In the digital age, is there room for such a thing as analog electronic music? Marvin Wilson certainly thinks so, and shows us how it is done with his latest release, Synchronism. The nine tracks on the album were proudly created "with hardware and tape," as he puts it, and the results are some of the warmest, and most "human" electronic music I have heard in ages.
Synchronism has been released by the Scottish Alex Tronic Records label, and they are something of a brand name for me. I have been impressed by everything I have heard from them, but that still did not prepare me for this.
In 2013, Daft Punk's Random Access Memories or Authechre's Exai represent the state of the art. But when the retro-futurism of Synchronism flowed out of my speakers, it felt like I had been in the desert for days, and was just handed pitcher of ice-cold water.
Everything that made me such a fan of this music in the first place came rushing back to me with the opening notes of "Coming to Life." My baptism into the genre was nearly 40 years ago, when I heard the three-minute single edit of Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" on my little AM transistor radio. I followed the music on and off until I discovered something called "ambient techno" came along. Bands such as The Orb, early Aphex Twin, and System 7 took over my life for a spell. But as so often happens, they eventually moved in other directions, which I did not necessarily follow.
With the nine tracks on Synchronism, Marvin Wilson has made the first new album in what I consider to be the "classic" style that I have heard in nearly 20 years. It has been a long wait, but worth it.
The album opens with "Coming to Life." Besides the glorious analog soundbeds, the song has a drum beat reminiscent of Kraftwerk's "The Robots." The aptly titled "Sonic Adventurers" is next, and begins very quietly, in near-ambient territory. There is a very fine line between getting the mix right, and straying too far in either direction. An example of this can be found in System 7's music, who sometimes lean too heavily on the beats for me. Wilson hits it perfectly, with just the right amounts of atmosphere, and subtle beats.
"A Degree of Automation" made me wonder if Wilson had read Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and had written his own score for it. With "Pavilion 58" I thought to call it "retro-techno," but that would be too cute, and inaccurate. This music really has nothing to do with what we have come to know as techno. There is a beat, and I suppose you could dance to it, but I consider this head music.
"One Lost City," and "Consideration for the Future" close the set in an outstanding fashion. I hear a musical line running from Kraftwerk to the Orb and beyond, and Marvin Wilson upholds the tradition brilliantly. There are marvelous atmospheres, beats that move the songs along in just the right places, but most importantly there are the melodies. For some reason, nobody seems to mention that aspect, but I believe it is incredibly significant.
The balance of beats, atmospheres, and melodies is a tricky thing, and Wilson gets it right on every track. To do this "the old-fashioned way" is even more impressive. I know that he is not doing this to impress people, but rather because this is the only way to get the sound he wants. It makes a difference, believe me.
I think Synchronism is a brave record, because it goes against all of the prevailing trends. The type of marketing departments behind the Lady Gagas of the world would surely argue against releasing this album. I am very happy that the people at Alex Tronic Records do not think that way, and have given Wilson a platform.
Sychronism is a disc I will be listening for a long time to come. I still play such favorites as The Orb's U.F.Orb and Aphex Twin's Analogue Bubblebath regularly. Marvin Wilson's Synchronism joins them as an instant classic.