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Synth Album Review: "Pale Blue Dot" by Mahl

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

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Initial Impressions

Mahl’s Pale Blue Dot is an album full of beautiful melodies, of mingled melancholy and hope as it paints pictures of flight through the stars and dreams of a future among them. Mahl weaves together a nuanced, intricate sound palette as the album unfolds.

The single element that most attracts me to Pale Blue Dot is the melodies that Mahl wrote on it. His ear for melody is undeniable as he lays down expressive, touching and well-crafted lines. Like the best melodists, he’s able to embody varied and contrasting emotions within each track’s melodic content.

I am also drawn to Pale Blue Dot by the sonic imagery that Mahl creates on it. He uses the wide-ranging and complex synth sounds to clearly delineate a picture in my mind’s eye as I listen. There’s something engaging and direct in his music that conveys images with ease and has me closing my eyes as I visualize them.

There’s a real depth and richness to Mahl’s synth choices on this album. He has chosen a palette that encompasses all of the sounds that one might associate with space. There are starry glowing moments and voids of dense bass that are shot through with shimmering galactic arpeggios and warm synths that sing of human hope for the future.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

Here are my thoughts on the tracks.

“Multi-Planetary” comes to life with a remote, starry synth sparkle and the sounds of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch as a jumping, evolving drum and bass throb rises into the music. I find the way the lead melody combines warmth, hope and dreamy, wistful sensations. The melody wiggles and twists, skipping along as the vocal samples unfold the tale of the launch.

Delicate, trembling, medium-high synth flickers as the aspirational melody sings out. There’s a rushing drum fill and the track accelerates with high sounds as a distorted, hollow, nasal synth flies through it. The drumbeat and bass push on as the track fades into gritty static and then silence.

Warm tides of cloudy and delicate synth swirl with soft light to open “Pale Blue Dot” as Carl Sagan poetically speaks of Earth and how it’s our only refuge as human beings. Airy synths intertwine and mingle as the fragile light shimmers. I find the tremulous innocence and gentleness of the main melody to be deeply moving. The bass and drums possess a throbbing depth as a distorted, elevated synth adds a note of danger.

Smoothly swelling synths create contrasting pastel light behind Carl Sagan's darker words. The melody calls out, full of softness and tenuous feeling over the drum and bass throb. A feathery synth flows reverently and the melody’s shining glow of ends on a wash of air and Carl Sag reminding us that we’re not escaping this place called Earth, so we’d better look after it and ourselves.

“Mir” comes into existence as a shivering moment of string-like synth jumps into a funky drumbeat and bassline. A high, open-voiced synth slowly calls out into the track, as the drumbeat pulsates, accompanied by interesting percussion elements. I enjoy how the expansive melody is chock full of hopeful feeling carried on the full synth. Pipe-like notes form a melodic pattern that lifts up the track's other sonic elements.

The beat accelerates and takes on a disco influenced sound as the tight, shiny synth glitters in a delicate pattern. Synthesized vocal sounds move and the melody cries out again, mixing positive emotions with a sense of loss. The metallic, medium-high synth pattern adds shape and the touching melody calls out, one final time.

A subdivided, heavy bass pulse and steadily ticking percussion give “Danger Zone” it’s start along with a rippling, medium-low synth arpeggio. Rough-edged, sweeping sound and rising, enfolding synth chords climb as the melody comes in. I find both the sound of the synth and the feelings in the melody compelling. The synth feels broad yet tentative and the melody manages to balance power and drift.

A series of interlocking, glimmering notes wrap together around the flow of the minor melody. The guitar has an introspective growl as it extends over the uneven bass throb and the winding, sliding synth. A sharper element is added by the guitar above the richly interlaced synths that rise and flow before silence falls.

“Ocean85 FM” begins as sun-drenched synth twinkles softly in the background and a driving retrowave beat underpins it. Oceanic light glows hazily from the synth carrying the pure, soothing main melody that radiates melancholy. I am charmed by the feelings of nostalgic memory that fill this track as it slowly glides out over the propulsive drums and bass.

There’s a break into a misty synth playing a descending note pattern before the beat launches again. The melody is full of dreaming memory and warmth. The radio voices and traffic sounds only add to the feeling that the track radiates as wind sweeps through to close it out.

Distant sound twinkles along with a choral synth that adds a feeling of vague, but building worry to start “Airlock.” Massive blocks of heavy, hard-edged bass push into the track underneath a slowly, undulating synth pulse. Metallic, elevated chimes that flicker through in a roaming pattern as a synth evoking pizzicato strings adds a textured feeling.

Drums stutter and pop underneath the reverent choral synth supported by dense bass blocks. I am drawn to the wandering pizzicato synth as it forms a lush sonic tapestry. The lead synth melody roves through the track along with spaced out, strange sounds that add to the atmosphere as the track fades out on massive bass.

“Perseverance” commences as sparks of delicate light flicker over the voice over about the Perseverance Mars rover being activated. A deep, chest-thumping bass throb accompanies the trembling, medium high synth that shivers out over the creamy weight below it. Long, swirling synth lines curl outwards in an easy flow and rise in triumph as they are rich with deep, hopeful emotion.

There’s an idealism to the melody that I find enjoyable as the synths shine like distant stars and the drum and bass pulse moves the song forward. Tremulous, bright synth lines coalesce into the melody as it speaks of a hope for humanity, starlit and dream-filled as the music reaches a victorious crescendo before ending on the message of adventure that fills the voice sample.

Conclusion

Pale Blue Dot is an album full of emotion and imagery for me. I enjoy it for the way Mahl makes me feel with his melodies, his lush imagery and the overall sense of emotional depth that flows from his music.

© 2021 Karl Magi

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