Album Review: Color Theory – Underneath These Dying Stars
Color Theory is the brainchild of Brian Hazard. The project started in 1993 as a synth pop act and has maintained this defining influence throughout all of its long history. Color Theory took just one stylistic turn with 2002's "Something Beautiful" recorded with live instruments, but the album is now unavailable on streaming platforms, probably as a way to maintain the project's stylistic purity. Apart from knowing his way with synths and audio plugins, Brain is also a classically trained pianist, and on many of his records piano parts play a prominent role, even on the tracks from 1999's "Perfect Tears" produced solely on Propellerhead's legendary ReBirth software. However, on his recent records Brian has mostly ditched the piano and "pure" old school synth pop for the wildly popular synthwave, and has done so to great results, both artistically and in terms of streaming numbers. His most recent effort is called "Underneath These Dying Stars".

The record starts with "Crystal". Is pulsing bass, warm arpeggios and angelic synth haps create an ethereal atmosphere.

"Trick of the Light" continues with the task of building new sonic worlds from electronic sounds. Synth harps give place to (quite convincing) synth guitars, echoing The Cure and The Smiths, two of Brian's biggest influences (along with Depeche Mode). The influence of the latter is more evident in the lyrics that carry human warmth through layers of abstraction. The composition also features Brian's trademark piano.

"If You Want Me To" with its transaprent arrangement creates a carefree and romantic mood and boasts one of the most memorable hooks on the record.

"The Darkness" is slow and meditative, providing a moment of reflection. The drums don't come in until the end of the song, and then the track ends almost abruptly, leaving you entranced and puzzled.

"Death Machine" is cold and minimalistic and features some really catchy synth melodies. Its most interesting part is the disorienting chord change in the hook that echoes the song idea: death is always around the corner.

"The Rot" elegantly channels bitterness and disappointment. The glassy synths remind you that everything is an illusion and all things, even the strongest feelings, come to an inevitable end.

Contrastingly, "The Serious One" wraps you in a warm blanket of synth pads, and Brian's vocals, once mistaken by the world for Depeche Mode's Martin Gore, sound a little less detached here.

"She's Made of Wires" is interesting not only because of its deep digital bass and rhythmic changes, but also because of its lyrics describing the man-robot love affair, written with the help of artificial intelligence.

"Wrath" continues the album's emotional rollercoaster. Its electronic textures are cold and unwelcoming, like winter night. You can almost feel the vapour, released from Brian's mouth as he sings, dissolving in the cold air.

"Cakewalk" features a drop that hints at Brian's experiments with EDM documented on his trilogy of EPs a few years ago.

The album closes with "The Darkroom", carrying IDM and techno influences in its DNA, as the title might suggest. The music is eerie and robotic, while the vocal delivery and production carry a certain degree of warmth.

Overall, "Underneath These Dying Stars" is an excellent album with lots of memorable melodies, curious sonic discoveries and lyrical twists.