Synth Album Review: The Fair Attempts, "Carnal Insect"
Thundering guitars, weighty bass and powerfully driving drums underpin this dark examination of the twisted side of society and human relationships. Carnal Insect is an album that hits hard and delves deeply into complicated and emotionally fraught territory. There’s nothing easy or relaxing about Carnal Insect, but for that reason it also delivers quite a punch to the metaphorical gut.
The atmospherics of this album are definitely painted in shades of black and grey, shot through with angry red. The entire album throbs with sensations of disgust, rage and a certain resigned sadness about the state of the world and living in it.The combination of that churning electric guitar with the heaviness of the bass hammers home the message with aggression.
I have to talk about the way in which “Friendly Timo,” the vocalist, deploys his voice on Carnal Insect. Whether he’s whispering or growling in that classic metal singer style, his voice conveys the weight of the anger or depression that he’s trying to express. There’s an element of deep emotion in the timbre of his voice that only adds to the gut punching quality of the album.
Another element that I want to single out is the guitar work on Carnal Insect. It has a heft and a thundering power to it that is like an uppercut to the jaw. It has the effect of powerfully hammering home the lyrics when it roars to life behind them. Harking back to the metal roots of synthwave definitely happens frequently on this recording.
There are sections on the album where the heavier and more angry elements on the album fade out and for a brief while we drift on more ethereal and softer sounds, giving the ears and mind a rest from the relentless attack that fills much of Carnal Insect. Those pauses also serve to heighten and accentuate the anger and aggression of the rest of the album, thereby actually making it more effective.
On this album, the synths provide texture and shape to the album, rather than being foregrounded. Some of the choices that Timo has made on this album seem to have been made on the basis of the sounds that they create as part of the overall effect of the music. I think they are useful in their supporting roles by adding to the tension or releasing a little of it when that becomes necessary.
I think it’s now time to go through those tracks on the album that I was particulary drawn to and discuss my reasons for feeling that way about them.
The opening track “Black Widow” is one in which the lyrics really struck me. The imagery of being trapped in a spider’s web as a metaphor for an emotional trap resonated with me and I especially liked the line, “I'm clinging in this fuzzy feeling/I’m hanging by a thread/All keen and pacified/Obsessed with what you said.” The idea of being keen but still pacified stuck with me.
As for the music itself, Timo’s singing is intense, conveying strong emotions. The driving guitar is powerful as is the churning beat that pushes the song forward. I am a fan of the drum sounds on this track that underpin the aggressive guitar work. The high synth melody in this song has a unique quality that I enjoyed.
“Another Heap” is social commentary that cuts and bites in the best possible way. Timo sings, “You smell that fresh new blood/You dig your claws in/You know it's a race to the bottom/And you've gotta win” as he dissects the culture of greed present in some parts of society. Later on, voice slicing through the ferocious guitar, he eviscerates the cycle of over-consumption that society is trapped in when he sings, “Dung beetle found another heap/Cycle of shit that goes on and on and on and on/Your greed is your queen and king/You let the insect in/Your rotten dreams are what you reap.”
The underpinnings of this track are suitably full of aggression with the guitar shredding and the beat thundering. There’s one short interlude of spaced out and floating synthscape, just to give the ears a rest before the thunder starts again. As the track winds down, it fades into simple piano notes.
A sense of loss and a struggle to prevail against all of the various factors that press down on us in life is the subject of “Little Light.” Once again, Timo’s voice slices through the background music, telling us about the struggle to keep that “little light” alive in the midst of chaos and to fight back against the desire to withdraw from feeling. He sings about his heart being made to soar but adds, “I'm scared to my core/Of all the joy, the fun, and games” and concludes, “it may mean we say goodbye/It could be that I will die.” The dichotomy of pulling close and pushing away is clear here.
Musically there’s an interesting xylophone-like sound and the guitar in this track is less metal feeling and lighter in tone, but still full of intensity. This is a track that keeps the tension simmering, more than spilling over.
The pessimistic vision of Carnal Insect is well-represented by “Race to the Red Light.” The lyrics explore the futility of a constant race towards nothing of any consequence, the violent rush towards pointlessness. As the music drives and pounds, the lyrics say, “You want it all but you can have none/Spin in the space next to the sun/You're the last dumb fuck who fights/You won the race to the red lights.” This is a song that screams of fighting in the absence of any reason left to fight.
As for the musical component, this track is stripped to synths and beats. My brain makes a comparison between the music here and some of the more “goth” electronic music of the ‘80s, all of the elements adding to the nihilistic feeling of this track. Keeping things simple here helped to cement the overall emotional tenor of “Race to the Red Light.”
Carnal Insect is a complex, emotionally harrowing and sonically aggressive album that tackles issues head on without flinching. Timo is both an engaging songwriter and an exciting singer and the musical backing of this album helps reinforce the messages he puts into his words and the emotion exuded by his voice. Don't go into this album if you want anodyne background music because this is very much engaging foreground music!