Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dystopian Dreams From Machines

Contrary to my own preconceived belief, Ex-Machina has been around creating his own vision of 80s synth music for quite a long time. His releases on Bandcamp go back to mid 2012, and yet it disappoints me greatly that I've only recently been privy to his music. T'was but last Halloween and the Synthetix.FM Rhythm Vivisection Mixtape upon which I was courted by Ex-Machina with his totally radical 'Night Of The Rottweiler IV' track. This was my first introduction to this producer's sound and I must say, I relished it greatly.

Ex-Machina has now released his first full length album in Dystopian Dreams and it has surprised me greatly from track to track how much this producer has developed and allowed his musical ideas to take form. Over the nine tracks of this album we experience a great range atmospherically soundtrack oriented pieces that are structured exquisitely well. I was expecting a much darker aspect to this record but much of the Ex-Machina aesthetic exudes a cool beauty that is precision engineered and the darker side of the synth plays a much less pronounced role; adding a layer of sleekness and mystery rather than obliterating all and sundry in its path.

The Ex-Machina sound is introduced superbly via the opening discourse 'Pursuit Through The City'. Exhibiting an unrushed and suave disposition this piece builds with pin point accuracy into a sprawling epic of synthesized sounds that complement the melody with aplomb. Guitars slice through the echoing keyboards and bring the elements together in a tightly knit, high energy second act that unleashes OutRun passions in the dark of the night. Set pieces are unveiled in silken turns and contain an effortless elegance.

One of the aspects I really appreciate on this record is the length of the tracks. This may seem a tad supercilious of me but I for one really prefer tracks of this style in a format that pushes upwards of five minutes. The craftsmanship of writing more atmospheric sounds means allowing them time and space to evolve and set a scene, then tell the story within it. Often shorter pieces in this format find me wishing there was more time to drink in the atmosphere and revel in its presence. This is apparently an aesthetic shared by Ex-Machina and even on more synth pop oriented tracks like 'Come Get Me' there is a tangible ease to the pace and Dana Jean Phoenix is allowed to take on more of a role in the song that befits its aesthetic.

Track three takes this even further in the seven minutes mindblower 'The Man From The Company'. I can't get enough of the mystery aspect entwined into this huge track. The melodies tell volumes of narrative, describing exchanges with action and excitement which then cut into interludes of even more inquisitiveness. Extracting and examining elements, reassembling them then evolving them into reflective extensions of their previous forms; this track rivals the best of the best with it keenly orchestrated soundtrack magic.

This preponderance to take ideas into their most refined fruition is also explored in 'Chrysalis'. Delicately spun aural fibres mesh and form upon each other as transformations occur slowly beneath the surface in a hypnotising fashion. Breaking free of this quiescence the rockin returns in the follow up track 'Cyberpower'.  Airs of night dangers return via brash guitars and synths that crave action and pleasures of adrenalin. The midpoint breakdown of this piece explores even more lavish territory as Ex-Machina just keeps on rockin and rollin with all the forces of nature and science at his beck and call.

One of the real surprises on this record is 'Sophist' featuring a vocal track by SpekrFreks. The tone of this piece always catches me unawares whenever I hear it as it really takes the Ex-Machina aesthetic into a new dimension. The vocals are dramatic and ripe with disdain and just enough bitterness while musical structures contain wonderfully authentic 80s tones with a modernity that somehow makes the song sound genuinely futuristic. It's a very strong track, one of the strongest on the record and really expands Ex-Machina's horizons in exciting new ways.

'Sector-17 Blues' begins a new chapter of the story with a introspective introductory passages which then blooms into a wondrous synthscape of rainbow neon against a dark, night sky. The broken dystopian vision is contrasted by melodies full of life and positivity, rising from hushed whispers into jubilant swells of glorious synthuality. The action picks up and percussion gives energetic impetus to the surrounds, instilling excitement and even possible dangers before the lead refrains casts its astoundingly beautiful colours over the scene's final act.

The crossover between vintage and modern sounds is expertly balanced throughout this album as modern arrangements allow for higher impact payloads of explosive 80s sounds to be ignited. 'Bearclaw P.M.C' personifies this with violent samples rising and falling in time with the incendiary synths before chaos erupts into an all out attack on the senses. Ex-Machina always keeps things under control though and even when tensions threaten to obliterate all in their path the direction remains steady and true to the melody's vision.

Dystopian Dreams completes with a great deal of intimacy and humanity with the final track, simply titled 'Love Scene'. The bleakness of this dystopian vision is washed away with the rains and searing guitars release emotions and passions of an unstoppable force. There is mercy and tenderness in every note with imploring chords pleading for release beyond this mortal realm.

Future City Records presents Ex-Machina's Dystopian Dreams on their Bandcamp page here in digital form and you can also pick up a very limited edition on cassette via Ex-Machina directly here. As an album this release creates incredible amounts of atmosphere and paints fantastic visions through Ex-Machina's synthscapes. Each track is exceptionally well realised and genuinely sticks to an overriding theme that ties everything together, including the rockin pieces with vocal accompaniment. Synthetix.FM very, very highly recommends Ex-Machina's Dystopian Dreams album as it is truly a complete experience in 80s inspired synth music that crosses between light and dark and old and new brilliantly.

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