Heard Lately

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Heard Lately #21: So Sensitive is Real-Deal Synth

Haiku of contrition:

Hear So Sensitive.
It is synth pop with real soul.
Also, no keytar.

Artist: So Sensitive
Album: Bedroom Drama
Release date: August 2, 2019

Cover of Bedroom Drama album
Cover of Bedroom Drama album

The deal. Coming from a world of rock and blues, I take amplification for granted. While I enjoy acoustic artists, I love the sound of an electric guitar coming through an amp. It’s not about the effects. There’s just something about the electricity that you can hear — even with a relatively clean tone. I’ve come to learn that amplification is a controversial issue in classical music, with a concern that when there’s an intermediary between an instrument and the audience, like a microphone and speaker, that something precious is lost. It reminds me of the worries about CDs and MP3s versus vinyl, where there’s a similar apprehensiveness about getting a less-than-true sound. These ideas are rooted in truth, but also come from an inherent distrust of technology. There’s a feeling that the digital robs us of something real and organic. Which is why I was so blown away by So Sensitive’s Bedroom Drama, a synth-pop album that beats with a human heart.

So Sensitive is a project from Kira Clarke and Keith McGraw. The press release points out they’re Brooklyn-based which can be a bit of a short-hand for ironic detachment (I’m Queens born and raised, so I can say that). What knocked me out about Bedroom Drama is that there’s no detachment, though. The songs and performances are emotional and heart-wrenching. The instrumentation is synthesized but the feelings beneath the sounds are incredibly real and vivid.

What makes the album so interesting is that it was constructed as an ode to camp and pop. They mention Britney Spears as a touch point, but the album also has a fair amount of Prince influence (I’m sure there are more contemporary pop artists who make more sense to name-check). While Bedroom Drama is deliberate and cerebral, Clarke and McGraw have stumbled, perhaps inadvertently, into something emotionally stirring.

One of the album’s best tracks is “Devotion,” featuring Clarke emptying her soul over a slow wave of synthesizer. Her voice rises up through a pit of fairly standard pop instrumentation, even pulling out the almost-mandatory move of stopping all of the music to allow Clarke to quickly reboot the song a cappella style. There are no surprises, other than the depth So Sensitive is able to achieve in the track. It’s the one tell that this isn’t a normal pop album.

“Cold” is similarly soulful, with the music this time providing a third dimension. Some of the synth strings sound like they’re trying to will themselves into real instruments, a musical version Pinocchio. The song’s groove is also very human, lagging just a bit, they way people do, rather than metronomically precise.

Straight talk. I love sincere, honest music. I don’t think most music requires larger concepts or frameworks. It shouldn’t need to be unpacked. Bedroom Drama breaks all of these rules. And it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I enjoyed the album well before learning of its purpose, and it continued to work for me, even after learning it’s a pop deconstruction/reconstruction. The challenge of this album isn’t its theoretical underpinnings. Rather it’s the raw desperation, which is a bit too upfront for mainstream pop music. If there were more albums like this on the radio, I’d probably listen to a lot less sports talk.

The confession. One of the funny things about circling back to music I initially missed is that I’ll sometimes re-listen to something I had put aside and wonder what it was that had captivated me in the first place. I all too often forget the sound or even the genre before I go to listen to something again. So I just put it on and see if I still like it. The second I heard the first few notes of Bedroom Drama, I remembered why I had put it aside to review.

Closing arguments. I’m not a huge pop person and I’m even less of a synth pop one. I don’t necessarily feel equipped to review or discuss an album like this, except to report it’s a very cool record that’s surprisingly warm and enjoyable. It’s easy to get lost in the intentions of an artist, but to drastically oversimplify things, when artists are connected to their songs, it just sounds different. You can argue about synths and amplification all day long, but if an artist hasn’t put her heart into a song, it’s easy to detect. Bedroom Drama is instantly recognizable as real and heartfelt.

The pile

Haiku in front of pile of CDs.
Haiku in front of pile of CDs.

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So much amazing music comes out all of the time. I review what I can as quickly as I can, working my physical and digital piles as efficiently as possible, but things fall between the cracks. Rather than giving up on things that are a little past their prime, contemporary-review-standards-wise, I’m going back for the overflow that deserves to be heard — even if it’s a little late.

Written by

Hockey lover. Linux lover. Music lover. I write about the latter two.

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