First Kings: Exhibit EXE

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https://flamingovapor.bandcamp.com/album/exhibit-exe-2

Have you ever read a great book and thought to yourself, “Man this would make such a great movie?” Only to then destroy that thought because you know Hollywood would fuck it up?

It’s one thing to create a piece of art for another medium. It’s another thing to create a piece of art that is so well made that it would be impossible for any other art form to do it justice. When I read the request for this album, that the songs were originally created as a demo for a video game soundtrack, I was immediately curious. Then after I listened to the album, I thought, “Oh my God this would make a great video game soundtrack.”

To begin with there’s this feeling of childlike wonderment throughout the album. Whether it’s the particular sequence of notes, or the textures of each individual track–everything feels fantastical. When you listen to this album you’re no longer on Earth. In fact you’re no longer in this dimension. You’re immediately transported to something new, exciting, and dynamic.

Then there’s the emotional complexity of each track. Where most songs are emotional roller coasters, this album is an emotional environment. Something so concrete, vivid, and all encompassing that you can almost reach out and touch it. I’ve mentioned many times how music can transport you to other worlds, and this album in particular not only exceeds, but excels in that department.

So when presented with the possibility of this being a video game soundtrack. I imagined the fantastical world it would take place in, a flurry of ideas and new possibilities presented themselves to me. Then I remembered, “The book is almost always better than the movie.”

To illustrate my point we have to go to the first track, Unmade Exegesis. The song starts off with this deep low piano key, which immediately grabs your attention, snaps you out of complacency, and forces you to listen. Then a raspy electronic hum is heard, like the beginning of an electronic thunderstorm. It grows louder, when all of a sudden it’s overtaken by this amazing distorted sounding synth. That sounds so otherworldly, and so alien that it immediately gets the imagination going.

Yet it’s only a hint of what’s to come, a mystery yet to be solved. Like some brave explorer in the depths of some unknown wilderness comes across some strange artifact, a giant foot print of some unknown creature, or some new otherworldly technology.

Then when the heavy bass of the drums starts to kick in. When all the shimmering synths, swirling pads, and mutated choirs sing. It’s only then when you see the scope of the mystery unfold before your eyes. It’s a sense of wonderment and awe, a sense of discovery, and the realization of all the new possibilities–that stirs that excitement in your heart. And this is only the first track.

Next up we have Rampant Wild. This is the track which even if you don’t like video games, don’t like ambient music, or really don’t like anything–that you can’t help but like. This track could work with almost anything. I could imagine that if we were in the 80’s and Kate Bush needed a new single, this would be one of her showstoppers. While at the same time if there was some romantic movie that did a montage of a couple in love it would work perfectly.

It’s an incredibly romantic sounding song. Nearly every synth in this track just oozes this kind of butterflies in your stomach, love at first sight kind of sound. Whether it’s the subtle flute synths in the background, the plucking synth strings, or even that beautiful choir. Everything just screams romance.

It’s at this point where I desperately wanted someone to make this into video game music, and when I also realized that it’s not possible. Well let me retract that. It is possible. Just like it is possible for their to be a movie version of Paradise Lost. Yet it’s when one medium’s strength so completely overshadows another medium’s weakness.

This track doesn’t make you think about love, or look at it objectively. As soon as you hear those synths you are in love. You can feel it, touch it, and see it so vividly and so clearly. You would want any artistic medium that has romance in it to capture those emotions.

And yet when we look to video games, it hasn’t gotten up to snuff. Sure there are plenty of amazing video game relationships. Just like there are plenty of great movies from Hollywood. Yet let’s take any RPG where you can romance one of companions. Does it make you feel like you’re in love? Or are you looking up guides to say the right thing, and seeing if the character is mechanically useful to you? Because let’s face it, if a song sounds as romantic as this, you gotta be delivering on that romance.

Then we get to Interior Versions a soundscape that is so unique, beautiful, and borderline macabre. It’s like the music that would be playing in an underworld lounge. Where all the ghouls, and undead settle down and have a drink. It’s a very specific, and very different interpretation. Yet as I’ve said before this is an album that gets your imagination going. So you gotta forgive me for the liberal interpretations.

The reason I believe it’s able to keep your imagination going wild is that it has the amorphous structure. It appears at points to have a traditional musical structure. Then the track mutates, morphs, and distorts itself into something else.

We can see this in other tracks such as Failed Village, where the synths have this ethereal kind of edge to it. The ethereal nature of the synths gives it a kind of cohesion. Yet this cohesion unravels as the bass is introduced. It feels off as though the bass is playing wrong notes, is out of time, or maybe it’s not even the right instrument. Every instrument introduced after the bass has a musical cohesion. In fact the instruments are not only musically cohesive, they are also structured in a way that makes it sound beautiful. Only to then dissolve into a slowed down musical deconstruction.

Which provides this unique dichotomy. At one point the bass, and musical deconstruction–at the end–creates this sense of unease. Yet there’s these beautiful lush soundscapes. It’s like when you’re a kid and you accidentally watch a rated R movie. At first your terrified because you are told it’s forbidden. That it will give you nightmares. Yet as you watch it, even with the gore, sex, and violence. There is a kind of wonderment to it. An enjoyment out of the macabre.

Then where Failed Village, and Interior Versions is a leisurely stroll down the strange, bizarre, and unfamiliar. In His Museum is a spiritual journey into the unknown.

So how does First Kings accomplish a “Spiritual” sound? Well, we have to look at one particular instrument–the drums. While the beginning starts off with the typical kind of drums you hear on most electronic songs. Then a new drum is introduced. The conga. Now a conga is an interesting instrument. Sped up, it sounds like a Glorida Estefan song. Yet when it’s slowed down, that’s where it gets interesting. That’s where our cultural memory of “Spiritualism” comes into play.

I bet if you were to isolate just the congas alone, and to ask somebody what imagery comes to mind. They’d be saying things like, “Oh, I’m out in the desert in front of a fire. A tribal chief gives me these sacred herbs to eat, and now I’m tripping out.” Okay maybe it’s just me. Yet in our collective unconscious we have this residual memory of this kind of “Spiritualism.” Before organized religion, technology, and even civilization. I guarantee you that during those times they weren’t using Pipe organs to compose their spiritual songs–they were using drums. If you don’t believe me just think of tribes out in the Amazon, untouched by civilization. Are they plugging up the ole strat? Or are they playing on drums? I rest my case.

If you read this blog a lot, I’ve always been fascinated with artists who are able to combine the spiritual, and the technological. It’s that unique combination of synths, and tribal drumming. Except usually when a song invokes those feelings. It’s not with a lush synth soundscape filled with wonderment and awe. Usually there’s some kind of existential threat. Yet not with First Kings, who instead of fearing technological progress, and the reversion back to primitivism–seem to be enjoying it. Not only are they enjoying it, but there’s this sense of wonderment with it. That there’s this new world being created, that just begs you to explore it.

It’s with that sense of wonderment that Curating The Hive which starts off with a sinister synth. It’s so sinister that it made me recall the opening of The Shining.

Now while the opening of The Shining starts off sinister, and ends up being even more sinister. Curating The Hive starts off sinister, and begins to gradually become playful. How does it do that? Well listening to the track, you can hear a sort of eerie kind of synth. A synth wails in the background, this shrill guttural noise. Like the wailing some unknown creature that you’ve never seen before. Then as the synths cheerfully pluck away, bit by bit you realize it’s a creature that you’re not supposed to be afraid of.

That ability to tame a sinister sound into something more playful is an incredible feat to accomplish. Yet it’s that ability to harness in the harsh soundscape into something that has a sense of wonderment is where the true mastery lies. I can’t imagine how many hours it must have taken to precisely create this kind of sound. Yet somehow First Kings is able to layer the synths, arrange the music, and transform the strange into the beautiful.

Then when we get to Becoming Real it’s where you see the synthesis of the strange and the beautiful are fully fleshed out. Where instead of creating an strange sound that gets more tame as the track progresses; First Kings starts right off the bat with the strange and the beautiful. Whether it’s the notes that are being played in a creepy melody, while having this lush beautiful sound. Or a beautiful synth, playing side by side with some strange theramin, that sounds like it’s out of a 1950’s B-movie. It maintains this sense of finding beauty in the strange. Which reminds me of a GOOD Tim Burton film. Where we see strange things. We see ugly things. We see outcasts, social rejects, and monsters. Yet we never see them as being ugly, strange, or as monsters. We see them as endearing, interesting, and even lovable.

Now First Kings doesn’t have Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, a movie studio, cameras, or even a script. Yet somehow First Kings is able to accomplish this seeing beauty in the strange in a few tracks. While Tim Burton (who is undoubtedly incredibly talented when he’s not being a sellout) needs a whole movie to get you to see.

Then we get to the final track Mould Elegy. Which is an appropriate name. It is by far the darkest and most tragic track on the album. When listening to the whole album, I couldn’t help but feel enraptured by this strange new world First Kings had created. It was a place of beauty, and oddities something entirely new to explore. Yet the strange doesn’t transform into something beautiful, rather it dies.

