Wednesday, March 05, 2008

my synthar blurb

as usual, my latest image update blurb, a review of synthar's evenings and weekends, is kind of a gamble.

i'll explain the gambling later, but in the meantime, here it is:

Synthar: Evenings and Weekends

SyntharIn this season of last caucuses and primaries, with the names of presidential candidates on our tongues and a foretaste of change on our lips, the pop-indie band Synthar has come out with just the album to match that extra kick in your step—or that worried furrow of brow—that may accompany this historic time. Synthar’s debut album, Evenings and Weekends,is a genuine, synthesized consideration of change and transformation. Its sound lies somewhere between electronica and folk—as the Jackson Free Press says, Synthar has taken “synth-pop into singer-songwriter territory.” Synthar is an internet band: its members—spread around the world from Shaoxing, China, to Jackson, Mississippi and from New York, New York, to Stanford, California—huddled their laptops together to create an irresistibly catchy mix of Moogs, vocoders, guitars, and sad, understated vocals. The tracks of Evenings and Weekends range from themes of changes in landscape—“Hurricanes” is lead singer Johnny Bertram’s firsthand response to Katrina and Rita—to the hiccups and tragedies of relational change in “My Heart Is a Beating Drum,” “Stabbed by an Unseen Blade,” and, most traumatically, “The Phone Call.” Synthar also asks us to question how our dollars and cents impact the world. In “The Robots Among Us” they warn that “in the land of milk and honey / where we walk the thin line between / what we need and greed” there are “robots among us” who “don’t understand the warmth of human touch”—and the song builds to a chilling climax when the robots join in the chorus. But most extraordinary is Synthar’s uncanny juxtaposition of generally dark, meaningful themes with spritely, upbeat melodies. The combination of thoughtful lyrics with playful synthesizing and vocal harmonies results in moments of happy-pop-bliss, making Evenings and Weekends an album that is not just smart, but indeed, as they sing in one of their happier tracks, gives you “the urge to dance… dance the morning away / and when the day finally turns into afternoon / you’ll flip the record and dance to new tunes!” Because Synthar is an independent band in the truest sense, the best way to buy Evenings and Weekends is directly from them on their website (ours even came with a handwritten “thanks.”) Plus, the handsome CD and packaging are individually screen printed by hand.

For more, visit You can also listen to a few tracks on Synthar’s Myspace page.

OK, how is this a gamble? it's not that i'm hesitant to recommend the album; evenings and weekends is seriously really good. it may even be my favorite new album of 2007.

no, it's because i write these reviews for an arts journal that focuses specifically on work that somehow engages faith. therefore, i always feel challenged to center my thoughts on some theme or idea that is relevant to the image vision--faith, art, mystery.

sometimes that's a breeze--the culturally savvy christian, for instance--but often it's a stretch. it's not that i walk the plank of clear, accurate critique into the surging waters of creative interpretation, but that i sometimes have to dive beyond the patent responses of other reviewers. i have to lay all of my cards down on the table and say, "you know, i haven't heard anyone else say this, but the road sure strikes me as an incarnation story," (yikes!) and that's a scary place to be.

so here's where things get dicey with my evenings and weekends review. every other e&w review explores the synthar sound. they reference bands i've never heard of. they describe how andrew, johnny, matt, and joel have built a bridge between new wave 70s (?) and synth pop. occasionally a reviewer mentions synthar's socially conscious lyrics, but the only reviewer to mention subject matter says that he was initially turned off by the "futuristic, sci-fi themes."

(futuristic, sci-fi themes? as far as i can tell, only one song, "the robots among us," taps the sci-fi genre, and as i suggest in my blurb, it does so in a satirical, now-focused way.)

the problem is, i'm no music critic. i can confidently rank e&w among my top three 2007 albums because i probably only listened to three 2007 albums. and so my only chance of saying something profound and worthwhile about a band is to listen to those words, those strange syllabic formations that some listeners may deem a musical afterthought. and those words tell me that change is in the air. so when i say that my blurbs are a gamble, i really mean that i hope the synthar fellows won't be surprised to learn that their tracks are about change. i hope a few dozen readers will buy the album, nod their head--in time to the beat, of course--and hear the change.