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Synth Album Review: "Memories" by Coastal

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

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Initial Impressions

Coastal’s Memories embodies the Portuguese idea of "saudade," which is a feeling of aching melancholy, remembered joy and wistful nostalgia. Aaron Hetherington’s voice exudes powerful emotion, the musical backing hurts and dreams with synthesized depth and the lyrics are poetic and moving. On top of all of this, the guest artists contribute their own strong performances.

One of the most powerful aspects of Memories is the intensity of the atmosphere on the album. Every part of it—from the vocals to the music, from the lyrics to its emotional tenor—is deeply emotional as it expresses hope, loss, dreams and joy. The synth melodies are beautiful and pained all at once; the lyrics are touching and the vocals throb with feeling. I can’t think of a better expression of the bittersweet nature of nostalgia.

Another major factor in my enjoyment of Memories are the vocal performances from Aaron Hetherington and the guest singers. The main vocal duties are taken on by Aaron Hetherington and his voice is moving, emotive and deeply expressive as it soars and hurts. Terena Armstrong (from Cymatica) has a husky, luscious voice that pours out emotion and Sonja Huerta Comes (from Oblique) has an airy, glowing style that suits “Kyoto” well.

I firmly believe that, even without the superb musical backing, the lyrics written by Coastal for the songs on Memories can stand alone as poetry. They are full of beautifully constructed word images that are pregnant with meaning and emotion. I am mightily impressed by the writing abilities on display here, especially in their knack for capturing emotional complexity.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“Memories”

“Memories” comes into being with a tape in the deck, keys in the ignition and a slow shiny, high synth swell crying out in the distance. The distant synth grows in volume as a plaintive trumpeting synth is joined by an elevated, pained and glowing melodic line while the monologue comes in.

The solid bass throb and solid, steady drumbeat supports a bell-like synth playing an arpeggiating pattern, adding light and shimmer to the track. Oscillating bass flows and the fragile, gentle synth melody briefly touches and fades. I like the way in which the musical backing emphasizes the voice over’s message that we have to seize life and experience it deeply.

“92”

Airy synths swell into the track and the aching, glittering melody moves over the actively shifting, dense bass and massive retro drums to bring “92” to life. I am moved by Aaron Hetherington’s heartfelt vocals as they carry a melody full of lost hope and dissolving dreams. A flashing, elevated synth sings a yearning melody to match the nostalgic tug of the vocals and lyrics.

There’s a throbbing depth to the the drums and bass underneath the crystalline synth melody. A leaping synth pattern calls out distantly in the background and the lost and pleading.vocals shake with emotion, A pipe-like synth carries a leaping melodic line, lifting high over the vocals and into quiet as the track fades.

The narrator looks back at his youth, reminiscing and aching for an old love that he wishes would come back. He remembers “the not so late nights trying our luck on the slot machines” and the early morning drives that meant “everything to me.”

There’s a sense of bereft pleading in the lines of the chorus in which the narrator begs, “please give me back the years we had” as he says that he can’t hold back the tears. He expresses his fear that the other person will “leave me for the last time” even though he’s there “just like the first time.”

Our narrator recalls “tears in our eyes, laughing too much at the diner scenes” and all the time the two of them spent listening to music together. The stark truth that he expresses is that he’s lost without the other person.

“Shy Kids”

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“Shy Kids” opens on slowly revolving, full-sounding arpeggios that whirl into the song, rising in a crescendo as chimes sparkle high above the other musical elements. I enjoy how the chimes tremble gently to match the ache and emptiness of Aaron Hetherington’s vocals. The drums establish a solid pulse to support the expressive vocals as cut glass chimes sparkle longingly over their weight and shaping influence.

Cymatica's Terena Armstrong lends husky, emotive vocals that add another sonic element to the mix. High synth flows out in a bright and memory-hazed melodic line while the two singer’s voices intertwine. A round, digital-sounding synth carries a touching melodic pattern, refracting colours like a prism in sunlight, The drums keep up their pulse and the vocals and synths all intertwine in an expression of cloudy, youthful dreams and a wish to return to simpler times.

