Unable to access the kinds of spaces he’d used to record his previous album as PENDANT, Through a Coil, and thus unable to replicate its guitar-based, rock-inspired sonic palette, Los Angeles songwriter Chris Adams was forced to shift his usual creative approach. This ended up being something of a blessing in disguise, as it afforded him the ability to take his already-refined musical techniques into a sphere in which he could operate with a beginner’s mind, embracing synthesizers to form a singular world.
Throughout Harp’s 13 tracks, Adams demonstrates a respect and appreciation for the art and history of electronic music. At times, the album feels like taking a tour through the discographies of the genre’s most iconic practitioners—like on the exuberant “Rights For An Angel,” which functions as a not-so-subtle tribute to the legendary Burial, but with the undeniable injection of Adams’ aesthetic eye and talent that livens the track to stadium-sized heights. Similarly, it’s hard not to hear the influence of Human After All-era Daft Punk or early Justice in the striking chords of “Latex Heart” or the vocoded crooning vocals on “Eventless Horizon.” Wherever Adams chooses to let his influences shine through on the album, he juxtaposes these impulses with his own deft hand, leading to wonderfully unique results that usher his references into the modern age.
PENDANT’s penchant for exploring the most extreme human sensations through his music invariably lead to the album’s strongest moments. “Static Dream,” an imaginative mixture of raucous drums and hypnotic melodies, masterfully grips the listener through its journey of tension and release. Endlessly catchy, with captivating, textural production, the track squarely places the listener in the finite space between life and death, as Adams repeats, “I saw it all till I saw nothing / Through another static dream.” Fellow standout cut “LED Headrush” accomplishes a similar result, but is backed by breakbeats and bright analog synths that collapse into a sort of bittersweet euphoria—successfully accomplishing the feeling of looking down a hall of infinite mirrors and finding something truthful within that image.
Harp has a quiet flamboyance, showcasing an affinity for incorporating as much drama into the work as possible. In the case of hip-hop-adjacent tracks like the energetic and abrasive single “Thorn” or the fiery, bombastic “Contract,” this dramatic flair surfaces in a bubble of aggression, with Adams’ voice dueling with his booming bass and sharp drums for dominance. Lyrically, “Contract” describes a scene of intense desperation—clinging to life while dragging a thin layer of mortality through an apocalyptic situation. The stakes are high, and PENDANT impressively tackles the challenge of channeling these tense moments of humanity with captivating, dynamic vocal performances and production. It goes stupid hard.
Crucial to the emotional arc of the album are moments of divine tenderness, like the dream pop-inspired “Blue Mare,” complete with breathy vocals and shimmering synths that set the ethereal and visceral in balance, and shaped by a powerful lead melody that echoes some new-wave influences. Evocative and forlorn, there’s a subtle desperation that bleeds through “Blue Mare,” as though PENDANT is pleading with some unknowable force to reclaim a piece of himself that’s been lost—a reflection of the feeling of grief that characterizes Harp. This same feeling is notable in album closer “Secrets in the Dusk,” though the song is arguably more vulnerable, with Adams mournfully recalling memories of a lost loved one.
A key takeaway from Harp seems to be this: The experiences of fear, death and dying are every bit as significant to the truth of humanity as each experience of joy and life, and we should strive to accept them all in their full form. Adams cleverly incorporates this idea through the record’s keen, atmospheric production—which tends to incorporate the elation of a creature crawling out of a cold, dark cave towards a bright tunnel of sunlight—alongside vividly brutal lyrics that coalesce so naturally, it seems impossible to separate the two concepts.
Jason Friedman is just another ghost in Pennsylvania that writes about music.