Rival Consoles - Persona

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.
You can check our Rival Consoles’ new album, ‘Persona’ on Apple Music, Spotify and Youtube. And be sure to check our Rival Consoles on Bandcamp and Rival Consoles’ website.

Nonpareils - Scented Pictures

Liars was the indie love story that wasn’t—that is if you’re looking at it as one of the more splendidly hideous collaborations between oddball songwriters to emerge from indie’s voracious ethos. In their fifteen years of existence, they’ve relished but never banked on their notoriety as workaholics whose output defined how insignificant the parameters of indie rock can impose on the restless and the unruly. Before the release of last year’s TFCF, in which de-facto frontman Angus Andrew remained the only member of the project following the amiable departures of drummer Julian Gross and all-around whizbang Aaron Hemphill, the group was unyielding in their penchant for sonic mischief and their utterly bizarro aesthetic.
Mere months after TFCF tested Andrew’s newfound role as charge d’affaires of his once-bombastic project, Hemphill steered into a different and even more eccentric course of action. Relocating from Liars’ semi-permanent home base of Los Angeles to Berlin, Hemphill refused to suspend his songwriting habits for even a second and set to work on a statement of his own. Take a gander at the press release for his proper debut under the moniker Nonpareils, and you’ll immediately suspect that Hemphill’s stratagems are exceedingly strange and potentially infuriating even for Liars’ loose coterie of standards. These tactics include laying down drum rhythms without click tracks, distracted recording sessions, and committing atrocities of equipment malpractice in the pursuit of off-kilter directives. Shunning the maligned contortions of Liars’ Mess, now symbolically their last full-length as a trio, Hemphill’s Scented Pictures is the hypnagogic outsider of the Liars canon.
Arguably, the most proximate reference points for Scented Pictures stray far from Liars, instead citing the cluttered tapes of early Ariel Pink and the lopsided pop of 60s cultists the Shaggs as distant muses. Each hand-crafted melody hones in on Hemphill’s variable performances, which unavoidably reflects his sorely missed jack-of-all-trades tasks in Liars, from his rattling drum beats to his sunny guitar plucks. Progression between tracks is waived to consolidate each melody into a singular entity packed with layers upon layers of mindless, glitchy textures and alien moods. Not only are these hunks of otherworldly sound distinguishable by their plan of attack, but their dynamics are often warped beyond perception. Lead single “The Timeless Now” flails with its pitch-shifted-vocals-as-harmonizer and molasses drum stomp, mostly culminating in an electronic funhouse of horror and obfuscation. Think of WIXIW’s skittery electronica but obtuse, or Liars’ self-titled freakouts but transposed to audio workstation trickery.
Equally accessible, or at the very least enthralling, is the primal dirge of “Cherry Cola” and the cluttered overtures of “The Fever That Goes Up and Down,” both of which leaching as much immediacy as possible with Hemphill’s often-tuneless vocals and explosive arrangements. The organic-minded numbers of Scented Pictures might appear the odd ones out in the midst of jumbled digital instruments and padding—most notably, the wiry guitar and bass duality of “Make Me Miss the Misery Girls” that devise the album’s harmonic centerpiece, but deviates from Hemphill’s anti-tonal structure. These melodies aren’t contentiously drawn to the polar opposites of emotional value, instead choosing to retreat into precepts akin to cartoony and curiously avant-garde. At times, the checkered direction produces a couple of tediously ineffective tracks, such as the helter-skelter glitch waltz of “Ditchglass, They Think” that flushes analog rubbish through a sheepish synthesizer hook.
There is a conceptual foundation for Scented Pictures that appears antsier to serve as its takeaway versus Hemphill’s insight as a producer in the wake of his departure from Liars. If miscalculation and hocus-pocus doth make the quintessential experimental debut, then Nonpareils will garner some attention for the versatile crazy-to-calm dynamics (i.e., the transition from “Invisible Jets” to “Press Play” in a few minutes’ time) and full-clad effort. Much to Hemphill’s chagrin, Scented Pictures is not a wonky pop record by essence, but pleasant in the same passage that exalted Atlas Sound’s bedroom material or Panda Bear’s worldly anthems as plainly experimental music. These are abstractions that are perfectly ripe in the post-Liars eon, and Hemphill’s talents will reemerge as a potent but unpalatable force in due time.
You can check out Nonpareils’ new project, ‘Scented Pictures’ on Apple Music, Spotify, Soundcloud and Youtube. And be sure to check out Nonpareils here.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex & Food

