Album Review: “Emotion Plane” by Karl Bertrand

SARATOGA SPRINGS – With his latest release, Emotion Plane, on August 30th, Karl Bertrand has forged an album steeped in dreamy singer-songwriter vibes. Eleven songs in length, Emotion Plane, serves as a great album to float along with from its start to its finish. Rich in reverb, the echo-y bedrock of instrumentation makes for an enjoyable listen, as Bertrand oscillates between songs that are sung in some places and spoken in others, weaving overarching elements of love, loss, and more, that drives home the point of the album and its title.

Emotion Plane, cover art

To begin the record, “Inside Out,” starts with ambient hiss, followed by guitar and synth. As the vocals enter, the music acts as an almost-cloud like presence, very easily prompting those listening to feel as if they’re moving aimlessly, but comfortably. To boot, the lyrics match this feeling, “Grab me by my hand, take me to heaven/I’ll hold you in my arms and I will kiss you sweetly there.” Beautiful feelings permeate this entire track; it’s a great opener that immediately fades into the next track, “Lovelost.” Setting the mood of this song, listeners hear nice acoustic and keyboard instrumentation placed against a spoken-word story. The way the chords are performed often gives a relentless suspended feel; It’s the treble strings of the guitar doing this, and the phrasing works extremely well. The electric piano part that is lightly interspersed throughout also helps add to the ambience, and as it becomes more frenetic near the song’s end, it makes the mood a bit tense. With these two songs, the album quickly sets up the overall atmosphere.

The next two songs, “The Tik Tok Song” and “Not Open For Help,” serve as examples of Bertrand’s ability to write in a litany of ways, ranging from levity to seriousness. With the former song, there’s much more instrumentation, including much more low-end in the sonic textures, as well as the presence of a drum part. The lyrics are a bit tongue-in-cheek, consisting of a topic that absurdly relates the lack of a connection between two people via the use of a modern-day mobile application. It’s social commentary through-and-through. On its immediate heels, listeners are greeted with “Not Open For Help.” The song begins with “Check, check, check…” imitating what a performer often says when testing their mic levels before a performance. As this part fades out, we hear “I can only ever worry about myself,” along with other variations. All of these phrases are set against instrumentation that’s in tight rhythm. By having the spoken-word aspect be so against the rhythm, it adds a tremendous amount of a push-and-pull nature, and at times gives off a very eerie feeling. There’s very little singing on this track. Near the end of the song, we hear as a spoken refrain “Not Open For Help.” The intent of the juxtaposition of these two songs is easily felt.

For the following track, “Twirl,” the keyboard instrumentation really draws the ear in – it’s super fuzzy, compelling, and rich. On top of this, we hear a nice contrasting part with a crystal-clear piano. The electronic drum sounds help propel the tune along nicely. It’s a great variation from the last two tracks. Quite unexpectedly, and during the latter half of the song, a flute part enters that adds a bit of humor with its strident nature – out of place, yet somehow right where it needs to be. The song ends with a flute playing solo, until we hear “It’s been over for a while!” This made me chuckle; many musicians have the experience of someone playing long after they should have stopped.

“Love Brew,” track six, features an intro that consists of a keyboard part and police siren that play off one another, before both fade out. As the instrumentation resumes, we hear a nicely recorded acoustic, along with vocals and synth pads. This track has a very nice melody: relaxed and never meandering. The vibe of this song is as if we’re in the room listening to the artist play guitar and sing to himself – almost contemplative. Oscillating between a fast and slow-paced waltz feel is a great arrangement choice; it definitely grabs the ear! As an aside, it’s interesting to note that we hear a siren in “When You Wake Up,” track ten.

Photo credit: Rudy Lu

With track seven, “She Falls Down Into Me,” Bertrand utilizes a different part of his range: falsetto. An extremely soft song, it adds further senses of dreamy and sleepy feelings that really sparkle throughout the record. Also adding to this is the echoed vocal performance near the end of the song. The next two pieces, “Emotion Plane” (title track) and “Your Parents Love You Dearly,” cement the vibe even further, doing so via the guitar tone, rather than vocal stylings. In “Emotion Plane,” Bertrand uses a good amount of distortion, which is unlike previous tracks on the record. While there are few lyrics, the sheer repetition of them makes clear what the song is discussing: “I know it can’t last long.”

To close the record, “Another Life Where You Are” delves into the questions of where two people would end up in relationship to one another if things were different – even going so far in one stanza to pose how things would be if the artist was a girl instead of a boy. I love – and feel deeply – the lyric, “If I were a boy in another life, I wish I could be where you are.” There’s also a lot of nice rhythmic interplay between the guitar and the vocal line. This is my favorite track on the record. It really solidifies the emotional underpinnings that remain fairly constant throughout.

Whether you’re a fan of singer-songwriter or dreamscape, Emotion Plane is a nice blending of these two overarching genres. Bertrand has created an album that is easy and enjoyable to listen to, providing just enough to keep the listener engaged, while never diving into complex territories. When you blend the essence of a singer-songwriter with the sonic exploration of ambient music, you arrive at Emotion Plane. Give it a listen today here.

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