Dissonance: Ascent

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https://dissonanceband.bandcamp.com/

There’s always that one band.

There seems to be a common theme in music lovers, where in adolescence they loved everything that was blasted on the airwaves. Then one day, all of a sudden, it all changed.

If you were to ask them about that moment it would be like asking a romantic about their first kiss, or an alcoholic their first beer. It’s that band that changes their perspective from music, from that of a bystander to that of a participant. It’s the band that made them change their wardrobe, by new headphones, get a new hairdo, and change their lifestyle. In that moment when everything clicks, when you finally find a band that speaks to you, challenges you, and changes the lens through which you see the world–nothing can ever replace that feeling.

So when reviewing albums, there’s always that romantic notion of the underground. Currently finding great music in the mainstream is like trying to find an oasis in the desert. Yet to find buried treasure you have to go underground. So with great joy, I am pleased to review Dissonance’s Ascent, a musical tour de force with the capability of being that band to someone out there.

The first song, Break Myself is a great introduction to the album. The first thing to notice is how great Dissonance is at blending genres. Musicians have this terrible habit of stampeding to one kind of sound, one kind of style, and then when it’s beat to death, nobody wants anything to do with it. So all the innovation within that genre dies because nobody wants to be associated with it.

For example in this song you can hear traces of EDM, House, Techno etc. In fact you could probably pinpoint the decade, or even the year, in which each sound was popular in electronic music circles. Yet what Dissonance does is incredibly amazing in that each genre is blended together, synthesized, and restructured in a way that makes this album sound so incredibly unique.

Listening to this track, or any other part of this album–you understand the artist’s taste. They stuck their chin up, and embraced electronic music. Whereas other people try to runaway from a certain type of sound. Dissonance is able to evolve that sound in an incredibly unique way. That coupled with the variety of subgenres within each track–creates this electronic music fan’s wet dream of an album.

So that’s just with the electronic aspect of the track, then there’s that late 90’s guitar, beautiful vocal harmonies, and larger than life drums. It’s one thing to embrace all of electronic music, it’s another when you improve electronic music.

What do I mean by improving electronic music? One of my main gripes with a lot of EDM tracks is with the beat. People harp on how important the beat is. There are entire youtube tutorials on how to make the perfect kick, how to program 808’s, the best way to make hi hat triplets, etc. Yet it all sounds so similar, and it’s similar in a way that lends itself to mediocrity.

This isn’t the case with this track. The drums have that stadium rock kind of feel. When I first heard the drums I wasn’t thinking EDM, I was thinking Led Zeppelin. It’s details like this that push the genre forward. It would be like if there was no distorted guitars in Heavy Metal. The music could sound dark, it could sound menacing, but as soon as you introduce some distortion to the sound everything changes. Having these heavy real drum kits pound away is as important to EDM as distortion is to Heavy Metal. It’s one thing to create a beat to dance to, it’s another to create an emotion with a beat (primarily that of aggression). That’s one of the reasons why people don’t like electronic music, because it doesn’t sound human, aka has no emotion. And that’s what separates Dissonance from the kid making tracks on soundcloud.

Then we get to the next song Poison Kiss which continues this musical exploration. This track borders on being pop. In fact I could see this being some kind of mutated pop music. Where Lady Gaga was bathed in radioactive waste and blasted with gamma rays. Instead of getting cancer, she would have superhuman abilities to create really great original music. (Also it should be noted that I actually like Lady Gaga, especially her song Alejandro.)

So what do I mean by this mutated pop? This song has the structure of a pop song. It has the feel of a pop song. Yet there is this musicianship that prevents it from being full on pop. There’s this layer upon layer of synths, subtle guitar tones, and chord progression that’s far more complex than what’s on the radio.

Now this isn’t to detract from the music, or to critique it. The best comparison to make is that it would be like eating a gourmet burger at a restaurant. Everybody knows what a McDonald’s burger tastes like. Yet when you’re at a gourmet restaurant and they offer up a burger. It’s immediately going to pique your interest. Because you want to know: what does a gourmet burger taste like? The same principle applies here, you want to know, given the musicianship of the previous track, what a pop song would sound like through the creative lens of Dissonance. Which is an incredibly rewarding experience to listen to.

Next up we have Murder of Love, which has such a creative intro. It’s the type of intro that as a musician you kick yourself for not thinking of it yourself. Then the rest of this song has this sensual kind of groove. Then the lyrics which paints this kind of doomed romance that most adults find themselves in. That passionate kind of love, which is in equal parts love and hate. You want to get out of the drama, but at the same time the drama reels you back in. These lyrics are so incredibly precise and anybody who has ever been in those kind of relationships, it will immediately resonate with you.

I-I’ve been a victim of your love, like many before
So many before
You- You strangled me with all your charms
I yearn for more

It doesn’t get it any realer than that.

Then when we get to the chorus and this is where another one of Dissonance’s talents shine through. Listening to all of the tracks that preceded it, you get a glimpse of how incredibly talented Dissonance is at vocal harmonies. But it’s in this track that you really understand how well it’s done.

The best comparison I would make is that the vocal harmonies are like George Harrison’s guitar playing. George Harrison is famous for his incredibly precise, and melodic lead guitar. And while he wasn’t the most technical, or the most blues inspired guitarist, his guitar always served the song. It always made the song better. So for vocal harmonies to take on the technicality of a musical instrument, and still retain that simple melodic structure is an incredible feat. If you don’t believe me play a piano chord. Then when you’re done, try to layer your vocals to that piano chord and see how difficult it is.

