Artist: Floyd Kelly
Title: The Doorway: A Sonic Journey
Keywords: Ambient, Electronic, Movies & TV
Reviewer: Alex Spalding
Are you ready for a sonic journey? You’d better be, because sonic journeys are always on the itinerary at YIKIS! We might make a pitstop here or there for snacks, coffee, petrol… a few overpriced souvenirs and keepsakes of shoddy manufacture… but, as they say, getting there is precisely 1/2 the fun. Or, maybe it’s something else they say that about, I fell asleep a lot in math class.
This particular sonic journey is titled The Doorway, and is from an artist by the name of Floyd Kelly…
… Floyd Kelly appears to be the #1 Ambient artist from Spokane, WA according to the ReverbNation charts, honorably overtaking The Toy Garden in what I can only hope is a landslide victory. Why do I hope this? Because, simply, this album is so much fun! It really, truly is. I love it, and you will too I assure you, fair reader. It deserves the glory, the spoils of the victor, a day at least in the limelight! I’m sure The Toy Garden are nice people though, too, I’m not at all intending to slight them in any way.
We came to a knowledge of this album after receiving a message from the artist asking politely for a review and discussing how he’d recently spent some cash on getting a review at Some Other Place Inc. (the makers of nefarious Brand X, I’m sure), who apparently did a terrible job, couldn’t even get his name right. It’s horrible that that sort of thing happens. Little things of this kind are why so many people become cynical about the music industry. It really goes to show that, just because someone will take your money, doesn’t often mean they’re going to care about you, or in even a very basic way do anything right for you. I’d like for us to do better and to right this injustice, which is why I have set out to compose… as in-depth and entertaining a review as possible, for… Freud Kurly? Flo Kerry?… oh, right, right, Floyd Kelly!
He describes his sound as being like: John Tesh, Berry [sic] White, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and Keiko Matsui… quite a list of notables, really! I was never a big fan of John Tesh, but the others are solid. Their influence can be heard throughout the music presented here. It’s a journey that’s like… The Matrix, really… it’s like you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair while Morpheus leans in and he’s saying, “You take the blue pill, you go back to your boring day job and underwhelming paychecks; you take the red pill, and we go to partyworld”, but then you quickly reach out and snatch both pills from his open palms, shove them into your mouth, chew them up and swallow, and then you’re like “Ha! Where am I gonna go now!?” The answer, of course, is that you would be split into two selves… one of you would be at the office wearing your tie backwards and photocopying pictures of your arse, while the other would be in cyberspace listening to this album…
… an album that begins in earnest with a piece titled ‘Towards The Light’. I hope you’re ready to eat the neon pie and join me on this sonic adventure…
… alright, we’re here! As mentioned, the first piece is ‘Towards The Light’, which starts us off with lovely, deep and rich string overtures. Melodic, they seem to be working to build an anticipation that reaches its apotheosis soon enough when joined by a functional but disappointingly flat rhythmic layer. Despite the flatness, the melodic components, comprised of various strings and piano, manage to surpass and amaze. They swoop us away deftly to realms of bliss and imagination. I feel as if I am clutched in the talons of a great bird who is carrying me over green, pastoral fields, through bright blue skies and maybe periodically we even soar over a cover of clouds, which would be pretty cool too. Yes, I can almost feel this. Toward the end, the piano seems to have an enticing punch, as though the keys were being forcefully driven down by passionate fingers.
More strings greet us on the second piece, ‘The Forward Thinker (Thoughtful Mix)’, which are soon met with percussive digital synth basslines, a sound I would liken to a Yamaha DX7, and then a throbbing, pulsing rhythm… one that’s a bit more bodied than the ones from the previous track. It’s glassy, euphoric, nearly maritime… I can imagine cutting waves on a long yacht. At times I have trouble figuring out if a lot of these sounds are hand-played or just intensely sequenced.
