Album Review: Rival Consoles, Howl

Never has minimalism sounded so grand than on the new album Howl by UK electronic artist Rival Consoles. Howl is the latest release on London-based label Erased Tapes, who specialize in avant-garde electronic music as well as neoclassical and is probably best known for being the home of Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds and German pianist Nils Frahm. In this new release, Rival Consoles (a.k.a. Ryan Lee West) is able to harness a deeply human quality that is often absent in electronic music to create this compelling listen.

The instrumentation on Howl is much more stripped back then previous Rival Consoles releases with tracks slowly bubbling up from the enchanting drum patterns and beats that lie at the bottom of the mix. Layers of synths slowly build up, creating an enchanting atmosphere that ranges from feeling quite dark and heavy on the tracks like “Ghosting” to a lighter and almost playful sound on the track “Pre.” As the synths grow on top of one another, they never become too complicated or sound overpowering as they all maintain the perfect balance with the percussion and never stray far from a minimalistic sound.

However, near the midpoint of the project, the tracks seemingly become more repetitive as they follow a similar trajectory and explore similar sounds. But, this inference is quickly met by the track “Walls,” which – while adhering to a similar song structure – is louder and bolder than previous tracks and is able to recapture the listener’s attention, preparing them for a strong second half that will explore darker sounds.

The second half of this record still utilizes very human rhythmic percussion that is full of life to provide a solid foundation, however the synths that lie atop it are more melancholic in sound and establish a darker ambiance. The shift here is subtle and feels like a completely natural progression, but it really demonstrates West’s talent as a producer as he is able to create a variety of different moods through a minimalistic approach.

Minimalistic electronic music is hard to do well, especially on a full length album for it often can become far to tedious and drawn out. However, on Howl, Rival Consoles achieves this goal and creates a compelling album that sticks with the listener and never fails to be captivating. Once you have had several listens to this record and have had enough time to fully absorb it, you will find it to be very memorable and will gain an appreciation for the great skill of Ryan West in crafting an album that is able to do so much with so little. NICHOLAS



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