By James Mann
Imagine being propelled through a dimension full of light and promise, powering yourself into the unknown with a certainty that throws an uncontrolled grin on your face. This is the space. Nights when you fall asleep and are transported to the world you could never conceive of, at least not in your waking moments. Flashing lights, visions of the future and past, nostalgia at warp speed. Have you ever stopped to imagine what the soundtrack to your life could be? A blanket wrapping around and encompassing everything in this life that you found safety and joy in, everything you truly stood for. How could the melodies and work of an artist create this lush, complex world of wonder that makes everything feel so easy and simple? A machine driven entity known as Botnit has locked his coordinates on you, and anyone fortunate enough to cross paths with this synth wizard full of complexities and awe should consider themselves lucky.
To the Max is the latest release from Botnit, an artist whose work has garnered the adoration and respect from many a fan in the genre, from previous releases such as Vivid Memories and tracks such as 'Hi-Score'. This is an album spanning years of inspiration and influences guaranteed to satiate every synth lovers dream, transporting you through streams of radiance and luster without skipping a beat.
The detail and melodies in the tracks are stunning, with top notch production and clarity that allows the listener to hear every intricacy this machine puts into work. "I worked at a video arcade in the late 90's and that's where inspiration for tunes like Hi-Score and Safran come from. I love the history of arcades and the Golden Age of Video Games. That stuff is just so cool to me. GTA: Vice City was a monster influence, my personal resurgence in 80's music pretty much hasn't let up since then." muses the Botnit himself.
To the Max demonstrates a sophistication and an art of melodies, along with sampling unlike any artist I've heard before. As Botnit says, there is a "fine line" between tasteful and overused samples. This synth enchanter demonstrates an ability to effectively incorporate an astounding variety of samples (as well as progressions) that push the tracks into a direction with momentum and undivided interest, elevating portions of the songs to that next level, not an easy feat.
'Ex Cathedra' begins with a gorgeous, shimmering synth progression that gave me instant chills. Within seconds I closed my eyes and drifted off into the world known as Botnit. Switching gears seamlessly, the synth dictates and accelerates a driving baseline that steers the track into a world of wonder and astonishment, full of samples that put a huge smile on my face. The fast moving world of development and technology in the 80's races through my mind, commercials spitting images of VHS, Betamax, the Wall Street worker navigating through the daily grind in montage fashion, worrying about the latest numbers. Wow, this track really touched on all the sensibilities and memories I had growing up in the 1980's. As Botnit says, "It's important that emotions are still conveyed without the lyrics being there to tell you how to feel about a song. For me that means warm synths and inviting harmonies. I've tried making harder, darker stuff and Ex Cathedra is about as heavy as it gets." Well played, Botnit. Coordinates locked and loaded.
'Jupiter Style' is an exceptional track, and definitely a favorite on the album. It throws a somber, yet warm synth arrangement through your speakers, evoking a thoughtful and pensive mood immediately. Images flash through my mind. Through his spectacles, he stares through the rain soaked glass, wondering what happened to his life, and pondering where it will take him from here. The samples Botnit deploys run through a monologue of a man who reflects on all of this, layering a story, a well crafted journey that only this artist can tell. The bassline is energetic, the synths are nothing short of dynamic, I'm moved. What a masterpiece.
All systems set for go. Check. 'It's Supercharged!' blasts you to a dimension that showcases the finest of talents from the Botnit machine. Complex toms and arpeggiated synths drive this track into full gear with samples (intricate and mind blowing) that compliment the track perfectly and switch gears effortlessly. The search for that elusive melody is now over. My eyes flutter and I'm propelled to that world of wonder, full of smeared light with images of classic 80's commercials dancing through my head and coming from all directions, charging down the coastal highway with palm trees whizzing by as the Wayfarer's deflect wind down my face. A bit detailed? Sorry, but 'It'sSupercharged!' takes you there. I'm standing at attention with a new level of respect for the Botnit sound, as I haven't heard a track that filled my tank and topped it off with premium in quite some time. Without hesitation, I would say this is my favorite track on To the Max.
'Let's Do It' changes up the sounds in To the Max nicely, bringing a sleek, almost lounge like feel at the beginning with samples that give a huge flair of 80's and detail, reminiscent of the early Detroit/Chicago house sound. The beat, however is driving, and those signature arpeggiated synths power you through another Botnit work of art. I'm realizing this machine has a knack for layering and teasing your interests in the best way possible, only to unload (or unlock) new levels that will blow your mind. *Inserts another coin*
He adjusts the review mirror, taking one final glance at home. This was the world he always knew. It's really over. Spinning tires on the hot summer concrete, he headed towards the sun in hopes of feeling human again. How could the life he spent so much time building have been torn apart so quickly? Is it really over? 'Don't Look Back' is a stellar arrangement from Botnit that reinforces the idea that things are truly never over, there are just new beginnings. Hellsir guests on this gem of a track and delivers a lasting message through a break beat/dance beat and mind blowing synths, to take control and don't look back. As Botnit says, you have one chance, one dream. You can feel the thought and energy put into 'Don't Look Back', and the results are spectacular. Who would have thought a machine could make me feel so inspired and motivated about life?
