Rated Sound reviews Winter on Mars

June 9, 2016

Alien Skin Winter on Mars is the latest addition to a an impressive body of work from former Real Life keyboardist, George Pappas. It seems a little bit of an imposition, if not downright cheeky to champion someone of such pop pedigree in a section for new artists. However, whilst this innovative musician has been quietly and steadily building a following it seems there are some yet to discover the magic of Alien Skin.

George Pappas had a long and fruitful association with Australian band Real Life who enjoyed huge chart success with their 1980s smash, Send Me An Angel. Although not a founding member, George was a lynch pin of the band and received much credit for taking the band’s sound by the scruff of the neck to provide genuine edge. With George’s input the band enjoyed renewed success in the nineties and into the new millennium but George didn’t settle for the constraints of a band and wanted to create his own material, which brings us to Alien Skin.

The Winter on Mars album is Alien Skin’s seventh studio release in nine prolific years since 2007 and develops George Pappas' gifts for melody, atmospherics and imaginative story-telling. George’s time in Real Life have honed his abilities to write great pop hooks and these are in evidence throughout the album but that isn’t at the expense of ambience and there is real depth to these songs.

The opening title track to Winter on Mars sets the tone to the album. It has a laid-back, soulful and almost lounge-like sound and yet conveys a real sense of desolation. Alien Skin draws the listener in with this track as the rest of the album begs to be heard.

Comparisons to Berlin-era David Bowie and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot are inevitable and justified. The cold execution of Kraftwerk’s best albums also spring to mind but George’s lyrics and more ambitious arrangements take this a couple steps away from that. At times the atmosphere of the album reminds me of the classic Public Image Limited album Second Edition but this is more to do with the feeling the albums induces rather than comparisons to the music.

Lyrically the songs are very much in the narrative style and we are treated to eleven stories connected by a thread. In this way, Alien Skin's Winter on Mars is related to that other Australian spinner of yarns, Nick Cave. None of the songs last too long, with the longest clocking in at around 4 minutes. Yet we seem to cover a lot of ground in this short time.

There are many highlights on Winter on Mars but I’d like to draw special attention to The Empty Wait, The Penny Whistler, Patch of Grass and Cornwall. The latter track actually brought vivid images into my mind of Cornwall but I’m sure its not necessary to visit the place to enjoy this track! Many of the songs are hard to decipher but this oblique approach has advantages. The listener has the feeling of almost understanding what the song is all about but these fleeting glances of enlightenment make for repeated listening.

We should be grateful that people like George Pappas is making music like Alien Skin Winter on Mars. Over eleven tracks and around forty minutes, we are offered a chance to escape into the artist’s vivid imagination. It’s not always a comfortable place to be – just listen to the lyrics to Language of Love. This is music that deserves to be heard with it’s strong melodies, inventive arrangements and peerless performances. Did I even mention the female vocals from Deity? Alien Skin Winter on Mars provides a flight on fancy, on the surface, with a backbone that is very much rooted in hard reality and it comes highly recommended.

review of winter on mars by Rated SoundClick to read review on the Rated Sound website

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