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Synthpop Album Review: "Male Tears" by Male Tears

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Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!

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Initial Impressions

Male Tears self- titled album is a twisting exploration of human desire, need and complex relationships full of ice as well as flame. The musical palette of this album is a loving homage to the sounds of New Wave pop with memorable melodies, sharp-edged synths and throbbing, unique sounding percussion.

My first observation relates to singer James Edward’s voice. It has a compelling combination of fragility and a lost and cold quality that fits the sensibilities of the lyrics well. It also brings to mind the vocal style that characterized New Wave music, but avoids direct imitation of any particular vocalist or band.

There’s an added hollowness to the vocals that largely works for me, although on occasion it’s a touch too intense in my view. As a whole, it doesn’t detract too much from the music.

I find the lyrics that James Edward has written fascinating and engaging. There’s an emotional complexity, a willingness to explore the darker corners of desire and love and some well-constructed rhymes in the songs. I always like songwriters who are able to convey more challenging themes in style and James Edward definitely does that.

Mister Mellow does a good job of playing all the synths on this album. His facility allows the music that James Edward has written to take on the full New Wave dimensions. The synths are sharp sounding and sometimes lacerate, but can also caress and sparkle. They are underpinned by strong, interesting percussion sounds and throbbing bass lines that propel them forward.

Personally I’m a fan of the sound of New Wave synthpop and Male Tears capture the feeling of it well. I find the melodic components deeply catchy and the varied synth tones fit those melodies well, suiting the feel of each song nicely

My Favourite Songs Analyzed

“Chained Up” comes to life as swelling synths kick off a classic synth pop melody, so catchy and glowing. James Edward’s voice fits the New Wave idiom well as the shiny lead synth is driven by throbbing drums and the sound of the chorus harks back to earlier eras of synth pop. My ears are guided by the sunny glow of the lead synth over those throbbing drums and that oscillating pulse of synth under the lead singer’s voice. The whole track oozes with a fun sensibility.

Human relationships are a complex and confusing thing at times. The lyrics to “Chained Up” are an exploration of the twists and turns they take. Our narrator has been well and truly drawn in saying, “Baby, I never had a chance and I got myself wrapped up in your trance.”

Despite the fact that “There’s no romance, there’s no chance” there’s also no way he’s lying to “get in your pants” and would rather do things “the old way.” He adds, “I hope that someday, you won’t want me to go away.”

The chorus response is clear, “I’m not going anywhere, baby. I’m all chained up in love.” Our narrator wonders, “Lover, why did you do me wrong? 'Cause you abandoned me for far too long” before repeating the assertion about there being no romance, no chance and no lies.

Big, full drums come pounding into “Let’s Pretend” along with an energetic synth that resembles a xylophone playing a melody that grabs my ears and refuses to let go. The vocals sound just right and the drums throb out a unique rhythm. A jazz organ sound carries a warm, bursting melodic line that’s a complete earworm, James Edward lets his voice loose again and the jazz organ sound calls out a singing, rising melody over those throbbing drums.

There’s no accounting for attraction or how those we find attractive respond to it. There’s a mixture of ache and feigned indifference as the song begins with our narrator saying, “I saw you walk around with some other man. Baby, I guess that’s up to you.” The narrator goes on to say, “You’ve got your own two feet, and that’s the truth” and that the object of affection has the choice to walk away.

The narrator is in a bad way as he says, “Let’s pretend we’re friends, let’s pretend we’re married. Oh baby how good’s that?” before adding that he wants this person all to themselves. A great deal of confusion pours out as the narrator is at a loss about what to say or do. He adds, “Baby boy, I guess it’s up to you.” The narrator feels futile and can’t figure himself out. The need is raw in the line, “Baby boy, how ‘bout we rock to you.There is no other man who’s got it like you do.”

A feeling of compromise comes out in the words, “Let’s just become best friends, I don’t know how. Let’s pretend, we’ll all do it somehow.” The narrator concludes that how they found each other matters less than the fact that they’re together. They add, “As long as you’re with me, I know we’ll figure all this out as lovers. Oh baby ain’t that complete?”

“Good In The Dark” begins with synth pulsations that oscillate over strong drums while Mister Mellow plays the medium-high, dense lead synth part. The song is backed by stacked pulses of synth sound and the high, bright lead synth carries a wandering melody while the big drums pulsate. James Edward’s voice is full of expression and there’s a bouncy, nasal and warm synth part that cuts in between the vocal lines and the slightly uneven beat drives the song on.

This is a dark tale of desire and danger as the narrator invites his subject to “come and find me out there in the night.” There’s twisted emotion that contrasts between,“Come and leave me out there in the blue” and his adding that he was meant for the song’s subject.

A sense of desperation comes into the song with the lyrics, “Don’t you want me? Don’t you need me? Why can’t you tease me?” along with the promise that he’ll be “good in the dark.” An even bleaker turn is taken in the words, “Why don’t you leave me? And if you beat me, I’m so good in the dark.”

The twisting tale takes a disturbing turn as the narrator adds, “You can’t see me out there in the black. I am here full-time, I’ve been keeping track.” I was quite fascinated by the line, “Come and breathe me into your blue lungs” along with the sense of desire and a ticking clock as the song ends, “I was out of time, I was here for tongue.”