Sometimes we ache to begin again and wind our lives back before some impactful event. The narrator begins this song as he talks about wanting to start over and go back to a time before “it fell apart.”

Although he was lost like the others around him, he noticed the song’s subject “in the rain, in the storm we were running from.” He remembers how the two of them were “shy kids in a quiet town” who shared the fact that they lived in “a world too small to hold us down.”

The monologue in the song expands on the idea of not being held down. The narrator says that you must “just go for it” without thinking of past or future events. In the moment, “you've just gotta bend your knees, take a deep breath and jump” even if you’re afraid of falling because you might fly instead.

“Days Go By”

A wide, full synth with a brassy feeling repeats a gentle pattern over the dynamic, driven bass and drum throb to begin “Days Go By.” Aaron Hetherington’s vocals leap out, lush and tremulous with emotion. There’s a gigantic drum fill and sparks of flickering synth flow along with the distant voices into the wide open air of the song.

The synths twine together in their light-filled melody while the distant vocals shift. I find the way in which the heart piercing lyrics and caressing vocal melody dance together to be touching. Solid, propulsive drums and bass throb while sunlight flickers from the synths.

There’s a break to clean chimes that glint over airy space as a breeze blows into the song. The guitar intricately spins out a solo and the chorus rises, dripping with feeling. Chimes shine out and the guitar adds its own emotional power to the music before it fades.

This is a song about the mingled emotions we associate with change in our lives and memories of good times passed on. The narrator talks about how time passes and “now becomes then” as the memories we make fade away. He mentions taking a walk in the dark “when the light shines bright.” I feel that he’s referring to stepping back into the past "in the only place that we could go and not lose our minds.”

Our narrator talks about how he still misses someone he cared for as the days go by. Things fade as “now becomes then” but he knows “the memories are always mine.” He ends by saying that he could only make himself feel alive as he went to “close my eyes in the night, felt the rain fall down.”

“Golden Haze”

“Golden Haze” starts off as the music grows in power, the charging retro drum pulse keeps the track moving forward and an energetic synth pattern glimmers. and Aaron Hetherington’s yearning vocals express the lyrics with conviction as sparkling, elevated synths touch the music lightly. I am drawn to the way Aaron Hetherington’s voice hurts and dreams in the song.

The delicate and elevated lead synth cries out in an aching line while the broader, brighter synth trumpets below it. The gripping vocals that fly out over the motion of the drums and bass while bright synth shines over the gigantic drumbeat’s weight before the song winds down.

The words of this song remind us that change is inevitable and we’ll never keep a hold of the past. Our narrator talks about how there are “cherished memories lost to the skyline” and that our teenage years pass by like moonlight’s glow. As life goes on “we start again, we break and bend.” He adds that we “fall and mend” over and over.

The narrator remembers “rainy days spent out on the coastline” that created a “summer haze” that they thought wouldn’t end. Now he wonders if we can “seek a place to call our own” once we’ve moved on from the homes in which we grew up. I enjoy the imagery of “rusted windows and picture frames” in a “quiet place where my heart can stay.”

To conclude, the narrator talks of leaving “the bruises and the photographs” along with the “buried toy guns in the seasons passed.” Again he asks if we can find a place to call our own.

“Summer Eyes”

A soothing swirl of smoothly gliding synth is joined by thick bass throbbing below Aaron Hetherington’s voice to bring “Summer Eyes” to life. The synth arpeggio that comes in revolves in broad, shiny notes that match the bass pattern. Aaron Hetherington’s voice pours with emotion as the throbbing bass and drum pulse supports it and diamond cascades of synth float in bright lines.

As life changed, the chorus says, “We got old. It got tough” and the narrator says there’s no fight in him. In spite of that, he declares “there’s a song in our hearts that we gotta sing.” He adds that he can’t think of anything better than getting lost on “an old road.”

I am attracted to the sax's aching passion as it cries out in luxuriously full tones. The broad synths dance, adding depth and intensity, as elevated sparkles trickle through. The sax leaps out in an ardent solo, jazzily wriggling over top of the bass while Aaron Hetherington’s vocals are full of love, desire and pain.

