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Synthpop Album Review: "Mages" by Color Theory

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

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Initial Impressions

Mages is glistening, well-crafted synthpop full of Color Theory’s (Brian Hazard) expressive singing along with beautiful melodies, sparkling synths that weave rich harmonies and lyrics that explore many facets of being human.

The emotional expression in Brian Hazard’s voice is one of the more attractive features of Mages. He can imbue his feather-light voice with shadings of emotion and feeling. His vocals can lift the heart or make it ache as he expresses himself. His singing complements his lyrical skills well too.

The song writing on Mages is a good showcase of the breadth of Brian Hazard’s ability as a lyricist. He has strong word choices, rhymes them well and paints strong imagery in the lyrics. I enjoy his skill whether he’s being lighthearted or digging deep into emotionally fraught topics.

I also enjoy the way Brian Hazard weaves together a diverse, interesting series of synth sounds to create detailed harmonic interactions and well-drawn melodies. I am a fan of the way the synths limn the vocals and lyrics with added depth and feeling. Every element comes together into a pleasing whole.

My Favourite Songs Analyzed

“This Whole Nothing” comes to life with quickly cascading, airy, shiny synths that tumble downwards along with a flickering piano line. Brian Hazard’s smooth, lightly brushing vocals come in as the broad, solid drumbeat and an angular, medium-high synth pattern repeats in quick, undulations. A warm synth flow rises up around Brian Hazard’s expressive voice while light glows from the synths.

A segment with oscillating bass and pulsing drums comes in before the quick, undulating synth pattern returns. The vocals climb gently through cloudy sound as spinning, glittering arpeggios whirl. I enjoy how the melody conveys mingled acceptance, loss and hurt. Brian Hazard’s voice moves with pastel washes of synth while the glowing arpeggios dance and the beat pulses on. Reverent, string-like synth briefly moves and the drums burst one final time.

This is a song about embracing “this whole nothing” that surrounds our existence. This intangible thing “flickers in the empty space, it sparkles in the air” despite there being nothing there. The narrator talks about taking the moment “as a gift, exactly as it is” and he feels a “subtle shift” in doing so.

Our narrator embraces the “whole nothing” adding that sometimes silence is alright. In failing to embrace things as they are, he speaks of losing himself “a million times to craving and to fear” until he forgot why he was there.

The narrator asks if the “voice you hear inside your mind” is really you. If not, “who are you talking to?” He points out that “this whole nothing” is where our lives unfold. Sometimes “silence is the answer” to the question of whether or not we’re happy.

Massive retro drums, claps and a driving bassline kick off “The Next Thing” in fine ‘80s synthpop style. A minor key, string-like synth rushes rapidly through the song, carrying a sharply shadowed melodic pattern. Brian Hazard’s voice is full of emotion while round synths dance in a bouncing pattern. Minor key, string-like synth wriggles through above the angular, dynamic bass line. The vocals are accented by flickers of sound while metallic, full sounding synths flash through a quick pattern.

The synths shiver before moving back to a slower hollow-sounding, repeating pattern that’s cut by a descending, dark synth. I enjoy how the minor key chorus is leavened by uplifting emotion and a wildly leaping, arpeggiating synth ripples with glittering sound. The big drums and deep bass charge while thicker synth block support the wild ripples of sound leaping over top. Brian Hazard’s emotive vocals jump in again as we move into the end of the song.

This is a song about struggling to find purpose, satisfaction and focus when one’s mind rebels against doing so. The narrator’s intentions are to keep “both eyes on my goal to be truly happy” and devote his whole being “through thick and thin.” He adds that he’ll “herald my arrival” and life will finally start.

Our narrator is “fully satisfied for fifteen minutes” as he feels sun on his face and “the reaching of a dream.” This feeling fades as the “bitter taste” of lacking purpose returns. There’s something else he wants to, so he crosses it off and moves on to another thing.

The narrator is riven by anxiety and depression and feels “reckless and relentless.” He wonders if life will ever let him rest. He stops to catch his breath and wants to “take some to wonder why I’m racing to my death.”

