Upon hearing Articulation, the new album by Ryan Lee West aka Rival Consoles, we’re taken on an adventure. The techno tour guide leads us up sharp peaks, and down once more, many times across the course of Articulation; indeed, the most fitting way to surmise his music is not with the review of an outsider, but something the artist has published himself.
On the Rival Consoles website, under the heading ‘Diagrams’, West’s simplistic visual ‘maps’ of the songs on Articulation can be found. Within these pseudo-mathematic line graphs, West makes a point of mapping his song structures out as a series of summits and troughs, scribbled in ballpoint on squared paper. It’s a novel and interesting way to approach one’s own music, but when looking at West’s notebooks, and comparing it to the music contained within Articulation, you can’t help but feel that function has taken precedence over form.
For instance, first track ‘Vibrations on a String’ is structured with the “climax-reflective bit-climax” template laid out in West’s notebooks. Exceptionally clean synthesisers judder, as a recurring lens flare melody is transposed atop all sorts of drum machine sounds plodding along in chameleonic time signatures. The structures are inventive and each change is admittedly unexpected, but Rival Consoles’ scientific approach and aesthetic leaves them devoid of emotion.
Articulation is a very adept and competent electronic record, far easier to admire than it is to love, or even like all that much. Granted, there are moments of beauty; the rising melodies on ‘Still Here’ are tasty and emotive, and throughout, the drum sounds are satisfying. But it simply lacks that special something, and frequently feels slightly off.
The closest parallels to draw are not with contemporaneous electronic producers, but with post-rock welterweights like Explosions in the Sky, or a Mogwai off-day; and just like with albums like the former’s The Earth is Not A Cold Dead Place in the early ’00s, Articulations never really earns its shots at ecstatic crescendos. It leaves me feeling kinda cold. Stick that on your diagram.