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“Prism” by Rose Haze: Gorgeous, Tantalizing Synthpop

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“Prism,” the lush, atmospheric new song by the Oakland-based duo Rose Haze, is the quasi-title track of their new album Maximum Security Prism. The album’s title isn’t just clever and evocative – it says something about their sound, as well. The press kit describes the album as “a testament to flying free in the psychedelic prismic rainbow,” and there’s certainly enough sweetness and color in “Prism” to make that description feel earned. But this is a maximum security prism, and there’s a slight unease to “Prism” that suggests the drawbacks to both freedom and security. After all, if you turn your prison into your escape plan, how will you know when you’re truly free?

The first lyrics recur throughout the song; appropriately, it’s a tricky, loopy line that feels like it’s been refracted and cracked through the titular prism. In a voice that combines the airy timbre of Grimes with the playful affectation of U.S. Girls’ Meg Remy, Kate Ramsey sings: “I don’t understand why I have to try to understand, don’t I?” It’s a little confusing, but then again most of our thoughts are confusing when they’re pure and unfiltered. Ramsey is acknowledging that A: she doesn’t get what else she needs to understand about her current situation, and that B: she probably should. (“Don’t I?”) And more to the point, it’s just plain catchy, especially when Ramsey starts harmonizing with herself.

The synth work, co-produced by Ramsey and her musical partner Ruben Valdez Gonzales, really ties this song together. There are plenty of analog synth fetishists out there, but Rose Haze understands better than most how to effectively create an atmosphere. Rich, pillowy chords glow in shades of violet and maroon, lovely but just a little tense; elsewhere, bloopy synth patterns doodle and chirp, combining optimism and unease like Kraftwerk and Boards of Canada before them. All the while, a steady drum machine groove creates a sense of driving forward momentum, traveling towards some sort of reckoning. Good or bad? We don’t know, but Rose Haze sounds like they know what they’re doing.

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