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Synth Album Review: "Do Or Die" by Russell Nash

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

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Overall Impressions

Russell Nash’s Do Or Die erupts with classic synth energy and melodic power. It’s an exploration of retro soundscapes but it features pin-sharp production values that bring it up to date. Russell Nash’s synth palette is well-chosen and he uses it to express the emotion that he creates in his music. The album has a layered, luscious feeling to it that I find attractive.

The biggest standout for me on Do Or Die is Russell Nash’s melodic craft. Each song features a strong central melody which is clear, clean and able to explore emotions that move between triumph and melancholy. I also enjoy his skill with folding several different emotional states into a single melody. The end result is music that brims with expression and character.

I also find Russell Nash's use of synths compelling on Do Or Die. He is unashamed in his use of retro sounds, but he combines them in novel ways to paint imagery that’s detailed and complex. The interactions between the different synths create a sonic environment which allows him to carry the listener along on the journey he creates.

Energy permeates every layer of the album in a way that pulls me in. The drums and bass weave together to create a strong heartbeat which keeps the music in motion and drives it forward. The synths are dynamic and Jonny Adams’ guitar performance on "Midnight Highway" adds another level of power that further ramps up the irrepressible life that it expresses.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“Do Or Die” comes into being as hectic, high synth arpeggios spin tensely along with sharp- edged bass and gigantic drum fills. Drums and bass with a throbbing weight propel the track forward. The melody exudes a feeling of strength and progress as it’s carried on a round, medium-high synth.The melody’s uplifting sense of fighting and succeeding draws me to it as it moves over the drums and the bass’ muscled energy. The uneven, solid drums collide with open space as a distant melodic line floats through.

The angular bass oscillation returns while sparkling, elevated synth shines out in a melancholy melodic part that feels tentative while the throbbing drums keep moving the music forward and crystalline sparkles float. The lead synth melody soars up, feeling victorious, as it’s carried on rising, full-toned synth. There’s a break into deeply pulsing drums and the thick, oscillating bassline. A whirling, distant synth pattern spins the music up and the main melody leaps back in, carrying the listener onward with hope and fighting spirit.

Harsh, rapidly pulsing synth sounds patter, heavy drums throb and trumpeting synth flashes in to open “Phoenix Down.” A unique sounding synth with string-like qualities carries a melodic section full of taut brightness over a whirling bass dance. The drumbeat drives on and the plucked melody has a resilient quality to it.

The next segment has ticking percussion and slowly tumbling bass that falls in tight patterns. Elevated notes twist before the retro drumbeat pushes the song forward again while shining notes undulate. I find the mixture of melancholy ache and more hopeful feelings in the melody is one that pulls me in and keeps me engaged in the music.

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Medium-low, metallic synth shift in thick blocks as tight, harsh sounds spin again. The melody dances in sharp peaks while sparkling synths form a textural pattern. As the song ends, a minor key synth melody is joined by arpeggiating, glittering notes that shimmer and fade.

“Infiltration” starts off with the sound of a hissing cassette tape that gives way to massive, heavily weighted drums forming a steady heartbeat. The devious bassline wriggles into the track along with hollow percussion. Glowing chords flow and the medium-high, bright synth echoes out in a melody that dreams.

Open, hollow synth bounces down and through the other musical elements and the funky, broken bassline shimmies. After a big drum fill, the beat volleys while the glittering high synths carry the melody and a sax’s rich, dense voice reverberates. There’s an intriguing distortion in the sax that serves to make it quite ear-catching.

Chiming synth carries the pained melody before breaking into a fragile sound. The main melody has a tragic sensation and the sax deepens that emotion as it wheels into a solo, howling out with hurting feeling. Cascading, taut synth is swept by wind before the lead melody trembles out the mixed feelings of dreaming and pain.

Gleaming chimes frolic in a sparkling line to open "Moonlit Highway.” A sharp-edged, quickly pulsing bassline adds motion along with retro drum solidity and a warm, glowing series of climbing chords. The medium-high lead synth is full of lambent glow as the chimes sing in a glittering line as drums and bass add propulsion. I enjoy how the melody encapsulates yearning, positive emotion and gentleness as it unfolds into the music.

Wind sweeps and the heartening, touching melody calls out into the open space around it while the flourishing, pulsating drums shape the music. Quick, medium-low synth bursts add to the song’s feeling of motion before Jonny Adams’ (Sleepless Nights) guitar cries out, echoing the positive energy of the synth melody in gleaming, leaping lines. There’s a return to the lead synth’s encouraging feeling while shimmering, chiming synths add sunshine to the track.

“Engage The Enemy” kicks off as wildly oscillating bass accelerates as the track kicks off and the drums throb and charge forward. Brassy, trumpeting synths burst out with a melody full of a spirit of readiness and the drums hit hard, but not too quickly. Gleaming synths accent the track and the melody jumps in, ready to win.

There’s a feeling of triumphant progress in the melody that I find addictive. The drums press on, adding a throbbing heartbeat as the higher synths flash. The brassy lead synth melody has an adventurous feeling and surges with resolve over the other musical building blocks.

Conclusion

Russell Nash has built an album full of melodic joy, retro-nostalgic energy and an irrepressible feeling of propulsion with Do Or Die. As much as I love people branching out, I’ll always be a sucker for well done retro synth sounds!

© 2022 Karl Magi

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