Norm Chambers is not a household name to most people but for those who have been reveling in the monster that is Panabrite for the last few years, he is absolutely adored. Some will be quick to chalk Soft Terminal up as another 'synth record,' but that's just the surface dressing. There is something deeper and much more complex happening here. Vivid, liquid dreams are sculpted into intricate fantasy landscapes, each layer revealing what a wizard Chambers is.
The thing with Panabrite is that he has an innate ability to write richly textured, melodic compositions that have as much in common with vintage electronic library music as they do with minimal synth pop and 70s prog. Soft Terminal proves that he is no one-trick pony straight away with the opening duo of "Rainbow Sequence" and "Index of Gestures." The former remains understated, moving simply and slowly while pulling open the curtain on the rest of the album. With "Index of Gestures," Chambers opens up the sequencers and lets them fly. Dizzying passages resonate on the horizon, each taking aim at flight. When the piece finally feels like it will lift off, he tightens the reins and dives straight into an underwater synthesizer ballet. It's dripping with sentimentality and is all the better for it.
But that's only a small part of the story. "Janus" opens with finger-picked guitar arrangements augmented with synth chords and rising leads. The guitars return on "Sound Softly" while Chambers' ghostly, robotic vocals float away unscathed. On "Beta Axis Terminal," pointillist tones flutter in and out before sharp, sequenced chord progressions overtake them. As the piece continues to build, vocoder hovers above thickened basslines and you feel lost in a dystopian sci-fi novel.
While there are elements throughout the entirety of Soft Terminal, Chambers' pop sensibilites are most evident on the mini-masterpiece, "Camembert Symphony." Pushed along by the constant thrum of a drum machine, multiple melodies are interwoven, wrapping themselves tightly around you. Each soaring synth lead gets the song further stuck in your head before fading away into the sonic ether. It's a perfect exclamation mark on a stunning album. Panabrite is a force to be reckoned with.