Sunday, 16 December 2012

Zircon - Identity Sequence (2012) Review

American indie dance producer and OCReMixer extraordinaire Zircon released his tenth LP Identity Sequence on the 12th of December following a wildly successful KickStarter campaign to get it professionally mastered and manufactured. That campaign ended up receiving more than seven times the target funding, which I take as a sign that I'm not alone in how much confidence I have in Andrew Aversa's creativity and engineering skill, and that his unsigned status has little to no impact on his ability to connect with the audience he has grown over the years. Another major factor in the success of the campaign must surely be the video accompanying the project, which did far more than hint at a level of depth that would exceed his earlier Antigravity - it practically sung out of the brief samples we were given. Has that faith in Aversa been vindicated by the album itself?

The short answer is, yes, absolutely. The album's tone seems to carry on from where Antigravity left off five years prior, as the densely layered harmonies, extremely precise drum arranging, frequency use of acid arpeggios and liberal doses of non-Western instrumentation return with even more polish than before. While one clear addition to Zircon's sonic arsenal is brostep-inspired modulated synths, particularly those serving as basslines, the significant progression of the artistry behind this work is the concept holding it together - a story of the journey of two people, one newly created (presumably artificial?) woman and the evolved but solitary man who encounters her. The concept album is an idea not frequented by dance music producers and is often dismissed as a throwback to the pretentions of the progressive rock bands of the 70s when one pops up, but Identity Sequence manages to make this idea actually work, and I feel the album's flow is massively strengthened by the singular focus on this story. Antigravity is a set of very good tracks but sometimes feels like a collection of stand-alone parts, whereas Identity Sequence is fourteen great songs that sound so much better together than isolated. While the tone remains consistent throughout, each song really does manage to feel like a separate chapter of a whole story. Anyone reading my reviews will know that this is what pushes albums over the edge from good to great in my book, and Identity Sequence completely satisfies this in a way that not much else has recently. 

For this reason I'm not going to go through this track by track, which is always a very dry way of reviewing an album anyway. The most important thing you need to know on this album you will find a selection of multi-genre high-quality dance music, the appeal of which should transcend your electronic subgenre preferences. It does lean towards breaks and as such progressive breaks fans will love it, especially listeners of Hybrid who like their dance music with a heavy classical influence, but not only does Zircon also explore trance, house, electro, d'n'b and chilled downtempo on this album, the source of the music's strength is not the beats but the emotional core of the songwriting and the arrangements. The harmonies provided by synthesizer and orchestral elements deserve special mention, as the deep and dense foundation of most of these tracks can be found in those instruments, not the drums. None of these tracks feel empty at any point, and the amount of effort put into each one is clearly on show. 

The contribution of the album's two vocalists, Jillian Aversa and Chris Gordon, in addition to a full choir on "The Expanse" takes that even further - two voices strengthens the connection to the two "characters" of the story and tip the balance of humanity and sheer electronics that this album relies upon just enough toward the former that the album doesn't get bogged down in its own complexity. Jillian, Andrew Aversa's wife, previously appeared on two of the best songs on Antigravity and is just as excellent here, particularly on the title track. Newcomer Gordon does a BT-like turn on "Million Years" and "No Regret" that actually sound far more interesting than BT himself usually does when he takes to the mic these days. Out of the two, "No Regret", a revisit of "Without Regret" which served as an interlude on Antigravity, is a real blinder that should have BT and even Hybrid quaking in their boots. The older track previously seemed so enticing that it's premature end was always a bit of a disappointment but the new full-length breaks track completely pays off, which makes me wonder if I've ever had to wait five years for a track to climax before. 

Other highlights of this album include the previous single "System", a revamped "Just Hold On" with Jillian which has been released before (and served as the demo track for the ninth version of DAW FL Studio) but has been changed to fit this new context, with a bigger sound and an extra verse, and appropriately named album closer "The End". The final track is the only excursion into drum and bass, and while a lot of albums choose to end on a more subdued note, the jump up to 166 BPM actually feels completely warranted here, fitting the concept album idea by serving as a true climax to the narrative. This track comes about as close as anything I've heard to managing to be the Hybrid of drum and bass, mixing the frantic energy and heavy bass that are key to the genre with orchestral elements and a slight trance edge, meaning it ticks almost every box I could possibly have in my head. With so many of my favourite tracks coming at the end, don't be fooled into thinking the beginning is so-so - this is not the case. This album has no filler at all, and should be listened to in its entirety at least once.

I don't think I can really go any further without stretching the limits of my writing ability too far and getting way too deep into production geekery, and neither of these are necessary. All I can say is that this album is extremely highly recommended for anyone, and once again for progressive breaks and trance fans, it is a MUST LISTEN.

Standout tracks this time are "Identity Sequence", "System", "Just Hold On", "No Regret", and "The End".

Why are you still here? Go and listen to this at Zircon's BandCamp page where it can be streamed for free before you buy!

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