“I love that something on paper can appear rigid and calculated,” says Ryan Lee West, aka Rival Consoles, “but then take on new meaning based on the context that surrounds it, or how it changes over time.” West is referring to his new approach to composition, which resulted in Articulation, his first album since Persona in 2018. While writing the album, West drew structures, shapes, and patterns by hand to find new ways of thinking about music. Without the aid of a trusty computer, new sounds and musical patterns emerged.
The result is something that may not be an enormous departure from his previous works, but there are changes apparent in the finished product. Articulation is an intensely fluid album. There is a constant feeling of forward motion, but small detours and unique approaches to audio samples make this an album that fascinates by not sticking to the same old techno tropes.
The album title is a reference to a piece by 20th century classical composer Györgi Ligeti, whose stark, atonal work has been featured in film scores such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Requiem for a Dream , as West was inspired by the non-traditional graphic score that accompanied it. “Vibrations on a String” kicks off the album in a moody way, with authoritative, stentorian synth lines cutting through the air before an insistent beat is laid down. As in most of the record, it’s unrelenting, but the waves of sound ebb and flow without losing any of the song’s urgency.
West doesn’t come up for air as the next track, “Forwardism”, true to its title, keeps up the momentum without a pause between songs. The song has a bit of an introspective feel, as an oddly metallic beat marches through the song. Melodies and chords smudge the sonic landscape in subtle ways that never seem overbearing but pack an understated punch. With “Melodica”, West brings in touches of ambient chill, as rainfall samples are paired with aching, sustained notes. The song serves as an appropriate cool-down between beat-laden songs, like the title track, which is a low-key slice of highly syncopated beats and jittery synths.
One of the unexpected pleasures of
Articulation lies in its track sequencing. The faster, more urgent tracks are wonderfully tempered by more gentle moments. “Still Here” brings back the subtle chill-out vibes of “Melodica”, as the lack of an insistent beat provides a refreshing lack of “attack”. But in the closing track, “Sudden Awareness of Now”, West merges the album’s ambient moments with its faster-paced ones. It ends Articulation masterfully, as a sort of summary of this relatively brief album (clocking in at around 33 minutes).
All across this album, there are truly startling musical moments, unique ideas, and unexpected choices. Rival Consoles has taken the road less traveled by wiping the slate clean, and the result is a refreshing, disarming, brilliant collection of music.