Synapses by Pleasantry
Album Review by Hannah of www.rockmycommute.com
Pleasantry has a sweet name that just begs you to take things lightly – but their 2014 release called Synapses is anything but trite. You’ve got 10 solid tracks with some good album art – and as the name suggests, this is a mental experience that will get into your head! So just sit back and relax with your headphones on for this one. Don’t even try to multitask.
According to the band’s Facebook Website Bio, “Pleasantry was formed in late 2010, from members that have been active in the Singapore indie music scene under post rock, indie pop and experimental projects.” Add “shoegaze” to that list of music types, and you’ve got a pretty good description of what Pleasantry provides with its multi-instrumental approach, fronted by both male and female vocalists. If you like the Sundays or Sixpence None the Richer, you might enjoy this. I am also reminded of some 90s groups from the Christian label Tooth & Nail Records – Wikipedia is confirming that my memories of Bon Voyage and Starflyer59 are good examples.
The first track, called “Channels” opens up with a sound like helicopters or cicadas backed by waves of fuzzy melodic chords and a smooth, soothing singer – just soaring effortlessly over it all. This will remind you of Mazzy Star a little bit. It is pleasant, with a soft, slow beat. The keyboard solo is almost like something you’d hear on a Flaming Lips album. I haven’t seen a music video for this myself, but mentally I am taken to a place of pink cotton candy, in an outer-space, 80s kid dream.
Ready to hear more? The second track is a little more indie in style – again there are great vocal harmonies, but the romantic phrasing suits the waltz-like song complete with surf guitar styling. I definitely like this one much better than the first (just from a style and personal taste perspective). There is even a little bit of violin, just making a sweet breakthrough appearance that lends an emotional feel.
Track #3, called “False Realities” is happily upbeat, beachy, and dancy with strummy mandolin chords and sunny vocals that make this song a lot of fun. If you like Jack Johnson and Colbie Callait mixed with a little Vampire Weekend – then this is for you. Next is “Habit”, all jazzy and funky, with a little bit of RHCP influence – but much lighter. Sounds like something by 311 or Deathcab for Cutie, featuring vocals that emerge more aggressively like Paramore. You’ve got to keep listening at least to this point in the album, since the first two songs don’t show too much variety and you don’t want to miss the future breadth of styles embedded within this album.
I really enjoyed Track #5, called “Take It In”. It has a great rocky, indie, 60s horn band-inspired feel with still a little bit of emo on the guitar and the vocalizations. The danceable chorus makes you feel good with a positive, major-chord progression. I would consider this the showcase song of the album; even the hit single, if you will.
The other tracks on the album bring in arpeggios of emotionally familiar chords over nearly-angelic orchestral backgrounds – tinged with the occasional faintly electronic, metallic echo… For all of these songs the instrumentation is more important that the words and vocals – no wordy distractions, so you can enter a state where you can truly experience the music.
Words like “dreamlike” and “soothing” come to mind as I try to describe this album. Beautiful vocal harmonization throughout are beautiful and even romantic. On “Owls”, the guitar and female vocals combine for an ethereal yet vintagey effect. The title subject and execution of this piece would make it a suitable soundtrack choice for any lighter scenes in the theoretical 2016 revival of Twin Peaks! Heartwarming, bright, almost country-ish violins and a rich vocal chorus break through liltingly, about halfway through the track.
I also liked Track #9 “Nothing’s There” with its surf rock guitars and jazzy drums; and I appreciated the energetic switch to a 90s alternative guitar style on the chorus. As I was reading the lyrics to this song on Bandcamp, I realized how the delivery of the vocals doesn’t really highlight the text at all – the words just blend into the texture of the overall song as the singer breathes “This is a whole new war of worlds, go – set my eyes ablaze in cadence”. The delivery itself is not aggressive or angsty – so you have to really listen to get the full picture and all of its meaning.
The album closes with “Terminals”, the most esoteric of them all – with a constant mechanical heartbeat sound throughout, under undulating guitars and some dissonant and very reverberating vocal effects. Pleasantry’s Bandcamp site says that their songs are “drawing inspiration from dreamed-up scenarios based on real-life scripts”, and again I can see this being true. I would say that their songs and lyrics are both poetic and sincere without being pretentious or heavy. The “Dreamed-up” sentiment is right on, because this whole album sounds like a fantasy scenario….
Is this a good album? I would say a firmly supported yes: The songs are pleasant, the lyrics are thoughtful but not trite or excessive, the musical execution and recording quality is not distracting, and the vocals are slightly unusual but enjoyable nonetheless.