Next up we have Taste. This song in particular, calls back to a Nine Inch Nails influence. Which isn’t a bad thing. If you don’t like Nine Inch Nails then you are a mouth breathing troglodyte. Yet as great artists, Dissonance manages to make their own unique take on it. Which can be attributed to a more modern sound. Dissonance as I’ve said before isn’t afraid to take pieces and parts of modern electronic music and making it their own.

One example of this would be panning the synths all around your ears, and having this 3 dimensional kind of sound. So while it does have a throwback to a band that was incredibly popular in the 90’s (and is still pretty popular but for the sake of argument, we’re going to be looking at 90’s Nine Inch Nails) it still manages to make it incredibly fresh. By being so progressive and using modern production techniques.

Then we get to Drive which also begins with this crazy creative intro. And it’s also interesting because it starts off so atonal, and so abrasive. It’s one thing to have an abrasive sound, it’s another to warp and bend that abrasiveness into a melody. We as listeners know and trust that Dissonance will resolve this in their music, but the mystery is how they are going to do it.

They accomplish this by anchoring this abrasive sounding synth to the vocal melody and beat. And when they do this, no longer are we talking about abrasiveness, we’re talking about an atmosphere. The sultry vocals and the instrumentation, combined with the abrasive synths create this cool vibe. The abrasiveness creates a sense of danger, while the sultry vocals ooze a degree of coolness. But nothing is cooler than flirting with danger.

I touched on briefly on the vocals, but the vocals throughout the album are incredibly well done. But it’s in this track where the just fit in so perfectly. It’s like when you see an actor in a certain movie role. Like Al Pacino in The Godfather or Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad. If you were to replace either actor in the movie/tv show that they were in, it would completely change the entire movie for the worst. Likewise you cannot have this song with any vocals, except for the vocals in this track.

Finally we end on Starstuff a track that is so incredibly fun to listen to. Usually artists do one or two things when ending an album. They either make the last song the most depressing song ever, as sort of a statement on society/their emotional state/political views etc. Or they end it on a high note, a celebration of all that has come before it.

Dissonance chooses the latter and decides to end on a celebratory tone. Which is absolutely perfect for this album. Because this whole entire album is really a love letter to electronic music. It’s a celebration of everything that has come before it, during it, and improves on areas where it is weak. Which takes a certain love and devotion to electronic music to understand it’s flaws and improve upon them. While at the same time embracing what made electronic music resonate with them so much.

The whole entire album can be a “Best of” selection electronic music. But it’s not the synths that sell the album. Though expertly done, it’s the vocals, the beat, the guitar, all of the other elements that are usually in electronic music. That are usually neglected, but here are fully fleshed out, and because they are fleshed make this album such a joy to listen to.

A bad musician always defines themselves to a genre, a mediocre musician defines themselves to what they aren’t, and a great musician defines themselves by who they are. Dissonance understands that they are an electronic music band. Yet they know enough about their own particular strengths to allow them to shine through. Those moments of individuality that really sets the album apart from the rest of the music scene.

And as I have said before great individuals make great art, and it’s when a band makes great art that they become that band. When I said that this group had a potential to be that band. I sincerely meant it. There is enough innovation, and individualism for even the most hardened music cynic to take another look. So I implore anybody who makes music to check these guys out.

And with that, I undeniably give this band my full recc.

boycalledcrow: Emerald

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

Cassette: https://hollowaytapes.com/album/h008

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.

Cyber Shaman: Shaman’s Dark Electro vol. IV

There’s a loading screen in Fallout 2 that has always bothered me. It’s a man dressed in tribal clothes–tattoos, face paint, a skull necklace–wearing a Brotherhood of Steel helmet. The game takes place years after a nuclear holocaust. When man is on the brink of extinction. In the first game you encounter the Brotherhood of Steel, after voyaging out in this dark apocalyptic world, they are a breath of fresh air. They seem to be making scientific progress pushing humanity forward, and yet you have this lingering notion that they’re not going to survive. And they don’t.

We live in a time of technological comfort. Where everything is a keyboard stroke of coming true. Yet there is an existential angst that comes with that. What happens if it’s all lost? What happens if we lose it all? Are we all just brute beasts; doped up to forget our base nature?

We can see this conflict play out on Cyber Shaman’s Shaman’s Dark Electro vol. IV. In fact the very first song hints at this dichotomy and the conflict it brings. I mean, with a name like Guerro des son (War of sounds), and even the name “Cyber Shaman” brings about images of two complete opposites. Yet it’s in this dichotomy, that of the organic and that of the synthetic, which we hear throughout the album.

First off, Cyber Shaman is an amazing electronic music producer. I’ve mentioned earlier that musicians tend to lose their identity the more gear they have. Mainly because it causes them to become a jack of all trades and master of none. As a result their music sounds incredibly basic and bland. But not Cyber Shaman. Like a classical music composer Cyber Shaman is able to craft these individual synth textures, each one feeling fresh and unique. It hearkens back to when electronic music was first being made. When musicians threw away the manual to the synthesizer they were using because it was more fun to experiment and create new sounds, rather than use blatantly fake sounding strings. Or better yet, let me show you a clip of David Bowie, because who doesn’t like David Bowie?

