Australian singer/producer Michelle Xen is also a visual artist, which might account for the psychedelic cover art housing this exciting, energetic quarter hour of pop music. Arranged and recorded in her bedroom, Synaesthesiac exudes an accomplished grasp of modern electronic pop signatures, and features biting lyrics drawn from still-sore romantic encounters. The EP offers the kind of cutting-edge hooks established pop stars would bid high for.
The four songs here oscillate between retro indulgence and modern, more aggressive electronica. “L.O.V.E.” is chunky, bruising ‘80s disco, a tribute to a dance-floor siren built from rippling bass pads and a rousing, expletive-laced chorus, while “Silver Bullet” finds Xen scrutinizing a friend’s relationship, opening with a growling dubstep beat and sneers of “She doesn’t know just what she wants/She doesn’t know just what to do/And so she works a steady job/And fills the emptiness with you.” Dark, slow, and malevolent, it drops a trance loop as Xen switches to ethereal, Annie Lennox-like high notes, eventually easing things back down with a brooding John Carpenter-style keyboard solo.
“Cleopatra” is a somewhat gratuitous attempt at an extravagant historical epic, using strange glass chimes that build to a thudding chorus and Xen’s voice at the limit of its operatic range. She cries out, “Say the name/The key’s in the wall/Say the name/It opens the door,” over a pile-up of synth-pop lasers, then tries to tie commercial dance music to some of its leaner, more modern offshoots during the chorus, howling like Florence Welch while being belted by grime noises. “You Never Told Me” is a better display of Xen’s knack for carousing, bouncy electronica. “I had to walk around with an arrow in my heart/I guess I can survive since I haven’t died,” she groans over crisp digital drums and grumbling bass. The track confirms Xen is at her best when writing from the heart.