The beginning of the track creates this swirling desolate soundscape, that’s harsh and brutal. The synths that before created a sense of wonderment, and even playfulness now sound like the last bleeps and blurps of a dying machine. If this song was by itself I would praise it for creating such a desolate soundscape. Which it does fantastically. Yet it’s within the context of the whole album that this song has a tragic undertone.

I said earlier that Rampant Wild was the point of the album where I realized that this album wouldn’t work as a video game soundtrack. Yet it’s Mould Elegy where I realized it didn’t need any other art form. The fact that First Kings was able to take me to this emotional landscape, and somehow to create a narrative, without a script, vocals, or associated imagery is mind blowing.

Yet at the same time I would love to see another art form be as creative as First Kings, and to use this album as a muse. That’s because this album begs you to be more imaginative. To see the world through different lens, and it’s just inspiring to hear as an artist. And as someone who makes art themselves, if your album makes me want to make more art, then I am going to have to give this album my full recc. Please check it out!

Palavas: Played

https://wormholeworld.bandcamp.com/album/played

One of the most daunting tasks any artist can take on is making a piece of art that is dreamlike. Dreams are peculiar, on one hand they are a fantastical series of events that could never happen in real life. Yet on the other hand they have to be grounded somewhat in reality, for it to be believable to the dreamer. Ever since Freud’s seminal work Interpretations of Dreams. Artists from nearly every field have been trying to replicate the theories found in that book, into their own artform.

Yet many miss the mark. If you look at a Salvador Dali painting, you aren’t thinking, “Yeah, this is definitely like one of my dreams,” unless you’re a crazy person or Salvador Dali himself. The only medium to get it well done is film. And the artist who succeeds in this far beyond any other filmmaker would be David Lynch. Specifically his film Mulholland Drive. 

Now why do I include this particular scene in a review of an ambient, acoustic singer-songwriter album? Well first we have to break this scene down. In the very beginning the scene is filmed so realistically. There aren’t any filters, music, abstract imagery, everything is within the bounds of reality. In fact if you were to mute it, or change the script this could very well be just a scene about two guys talking over lunch. It’s not until throughout the course of dialogue that you realize this underlying tension in the scene.

The dialogue is incredibly strange. A man is going to a restaurant because he had a dream about it? Then as he describes the dream in these abstract terms, “It’s not day or night, it’s kind of half night you know?” Then the tension begins to build, as parts of his dream are coming true. The atonal music begins to build up, and then you see it. That face. The face that made him come to this Winkie’s in the first place. It’s then where the dreamlike world and reality converge. Where the scene seems less like a guy trying to resolve his bad dreams, and more like the nightmare that was described.

So why bring this up? Well like David Lynch Palavas understands how to capture that dreamlike feeling far better than the majority of musicians who aim for that lofty goal. After all Film has more tools at it’s disposal, it has visuals, it has dialogue, it has ambient noise, it has music, etc. All of these tools are being used perfectly in David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive. Yet Palavas only has his vocals, strings, guitars, some samples, and a synth. But somehow in spite of the clear disadvantage, he somehow creates an album that achieves the exact same effect as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. So now we have to figure out how he does it.

Right off the bat with Eyelids we’re introduced to this airy flute. It’s so realistic, and sounds so organic. So much so that when you’re listening to it with headphones, you could swear that you are hearing it right next to your ears. In fact every instrument sounds so organic, stripped down, and at times lo-fi that you become conscious of the instrumentation.

What I mean by that is, whenever you try to focus on a dream you had, or one that was particularly vivid. You always remember how real it felt you can probably remember how nearly every one of your 5 senses was in overdrive. If you’re in water in your dream, you remember the chill you felt as your body entered the water. If you’re running in your dream, you remember breathing in that fire as you’re gasping for air. It’s all of those details that makes those dreams all the more surprising for you. Which makes it all the more surprising to wake up, and slowly realize that all of those hyper realistic moments in the dreamworld were in fact a dream.

So if the instrumentation seems incredibly organic and fleshed out, then how does Palavas invoke that dreamlike feeling? Well he accomplishes this with his vocals. Which is so bizarre and so daunting of a task. If you were to give any other musician the task of making a dream-like soundscape, nearly every musician would find bizarre instruments, drenched in reverb, atonal sounding, and then sing the song as normally as possible. That would be the go to solution for nearly every artist.

Yet Palavas is not your normal artist. His vocals have this ethereal nature to it, which is difficult in itself to accomplish. Even when the instrumentation is just limited to guitar playing tracks like, Oh Well, In Between, Numb And Blind, You Lose And I Lose, Understand, Real, and You’re So Violent. It still maintains that dreamlike quality, and it’s not from the acoustic guitar playing. If you don’t believe me, try to play an acoustic guitar that sounds dreamlike. Then once you figure out that it’s nearly impossible then you’ll understand how much his vocals carry this album.

I know what you’re thinking, “Well it’s only because Palavas puts his vocals through some sort of effects, and that’s how he does it.” And I would have supported that theory, until I heard You’re So Violent. Which is so stripped down and bare, that it’s shocking to any modern listener to hear. We’re all so used to that slick production polish, that when any song doesn’t have it we’re immediately taken aback. Then add that to the fact that the track still retains that dreamlike quality. It’s at that moment when you understand how talented Palavas is.

Then as mentioned as before, while the instrumentation firmly grounds every track in reality, Palavas also uses ambient noise. The ambient noise is so realistic that it feels like a field recording. Tracks like Real which has that ambient soundscape. Where it sounds like he’s playing in bedroom while children play outside, there’s shuffling around the room, you can even hear rustling of clothes as he re-positions himself. Most “producers” would be ripping their hair out if they heard any of that ambience in their slick DAW processed music. Yet Palavas uses it to his advantage. After all for a dream to be vivid it has to be grounded in reality.

Then there’s the tracks he uses samples for. Take Snow for instance, a song that has that hyper-specific sound of walking in a foot of snow. That unique kind of sound that can only be identified by somebody who has actually walked in snow can recognize. Then the string section propels this trek in the snow, to this feeling of wonderment. That unique and singular feeling of seeing the first fall of snow in the winter. While, yes the instrumentation and vocals do an excellent job of conveying wonderment. It’s the sample of walking in snow that really seals the deal, and provides such an excellent soundscape for a track aptly named Snow. Which for an album released in a scorching summer, is an absolute joy to listen to.

So now that I’ve tackled the ambient sounds, the vocals, and samples that are used in this album. Now it’s time to get to the actual music–more specifically the instrumentation. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, throughout this album there is an incredible organic arrangement of instruments. Whether it’s the beautiful string section in Good that provides this melancholy wistfulness, or the incredibly well produced guitar Oh Well, In Between that calls back some of the greatest guitar parts in The Smiths. Nearly every track has this incredible instrumentation that is so well produced, so perfected, and achieves such a pinpoint accurate emotional response that it’s no surprise that an author made this album.

To see what I mean, we have to look at Vladmir Nabokov one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. And in particular a story of when he was once approached by one of his students. The student wanted to be a writer, and this anecdote in particular that illustrates how Palavas is able to be so detailed in his soundscape.

Nabokov looks up from his reading he points to a tree outside his office window. ‘What kind of tree is that?’ he asks the student. ‘What?’ ‘What is the name of that tree?’ asks Nabokov. ‘The one outside my window.’ ‘I don’t know,’says the student. ‘You’ll never be a writer.’ says Nabokov.

When writing a book, unlike any other medium, you are not limited in your creativity. If you want to create gargantuan beast, the size of a planet with 10 heads, a body made up of spaghetti, and can turn people into ravioli by singing Frank Sinatra. You can write it. The problem lies in how to communicate that to your readers. Great writers like Tolstory, and Hemingway are experts in using details. Whether it’s a Princess’ quivering downy lip, or the stripped down story of 6 words. A great author is capable of convey complex emotions through his/her use of detail.

Likewise with nearly every instrumental on this album. Everything is produced so well, and each track creates a unique subtle emotional effect. Whether it’s the lack of instrumentation, the tracks that are well produced, how everything is mixed, etc. Every single track fits together so well, like this incredibly complex puzzle where if one piece were to be missing would distort the entire image.

All of this to create a unique dreamworld, something that seems so vividly real. Yet it wouldn’t be a dream, if you didn’t wake up. Up until Yourself, I would describe the dream world of this album to be a pleasant one. One that is emotional, vulnerable, and maybe even nostalgic. Yet it’s one that is incredibly cathartic. Something like resolving some deep seated neurosis in a dream, and waking up refreshed in the morning. Yet it’s in Yourself, that waking up proves to be far worse than being asleep.

Which is why Mullholland Drive is the perfect analogy to this album. The whole entire movie at points is unsettling, it is creepy at times, yet when our protagonist Betty, gets off the plane to L.A. and succeeds in being an actress. There’s this glamour throughout the film. That adolescent dream of getting exposed, and having your art displayed to the masses. Where you show up where you need to be, and everybody immediately recognizes your talent. Then the second half is ugly, that studio polish is removed. The film becomes harsh. Our protagonist isn’t successful in her acting career, personal life, and she isn’t even Betty, her name is Diane. Even the nightmare sequences of the first act, aren’t even remotely as unsettling as the reality we’re presented with.