Next is ‘The Doorway’. The strings feel melodramatic, particularly the violin. Harp-like tones flick into the mix, as well as punchy digi-bass. A groove enters… more low pulse, lots of hi-hats keeping time and momentum as with the previous song. It’s a flourish of timbres at times, soaked in reverb.
‘Elixer’ comes after, a potion that can feel a bit heavy on the back of the tongue when it first comes banging in with rock kit drums, dense strings, even denser choirs, wide harpsichord tones, even some thick organ. This piece feels steeped in heavy midi-arrangements that ebb from one thing to another rather rapidly, creating a bewildering mood… almost like the musical equivalent of the awe one might feel standing at the door of some great Gothic cathedral, with its unbelievably tall spires, flying buttresses.
Then, there is an ‘Intermission’… it’s not often I find myself listening to an album with an intermission and I begin to wonder if the intent is for me to go and visit the concession stand for some popcorn or a refill, maybe hit the restroom. Not enough time for that, I must report, but even if there had been, I never quite felt like leaving my seat to missing this, a short and bright tune with crisp drums that leaves a pleasant, cheery taste. Then we are ushered into…
… ‘Normalities Of Blue’. It’s cause for thought and reflection… what is a normal blue? I basically imagine this. The music sounds kind of different at first, with an unusual funk, a semi-chill vibe, but all kinds of orchestration is brought in. I struggle to pick out sounds, to try and make out something to focus on beneath it all, but what I end up hearing most easily in trying to do this is… the tambourine. And the occasional guitar with tremolo. At times I begin to think to myself, in all of this… that the sound of it is very busy. But then, just as the thought occurs, something will happen in the mix of a curious nature and I sit kind of pondering what happened as everything is once again swallowed up in the layering. So, in that way, it kind of works.
Then it’s ‘Kinsmen (Friendly Mix)’. Bell-like tones run an escapade alongside strings, meandering within a chord, subject to change at a whim, while underneath a groove, triplet bass kicks and hats. This track has some pretty, harmonic moments that I can’t help but notice as they seep through the studiously frenetic layering. Really nice!
‘Welcome To The Next Level’… I read the title before I hit play, pausing for just a moment to take inventory of my own expectations. When I felt I had prepared myself for anything, I clicked the button. Very reverb-heavy percussive sounds, almost like toms, ring out. Organ, midi-trumpet, harmonic horn chords, thick digi-bass… I don’t necessarily feel like I’m within a video game, or… if I am, it’s not one with levels… maybe like, Myst or Riven or something. Something exploratory, free-form, and graphically surreal. Highly surreal. The kind of game in which you might pilot a nude mannequin across a pile of floating bricks only to end up getting interrupted by a crow or a polar bear who ask you to collect 15 batteries to power their UFO. A game that offers no conceivable explanations for itself, forcing you to simply accept it at face value or turn it off. The kind of game that would be a serious contender for best game ever.
Moving on, we come to ‘Sepia’, a colour I know well. The colour of old photographs. There was a period of time in which I had a yellow-ish lightbulb in my bedroom, close to sepia in tone, and I would spend a lot of time in there, feeling like I existed within an old photograph. The amazing thing, though, and the whole reason to have had that light at all, was that upon leaving the room… all of the colours in the world would suddenly pop out at me, vividly, which was enchanting even though the effect lasted maybe only thirty or so minutes. Anyway, the music features a texture of synths, some seemingly phaser-modulated, and an intriguing rhythmic section. Later, as all the sounds evolve, so too do the rhythms, into kind of a soft break. Cascading strings, pianos. All I see is yellow, fading. I feel like… I am a music seer, reading ancient tomes whose pages curl and crumble to dust to this soundtrack.
‘Saying Goodbye’ features a kind of glistening acoustic guitar sound, assembled string harmonics, drums, deep layers, even a momentary breakdown in which I hear low slap bass guitar sounds spring out. This is another track that presents moments of fleeting beauty, particularly in how a few of the harmonies unfold into each other.