Powerful need and intense attraction intertwine in the lyrics of this song. The narrator talks about how the object of his affection “found me in a void that day” and asked him if he’d come their way. He says that maybe he will because “I'm never gonna trust myself. Never good enough for someone made like you.”

Our narrator is left breathless when he tries to lie. There’s a neat piece of lyrical imagery as the narrator talks about his “honest addiction” to the other person being “the gun at my temple.” He adds that he doesn’t know where they’re headed but he doesn’t care either. He just knows that “I could fall in love with those summer eyes.”

The narrator insists that he knows the other person wants it too, but he adds that “there’s a poison in your kiss that leaves me dying here in front of you.”

"Kyoto”

"Kyoto” starts out with a slight static hiss as a delicate melodic line swells above firmly pulsing drums and bass. I enjoy the way in which the synth melody shines with uplifting potential as AH’s strong vocals add to the meaning of the lyrics. Nasal sax accents add a unique quality as the medium high, glowing synth sings out.

Oblique’s Sonja Huerta Comes adds sunny, airy vocals in her resonant voice. 

The solid retro drums and propulsive bass move the song forward while the sax cries out in bursts. The song drifts into gentle vocals, glittering chimes and the sax howling out with melodic power, rising and full of emotion. The vocals soar upwards capturing the words in sound and the saxophone spills out and climbs, deepening the feelings as crystal sparks of light flow into silence.

The words of this song speak of a deep connection between two people. The male and female narrators trade perspectives. The male narrator talks of “catching the last train to Kyoto” and taking in the sunsets as well as “taking chances in the arcades.” He adds that they are “living in the best age” and she’s all he ever wanted.

The female narrator also talks of catching that same Kyoto-bound train. She paints a vivid picture of the city singing and the mountains echoing. She adds that they’re “trading glances as we both sway” and “dreaming as the years fade” while making it clear he’s all she’s ever wanted.

The two perspectives are shared in the chorus. Both talk about how “they offered it all but I don’t want it.” They go on to say that they should “leave it all behind tonight, take to a sky that's drenched in starlight.”

“Last Sundown”

Thick, throbbing bass oscillates below drifting synth notes and Coastal’s signature swell from muted sound to full volume as “Last Sundown” kicks off. A powerful drum and bass charge underpins Aaron Hetherington’s intense vocal performance as the flashing synths flicker out, accenting the expressive vocals. I like the way that the dynamic vocal melody interacts with the raised, glimmering synths as they dance in shifting patterns.

The bass grows gentler as air swirls around the vocals before the beat explodes to launch the song again. The bass hits me in the chest and softly spinning arpeggios match its pulsation before the breathy synth calls out.

A whirling, cascading synth solo falls through the track and Aaron Hetherington emotes, his voice leaping above the charging percussion and bass. There’s a break into a steady bass pulse as the circling synth fades into the background with a slight hint of static.

Loss, bitterness and heartbreak permeate this song. The narrator talks about taking another drive home at the end of a day to face “another night of aimless thinking.” He talks of smoking rather than talking “thanks to years of endless screening.” Our narrator’s sense of loss and bitterness is clear as he speaks of “getting back to the sheets that we never made” while he’s there but the other person isn’t once again.

In the chorus, he realizes that “through it all and what she said to me” they were living a lie and so they’ll begin again, over again.

Now our narrator faces “another walk home, another week done” as well as a night hitting the bottle before falling asleep on the bedroom floor. He finds himself “caught up but barely keeping.” He’s sinking down into the hole they dug in the past and he’s “here but you’re not there again.”

The narrator returns to the start once more, he’s “hung up on what it did to me.” There’s resignation as he talks about how “for the last time I’ll write this off, I’ll write this off again.” He’s still hung up on the other person even though they “destroyed the best of me.” He ends by simply saying “you wore me out.”

Final Thoughts

The sheer expression, melodic beauty and deep emotional power of Memories makes it one of my favourite retrowave albums of 2021. I am so excited to hear what Coastal comes up with next!

© 2021 Karl Magi

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