Yet I said this album had a dichotomous nature, and I’ve only addressed the electronic side of things. Now let’s get into the organic. Throughout the album there is this amazing percussion, the first track Guerro des son does a great job of preparing the listener for the musical journey that they are going to make. With the bizarro percussion that is put through effects, and yet sounds like a junkyard drum kit. Or better yet, what a drum kit in an apocalyptic nuclear wasteland would sound like. Yes it’s put through a lot of effects, yet you can but hear the hint of tribal-like drumming throughout the album. The later songs compound on this idea, but this track is your first glimpse of what is yet to come.

The next track Renouveau (renewal) captures another aspect of the album that is quite unique to Cyber Shaman. Mainly it’s his ability to warp, and mutate each song. There’s a general sense of fluidity in his sound. Rather than being binary (Chorus, verse, Chorus) each track starts off with a motif only to mutate into something entirely different. And when I say motif, I don’t mean a series of notes that repeat themselves. Rather the motifs in this album are the individual synths and instruments used on each track.

The beginning of Renouveau sounds like you’re going on an underwater exploration. Only for the drums to harshly interrupt that tranquility. Then the track dissolves into this rhythmic electronic kind of seance. With the synths giving out this electronic howls. You can still hear–faintly–the underwater meditative kind of track in the beginning. Yet this track devolves from tranquility to that of anxiety. As though you while exploring deep underwater you encountered a cybernetic Cthulhu.

Now I’ve touched a lot on the percussion of Cyber Shaman, and yes it deserves all the praise it gets. But as I can’t make an argument on something being organic when I only provide one example. So for the next example we go to Attendre si peu (“wait so little” which is what google translate told me, so I’ll stick to it). Immediately it starts of with this guitar strumming, that so clean and then the distorted synths begin to disrupt this period of brief tranquility. The synths no longer sound like synths, they sound like the guttural noises a cybernetic monster would make.

Then as the electronic synths begin to fade away–as though they are low on power–you hear it. This lone trumpet. Which is so soulful, and so perfect for this track.

As I mentioned before there is a certain fear that comes along with technological process. A fear of losing it all. Where our overuse of technology can unleash a nuclear Armageddon, and we revert back to our primal nature. Yet, this is quite an abstract concept for music. After all how can this apply for an electronic music album? Well we can look to Myspace for that. One of the greatest tragedies in all of music is that almost all of it, we’ll never get to hear. Because it wasn’t written down. If you look at the historical epics, and tales of great music being heard, we have no idea what it sounds like. What was Alexander the Great’s favorite song? We’ll never know. What about Jesus, Buddha, Caesar, Cleopatra? What kind of music did they enjoy? We won’t ever know.

Likewise modern musicians find themselves in a similar predicament. We upload our music to streaming sites, hoping that it would be permanent. That maybe one day, somebody will hear it and really enjoy it. Yet as the Myspace fiasco showed us, nothing is permanent.

And nothing captures that kind of existential angst better than Attendre si peu. Where amidst the electronic digital behemoth a lone trumpet plays it’s beautiful siren call. The fact the whole album has this electronic orchestral feel to it, where everything sounds almost foreboding, and tribalistic–and to hear that lone trumpet. It’s an album worth listening to in order. Rather than cherry picking songs, because Cyber Shaman understands how to create music narratives. How to create a sense of consistency, lull the listener into complacency, and then only to surprise them with something so radically different that it becomes incredibly rewarding to find out.

So now that we’ve covered the existential fear of the digital era, now we go on to a different kind of fear. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Now it could be the I’m a nerd, and I like attributing science fiction to album reviews. Yet I cannot but help to bring the comparison to science fiction. Since this album is so electronically layered, and the medium, as they say, is the message.

Immediately the track begins with this electronic rhythmic wailing. As though you are observing an electronic black mass, done by machines. After all spiritualism/religion is a purely human phenomena. I don’t think Koko the Gorilla is really concerned about Gorilla Jesus. Yet there’s some existential angst that comes with the realization that there’s something out there that could become spiritual. For example there’s a certain kind of existential dread about meeting extraterrestrials, but then there’s the existential dread that they know something that we don’t. And their knowledge is so far removed from our grips of comprehension, that we become infinitely small in the universe. Where all religions turn to dust, and everything we believed for thousands of years, disappears within the blink of an eye.

Yet what if a machine becomes spiritual? What does that say about us? Was all of our spirituality merely the firing of neurons between synapses? Nothing more than electrical impulse? And the machines we create can have the exact same experience?

This song in particular hits that existential dread right on the head. As the black mass wails continue, a synth arpeggios along, and we faintly hear a sample. But we can’t make out what exactly it’s saying. Yet it is saying something. To us, it’s mere gibberish. But to the machines in the seance it could be a religious mantra, a black magic spell–anything. For in the time post-human–where all the skyscrapers become archaeological sites–we’ll never know what we’ll be remembered for. And that is a scary thought.

So with that kind of existential dread lingering throughout the album, Cyber Shaman, like any great artist knows when to alleviate that. The next 3 tracks build in an upbeat tone, Ridicule, L’Ordre, and finally to Métal Sucré (Sweet Metal) which is orgasmic to the ears.

