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Synth Album Review: "WAVES" by Daniel Quasar

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Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!

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Initial Impressions

Daniel Quasar’s WAVES is an album exploring issues of being and becoming, along with loss and pain. Their emotional exploration also includes a sonic palette that further emphasizes the themes that appear in the song lyrics with sensations of emptiness, desolation and drift emanating from the synths that they use. The feeling of deep loneliness is occasionally pierced by light and moments that are more uplifting.

The first element that drew me to WAVES is the calibre of Daniel Quasar’s songwriting. They are able to craft words that clearly and sharply delineate emotion and humanity. Their insight into thought and feeling allow the songs to cut incisively into the listener’s mind and plant the ideas there. I also enjoy their way with crafting strong images through words.

Another strong aspect of the album is the use of synths to evoke feelings of emptiness, vast cosmic voids and great distance. There are cold, starry twinkling sounds, glitches and static along with moments of deep bass and sounds all backed by wide open sonic space. Those sensations of separation and divide match the lyrical content nicely. I find myself transported by the overall sonic palette of the music and carried on a space journey.

I also find myself drawn in by the way Daniel Quasar uses their voice. They have a natural ache in their singing that only emphasizes the emotional content of the music more but they have also effectively used a vocal filter that creates a robotic tone. The feelings of isolation, cold and distance are all powerfully present and deepen the strength of the lyrical content further.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

"UPGRADE” comes into being with a great void of open space around Daniel Quasar’s robotically distorted voice and a hollow, metallic sound that expands into that vast sonic space. Echoing, bouncing and metallic sounds keep flowing out into the cosmic void along with their distorted vocals.

Sharp-edged, medium low synth sounds drift in waves as they’re joined by the throbbing pulse of the beat. Their vocals drift along through space and the beat feels relentless as the hard-edged synths growl into cavernous space. Now we fade into those broken, brief sounds and clouds of sharp edged synth underneath and the beat breaks apart. Their voice has a lost quality as it moves into the song.

Dislocation, loss and a sense of confusion fill the words of this song. The narrator talks about feeling something coming from all around. They ask, “What was I thinking? Leave it all behind.” There is uncertainty for them as they wonder, “If I take it all when it comes, will I make it to the other side?”

Confusion seems to reign as our narrator isn’t sure about what’s going on. They do, however, realize that it “won’t be long ’til I find myself in another place” where they’ll be “left to devices” and can’t go wrong.

Intense feelings grow like “a storm brewing in my mind” and as they go into the rush, ‘it feels like desire.” They ask if they weather it, will they find themselves “planed even higher?”

Uncertainty grows too as they are “stuck in this from within” on a path that was chosen but the narrator questions whether the choice was theirs at all. Even if it was, they ask,”Could I change the pace? Find some meaning held deep inside.”

Shadowy waves of computerized synth sound rise in dark, full chords to open “Lonely Soldier (feat. Vice)” as deep tubular bells move below Daniel Quasar’s expressive vocals. The dense clouds of trembling synth echo out around the lost, almost spectral vocals. There is a brightness in the synths that move in, but it’s the cold and empty light of distant stars.

The vocals interlock with the deep resonance of the tubular bells before Vice starts to rhyme over the stuttering beat and floating synths that ripple out behind the music. Daniel Quasar’s voice fits the emotional tenor of this music well. High, whistling, ethereal synth moves in shifting lines and the deep tubular bells swell and fade out to end the track.

A tale of a robotic or cybernetic soldier unfolds in the lyrics. The character in the story is “frozen in a lake of every kind of danger” and is surrounded by it. It is taking over and the soldier’s answer to not knowing where to go is to “break through.”

Even after taking the time to “realign” their surroundings, the protagonist realizes that something is quite wrong. The main character is just ”a lonely soldier, mechanical wonder” who has been “through the fire and out from under.”

Loss and emptiness permeate the song in the lines, “I don't know what it takes but I don't fit in this place. There's no one else here.” The soldier comes to eventually reailze that “it’ll fall apart if I mine this iron heart.”

Our narrator points out that we take our time to survive but asks, “How will you know when you crossed that line?”

Vice’s rhymes are enjoyably complex and nuanced verse. It is from the main character’s perspective and contains some powerful images. This is a journey into a slowly dawning comprehension that has been hard won. There is a need to let go and break free of old patterns expressed here.

I have some favourites out of the rhymes that were created. I enjoy the contradictory feelings in the line, “crave the morning light which I refuse to harness.” I love the tripartite personality shown in the words, “a lonely soldier or a broken man or a chrysalis bursting in my squeezing hand.”

I enjoy the vigilance and seeking being described in the words, “I keep an eye on my mind and on my latent desires. Ever searching for an ember to kindle a flame” and the neat phrasing in the line, “there isn't a science to the art of being.”

The realization that inner knowledge is the most important form of knowing is expressed in the words, “Of course that ember’s hidden deep inside, only recognized by the eternal eye.”

I am enamoured of the sophistication in the lyrics that say, “against the grain of generations of pain, epigenetically embedded in our bones and veins.” I enjoy the interwoven rhyme inside the lines, “Its armor slow sundering, the siren call of these luxuries, that constant psychic hungering.”

“LAST/STEP” comes to life as a rush of tight synth sound moves into the wide open sonic spaces of the track. Medium-high synth moves in rising lines over the deep wells of bass and a throbbing drumbeat that becomes more active as it moves, but still brushes the surface of the track rather lightly.

Sharp synth rises in minor key lines and the drums gain some power as all of the sounds rush on in shadowy space. The beat launches again along with some astral, breathy, open sounds flowing out into the track. I enjoy the mixture of glow and ache in those lambent notes. I also like how the melodic segment is slowed down so the melody unfolds more gradually.

