For me, the most exciting music often comes out of a situation where no agenda is set other than to see what’s possible: instead of approaching the blank page and the microphone with a set of restrictive rules, inspiration and the pursuit of excellence are given free rein to do what they may.
That’s what New Realms sounds like to me.
The 4 track EP kicks off with Old Hex #3. If this is anything to go by, I’d love to hear Old Hexes #1 & #2 as well! Channeling the sounds and spirit of artists like Tame Impala, Goldfrapp and even the choral experiments of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, we are lifted straight into the track by what sounds like the tape winding up to the correct speed. This instantly imbues it with a sense of nostalgia, which is swiftly underpinned with the sort of synth voice choices that Vangelis would have approved of back in the 80s.
The track builds up with irregular heartbeat rhythms and wobbly synth bass until sixteenths are pattered out on an 808 hi-hat and the layers are added to, putting one in mind of the recent work Murray Gold has been creating for BBC TV dramas. We climb to the plateau of a bridge section, where the tension and drive takes a spooky breath before plunging on heroically and then stepping down to a wistful, broken-down conclusion of modulating Rhodes.
Up next is the intriguingly-titled Myth Made Real, where I am put in mind of Vangelis’ work on the Blade Runner soundtrack. It’s, of course, very easy to say that instrumental pieces would work well on a soundtrack – but here, where there are some quite obvious comparisons to be drawn, it’s not a lazy remark – the first two tracks genuinely sound very filmic. I say this, as the next track feels more song-like, despite the absence of lyrics.
Indeed, Love Theme (From the Bottom of a Well) has more clearly defined melodic parts and, whilst the title actually implies a filmic connection, feels like a more stand-alone piece. In terms of production, the (beautifully-played) piano part is deliberately obscured behind skittering drum patterns and angry little electronic sounds that stay quietly put in one ear, discordantly countering the sweet melodies and helping to make the experience a slightly unsettling one. About half-way through the track, we hear the rolling piano in a more isolated state, albeit with a host of treatments that change its traditional character into something more other-worldly. The track then climbs out to a rapid conclusion that leaves you to contemplate the journey you’ve just taken, in the most bittersweet of ways. The whole is a pretty unique triumph.
The EP concludes with Failure Without End, a lengthy piece that features sine wave synths and koto-like melodic lines that work together to make the listener feel like they are perhaps experiencing the track from beneath the waves. The electronics blend and work together to move the experience into deep and comforting textural waters. There’s a bizarre false end about two thirds of the way through the track which has the effect of receiving a sharp slap to the face before a renewed wave of wildly modulating keyboard sounds instantly sweeps in. We then ride this wave to a satisfying fade.
In terms of genre, New Realms (that title is probably a clue!) is borrowing from all over the place. As well as the influences I’ve already mentioned, there is something of Ulrich Schnauss-era Engineers about the overall effect of the EP. It’s rich, imaginative, compelling and intriguing. It’s hard to imagine higher praise than this.