Whether it’s the pads in the beginning that swirl around your ears, which is an oh so picturesque of a beginning. It almost begins like a robotic ballroom dance. With the synthetic violin playing this tender, vulnerable melody. It’s the kind of vulnerability you get when falling in love with someone. Where you strip down all the bravado, false assumptions, and get emotionally naked. And then you get actually naked for some baby makin’. Which let’s admit if you’re able to make a tender melody on an electronic instrument, is an impressive feat. Then there’s the actual context of the rest of the album, bordering on this cybernetic nihilism. Hearing this is such a catharsis. But it doesn’t end there.

Then you’re transported to some distant foreign country. The kind that you’d see in Indiana Jones. You know, something like Nepal–where even the people of Nepal think the Nepal of that movie is incredibly foreign to them. This is all propelled by middle eastern instruments, a brilliant percussion that gives the track momentum, synths that bubble in the background, and these beautiful female vocals. It’s the allusion to these cultural motifs, that’s ingrained in our collective unconscious that provides this track with so much momentum. That sense of exploring the unknown, that sense of adventure, the sense of action–which provides this track with so much of a catharsis.

Which is fitting after listening to an album that is so heavily electronic and has such an intense existential kind of atmosphere. I mean, why do we invent new technology? We do it because deep in our hearts, we are all explorers, and we want to know the mysteries of the universe. And we will keep pressing forward, regardless of the hazards, because the rewards are so much greater.

So finally we end with La Toune de la fin. Which begins with this focused synth melody. And when I say focused I mean a warrior’s kind of focus. A steel willed determination, which stands in contrast to the electronic distorted growl in the distance. Yes it’s an incredibly sinister sound, and one that does not provide a resolution. After all does our constant need to push technological limits account for the human condition? No. Yet here these two elements battle out, with amazing drums in the background, and the occasional melancholy piano keys. This is not such a clear cut answer, and I don’t believe Cyber Shaman wants to be resolved on this album.

Overall this album is a must listen for any music fan, or sci-fi nerd. Personally it was inspiring to see the limits of electronic music being pushed into new uncharted territory. And seeing creativity like that on display only drives me to be a better artist. Because these synths, and collage of sounds are something for any music listener to stop, and take a listen to.

So with his ability to create any amazing an electronic orchestra, I give this album my full recc. Please check it out.

Vinyl Dial: Intergalactic Almanac

I’m a nerd. I know it’s shocking. You’d think a guy making soundcloud music, and writing reviews on underground music would be the captain of the football team. I know everybody is a nerd nowadays. Comic Con is a gargantuan entity. Comic book movies dominate the Box Office. More people watch youtube videos than watch TV. You get the idea.

Yet there seems to be this memory hole of what nerdom once was. My parents–being Gen X’ers–had that, “Hey let’s hangout with everyone,” kind of mentality. And I remember distinctly their friends being super into Spawn, Star Trek, old PC western RPGs, or really adult anime like Berserk or Ghost in a Shell. It was this “adult” kind of nerdiness that kids weren’t allowed to be apart of. It wasn’t squeaky clean, polished, or dumbed down. Kids weren’t apart of it because it was either too graphic, too intelligent, or too mature. Which made it all the more alluring to me.

So when listening to this album, it’s the exact same kind of feeling of uncovering something deeper. Going into unknown places. Exploring something complex and novel. Basically, it was like being a nerd all over again. I mean how can you not like cover art like this?

Vinyl Dial is completely devoted to their concept on this concept album. Which is an incredibly difficult feat to accomplish. Sure David Bowie has done a really great job at making concept albums. So has Pink Floyd. Yet even they will have songs that will take a backseat to the concept, in order to just add a song they really like. Perhaps it’s due to the fact the album is only 4 tracks, and because it’s only 4 tracks there is no filler.

Yet with the artwork above, it’s impossible to say Vinyl Dial made 4 songs because that’s what they were only capable of. Far from it. Everything in this album has that deeper layer, whether it’s the lore of the album, the lyrics, the album art, the musical composition, the vocals–I could go on and on, but you get the point.

So let’s get to the music, because after all this is a music blog. The first track Space Dragon opens up with this amazing drumming. Then when you hear the instruments–each one incredibly complex while at the same time melodic. This is one of those albums where it rewards repeat listens. It’s kind of like those paintings, where depending on your perspective, you can either see a duck or a rabbit. So for one listen you’ll really love the drumming, then the next listen you love the all the different synth textures, then the next you’ll love the lyrics and vocals. Which yes, I know that all the individual elements are supposed to synthesize, and create one sound. These songs are a lot more spacious, and vast. Almost as if you were out in space…

The album reminds me of an anecdote about Einstein that I read on Reader’s Digest. Where a guy met Einstein at a party, and Einstein asked the guy if he listened to Bach. The man confessed that he didn’t have an ear for music, and just sounded like chaos to him. Then Einstein told him that music is like math. Pop music, is like addition and subtraction. Movie scores are like multiplication. Bach is like calculus. Einstein then showed the man different records, and the man finally developed an ear for music. The same thing can be said about this album. Every song is like an entire album, yet when you breakdown and compartmentalize each aspect of it–it becomes incredibly simple and melodic. Which is something that when prog rock gets right is incredibly rewarding.

