A volley of treated drum snippets and analog keyboard bleeps roll out the inception of Leicester-based producer Ryan Lee West’s, better known under the moniker Rival Consoles, fourth album Persona. With the Rival Consoles alias serving up some of electronic music’s most disciplined albeit footloose mixes for a decade now, West’s operandi remains vigilant to its overcast four-on-the-floor foundations and foggy synthesizer varnish. Speaking to PopMatters days before the release of Persona, West issued his clarification: “I basically allow an amount of naivety of the playing aspect of electronic music. I think it’s all to do with being surprised and listening rather than owning a talent to such an extent that you can’t be surprised.” To some degree, West is bestowing color onto a doleful world, flushing an otherwise bleak palette with hints of vivacity.
For final products as densely workable, even moving, as Rival Consoles’ subterranean dancefloor edits would beg you to explore and disassociate with, naïvety exceeds the stern beauty of Persona’s visceral anatomy. Electronic music, with its totality of opportunities in sonic conceptions and experimentation, has assumed a headroom of scholarly instinct and the value of order in recent years. In hindsight, poignant modern classics like Tim Hecker’s haunting Virgins and Floating Points’ Eleania removed the glossy sheen of FM electronica and replaced tonality with blurry, almost otherworldly textures and stringent beatwork. West is no stranger to making even the most divergent of ends meet, with 2015’s Howl positing itself in the midst of this burgeoning trend, but his formula’s lingering effect finally resonates as a universal energy, one that anyone can dissect and embrace.
From the ghostlike sine wave melodies of “Dreamer’s Wake” to the bleary immediacy of “Phantom Grip,” it’s evident West is shunning the pursuit for hitmaking. At their base, most compositions attempt to nail down a specific atmosphere, but West’s dominating method of manipulating his beat’s voices and rhythms prove a compelling challenge—it shapes a resistance that inevitably renders a track’s direction defenseless against the gambit of tricks and treatments in his arsenal. Under these inconstant parameters, West ensures chaos is distant from the integrity of his mixes. The progression of “Sun’s Abandon” plunges from an isolated, hearty synth loop into a primal drum machine exercise in not even two minutes’ time, until the residue of both fundamentals intertwines and compliment one another. Likewise, the jumbled synths of “I Think So” anchor the forthcoming haze of glazed keyboards and climactic percussive rhythms. These productions never meander far from their original point, but tracing these masterpieces from start to finish remains a sort of fascinating drill for the listener to partake.
Persona isn’t an album of ostentatious performances and self-serving procedures on display—even if the kick drum takes pride in its punchiness or the stray keyboard soloist crosses the threshold into standalone glory. These are the inverse traits of the persona West conveys throughout the album; on opposite sides are the withdrawn and amorphous edge of one’s introverted character versus the anthemic outbursts of extroversion. “Rest” adheres to this concept entirely. The prominent synthesizer melody barely rises above a murmur, only to be overtaken by a salvo of claps and keyboard gleams. On the contrary, consistently suppressed numbers like “Be Kind” and the promising “Untravel” showcase West’s visualization for one particular edge of the persona. These shakeups in the formula don’t equate to anything medial or paint West as a producer who’s just scraping by. There is an unmistakable feeling West champions throughout, and his vocalizations are best transmitted through these meandering products.
In his PopMatters feature, West admits of fearing misinterpretation with Persona’s dual nature: “My worry about the title was that it was too pretentious but actually I think that’s because a lot of the time that’s because words like this get ruined.” Luckily, with the seamless methods at play within these twelve tracks, as well as West’s notional dedication, Persona not only augments the sprawling discography of his Rival Consoles project, but tacks on the ability for the moniker to enfold a concept and sustain its purpose for a full-length setting. Persona is a success not measured by the seismic shock of its sound or its potential for mainstream appreciation, but its beatific and beautifying compound. Only in his next endeavor will West potentially deliver another gratifying work like his latest effort—otherwise, Persona will sit in well for this newly-sprung generation of electronic fans.