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Synth Album Review: "Light Pollution" by Fragile Air

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

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Overall Impressions

Fragile Air’s Light Pollution is an ambient, experimental synth journey across shattered internal landscapes and through sonic environments which contrast fragility with shadowed power. Fragile Air adds his sonorous vocals and intriguing lyrics to produce a work full of pain and uniquely varied sounds.

One of the more compelling factors that makes Light Pollution work is the synthscape that Fragile Air crafts on the album. It is one of harsh, grinding sounds that possess a mechanical timbre as well as delicate, ephemeral chiming and gauzy floating noises. Taken as a whole, they produce emotional states of aching darkness and faint glimmers of hope.

I find the combination of Fragile Air’s shadowy voice and his songwriting quite engaging. The mood of the songs is melancholy and inward-looking but poignant because I find many of the sentiments ones that I can understand. Fragile Air has the ability to craft verbal imagery that cuts right into the heart, filling me with emotion, while his voice amplifies the feelings.

While there’s a distinctly experimental feeling to this album, the music never alienates me. It uses the challenging sounds to produce a more emotive end result. I am made to pay attention by the unique sonic profiles of the various elements in the music and they also enhance the emotive qualities of the songs.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“From Blue To Green” commences with a harshly shining, string-like sound that flashes in echoing, chiming lines. Fragile Air’s chanted vocals add more shadow as the metallic percussion whispers and brushes across the song’s soundscape.

There’s a well-done sense of tension in the repeating, jangling strings that also add an unsettling quality to the song. The chanting vocals go on along with digital bass sounds. A hissing, cutting synth line swells and fades over the broken beats and sharp strings, adding further twisting and uneven sounds to the music

This song is a statement of the narrator’s intent to make a relationship work. Our narrator is adamant that he can’t be the person who will “leave in consternation” or who “fucks it up…leaves with regrets…” or is the “reason we’re leaving with debts.”

The narrator is insistent that he must be the one who “shoulders the load…widens the road” and leaves the past behind so that “the future will last.” The chanting qualities of the vocals emphasize the mantra-like qualities in the lyrics.

An elevated, rapidly writhing synth repeats a serpentine sonic pattern over a thudding drum to open “Larks At Midnight” while wriggling, wobbling sonic bursts weave through the music. I find myself discomfited by the distorting, sharp-edged sounds and the constant, high synth pattern.

A broad, gruff bass pulse creates a layer of rough sound over the metallic drums that add another aural texture and some shape to the music. The looping, screaming high synths and the hard edges and harshness of the gruff synth combine to effectively heighten the uncomfortable sensations being produced.

“A Song For September” begins with a quick, medium- low digital synth that repeats with the unadorned, desolate vocals. Drums now stutter and pop along with a rapid static-filled hiss that breaks in and cuts out, before the beat forms a hypnotic, speeding throb now that adds more energy.

I find my ears interested by the slow, chanting vocals that contrast with the persistent, rapid drum beat. Quick bursts of metallic noise create an industrial, mechanical sound. The beat breaks again, forming a slower pattern on the hollow drums as the quick hiss repeats while the chant continues into the dry, clean mix. This song has a trance-inducing quality.

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As the narrator opens, he talks of looking up at a grey sky, standing above a grey sea as his “grey eyes are glazing over” while he imagines “sights I’ll never see.” There’s contrasting imagery as he talks about how someone is “singing a song for September” in a place that’s “a mountain range away.”

The impression of introversion and solitude is reflected in the lines, “I keep to the walls, I keep my head down, I don’t want to take it all in.” The narrator speaks of ominous threats as he talks of “explosions in the distance” while he’s still trapped by “the prison of routine.” The shadows only deepen as he hears “another promise on the radio that this will be the final spring.”

Our narrator talks about how, if he tries and if he stays still, he may hear “an echo of melody I might remember.” The melody, to me, represents a glimmer of faint hope in the grey emptiness.

A gently flowing, chiming synth floats out over the glitchy, misty background while dense bass wriggles slowly to start “Light Pollution.” Below the delicately drifting chimes that shimmer, distant like sun through haze, the bass feels ominous.

I am drawn to the subtle danger that haunts this music, contributed by the bass’ shadow and jagged edges. There’s a tentative quality to the chimes and the more full, xylophone like notes that also flow and we fade into quiet. There’s a lost and weakened feeling to this track, something fragile and hurt as it swirls and glides.

“The Nearest Star” comes into being with thick, digitized-feeling synth pulses as Fragile Air’s drifting vocals, bleak and aching, float with the subtle ticking of the drums. Long, rising digital sounds undulate along with the desolate vocals. The digital synths carry a slow melodic pattern that feels cold and computerized in contrast to the expression in the lyrics.

I enjoy contrasts like that and it works well in this song. The constant synth pulse adds more of that hypnotic quality before bursting into the cold, shifting pattern of shadowy notes while again the trembling, bleak vocals move while a higher, more ghostly sound flits in before silence falls.

The narrator wonders how far away our nearest star is because he wants to "set a course so we don't find ourselves again.” He ponders on how grey the Earth might be as they reach that star and adds that “the only memories live in our in long-laboured minds.”

Our narrator realizes that even if they go to the great time and effort of building an empire, launching 1000 ships and escaping ”another fall” that he’ll still have failed to “solve the mystery of you.” He asks, “How far can we go now?” since every new city is still “another empty skyline.”

In the end, the narrator wonders where the time goes because it “seems like ages since we saw each other last.”

An echoing, metallic xylophone calls out into the empty space that rings with the notes that float out into the openness around them to bring “In Dreams” to life. Active, thick bass forms a gliding pattern that rises and falls into a jazzy walking bass line. Organ-like synth carries a louche feeling pattern before a extremely high, painfully cutting synth stutters and glitches.

Warm vocals rise as popping, flickering percussion moves with the walking bass and the vocals have a chanted quality. I am enamoured of the duality of the twisting, tortured elevated synth with the warmth from the vocal part reflects the unsettling dream state of the lyrics.

Our narrator talks about how he waits in dreams to find himself in a fantasy world in which “boundaries bend to me” and in which the person he’s addressing is just who he wants them to be. This is a world where even “a diamond with endless facets” can’t entertain him and even “a hundred armies with countless soldiers couldn't keep me locked up and detained.”

Conclusion

Fragile Air’s Light Pollution is an album that creates strong sonic imagery by weaving deep emotion and unique synth textures and colours together. It’s also an album that reaches me emotionally with its melancholy vocals and lyrics. I hope that Fragile Air will continue to refine this mixture of elements in his music because I feel it has great potential to become even more affecting.

© 2022 Karl Magi

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