The final piece is ‘Contemplations’, beginning with pizzicato strings, reverberating and swelling. A waltzy electronic pulse rhythm enters, and the mood of the piece kind of teeters back and forth between the ecstatic and the nearly melancholic. There’s a break at which I hear crunchy, digital laserbass blasts come to the fore, very nice!
Well, quite a journey it’s been! Before I bring this review to a close, I think it would be proper to discuss pertinent, peripheral aspects of the album and artist. For one, in the liner notes appears this story, ‘Towards The Light’, a title it shares with the first song on this work:
The story begins. A peasant woman and her daughter are on the platform getting ready to embark on their journey through “The Doorway”, some call it “the light”. After a long travel; they finally made it to “The Doorway” with thousands of other weary and struggling people from all over the world; all trying to escape the toils and sorrows of planet Earth. The girl cries while holding onto her mother in fear. “Mommy, I’m scared…”. The mother comforts her child … “Don’t worry child. Everything will be okay. Just think of me and nothing else and we will always be together, okay?” … “When you go through the light just think of me, and you, and us, and we’ll both be together on the other side soon … okay?”. Looking up at her mother and mustering some child-like dignity within; with a tear in her eye, “OK mommy”….
Guess I can’t say for sure, but… I don’t think this small story is about boarding an alien shuttle-ship to Xenu, but maybe instead is an allegory for the afterlife. It all made me think… about why many of us are musicians/recording artists/sound people/etc.
Of course, it’s different for everyone.
I wanted to see if I could use my intuition to infer some things about this artist, see into his motivations, his musical raison d’être. He’s clearly been making music for awhile, has developed his work, and is either trying or is managing to sell physical / digital copies of his work (I try to be careful and not make offending presumptions), which tells me he’s certainly a dreamer. He’s also chosen to make ReverbNation his hub on the internet, which tells me some other things…
… I mean, it’s not the place that I would want to use as my hub. I’ve known maybe a couple of artists/bands who’ve used it for sure, focusing for however brief a time working to climb the ReverbNation charts, something I’m not alone in thinking is a bit of a fool’s game, because what does it really mean, for you, for your art? Individuals get caught up in it, almost stop making music altogether to just plug and push a handful of tracks, convincing themselves for awhile that all of it… leads to something. No one gets really big through ReverbNation. There are a few actual known musicians and recording artists on there in some form, but I’m reasonably positive these are mostly people (represented by labels, no doubt) who’ve been paid in order to add legitimacy to the site. A cut to them, a cut to us, all in the name of business.
But, importantly, this is all just superficial surface stuff. If this were obviously all there was to the site, no one would be there for long after figuring it out. The real stuff is to be found deep within. It’s a matter of… wherever particular people congregate, things happen and hearts are touched, friends are made, a CD here or there is exchanged and communication brings everyone together. ReverbNation, even if it were as cosmetic and upwardly triangular as a Mary Kay makeup sales operation, still offers its users, I’m sure, a surprisingly genuine community; it’s loyal artists likely benefit from reaching a few precious souls with their art and it’s a very human thing, I suppose. I could of course be way off base, I’ve never really used the site, but the way it appears to operate and the way the ones who never leave seem to use it reminds me of similar internet music sites of yesteryears… places like SoundClick, for instance. I think I had one of those for a day, would surf around and send random messages of love to strange artists — kind of like I do here!!!
I get the sense that, even if Floyd Kelly’s universe has its center there, things are generally turning fairly well. He’s gotten connected to some fans, is doing what he can to connect to even more, and, importantly, finds meaning and value in those connections. They are fans, friends, and he is present for them. Not at all diffuse, spread thin through endless networking. I think that’s admirable, certainly.
His craft would also seem to reflect this personality, insofar as I’ve been exposed to it. It’s warm, grandiose, inviting, a bit quirky; the art of a forward-looking, creative and sensitive person who puts a premium on interpersonal relations with others. Isn’t that almost… new age music in a nutshell?
To hear and/or purchase a copy of this work for yourself, please click upon the many faces of Floyd Kelly below… and enjoy!