Radiation City

A casual listen to Synesthetica could easily be met with flippancy. One could hear it and think, “That must have been quite the bombastic environment to create in.” Dig a little bit though, and you’ll quickly realize there was tension well beyond the typical clichés that describe stressful situations. While the band experienced their popularity ticking up at a steady clip, founding couple Cameron Spies and Lizzy Ellison were becoming fractious. Then, for whatever reason – maybe as a form of therapy – the two got together to record, and the hatchling that became Synesthetica began to materialize. With the help of several others, the duo soldiered forward.

“Oil Show” manifests the strained relationship from the outset. It’s a dark, electro-pop track with a bassline that stretches itself as long as it can. Everyone is a little moody, but Radiation City invites them to the dance floor with hopes of shaking it all off. It’s more roller skate hustle than standard disco, but even more so, Lizzy Ellison seems unwilling to give up on something, or at least unwilling to say this is the end. On “Juicy,” you can tell John Vanderslice, who served as producer, meticulously monitoring the levels before a slight burst upwards. All involved generate a completely wide-eyed carnival feel along with some nods to British pop.

Each step of the album seems wrapped around a fusion of symbolism and reality. The two are standing on the edge of reality drifting apart without moving on “Butter,” but the separation may not be anguished at all; they just kind of unblinkingly slowly begin to wave goodbye. This is delved into more deeply on “Come and Go,” which seems to posit the question of whether or not we’re just harbingers of one thing or another passing through each others lives.

In spite of all of this, Synesthetica keeps its composure brilliantly. “Milky White” has neo-R&B funk with high tones that would make Prince pay attention, especially while trying to pay attention to some ADD-induced switches. The strongest track on the album (at least the one that struck us) is possibly “Separate,” a bit electronic, a bit tropical, a little bit Tarantino soundtrack. A musical engine turns over, and you start driving to someplace different. The scene consists of people looking into the car trying to figure out what you’re tapping your fingers to. It then cuts back to a phone call in a minimalist apartment, and the reality becomes exceedingly clear that the person in the car is escaping to a destination where they half-heartedly attempt to enjoy their escape.

An unfortunate self-awareness of being judged and demeaned for your art is found on “Futures,” which is basically the kicking rocks down the road song. But as you’re walking and thinking about that moment from your past, you’re led home. “Fancy Cherries” rubs its eyes, and a big yawn is emitted. An orchestra possibly may be about to enter, but things are cut off a bit abruptly, which is a bit indicative of the overall mood. As Ellison repeats, “my time to be,” you get the feeling that closure is within reach.

Synesthetica derives its name from synesthesia, a condition where an individual connects one sensual experience to another. So with the bottom falling out of everything, it’s all too clear now how the album came to be. The album is out now and available at the Polyvinyl Records store. Experience it for yourself. Joey Smith