicting emotions that are contained within the words of the songs. The collaborations with Chronica and Femmepop also feature some excellent vocal work from those performers. Their voices mix nicely with Millie’s to deliver a lush vocal soundscape.
Now I am going to write about those tracks which I found most compelling on Let the Light In and tell you more about why they moved me.
High singing synths, deep bass and warmth flood out of “Head & Heart.” The drums hit and Millie’s beautiful voice comes into the song. The synths sparkle out from behind the words as the drums drive the track onward.
This is a song about the price paid for love. As the lyrics say, “All the ones that you love/ They will fail you someday/ You can't trust what you believe/ I have seen what it takes to feel.”
The song goes on to comment on the fact that often we put effort into relationships that isn’t reciprocated by the other person involved. Millie sings, “You just wanted paradise/ I just gave you something better/You needed black and white/I gave you all the colours.” Many of us are all too willing to pay that price as reflected in the lyric, “So count me in I'm waiting for the fall /Count me in I've seen it all/ So count me in I'm waiting.”
“Why Don’t You Come Back Home” opens with high chiming notes and a deep, heavy pulsation of bass moving through the open echoing spaces. Piano chords slide into the track as the bass and drums hit together and everything moves through the spaces around the music. The vocal melody is beautiful as well.
This is a song that explores the conflicting emotions of a complicated relationship. Millie sings, “Our wounds rehealed/ No armour here/ Head spins like a sycamore leaf/ For there's nothing but your freedom in this sanctuary.” There is vulnerability to the idea of healed wounds and “no armour” and also a sense of trying to allow the other person their space.
The song talks about forgiving the past and then Millie’s voice plaintively calls, “Why don't you come back home and spend the rest of your life/ Why don't you come back home/ And spend the rest of your life with me?”
The way in which Femmepop’s and Millie’s voices intertwine on "Fly" is compelling and beautiful. Everything here really moves within the open spaces created by the production. The throbbing heartbeat of bass and drums complements notes which are clustered and delicate, dancing across the background of the music. There is something rising and powerful in the tone of this song.
The lyrics speak of expressing oneself in the face of forced conformity as they say, “They tried to fence me in /But I can't contain my energy” and go on to talk about wings unfurling and feathers pushing out to soar above stifling constraints. The lyrics are defiant in this line, “And even though you think I have nothing to say/ I'm going to keep on speaking my mind anyway.”
The interaction between the mingled voices gives an especially uplifting feeling to the lyric that says, “I'm breaking free my friend/ And you can't catch me/ When I'm up high I will fly!”
The track “Works Out” starts off with warm synth chords that move through open space accompanied by an oscillating synth line moving over the bass beat and thudding drums. There is a good mixture of warmer and more technological sounds and I enjoyed it when the arps started to wheel and spin in sparkling waves through the track.
Again this is a song whose lyrics encapsulate the conflicting emotions generated by our interactions in relationships. In spite of the pain, Millie sings, “And all I wanted was for you so close/Making up for lost time/ And for all I care you've been shredding my name/But I'm so lost when I'm without you.” The ache for the person about whom the song is speaking is tangible in that lyric. In spite of that ache, the song continues, “And when I'm through, I will always be with you /And hope you'll find a way/ To forgive me/ ‘Cos it all works out in the end.”
“K.I.S.S.” is a higher energy track that opens with a hard beat and a crunchy synth. Minor key arps spin out and then the ethereal vocals move in, flowing over that pulsating beat and those slow arps rotating like galaxies. The luminous background synths glow through the energized beat.
This is a song that has a certain emotional ambiguity to it. It’s hard to think of a stronger contrast in emotional tone than, “Turn away I'm dying/One day you and I will be flying.”
Millie’s ethereal voice adds a special layer of fragile emotion to the lyrics in the song. I feel a little catch in my throat when she sings, “You never said that you thought we could be/ More than friends and I settled for that.” The pain of learning that one could have had something, but never knew can be intense.
The way in which From Apes To Angels has combined light, space and rhythm with aching lyrics and ethereal singing voices to deliver those lyrics has created an album that touched me and made me reflect on the complexities and challenges of sharing our emotional lives with others. I am sure I’ll be listening to this album over and over again.