Release Date: Oct 16, 2015
Record label: Erased Tapes Records
Genre(s): Electronic, Techno, Pop/Rock, Experimental Techno, IDM, Neo-Electro
Howl is an album named after the moaning synthesizer on its title track, and as Rival Consoles, a.k.a. Ryan Lee West, puts it himself: "It's very sort of emotive really, with lots of sadness in it, and I just thought it was a simple way of expressing the mood of the album, too."Indeed, Howl's mood is by far its most striking characteristic. Every note, beat and chord progression is chosen carefully and played with purpose in order to draw genuine feeling out of these cold electronics.
It may have (so far) lacked one defining, stand out release but 2015 has still been an eye-catching year for electronic music. Big names like The Chemical Brothers, Leftfield, Squarepusher and The Orb have returned with notable albums and, towards the other end of the spectrum, there’s also been acclaimed albums by the likes of Holly Herndon and Blanck Mass (not to mention a new Oneohtrix Point Never record just around the corner). It’s this broad landscape that Howl, the debut album from Rival Consoles (London based musician Ryan Lee West) finds itself competing against.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. When one thinks of the consistently brilliant Erased Tapes label, it's the likes of Nils Frahm or Peter Broderick that spring to mind first. While this is for good reason, it is easy to avoid the fact that it was Ryan Lee West, aka Rival Consoles, who was the imprint's first signing. On his multiple releases for the label, West has established Rival Consoles as arguably the most texturally vibrant artist on the roster, each output bursting with rich electronic soundscapes and immersive glitchy aesthetics.
For his third full-length album under the Rival Consoles moniker, Ryan Lee West continues exploring the minimal experimental techno direction of his 2013 and 2014 EPs rather than the dancefloor bangers of his previous full-length, 2011's Kid Velo. He eschews samples on this album, playing all of the instruments by himself, with the exception of a few contributions by guest musicians. He also limits himself to three layers of instruments per song in order to challenge himself to get the most out of a restricted setup.
It’s all well and good trying to ‘humanize’ electronic music and endow it with an organic sound, as Ryan Lee West has aimed to do on his third album as Rival Consoles, but what sets him apart from every other nature-mimicking producer who tries to pass the musical equivalent of the Turing test is that he also endows it with an organic structure. His Howl LP is teeming with artificial life, but it’s not so much the artificial life that comes simply from running his instrumentation through guitar pedals and writing his material first on the piano, as the artificial life that inhabits songs with a sense of teleology and purpose. Its nine exploratory and evocative tracks evolve fluidly, or ‘organically’ if you will, as if adapting its goals and the pursuit of its goals to changes in its external and internal environment, and as a result, it exhibits an intelligence and a personality that would put large swathes of non-electronic music to shame.
Ryan Lee West felt moved to a brief outburst back in August. The Leicester-born, London-based producer who makes music as Rival Consoles tweeted in protest of the ongoing boom of deep house, asking artists to quit contributing to the genre, currently in vogue. "There's probably enough to last us till 2089," he wrote. West's ire makes sense, if only because the music he makes as Rival Consoles feels diametrically opposed to the luxuriant, lengthy bath evoked by deep house.
I've always been greatly enamored by Body Riddle, Chris Clark's 2006 opus for Warp. The record blended techno, jazz, kosmiche, IDM, hip-hop into a maelstrom of unhinged electronic music. It made you feel like anything could happen at any given moment, and it would still somehow make sense.Listening to Howl, the third album by Rival Consoles, I have to wonder if Ryan West shares my affections.
Review Summary: Howl comes from nowhere and goes someplace similarThe basic script for this review is so obvious I don’t want to write it. Here it is in a sentence: Erased Tapes, not Nils Frahm, Jon Hopkins but not, 2014-era Throwing Snow but not, not quite anything really, still fun, called the wrong tune “Howl”. You get the gist.Ryan West really did call the wrong track “Howl”, though, and it’s annoying enough to focus on.
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