So when I say it’s nerdy, what I really mean to say, is that it this album requires a certain amount of devotion to music. Yet when you put this devotion towards it, and find all the idiosyncrasies of each track, it’s an incredible feeling. When Vinyl Dial takes you on a journey throughout the vastness of space, lyrically, they accomplish the same feat musically.

So the next song Polyhedral Cathedral, opens up with a spacious pad, amazing bass, rain samples, and the same incredible drum beat. Which reminds of Dark Souls–or anything from Soulsbourne series–where after learning about the mechanics of the individual songs, you immediately are rewarding with this beautiful environment. Everything in this track sounds beautiful, yet there is one instrument that is the rockstar of the whole song.

Which if I’m talking about rockstar, you know it’s going to be the guitar. The guitar is mixed so well into the track, that at first it just seems like part of the ambience, which it is. Yet as the track progresses the guitar starts to take center stage, and boy does it take center stage. I play guitar (badly). So when I hear someone shred I can tell the difference between someone relying on tricks and gimmicks, and someone legitimate talented. This guitar solo is Guitar God worthy. In fact if there was a youtube channel devoted to just the guitarist randomly shredding, it would instantly be a hit. Even if you don’t have the best ear for music, you gotta give props to the solo. Yes this guitar solo is extremely technical, but even the most casual music listener loves hearing a guitar shred.

Next up is Ad Astera Per Aspera, which has this electronic psychedelia in the beginning with a trudging along guitar. Then the track mutates, and warps into something that would be played during a final boss battle for an early 00’s sci-fi game. Which is fitting since this is a concept album, and as a concept album there is a story. A story that is incredibly fun, tongue and cheek, while at the same time being almost Lovecraftian. I’m not going to post any of the Bandcamp, or the lyrics up here. Because it’s so rewarding to see an album that has it’s own lore. Which is truly bizarre, creative, and so forward thinking.

I made the comparison to Dark Souls awhile back, and there is a reason for that. Dark Souls is a game that you don’t really need to understand the plot to enjoy the game–yet if you start figuring out the plot–you instantly want to replay the game. It’s the same way with this album. As soon as you read the write up, or see the lyrics you want to re-listen to the album instantly. To understand what I mean think of the kind of “mood” playlists there are. There are playlists to workout, to study, to get meditate, to get pumped up, etc. But for creative people, or people who just appreciate art, how many playlists have “imagination” playlists? Where the music serves the purpose of using your imagination. There are none.

Every kind of medium has co-opted nerd culture in some way. Whether it’s providing audiences Easter Eggs, room for speculation, ambiguity, etc. Music hasn’t really done that as well as other mediums have. I mean yeah, we have genius, but it’s used for the stupidest humanely possible songs. The bandcamp write up, cover art, and music all just add to this layer of depth. Where if this album ever were to make it really big (which I hope it does) people would be really engaged in it. I would love to see people’s artistic representation of the events that happen in this album, and I’d love to see a community come out of this album. It’s deserving of a devoted audience, not just for it’s music but for it’s presentation as well.

Finally we get to Bad Trip (First King’s ‘Bad Lullaby’ remix). This track is the sonic equivalent of a what machines dream of. It has that organic synth sound. Which is a contradiction, I know, but what I mean by that is that none of the synths feel like they’re the factory presets. Each one feels individualized and hand crafted. Which is applicable to every single aspect of this album. I know I talked about how great the guitar, and drums were in each track. Yet the same would be applicable to nearly every instrument from the samples, the vocals, the bass (which has an incredible groove), and especially the synths. This is the only track without vocals, which is a perfect way to end an album like this. You need time to breathe in the environment and reflect on the soundscape Vinyl Dial has created.

There’s no song in Intergalactic Almanac that feels half assed. Every song is firing on all cylinders, they are giving it their all, and you feel it. Almost any song you listen to, you can hear a bit of creative strain. Where the artist focuses so much on one detail that they forget to look at the bigger picture. This album is like one of those masterpiece paintings, where the more you zoom in the more intricate and complex it becomes, and yet each of those intricate little pieces could be a painting in and of themselves.

I would recommend this album to anybody who wants to truly “lose themselves” in music. The phrase is tossed out a lot, yet this is an album to truly explore. As I mentioned early the appeal of nerd culture was it’s complexity. Anybody who is a creative has the innate desire within them to explore. Yet we often find ourselves stagnant, and self absorbed. It takes albums like this (and pieces of art like this in general) to remind us of why we create. That is to explore, and create. And when an album creates something so worth exploring, then God Damn it explore it!

So I am undeniably going to give this album my recc. You cannot miss it. Vinyl Dial is so forward looking that if you don’t take some ideas away from them, then you’re going to be missing out.

Also as an added bonus here is some additional artwork for the CD release, courtesy of Vinyl Dial.

Eric C. Powell: Need A Place

There’s nothing more I love when an artist knows how to use the tools given to them. Now there’s a lot of synth/electronic bands out there. Yet what separates the novice from the professional is the execution. What’s there not to like about this track? From the textures of the synths, the clear and precise production, and the amazing vocals. The sound is universally appealing, while at the same time Eric C. Powell creates an electronic soundscape that sounds like no other.

How does he do this? Well my money would be on how well he meshes and fuses different musical influences. Which produces a sound that is both novel, and at the same time familiar. After all isn’t creativity the synthesis between two diametrically opposed opposites? The opposites in this case being experimental electronic music, with the more dance-able EDM influences that pulsate in the background. Kind of like if Gary Numan and DeadMau5 had a child, and that child was a prodigy.