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“Rogues” comes into being with volleys of medium-low, hollow, metallic synth below Brian Hazard’s caressing voice. The medium-low synth carries a divided melody while all the sonic elements move through wide open audio space. The metallic bounce is added to by quick bursts of bass that accent it. Brian Hazard’s soft voice is backed by a tumbling, rough-edged synth for contrast.

I enjoy the xylophone’s colour and timbre as it comes into the song along with the broken, metallic bounce. A steadier drum beat and rapidly moving synth notes give way to the chorus and the restless synths shiver. The wandering, broad synth pattern echoes out again before the song ends.

This song explores both a rogue character in a roleplaying game and what extreme circumstances cause people to do. The narrator says his “virtue recedes” in times of poverty, hunger and distress and “noble purposes must be set aside” for practical considerations. Under the circumstances, he talks about how the rogues will use stealth and their wits to “multiply our meager wealth.”

Our narrator promises the others he won’t do anything illegal or risk their health. He asks if they’ll “cling to broken social codes in a world where anything goes.” He wonders if they’ll take “what’s theirs” or dress in a monk’s robes. Will they “bleed like saints or smile like rogues?”

The narrator adds that he tends to “hold himself unaccountable” for his thoughts. He continues by saying “if a bright idea suddenly appears, I'll follow that thread” and only focus on that one thing. In the end one must, “do what necessity compels and when this life comes to an end, forgive yourself.”

There’s a bouncing drumbeat and an equally elastic synth carrying a repeating pattern to start “I Hardly Even Know You.” A rapid arpeggio sparkles through and Brian Hazard’s voice carries a minor key vocal melody. The vocal melody becomes gentler and more hopeful, slightly choppy as the arpeggio flickers again. The beat has a trampoline bounce to it and the synth feels expansive and reverberant.

I am enamoured of the way that Brian Hazard’s voice wraps around the ears and holds them close, filling the heart with warmth. The starry arpeggio gleams and a series of dense, bright synth notes dances upwards as the drums shape the music. The arpeggiating patterns shimmer and again that bouncy, reverberating synth supports the emotional vocal melody.

The narrator starts by saying this is “another stupid love song in which I do all my own stunts.” He says it’s a disappointment because “it’s like I’m running out of thoughts” and adds that some might say he’s lost his touch. There’s a gentle warning as the narrator says, “if you don’t expect too much, here we go!”

Our narrator says it leaves him feeling strange in a good way. He talks about how his emotions are “pouring out like a faucet” as he rushes to greet the other person. His feelings are “running red like a carpet” as they “bleed out open-hearted.” He adds that he’s tired of feeling restless.


The other person draws “the air out of my lungs” and the narrator talks about it being a second adolescence as they’re like “teenagers tripping on their tongues.” He adds wryly that some might say he’s lost his mind “but I’m content to leave it behind.”

Now our narrator is looking for a sign from the other person because he wants to be smart and careful “now you’re coming over.” He still feels that “loneliness is a virtue” and adds that he doesn’t have the nerve to “stay out after curfew.” He hesitates because “I hardly even know you. He likens finding a new relationship like being “back for one final job” after cutting ties with the Mob.

“Mages” starts with a rapidly throbbing drumbeat and a leaping synth pattern dances in between stereo channels as Brian Hazard’s delicate voice moves through descending sound patterns that glimmer with glassy light. Full, open-voiced synth floats ethereally over the propulsive beat. There’s a broken quality to the lead synth melody as fragments burst through the music.

The lead synth is mystical and drifting, wandering a little while the percussion keeps up its throb. I enjoy the textural qualities of this song along with the sense of motion as elevated synths soar breezily through the music. There’s a dreaming feeling to this song.

The way in which all of the lyrical elements fit together creates strong imagery. I like the description of a mage as one with a “glowing staff and armour fashioned out of cloth, manipulating space and time with words and thoughts.”

This song is about the“marriage of knowledge and wisdom” inherent in the mage. Our narrator is prepared to pledge allegiance to the “arcane royalty” as he dedicates “this incantation” to them.

