Pure-O, the new LP by Berlin-via-Norway musician Farao, is a prog-pop exposition on the curious dichotomy between beauty and destructiveness in sex and relationships. Where so much modern pop attempts to tug similar thematic threads only to succumb to naiveté and euphemism, Farao grabs these subjects and dives headlong into a neon pool of synthesizer, zither, drums, and soaring vocals without sacrificing maturity, complexity, or artistry. Musically, she references 90’s R&B, and the untapped goldmine of Soviet disco. But the most important pillar of Pure-O – its living, breathing, biological quality– is entirely Farao’s own.
To be sure, all of the electronic ingredients are in the exact right places on Pure-O. Soviet-made synth tones ripple out from an undefined center like a Frank Stella painting, with sharply angled lines of color buzzing with concentric, hand-painted ecstasy. Rolling vocal melodies carry descriptive turns of phrase to gratifying heights, echoing in listeners’ minds long after their ears. In the spaces between all this electricity, there are shimmering microcosms of Alice Coltrane-esque acoustics that provide the album with an unmistakably rich, tactile marrow.
Tellingly, album-opener “Marry Me” leads with the lyric “The heart is the organ of desire” setting the stage for the warm-blooded essence of Pure-O. Lyrics about the possessiveness inherent in marriage unravel over a tenacious yet patient bassline, but by the time the song reaches its rapturous three-minute mark Farao is breathlessly rattling off descriptions of romantic obsession while perhaps hinting at the upcoming listening experience: “overwhelming, undying, overpowering, unconditional, all-encompassing, heart-enriching, mind-expanding”.
Perhaps, then, we’re hearing Farao’s early youth in Norway finding perfect equilibrium with her adulthood in Berlin on Pure-O. She says of the time she spent recording, “I was in the process of learning how to conduct myself while not getting sucked in to the whirlpool that is Berlin party culture,” and of her childhood “It wasn’t a place I felt stimulated creatively, and felt quite lonely there growing up, which made me turn to music as a language for a set of emotions I didn’t know how to release otherwise.” It’s precisely this relationship between quiet reflection and overstimulation that makes the album unlike anything of its genre. In an age when non-electronic pop seems like an outlier, Farao constructs a bridge of humanity from the organic to the inorganic, rounding out the hard edges and sharpening the soft ones, thereby transplanting a healthy, beating heart into modern synth-pop.