Tuesday, December 18, 2007

REVIEW: PARALLEL WORLDS - Obsessive Surrealism

Obsessive Surrealism
DiN (2007)
11 tracks, 63:29
Grade: A

Bakis Sirros (Parallel Worlds) reinvents retro-EM on Obsessive Surrealism, one of the best EM recordings of the year. As he weaves his way through eleven tracks (many under six minutes - a decision that I applaud, frankly), he immerses the listener in a shadowy realm where a myriad of past EM and electronica influences (chief among them are John Carpenter’s soundtracks) merge with a dark yet lush contemporary tint. A smattering of synth-pop touches, perhaps trace elements of Jarre, Tangerine Dream, or Synergy also surface, as well as echoes of contemporaries like Current, Di Evantile, and others. The music (much of it created on modular analogue instruments) is always couched in an atmosphere permeated with dread, foreboding, menace and mystery. Because the music frequently has a cinematic aspect to it, I think Sirros’ biggest influences were the music from films such as Escape from New York, The Fog, and to lesser degrees, Big Trouble in Little China and The Thing (and yes, I know The Thing soundtrack was actually composed by Ennio Morricone, thankyouverymuch). Regardless whether you will agree with me on this point, Obsessive Surrealism is an entertaining disc and certainly plays better in the foreground rather than as sonic wallpaper. You’ll really want to listen to this one.

The opening “Beneath Fear” gives you a good indication what to expect. Muted bell tones are set off against assorted skittering electronic FX and minor chord washes. Rhythms emerge gradually but build in intensity along with the addition of moody chorals. “Different Pathways” begins with a steady snare and bass drum beat. Burbling static and organ-like chords are right out of The Thing, and have that same “hair stands up on the back of your neck” effect, as if something is approaching and it’s not gonna be pleasant. Yet, the energy of the song (unlike Carpenter’s soundtracks) is dialed up to a higher intensity level. It’s almost infectious, an intriguing counterpoint to music suffused with dread. “Empty Human Cells” evokes Escape from New York at times, with the same pulsing rhythms and flurry of synths that marked one of Carpenter’s more sought after works.

Sirros settles down only occasionally (too bad) e.g. on “Increasing Complexity” with its echoed piano, bell tones, and undulating drones, eventually married to some midtempo synth bass beats and weird effects. He takes aim at a mixture of ‘80s dance/synth pop crossed with neon-lit Berlin on the bouncy, energetic “Distracted.” Harold Faltemeyer meets Tangerine Dream, perhaps? The CD ends with the dark Sturm und Drang of “Crying Spells,” a welling-up dose of propulsive yet oppressive power, reminding me of Big Trouble in Little China crossed with The Keep (soundtrack by Tangerine Dream).

Despite my numerous allusions to other artists (notably Carpenter and his unnamed accomplice Alan Howarth), don’t be mistaken in thinking Obsessive Surrealism reeks of copycatting. Bakis Sirros is certainly an original. The music here is a hybrid of retro analogue-driven and contemporary EM, with the emphasis on the former but not in a derivative fashion. More than anything else, what Sirros’ infuses this CD with is a delightfully sly mixture of fun and frights. Charged with a shadowy spookiness and a dose of creepy menace around every corner, the album is very highly recommended.

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