So with Yourself a song that is so atonal, so unsettling, so harsh, so distorted, that it’s when we wake up from the dream. And with a title of Yourself Palavas shows us that it’s not a nightmare that’s terrifying, it’s our reality that’s terrifying. After all, it’s a common trope in horror movies to say, “This is something out of a nightmare,” when presented with some unfathomable horror. Yet Palavas says to us, “This is something out of my real life,” which makes it all the more existentially terrifying.

The fact that I am able to draw so many comparison’s to other mediums should stand as a testament to how well crafted this album is. After all every artistic medium has it’s shortcomings. For example it’s incredibly difficult to create an atmosphere with a painting the same way you can with video games, music, or movies. Likewise you cannot get as indepth into an individual’s psychology in film as you can in a book. Or you can’t recreate an event as well as you can in music; as you can in a painting, movie, or video games. Yet somehow Palavas somehow manages to do this with pinpoint accuracy.

So with that being said, I would be a fool to not give this album my recc. It is so incredibly well thought out and so well made. His vision is so complete and so concrete that it is nothing short of a miracle that he was able to accomplish in music, what other artists in other mediums struggle to accomplish. Even when they have better tools at their disposal. So please give this album a listen I will guarantee that you will love it.

-𝐹𝒶𝒾𝓇𝓎 𝑅𝒾𝓃𝑔𝓈- Under A Different Moon

If there is one weakness, or bias, I have towards music is that I love a good piano piece. Especially one that is as soft and gentle as the one provided by -𝐹𝒶𝒾𝓇𝓎 𝑅𝒾𝓃𝑔𝓈- an artist who has made one of the most beautiful tracks I’ve heard on soundcloud.

Which shouldn’t be a surprise, judging by the cover art alone. It was that cover art that immediately grabbed my attention. I mean, it’s a bunch of fairy children fighting a bat. Who in their right mind wouldn’t enjoy that. Yet the saying, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” still applies. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen great cover art, only to be greeted by the ear rape of construction sounds. I’m so glad that this is not the case with this song.

The beginning has that Beatles Day in the Life beginning, as the atonal electronic landscape swells up into this beautiful piano piece. The piano is so rich, and so beautiful that it’s so refreshing to hear. With the advent of DAWs being available, either legally or illegally to millions of people, there’s something special about hearing a musician playing a competently well thought out piano piece.

Then there’s the vocals which lull you into this tranquil state of mind. The lyrics paint this melancholy vibe, which just adds more to the ambience of the whole track. Every musician loves that unique period in music, where the stars aligned, and pop music had substance. Whether it was The Beatles Sgt. Pepper, The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Prince’s Purple Rain, Nirvana’s In Utero or even Kanye West’s Life of Pablo (I don’t care, it’s my favorite album of his.)

It’s that moment where the sincerity and rawness of the avant garde meets the pop sensibilities of the masses. Where an emotion that seemed so individualistic, so private, to the artist is expressed, and the rest of the world nods their heads in an agreement that say, “This is what I feel.”

-𝐹𝒶𝒾𝓇𝓎 𝑅𝒾𝓃𝑔𝓈- is that artist. Who is able to express in such a beautiful and elegant way the emotions that at first may seem individualistic, yet are shared by all of us. He is an artist that, I cannot wait to see his growth, because I can see the potential. All that has to happen is for the rest of the world to hear him.

Meme-Brane: Shriek

So with a name like Meme-brane I kind of expected this album to filled with meme music. Distorted minecraft music, Despacito 2: Electric Boogaloo, the Shrek movie played at .0000003 speed. I was ready to listen to the ear drum melting music of the Zoomer meme generation. Then I saw the cover art. “Hm, maybe there’s something more to this artist,” I thought to myself. And then I listened to it. My jaw dropped down to the floor, and I was blown away.

To begin with it has everything I love in electronic music. It has these bizarre sounds, heavy drums, this cold detached nihilism, layered synths, dirty guitars, etc. When a lot of people say they don’t like electronic music, they usually refer to how artificial it all sounds. That there is no humanity in it aka emotion. And most electronic music sounds like the life has been sucked out of it. This is not the case with Meme-brane. Nearly every track is perfectly arranged, structured, intricate, and meticulously thought out.

So a better comparison for this type of music would be instead of picturing a virtuoso playing a violin in front of a crowd. Imagine an author instead. When you read say, Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, or Tolstoy–you know that every single line that is written was written with a purpose. There isn’t a period, comma, or word that isn’t carefully chosen, poured over, and thought through. Even media that is a collaborative effort such as film, envies the ability of authors to single handedly create their own worlds. The modern electronic music producer has the same ability, and listening to Meme-brane you cannot help but feel that this author has complete mastery over his sound.

To start with this album review we have to go to the beginning. The first song n1 is an incredibly intro, and what caused me to be so excited for this album. It has this distorted Brian Eno-esque synth playing. Which is incredibly minimalist, but which serves the song, and as a result the rest of the album.

It’s like when an author starts with an amazing opener, like let’s say, A Tale of Two Cities starting line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That opening line provides so much mystery. You immediately want to know how something so contradictory could take place. If you read more in-depth you realize that this is an excellent foreshadowing, because you know that there is going to be a lot of drama. There are going to be incredible highs, and incredible lows. You know everything this book is going to be about in the very first line. Yet the enjoyment is to see how the author plays this out.

Likewise with this album with the distorted synth mantra being played, the heartbeat that sounds like the electronic pulse of a machine, the swirling distorted pad in the background, and the shimmering keys that are being played. It sounds more like the birth of an electronic beast. Since I’m at the age where everybody is getting married and having kids, there’s nothing a parent loves than hearing the heartbeat of their unborn child. I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me with their phones and made me listen to their unborn child’s heartbeat. Though instead of a child, an electronic album is being born.

This is where the authorship shines through. This is where where we change from reviewing an album, to reviewing a world. A world that Meme-brane has invented, and immediately from the intro we are thrust into this sense of mystery. This is Meme-brane’s version of, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

So with the next track Exponentialism we see the formation of what this electronic birth has brought us. It immediately begins with where n1 left off at. A seamless transition that rewards the listener for listening to the whole album rather than one song. This bizarre little electronic beat limps along. It’s obviously not strong enough on it’s own, and as listeners, we know that something needs to be added to it. The question is what? And the mystery is how Meme-brane is going to add to this track.

So along comes another beat. That just feels a little off. This syncopation adds this feeling of unease. It’s off balance, something isn’t right. We need a resolution, and when we get bizarre vocal samples. We are still not getting much help. If the beginning was an electronic birth, this song is a struggle for survival. For when we do get music that does provide us with a resolution, it’s harsh, brutal, and violent. The synths are heavy, distorted, so sharp they’d cut your eardrum. The samples are so strange, and alien to us that it’s like the ambient sounds of an alien planet. Then there are the guitars that are so heavy, and distorted they’d make Slayer blush. This is not a peaceful resolution to the mystery we were presented with.

This is the music equivalent of man who wakes up and has amnesia, and when he looks into the mirror, fails to recognize the man looking back at him. Then when he returns to his room, he finds a blood trail, follows it, and finds a murdered woman in his bedroom. We as listeners know that this mysterious sound that Meme-brane has provided for us, is not going to be peaceful. There’s going to be conflict, there is going to be harshness, there is going to be drama, and more importantly there is going to be emotion. Something that every person who doesn’t like electronic music, feels that’s missing in electronic music.

Now the scene has been set. We know the general rules of the album, and the next song Exit Strategy compounds on the ideas that were introduced in the prior song. We’re introduced to that same syncopated drum beat, except this time this sinister synth growls in the background. In terms of say a novel, or a movie. This is the part in the act where we get over the initial shock of the mystery presented before us, and now we’re fully enveloped into the world the creator has presented before us.

This sonic soundscape of a world we listen to is as ominous as it is mysterious. The track ebbs and flows, and has that typical dynamics in music. Yet it’s not played out in a stereotyped manner. Usually when a track gets quiet, it’s more meditative, introspective, emotional, melodic, etc. Yet here in Exit strategy. The music is just filled with this ominous sound. It’s bubbling right beneath the surface. You can hear the building tension, as though a rage is building up inside of you. And then when it finally gets loud, it’s abrasive, harsh, confrontational, and overall beautiful.

Next up we have Three Skinny Sisters which starts off with this incredible drum beat. Personally I love variety when it comes to drumming. Sure, the best thing you can do is create a beat that serves the song. Yet when a drummer knows when to use every tool (or drum kit) at their disposal it creates a different kind of mood. That being said, it creates a mood. With the gate-reverb kind of sound, and tom fill ins. It has this 80’s throwback kind of sound. Mix that in with the basslines you got a groove. So now that there’s an electronic groove going on, what do you do next?

Well seeing as Meme-brane has this authorship going on, and given the previous songs, this isn’t going to be a simple groovy song. We’re already immersed into the world they created so with the introduction of this sinister atonal synth. It creates this ominous sound. Which is only more ominous with the introduction of an arp that is so sharp, so vicious, that it gets your blood pumping. Which culminates in this orgasmic fat thick sounding synth, and at the end a chaotic swarm of shrill synths swarm upon your ears. It’s one thing to create a groove, it’s a whole other matter when it’s sinister.

