Keywords: Electronica, Electro, Acoustic, Electrofolk, Rap, Piano, Electronic Rock, Oddstep, Improvisation, Electroambient
Reviewer: Alex Spalding
So, here’s a review for you. A very special one, that feels like it’s been years in the making. If time were a VHS tape, this would be when we hit the rewind button and then hit play and then spent five to ten minutes trying to adjust the tracking because damnit this VCR is a piece of shit.
In a nutshell, back in my youth I had a friend named Thomas who was brilliant and eccentric in all the right ways, and may have been the first person my age to encourage me to do music forever on a late night walk through the desolate neighborhood we both occupied back then. And so I have. Every so often much later on in our lives we’d reconvene, but usually circumstances in my life were pretty lousy and so it would be hard to be available to the extent I wanted to be. On one such occasion I listened to some of the music he’d been making, all of which has, as of now, been sitting untouched on a Soundcloud page for about 2 years. I remembered it, though, and went on the hunt to find it again so I could write a nice review and reminisce along the way.
Since none of this music has been arranged into albums of any kind, the path forward is clear: I shall simply review all of it. I can do that. I make the rules. xD
The page opens with a track titled ‘le_chanson_travaillant’. I don’t always know where his inspiration in music derives from, but one of the prevailing senses I always have when listening to his work is that he is very technical in his approach to sound and performance. This lovely piece evokes for me, though, a touch of Spaghetti Western. Ennio Morricone vibes, with a bit of post-rock, a bit of atmospheria, lush textures, all taking place over a hip hop groove.
Next is ‘Darkside’, beginning with a modulating filtered organ, soon joined with a guitar that sounds like an obscure Eastern-influenced instrument. The heavy, compressed production makes the track feel like it’s swelling and strained. There’s an open-air section in which the guitar shines through, and the playing is beautifully uncluttered, spare minimal notes, letting silence permeate where necessary.
Acoustic guitar frets are to be heard on ‘April 28′, and the melodies are great, harmonizing beautifully with subtle electronics – or maybe what I’m hearing are just reflections in a pool of reverb. Midway through, we come to a section in which I feel serenely like I’m standing on a lonely boardwalk at sunset surrounded by the trappings of some forgotten carnival, dreaming of the fun that had passed.
Very nice atmospheric textures created by the intermix of piano, guitar and bells, plus a distant break can be heard on ’54 Moves’, where the artists’ sense of appreciable melancholia and detailed attention to space and subtle harmony shines through. “54 moves” is said… questioning… we’re left to find our own interpretation, but are left at the end with an absurd situation in which the artist seems to reveal he was unaware of being recorded. Sure, sure… haha…
… moving onward, we come to a piece titled ‘Anx’. A dense guitar-scape plays in my head, kind of like a wall of electronic nylon. Vocals enter the mix, sounding like they’ve been auto-tuned, and I hear a blast of low-mid bass grit. The drums sound a bit raw here, with even some swing, which took me by surprise.
‘Wagon Wheel’ begins with some evocative piano, alongside xylophonic bell steel. A thick break and pad swells emerge, as well as synth toms and vocals and even a bit of sine bass! This one is fun and tends toward the sentimental while staying playful.
Next is the electro-lushness of ‘Baby’, which instantly I love. Lots of nice synth harmonies and a vocal sample running through… love the bass tones here, something about this reminds me a little of Vaporwave.
Piano hits us on ‘Cribbs’, which feels a bit like a sketch at first, scattered impressions from a veranda. You can get lost in the expressions, like there’s a lot of life happening all at once and it’s hard to know where to look. The sound of the piano feels just a little warped, aged. Maybe it’s like the reels of a silent film running, black and white imagery moving rapidly, but what is the film about? The narrative feels lost, but emotive.
‘Logofrantic’ is like a plinky micro-breaks track. Heavy chord pads come into the mix, and it suddenly seems to verge on IDM or abstract breakbeat.
The track that follows is titled ‘Raven’. It’s billed as rap, and rap is what it turns out to be, feeling kind of like an experiment. It’s full of vocal rhymes, pizzicato strings, breaks with snap claps, synths floating around.
‘Hemanta’ has piano, a far-away kick drum, is very well mixed, and sounds like a post-millennial anthemic instrumental from the soundtrack of an independent film that got a lot of crossover praise. Guitar harmonics cut through every so often, like a static charge that is continually building up and releasing in short bursts.
‘Kitchen Story’ feels raw and and improvisational, with some screaming, acoustic guitar and makeshift percussion, and it’s wonderful and all over the place with tons of energy in the delivery. It ends very abruptly!
Next is something somber, another piano composition called ‘Drunkenness’. The imagery the music evokes is tender and longing, not befitting the imagery called into my mind with the title. I imagine suddenly a montage of still images of people smiling and hugging each other alternating with pictures of unconscious men laying in puddles of their own vomit next to toilets. Happy New Years! The piece has a very long silent tail on it, so I flipped around in it looking for secrets. Finding nothing, I moved on…
… on to ‘Rocket!!!’, which features some voices at the beginning, as well as acoustic guitar rising up… and then a choir of people trying to bust into TLC’s ‘Scrubs’, later some Spice Girls, some Sublime, among other popular hits from the late ’90s and early ’00s. Wow. Then there’s a trumpet, too. I don’t know what’s going on, but it feels like we’re listening to a sporadic improv take at a social and it’s kind of interesting, begging the question of whether all of this was recorded in the moment or what… I immediately begin to think about how it would be interesting to do professional recordings to emulate this kind of sound, using professionals and a perfectionistic eye to detail to create an album of material that sounded like an unprofessional capturing of an impressive and awesome random moment in time in which people with enormous talent just started singing and playing music someplace. Because that’s kind of what this sounds like, strangely. Just enough screw-ups here and there to make it sound realistic, but clearly this wasn’t anyone’s first time singing or playing music.
