As has often been noted, there is a fine line between the worlds of chill out/downtempo electronic music and straight-up New Age. Although it would be otiose of me to blanketly dismiss the latter as a waste of valuable record store shelf-space… well, let’s just say I’ve yet to encounter an example of the genre that struck me as anything other than dead-boring.
Sonic Adventure Project is an album that treads the aforementioned fine line, but more often than not they trip, falling head-first off the precipice and into the world of woozy, soft-focus vibes. Throughout most of the album there’s a dogged unwillingness to engage the listener as anything more than background music. Everything sounds like it was recorded in a hermetically sealed bubble filled with rainbows and unicorns and glowing crystals in the sky.
OK, that’s a bit unfair, and probably a bit inflammatory as well. But in all seriousness, this album carries all the hallmarks of New Age composition. The album-opening “Forty-Two” begins with the soft flutter of a heartbeat, before sweeping synthesizer chords emerge, followed by the gentle tinkle of a piano and very soft breakbeats in the distance, echoing in what sounds like a very large room. It’s all been calculated to interact with the listener using the least amount of friction possible. “Forty-Two” is even revisited later, with the ominously-titled “Forty-Two (V.11)”, an 11-minute opus that manages to reach something of a more compelling climax with the use of a slightly more insistent rhythm—but this is a relative term. It is essentially just the same song elongated to over twice its length with no appreciable alteration in movement, mood or composition.
The synthesizer bits that show up on various tracks are resolutely dated. The main riff on “Circuit”, for instance, sounds like it wandered in off the Crystal Method’s “Keep Hope Alive”. “Above the City” literally sounds as if it was recorded 20 years ago by Lionel Ritchie—it’s got the same nauseatingly-flanged twinkling fairy tone that you would have heard on any number of ‘80s “quiet storm” R&B tracks. The faux-trip-hop beat that comes in after a minute or so doesn’t really help matters, either.
Anyway you slice it, this isn’t going to appeal to anyone looking for the next Air—a group that, despite their quietude, could never be slighted on the grounds of poor songwriting. Exergonic’s tracks have already appeared on big-name compilations like the Cafe del Mar series—which probably says as much about the current sorry state of downtempo as it does about Exergonic themselves. This is quite simply music without any real distinguishing characteristics whatsoever besides a stubborn inability to keep my interest.
// Notes from the Road
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