Then let’s get to the vocals, because if I were to skimp out on mentioning the vocals I’d be doing this track a tremendous disservice. Everybody knows that female vocals are generally better than male vocals. You know it, I know it, we all know it to be true. With the vocals lulling you to this meditative state, and the electronic music pulsating in the background–it’s an overall joy to listen to. Even though the electronic music is highly complex, it doesn’t detract from the vocals–far from it. They both work in tandem to create this amazing soundscape that’s worth repeat listens.

This is just a tidbit, of music to come, and album that will so be released. So keep your eyes peeled for when Eric C. Powell releases his album, because I’m sure it will be a joy to listen to!

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.

Zadock Strawberry: Songs for Nemisis

There’s always something alluring to a dive bar. Sure when you’re young, dumb, and full of cum; clubs are where it’s at. But after awhile you get tired of that. You get tired of that one guy who wants to fight you because you were talking to his girl. You get tired of having to yell over the loud music. You get tired of trying to dance after a few drinks. You get tired of the 5 guys to one girl ratio at every club.

Eventually you find a dive bar, that place where either some sleazy rock n’ roll, or some melancholy song about a love long lost is being played over the old jukebox. A place where you can smoke without having to step outside. Where the person next to you can spill their entire life story, and you do the same thing of course–because who cares, neither of you are going to remember it anyway. It’s place specifically to get fucked up at–a safe space for nihilists–where the only concern isn’t getting laid, it isn’t your job, it isn’t material possessions, it isn’t your paycheck. No it’s a place to get fucked up and forget about all of that.

Every album has a set piece, and for Zadock Strawberry’s Songs for Nemisis, the dive bar would be it’s set-piece. Take Arlington Hall (I Can’t Love You Any More) the first immediate thing you would notice is that excellent intro with that the lead and rhythm guitars in this track has this melancholy reverbed out tone. Which sounds like something that would be played out in the Vegas strip–back when Vegas had good music–late at night, where only the barflys remain. Then you hear the vocals–which is this beautifully raw raspy voice–that feels like they’ve gotten acid burn from taking down too many shots, or smoked too many cigarettes. So with this voice delivering lyrics about how, “I can’t love you anymore, than I already do.” It adds to the great sense of sadness that this song carries with it, as though somebody had too much to drink and are telling way too much about themselves. The rest of the instrumentation builds up this almost confessional song–then the singing stops–you’re sitting all alone at the bar, nobody to tell your story to, and all that’s left is that deep sadness, that you hoped to get rid of 12 shots ago.

The next song Lady in the Machine provides a different kind of sadness. This is a sadness that can’t be expressed by words, because there’s no one to speak them to. The delayed piano, and frantic electronic blurts, and ambient noise like a car failing to start; provides a sense of isolation that was missing in the prior track. Where the previous track seemed like an emotional outpouring, this one feels more like an anxiety ridden sadness. As though it’s closing time, the bartender is emptying out the ashtrays, everyone is gone, except you, and even though you spilled your heart out to a stranger there’s still that sadness that remains–no matter how fucked up you get. Then as the ambient noise is all that’s left, the car that was failing to start, finally starts. It’s closing time.

Tamorudo (India Girl) [feat. Shisha McKee & Meiko Vocaloid3] is an extremely abrupt change. First off it’s electronic music, using Indian music samples, female vocals, and is glitchy while at the same time maintaining coherency. It’s such a radical departure that the song doesn’t even sound anything like the songs preceding it. Yet with any ebb and flow of an album it has a reason for being there. It can be seen as either the intermission of the album, or something to remove the listener out of their comfort zone. The introduction of Indian instruments is incredibly foreign–yet with the melancholy of the first track, and the isolation of the second–this song provides an interpretation of the sounds preceding it. Say when you join any group, let’s say you’re a goth and you join a goth group, or you’re an alcoholic and you join AA, or you’re in a music scene. Everybody who is on the outside is always called a “normie.” It’s often used dismissively to those who are outsiders, who are able to live “normal” lives, who are able to do “normal” activities, while you can’t. Why is it that you can’t? Well you and your friends can write whole entire books on that, but what you can’t do is reason how “normies” are so normal. They are so far removed from your own existence that it is as though you are in a foreign country. So when Zadock Strawberry introduces this track with it’s Indian sounds, female vocal samples, electronic beat–something foreign–he provides an insight on the outsider looking in. That, or I could be over-analyzing it all, and it was just a fun track he made and wanted to include on the album. Regardless, I’m sticking to the dive bar set piece, because I have fun writing it like that.

So on to the next song Believe, the guitar still maintains that beautiful tone (which seriously makes me want to figure out whatever setup he has) and it plucks these sad strings, that sounds both reflective and mournful. The vocals while before sounded sad, these vocals deliver a sound that is more of a wounded resignation. The acceptance that, yes the relationship is over, and yes it was never meant to happen, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not torn up over it. While the ambience in the background sounds like a saw, severing all ties to the other person, or a head-splitting hangover from the night before. Anybody who has ever been in a breakup has been guilty of those drunk late night phone calls, where you cry and try so desperately to get back together–then when it’s morning–you feel so much shame of the night before, and try to call one more time. If there was any music for that very specific feeling, this would be the soundtrack to it.

