Artist: Alex Smoke
Title: Paradolia
Label: Soma Records
By: Jason Calvert | 26 March 2006
  1. Paradolia Intro
  2. Persona
  3. A Moment To Myself
  4. Never Want To See You Again
  5. Meany
  6. Make My Day
  7. Prime Materia
  8. Snider
  9. We Like It Insipid
  10. Anima
  11. Formax
  12. Something's Gone
  13. Left Drift

Alex Smoke "Paradolia"Alex Smoke "Paradolia"

Out Now on Soma Records

Paradolia. Presumably a twist of the Greek word Pareidolia, which is defined as "a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus...being mistakenly perceived as recognizable" (Wiki). After listening to the album, I found this to be a slightly odd title, as I found there to be nothing vague or random about the album, and I believe this to be no mistake! After listening to Smoke's previous album titled "Incommunicado", I was hooked on his work. A track in particular titled "6am" encouraged me to keep a keen eye on the artist's work. Hence, upon hearing he had finished a new album, I was very eager to hear what he had in store. To say the least, I was not let down at all!

The album starts on a very haunting note as "Paradolia Intro" slowly turns up the volume and layers down some washed out notes. If this was seen as visual, it would be represented as the smoke clearing away to reveal the artists, who is ready to show us what he is capable of. Wasting no time, "Persona" comes in picking up right where the intro leads out. The breakbeat has a sleazy groove to it which is contrasted by a simplistic melody juxtaposed against a complex lower ranged synth. The percussion in the track builds in a progressive fashion, which by the end of the track has really picked up in energy.

"A Moment To Myself" goes for a more glitchy approach, fusing together soft jazz-like synth riffs with some mid to low ranged muted effects, which creates a highly original track which at the same time showcases an amazing talent coming out in Mr. Smoke. Following on from this, "Never Want To See You Again" creates an interesting effect by incorporating Smoke's own heavily filtered vocal in the midst of a chugging 4/4 underbelly and some very high pitched effects. Due to their complex nature, these two tracks both have a very busy feel, which is good, but I felt it was time for a break at this stage...

...Which Mr. Smoke obviously realised also, as the first single to be released "Meany" strips back many elements and takes on a much cleaner sound. Fuelled by a simplistic bassline, the bouncy melody provides a mood which makes you smile. It has a very happy feel to it overall. However this is instantly contrasted on "Make My Day", which slows things back to a much slower pace. It has a dream-like feel to it, which is enhanced again by Smoke's intangible vocal. At this point on the album, it is important to note how many different moods have been captured by Smoke, and we are only half way through!

"Prima Materia" is easily one of the most amazing tracks on the album. Drawing from his classical training and influences, it opens with a grand symphony-like arrangement of strings. Slowly an electronic percussion line weaves its way in, and this builds until we have an electronic bassline, fx, and percussion happening, all while the symphonic strings are still going. Smoke wasn't afraid to go all out on this one, and his efforts truly pay off in amazing ways. But don't get too relaxed, "Snider" is here to whip us back up to pace. Driving forward with faster pace than most of the other tracks, it is perhaps one of the more minimal outings on the album. It has a very simplistic melody, and relies on its intricate details and subtleties to carry itself through, which it does.

"We Like It Insipid" draws the reins back yet again for another downtempo number. The different movements in the track mean that at certain points we are forced to feel some varying emotions. This has been carefully done through well thought out chord progressions. Again, it is the subtleties that bring this track to life, and it is certainly one of the deeper tracks on the album. Contrasts seem to be a big thing throughout this album, and we have another one as the track leads us into "Anima", the most uptempo track of the album. The minimal percussion line drives forward with pure force, and Smoke layers in a number of melodies over the top of each other for a truly amazing effect. The intangible vocals of Mr. Smoke make their return yet again, and give the track an eerie feel. In my opinion, this track is the highlight of the album, as it really captures many elements of Smoke's work, and his talent really shines through in all aspects of the track.

"Formax" builds itself up on heavy (well, heavy for minimal percussion that is) percussion rolls, and quietly starts to introduce a melody in the background about mid way through. By the time it has reached the foreground, it has taken the listener by surprise. But I found just as I really began to get into the swing of it, it was winding up. Perhaps more emphasis on the melody would have been great, and at a length of 5:15, perhaps less time should have been spent on the build up.

"Something's Gone" begins to wind things up, as the quick-step percussion sets the foundation for some laid-back lounge type melodies and breathtaking pads of rest atop. The atmosphere created could be seen as a breath of fresh air, as it really does have a refreshing feel to it. Finally, "Left Drift" takes out the album on a quirky note. Twisted percussion timing is complemented by some intricate riffs and a grand pad-like synth keeping things together. The various cadenza-like runs accentuate Smoke's musical ability, and once more before the album ends he puts his classical training to work.

Maybe I am mistaken. Maybe (as the title implies) Smoke designed this album in a totally random fashion, and I am just psycho-analysing it. However, even if this is the case, I would not alter my judgement on it one bit. There was truly a lot to appreciate on this album, especially when Smoke's classical training is evident. I've never been one to go crazy over minimal music, mainly because I find a lot of it to be lacking in substance. If anyone reading this happens to feel the same way about minimal, I urge you to pick up a copy of this album, as it might just make you reconsider your stereotype, as it certainly made me do. Some of the tracks here required multiple listens to really appreciate to their fullest, but it was well worth it, as I really gained a lot from the album, and it has given me a lot of faith for the minimal genre on the whole.

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