By Robin Ogden
I often find myself considering the role of authenticity in retro-electronic music, and indeed music and art moreover. Without wishing to engage with the ins and outs of overplayed hardware/software rhetoric, and oft quoted ideas of representation, simulacra and simulation, I firmly believe in the relevance of vintage synthesisers, and have the utmost admiration for musicians who practice authentic production methodologies. Dallas Campbell is certainly one of the latter; a producer paving his own way down the road less travelled, building cosmic musical Pagodas (like last year’s full length Origin Seeds), and teaching old synthesisers new tricks on the way.
Sublime - greatness beyond all calculation, imitation and measurability. This is the only term I believe befitting of Dallas Campbell’s latest LP Oases. As the titling of the album suggests, this is verdant musical territory, a refreshingly real beacon in the desert of the virtual instrument, expanding on the synth voyages charted, and worlds explored, in Campbell’s previous offerings. The gear list provided with the album reads like a program of players in the most fantastic interstellar space-boogie opera ever imagined, a world class cast of carefully crafted characters that straddle genres and create an unparalleled, and fully realised, 12 track synthphonic experience.
The album’s opener ‘Colossus’ feels like a monumental full system check prior to your embarkation, a throwdown to ensure your listening environment is properly tuned and ready to receive the crisp high frequencies and full fathom bass of the album to follow.The arpeggiated sequence of notes rebounds off the face of the Colossus. Winds of white noise swirl about your ears. Are you ready, traveller? The journey through the Oases is about to begin.
‘Pillars’ surrounds you, enveloping your ears in lush analog polyphony. The cerebral complexity of the evolving arpeggiated sequences and the live leads are firmly grounded in an ever present, rock solid, classic boogie groove. The groove is a core character of this album established early on, and will be your companion for its duration. The glorious display of fluidity above the deep metaphysical sound architecture feels so organic: exploratory musical motifs are conjured from the ether, and are released like vapour into the desert sun. Building on the textures established in ‘Pillars’, ‘Forests’ further demonstrates Oases’ musical lexicon. The incidental formant lead phrases, the wonderful union of the human voice and the vocoder and its ability to naturalise the unnatural, are exquisite, punctuating the evolution of song’s rhythmic bedrock and the swirling sustains that border this particular oasis.
As a songwriter, Campbell has a wonderful propensity for melody and groove. His pop music sensibilities are able to guide listeners through often challenging musical episodes and ideas. This is a truly remarkable skill, and demonstrably apparent in both ‘Glider’ and ‘Magic Carpet’. The latter goes through a wonderful metamorphosis over the course of its arrangement, from vocoder loaded funk jam to a fully blown instrumental disco rock anthem.
The wondrous synth magic of Oases is perhaps encapsulated best in ‘Mystic’. The vocoder ushers incantations beneath the whirling infinite; the rapid evolution of the synth arpeggios treat us to a flash forward, a vicarious experience of life on the accelerated ascetic path. We are guided toward new levels of consciousness. The following track ‘Amethyst’ is an appreciation of this newly gained understanding: a serene vamp of live bass and guitar is embraced by a chorus of sumptuous, vibrant synthesisers. The groove has evolved. The groove is reborn.
The final third of the album really seems to engage with this evolution. It transcends homage. ‘Telecommunique’, ‘City of Sand’ and ‘Bronze’ all sit as pools of originality, oases in their own right, sowing narratives and consciousnesses of their own devising. ‘Bronze’ is a distillation of everything explored over the course of the album. We behold the quenched desert, surrounded by the awe and lustre of the purest synthesis. Everything is beautifully spatialised - the melodic quantities and chordal phrases are utterly superlative, but you’re suddenly aware that this journey is coming towards its end.
In closing, ‘Transmission Decay 2093’ feels like a glorious farewell to this journey, a retrospective consideration of Campbell’s Oases and all that has been presented. You feel a sense of peace, warmth from the setting sun, and are glad to have beheld and experienced this great odyssey. The finality is not an adieu by any means. You will surely return to Oases again for more adventures.
Oases administers a much needed injection of retro into the retro-electronic musical canon and, in my opinion, Dallas Campbell reaffirms the absolute need for analog music in the 21st Century. This album really is a journey, a carefully charted evolution. Motifs are picked up along the way and every musical possibility created in Oases’ world is thoroughly explored. This is a wonderfully produced album, the inimitable qualities of a world class signal chain are almost tangible, and it is beautifully mixed and mastered. The wonderful palette of vintage synthesisers is ambitious and cohesive, and coupled with the bold, original and strident musical conceptualisations, this makes for an exceptionally engaging listening experience. Oases comes very, very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM and is available for download from Dallas Campbell’s Bandcamp page here.