The next song, Song for Joe, is another radical departure from anything before it. The only thing tying it together is the Indian conga drums from Tamorudo (India Girl) [feat. Shisha McKee & Meiko Vocaloid3], that and the fact it’s electronically based. As well as also not having any vocals in it as well. This is a very high spirited song, one that is a lot more cheerful as the string synths flurry around, and the congas and high hats add to the enthusiasm. While the song before it was a reluctant sad resignation, this song is almost too enthusiastic, like someone lying to themselves believing that now the relationship is over they can go meet new girls. It’s the type of short lived enthusiasm that makes you hit up the gym, go on tinder, go clubbing, start volunteering, try to branch out, and meet new people. Yet as the final song of the album proves it’s hard to break old habits.

We Sailed You Here is really uses Zadok Strawberry’s great raspy voice to a different effect. Rather than sadness, it first conveys an aloof coolness, like that of a late night Jazz DJ. Yet as the frantic guitars which desperately try to hold on to a melody, it soon loses it’s control, like the guy who goes to a church social gathering and sneaks in a flask and takes one too many shots. The guitars either erratically play a melody, or attempts to solo, as the phased out ambient noise swirls around. Even the drumbeat seems a little out of control. It’s sad when a barfly tells you his life story, it’s tragic when somebody loses all control when they appear to be getting better.

Regardless of what interpretation, impressions, or biases you have. This album is definitely something worth listening to, Zadok Strawberry’s vocal performance is well worth the listen, and it’s just carries an ambience that’s worth checking out.

With that, if you’re tired of the same old sound, and want something new. Zadok Strawberry is your man. With that 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.

 

 

Electronic Warbear: Disassociation

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https://electronicwarbear.bandcamp.com/album/disassociation

Even though most of synthwave focuses on the 80’s and the nostalgic recreation of the music of our childhoods–I wanna focus in on the 90’s for this review. Specifically the movies made by Gen X’ers about the nihilistic soul crushing mediocrity that is modern life. Movies like The Matrix, Office Space, Dark City, Fight Club, The Truman Show etc. whose protagonists do everything they can to escape modern life. To escape the loneliness of a life spent in a cubicle. And has Electronic Warbear has put it, “I make synthwave and synthpop. Soundtracking the movies I see in my brain.” No review would be appropriate without the allusion to films.

Electronic Warbear’s Disassociation begins with Enter the City, which starts with an incredibly upbeat tone. The synths, and drum track suggest the promises of a rewarding future. The kind you get when you watch a corporate training video on some corporate jargon that always fails to live up to any form of already lowered expectations. But Electronic Warbear doesn’t buy into the bullshit, he doesn’t buy into the false promises given to you by the slick production, and as the synths come crashing down as more and more of the false facade has been exposed.

His next track Islophobia reminds me of the quiet existentialism of Philip Glass’ score in The Truman Show. Although I couldn’t find any actual definition of the term, a quick google search showed that it was “A fear of being alone.” The arpeggios and chord progression as mentioned before provides an excellent juxtaposition with the last track Dissociation. While Disassociation promises you happiness, Islophobia nags at you–it lingers in your thoughts–you know something isn’t right, but what that is, you don’t know.

The Descent continues this off kilter feeling with a synth that seems to be seething in rage but transforms into being strangely a happy song. The track sounds almost too happy and then you notice that something seems to be a bit off, there seems to be a note off here and there from the original key. You’re seeing holes and inconsistencies where you shouldn’t. The heavy synth growls as the lies, and deceit gnaws away at your conscious until all that’s left is to wear a fake smile; all the while a rage is building up inside of you. It’s a song that makes you realize that the happiness you were promised isn’t achievable, like the common expression used in AA meetings, “Once you’re a pickle, you can never turn back into a cucumber.”

In Grind the rage builds, as immediately an incredibly dark and heavy synth starts at the beginning of the track. The percussion so sharp it sounds like the grinding of metal against metal. Then you hear a faint voice, which reminds me of the Mortal Kombat voiceovers you’d hear in the games. I can’t really make out what it’s saying, whether it’s “End it,” “Awake,” or whatever. But the voice carries with it an air of authority, like the boss who micromanages all of your actions at work, while all you can do is smile like the good corporate drone that you are. This track is by far the most angry, and dark of all the tracks on the album. And since all of the tracks have built up to this rage, it’s only fit that it must be resolved.

Malfunction starts with the cheery keyboard that feels like the end of a long shift at work, where all the mischievous plans begin to percolate in your mind of what you’re going to do that weekend. Then as soon as the percussion starts the track opens itself up to such a euphoric release. It feels not like the desperate escape from an entirely hopeless situation, but one that happens once a week for two days at a time. The synths swell up with joy, and the voice that held so much authority in the Grind only becomes more and more distorted as though it has lost it’s power to contain your individuality. The voice though distant seems frustrated that instead of doing the corporate sponsored events (running a 5k to cure some disease, doing yoga, running with your dog on the beach, doing whatever they do in some anti-depressant drug commercial) you assert your own individuality and become as the title says, a “Malfunction” in the corporate structure.