Next we get to (404) Hope Not Found. Which is probably one of the greatest song titles that has ever been created. I kicked myself as soon as I read it for not coming up with it myself. Even looking at the wave points of this track you’re already hinted at the buildup that will transpire. Nearly every song has this excellent crescendo in rising tension, and how to get you pumped up. Yet it’s in this track that I have to mention the pure creativity of Meme-brane’s sound.

As I’ve mentioned earlier the drums on every track is incredibly well done. Each serving the song, and each providing additional emotional context. Yet it’s in this track where you realize the creativity behind each track. The beat is this amalgamation of drums, distorted synth bass, and metallic hi hats. It’s the fusion of these elements which creates this unique sound. Most artists are comfortable in having a few tools at their disposal and using only those tools. In this track you get an understanding that Meme-brane is not only adept at crafting great music, but at the same time exploring the possibilities within each song. You can imagine Meme-brane tinkering on an individual synth, a cymbal, bass, or whatever to achieve that perfect sound. Experimenting, combining each texture to create something of their own.

So while I’m on the point of experimentation. It’s no surprise that this track has some of the most experimental sounds of the whole album. As as soon as you hear the distorted robotic vocals on (404) Hope not found, you can’t help but smile. It’s the kind of sound that as an artist you see all the time (either as a DAW plug in or guitar pedal), you’ve probably tinkered with it, but have never found the use for. Listening to it so well executed in this track, provides that kind of joy when you realize that a door has been opened. That there are more venues for creativity than you’ve realized.

Now as I’ve said, you have to look at this album through the lens of an author. Any great writer can tell you how to make something dark. So I’ll paraphrase George Lucas, it’s easy to make someone cry, all you have to do is to kill a puppy. That’s easy. Yet it’s the dichotomy between dark and light that creates great art. Or in other words, your audience needs a breather. They need something to lighten the load. Usually in film it’s those comedic moments, or maybe just a comfy introspective page in a book. Something that lightens the mood. Which the next track Angel Grinder does perfectly.

The synths have the complex melodic structure. Which given the previous track is an excellent way to settle your audience down. The complexity  offers up an easy way to deescalate the harsh brashness of the previous tracks. While the melody offers up a way to truly lull you into a state of relaxation. Add on to this the soft pads in the background, and you’re already on a new state of chill.

Yet this song is called “Angel Grinder” and we’ve established the Angel. Now we gotta get to the Grinder. There’s this distorted synth, that gets introduced soon after the relaxing synths. It’s not enough to disrupt the peaceful mantra that you’re in, but it’s enough to say it’s not relaxing. Then there’s this ambient noise, a sort of guttural growl of a beat. Which kind of reminds me in those old Survival Horror games, where you find a safe room. There’s always this incredibly chill music that’s being played while at the same time a zombie is staring at you right outside the doorway.

When the beat kicks in, it adds a degree of energy to the track, a sense of momentum. The guttural growl of beat is still audible, but then there’s this clear synth being played, and quickly the guttural groan is gone. Then what is followed is a series of tape loops, glitches, electronic flourishes that pulsate, and flutter around, before finally finishing in this perfect ending.  Where all the sounds die down except for that peaceful pad, that creates the ultimate chill atmosphere.

So after the relaxation that was Angel Grinder, we gotta get up, and the next song for that is Factorial. Which has a lot of energy compared to the previous tracks. Either due to tempo, or simply by the way it sounds. While the tracks previous to it, were this bubbling under the surface viciousness, this track is of pure momentum. This track also has some of the best synth structure I’ve heard in a long time. Every synth is made so well, and sounds so radically different from anything I’ve heard that I could write an entire review on them by themselves.

Then there’s the beat. The beat in this track doesn’t come out until a quarter way through. And when it does, it’s not like the rest of the percussion which is always a little bit off beat. It hits on time, and it hits like a truck. It’s an incredibly bass-y kick, that combined with the clear precise sounding synths, distorted guitars, and deep electronic hums all blend well together to create this really enthusiastic sounding song. Which is an incredible feat since nearly every song prior to this was used to create an ominous, vicious, brutal sound, and yet the same tools are being used to create an incredibly upbeat song. You can’t help but admire Meme-brane after listening to this song, for not creating a unique sound, but creating a unique sound that can create so many different emotions.

Next up we have, ArcheTriptych which has one of the most bizarre intros I’ve ever heard. The beat sounds almost like noise music, as it squeals, mutates, and pulsates through. Then the drum beat starts, and then forms the cacophony into harmony. Which as I’ve mentioned before, is something I truly enjoy. It’s always a joy to hear something, in anybody’s work, that sounds so weird and atonal to then morph into a melody, and it’s always fun to figure out how it’s done. In this track it’s mainly accomplished by anchoring the sound to the drumbeat and then add additional instruments.

Then as the track progresses, as the drums play along, the synths stutter and pause, and the guitar’s power chords surge throughout the track. A bizarro kind of groove begins to emerge. Whereas before when a song had a strong groove it had a sinister quality, this track in particular has such a strange and mysterious sound. It’s almost like the music equivalent of finding Cthulhu. Something so alien and foreign that it defies human imagination. When I say I have never heard of anything like this before that is 100% true, and I believe it’s due to Meme-brane’s background in creating Ambient music.

I’ve reviewed plenty of Ambient albums and ambient albums can have some of the most original ideas. Since by it’s nature it’s not tied down to any musical structure, it instead relies on textures, different kinds of sounds to create different kinds of moods. It’s in this track where you see how because Meme-brane had a background in Ambient music, that Meme-brane is able to create such evocative pieces of music. Even the genres that Meme-brane self titled himself after Synthwave, Industrial, Gothic, Breaks, etc. I can’t think of a single artist that is able to create such unique sounding music.

Finally we get to Veil of the Cryptographer. Which immediately shows the ambient influence. With a swirling electronic ambience, and deep growl of a synth, punctuated by a sharp and precise beat. With 8 songs preceding it, you’d think Meme-brane wouldn’t be able to surprise you, yet you’d be wrong. In nearly every song there are key characteristics that carry through. Key sounds that is unmistakably Meme-brane’s sound. Yet there’s always an introduction of either a new instrument, new arrangement, a new subtraction, sample, etc. That always surprises you. You never know what to expect, and with a song that’s 8 minutes long it defies imagination how Meme-brane is able to keep the creative juices flowing for so long.

The best comparison to make is that it’s like reading about an intense weight lifting program from Arnold Schwarzenegger. You hear about how many hours he poured into the gym, the amount of willpower he poured into being the best bodybuilder, and you sit back in awe thinking to yourself how that’s humanely possible. It’s the same principle with Meme-Brane’s creativity. When after 8 songs, and during an 8 minute long song, that Meme-Brane is still able to remain fresh, creative, you cannot help but admire this superhuman power of creativity that Meme-brane has unleashed onto the world.

This album is by far one of the most unique, and interesting sounds I’ve ever come across, and I implore anybody to check it out. For any artist who has writer’s block, listening to one track of Meme-brane, you’ll be able to come up with a thousand new ideas that you never thought was possible. As I said I came into this album review thinking it was meme music, and came out of it blown away. I still have no idea how Meme-brane was able to pull this off, and with that I give this album my full uncontested Recc. You must check this out.

boycalledcrow: Emerald

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CD: https://wormholeworld.bandcamp.com/album/emerald

One of the great thing about being a 90’s babies is that we grew up in a golden era. We didn’t recognize it as such, but there’s a reason why there is so much nostalgia for that period. Everything seemed tailor made for us. Then when as we got older, things got more bland. We couldn’t put our finger on it. But we knew something was missing.

Fast forward to today and we consume media to the point we’ve become morbidly obese. And like somebody who is morbidly obese, we consume these empty vacuous pieces of media, not because we enjoy it, but because we are starving. Starving for something more meaningful, starving for something with more soul, starving for something original–you get the idea. So if we wanna figure out how we can be fulfilled–we gotta work for it. Luckily you have me, and luckily there are artists like boycalledcrow.

Now there’s a reason why I bring up “media” in this album review. First off look at the cover art. Then listen to Clouds and Flurt. So what form of media do you recall? Movies? Literature? Plays? Video Games…?

It’s video games.

Now video game music is an incredibly bizarre phenomena. Since the art form is so new, it’s an accident that most of the music that we liked was even likeable in the first place. Plays always had music, ever since the Greeks, there was always some type of music being played. And since movies were originally an extension of theatre, it wasn’t frowned down upon to be a film composer. Even the silent film era, music was an integral part of the medium.

Video game music was basically a cop out. It was for artists who never fulfilled their dreams. Yet our generation lapped it up. Even today look up game soundtracks of the 80’s, 90’s or early 00’s. Look at the amount of views there are. On paper this should not be happening. How could the music of people who couldn’t make it in the music industry be popular? How did they make music that resonated with people with the lack of hardware, instruments, and studio polish of most major label bands?

So now we get to boycalledcrow’s album Emerald. An album that has refined the music of misfits into an art form.

There are 10 tracks on this album, and boycalledcrow somehow figured out 10 different ways to create a feeling of comfiness. Now unless you wake up on a bed of nails, drink bleach to wake you up, and shower in acid–you, like anybody–should love feeling comfy.

