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John Lyell and Brent A. Reiland: Synthetic Universe (2002)

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No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

These guys’ first release that I reviewed was very much that Wavestar gestalt as in lotsa synths and a healthy dose of spaced out guitar. This latest release opens with an early 80s Tangerine Dream feel. Think Tangram. Easy-going, relaxingly sequenced, flowing and essentially well-done T. Dreamy material describes the first two tracks. Then things open up into more spacious territory of droning, swelling ambience with a space music/ alien spelunking adventure mood. Envision Brannan Lane colliding with Robert Scott Thompson and add a bit of dread looming throughout.

Those folks digging the insertion of tribal rhythms and tranced out pipings with ethereal piano will like track four. (I am no fan of this type world music trance ambience. Skip track . . .) We jump back to subtle sequencing and relaxing synth swells and meanderings. My mind goes back to those many Euro synth releases of the early 80s once such was more widely in vogue. Interestingly nostalgic but not anything new overall happening here . . .

Halfway into this disc things mutate again — formless, shapeless, wandering synthscapes ambience with a sprinkling of harp-voiced synths. I recall Emerald Web’s work. Next track, ping-pong sequencing is back but with that soft lilting and angelic Suzanne Doucet warmth. So very new agey but with just enough spacey synth swells and fly-bys.

Track eight and the tribal rhythms return for a space jaunt to cosmic plains of Africa. My first impression was early, early Patrick O’Hearn and his percussive synth works. (Next track please . . .) Track nine swings back around to that warm-toned minimalism of Suzanne Doucet and leans into the healing territory of Steven Halpern. Oh so analog this all feels, I must find my rainbow-hued meditation glasses . . . I am getting very sleepy here in a nice way but I sense nano-techs coursing through me . . . removing my ability to stop buying hot pink, self-actualization, ozone generatorsszzzz . . .

Outro track is drones of space ambience that Tony Gerber and gang would whole-heartedly swoon over and I find it the best piece on the disc. That monstrous Klaus Schulze-ian/ Steve Roach-ish church organ drone makes me feel like I am in a grand cathedral in flight to the edge of eternity, to the Realms of the Holy of Holies. This is music to disappear by. Very, very nice.

Overall, I’d have to say this release gets about a 7 out of ten as sequencing is really “olde school/ olde hat” for my tastes. I have done that scene too, too many times so long ago. Also, I rarely enjoy tribal percussives and that whole world music gig with synths. My call. When I look for space music/ ambient electronics it needs more innovative textures and structure and it should transport me 100% into other worlds, other times, other psychological states. Only the last track, “Light Years Away”, had this quality. If all the tracks, had been of this caliber and style, (which clearly Lyell and Reiland can do!), then I’d have given this release a solid 10. To me, Synthetic Universe only represents a sort of showcase of all the neat and creative aspects these artists can produce.

Synthetic Universe is well done, but not a remarkable nor a cohesive concept release. Much within will be familiar and perhaps pleasant territory to synth fans but many of us “synth-heads” seek a novel rush of serotonin these days. Keep at it John and Brent!

Track Listing: Ethereal Float, Dream of the Solstice, Planetary Caverns, Afterlife, The Edge of Forever, Enigmatic, Pleiadean Sky, Cosmic Serengeti, Zone 5, Light Years Away

Personnel: John Lyell - synths, vox, bass Brent A. Reiland - synths, drum modules, bass, dumbek, recorder

Record Label: Solar Wind Productions

Style: Ambient


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