Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.
EM/FM‘s Quixote is an album that is brimming over with emotion, passion and musical richness. The album combines EM/FM’s deeply expressive voice with his poetic lyrics and adds complex, finely woven musical backing. The end result is one of the more sensitive, emotive synth-based albums I’ve reviewed in 2021.
I must start by discussing EM/FM’s vocal performance on the album. His voice is able to convey intense emotion in a wide-ranging way. He explores everything from deep melancholy to exultant joy in his warm, strong tones. The way he can interpret his lyrics only increases the expressive power that they create. I also want to shout out to the quality of the guest vocals from Jocee Tuck and Grace Duncan.
There’s a poetic quality to many of the lyrics on Quixote. EM/FM has penned songs that touch on a variety of human experiences. He weaves a lyrical fabric that is ornate and full of heart that he crafts into a tapestry of sensation and feeling throughout the album.
Quixote is full of different textures, timbres and melodic depths. EM/FM smoothly combines synths that range from shadow to flaring light and encompass the spectrum from gritty guitar to glowing chimes.
His melodic writing produces lines that are clear, but able to convey multiple sensations in a coherent way. He also has a superb sense of rhythm that adds extra power to the music. Speaking of power, John Salzano's sax performance on "Krissy Sha La" exudes it from every note.
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“Standards” comes to life with gritty, deep synth bass pulses below elevated, shimmering, metallic synth. EM/FM’s emotionally expressive vocals are followed by a brassy, trumpeting synth playing an exultant melodic line. I enjoy the lush, sensitive vocal performance in this song.
A cascading, spinning arpeggio flickers in and now a medium-high synth bends its tones through and a string like synth rings out and EM/FM’s voice is tremulous over the steady drumbeat before it drifts out into silence.
This is a song about not settling in relationships. The narrator says simply, “don’t let your standards down, good men are still around.” He adds that if the person he’s addressing settles for less, it’ll be much harder to start “battling for our best.”
Our narrator warns the other person about thinking that when they go to town, the song’s subject will find someone who will “put the health of your soul before his body” so they should keep their standards up.
Throbbing, uneven, dark bass moves below EM/FM’s heart-felt vocals as a piano plays a smooth note pattern to open “5 Years.” Minor key chords move below the trembling emotion of the vocals and a guitar cries out. Digitally shining synth sparkles and the soaring vocals move through the music.
I am attracted to the gruff, swirling electric guitar as it shreds in tight lines, adding an explosive element to the track. EM/FM’s voice is full of expression along with a raised synth that cries out in pain as the drums batter. Throbbing bass moves below the distortion of the vocals. A jazzy. synth solo arcs and flies along, thick notes wildly jiggling and crying out as the piano chords move unevenly into silence.
Sometimes hard fought victories are hard to reach for and this song explores the struggle to go forward. The narrator talks about it taking “five years to the top of the hill” and looking behind to see that “I’ve been standing still.” He hopes that when he finally reaches the top, the person he’s singing to will be there. He adds, “We’ll marvel what I’ve done and meet who I’ve become.”
There’s a sense of painful anticipation as the narrator says, “Five years till I’m out of the woods” and asks how he could call where he’s living his neighbourhood. He adds that if he survives and “I’m in the clear, I’ll be made of steel.”
The narrator talks about setting a time goal that “fills you with the feeling of fire in your gut” so that you can keep struggling on. He adds that “The price for your life is hardly too high at five.”
Sometimes the the struggle is ultimately worth the price as the narrator talks of being ready for the person the song addresses. He says at that point the puzzle will be “pieced together, set in glue.”
He continues by saying that after the struggle, the “hills and troughs won’t be such a cross shouldered by the two of us.” He encourages the song’s subject as he adds, “you’ll know it when you feel it in my arms.”
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There’s defiance as he concludes, “I’ll fight it and I’ll beat it if I keep your eyes before my mind. I’m counting down from five.”
“Amalia” begins as swelling, warm synth is joined by an open, echoing drumbeat. The warm synth climbs upwards before EM/FM's resonant and gentle voice moves in. The vocal melody is full of deep affection as chimes add more shine and glitter to the music. The beat has an uneven quality below the sparks of light that flicker over the enfolding, heart-touching melody.
I enjoy the smooth and caressing quality of EM/FM's singing here. Glittering motes of light glint from the clear, chiming synth while the solidity of the beat adds support underneath the other musical elements. There’s something dreaming and languid about this song. The music winds down with a flourish of percussion and bright, chiming sounds.
Sometimes we yearn for a person that will be forever out of reach. This song expresses that sensation. The narrator talks about his words being “warm like wine in the back of my throat” where they are caught until Amalia goes. His words are “pure as snow below maple trees” but he adds that there is always “something wrong with me.”
Our narrator says she’s “the smile in everything, the song that makes the music sing.” He adds that he’s “so hard on everyone” and that if you “hold a candle to an angel” that’s him. He goes on to say that Amalia leaves him “caught in open stare” when he isn’t “pretending she’s not there.”
