Soft Terminal






Soft Terminal is a futuristic, brightly glowing New Age album by the Seattle-based genre luminary and designer Norm Chambers aka Panabrite, recorded over the period of spring and summertime in 2011 and released in March 2012 on vinyl, CD and as a download version on Digitalis Recordings. You can purchase and listen to the album in full at Bandcamp. I consider myself quite a fan of Panabrite’s New Age anthems, and as I tend to do in every review of Panabrite material, I am going to quickly carve out the two major differences which make up the genre of New Age. On the one hand, there is the pristine purity and state of trance that is to be evoked by the music. Some desultory listeners consider this kind of music as the truthful prime example of Ambient music. Add pan flutes, native percussion and heavy synth thickets to the scenery, and travel back in time to a place where humanity is still in unity with nature. On the other hand, though, New Age can mean the opposite thing, a voyage into a quasi-known future that was never meant to be: well-lit cities in glaring neon lights, bird’s eye perspectives of flying castles and floating dolphins in space, basically an aural, mostly positive Sci Fi outlook to one of many virtual realities. Enter Soft Terminal. Norm Chambers is known and loved for serving both groups of New Age aficionados, but here, on this album, he paints a vivacious, synth-heavy and acoustic guitar-aided work of euphony, insight and pulsating bleeps. Always amicable and accessible, Soft Terminal offers a glimpse into a crystalline, plinking fantasy which is tailored to my taste. Fans of the cyberspace concept and warm, content science fiction ought to be pleased.


The music of Panabrite is usually not hazy and diffuse, but the synth pads of the opener Rainbow Sequence definitely are encapsulated in translucency, letting their glinting nucleus shimmer through the lacunar fundament. It is more likely their multiplex afterglow that is delicately blurred, not their decay which is punchy and immediate as expected. Basically, Norm Chambers creates a glitzscape. Be it the arpeggiated shrapnel of laser pulses, the vocoded onomatopoeic chants or a riverbed of electric piano globs, Rainbow Sequence is a bubbling piece draped in nostalgia and yearning. It is not as effervescent and colorful as its title may suggest, but its layers  prosper and grow enough to let a galactic euphony become virtual reality. Added bass drones and retrogressive dark matter buzzes augment the depth of field. Index Of Gestures then interpolates what was already present but hidden in the opener: bliss and rapture. The launch phase does not waste any time and immediately grafts square lead flutes and iridescent vesicles of light onto a rather rustic but harmonious rotor aorta. Skillfully placed tones and tiny melodies boost the joy and carefree atmosphere. Tumbling polar lights illuminate the scenery, their multifaceted, polylayered echo sounds like heterodyned AM frequencies, cascades of 8-bit bleeps later kick off the second phase of the tune with a milder, more diffuse and less spiky gallimaufry of vesicles and blobs. As Index Of Gestures progresses and moves forward, Norm Chambers travels back in time.


Glass Palace then builds on the same sensible spots that are used in Index Of Gestures. Softened curtains of pointillistic specks are united with thin legato synth of the stereo-panned kind, the mood is intense despite the many fissures. Each newly introduced layer comprises of bubbles. Chirping pulses and Rave accordion streams unite until in the end, the titular palace is covered in dust. Its light blue-tinged, melancholic architecture is replaced with the first instance of organic warmth: Janus places a picturesque acoustic guitar stratum in the center, vertiginous synth swirls gyrate around its presence, twitching pulses and designedly wonky melodies waft around the positive aura. Despite the texture-related separation, guitar and synth form a melodious unison, the insouciant warmth of the stringed instrument works well in tandem with the yearning artifacts. The nostalgia layering technique works flawlessly well, making Janus a wondrously drifting piece that is torn between traces of bliss and scents of reminiscences. Beta Axis Terminal then pushes the 80’s into the spotlight. The opening phase may be aquatic and subterranean due to its high frequency blebs, but as soon as the arpeggiated dark synth leitmotif is introduced and spinning ad inifinitum within the temporal boundaries, this terminal opens the window to a blocky, pixellated cyberspace. Brighter sunspots orbit around the main stop-and-go motif, blotchy vocoder ornaments glow in the distance, synth strings boost the tension and seriousness, then add a majestic polyphony to the scenery. Haunting and enthralling.


Microlife is classic Panabrite material and one of my favorite tunes. Its only reason of existence is its steady increase of elation and euphoria, making it the album’s grower in the true sense of the word. The silkened arpeggio of the main layer is pretty much business as usual, but the glistening, glaringly bright synth rivers and runlets are much warmer and completely awash with light. The ophidian layers vegetate, the amount of pulses increases, it is a classic buildup of euphony, with the synth washes resembling the textures of my favorite Panabrite tune called Crystal Dawn Eject, included on his 2010 album Wizard Chimes. Electric guitars complete the three-note center of attention, the sylphlike anthem comes temporarily to a halt, making room for the cheekily titled Camembert Symphony which continues the journey to bliss with crystalline chime coils, embracing synth lines and – gasp! – an intendedly antediluvian 16-bit drum kit whose clicking shrubbery fuels the quirky yet superbly catchy intertwinement of the spacey-earthen duality. Joy and carefreeness are featured in abundance. Camembert Symphony is an enlightening chip tune, playful but adamantly focused on the delivery of positive vibes with only traces of bittersweet emotions. The closer Sound Softy is yet another – and obviously the last – belter of true happiness. A schmaltzy but embraceable Balearic guitar akin to Janus is ameliorated by elysian vocoder choirs, wraithlike pad ornaments and a progression that nurtures the seraphic state. It is the perfect closer to both the string of remarkably benign tracks and the whole album.


Soft Terminal is magnificent. The careful balance between retro blips and futuristic U-turns, acoustic guitars and synthetic strings, Ambient streams and Detroit arpeggios, contemplative isolation and ever-growing embracement is beautifully resolved. The look to the alternative future is neither too robotic, nor jejune or dark, for colors are all over the album, with the opener Rainbow Sequence giving the first transparent hint. From this point onwards, the fluxion does not let go of the listening subject. The textural wealth is huge, but used in a controlled and planned way. One could also say: Norm Chambers channels the variety and moulds it into cohesive forms. The last trio of tracks especially makes use of the same Rave-evoking retro synth pattern, the washed-out saturation rivers transform the already angelic sphere into a cherubic macrocosm. The idea of a consecutive string of tracks which build on anything but euphoria may be old-fashioned, given the grim outlook of our times, but Panabrite ignores the real present and creates a mellow wonderland of the future as seen from the past. The 80’s or 8-bit flavor never feels forced, it is cleverly interwoven into each arrangement, and while a few arpeggiated synths are almost awkwardly thin and etiolated, the surrounding complementary gales connect to the spikiness and lessen its presence. Soft Terminal is New Age alright, every Panabrite album is, and here the listener has a cyber-oid world to explore where the darkest of all moods is based on contemplation. So be it, so will it become.



Further listening:
You can purchase and listen to Soft Terminal in full at Bandcamp.



Ambient Review 269: Panabrite – Soft Terminal (2012). Originally published on Oct. 9, 2013 at