Progressive, ambient, and an album that works on so many levels. Rival Consoles is Ryan Lee West, and this is our review of his new album ‘Persona’.
Although it starts out in bombastic style Persona slowly becomes a cinematic album, you wouldn’t guess it was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s psychological thriller that shares its title however, if anything it takes after science fiction classics such as Blade Runner. Rival Consoles is Ryan Lee West, a British electronic artist from Leicester whose previous releases have been in the dance and IDM fields. He was the first signing to Erased Tapes, the label that Nils Frahm put on the map and shares that artists interest in analogue synthesisers and a general desire to bring the human element into electronic music. Persona is his most ambient work to date but you wouldn’t guess it from the opening track Unfolding which is like the crashing of the waves on a stormy beach. Big dynamic swings accompany a pulsating four four beat that occasionally dies away to allow the music to progress into new waters. This is a progressive album in many senses, it starts out with attitude but over the ensuing 12 tracks gradually becomes calmer and more introspective, but not without a fairly drawn out fight through the first half. It’s as if West is coaxing his beat oriented fanbase into less well defined grooves where there’s more room for imagination.
The title track is a deep, dark exploration of new terrain, the beat is still obvious but the synths fade in and out creating graduated blocks of sound that are hard edged but not grainy or harsh, and illuminated by restrained use of reverb. Phantom Grip has a meaty bass drum behind expanding vistas of synth that make it a perfect soundtrack to city travel. This is the first indication of the direction that the album is heading in, the ambience beginning to take the upper hand over the tightly controlled power of the beat. Be Kind is perfectly titled and feels like a summer breeze after the density of the preceding pieces, it has space and charm and no clearly defined time signature. The follow up I Think So returns to heavier textures but overlays them with a bed of synth wavelets and slowly builds and recedes to a beautiful deep denouement. Sun’s Abandon sees West’s first love, the acoustic guitar, gets a look in alongside a sampled female voice and cascading high notes. The beat returns for this multi shaded tune abut ebbs away again on the stand out Dreamer’s Wake where harmonised low level voices mix with a low throbbing synth drone to create a taut ambience full of possibility.
The powerful Untravel is more ambient still with lovely deep bass hues and synth lines that ripple and swell to create the most emotionally compelling track on the album, it’s hard to pinpoint why this is but easy to feel the effect. Rest is also very good with burbling synths and bell sounds that contrast dramatically with a slow, chunky beat that ends with choral splashes to round out the reverberant delight of the soundstage.
West has done a good job of transitioning from rhythmic drive to the sweeter air of ambient atmospheres, he’s put personality into a form that often lacks a human angle and made an album that works on many levels, at least one of them should be to taste.