Album Review: Rival Consoles – Articulation

Electronic music can often be stunningly complex, deeply beat laden and dripping in atmosphere but Ryan Lee West (aka Rival Consoles) has always focused on the person rather than the possibilities. Now comes ‘Articulation’ his new album released via Erased Tapes on 31st July and the latest episode in his quest to create modern compositions with a real human touch. This time around he approached the challenge in a very different way to his previous record, 2018’s much praised and loved ‘Persona’, using drawings and sketches to imagine and develop each tune. The result is an album that through its surging melodies and sensitive rhythms paints you pictures and tells you stories.

The opener ‘Vibrations on a String’ is a perfectly paced introduction. A deep resounding synth phrase shudders like a ship’s horn as the disco-techno beat stealthily gathers pace. By the time the track steams towards the ominous sonar pulse of the fade it’s as if you have travelled somewhere and returned. From here on the variation and range on the album makes the journey fly. ‘Forwardism’ highlights West’s rhythmic gifts chopping out a tense mechanical march with staccato synths before the drenched beauty of ‘Melodica’ provides a pause. There is even a respectful reference to those early moog masters with ‘Still Life’, a stately uplifting soundtrack devoted to melody and tuneful intent…it’s gorgeous.

As we’ve come to expect from Rival Consoles work the set is distinguished by the balance he strikes between invention and accessibility. You get so easily drawn into to the title track ‘Articulation’ and the album’s closer ‘Sudden Awareness of Now’ that you readily accept their dazzling intensity. ‘Articulation’ sees West building on his layered electronica and shimmering beats to bring more vibrant clarity to his soundscapes. Reflecting on the track he admits ‘Its structure is very machine-like, but I was really interested in how melody and sense of story could develop out of this’. Themes and phrases repeat and revisit each other while echoing vibrato synths mesh neatly with the skittering rhythms. It is a track that meticulously grabs your attention.

‘Sudden Awareness of Now’ has a similar effect and it’s clear why it was chosen to draw the curtain on this latest Rival Consoles’ offering. A piece that revolves around a tuneful, rhythmic synth phrase that steadily gains momentum like the deepest House anthem. West says he was aiming for ‘a bittersweet blend of hope and nostalgia’ for the closing track and as the hushed electronics whisper as it fades you are left in some kind of blissful suspension….so mission accomplished.

It’s that sense of completeness that makes ‘Articulation’ such a satisfying record. It feels very much like a pivotal release for Rival Consoles as if he is leaving something behind but moving somewhere new and exciting at the same time. This is music on a grand scale, intelligent but spirited and capable of speaking to anyone.

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