Four Seconds Ago Deliver a Promising Debut with 'The Vacancy'
Transitioning from heavy metal to chill ambient sounds effortless in the hands Four Seconds Ago on The Vacancy, and shows how well they can transverse genres with equal measures of style and substance.
Four Seconds Ago
28 September 2018
Misha Mansoor and Jake Bowen, guitarists and masterminds behind the metal powerhouse Periphery, bonded over their love of electronic music. The glitches and synth waves of chill-out and ambient are miles away from the syncopated and distorted sounds of Periphery's djent-bent heavy metal, yet Mansoor and Bowen are no strangers to the digital realm of music. Mansoor has extensive production experience mixing and mastering in Pro Tools, and Bowen released a solo electronic venture, Isometric, in 2015.
Banding under the name Four Seconds Ago, their debut album The Vacancy is loaded with beautiful textures, deep grooves, and nuanced structures. Talking about the album under in the shadow of Periphery is short-minded unjustified. Four Seconds Ago comes together as a fully formed, well-articulated project, one conceived and executed almost entirely within the digital domain. There's no winking at the audience, no "look, ma, no guitars!" exclamations of dropped beats or EDM flirtations. The Vacancy comes across as a work of love and dedication to the chill side of electronic music.
Leadoff track "Fadeaway" opens with a clean arpeggiated guitar line before giving way to a soft drum groove, almost like a calling card for the album's dreamlike journey. Reverb-thick vocals and programmed drum beats kick in, laying the groundwork for a dense texture that never feels overloaded. By contrast, "The Revenge" storms out of the gate with a dark 1980s noir vibe, replete with video game tones that lean into the respectable side of nostalgia. It's the perfect tune Nicholas Winding Refn never got to put into a movie.
Tracks like "Bloodfrenzy" and "Nothing to Hide" have more moving parts, glitches and synth lines that swirl into a constellation of beats and melodies. The Vacancy explores the immense scope of colors and textures chill/ambient music offers. There is range and diversity throughout the album, yet things never feel aimless or too indulgent. Mansoor and Bowen always focus on the journey and intent of the song, never simply dispensing sounds for sound's sake.
Handling the production of their albums gives Mansoor and Bowen an intimate understanding of what's possible in the digital realm. Synthesizers and keyboard grooves are ubiquitous in music production, but this doesn't mean they're easy to manage. Anyone can learn the basics of programming, but not everyone can understand and master the subtlety and nuance required by the rabbit hole of digital music. Four Seconds Ago balance extremes, from the space-age R&B vibe of "The Great Silence" to the roaring intensity of "Galaxy".
As they can with ambient music, the dense, filtered vocals tend to sound slightly stale after a few tracks. They make nice textures, but music born in the digital sphere runs the risk of losing humanity without subtle touches – clean and unprocessed vocals, an actual tracked instrument, a tangible connection to the real world. The clean guitar on "Fadeaway" is colorful and blends well with keyboards, but towards the end of the album, it's difficult not to crave a solid connection to the real world. Synthesizers are wonderful things that can pull off musical miracles – they can't give the little spark that analog instruments can.
All said, The Vacancy is a fascinating debut from Four Seconds Ago. More than a vanity project, it represents a bold new musical ideal for Mansoor and Bowen as a musical duo, as well as a new venture for Periphery themselves (The Vacancy is the first release on the band's newly formed label, 3DOT). If it's any indication of their extra-musical efforts outside of their main gig, Four Seconds Ago's debut is a lush, stellar album indicative of what happens when synthesizers, maturity, and unfettered creativity fuse in a digital workspace.