To begin the review let’s start at the beginning, Clouds. The first thing you hear and what is a defining part of this album is the ambience. How does boycalledcrow accomplish this? Mainly through his ability to craft these swirling pieces of background ambience. They always have this really melodic structure even though at first listen they don’t appear to be melodic at all. Rather they swirl around a melody, touching it ever so gently, and then dispersing. Which in all actuality, sounds like what vaporwave should sound like, since it’s sound is so ethereal.

Then there’s this pitch perfect kick drum that introduces the next crucial piece of this album. Which are the synths, which as mentioned before has this video game type of aesthetic. While every track carries this aesthetic, it’s hinted at with Clouds and compounded on with Flurt. While yes, the 8-bit synths in Flurt can at times be distorted and morphs into something atonal–it never really loses it comfiness. Mainly as part of the generation who grew up on video games, the synths carry a sense of nostalgia.

Now I don’t believe I’ve ever made any claims on being objective, but personally anything with that 8-bit video game kind of sound has immediately garnered my attention. I say that it carries with it a degree of nostalgia. As it does for the rest of my generation. Yet not for the reasons that you think. You see, even though people born in the 90’s always talk about how great the 90’s were, it’s almost always never what the 90’s were like. Rather it’s what we wished the 90’s was like.

Growing up you’re never fully conscious of the things around you. Everything floats around you, you never really are apart of the experience. Then the things you do experience, become apart of you to so much a degree that you don’t recognize that it’s apart of you. If you sat anybody down and asked them what their favorite games growing up would be, people would rattle off games like Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy 7, etc. None of those games have that characteristic 8-bit sound. Yet ask any “90’s Baby” what they loved about video game music, and you get the same answer the 8-bit synths.

So with just two songs, boycalledcrow has done something really remarkable. He’s created the musical ambience of time traveling back to the 90’s. That time we briefly remember as kids, and the things that emotionally resonated with us. He’s created a sense of familiarity, a sense of coming home. It would be the equivalent of showing our grandparents old adventure serials of the 40’s. Even if they didn’t grow up on them, it still emotionally resonates with them.

Yet as I said before, even though we all say that we grew up on that 8-bit style of synth, it’s almost always never the case. So now we get to the next song on the album Ghost. This is the more authentic version of what “90’s babies” actually grew up listening to. The ambient tape loops, fuzzy bass, crystal clear percussion, and zombie like moans (which sounds like something out of an N64 game) is more or less what we actually grew up with.

The 90’s and 00’s were a transition period where everything became either incredibly sincere, or either incredibly corporate. You had artists like Kurt Cobain who wrote songs about being sad, and showed how sincere he was by shooting himself. Then you had Biggie and Tupac who wrote songs about being gang bangers, and show how sincere they were by getting shot. I know I’m simplifying things for effect but the fact of the matter is we were not apart of that.

I grew up when Brittany Spears and Boy Bands were getting popular, and if you liked them it meant you were a mouth breathing troglodyte. So by complete accident I, and other people of my generation got funneled into video game music. I mean what other options were there? Listen to music that you had to follow with 100% sincerity, and either be thought of as a wrist cutter or gang banger. Or listen to music that everyone thought was shallow and if you enjoyed it you were an idiot for liking it. Either way we had no say in the conversation, but we did have one piece of media we could like. Without any judgement from our peers. Video games.

Since video game soundtracks had a lot of moods to capture. Think of any video game of that period, and think of the different genres they had to pull off whether it’s the creepiness of a Resident Evil, the since of wonderment of The Legend of Zelda, or the melancholy piano of Silent Hill. When I say boycalledcrow sounds a lot like video game soundtracks. It’s not a pejorative. It’s the highest praise you can receive.

Because if we return to Ghost it is musically an incredibly avant garde piece of music on paper. From the repeating tape loops, to the shifting rhythm, and the zombie like moans–if you were to take this to someone who didn’t grow up on video games–it would be incredibly experimental. Yet for millennials it’s impossible not to feel a sense of familiarity, and therefore comfort in the sound. And it’s all due to video games. From the people who couldn’t make it in the music industry, still trying to create good music. So since they were still trying to create good music, they were going to use the tools of the experimental, underground, classical composition, etc. To create the music we grew to love. And why I believe it’s so easy for boycalledcrow to make such emotionally resonate music.

To illustrate this point let’s look at the next song, Distant. With it’s spacious luscious keys, that has this incredible sense of intimacy to it. Which is a pretty difficult task to accomplish. Capturing a sense of warmth and a sense of distance. Before you listen to it, postulate on how you would try to accomplish it. What type of scenario would cause you to feel distance, and yet feel a since of intimacy? Now that you have the scenario–and here’s the tricky part–what would it sound like?

So I’ll give you my take, and then I’ll offer an explanation of how it’s accomplished. It’s like after an incredible first date, when you have dinner and both of you have this incredible chemistry. Then after dinner, you drive her home, work up the courage to kiss her, and on the car ride back you feel this intense sense of intimacy. The person just left and you drive farther and farther away. Yet the connection you had just grows more and more inside you. How boycalledcrow accomplishes this feat is mainly the instrument choice which provides a sense of distance, and then the music structure which has an incredible sense of warmth. Combine these elements together and BAM! You get a song like Distant.

Next up we have Birds. Now Birds is the song I would show anybody to illustrate how great boycalledcrow is at creating melodic synths. The snyths have this heavenly kind of melody to it. From the spacious keys and textures that reverb throughout the background. To the melodic piano and synth arpeggios.

I always praise artists who understand synthesizers. That they’re not like an electric guitar that you can bend, hammer, or spontaneously interject your own flair to. Yes it can be done on synthesizers, but when you’re dealing with electronic music you need to understand music in and of itself. You need to have a bit of an ear for composition, structure, and general music theory. You’re not a rockstar, rather you become a composer. Replace any of the synths on this track with classical instruments and it would still hold it’s own. Yet it’s boycalledcrow’s ability to use the synths at his disposal, and utilize them in a way that creates this wonderful soundscape.

Now we get to Africa, and no it’s not a remake. This track with it’s 8-bit bass, exotic percussion, swirling pads, twinkling mallets, and synth arpeggios doubles down on the nostalgia. As mentioned previously that 8-bit sound always carries emotional weight since it’s always associated with video games. As a millennial video games were the default medium. But then boycalledcrow does something interesting.

He adds these exotic sounding percussion, and twinkling mallets. Which really adds to the child-like sense of wonderment. So what do I mean by that? Well, the percussion like any the percussion in any great song adds a sense of energy to the track. That, and the fact it’s so exotic, or rather has such a unique rhythmic structure which makes it exotic. Then there are the mallets which even further compounds on this since of child-like wonder. It could be because this sound is so often associated with childhood whether it’s from a music box, or a mobile (the thing above a baby’s crib) it all has that same texture.

Then combine that with a name like Africa. Now as an adult when you think of Africa you think of politics, humanitarian issues, social issues, or whatever. But ask a kid what they think of Africa, and 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be about Lions, Giraffes, Zebras, etc. It’s that child like sense of wonderment that what makes this track great. And showcases how boycalledcrow and create 10 different tracks of 10 different kinds of comfy.

Next up we have Butterfly and Vapor. Both are tracks that start off aggressive. Whether it’s the distorted synth arpeggios of Butterfly, or the sharp snare and growling synth of Vapor. Yet as I said before every track on this album is comfy how can something be aggressive yet at the same time be comfy? Well as mentioned before boycalledcrow has an incredible ability to create great pieces of ambience.

This ambience is able to seamlessly morph, fluctuate, and shift. This fluidity is what’s able to temper even the most aggressive of sounds. Yet it’s the juxtaposition of these two sounds which causes a different kind of comfy. It’s the kind of comfiness you get after working long hours, going on an exhaustive vacation, or being in a social setting for a long period of time. While physically taxing, these tasks are nonetheless relaxing. As the case with this song, the music might aggressive, yet at the same time you can still feel an incredible sense of comfort.

Finally we get two the last two songs of the album, Amber and Grid. Amber can serve as the best representation of this album. All of boycalledcrow’s strengths, of creating beautiful melodic pieces, while maintaining this incredible atmosphere are all in splendor glory here. Yet it’s Grid that’s the real show stopper. With it’s more dramatic intro as the kick introduces these spacious keys, hi hats that create this incredible sense of rhythm, and then an orchestral synth that overwhelms you. This song in particular has a larger than life appeal to it, and is the perfect ending to an already great album.

It’s the kind of ending you’d imagine that audiences would cheer for. As the band is about to pack up their things, the audiences demanding an encore, and then the band plays their most epic song. The band plays to an audience wide eyed, and jaw dropped. Then when they’re done, the audience doesn’t demand an encore anymore. Not because they weren’t satisfied, but because they are speechless.

