Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gel-Sol - IZ: The Silent Ballet Review

Gel-Sol - IZ

Score: 7/10

IZ begins with the calm inhalation of artificial intelligence.Gel-Sol lets the sunset simmer in the pan as a warm wash of synth caresses our ears and bundles us up for our journey. This is one of those albums that makes me believe that the machine playing the CD is actually a sentient being, and we are privy to its personal dreamscape. The machine, in this case, is pretty pleased about life! Think M83’s Dead Cities, Red Seas, Lost Ghosts meets Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey (minus the menace), and you have a pretty good idea of what Gel-Sol's third album sounds like.

The opening track "IZ" bathes itself in fuzzy ocean waves and a warm pelt of synthetic chords. An oboe soars high aloft like an albatross on the solar wind. As we drift above the planet, we get a few echoey vocal acknowledgements from the host computer courteously admitting us to its subconscious. These voices are probably from obscure films, originally, but we've never seen them, so the illusion is maintained. Onward to "Mourning Wok"! We pass by a pair of alien species speaking in an indecipherable tongue on their back porch before we slide down a lugubrious river of lush, chordal melodies. IZ is heady and full of cinematic flourishes. If you've ever heard Front Line Assembly and wished they would just get off the speed and take some downers, then this album is for you.

Third track "As Far As Eye Can See" would be the hit single if they played ambient space drone on the radio. For this irresistible song, Gel-Sol ups the vibrancy by stealthily adding a muffled, bubbly bass beat along with a texture of flitting, atmospheric rhythms to get us moving at a delightful little trot. This is the only song on the record with any discernible "beat" but you’re not going to be compelled to dance unless you are a stardust-eating, ballerina panda bear, so watch the animals dance instead. On top of this pleasant, motoric rhythm a guitar hooked up to a Tesla coil does a call-and-response with a large crowd of samurai on the main deck of our dream space station (one of my favourite moments). Gel-Sol's use of samples and overlapping melodies makes for some easily-achieved synaesthesia. He manipulates his sound layers quite fluidly, and wow, I am enjoying this record!

The overall sound is a polished, psychedelic ambience, much akin to a beat-less Boards of Canada or Boom Bip. But, where those bands go "glitch," Gel-Sol goes "shimmer," especially through the middle third of IZ. Our computer friend gets to a point where it’s between sleep and waking, and it begins to breathe through its giant, metal bellows, and exhale through thousands of 16-bit vents. As if in response, a lady (Computer Gaia? Big Brother’s sister?) gets on the dream P.A. with a fairly brain-washing tone and encourages the dreaming computer that its family loves it when it dreams. At first I was really turned off by this voice, as it felt like an interruption, but I eventually forgot she was talking at all. I drifted back into the flow of slow-motion respiration, letting the voice convince me that I was safe, until I was back inside the lunar bio-dome, arms folded over my knees as I stared out the window at Earth, wondering if I'd ever return. The album is an hour in length, but I could have listened to several hours more. Once the final resolving melody, the softly spoken words of love and wash of rain faded away, I pressed play again.

There are many drone and atmospheric records that are lovely, but few really sound as major key as IZ. Certainly, Stars of the Lid are a reference point. This music is so optimistic, it could be a soundtrack to the planet that the Flaming Lips are actually from! Tropical rainstorms, submarine pings, droids singing amidst the spray of the ocean, shape-shifting birds chasing swarms of nano-bots, a metropolis from Blade Runner being bombed in the distance, and an orchestra expressed as the sigh of one string wafting its way through a galaxy - some dudes just know how to use their keyboards. In another's hands, this sound bank would reek of cheese and saccharine novice. Gel-Sol has crafted a wonderful album of songs fit for you and your computer while you both sleep peacefully, side by side, leaving our wanton civilization behind.

-Nayt Keane

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