Synth Album Review: "Blue Sky Girl" by Manhatten Synth
Blue Sky Girl is Manhatten Synth’s album that explores the concept of “that one person in everyone's life who seems to burn twice as bright, but for half as long” and it is an album rooted in the use of retro synth sounds in fresh new ways as it moves through the stages of this relationship. Manhatten Synth has made music that’s richly textured, touched with sadness but still brimming with life and energy.
To me, the best retro synth music that's being made now is music in which the signature synth, drum and bass sounds that defined music in the ‘80s are being combined in ways that are new. Manhatten Synth is clearly well-versed in the vocabulary of ‘80s synth music, but he’s stretching out on Blue Sky Girl. Although the sounds are nostalgic, the ways in which he uses them aren’t. His approach to melody, harmony and rhythm isn’t clichéd and how he combines sounds is different than much of what we would have heard in that era.
One of this things that Manhatten Synth mentioned about this album is how it is “tinged with melancholy” and I can’t help but agree. There's a wistful, yearning quality to many of his melodies as they move through the album. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t know how to sing and fly in his music as well. The overall mood of the album, though, is a gentler one that seems to look back on times gone by in a relationship.
There are production elements that feel quite ‘80s to me on Blue Sky Girl, but again this is used more as a tool than as a direct attempt to create cookie cutter music. The production adds to the overarching sense of an album that employs the feel of that era’s music without trying to produce straight-up nostalgia in the listener.
I’ve commented before about how few artists use dynamics as a musical tool in music these days. I’m pleased to see that Manhatten Synth uses them well on Blue Sky Girl. The way he employs crescendo and diminuendo on the album adds to the emotional impact of the music in my view.
Now I am going to discuss the tracks that I most enjoyed on Blue Sky Girl and focus on the reasons why I was drawn to these tracks in particular.
Track By Track Breakdown
“Last Chance City” is a track that is densely layered with musical elements. The track starts off with rapid bass pulses and higher synths that oscillate quickly above them. The music reaches a crescendo as warmly extending notes ripple out over the solid bass and drums. I enjoyed the way in which the melody of this track gently caressed my ears as it flowed by them.
There is indeed a thunderous weight and power behind “Thunder.” It has a deep well of bass that moves under it and a drifting, wandering A section melody that moves through. There’s more excellent use of dynamics here to help create a track that grows in power and intensity as it progresses. The second section of melody is equally well done and I enjoyed how the sounds of a storm were incorporated into the track.
“Running From It” has a smooth sweep of bass and a melody that has a melancholy float and glow to it as the lead synth carries it along. The melody unfolds itself in a gentle but still propulsive way over the very powerful beat and bass that moves under it. The oscillations of the bass pulse are like waves and when the track breaks to airy flow, the ambient sounds of whales and the ocean glide into the track. There’s a real feeling of yearning in this track, despite the energetic nature of the beat.
There’s a sense of being softly touched by the music on “One Ending” and it has a certain grace to it. There’s something gentle and caressing here and Blue Sky Girl’s voice delivers an uplifting message. I enjoy how the beat grows more powerful as the synths soar above it, lifting everything free and clear as it all slides along. For me, this was a track about looking back with fondness while moving into the future.
“A Kind Of Freedom” opens on bursts of synth and a beat that swells up around it along with warm sound patterns dancing along with the drums that have a synthwave feeling to them. The bass drives on in waves and the lead synth melody begins to grow again, feeling triumphant. The guitar solo towards the end of the track shreds and flies, leaping over the strings to bring us home and give us “a kind of freedom.” This is a song that, to me, says that sometimes we are the most free when we are released from old dreams that we no longer need.
Blue Sky Girl is an album drenched in emotion. It has nostalgia without over-reliance on that feeling, energy that is tinged with sadness and power that is able to lift the listener up and carry them soaring along. If this is what Manhatten Synth has to offer in the future, I’ll take some more please!