There’s a rather nervous synth line that wends its way through “Creep Distance” over the steady drums. A minor key line with an organ-like sound is joined by a hollow pipe-like synth carrying a melody that moves over James Edward’s expressive voice.

A rough-edged synth pulse accompanies the slightly minor key feeling sound that twist together under the hollow vocals and the bright and cascading washes of synth all move together over the beat with little sonic elements flashing out over it in an appealing way.

I find the ideas that open this song’s lyrics interesting as our narrator declares, “Fragile hearts, they mean everything to me, my enemies.” He goes on to state, “My hands appear to be too rough with everything, so I can feel the gravity.”

A sense of mistrust and rejection comes from the chorus, “Don’t stand so close to me or anyone…Can’t fake my energy, so why do I even try?” Bitterness leaks from the lines that ask, “What did I do to get my way? To be with you, it’s almost magic” but as they’ve grown apart it’s “not ancient arts, but powers beyond my grasp.”

"Human Errorz" kicks off with a scruffy synth bass pulse while Mister Mellow plays the melody on a synth with a pipe-like sound and the beat has a strong throb underneath it. There’s the flavour of a conversation in this song and the pipe-like synth sound has a brightness to it along with a sense of energy.

Deep pain finds expression in the line, “I’ve been swimming in an ocean of tears. I went swimming in all of my fears” because every day is now like a “a burning question” as he never thought he’d “become your weapon.”

There’s a pledge in the lines, “Told you I was clean now. I told you, I do believe” and he adds that he hopes every day “you believe” too. There’s trepidation in the words, “Everything is gonna come out, babe. Is everything under control?”

Our narrator worries, “I hope I don’t lose my mind. I don’t think it’s human.” Now the narrator talks of finding his birth-right but adds “I thought I couldn’t get back my soul.” He concludes, “I believe almost every minute that you tell me I’m yours."

Laser sounds and a killer New Wave beat start off “Future X” as a minor key synth moves over the James Edward’s dramatic voice. It’s clear that he’s enjoying the performance as a bright, string-like synth bursts in with a sharp sound against the background’s swirl and flow. The beat pushes on and there’s a bursting string-like quality of the lead.

A profound feeling of pain and struggle seizes the narrator of this song as they say, “I get no respect from the voices in my life. I get no respect from the spectres of my mind.” He goes on to say that he can never get them out of his head, so all he wants to think of is the future.

There’s an ache for hope in the line, “So take me to a time, take me to a place where I can live, always” and when its repeated, the words “no return” are added. The song concludes, “Take me to the future. Take me to the future, baby.”

“I Should Feel How I Feel” opens with a slow pattern of shifting synth notes along with throbbing, deep drums and a moving line of pipe-like synths bubbling in and out through the music as the slow arpeggio revolves along with flashes of high synth and those rippling pipes behind the drama of the lyrics.

There’s a smooth flow to this song, as the arpeggios swirl and the drums pulse. There’s something quite catchy about the rippling pipe-like sounds as the vocals move in a slightly lost way while the backing music glows and shimmers.

This song has a shadow that hangs over it heavily as it begins, “Daddy went and left my side and now I don’t feel a thing.” Now the narrator is lost but he adds “I don’t feel I’m worse than any other love criminal.”

The sense of emptiness and depression is palpable in the lines, “…Though you fall asleep, you feel nothing and though you fall asleep, I know you feel nothing.” The narrator adds, “I should feel how I feel.”

The dysfunctional nature of the relationship becomes clear in the words, “Daddy left me alone, now I don’t know who else to scream at” and the song ends on the line, “I just don’t feel any worse than any love criminal.”

A hollow, deep drum fill is the opening to “Take My Picture" along with a throbbing beat and a moving bass line. There are sparkling stars of synth behind James Edward’s tremulous voice as it moves over the electric bass depth. All of the sonic elements glide along with an airy glow. Arpeggios shimmer and flicker over the steady drum beat and the bass line’s pulse and the vocal melody caresses while those hollow drums throb onward.

The themes of images, exposure to adoring gazes (public and private) and a certain hollowness pervade this song. As we begin, the narrator asks to have their picture taken and adds, “Nothing to say. It’s hard to care. Telling me how it’s easy without me to break the silence.” A plea goes up in the lines. “I shiver, I shout to end the violence. My whisper cries out.”

In the chorus, the narrator demands a gaze as he says, “If you love me, say you do. Take my picture, why don’t you?” He adds, “Oh if you love my point of view, take my picture.”

It isn’t enough to be viewed by one person as our narrator explains, “I can’t go on without their adoring electric eyes, they love me.” There is a comment on the violence of a wider gaze as the track ends on the repeated lines, “I shiver and I shout to end the violence. My whisper cries out.”

Conclusion

Simultaneously bright and shadowy, Male Tears’ music explores the landscape of human desire and connection. There are melodies to grab and hold the ear, crisp synth sounds played by Mister Mellow and the throb of relentless beats to drive the music forward along with James Edward’s voice that can ache or fill with ice as need be.

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