Synth Album Review: US3r, "Influence"
We live in an era dominated by endless images, constructed personalities and a constant pressure to put our entire lives up for public consumption, while we lack real intimacies and struggle to start real relationships. This is the ground that US3r covers on his album Influence. This is not an album that is meant to be comforting, this is an album that is meant to force us to take a hard look at what we’re becoming and to interrogate it. It’s also an album that uses its sound to either reinforce or create contrast with the lyrical content. If you’re looking for fluff that doesn’t require thought, I’d suggest moving on.
The lyrics and the ideas behind them are, to me, the most important part of Influence and so I’ll start by discussing them and why I felt that they hit so hard.
In “Millennial Blues”, US3r sings about what society tells us we should expect for ourselves and what the reality of those expectations produces. It can’t be any clearer than, “They make us sick so they can make us well/They make us feel like shit/So we will buy what they sell.” The lack of real, human connection also comes under scrutiny in the song as he says, “We treat our friends like they are fans/We gotta start having real relationships.”
“i wanna be famous” is another hard-hitting song as US3r starts out saying, “I wanna be everything I’m not” and goes on to discuss how we hide behind virtual masks, appearing as one thing in public and denying any real feelings or sense of loneliness. The ultimate point that I took from the song is that we all want to be famous, beautiful people rather than who we actually are.
Not every track has overt social commentary. There were two poppier tracks in the mix and I thought that, of those two, the stronger was “Simple.” US3r lets his more emotional, more modern pop oriented side out on this track as he sings, “If love is so complicated/Why does it feel so simple?”
Along with his lyrics, US3r also shows off his voice to good effect. Whether he’s singing in a more pop style or delivering his vocal punches to a dysfunctional society, he is a crisp, clear singer with a good ability to translate the emotions of his lyrics into words. I did quite like the poppier side of his singing, even if the tracks that were most powerful weren’t delivered with that same feeling.
As for the music itself, there’s a unique mixture of different elements that coexist on Influence. Sometimes it touches on synth-driven, retro-influenced territory and sometimes there’s a distinct modern pop/R’n’B influence that comes through. There are certainly a few commonalities between the tracks including very sharp, hard-hitting drums and deep bass. US3r also tends to use crunchy synths and some distortion as a part of his tool kit on the album, adding a certain edge to complement his cutting lyrics.
There are, as always, certain tracks that stood out for me and I’ll run through them now and let you know what I thought about them.
"Millennial Blues" starts with synths warmly bouncing back and forth, reverberating into open space as US3r’s voice cuts into the mix. He sings about what “millennials” are told to expect by society and how it contrasts with their actual life experiences. The contrast between the floating sensations on this track and the impact of the lyrics only draws them into sharper focus. The amount of air in the track makes it feel light and the synths are warm, despite the weight of the song’s message.
In a world that demands fame, “i wanna be famous” dissects the pathology behind this desire. The lyrics talk about the fundamental emptiness of interactions in an era dominated by social media and constantly shifting attention from influencer to influencer or celebrity to celebrity. I found that the music had a strong ’80s retro flavour from the beat and the main synth line which contrasts with the current nature of the song’s message. There was a real depth and lushness to this track.
“what we used to be” starts out with US3r’s voice distorting into crunchy noise as a solid beat kicks in. This is a song about the changeable nature of life and love as the lyrics say, “ I want to be what we used to be, remember love that we set each other free.”
This is a song that speaks of yearning for a different path than the one taken. I thought that US3r’s singing was particularly impassioned and strong on this track. The synths he uses on this track are surprisingly heavy and harsh and the beat had a hip hop feel to me. Again he layers unique synth sounds together to create an interesting effect.
The track “how you really feel” has more of a modern pop feeling to it, but with a darker edge that fits with the lyrics of this song. There’s a slightly distorted piano introduction before the track’s energy level ramps up and the beat starts to throb. This is a song that talks about the insanity of the current state of society. US3r sings, “This world has gone insane, it’s fucking with my brain, everything’s become a game, we’re hungry for the fame.” In the song, he worries that we are “walking into an elevated loneliness unknown” and talks about stripping back fakery to express “how you really feel.”
Some albums are all about instrumentals and creating imagery. Influence is an album that is driven by vocals and lyrical content with the musical aspects serving to bolster them. US3r is addressing issues we all have to grapple with and doing so in a musically, lyrically interesting way on Influence. I would be quite comfortable recommending people check this album out.