There’s strong imagery as he talks about how “in the limelight, she is diamond” and even from the distance he keeps from her “she still gleams.” Amalia is someone who “reminds the world of modesty” as he adds that he’d mind what he said to her. In the end, she “deserves more than poetry” and “though my thoughts are on Amalia, my mind is still on me.”
EM/FM’s expressive voice and synth shimmers kick off “Close Enough.” The chiming synth doubles the tremulous vocal melody and the drums pulse out a smooth, solid beat. There’s more emotive power as the aching chorus climbs. Quick trembles of delicate synth rise as the metallic sounds match the vocal melody.
I am drawn to the way that the chorus creates intense emotion as the round, luscious synth tones support the rising vocal melody. The drums glide along as quick sparkling synths flash and the chimes tinkle with a softly metallic sound. The track is relaxed but full of sadness as EM/FM sings.
As the song begins, the narrator is aware that nothing can happen between him and the person to whom he’s singing. He still points out that there’s a “feeling that comes over me, I know what it means.” He tries to keep things friendly but falls victim to “thinking of being with you” when his gesture is appreciated.
The narrator still craves the chance to show the other person “a selfless love” even if it can never become more. He only goes to the parties the other person will be at so he can experience “your voice, your hand on my shoulder, the hum when you're leaning closer.”
Even if there’s a chance that “the walls will make their own stories” the narrator says “girl, I'm gon' ignore it.” He adds that other people’s “suspicions aren't worth missing you to disprove’’ so he’ll just be honest.
He concludes that he wants to be “close enough to see where you’re going” and that maybe his feelings are showing. Our narrator knows that their time is short and “life is long” so the connection he has with the song’s subject helps him to go on.
At the end of the day, he won’t risk “regrets and broken bonds” so he’s willing to stay inside the lines they drew. It’ll be enough for him to “be by your side every day, even if nothing more” because she is in his heart forever.
“Krissy Sha La”
“Krissy Sha La” breathes into being as hollow, sparkling synth joins EMFM’s impassioned vocals. I like the way in which the glowing synth carries a delicate, melancholy melody that intertwines with the gentle vocal melody. Smooth drums direct the song while the sax adds a cool, intricate melodic line.
EM/FM's vocals are full of affection as the sax cries out and piano notes distantly wander in a jazzy line. Lightly singing chimes return to mingle with the tranquil vocals before a string-like, medium-low synth moves in an angular line. The song bursts back to flaring light and interlocking vocals before it ends.
This song is a tribute to someone for whom the narrator cares deeply. He talks about how Krissy works on Broadway which has been her dream.” He adds, “she doesn’t get to often ‘cos she’s what they call a ‘swing’” but he says it means that Krissy can do anything.
The narrator talks about how she can recall the details he forgets like “the date we watched the sunrise in the middle of the sea.” I especially enjoy the lines, “part of Krissy’s heart is a recorder of her feelings and I’m happy that she’s feeling me.”
There’s a wry smile implied as the narrator talks about how his mouth “will run itself around in circles” but she listens as part of the “cost of kissing me.” He says he’ll travel to NYC to see her in the winter but “her touch will be a warm reminder of the summer.”
Our narrator talks about how she’s left a party to fetch him. He says that “she hops, and skips, and grins to see me coming in.” Even though his brain is half asleep and he’s dizzy “I won’t worry ‘cos Krissy thinks of everything.”
“Per Aspera Ad Astra”
A synth starts high and descends to the depths while a piano adds nuances of expression as the track opens. EM/FM's vocals twine through, full of powerful emotion, above hollow percussion and a synth glittering like diamonds. I am enamoured of the wandering, ballad-like melody as it sails over the deep bass, synth shine and a tapestry of sound that all weaves into one intense whole.
The melody is carried by EM/FM’s touching vocals while a delicately glimmering synth line floats on. Cosmic sounds drift together below the rising synth melody and climbing vocals. A dense, medium-low synth sings out a tragedy touched melody as it calls out over the other musical elements. An arpeggio spins over the leaping, falling lines of synth and drums that accent a guitar cascade. The song ends on deep bass and hissing static.
This a song about a being who has hidden amongst humans but wishes to return home. The narrator talks about being born “into the arms of the other side” in a place “beyond the shroud that holds their stars at night.”
He talks about how, even though he walks “in company” his heart has remained alone. The narrator adds that he remembers and he’ll go “through hardship to the stars.” He continues by saying that the world is “a step I’ll climb” as he rises through time and space. The narrator states emphatically “my love I’m coming home to you.”
He explains that he’s made “the tongues and tones these creatures share” his own, but he has to protect the humans from seeing his “truest form” because they couldn’t grasp it. He concludes, “We are from two worlds more far apart than maps could show. For I remember, and I’ll go.”
On Quixote, EM/FM combines sensitive vocals, poetic lyrics and strong musical chops into an album that is brimming with feeling. He is able to combine synths in a way that allows their timbral and textural qualities to add real depth to the vocals and melodies.
© 2021 Karl Magi