Go back long enough and you’ll remember a day-glo William Hill advert soundtracked by the kind of bright, brash electro that kept the neon lights on at Hypem. The track – a flange-heavy, remix-baiting, La Roux-invitation-in-waiting was ‘Kid Velo’ by none other than Rival Consoles. Lifted from his 2011 album of the same name, at the time, Ryan Lee West was channeling his inner-Daft Punk with the same circuit-blowing deference that arguably powered Justice and Boys Noize’ 8-bit amplified rise to fame.
That might feel a bit history repeated in the context of seven years, an album and a few EPs in-between but it’s an important point to be made considering the craft and vision that’s defined Rival Consoles’ as a producer pushing boundaries.
Back then, there was a sense of mirroring influences and bouncing back ideas that were barely a few steps removed from the source. Sure, West’s approach was fun and danceable, but it wasn’t ownable—it wasn’t definitively his. Four years later, ‘Howl’ became the change. An album of muddied bass, dubby melodies and gloriously subdued 3am bedroom set-enders, it went deep and set expectations. And if you overlook the fact that ‘Howl’ put West more in line with some of his Erased Tapes stablemates, the more pertinent point was that it felt like a decisive step forward.
And so, it’s proved because ‘Persona’ is another compelling step on. This is West at both his most majestic and his most miscellaneous. Here, he’s constantly toying at the surface, plumbing depths, propelling tracks forward with a craftsman’s touch. If the accusation was that he used to wear his influences on his sleeve, here he has them all in his back-pocket, easing in points of reference with an effortless subtly. Listen hard enough and you’ll hear shades of Errors in ‘Sun’s Abandon’; Throwing Snow in ‘Persona’; Nils Frahm in ‘Be Kind’; Boards of Canada in ‘Hidden’ but these are just little flickers in something much more complex. Lock in, and you pick up on West’s more literal intent for ‘Persona’—these different facets shaping something more comprehensive; something more complete.
Driven by a desire to be “more sonically diverse with this record” and “experiment more”, that shoegaze-level obsession manifests itself in a variety of brilliant ways. Title-track, ‘Persona’ creates a storm of glowering bass and twisted synth over a rushing beat, ‘Dreamer’s Wake’ takes on an aptly meditative state with its hums and thrumming new world rhythms, and ‘Unravel’ is a lunar soundscape of nothing—all space, void and ephemerality that sounds desolate but is beautiful in its own bleak, dystopian way.
Elsewhere, West continues to mix it up with the weighty, slightly tempestuous ‘I Think So’ spinning electronic static off hanging synth chords before ‘Sun’s Abandon’ changes course with the snap of marching snares cutting through warped melodies. ‘Hidden’, though, is the standout: a slow-burning masterpiece with a build that creeps and creeps until you end up awkwardly juddering like Thom Yorke doing a Boiler Room set.
It all contributes to an album that seems to exist on a lava of its own, constantly rolling, roiling shifting under the heft of its own imposing weight. Don’t expect to hear it soundtracking any betting company adverts, then – not that West should mind that much – because ‘Persona’ is unequivocally his finest work to date.