The chorus describes the mages as the “guiding light of the ages” who want to be real. Our narrator is bereft as he says that it’s tragic that he doesn’t believe in the mage’s magic. However, this is contrasted with the line “some will dismiss you as a youthful fantasy” until, the narrator says, the mage showed herself to him.

The narrator paints a clear image as he talks about the mage’s appearance. He describes a “door to another world open, with my faith in reality broken.” He took a fall from “the ramparts into the ocean” to find that “in slow motion I drown in you.”

The mages are turning history’s pages and as the mage again speaks of being made real to which the narrator says, “Tragic, tragic I believe in your magic.”

A nasal, digital synth plays a quickly shifting, moving pattern that adds energy over the skipping beat while string-like pizzicato plucking adds texture to open “Straightaway.” Brian Hazard’s vocals also trip along easily as the drums and bass propel the song. The pizzicato strings shimmer and the warm vocals keep twirling along.

The nasal synth pulse moves into chiming jazz organ notes that carry an ear-pleasing melody. I enjoy how that melody exudes sunlight and positive potential and a sense of acceptance of life’s changes. A steady, elevated synth pulse whirls and Brian Hazard’s voice calls out in echoing lines. The piano adds its own voice, supporting the airy melody and the continual digital pulse adds form. Chimes glitter and shine out over the smooth beat’s soft touch before we end.

This song looks back on a two people who lead a life well spent together as they contemplate the future. The narrator talks about them spending their lives in “foreign lands” as their passports ran out of pages. They had their “heads above the clouds, eyes toward the sun” as they had fun “testing luck and tempting fate” since they escaped.

Our narrator says he kept a journal “on cassette” and he has no regrets. He adds that he’s grateful that the other person came his way. They shared “trivial concerns, hairpin turns” as they chased “the horizon’s end” around the next corner.

Now they’ve “lived out our bucket lists” and the’ve arrived at the final stretch where there are “no more winding roads” only “one long straightaway.” The narrator adds that “death will pay all of our debts” and time forgets. He adds gently “spread my ashes on the sea, should you outlive me.”

The narrator talks about having his feet planted on the ground as things slow down. As a chapter closes he is “roosting with the crows.” At this point, he adds that he doesn’t want to scare the other person off “but if you must fly, I won’t clip your wings.” He continues by saying “when the hour comes, tell me straight away.”

He concludes by telling the song’s subject that he doesn’t want to tie them down. He says that, no matter what the other’s choice is, she’ll always be his “señora” and so “if you must go, sayonara.” He again asks, “when the hour comes, tell me straight away.”

“The Limit” begins with a tumbling, flashing synth carrying a wandering melodic pattern over the steady bass throb. The aching need for freedom is expressed by Brian Hazard’s trembling, soft vocals and the drums and bass provide a shaping throb.

The vocal melody slips along, touched by melancholy. Brian Hazard’s vocals move unaccompanied except for the rough edged bass below them. Glimmering, gilding sounds return to drift over the emotive vocals above and the dense bass below.

A relationship’s dissolution can be a damaging thing as this song outlines. The narrator talks about how "the fear of falling and the promise not to fail” is causing his worlds to be pulled apart. It was time for the other person to “light the match and leave me for dead.” She hurt him but to the outside world, she seemed “nice, sugar and spice.”

Our narrator finds himself pleading with her to give him freedom because he’s “stretched to the limit and bones are bound to break.” He asks her if she is after “a fight to the finish” so she can “satisfy the ache” to hurt him.

The narrator doesn’t go easy on himself either. He admits he’s incriminated himself and is flexible as a lie.” In their end, the hostility of their relationship feels like “twisted arms and sadistic whims.” I can feel the narrator’s sigh as he discusses how they wind up by “picking a fight on Saturday night.”

He asks the other person what might occur if “I told you that it wasn’t meant to be” and that he wouldn’t be “there for the ever after.”

Conclusion

Mages is mature, well-crafted and full of synthpop goodness. It’s an album that combines fun with seriousness and ties it all together with Brian Hazard’s distinctive vocal, lyrical and musical style.

© 2021 Karl Magi

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