Afterward is ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, an acoustic guitar track that feels a bit more optimistic than… like, the film The Hills Have Eyes, anyway. I feel like this would be something you’d have on cassette playing while you’re on the road and some hippie girl’s got her foot hanging out the window and you’re thinking to yourself, man, I’m not gonna say anything about it because it’s great that she feels all free and stuff, but you just keep imagining how terrible it would be to get in a wreck or something, because that foot would probably go flying off somewhere, not to mention her whole leg could get painfully forced in a direction it wasn’t meant to, and I mean, sheesh, I’m already cringing to myself just thinking about all of this from the relative safety of the internet. You know? Because it’s like… that foot is just tempting fate. Maybe. I mean, this is a horror movie, so you know it’s gonna happen, you’re just waiting for it, anxious of the tempo of the film. Maybe they hit you with a curve ball, though. Like, you’re expecting a wreck and then instead we’re in the next scene all of a sudden, relieved that nothing happened to the foot, but 45 minutes into the film all her friends are dead and she’s running through the woods from a chainsaw killer and steps on a bear trap twisting her ankle and you can hear the bone crack and you’re like, Wes Craven would do something like that. Asshole.
Next is ‘No Fog’, and it sounds like another acoustic recording of a space in which some bongos are being slammed and guitars are being strummed and people are having a chat. There are some vocals buried here, too. It’s like an unplugged jam session.
‘4结识黑夜2’ has a nice vibe, electronic and buzzing, with pretty chord arrangements. Percussive and radiophonic noises throb throughout. This is probably my personal favourite among everything I’ve heard so far. A downpitched voice sample comes in… oh, and apparently, its genre is listed as “wtf”!
Lively guitars and live-ish drums are happening here on the track called ‘Rivers’. I feel like these rivers are symbolic, allegorical, imaginal, or metaphoric, or metaphysical. Or maybe they’re actually just real rivers being recalled through the use of sound and I’m way off base with this one. I can only speculate pointlessly, until the track ends and we come to…
… this other track, titled ‘Operant’, with piano, a breakbeat and nice conga flavour. It’s really short, but perfect.
More piano, as well as a slow 4/4 808 bass pulse make up the early part of ‘Falls3’. Reverb-laden claps and open-hat sizzle expand the mix, then there’s a thick bassline, mixed loud so it really quakes. We’re soon treated to some interesting sound profiles, filtered trance chord harmonics. This is music without alliances to any one sound or style, with a focus on composition and the tonal features and faces of diffusely familiar genres.
I find myself enjoying ‘L’endroit qui s’appelle Gox’. The rhythms are kind of downtempo, the sounds are all fierce and intense, and it’s like a hip hop groove dripping with elements of some sort of spaced out Euro dance.
Another kind of mental breaks / hip hop / r&b thing is happening on ‘Op’. Those snaps feel like they’re burrowing into your skull, and then there are some piano arpeggios and pizzicato strings like you’ve never heard, sounding like they were recorded under a sink. Pure audio enthusiasm and experimentality here.
‘Archaeopterex’ begins with violins, turning soon toward organs, pads, ethereal ambiance, and a downtempo 808 groove. A sonar sine wave lead pushes through. Very chill and nice. Then we hear a more forceful rhythmic layer emerge, along with pizzicato. Glorious pizzicato. It really takes the pizz. Pizz is what it izz. All in all, it reminds me of a lot of things I’d been hearing during the middle of the 00s from certain UK artists, lots of playful string melodies and effusive rhythms, like one foot is standing in the realm of traditional orchestral composition and the other in electronic dance.
Then it’s time for ‘Fresh’, which immediately recalls the electro-nostalgic bliss of early chiptune, but with more powerful gear and greater polyphony. Then that drops away for a heavy break and some bells. Distorted strings stab in, and the mood of the piece is one of urgency. Feels like I’m running slowly during an intense action sequence, but its hyper-surreal and over-the-top. The kind of thing that makes your brain reel, but you can’t look away. Probably partly animated with CG, and requiring very large suspensions of disbelief. Like, would you believe you’re witnessing someone jumping 9 feet into the air to kick a robot right now? Of course not, but that’s what you’re seeing. Or it’s what I’m seeing, anyway. Bask in the glory of technological feats of imagination.
Lastly, we come to a piece titled ‘Rama Rama’. It’s very nice electronic music, with lovely pads and percussion, guitar ringing out and sliding emotively. It’s a nice closer… and by closer, I mean it’s just the thing at the bottom of the page. It would have been just as great anywhere, I think.
Thomas DeVol is like one of my hidden gurus, a source of early localized inspiration and critical insight who helped keep me going through the rough early days. Rare memories from a bygone era that are actually cause for smiles, unlike so much of the rest of those times for me, full of emotional mutilations and bad life stuff generally. Follow the link below to check his music out, because it’s personal and treasured and maybe you will even sense some of that while listening to it. 🙂