Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Pavement to Penthouse: Chuck Shumann and Trevor Bennett’s LEADERSHIP

By Robin Ogden

News. Sports. Business. LEADERSHIP is the inaugural library music offering from Chuck Shumann and Trevor Bennett, who’ve previously released retro-electronic inspired soundtrack offerings under the moniker Vania De Bie Vernet. The lack of publicly available information on the producers, and their elusive (or perhaps more accurately virtually non-existent) social media presence, only serves to fuel the high concept nature of this album.

With few exceptions, production music writers exist outside of popular recognition and almost certainly circumnavigate celebrity, some even choosing to excise their library music efforts from their main musical ventures, consciously composing under pseudonyms and sobriquets. Despite this, they are arguably the most successful musicians in history: their compositions are heard by audiences of millions, soundtracking the adverts, idents and news report underscores that we as listeners consume incessantly. LEADERSHIP is an austere celebration of the 1980’s sound of success, a powerful reverie of sculpted coifs and power dressing in the world of news, sports and business.

It’s a rare pleasure to experience a conceptual release so finely tuned. LEADERSHIP holds the sound of corporate welfare close to its heart, and whilst the tracklisting reads like a would-be Patrick Bateman’s self help book, I would argue that this offering is a sincere celebration of success without the usual 80s haute capitalist substance abuse. This is a carefully considered recollection and homage to televised media, a world away from the well trudged Penthouse and Pavement satirical commentary, inspiring visions of early 3D logos, stock footage and sports montages.

Musically, this is the slam to punk’s anti-aesthetic aestheticism. LEADERSHIP’s crisp high production value exclusively embraces the use of synthesisers to wonderful effect, firmly aligning the album with the suits and sleek ponytails that populated the world of commerce and media. To subject this album to a track by track analysis is in all honesty to do it a disservice. I firmly believe it should be experienced as a full audio visual phenomenon, and would suggest listening whilst perusing wonderfully oversaturated footage of sporting prowess, consumer products and stock exchanges, (in fact Super Apes has kindly done this with the track Jetlag). That being said, I’d like to share some of the highlights and coups from LEADERSHIP that are driving the writing of this review.

The album’s opener ‘A New Market’ is a pounding corporate anthem. You’re transported back to one morning in the early 1980s. The tightly gated drums and beautifully quantised chorussed bassline are fuelling your morning regime. You select your cufflinks with care, diligently tie a full windsor knot as the synth brass works in glorious harmony with the lead line. The chordal switchup signifies you’re running late, the gated toms and frenetic hi hats soundtrack that woefully busy rush hour traffic. But don’t worry, by the end of the track, you’ve arrived safely at the board meeting with your identikit yuppie colleagues, primed, ready to shake hands and capitalise on some new markets.

Your career in the office may have only just begun, but LEADERSHIP promises to pluck you from the bullpen and show you the euphoric and often heady success that only an 80s corporate lifestyle can offer. If you’ve always fancied experiencing Wall Street, and the money and power associated with it, then ‘Important Project’ and ‘Stock Exchange’ will fulfil, and undoubtedly exceed, every expectation. 

I’ve never really been one for sports, but if ‘Difficult Challenge’, ‘Teamwork’ and ‘The Will To Win’ could soundtrack my woeful performance on the Racquetball court I’m sure I’d feel like a champion regardless of the outcome. The longest track on the album, ‘The Will To Win’ is a staggering tour de force of synthesiser music. The arrangement itself is exceptionally strong, symptomatic of writers with an intimate knowledge of compositional techniques. It is dynamic and responsive, the musical journey ebbs and flows and it tells a story of overcoming all odds. The penultimate chordal dénouement, and the final flourish of tonal brass chords is a sublime resolution. Moreover, it  really does make me want to try my hand at Jai alai. 

There’s a wonderful dialectic relationship being explored over the course of the album. Without a few emotional troughs there couldn’t be any high points, as everything would simply be at the same bland pitch. You can’t have success without a fear of failure, after all. This is one of the things that really excited me about this release - the meta arrangement of the album, which has been carefully considered by Shumann and Bennett.

For this reason, one of the standout tracks for me personally is ‘Jet Lag’. Not only is it applaudable from a production standpoint, exploring the chronologically correct but oft overlooked possibilities of sync leads (and sounds that have typically become to be associated with acid music) that were pervasive in 1980s electronica, but the arrangement is exceptionally strong, and subverts the all too easy verse chorus formula. I’d argue that the track name is a slight misnomer in some ways, as this song is truly engaging. Emotionally I’d consider this a low point in the album - you’re overworked, clocking up both serious air miles and an equally severe sleep deficit. The relentless, saturated arpeggios interact with the chords and basslines in a syncopated and rhythmic manner. It is frantic, much like your lifestyle, but the song concludes with a musical release like no other.

LEADERSHIP makes me want to season every sentence with buzzwords like ‘rejuvenation’, ‘networking’ and ‘synergy’, flex my shoulder pads, and not feel too guilty for advocating a lifestyle historiographically associated with greed and vulgar excess. Truthfully, I feel this release is a wholly positive affirmation of success, a celebration and soundtrack of your personal triumphs. This album is packed with narratives of your own devising, which I feel is testament to its strength as a library music release.

My interpretation, placement and application of the tracks that I’ve touched on in this review are not concrete, and the music could suit a whole plethora of different imaginary, fantastic, or indeed real scenarios. The whole thing is beautifully cohesive and flexible, wonderfully mixed, mastered and produced with a firm emphasis on authenticity. LEADERSHIP comes very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM, and is available to buy on CDR and download as pay what you think it’s worth via the Super Apes Label Bandcamp page here. I wish Chuck Shumann and Trevor Bennett all the best with their LEADERSHIP venture!

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