Synth Music Review: Sebastian Air, "Emerald Ocean"
Sebastian Air’s album, Emerald Ocean, is shot through with tranquility leavened by heartbreak. The washes of pink and blue sound, the aetheric drift of warm synths and guitar tones and the way Sebastian Air’s voice, often slightly distorted, carries a tinge of regret and thwarted emotion. All of these elements combine to produce a recording of wistful yearning, full of loss and want.
The pervasive sense of floating through misty aural landscapes, full of pastel tones establishes itself early on in Emerald Ocean. There is a delicacy and grace to much of the music which made me feel at ease. The fragile nature of the album’s sounds is a good fit with the emotional tenor of the lyrics.
That emotional tenor combines desire, love and a yearning for intimacy with sensations of rejection and being thwarted and kept away from that love and desire by personal barriers and emotional rifts that can’t be bridged. Sebastian Air’s soft vocal delivery only increases the sense of thwarted love and disconnection that is created by the lyrical content of his songs.
The lyrics on Emerald Ocean are beautifully crafted. The imagery that is woven on the album is strong and in my view paints emotional portraits that are clearly delineated. One of my favourite lines comes in “New Dawn” where Sebastian Air sings, “Rose light veils the midnight starry glow/As the blood orange begins to show.” The image of a sunrise is sharp and fresh, immediately conjuring that particular scene to mind.
Perhaps his most emotionally affecting lyrics come from the song “Light Screen.” He sings, “Everybody wants you/No one gets too close/I just want to lose these visions/Of me making love to ghosts.” There’s a powerful sense of how far away the singer is from the person he’s singing about. The utter sense of futility of “making love to ghosts” comes through well as Sebastian Air sings the words in his aching voice.
The strength of Emerald Ocean lies in Sebastian Air’s ability to convey emotion. I found that I was touched by the overarching theme of never quite reaching the things we want to have. The feeling of being within touching distance and never able to “complete the circuit” so to speak was painfully clear on the album and it was a sort of gentle torture (in a good way) to experience those emotions as they were expressed.
There are some tracks, as always, that I feel especially compelled to comment on, so I’ll go through them and discuss the elements that appealed to me about them.
The first track which really hit me was “New Dawn” as it seamlessly drifted into life with soft flutters of high synth notes and a gently turning arpeggio. Sebastian Air’s distorted, airy vocals paint beautiful lyrical images like, “Milk white skies/Electrify my sleepy eyes.”
The beat steadily pulses through the drifting layers of rich sound and the bass is powerful, under the synths that overlay it. I found myself being carried away on the feeling of this track.
“On The Horizon” combined a smooth mid-tempo beat, some interesting almost string-like sounds playing arpeggios and a a deep guitar tone that outlines a simple, beautiful melody. There’s also a chiming synth that adds another layer of delicacy to the track.
The lyrics speak of a yearning to make contact with someone, but always being kept at a distance. In his melancholy tones, Sebastian Air delivers the lyric, “One day I’ll find you in my bed/When I leave this ditch I’ve died in” and when he sings, “I’m always just on the horizon” there’s a sense of resignation in his voice. This is another beautiful slice of warmth and pained, wistful dreaming.
The soft rush of waves is the beginning of “Emerald Ocean” as a gentle synth begins to bloom and open into the track. Soft shimmers of arpeggios move out through the track, out into the waves as Sebastian Air paints a pastel-hued, sparkling picture when he delivers the line, “Emerald glow/ Ocean daze/Face looking to the sun/Submerged in a glistening haze.”
He contrasts the soothing image of the sea running through his hair with something darker as he sings “like the blood that drips from my nose.” Once again, this is a song full of complexities and contradictions.
“Infinity Pool” stars as sound waves ripple out over a tapestry of lush synth, pulsating beats and deep bass. One single note repeats as Sebastian Air’s voice whispers into being. This track has a palpable sense of loss lingering in it. There’s a real sense of missing the “you” to whom he sings but there’s complexity as well. He sings, “As my days start getting longer/Those thoughts of you grow stronger/With echoes of words you couldn’t say/Sober.” The mixture of aching absence and fraught emotional attachments is poignant in this track.
The way in which the content of the lyrics, the lost and gentle sound of Sebastian Air’s voice and the rich, melancholic sounds of the music all interact on Emerald Ocean to produce an emotionally affecting album that makes me think of some of the synthpop produced in the ‘80s but with a more subtle, sadder feeling that explores a more complicated emotional terrain. It’ll be interesting to see what direction he takes next in his musical journey.