Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Flexstyle - Eye of the Storm (2011) Review

Flexstyle is American multi-genre dance producer Michael Birch from Glendale, Arizona, and another discovery I made by way of OCReMix and Protagonist Records. Flexstyle and Hollidayrain's collaboration "Weeping Clouds", a gently building but hypnotic progressive house tune, was freely released on that site toward the end of its run showing that sometimes you do get something really good for nothing. Eye of the Storm, Birch's fourth album, is also a free release on BandCamp and goes even further to towards proving that point. This isn't just an EP either, it's a full 13-track album not including remixes, and spans several genres and enough moods to showcase a pretty impressive range of creativity. These include full tempo trance, drum and bass, downtempo and the stalwart sound of a lot of American dance albums, breakbeat - and thankfully Birch can handle them all.

Often I use a few comparisons to established artists to describe what an artist sounds like, but in this case I'm not coming to a definite conclusion. Flexstyle is presumably influenced by a large number of other artists but there are hints of these rather than very obvious takeoffs on here. "Triumph of Innocence" for example resembles a more orchestrally-oriented John B with it's DnB beat, analogue synth bassline and 8th-note melodies. Some of sound design on the downtempo tracks reminds me of BT, but Flexstyle doesn't indulge the technology for minutes on end as Brian Transeau is rather fond of doing and actually concentrates on the songwriting, while the breaks tracks do have an underlying big beat current to them but are more melodic than that genre's best known exponents.

So what's special about Eye of the Storm? Well put simply it's a slick cross-genre album, in which every song is extremely well-produced for an indie artist giving his tunes away for free, but in which the production firmly serves the composition, not the other way around. If you like a good tune to get caught in your head, you'll find them on here - there's a sweet one on top of the phasey sawtooth bassline in the electro/trance crossover "Frostbite" for example, and another in "Triumph of Innocence", and even a cool glitchy melody in "A Quiet Literary Interlude". "Chaos Prime" might sound like a textbook 2008-2010 era dubstep track at the first listen but it's not the kind of half-assed pedestrian wobble that characterises the amateur producer - it's well-paced, has a very cool rhythm to it's bassline and even has TR-808 snare rolls and loud claps in it, managing to be somehow pre-empt of the fad of the dubstep/trap crossover by well over a year and yet not seeming like those elements are out of place in this tune. "With Friends Like These" might be the only track that might raise an eyebrow if you're not fond of the slightly cheesy Chinese-inspired chord progression and pentatonic melody that lead the track, but aside from this every sound seems to be in the right place on this LP.

I'll give a special mention to Flexstyle's remix of Airdrift's "Pheonix" which is included if you download the entire album. The original's chord progression and lead melody are lifted right out of the fairly length trance original and transformed into a trance'n'bass stormer with a hefty lean towards the Pendulum sound, complete with electric guitar in the drop. I like the original but the remix takes this song to another level - it might still have a long breakdown in the middle but the energy comes right back again at the drop to make you take notice.

I don't think you can argue with this number of catchy dance tracks, at this level of quality, at this price i.e. as much as you want to pay for it. I strongly suggest giving it a download.

Top tracks are "Triumph of Innocence, "Frostbite", "Weeping Clouds" and "Pheonix".

Check this out at Flexstyle's BandCamp page:

1 comment:

  1. I get a lot of comparisons to John B, so not at all surprised there. I think it's because we both try to combine the best bits of DnB and Trance in general. And yes, actually, I'd just been listening to a lot of This Binary Universe when I made A Quiet Literary Interlude. Good catch!

    Thanks a ton for the review! :D