Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing.
Zak Vortex’s Miami Squeeze is a retro-inspired synth album that bubbles with dynamic energy as Zak Vortex blends together an ear-catching palette of synths to paint clear pictures in sound. While there’s a clear ‘80s sensibility to the sound, the different musical elements interact in unique ways to create something fresh.
The first factor that draws me into Miami Squeeze is the high production quality of the album. It’s a pin sharp audio environment in which each element stands out clearly while still blending smoothly into a cohesive whole. This is music that is sonically detailed and the production helps to emphasize those details.
Another strong element of interest for me on the album is the skill with which Zak Vortex combines synth sounds. He’s got some fascinating sounds like kalimba and hang drum mixed into the wide variety of synth tones that run the gamut from elevated shimmer to gritty slice. He combines them in novel ways to produce a textured, interwoven end product that I found irresistible.
I also want to single out the melodic chops that are evident on Miami Squeeze. Zak Vortex can put together melodies that are full of emotion and expression. I enjoy the way that he creates melodic moments that can hover between different emotional states. Many of his melodies reflect the complicated nature of feelings as they unfold and evolve.
The percussion and bass on the album are also noteworthy for me. I enjoy the diverse, rich range of drum sounds and other percussive elements along with the solid support from the deep wells of bass that rise to buoy up the other musical building blocks on the album. Taken together, they add another level of depth to the tracks.
My Favourite Tracks Analyzed
“Too Much, Too Late” comes into being with a distant, stuttering sound pulsing over a swirling, flowing background. The drums hit with a wide bodied throb and a slow-moving melody with a mournful tinge is carried on medium-high synths with a warm glow. I find the pained gentleness of the melody quite affecting as it unfolds into the track. The drums throb more slowly while the shining synth carries the soft ache of the melody.
Chimes add shimmering notes above the other musical elements while arpeggiating lines of elevated synth whirl through the music. The melancholy, dreamy melody moves over layer upon layer of synth sound, each weaving into the other. The guitar has a rich tone as it hopes and hurts into the music as the glimmering arpeggios keep circling underneath it. Each layer of the music fades out one by one until the only the glittering chimes and the full voice of the guitar are left to close it out.
There’s a delicate sonic flow over the bass depths of as “The Fix” opens and a round, slightly rough-edged synth comes in along with xylophone notes that tremble through the track. There’s a crescendo and the main melody sings in, feeling light and airy, as it slips over top of the densely layered synths and drums below it. My favourite part of the track happens as the heartfelt and emotive sax comes in, carrying a melody that oozes nostalgic wistfulness.
The xylophone shivers and the rough-edged, round synth provides more underpinning for the music while the strong drums throb. Piano notes swirl and dance and the bass oscillation is joined by a sweeping wind. There’s a crescendo as the drums come in again and the guitar leaps out in a climbing solo that feels positive and inspiring. All of the other musical elements flow in a dense, rich pattern below and around one another as the track ends.
“Heart of Darkness” starts off with a solid drumbeat and a bright, metallic arpeggio sings out through the music, adding more shimmer to the proceedings. A crystalline synth chimes out a liquid, glittering melody with sharp edges. There’s a dreamy quality to the melody that I enjoy as it is carried on the medium-high, cut glass synth. The sparkling chimes arpeggiate around the melody before it fades out.
A jazz organ carries a repeating melodic pattern of slightly jangly notes that are touched with sadness. The intertwining chimes ring out together while the supporting beat and bass glide propel the track forward . Sharp, clean light shines from the metallic, hypnotically repeating that synth fills the track. The music fades out on the steady beat and repeating pattern of notes.
A low, shifting pulse of bass is cut through by higher digital sounds and an arpeggio that has a distant, round sound to kick off “Ryo.” The reverberating beat bounces through the track while a warm, string-like arpeggio shifts gently. There’s a slight distortion in the lead synth as it carries a fragile, caressing melody over the drums.
I am enamoured of the segment in which the kalimba plays a rippling pattern while a glockenspiel shines delicately over it. There’s a break in which a string like synth plays a fragile, flowing pattern that adds texture as the drums keep pulsing onward. There’s an enfolding, light touch to the lead synth melody as that string like arpeggio keeps dancing along. This track’s lambent ease is still full of a contrasting sensation of hurt.
“Give A Little, Take A Little” opens with an energetic, clear xylophone-like synth carrying a rippling pattern of notes over strong, bursting drums. Dreaming chimes float in a delicate melodic line as a digital-sounding synth bounces through the track.
I am drawn to the golden light of the medium high synth as it sings out a cascading melodic pattern, while swelling washes of sound slip over the powerful drums. Sunny sparkles dapple into the track as the lead synth glows and each element around it flickers and gleams. The tender, full melody drifts through before the track slowly fades into brightness.
A hollow, metallic hang drum sound carries a leaping, rapid note pattern over the dynamic sounds of the unique drums to bring “Miami Squeeze” to life. The hang drum wriggles as quick orchestra hits flash into the music. I am drawn to the way in which the guitar cries out and dances through the track.
The rapidly moving hang drum pattern returns to propel the music forward with leaping energy. The guitar’s rocking voice slices in, jumping above the surging metallic pulse and the driving drums .Waves of dark, hard-hitting bass shift with surging drums that batter into the track in an ear catching series of percussion sounds.
“A New Beginning” commences with a deep, seething pulse of quickly oscillating bass that descends below the smooth, steady drumbeat. An enfolding lead synth carries a slowly evolving series of notes that crescendo into the track along with upward arcing arpeggios that glitter below a gentler flow of notes. I am drawn to the way those gentle notes wrap around the ears like a velvet blanket while the deep bass pulsation goes on and on.
The arpeggios keep up their glowing progress, slow circles spreading outwards. A guitar with gritty edges shifts in another slow pattern, supporting the flickering synths that sing out in long lines. The guitar sharpens and fills out the lead synth part as the bass and arpeggios interact to add more texture. The melodic pattern that drifts through is full of longing and yearning, reaching for more.
Jazz organ carries rich chords that move below a gentle, elevated melody to start off "One Dark Night.” The organ is joined by huge retro drums and chiming, arpeggiating notes that wriggle through the track. I enjoy the positive-feeling jazz organ melody because it has an innocent, open quality about it. The spinning, crystalline arpeggios add texture over the strength of the drums as they throb into the music.
The melody dreams quietly over the shine below it as a smooth, full, medium low synth plays a slower arpeggio. The chimes carry an uplifting, invigorating melodic line over the continual drum heartbeat and rapid ripples of shining synth. The lead melody dances in, lifting the spirits as it flows out over the glitter that sparkles around it.
Miami Squeeze is another great example of how the basic building blocks of synth based music can be combined to create engaging and interesting pieces that are richly layered with a wide ranging sonic palette.