Every millennial looks back in time and we look at how great the media we used to enjoy was. But the fact of the matter is, is that it was great because WE made it great. I highly doubt any CEO would have predicted that a Japanese Cartoon about an alien fighting other aliens over dragon balls that could grant wishes would be a smash hit. But WE made it into a smash hit. Music industry moguls would have never have guessed that video game music would be as enjoyed as much as it is today, yet here we are. And it is only possible because WE made it possible.

boycalledcrow did something amazing with this album. He showed us all the power that we truly had. That WE have the ability to create an oasis out of a desert. We can make great art that captures the things that we held so near and dear to us. So with that ability to create greatness, and a greatness that is unique to our generation, I give this album my full recc.

Acef Stripe: Renascent

https://acefstripe.bandcamp.com/album/renascent

As I’ve addressed before, electronic music has a soul problem. Specifically how do you express the human condition through electronic bleeps and blurps? One of the reasons people can’t stand modern music is because of how artificial it is, and how inhuman it all sounds. And with the increasing awareness of “Industry Standards,” where people will make music built upon looking “Professional” rather than based on self expression–music is losing it’s soul. You don’t even have to focus on mainstream music, even the underground scene is losing it’s soul.

Which begs the question, how do you find the soul in the machine?

Well first let’s ask ourselves what’s the most intimate of relationships we can have? No, I don’t mean about sex, or the guy/girl you’ve been dating for 4 months. No, we’re going to go deeper than that–because no matter what–if that girl you’ve been dating for months says something about your mom, it’s over. So we’re going to talk about family.

Now the thing about family, is that it’s not often sung about in modern music. Now why is that? Singing about a breakup is easy, because we’ve all gone through one, we can relate to it, and if you have the correct attitude it’s optimistic–because as the saying goes, there are always plenty of fish in the sea. Now singing about say your wife dying, your son dealing with addiction, seeing your Mom and Dad for the first time in a really long time, getting in fights with your sister even though you’re both grown adults and shouldn’t be doing that. It’s a lot more vulnerable and personal of a position to be in.

So due to that vulnerability there is going to be a lot more subtle emotional expressions that require a lot more nuance and subtlety. Which is what Acef Stripe exceeds at, and the fact that it was expressed by father and son through electronic synth based music is a testament to their songwriting ability.

Take We Thought We Lost You. The track starts out with this chaotic kind of melody, that like the cover art doesn’t really have a shape; yet the tones of the synth, like the colors on the album art convey an incredibly warm tone. Chaos is a really difficult expression to label it as, yet “We thought we lost you” implies a turbulent emotional time. Remember that time when you thought something bad was going to happen to one of your family members, and remember your emotions. At first the anxiety and uncertainty, is the only emotion that you can really put a finger to. Then when you finally get to see them–that they’re alright–and you reach out to hug them, that chaos forms into something different. It forms into a cathartic expression of love.

The next track Hourglass is so comfy. The orchestral synths in the background lull you into this inviting kind of atmosphere. The best way you can describe the atmosphere is that imagine you are in when you’re away from family for an extended amount of time. After taking a cab to the airport, getting a family member to pick you up, meeting them at the baggage claim, driving home, and seeing the rest of your family and chatting about how your lives have been going. It’s that immediate feeling of familiarity, without any awkwardness, or desire to impress them that makes those moments so inviting–and what makes it so personal. So the synths that slowly arpeggio this slow melodic trance, don’t have the chaotic kind of melody as the previous track. It’s pure comfiness. So even if you don’t have a family, or can’t relate to the comparison of music to family, you can at least relate to snuggling up in bed and watching Netflix, right? If you ever felt comfortable at all in your life, and don’t wake up everyday drinking acid, sleeping on a bed of nails, taking cold showers, or working customer service; then you can relate to being comfy. And if you can relate to being comfy, then you can relate to this song.

So now we get to A Reunion, this track in particular calls back to David Bowie’s 1977 album Low. Which I don’t like to use comparison to other albums, yet the “Slow side” (as Bowie called it) of the album is something that hasn’t been expanded upon. Since Bowie shed so many different genres, and styles, that he could make many masterpieces in varying genres. Yet with Low it’s a sound that’s never been revisited before, as much as it should have. Maybe it’s due to the fact since it was so creative it just inspired artists to be more creative. Or perhaps the people who appreciated it added bits and pieces of it to their own work. Who knows? But regardless, this song in particular expounds on the ideas expressed on Low and adds new emotional dimensions to the album. Because Low was coincidentally made at a “Low” point of Bowie’s life (see what I did there). It’s incredibly somber because if you just got fucked over by your manager, got addicted to coke, got into Fascism for some reason, got divorced, moved to a different country, and then tried to start all over sober and clean; your album isn’t going to be brimming with joy. So if you want to musical equivalent of Christmas morning with your family; with the amazing synths, arpeggios, and bells that this track has to offer–then this is the song for you.

I Should Have Spoken is the track which I would say has the only source of conflict. That conflict being the sizzling hum of a synth on one ear, all while a warm melodic melody is being played in the other. It’s the kind of soundtrack that would be played after there is a big fight. The kind of fight that at the moment is hurtful, but later when everything is reconciled the sound morphs into this warm loving tone. Since I’ve made the comparison to family a lot, anybody can tell you that there is going to be a few fights in any family. Hence why the sizzling pulsating synth works so well in this track. Yet what separates that conflict from any other is that deep down inside, you know that you still love each other.

Next up is Second Chances, and I have to say, I LOVE THE DRUM in this track. It has this kind of synthy ballroom kind of sound, which is really the only way to describe it. I think with the percussion, the bass which sounds amazing (which really reminds me of Final Fantasy VIII for some reason), and the lead synths that  has that shimmering tone (kind of like some 90’s Dr. Dre kind of synth) gives it this real party vibe. Like you’re with your family on New Year’s Eve, and the ball is about to drop so you cork open the champagne bottle. Basically it’s a laid back celebratory kind of sound that gets all more endearing the more you listen to it.

Finally there’s Tumbleweeds At Dusk which opens up with an ambient synth, and almost whiny synths. When I say whiny, I don’t mean cheesy emotional, I mean whiny as the expected kind of thing when you’re about to leave your family. You’re all kind of sad that you’re going back home after visiting them, and they try not to cry–yet good byes are never easy–so the tears begin to flow. Yet as I said before, this album is filled with such warmth, it’s not an existential kind of sadness. It’s a sadness filled with great joy, because you had a great time, you all got to see each other again. So when your plane is about to depart, and the sadness begins to fade away; all that’s left is the recollection of those brief moments of pure love.

It’s these types of emotional expressions that you rarely hear in popular music. With everybody try to exert their own individuality, by being more abrasive, shocking, depressive, or hedonistic; you lose a lot of opportunity to express other feelings on the emotional spectrum, that is the human condition. So with this album Acef Stripe has managed to find the soul in the machine, and I hope that this father son duo continue to make great music. Because music that has this much emotional capacity needs to be heard.

With their ability to put to sound the depth, and complexity of emotions rarely heard on music; I give this album my full recc. Please check it out.

Xqui: Capitulate

https://xqui.bandcamp.com/album/capitulate

In Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker, there is a place called the Zone. The Zone is a dangerous yet miraculous place. The Stalker who routinely guides people to the zone has nearly every aspect of his life ruined, from his relationships, his financial situation, his daughter who is deformed, and even the people he guides questions his motivations. After all the Zone is an uninhabitable place filled with unimaginable horrors; any wrong step can cause a person to burst into flame, have cardiac arrest, or to just simply just disappear.

The place the Stalker guides these men to is the room where once entered can cause all of your deepest desires to come true. Yet we hear a story in the beginning of a Stalker who decided to enter the room, and months later after he entered it, he committed suicide.

So why bring this up on an album review? The reason is simple. Every artist–for some odd reason–enters the Zone. The place of creativity, of self expression, of individualism; and like the Stalker we are drawn to it. Even if it costs our relationships, finances, and self esteem. After all, there’s a reason for all the VH1 Behind the music specials, being an artist is not easy. This album itself is a microcosm of being an artist, and creates the sonic equivalent of being in the Zone. It is an album of unbridled creativity, and fearlessness–and in that fearlessness we get closer to why we make music in the first place.

Take the first track for example, Xqui x Radio Europa – Impotus. Which is an excellent opener, for it sets the stage, that this album is an exploration of the unknown–of new musical frontiers. The pad swirls around in an ethereal tone as it builds upon itself–adding more and more anxiety–only to be interrupted by a kick drum. Then as the pads return, and in that return we hear the ambient noises of what sounds like the breathing of a great monster, and the wails of lost souls.

Another facet of this album that has to be explored is that the soundscape in this album sounds at times incredibly synthetic, and incredibly orgainic. Take the synthetic music of  Tich for example; a track that has an almost EDM/dubstep kind of feel, yet still somehow maintains that thick sense of ambience. Yet tracks on this album can sound incredibly organic. So organic, in fact, that it sounds like you’re more listening to a living breathing creature than an ambient album. Take 0208e the deep reverbed ambience in the background as before, sounds like you’re in the belly of some great beast. The only interruption from this ambience comes from a synth that floats above the rest of the sound–like an electronic cicada– while a sampled voice that states, “To touch the face of God.”

