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Synth Pop Album Review: "Hot Tropics" by Charity Cult

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.


Initial Impressions

Charity Cult’s Hot Tropics has a glitchy, digitized feeling that both contrasts with and is complimentary of the lyrics that combine emotion with digital and robotic imagery. MV’s voice can be aching or cold, uplifting or lost as he expresses the well-crafted lyrics. There is digital, 8-bit sounding synth moments along with guitar that can arc high or growl low. Behind it all are the deep bass lines and throbbing drums that add support.

First and foremost, I am drawn to MV’s vocal delivery on this album. His voice has a range of emotional expression that helps him interpret the lyrics he’s created effectively. His delivery can range from tremulous to energetic, but it always gets at the emotional heart of the songs.

The lyrics that MV has written are rich with imagery and meaning. They travel across an aching, shattered emotional terrain and create unique similes and metaphors that work with the digital, robotic nature of much of the album.

I am a fan of the mixture of clear, clean melodies with the computerized sound of the synths and the leaping, powerful energy of the electric guitar parts. Add to these elements the solidity of the bass and the power of the drums and the end result is ear-pleasing and bottom-shaking in equal measure.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“Frozen In Time” begins with twisted chiming sounds moving above the depth of the bass and a ringing guitar that pulsates underneath MV’s delicate voice. The guitar has an intertwined feeling as it moves into the track in a shifting pattern. The guitar doubles the strong vocal melody, bright and jangling over the melodic movement.

The shifting, distorted chime has a unique sound as the waves of guitar cascade over it. I am enamoured of how the melody is touched with melancholy. The vocals drift over the depths of the bass and the drums have a steady pulse. A bluesy, crying guitar solo leaps out and sings high over the distorted chimes and steady beat.

This song tells the story of a relationship that our narrator can’t forget. He talks of a relationship that “started in the summer” and last through the fall. It was a “yearning like no other” that he thought he could keep hold of forever. In trying to “keep it under cover” he only succeeded in having it spill “all out of control.” In spite of it all, in his mind “it’s frozen in time.”

Once they were in the winter, there was a “darkness deeper than cold.” Our narrator says the he could still “hear all the whispers of beautiful lies that we told.” Those lies didn’t last and when “springtime started to bloom” everything went “away forever and only the shadows loom.” After all of that, he still finds the thoughts are still frozen in time.

A burst of electronic noise gives way to a sharp-edged, rough synth that growls underneath angular vocals to open “On and Off Again. ” The steady, electronic tick of the drums underpins a raised, digital synth carrying a twisted melody over the repeating chorus and the glitchy harshness of the bass.

There’s a flatness to the vocal delivery which gives it a digitized quality that I find effective. Rising, twisting synth bends and wriggles through the track with warm keyboard-like chords that distort. There’s a return to the grit and growl of the bass and a repeating line of glowing synth contrasting with the coolness of the vocals.

The lyrics of this song are full of feelings of breakdown, near disaster and desire. The image of the “jagged rhythm of a stuttering core on catastrophe’s edge” is a powerful one. I also enjoy the idea of the temperature spiking from “emotional dredge.” The image of a computer screen failing is well-conveyed in the line, “terminal flickering…phosphor and black.” The narrator warns us that if someone doesn’t pull the plug or flip the breaker, “there’s no coming back.”

Further adding to the metaphor of desire in this song, the chorus has the narrator asking to be turned on and turned off again but ultimately wants to be turned on and “never turn me off again.”

After the system has crashed and begun to reboot, there needs to be “hacking slashes and strokes to screen flashes to get to the root.” However after an error from a “careless operator” it comes to a halt, so now one has to “rip the board out reformat and restore to default.”

I enjoy the line that talks of “indicator, indication, contemplation inside of my head” but there’s an “analysis paralysis initiated from factual dread.” After the processes have been “deviated, relegated, terminated” ultimately everything is melting down and “sirens sound as the trace leaves the host.”

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“My Neon Heart Still Blinks For You” comes into being with a reverberating drum and a strong digital-sounding synth that kicks off a shimmering pulse over the warmer guitar. The guitar cries out a caressing melodic line before the lead synth sings a gentle melody.

There’s something aching in the vocals and in the singing, arcing guitar. I am drawn to the melodic lead synth melody that contrasts with the edgy pulse of the rougher bass that oscillates below it. There’s a slight distance to the vocals that emphasizes their emotive quality.

I enjoy the distinct cyberpunk flavour of this song and its images. As it begins, the narrator remembers how the song’s subject “standing in the afterglow of the city” would “glisten every night.” He adds that living through a collapse of everything can “be pretty unrefined.” In spite of it all, “our bodies dance by the dying light.”

There’s well-constructed imagery in the chorus. I like the idea of the narrator’s “neon heart” like a “beacon in the darkness shining through.” He talks of how his pulse grows faster as “the night is thickening around you.”

