By EVAN MILLAR
Perhaps best known by horror hounds as the co-founder of legendary Vancouver industrial group Skinny Puppy, cEvin Key has experimented with countless subgenres of electronica since splintering off with side projects such as Download, Plateau, The Tear Garden, and more. The fifth album to be released under his own name, RESONANCE is an amalgamation of styles and emotion one should expect from the veteran producer, though this time he’s armed with a group of dream collaborators both familiar and new, resulting in what may be his finest solo outing yet.
Kicking things off is “Thirteen,” the album’s first single and a consistently escalating vortex of sound that immediately draws listeners into RESONANCE’s sonic palette. Key’s rich and layered production is perhaps at its most spacious on his solo albums, and “Thirteen” offers an appetizing mixture of elements that are found in the songs that follow it.
“Night Flower,” the first of two tracks with The Legendary Pink Dots’ Edward Ka-Spel, eases up the album’s pace considerably, slowly blossoming into a reverb-heavy groove that brings to mind the duo’s work as The Tear Garden with its potent mystical melodies and Ka-Spel’s trademark sinister yet strangely comforting crooning. The more paranoid “Watching You” comes across as a manifesto of sorts from a collective of otherworldly voyeurs, monitoring humanity for reasons unfathomable and backed by a melody of warbled bleeps that resemble tones found in emergency broadcasts.
Also contributing his expressive vocals and electronic mastery on RESONANCE is IAMX’s Chris Corner, featured here on the tracks “Anger is an Acid” and “Dark Trail.” The former, a soulful lament on the destructive force of unchecked emotion, features swirling orchestral elements and percussion that almost conveys large sheets of metal being slowly struck in a hypnotizing rhythm. The latter balances gorgeous high-pitched synth work with more violent clanging beats as Corner’s voice weaves in and out of the fold, his drawn out delivery accompanying the song’s more frantic pace as if it’s another instrument entirely.
Incorporating old-school electro vibes with turntable scratches and Mantronix-like vocals, “Tomahawk” sees Key and Traz Damji serving up an unapologetically funky tune that’s also host to shimmering, rapidly-panning melodies reminiscent of those found on Download’s “Base Metal.” But even when it’s time to just get your groove on, RESONANCE still keeps one eye firmly on an ethereal through line, and “Kullakan” features the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Tuvan throat singer Soriah and stuttering electronic squelching complete with horn stabs. It’s a combination that results in what is perhaps the most striking production found here, almost like the auditory equivalent of a machine that’s found a higher purpose and is operating in alignment with the natural world for the first time.
Fans of Skinny Puppy may find the most similarities to that group’s sound on “Orange Dragonfly,” as disquieting vocal samples that rumble about “deep space” gradually fade into garbled screams of terror that nestle firmly into its BACK AND FORTH-esque instrumental. Elsewhere, “Thunderbird” juxtaposes mournful piano with affecting, grandiose synth pads and an addictive arpeggiated structure. “Sorry, I’m Going to Think Positive” is as uplifting as its title suggests, a wash of warm and empowering textures that stretch and contract over dub crashes bringing to mind the sound of EFFECTOR-era Download.
It’s telling that even when RESONANCE is throwing more experimental, off-the-wall material at its listeners – which is certainly the case with “Third Eye” featuring fellow sound-synthesist Otto von Schirach – it’s somehow still very firmly rooted in feelings of deep contemplation. Despite a skittering beat that occasionally drops out to overpowering waves of static enveloping Schirach’s pitched-down vocals, the track maintains more of a controlled burn with its attack as opposed to the raging wildfire one might expect from its pairing of these unorthodox figures of experimental electronic music.
Concluding with its title track, “Resonance” delivers us back down to Earth with some captivating ambient drone elements, punchy drums, and saccharine synths. It’s simultaneously a reflection and a call to arms, like a chorus of spirits aware of impending destruction and pleaing for action before it’s too late.
RESONANCE confirms what longtime followers of Key have known since the ‘80s: despite being renowned for exploring some of the ugliest, darkest recesses of music and human nature at large, there’s a strong heartbeat here that hasn’t stopped radiating its light on those within earshot. The culmination of nearly 40 years of sonic exploration, RESONANCE is an open loop that contextualizes the works that preceded while simultaneously acting as a solid jumping-off point for whatever comes next.
Review copy provided by Artoffact Records.