The voice in the beginning of Partyy is so distorted and seems so far away, that it feels like a distant memory. The snares and bass of the track gives the music a sharpened focus. With bass pummeling on, and the snare cutting through all the noise, the Partyy doesn’t really seem like a party. For example you know those happy relaxing parties where you hangout with friends, play drinking games, and Mario Kart. This track is definitely not one of those types of parties. This is one of those parties where you head out to a club by yourself trying to get blacked out drunk, hookup with some strange chick, or both. The chord progressions in Partyy swell up in emotion reaching great heights of happiness, to then lower back down to reality. Like somebody going bar hopping looking to get laid–where each new venue offers up a new promising possibility– but it only ends in getting rejected by a bunch of girls, saying the wrong things, and just making an ass of themselves.

Partyy above most of the tracks on Disassociation is the most deceptive because in the beginning you would be inclined to think this is a typical EDM song played in club; but Warbear is bit more clever than that, and he adds more of an emotional depth than what would be assumed. And with a lot of Electronic Warbear’s music this track really rewards the listener.

Till We Die continues the party type of sound. But this sound is a lot more angry, a lot more vicious, and nihilistic. The track opens up with some of the dirtiest synth possible, that just feels bitter. While Partyy seemed to at least offer a hope, Till We Die just wants to self destruct. The thudding bass sounds like the type of basses you’d find at clubs where everyone has to scream to communicate with each other, while the lead synthesizer and chorus seem to offer a haunting perspective of this new party. Instead of the hope of gratification we instead get desire of self destruction, as the snare accelerates in tempo hoping for a resolution; all for it to fall back to the same focused destruction. The track ends with the distorted sound of people talking, but they’re not talking to you, they’re talking to each other, and their voices are so distorted it’s not even possible to understand what they are saying. And nothing is more isolating than hearing other people talk and have fun and not being able to join in.

Disassociation, the next track in the album, seems to be like the hangover from the night before. The lead synths seem to pulsate like a bad headache from a night of heavy drinking. The arpeggiated synths show the same signs of that existentialism that was shown before in previous tracks. That whatever happiness that was achieved in the previous songs has all but disappeared as the realization dawns that–whatever you do–you can’t can’t escape your current predicament.

Finally with Crossing the album ends, with a melancholy note. As the rain sample plays in the intro. The lead synths drip with sadness, and it’s a sadness that seems more introspective as they quiet down, as only the rain samples and bass pluck on. When the synths return, they return with a question. Is it my predicament that’s fucked up, or is it me that’s fucked up? Which begs the question, where are we the listener crossing towards?

With this musical journey that Electronic Warbear’s Disassociation, I give Electronic Warbear a hearty recc.

 

Shamanka Phoenix: Destination

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https://shamankaphoenix.bandcamp.com/album/d-e-s-t-i-n-a-t-i-o-n

This could be a case of the grass looking greener on the other side, but there’s something about European artists that always seems so cool. For example, how does a John Ford western transform into a Sergio Leone western? How did they know to replace the classical Hollywood orchestral arrangements with Ennio Morricone’s bizarre western music? How did they decide to use extreme close ups between each character’s eyes right before the shoot out?

It’s an ability to transform art into something so much more stylized, with so much more substance that separates American and European art. Listening to Shamanka Phoenix’s album feels so cool in the same way. It’s the coolness that comes from a long line of European artists who redefine genres, offer new styles, and revolutionize sounds.

It’s no surprise that the tracks on Shamanka Phoenix’s album Destination are named for European cities. Each track sounds remarkably well crafted, to the point where any slight rearrangement would drastically alter the sound. Shamanka Phoenix is an artist who knows what she’s doing. From the beautiful melodies of each track, to her phenomenal vocals and lyrics, make no mistake, this is no amateur making these songs; this is master craftsmanship.

Take B E R L I N (Dappled Sunlight) for example. There are so many little nuances in the beat of the song. An echoed snare, the faint sound of a tambourine; it’s these little touches that show Shamanka’s attention to detail, an absolute asset to her tracks.

Often when an artist devotes that level of attention to detail, the gestalt of the track can be obscured, like the artist is no longer able to separate the forest from the trees, yet Shamanka Phoenix can get that granular and still make incredibly beautiful and melodic music like on I B I Z A (Sexbot). The track is absolutely beautiful right from the get go. With a melodic harp in the beginning and lush, indulgent piano chords sprinkled throughout, it’s an extremely melodic and beautiful song with an amazing sound that balances both the organic and synthesized. It conveys both a highly intimate feeling, and yet sounds detached, which is fitting for a song about sexbots. It takes impressive ability to convey such complex emotions.

S H E F F I E L D (remember me) is a real showstopper. It’s in this track you realize how gifted Shamanka Phoenix is as a musician, singer, songwriter, and producer. In the age of DAW producers, autotune, and ghostwriters, it’s a rare artist who actually owns their own talent. Yet this talent has a purpose, it serves the song; it makes something so beautiful and stylized possible.

Listening to the last track, S T O C K H O L M, you can’t help but bring a smile to your face. It’s like watching a star athlete play a perfect game. Throughout the whole spectacle your jaw drops down to the ground, but then when it’s all finished you can’t help but smile at such a phenomenon. This song is her victory lap at the end of an already impressive album

D E S T I N A T I O N’s not an album to just listen to, but to learn from as well. Listening to these tracks, the musical world feels more expansive and exploratory than ever before. If you haven’t listened to to this album, please give it a chance. Definitely would give this album a recc.