When I saw that Apollo Zapp was a guest on this next track, 'Own the Road', I have to admit my excitement was very real. I've been a huge Zapp fan for a while, and to see a collaboration with two of the best, well. Yeah. Botnit grabs you instantly with a beautiful progression, glassy synths dancing all over, (the lead synth is mesmerizing) and his signature driving rhythms emerge quickly. I'm loving this already. Appollo emerges with his trademark voice, giving me chills. Zapp's singing is more of a refrain, and this works flawlessly with the crafted reverb and delay. Wait, didn't Botnit say something about less is more? The restraint is so tasteful, when I close my eyes I'm transported to that dimension full of radiance and light. One of my favorite tracks on To the Max.
Full bodied synths and melodies reminiscent of a intricate NES/Dragon Warrior style theme develop nicely in 'Safran'. The memories flood me with a feeling of comfort and joy that take me back as a kid, circa 1989 playing the classic game with a box of fruit roll ups by my side. It's a thoughtful, yet somber journey weaving you through a lush soundscape of sadness. After chatting with the Botnit I learned why. This track is a homage to Scott Safran, who set the Asteriods high score in 1982 at the height of the game's popularity. Nobody could locate him through the 90's, with news eventually surfacing in 2002. It was discovered that he was killed after falling from his apartment balcony while trying to rescue his cat, Samson. The shooting asteroid bleeps emerge behind this work of art, and the tribute seems fitting and complete. Stars making their way to a iconic figure in the retro scene looking down, firing off stars in the place of a fallen fellow gamer. Gorgeous track and one of my favorites on the album.
Frantically searching for that last quarter to throw in the machine, all I can think about is that +1up. 'Arcade Cowboy' is another master blaster from this unstoppable machine, throwing you into a time machine to your favorite arcade, at least for those who had the luxury of experiencing the sheer awesomeness of them. Ski Ball, Centipede, Contra, Galaga, Duck Hunt, Rygar and more classic games race through my mind in filmstrip fashion. In 'Arcade Cowboy', that signature Botnit breakbeat with floral synths build up into peak action with such grace. The lead is killer, and a lengthy (spliced up) sample tell a first person perspective of growing up in the 80's, creating laughs and smiles from the authenticity and detail. Where did he get that from? Some things are better off secrets, as Botnit will never divulge his source of samples. This guy knows 80's like no other synth artist. Bold statement? Tough. Botnit has earned it.
The bell rings. Droves of students flood the halls and filter out into the world. She's navigating through the bodies, looking for that personal space she knows will find her on the walk home. Questioning her sensibilities, was he really right for her? Looking up at the smear of red and orange leaves falling down around her, she knows with a certainty that he wasn't. Time to grow up and take care of yourself, she can't be 'Chasing Emotions' anymore. This beautiful track delves into another side of Botnit, one that shows the versatility and flexibility of this machine to set coordinates for slightly different sounds. Dreamy and endless, the variation and contrast from those glassy synths to the orchestral ones create such a dynamic composition that I can't stop listening. I forgot to mention that Botnit is a percussion whiz. Hi hats, bass drum, toms and snare all fill the expansive range with care and purpose. Top notch work.
'Some Dreams Never Die', once again featuring the effortless Hellsir, wraps up a journey for the ages. The smooth vocals compliment this track wonderfully. As Botnit told me, this track is about lamenting "the end of a relationship that lasted for a majority of the 1980's, and now that Jackie has grown up, she longs for that time and place where things allowed her to feel so alive and full of joy." Another epic track from Botnit, and a spectacular way to end a flawless production.
To The Max is a phenomenal release, blending a wide range of sounds that come together for an auditory feast, one that redefines boundaries in the genre. A stark contrast from the overused, formulaic sound produced by some artists that can beleaguer the synth trained ear. This is truly amazing work from someone who has extraordinary talent in production, melodies, percussion, layering, and dare I forget…sampling. Botnit keeps true to his sound, one that continues to progress as this machine pumps out new work. "Some of my favorite tunes are ones where I feel the hair on the back of my head stand up when I'm 10 seconds before a part in the tune that blows my mind, and you're just waiting for it to happen, that's what I strive for." Funny, Botnit pretty much nailed my sentiments on his work I journeyed through each track, hitting those hairs on the back of my neck as fine points of nostalgia and escape.
Future City Records presents Botnit's To the Max album on Bandcamp here. You would be remiss to not have this as part of your collection. There are so many moods and feelings with this stunning range of tracks, taking you on a full throttle ride to the world of Botnit and dropping you back home feeling satiated and complete. This man doesn't stop, and has some surprises for the near future. "I have actually wanted to experiment and put out a small 3-track EP of 90's sounding tunes, like "Ebenezer Goode" by The Shamen, then like a Ridge Racer type tune and maybe even a rotterdam techno tune." Sweet baby jesus, the diversity and respect I have for Botnit just keeps growing. This man knows music. He also has a collaboration that he's keeping on the hush, but he did tell me this. "I am working with one of my scene idols on a tune for their next release. I used to listen to this artist while I took the train into the city years ago, so when I was contacted for a collaboration I was in full fanboy mode."
So about that soundtrack to your life. Your childhood, your dreams, everything that made you feel comfortable and safe. Botnit inserted that last quarter for your +1up, and it's been the best game you've played in your lifetime. In the world of Botnit, there is no game over.
To The Max comes very, very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM.