Album Review: Rival Consoles – Howl

By on Thursday, 22nd October 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Words by Nick Roseblade

Rival Consoles Howl coverRyan Lee West, aka Rival Consoles, has been off the radar for a while. As hoped, this period of self-imposed exile has been spent writing and recording new music for his third album ‘Howl’, released on Erased Tapes Records. It features his trademark blend of acid-tinged electro-house that is as perfect for large nights out, as it is for reflective nights in.

The album opens with title track ‘Howl’. Galloping beats and some nice bass wobble before the melody kicks in. On the surface, this appears to be a simple song, but there is a rich tapestry of melody and refrains bubbling below the surface. The real highlight is the solo in the middle: sounding slightly like Captain Nemo going mental at a party on the Nautilus, it’s over before you know what’s hit you, very much like Nemo’s attacking tactics.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eKAHGf0GMc[/youtube]

At times, ‘Afterglow’ sounds like a musical version of Rice Krispies, as there are three main elements to the song. The snap is the fizzing bassline, Crackle comes in the form of that Nemo-type synth and Pop are the tight beats. Combined, they offer a slice of euphoria and one of the albums standout moments, next to the title track. If ‘Afterglow’ is a night out, ‘Pre’ is the morning after. There is a tinge of melancholy to the proceedings. The beat has the same timing and throbbing intensity as a bad headache the morning after and night of debauchery.

‘Walls’, like the title suggests, offers up dense slabs of bass, while synths scurry about beneath them. At times, the story of Jericho comes to mind, how horns brought down a wall that an army couldn’t: as the song progresses, the bass is lessened and the synths are brought up in the mix. ‘Low’ starts off with a jazz feel; rim shots and riffs offer up a suggestion of space and flux, while West inserts synths in the space to create a sense of movement.

‘Morning Vox’ is another stand out track. Euphoric manipulated vocals samples make up the barebones of the track, while sharp tight beats back it up to keep things moving and progressing. Three quarters of the way through, a dextrously plucked acoustic guitar makes a rare appearance. Its inclusion makes a nice change of tone and texture. There are hints of Orbital at their prime in here too. The only downside of ‘Morning Vox’ is its timing. It has summer anthem written all over it, as it’s an upbeat and euphoric masterstroke. The album closes with’ Looming’. Like ‘Walls’, its title is apt. As the song progresses you get the impression it’s stalking you, as West’s deft production raises the tension one notch at a time.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lz65-wPSdg4[/youtube]

While West has made an album that is an enjoyable listen, you do get the feeling that you’ve heard it all before. If you are into electronic music, you can help but notice flourishes and touches that are reminiscent of established artists work. Producers like Dan Snaith, William Bevan, Kevin Martin and a slew of others working in bedroom studios cast a spectral shadows all over ‘Howl’. their presence permeating each track. If you walked into a room and ‘Howl’ was playing, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was in fact Caribou or Daphni, at times. There are post-dubstep flourishes to the album that help ‘Howl’ win you over immediately, but again these seem borrowed, and after repeat listens they start to grate and you want West to deliver some fresh ideas, rather than rehash old ones.

‘Ghosting’, for example, has a Hyperdub 2007 feel to it. Everything about it feels slightly murky and impenetrable, and it sounds great. But it’s 2015, and things have progressed. Throughout the album, downbeat breakbeats work exceedingly well juxtaposed with the faster synth loops that help add syncopation. While there is nothing wrong with ‘Howl’, the compositions pulse and throb in the right places, and the production is as tight as ever, it’s just we’ve heard it all before and in some instances, we’ve heard better.

7.5/10

‘Howl’, the new album from Rival Consoles, is out now on Erased Tapes Records. For past coverage on West and his music, including this interview editor Mary did with him at SXSW 2015, go here.

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