Bursts of glimmering synth are joined by high, slicing sounds that move over the throbbing beat as “Celestial Beings” kicks off. The beat fades for a moment as shimmering, airy synths flash into the track and weave a bright tapestry. The beat rises and again drops off as the synths swirl together as a high melody calls out in a wandering line.

I am drawn to the flash and sparkle of this track, balanced against elements that feel tense and nervous. Above all of the other sonic elements of the track, the flickering synths dance. The beat drops out again and a sawtoothed synth cuts in and fades before the beat re-establishes itself. A quick line of glowing, cascading synth moves and wiggles above the track as it closes out.

“Wild Abandon” beings with oscillating synth waves floating out over the gently throbbing drums and Daniel Quasar has imbued their voice with a robotic distortion, creating an alien feeling. I enjoy how the robotic vocals effectively increase the sense of desolation the permeates this album. A synth with a ragged edge and a hard glitter flashes into the track and the beat has a smooth, full feeling.

Over the beat, the synth drifts into medium-high, guitar-like waves. An echoing, metallic circular sound is joined by high, howling synth. Like many of the tracks on this album, it has an open and spaced out feeling that adds to the overall impressions of alienation and struggle with inner complexity.

A sense of questioning and seeking fills the lyrics of this song. Our narrator begins by saying,” Can't seem to understand, there are mysteries all around.” They continue to question if it’s something that they could even change and if so “could I hold it down?”

Their mind is racing with “wildly abandoned thoughts” but they still are forced to ask, “Why is this silence so loud when I can't seem to make a sound?” There is an internal struggle going on as the narrator feels tears on their face but asks, “What is this I am trying to feel?”

Now they cry out, “Mysteries escape and again, couldn’t I just speak aloud?” The feeling of incomprehension is clear as they say they can’t understand and add, “if it's something I can, could i hold it down?

Ghostly, elevated synths that drift out into space are joined by brittle metallic xylophone notes and a harsh, clashing beat as “Proto” starts. Raised synth bursts over top in glistening notes that carry a minor key pattern. A warmer, richer flow of synth comes in with the sound of tubular bells and the lead synth has a triumphant quality to it.

Another moment of metallic tinkling moves in before the raised, round-sounding synths climb up over the depth and weight underneath them. I am drawn to how all of the synth elements intertwine in this track. The rising waves of notes are underpinned by more shadowed swirls of sound and the bursting beat that hits under it and we fade out on shimmering notes and ghostly chimes.

“BLUE” opens on elevated, bright, glitchy synth sounds that are reminiscent of a cassette tape being rewound over a smooth, flowing background. Daniel Quasar’s voice drifts into the openness as a steady drum heartbeat pulse and accelerates. The beat subdivides and in the background gliding, airy sounds shift and coalesce.

Once more, Daniel Quasar’s vocal distortion adds to the feeling of dislocation. The high, twisting synth slowly moves in the background and again there is a half-time beat. A pipe organ-like synth twines out a series of melodic, caressing notes and we fade into silence.

This is one of the more positive songs on the album as it speaks of progress and change for the better. The narrator says that they have changed and that they “realize things are different,
I know I did you wrong” but now they are set free and they want to make amends.

They ask what the person they’re addressing sees n their eyes and if they’d see “would you see the same life as i do?” Our narrator speaks of a spiritual change in them and adds, “I've grown to such great heights. I've seen the world, the universe for what it's worth.”

The narrator concludes, “I've seen the end and I'll do so much more.”

Hollow synth sounds fill the opening of “COLORS” before they’re joined by a string-like sound that cascades through the song behind Daniel Qasar’s distinctive voice as they sing in Japanese. Slow arpeggios revolve and the beat pulses as the synths glide and swirl around.

I enjoy the angular quality to the shining guitar melody that moves through the song. Tense, tight pulses of shiny and metallic synth glide out through the track, moving under the expressive vocals.

The song has more forward motion now as it drives on and that angular guitar melody fades to flashing string-like sounds and open space. The slow arpeggios gently turn before the dynamic, rising guitar melody cries out and the beat pulses onward. The vocal melody doubles the guitar and the guitar sings out in long lines of shimmering notes.

In keeping with the ideas and themes explored on this album, COLORS is a song by the Japanese artist Hikaru Utada that explores themes of connection, dissolution and identity. Daniel Quasar chose well when they picked it.

“Ambivalent” comes to life with static glitch and twist flowing out into space, like a signal cut loose from its source. Elevated piano notes drift into the music through the open space all around them. The patterns of notes rise and fall into the emptiness around them, echoing out in repeating lines as a deeper flow of bass and a slow, full drumbeat gives the track form and shape. as rich but slightly edged synths rise up in full waves to support the music.

The synths shift in medium low waves as elevated, lost feeling piano drifts over the growing sonic strength underneath it. Slow, gentle notes swirl out into the echoing emptiness that feels like it might never end. The repeating piano line has a hypnotic quality that I find addictive. The slight buzz of the lower synths swells up again and the whorls of sound intertwine with the deep bass.

A quick rush of sound rises and floats out into space along with a keyboard like swirl of sound as “Drift(Fate) begins. Some unique percussion adds a rather ethnic flavour to the track as flowing synth notes move through the grand aural void of the track. There’s an elevated synth pattern that has a whorled quality to it.

A round, glitching, twisting synth carries a wandering line over the beat and lighter sounds gleam in the distance. I like the complex nature of this track as glitchy synth twists and piano notes that cluster and wriggle through as the beat continues onward. As the track ends, a lone twisting and distorted synth flows out into vast space.

Conclusion

WAVES is a rich, nuanced listen that voyages across deep emotional territory and creates a wide open, cold soundscape along with a very human examination of vulnerabilities and ways to grow.

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