Saturday, July 31, 2010

Alex Barnett - Section 3 [Nihilist]/Alex Barnett - Section 2 [Chronic Boom]

I've been really digging this pair of tapes from Alex Barnett, a Chicago-based synth artist. Section 2 & 3 follow up Section 1 on Catholic Tapes which I missed out on (shit.) Anyhow, the DL Hughley on this guy is it's a synth project but a) it's all analog and b) it seems to be drawing a lot of influence from 70s and early 80s synth scores a la John Carpenter or Moroder, among other influences of course. This isn't new agey featherweight stuff, this is gutsy, punchy synth composition at its finest.
Section 3 kicks off with, what is still the crown jewel of Barnett's works in my mind, "Try Harder." This one definitely has a Carpenter vibe to me, like a less minimal envisioning of the theme from Assault on Precinct 13. Thick gritty synth throbs lay down the law while an old drum machine flickers and pulses away. You know something big is on the horizon and Barnett drops it, an absolutely relentless arpeggio that jettisons the piece into full-on groove mode. Barnett still manages to balance gritty rhythms with lush, mournful synth parts. The track just keeps on rolling; heavy synthetic toms, juicy, slo-strobe swells of synth, man, it gets better and better. Seriously incredible piece of music. You gotta hear this! I like "Tunnels" cause it helps me envision what Mozart might have been like in the synth age, at least if he was composing 1950s space alien haunted organ soundtracks. The piece of music itself seems very much in the vein of 17th or 18th century composition with a lovely bit of fluttering keyboard flair. The rest of it is minimal synthetic crickets and crackle with a deep synth tone making occasional contributions. On the second side, "On the Ice Sheet" starts off with a fairly percussive synth melody and knocks along to it with heavily tremolo'd tones over top. "Focus Wind" brings back the drum machine for a loping beat backing a long, hovering synth sweep. The piece takes a slightly more sinister tone when the melody is introduced. Well, maybe not sinister, but grave. The finale, "Night Passage," takes over with another rhythmic synth loop. Hi-pitched synths whistle along never finding a comfortable place to nestle in, though I don't know if they're really trying that hard.
Section 2 comes to life with "Enter the Badlands" which starts with this weird pumping, pseudo-reggae bit. Neon jet streams are streaked across for some while but its that bouncing keyboard stabs that Barnett seems most enamored with as he slams them harder and harder as the piece moves along until the extended breakdown outro. Echoing keyboard hits provide a shifting bed for smooth synth melodies before passing the baton to "Instruments of Fate." A robust filtered synth melody gets things rolling while high notes continually swell and cease. A crystalline counter-melody covers the piece like ice slowly freezing. I would have loved to see the track launch into a big grooving set-piece but Barnett decides to play it cool. However, flip the tape over and you got the speedy, muscular insectoid bass line of "Metallic Hawks Approaching." Uneasy synth swells counter the fast-paced thuds keeping it in check for most of the piece. At the end though, Barnett pulls a little FIFA98 move, twiddling a nice filter sweep, punching the arpeggio up even more. "Walled Cities" is the most heavy on the rhythm of this tape. It's mainly a manipulated drum track and a bunch of strange percussive sounds, at least some of which are traceable as coming from a synthesizer. A three note melody glues the track together allowing Barnett to follow all his flights of fancy. The final piece, "Fallout," is pretty short. It is basically just a big distorted squall of synth.
Both tapes are good but there's a good amount of growth on Section 3 in my opinion, the pieces seem more full developed, which makes me real excited for Section 4 and 5 and however many Barnett has in him. 2 is available from Chronic Boom and 3 is available from Nihilist. Check 'em.

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