A sense of confusing is conveyed in the lines, “wading through the aftermath of decisions, erased by waves of a crashing mind” and those waves go “washing over moonless streets casting visions never breached.” The song ends on a tremendous line that says “darkness is the dialect of the blind.”

A throbbing bass pulse moves in to kick off “Hit Like A Drug” along with shining, delicate chimes and massive drums that batter with a hollow sound. The computerized glow of the lead synth shifts over the slow ache of the vocals. They tremble and emote over that hard hitting bass pulse and the gigantic drums.

I enjoy the catchy chorus as the sparkling 8-bit sound carries a slowly revolving melody over the relentless pulsation of the bass. The vocals’ soft touch moves over the huge drums and bass throb. There’s something hopeful in the slow movement of the computerized, full lead synth.

A feeling of desperate clinging and searching for lost hope permeates the lyrics of this song. The narrator talks about struggling to imagine another day in hell. He is confessional as he admits that he’s not doing so well.

There’s an addict’s yearning as he says, “I need an injection, I’m lookin’ to score” while adding that he’s lost connection and finds himself begging for more. He speaks of a sense of alienation “out here on the skids.” I am drawn to how MV formulates the lines, “life in agony welcomes what heaven forbids.” He craves “an infusion to steady to the soul” because he “can’t take the delusion and I’m losing control.”

The chorus is a list of all the things for which the narrator aches. I especially enjoy “drive that bangs like a drum…strength that rains from above…faith that smokes like a gun and love that hits like a drug.”

“Another Life” starts out with a fuzzy guitar that sings the melody which is full of sunlight and bursting warmth as it cries out over the thump of the drums. The vocals are powerful and shot through with dreamy hope as they soar over the driving drumbeat.

I enjoy how the leaping, bright cry of the elevated lead synth lifts over the bass throb and drum pulse. A swirling backdrop of smooth sound backs up the lead synth as it climbs and cries with a lambent burst over the pulsing bass and drums. The guitar shines again, deeply impassioned and hopeful over the beat.

This is a song in which the narrator muses about what could have been in a different life. I am drawn to the notion of another life “carved from the blade of another knife” and the word play in which the narrator talks about a life in which “we could intertwine like vines of a kind.”

He talks about being on “another timeline, in some other fine time” in which he could “always shine…find the right line…give the right sign.” He imagines a life in which he had “some other fresh youth and nothing to prove” so that he could make the right grooves and moves. In an alternate life, one in which “the seas weren’t as rough and the rains weren’t as tough” he could “be the right stuff, it could all be enough.”

A pattern of gently moving, 8-bit synth is is joined by an active bass line, the wash of water and gently floating sounds to open “Only Programmed To Feel Pain.” The steady, unique beat ticks into the music behind the smooth vocal melody. The vocals twine through the gliding background, there’s a misty sensation given by that backdrop that I find compelling.

An arpeggiating synth is now joined by the churn and grit of a big slab of guitar that cuts into the track over the bass thunder, adding more weight and a real contrast as now we drift into a section where the guitar cries out over the swirl and float.

This is a tale of a person's world fallen apart and a heart that needs to be debugged. The narrator begins by saying it has been some time since “the big fallout”, everything is still “ripped to shreds and scattered about.” He points out that it can take a while to rebuild and “face further delays from aimless guile.”

I enjoy the notion that “decompiling the heart is a complex art” because each bug you find is in a class that “remains undefined.” He says “if it’s no trouble to shoot, better then to execute” until everything is “stripped down to the core and only programmed to feel pain.” He feels that “the scraps will be up off the floor” and things will be built better and with new mods like “pulse overclocking and nerve integration.”

“Unmarked Miles” comes to life with a softly shivering sound that moves into open space. The delicate synth is joined by deliberate, powerful guitar chords that shimmer slightly and flow out in long waves into the song. I enjoy the pained ache of the vocals as they tremble into open space. The heaviness of the guitar contrasts with the soft melancholy of the vocals.

This is a song about waiting to find out if a relationship will survive. The narrator begins by commenting that “it must have been something you said in the night, in the wake of forever, in the shock of the bite.” The narrator mentions being “clueless or lost in a dream” because it seems like a moment we need not redeem.”

Our narrator figures that the time has come to find out how much time is left. He says, “we’ve been waiting some time you know and this time there’s still some ways to go.” Now there’s a countdown “on the highway of endless clocks that won’t chime.” He concludes that it’s likely useless to “mark every mile” because the “skyline horizon won’t be for a while.”


Charity Cult has created a fun, enjoyable and well-crafted album of synth-y, digital and energetic electronic pop music in Hot Tropics. It combines cyberpunk sensibilities with strong songwriting and emotive singing.

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