Review: Rival Consoles – Night Melody

When you think about great break-up albums, it tends to be soppy singer-songwriter stuff that springs immediately to mind. Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. Every Adele album. BUT INSTRUMENTAL ELECTRONICA ARTISTS HAVE FEELINGS TOO, YOU KNOW?!

Rival Consoles is the alias of London-based producer Ryan West who, since the release of his critically-acclaimed 2015 full-length Howl, has come out of a 13-year relationship. He spent the winter months holed up alone at home, working long hours into the night to craft this new nocturnally-inspired 6-track mini-album. “I’ve never before in my life been affected by the lack of light so much,” West says, “I just remember it always being night time.”

Aware of this gestation, you might expect Night Melody to be spectacularly bleak, dark and cold, like The Haxan Cloak investigating the brutal murder of Ben Frost in a Scandinavian crime drama where nobody thinks to flick on the light switch. Sure, its music does prove brooding and melancholic but West also allows plenty of light to shine through its cracks.

Night Melody opens with ‘Pattern Of The North’ which is inspired by the “anxiety that accompanies going home for Christmas”. Chris Rea it certainly ain’t (thank Christ). Its deeply bassy throbbing noises dominate the mood of the track, securing a fairly ominous atmosphere, although brighter and more playful tones are also present throughout. It’s a bit like Four Tet’s moody evil twin, who sits alone in the attic making voodoo dolls and painting abstract Rothko-like portraits while his brother sits downstairs in the kitchen in Bermuda shorts licking an ice-lolly. It also comes armed with a very pleasing Aphex Twin-esque vibe in the final minute or so, evoking Drukqs’ more accessible moments, without resorting to pale imitation.

Next up is the record’s lengthiest track, which also proves to be its most powerful. ‘Johannesburg’ is inspired by a trip to South Africa but also the minimalist compositions of Terry Riley. Drones lurk away in its background while jazzier beats skitter up front accompanied by ghostly shimmering sounds. Every now and then it threatens to burst into a deafening climax, like Fuck Buttons remixing your favourite post-rock outfit, yet West shows ingenious restraint by either holding everything back just below bursting point or else occasionally breaking the track back down into sparse austerity. This makes for a hypnotic and dramatic journey but never in an overly obvious or garish manner.

After that achievement, it would be hard for the subsequent track not to disappoint and ‘Slow Song’ doesn’t seem to quite know whether it wants to remain a gently ambient intermission or blossom into a bolder, life-affirming banger. It starts off as the former and by the end is flirting with the latter but its brief running time leaves you feeling that Consoles could’ve developed its ideas further and more effectively if he’d given the track greater space. Restraint isn’t always a virtue and it’s up to the title track to provide the more satisfying IDM thumper.

West has said that almost every synth line here was recorded “intuitively, without perfection but with a lot of intention and expression” and that certainly comes across on ‘Lone’. It’s built upon almost slapdash, punky synth plonks, which West has embellished with various Jackson Pollock-ish audio splatters to dizzying effect. The final track finds him at his least esoteric, its gentle keyboard melodies, intense electro buzzing and church-organ tones build to a crescendo that end the record on an uplifting note that stays just the right side of cheesy. “I’m not interested in making something sad or making something happy,” Consoles has said, “I want music to be bittersweet, to be more complex, like life, containing moments of vibrant colour and hope, as much as darkness and sadness.” He’s pretty much nailed that on this release.

Written by JR Moores