Ryan Lee West’s music as Rival Consoles feels far more lived in and worn than many of his producing peers. He makes electronic music that sounds and feels organic. Past records like Howl, Kid Velo, and Night Melody evoked a truly emotional heft, while still drawing you into sultry grooves and heady electronic rhythms. There is this neo-futuristic vibe to the music of Rival Consoles that brings to mind the vastness of space while still sounding from the earth. It’s not overwhelming, either. The music is subtle and patient, getting you to musical conclusions in a manner that soothes you into a contemplative state. West’s Rival Consoles is an intellectual music journey that never dissuades you from dancing if the mood hits.
With his newest record, the epic and glorious Persona, Ryan Lee West gives Rival Consoles the double album it and we deserve. A dystopian, musical landscape covers the nearly hour-long album, giving us a measured, detailed world of beats and synthetic melodies to lose our minds in for a bit. The sounds and textures on Persona are alone worth the price of admission.
I’m not completely sure whether Ryan Lee West is an Ingmar Bergman fan, or whether the new Rival Consoles is indeed named after Bergman’s masterpiece Persona, but I’m just going to assume there is some correlation between the two. The album cover, which depicts two shapes each looking like one half of a face coming together to form one would indicate that there could be a slight Bergman/Rival Consoles connection. The album, like the album art, does feel like at times two sides coming together to create one.
“Unfolding” opens on what sounds like echoing 808 hits that seem to float off into space. Soon enough the rhythm regulates and a glitchy synth line forms from the darkness. There’s elements of sci fi strewn throughout here that meld into an almost deep space techno feel. All of this leads into the beautiful title track “Persona”. The organic rhythm forms right in front of you as waves of melody seem to twist and turn like musical taffy. If there is a proto-Rival Consoles sound, this song is it. West creates mystery and melody seemingly out of air, then twists it and shapes it into something strange and beautiful.
Elsewhere, “Phantom Grip” builds up glitchy drama and wavering melody over a cloud of electronic looping and dense sonics. “Sun’s Abandon” has the sticky, tacky rhythms of Baths with the dreamy electronic purrs of Massive Attack. There’s a truly unique sound world to get lost in here. “Untravel” would’ve fit nicely on the Blade Runner 2049 score, had Hans Zimmer needed any help. There’s a certain melancholy locked inside this song that is hard to shake. “Rest” is warm, beautiful bubbles of analog noise mixed with what sounds like a cello. “Hidden” is the longest track on Persona at over 7 1/2 minutes. There’s a vastness to this song that feels like slowly falling through space. A mix of Moderat with a touch of Four Tet and a heaping dose of Rival Consoles makes this one of the best songs on this record.
I love electronic music, but I’m very picky about the electronic music I listen to. I’m not opposed to dance floor numbers, but I prefer my electronic music to carry with it some existential heft. Entrancer, Massive Attack, Stereolab, Boards of Canada, Flying Lotus, and when I’m feeling cheeky MSTRKRFT, are all electronic music worlds I love to delve in. Rival Consoles is also on that list, for Ryan Lee West’s ability to create worlds with circuits, tubes, and heavily-affected acoustic instruments seem to affect me on a molecular level. Persona is by far Rival Consoles best record yet. It encapsulates everything that came before it, while expanding the musical world it exists in to more far-reaching territory.