In the totality of the rock canon, psychedelia bears one of the worst reputations. Even worse, dissatisfied rock ‘n’ rollers would be quick to dissent if it weren’t an unspoken rule that the only unwavering fans of psychedelia fall under the canopy of brain-fried drug enthusiasts or disenfranchised stooges who are too contrarian to digest the low-orbit pomp of AOR. To appreciate the hallucinogenic splendor of psychedelia requires an appreciation for sonic saturation, not just in infectious hooks but mind-bending effects and frenetic production techniques—but in defense of its detractors, it’s an overwhelming experience when the tenets of maximalism take hold on its visionaries. Thankfully, there’s a pretty generous thing called “pop” to dilute what sensitive ears may fear.

If you’ve heard a sliver of what this decade has offered in the way of accessible indie/psych amalgams, you’ll, at the very least, manage to pick up on some of the hype that’s produced some of the vastest albums in the last few years. One of the more prominent players in the revivalist by-line, multi-instrumentalist and acid-washed proselyte Ruban Nielson, didn’t rush into the spotlight with full expectations. In the lingering wake of the MP3 blogosphere phenomenon, the former Mint Chicks leader struck his second renaissance under the moniker Unknown Mortal Orchestra—the breakout in question was the freakish psych ditty of “Ffunny Ffriends,” which continues to make its rounds to this day. Nielsen’s homespun recordings cropped up in a proper debut album issued in 2011, followed by 2013’s brawny II, and lastly topped out by 2015’s uniquely conceptual and clear-cut Multi-Love.

Thus, it’s surprising to hear Sex & Food, the band’s fourth album, as a guileless return to form rather than a logical step forward into mainstream fullness. This trajectory isn’t a mere allegation, but a sign of Nielson’s aptness at transforming his once-spindly compositions into full-band likenesses in a compressed amount of time. Nonetheless, it’s still a stretch to label Unknown Mortal Orchestra as the stoic answer to this decade’s psychedelic orgy of a revivalist movement—brief introduction “A God Called Hubris,” in all of its nitrous oxide-fueled silliness, will refresh your notions of Nielson as a hackneyed, but talented arranger. Even if the seven-year span of UMO’s existence seems meager, there are wistful split seconds of déjà vu from Nielson’s discography, which attests to Sex & Food’s sampling of past explorations flocking together to form a fleetingly sleek final product. Finger-picked and scantily visceral, “This Doomsday” will unhesitatingly summon the bucolic harmonies of II’s “From the Sun,” but the former is far from a desperate repeat of Nielson’s most memorable works.

In hindsight, the seventies hue cast over Multi-Love accentuated the softer edge of Nielson’s songwriting even at its most sonically raucous. Two years after, Sex & Food withdraws the low-fidelity freakouts of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s debut to a tantamount degree without leading to the idea of imitation. Take the waterlogged “Major League Chemicals” or the fuzz bottleneck of lead single “American Guilt,” and these flashes of snazzy technical work construct some of the album’s more swaggering bleats for attention. Warped and glossed with an armada of tremolo gadgets, “Not in Love We’re Just High” siphons the sexy out of the sixties, barely raising above a tripped-out whisper. The sun-splattered chorus (“Said we’re not in love / We’re just halfway out of our mind / And we hang out high as kites”) might scream potential slacker rock hit, but Nielson’s contagious and carefree pop formula suggests something more grandiose. Look no further than the willowy pomp of “Hunnybee” and the wistful space of the exceptional closer “If You’re Going to Break Yourself” to discover the intimacy in Nielson’s craft.

Whatever Sex & Food wants to make you feel through its druggy semantics and equally trippy soundscapes, it’s an inevitably moving sentiment at play here. Middling in its tracklist are some of Nielson’s career-defining performances, although as a sum of its parts, Sex & Food settles between much-needed upheaval and a pleasant update in the flimsy annals of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. For a songwriter whose talents always seem directed in a particular headroom without calculation, Nielson’s latest batch of uppers wrestles with psychedelia as an emotional tool rather than a stylistic pulse—it’s all too good to be true at times, but it’s worthy of multiple listens.

You can check out Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s new album, ‘Sex & Fo0d’ on Apple Music, Spotify, Soundcloud and Youtube. And be sure to check out the band on their Bandcamp and website.