Context 4 is an uncompromising and beautifully brutal set of tunes that comprises of 20 tracks that must have given the faders and knobs a serious workout.
Featuring in-your-face slabs of synth that swirl and simmer like the Jarre or Vengelis pads of the 1980s, but with the booming resonance of detuned bass and compression that causes the tracks to breathe in fitful bursts, it’s an industrial album that chooses its moments to flirt with sonic exploration like a jazz collection. This may be best expressed on track 7, Possession, which features a free-roaming lead synth that feels like it could have flown in from the Zimmer/Wallfisch collaborations of the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack.
Other tracks feature stuttering repeated clips of synth texture and chopped-about chords that can burble and clip unexpectedly, keeping the listener on their toes.
We kick off with The Other Side of Existence, which meditates on violin and has pizzicato synths tip-toeing through a pitch-bent swamp of soupy bass. Machine gun rhythms blast sporadically through the cycling synth patterns and the overall effect is a hypnotic one. The drum voices are fiercely overdriven and the relentless nature of the track powers on through to conclusion.
America the Miserable feels more experimental: crunchy rhythms and broken synths work together to batter us whilst something that sounds like the guitar synth work of Reeves Gabrels (while he worked with Bowie) taunts us from the sidelines of the sound.
Loud and Clear, a shorter track, sounds like the punky little brother of Prodigy’s Firestarter at the beginning, before moving into more hypnotic territory as it progresses. I found myself mouthing the word ‘wow’ in time to the filter on the synth! It all changes feel on half-time industrial drums and resolves in this more chilled feel.
The wantonly harsh Assimilation is a sledgehammer to the senses. The kick is truly punishing, the detuned bass and synths are similarly in-your-face and the overall effect is the sound of a future dystopia running rampant! Edge of the Earth continues the trend of crunching, crushing drums, growling bass and flute-like, analogue synth lead sounds. Some notes stab out of the mix right at you while others sustain and swirl around you. Force of Nature continues down a similar sonic path, with more of a trap feel to the rhythm. This track really suggests space for a vocal line (to these ears anyway), and I wonder if the artist has ever tried to incorporate this?
On to Senses, and we have more of the string / violin / breathy textures mixed in and marking out disparate rhythms, which lend an organic feel to contrast with the metronomic electronic percussion.
Surface Dreams finally helps me answer something that’s been bugging me. What else does the synth pallet of this set put me in mind of? Tame Impala! Finally got there. The analog feel of big squashy and swirly sounds, stepping all around the track here finally clues me up…
You can drop into any track on this collection and be assured of sonic, brutal confidence. The sawing bass and stuttering rhythms of Run Away Slaves take no prisoners…
Computer, perhaps ironically, offers a yearning melodic quality amidst the angst of the bass and the relentless passages of 4-on-the-floor kick. More strings, and now blended with vocal qualities, hum and swoon their way throughout a beautiful and moving track with furious tabla beating a path to resolution.
These Are The Ends goes truly widescreen with synths, and it’s epic and fearless, with snikkity 808 hi-hats and shakers writ large on the canvas.
Just when I think I might have a handle on Context 4, Sacrifices comes along to confound me. Barren piano and record noise and breathing, halting percussion slowly walk the track out and it’s a wonderful and welcome change both sonically and in terms of production choice and tempo and feel.
Virtues feels like Tame Impala coming home to roost again, with a wonderfully psychedelic feel to proceedings. Colours fade in and out and the track feels slightly drunk, in the best sense. It feels very human amidst all of the machines that are having a workout on it. The detuned keys and hesitating rhythm are just great! Probably my favourite track on the album.
All in all, the envelopes and filters and choices employed on this collection are as interesting as the sounds and compositions themselves. Some feel free-form, other meticulous and soul-searching. It’s also nice to note that this is an occasion where I truly enjoyed the track names as they all felt like the added something to what I was listening to.
Concluding with Numb Remix, I was briefly horrified when the track started, as it seemed much more poppy (actually sounding like a PWL track!) than the rest of the set. However, it quickly reverts to type and is an uplifting conclusion to a huge and fascinating album that’s more than worth checking out. It’s a playful, flirtatious tune, and winds down to a final, brutal dead stop that leaves you alone to contemplate what you’ve just witnessed…
* * *
Context 4 is another installment of a series of records. Tell us the significance of the ‘Context’ series.
The Context series is a way to measure my growth over the years and has also acted as a way for me to expand my direction of sound. The Context series has always been my flagship, I believe I do the most boldest things soundwise within the series. The first Context record came out in 2015 when I was 18 and Context 4 released right after my 24 birthday and I love being able to present my growth after all these years. I worked on Context 4 for 2 years so the Context series is one of the most important series of albums to me because I always take my time with them and I experienced so many creative breakthroughs in the making of them. There were times when I’d make a song for the album I didn’t even know I could make. Like I would find new techniques completely out of nowhere and surprise myself, and that makes it so much more enjoyable to create.
Each track has its own unique feel that comes together to form a much bigger picture when you listen as a whole. Do you write to create one body of work at a time, or are you always crediting and editing down afterward to fit songs into the context of an album?
I do both those things, I write the concepts and atmospheres of albums before I make the songs. Then I make the songs, and sometimes I take older songs and refine them to fit the energy of my more recent works. I sometimes will take a song from like 3 years ago, change the synths, keep the chord progression, and change the drums. I never count out older songs but I stick mostly to writing the concepts out and making the story of the album song by song.
Your sound is really refined, hi-fi, aggressive at times, how do you personally feel that Context 4 compares to your other recent works?
Context 4 is definitely probably one of my most dynamic albums and also broad as far as sound goes. I wanted every song to fill up space and sound big and full of life. I think its the project that shows the most dynamic out of my last 3 years of music. I mixed really aggressive experimental sounds with some downtempo chiller experimental sounds so it also has a balance in atmosphere.
You’ve been at this for about a decade now, what have you learned most from making music (and so much of it) for this long?
To have the patience to let the process run its course, to keep my mind open to new possibilities and never close myself off from new ideas by thinking I know everything. Maintaining the idea that it’s about the story and evolution of the artist and not about just becoming famous. It’s about impacting people in a way that is truly unique and honestly you can’t really put a price on that.
Do you have any other releases planned for 2021 that you can tell us about? How prolific are you planning on being?
I’m working on a album called 2050 CPU (Keeping You Connected) Its going to be very experimental and mostly music to ride to. I plan on being one of the most prolific artist in history when it’s all said and done. I’ll keep refining my craft and growing my sound until then.