Which brings me to my next point. While listening to this album there is a sense of unease, while at the same time an incredible sense of beauty. The track that best exemplifies this is Epiphany whose amazing choir is interrupted by this dirty sounding electronic noise–like a radio’s last transmission before it dies–and these borderline tribal sounding percussion. It’s this sense of unease, and heavenly sounds that calls to mind Penderecki, who if you don’t know made songs like this.

Now why would someone make a song that terrifying about God? It’s not blasphemous, rather it presents God as an unknowable, unimaginable, entity, and as a result we feel anxious as a listener. For every artist deals with the unknown, the ethereal, and the strange. It’s human nature to label something, and to give it meaning. Then when we’re unable to quantify something, to stick a label to it, or give it meaning–it causes a great deal of anxiety.

Penderecki understood that being avant-garde all the time, is entertaining for about 10 minutes, but it’s not something to build an entire concert on. So he would often have pieces of music that for highly avant garde followed by music that was highly conventional. In doing so he created music that you could listen to at a concert.

Xqui does the exact same thing with songs like Deathbed, that starts off avant-garde, then transforms with these wonderful lullaby like vocals. With creates a comforting atmosphere, gives the audience room to breathe, and allows the track to explore different types of sonic textures. While the lyrics, “I died in your bed,” adds a melancholy layer to the track, it’s familiar enough to anchor the listener to something knowable. Which shows not only Xqui’s ability to craft conventional songs, but also how they can use, what appears to be a normal song, to still be avant-garde.

Finally when we get to Valley it starts off with this innocent sounding flutes, but then devolves into something more unknown, and therefore more terrifying. What sounds like animals screaming, with a vicious synth in the background, while a choir sings an ethereal song in the background, all while the flute loses all of it’s original form, and becomes borderline atonal. A perfect ending to an amazing ambient albums that defies expectations, and creates an entirely new world.

What I appreciated the most while listening to this album was how fearless Xqui was willing to express themselves. Most creative people are able to enter the Zone as mentioned, previously before, but few are willing to go that extra step. That step, that separates the trappings conventional music into full self expression. Instead of the story of the Stalker who killed himself for finally entering the room, here we see in this album an artist who succeeds in expressing themselves, and is able to stand tall in the sea of musical stagnation. And for that Xqui should be applauded.

I give this creative whirlwind of a ride, my full-hearted recc.

 

Elizabeth Joan Kelly: Music for the DMV

https://elizabethjoankelly.bandcamp.com/album/music-for-the-dmv

One of the great things about art is how it transforms the mundane and the average, into something beautiful. Anybody can look at any great painting from say Van Gogh and admire it’s beauty, but most of it is just snapshots taken from everyday life, filtered through Van Gogh’s perception of it. Likewise Elizabeth Joan Kelly’s Music for the DMV, takes the unpleasant experience of being at the DMV (because let’s face it if you breathe air, and drive a car, then you’re not going to enjoy going to the DMV) and makes it into something beautiful.

So the question is how does she make it a beautiful? The best way to describe the album, is that it isn’t a way to make the DMV more calming; in fact tracks like Ghost in the Machine, Sci Fi Drive, and Silent Space Scream would do the complete opposite. As she describes the album ” Music for the DMV (after Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports, but more angsty…because no one likes the Department of Motor Vehicles).” Yet I said before the music transforms the mundane experience of going into the DMV into something beautiful; so how does she accomplish this?

Well to begin with let’s take the actual sound. The very first thing I noticed in all of her tracks, is how layered, varied, and textured her sound is. It’s a vague description, I know, so I’ll break it down. So whenever anybody uses midi style instruments for making electronic music, there are like a thousand different presets for every humanly possible sound. Most people–myself included–kind of stick to around let’s say 15 different presets. Elizabeth Joan Kelly seems to know how to use all of them. Take Ambient Industrial Gymnopedie, you can hear the classical music influence (it is after all based off of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie no. 1), yet there are so many different synths, textures, layers, and an incredible industrial drumbeat that ties it all together–the track even re-invents a classical piece of music. The best comparison I could make is take cooking, I can make a mean bowl of chili, yet if you were to give me a duck I would have no idea what to do with it. Then let’s take a 5 star chef, you give him a duck he could make hundreds of dishes with it. Even the bowl of chili he would know exactly what ingredients to use, how to cook it, and improve upon it. Likewise Elizabeth Joan Kelly is like a 5 star chef in that she knows exactly what ingredients to use in each track, what sound works with what, what textures and synths to use, etc. to create this wonderful soundscape.

Yet this is Music for the DMV, the DMV isn’t exactly well known for it’s musical innovation. So how does the serene dreamy pop atmosphere of Call My Number and the creepy intense atmosphere of Silent Space Scream fit into being at the DMV? Now one could say that each track represents a sort of mood, a story of being at the DMV, which each twist and turn being represented by a song. Yet when you hear the 8-bit video game sound of Bowl City, the album becomes something different. Every track is so imaginative and world building that it feels less like an emotional journey at being at the DMV but rather the day dreaming of a creative person. Let’s take Calvin and Hobbes for a moment, because everybody loves Calvin and Hobbes. Anytime Calvin is at school his imaginative day dreams really have nothing to do with school, take this comic strip for example.

Now you notice that regardless of what is going on at school, Calvin was going to daydream about this. Whether he’s at school, home, the playground, or wherever Calvin is going to daydream about dinosaurs, astronauts, superheroes, plane crashes, etc. his surroundings aren’t going to limit his imagination. You see where I’m going with this?

Elizabeth Joan Kelly Music for the DMV isn’t so much a soundtrack for being at the DMV rather it’s a sandbox of creativity, a sort of jumping off point to go off on some imaginative adventure. Where Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports is a relaxing soundtrack to get people not to freakout that they’ll soon be flying 10,000 feet at 700 mph in a metal tube; Elizabeth Joan Kelly’s Music for the DMV says, “Hey I know this sucks being here, but let’s go on an adventure!”

So now that I used Calvin and Hobbes, now I’m going to be getting biblical. In John Milton’s Paradise Lost Satan says after being expelled out of heaven and stranded in hell, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…” And let’s be real if there is a hell it’s probably a lot like the DMV. Yet Elizabeth Joan Kelly’s music is like a guided meditation for the creatives, for the daydreamers in all of us, and something that helps us escape our immediate surroundings–and by accomplishing that she has made the mundane beautiful.

For providing the soundtrack, and even anthem of all daydreamers I give this album my recc.

 

solarein: neon demons

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https://solarein.bandcamp.com/album/neon-demons

There’s a reason why I write so often in my reviews about technological anxieties. After all most of the music I review wouldn’t be possible; due to either the software/hardware used to create the sound, and also the means, in which I am able to listen to the music, through the internet.

Yet something strange has happened to humanity as a result of all these technological innovations. We’ve been able to receive any pleasure, talk to any person from any place on earth with internet connection, we can find any piece of information at the click of a mouse; but with these new technological achievements it brings with it a sort of nihilism. Is life nothing more than the pursuit of pleasure? We can talk to anybody, anywhere, at any time, yet are the connections meaningful? With all the abundance of information–what is true and what is false? In short, the more we use computers, the more we become like computers–a series of inputs, and outputs.

I bring this up, because solarein’s album neon demons is the perfect encapsulation of all these themes and expresses the feelings many of us have felt about this drastic change in human nature. Take the opening track neon demons, the synths are so expertly crafted panning over to each ear, while an ambient sort of electronic choir sings. In fact it’s one of the best crafted electronic songs I’ve ever heard.

This will be a pattern in all of solarein’s music. Every single thing is so well crafted that you cannot do anything but admire his technical prowess. From the ambience, to the guitar playing, to the samples he chooses, etc. Everything he touches is so well done, so perfected, and mastered so precisely– that it’s not like other artists who have a synth song and then slap a guitar solo over it, or blend ambient textures with electronic music. No. Each piece of the puzzle fits so well, and with any slight change would alter the track drastically.

So back to neon demons with solarein’s technical prowess it’s man at his best conquering technology. Yet it’s not a triumphant sound, it’s an existential dread. Even the ambient noise in the background has this grating noise in the back ground, that switches to a choir pad, and then to a distorted guitar. It’s unnerving. Both the technical skill that is displayed, and the existential dread it produces. Like a matador who awes the crowd by slaying the bull–bows at the applause–and then limps out of the arena; traumatized by the experience.

The next track, schism provides even more context into this struggle of man vs. technology. Every single musician–who is in modern music–first played guitar. We all wanted to be Jimi Hendrix, we all wanted to be Eddie Van Halen. All of modern music, is nothing more than cultural residue of the social revolutions of the 60’s where Frank Sinatra was replaced by the fab four. The guitar playing is as great as any of the bands we used to listen to, it’s guitar tone is rich, unique, and fits perfectly with the song. The synthetic drums, and synths take a backseat to the music, and then it happens. A sample of what sounds like underwater ambience takes over, and you hear the tearing apart of something. And then you realize what it is. That we are living through another social revolution, where the guitar playing of the past is being washed away and torn out. The cultural memories and achievements of the past are being replaced with digitized world of the present.

broken doesn’t at first sound like it’s broken. The pads, and ambient textures feels like something to be marveled at. Even the choirs sound a bit heavenly. But it’s precisely this soundscape that sets us up for the rest of the track. Whenever something new is accomplished we all huddle around it and marvel. Humanity pats itself on the back for it’s accomplishments. We look at every new advancement with pride, as we “progress.” Even some of the synths and electronic blips sounds like a cicada’s chirp on a hot summer day. It’s impressive that solarein is able to accomplish such a feat, to make the synthetic sound as natural as the real world. Yet this technological tower of Babel, can never rival the beauty and majesty of the natural world, and solarein interrupts this beautiful electronic soundscape with an anxious industrial distorted sound. It reminds us that even a futuristic technological society will still malfunction. The question is, who will it be first, us or the machines?

The next track nucleus continues to show how talented solarein is in creating an atmosphere. Little details like the sound of birds chirping, reminds me of a little story about the famed novelist Vladimir Nabokov. A student approached him, and told him that he wanted to be a writer, Nabokov pointed to a tree and asked, “What is the name of that tree?” The student answered, “I don’t know,”  and Nabokov replied, “Then you will never be a writer.” It’s the ability to insert little details like that, that makes solarein such a great artist. The birds chirping with a beautiful airy ambience in a background, creates a mood that is both meditative and introspective. Something that calls back to something more real and substantive. In fact in choosing the title name nucleus” even further solidifies the human element into the song. After the hellish industrial noise of broken the track needs an answer; after all we’ve only had the internet for about 20 years, this isn’t our natural state–but the peaceful sound of nucleus creates a sort of yearning of a time long gone.

It’s no surprise that after this the track titles take on a more nature themed names, like evergreen or bloom. evergreen begins with these reverbed out vocals, that sound so ancient. The vocals sound so old, and wearied yet so expansive, as though they were being played out on top of a mountain for the whole world to hear. The ambient hissing, and what sounds to be labored breathing feels like the last gasps of a dying world. Then you hear it. The distorted arpeggiated synths as though you are in a cybernetic carnival, though this carnival doesn’t provide any sort of happiness. Rather it’s a cruel, and taunting sound. bloom provides another perspective on this same event, while evergreen was on the macro scale, bloom is on the micro scale, the individual. Who at first welcomes everything that’s new to him with such glee. The synths start off happy, a stark contrast to the previous track, but as the track progresses, the synths slowly begin to change… You can hear in the ambient noise, a woman’s vocals, and an oriental violin, but you only hear pieces of it. Just like you can just recall those moments of seeking something deeper, something more meaningful, yet the synths drown these brief moments of clarity out. At first they arpeggiate into some sort of glee, then they transform into harsh distorted screams, until…all that remains is what sounds like wind, which slowly transforms itself into an electronic noise. Then the track abruptly stops. Because let’s face it, we’re all trying to seek enlightenment through the very thing that causes us existential angst.

So with this masterfully created album that blends both the organic ambient textures, and synthetic electronic music; it’s truly a testament to solarein’s skill as a musician. The track is littered with little details that rewards the listener for paying attention. Like any great work of art–beauty is in the subtle–in the minor brushstroke that can separate the amateur from the master. Truly this album is something to be listened to over and over again.

solarein for capturing the existential angst of the digital era, undeniably deserves my recc.

 

 

Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill 2 Soundtrack and Why It’s Important for Independent Artists

Now for my first analysis of an album, I wanted to do something relatively different. I could have done any of Joy Division’s albums since they’re my favorite band, but I would be missing the mark. The fact of the matter is, they were at the right place, at the right time, with the precise set of perfect circumstances to create their music. For me to write praises about them would be too easy, and it would be antithetical to this blog to write about people who already have enough written about them. Especially since most of the blog articles written are about underground musicians who are trying to make it.

So, to set the stage why I am reviewing this album, we gotta go back in time. Back when I was a struggling make believe filmmaker. When I quit trying to make films because I kept encountering the same problem. That I, and everyone that I worked with, couldn’t make the art we wanted due to some unforeseen circumstances that we couldn’t overcome . The actress didn’t like the script and refused to be apart of it, the cameras were cheap and the image quality was poor, we didn’t have good enough audio recording equipment and we could barely hear dialogue over the background noise, we didn’t know what we were doing etc.

We all had grandiose ambitions, they wanted to be Meryl Streep or Marlon Brando; and I wanted to be Stanley Kubrick. I wanted so badly to make movies, that every film I watched I would take notes on: where the camera was placed, how the shot was framed, the lens filter they used, the mis-en-scène, where it was filmed, how the director got the performances he wanted etc. I wanted so badly to be an independent filmmaker. To have complete creative control over my art.

Yet my family was down to one car, and for a few weeks we had no car. I applied to every job where I lived and couldn’t even get a job in McDonalds. Reality forced me to abandon those ambitions, and with no other options I joined the Navy. The people I tried to work with stayed in school studying acting, and at this moment are still in school studying to be actors.

I didn’t do anything creative until two years into my navy career, when I found a guitar in one of our shops. I began playing it, and fell in love with it. I had complete control over it–strumming a few chords–I could create a new world. A world that was mine, a world filled with everything I liked, that I could escape to and seek shelter in.

Orson Welles’ had a great quote on this, “The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.” So when I was reading Akira Yamaoka’s interview, it struck a chord. When asked about what he thought about other video game composers, he said, “Unfortunately, there isn’t any game music I like. I do not have any favorite game music composer, either. It seems to me that many of the game music composers do their work as their side business. I cannot really have respect or a close feeling toward much of the game music I’ve heard. I suppose many of the video game music creators are really shallow… In other words, those people seem to be in the business just because their true dreams did not come true; person A might have wanted to do business in the music business, person B might have wanted to play in a band, but could not make enough money, etc.

“Of course, that is not true for all game music composers, but in any case I think there are many shallow creators who seem to do their work as a side business. Also, as to the music style itself, I don’t think there are many composers who are making really interesting music. The structure, the focus on ordinary music theory, regular instrument formations, etc… Everything like that seems very boring to me. The originality is often lacking and that’s very boring.”

yamaoka3

This is from a man from an entirely different set of circumstances from most rockbands I admire. Most of them came out during the end of the punk scene, or were–as mentioned before–in the right place, the right time, with precise set of perfect circumstances. This was a guy who was making video game music in 2001. Back then to see video games as anything other than a kid’s toy, or some nerdy niche, was absurd. Now in hindsight, we can see that video games especially during that time were art, but the rest of the world didn’t.

When reading his interview, I couldn’t help but see myself in that quote “[Video game composers] seem to be in the business just because their true dreams did not come true; person A might have wanted to do business in the music business, person B might have wanted to play in a band, but could not make enough money, etc..” It could be that I’m solipsistic, but I believe that no matter what circumstance a creative person is in, a creative person is going to create. Yet no other video game soundtrack I had ever heard then sounded anything like Silent Hill 2.

Take the opening song Theme of Laura, when I first played the game I couldn’t believe my ears. Firstly that it was really well done rock song; and secondly, that was so moody, and introspective. It wasn’t the beginning of an epic fantasy adventure, or some leftover soundtrack from some action movie that was never used. It was different. It was unique. It was something that I could have heard in all those bands that I admired so much, it had a unique vision that could rival Kubrick’s. In other words, it was art.

So compare Theme of Laura to another video game soundtrack by another–not so blind–Japanese video game composer.

 

Does that invoke any emotions in you other than confusion? Does that sound like an artist trying their hardest to make the best possible music? Are they doing the best they can to express themselves? No, of course not. It sounded like somebody who was in the business of making video game music because their dreams failed.

Akira Yamaoka stated that his influences for this album was Angelo Badalementi, Trent Reznor, Depeche Mode, and Metallica. I bet you that if any of them heard any track from this album–even if it wasn’t their cup of tea–would still respect the music. There wouldn’t be anybody calling Akira Yamaoka a sell out or anything like that. In fact, take listening to a track like Black Fairy you can’t help but feel the intense sense of foreboding, and creepiness. Yet most horror music, even for films, at that time sounded quite like it.

The whole album is drenched in an introspective melancholy, the kind that is so beautiful and sincere that it almost becomes comforting–which is why sadness always seems so hard to get rid of. Until, like most things melancholy it devolves into a dark sinister sound that devours any trace of hope, and you’re left with nothing but pure misery. Yet there is still hope, like when people jumping off the Golden Gate bridge still hopes that someone reaches out to save them. For a video game album to convey such deep and rich emotions, is so bizarre. It’s an album that can stand on it’s own on the music scene. Even without the video game associated with it, with it’s tank controls, obtuse puzzles, and dated game mechanics.

So why is this album important to independent artists? Quite simple. Even if your dreams fail of you being the next Marlon Brando, David Bowie, Ernest Hemingway, or Stanley Kubrick; it doesn’t mean that your dreams are over. It just means that you have to adapt. And by adapt, I don’t mean join the music industry because you know how to make music–what I mean by adapt is to work your hardest to make the best music you possibly can. To make it yours, and for your vision to shine. Even in a field of video game composers, in an industry people don’t even consider art, Akira Yamaoka created a timeless masterpiece that people will still listen to 50 years later.

Don’t stay fixated on one idea of what it means to “make it.” Stay fixated on one thing and one thing only. To make art, and music that is yours, and yours alone. And no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, stay true to yourself.