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REVIEWS A Spoonful of Voices

#1STEREO STICKMAN magazine

artwork imageHaving taken some time away from the catalogue, the unmistakable sound of Alien Skin makes a triumphant return this month with an EP bringing together the missing pieces from the Winter On Mars recording sessions. George Pappas has said of these tracks that they’ve been built using only the essential components, however – the sound is still incredibly full and complex feeling, albeit in a very spacious and dreamlike way.

 

From the opening early draft of Winter On Mars, through to the subtle psychedelia of The Volunteer, the music takes control of the room within which it plays, weaving these thoughtful pools of reflection around you, and fusing them with some of the most considerate, poetic, and provocative lyrics to date. The Volunteer in particular lays out a couple of lines that really stay with you after listening – sometimes she doesn’t come down for days being the perfect example.

 

After this, Every Colour in my Palette offers up a relevantly colourful and organically driven piece of music and poetry and melody. The song presents equal parts simplicity and complexity, using familiar feeling riffs and short, concise vocal lines, to lull you into a comfortable space, yet consistently surrounding you with the ambiguity of an ongoing metaphor – the likes of which you can quite easily attach your own assumptions and even experiences to. It’s an entrancing few minutes of music and ideas, showcased by the wonderful leading voice of Deity.

 

Privileged Girl adds a touch of industrial rhythm and a hopeful layer of distant, electronic jazz. The mood is notably brighter; despite the prolonged observations and this underlying concept of the other person, the privileged one, and the quiet unease. As always, Alien Skin uses music effectively to reinforce each passing sentiment. There are moments of joy here, it seems, yet there are also certain chord changes and effects that offer something a little more honest and more closely connected to the ideas within.

 

The Wishing Well follows on brilliantly, beginning in a manner that feels like a sequel to what came before, later evolving into an enjoyably hopeful and slightly retro soundscape, with a fantastic sense of movement. The details seem to gather in greater numbers as things progress, making it seem as if you’re falling deeper and deeper into this arena of artistry crafted by the songwriter. This is nothing new though for anyone who has ventured many times before into the musical musings of Alien Skin. As is always the case, each song is far more of an experience or a journey than a simple accompaniment to your daily activities.

 

The distinctly concise and slightly haunting echo of No Life On Mars brings things to a close. A simple poem, a gentle melody, an ambiance that again seems all at once optimistic and melancholy. At less than a minute long, the song begs for you to listen two or three times over – to let it all sink in, to check whether what you took from it, the mood it gave you, the feelings you left with, were accurate representations of what occurred. There’s something incredibly comforting about the song at first – this hiding place, this isolation and intimacy. As things move along though, the sadness sets in, the fear, the reality, the desperation, the unsettling possible truth. You can count on Alien Skin almost unquestionably to provoke certain patterns of thinking that fall far from those of the average person on any average day, and to do so in the most unusually beautiful manner.

  there’s a room
behind the wall
my own secret
my hidden place
where i feel protected
from the human race
but i can’t stay here
this won’t last
there’s no love on earth here
and no life on mars

 It’s a pleasure to get to embrace these original works. Hopefully many more people continue to discover and connect with them in the near future. A Spoonful of Voices will be available as of March 26th.
Read the original review on the page of Stereo Stickman magazine


 

number 2SLEEPINGBAG STUDIOS magazine

Those familiar with the music of George Pappas already know just how productive this guy is.  Once he adds A Spoonful Of Voices to the Alien Skin website, that’ll be the tenth record you find there – and if you head over to the page at Bandcamp, you’ll find he’s been even busier…dude lives & breathes music.  That being said, sometimes you have to reach back to move forward, close a chapter officially, provide yourself with that definitive conclusion that allows you to continue on in a new direction with your art afterwards.  That might very well be what Alien Skin is up to this time around.

A Spoonful Of Voices is a collection of songs that, for whatever reason, didn’t make the official lineup of the 2016 record Winter On Mars.  Many of these tunes in this set of six will certainly make you wonder how they missed making the cut…but hindsight is often 20/20 as they say, and as we always quote here in the studio, ‘a good song is never finished, only abandoned.’  I think it’s always a great idea to make sure to keep those cuts that don’t make a record’s official lineup…you never know when you’ll want to revisit them, or maybe they were great songs to begin with and just didn’t fit with the rest of an album – but just like Alien Skin is doing here on A Spoonful Of Voices, those songs are quite often worth a second look & listen, even years later.

Winter On Mars technically came out just prior to our own discovery of Alien Skin’s music when we reviewed European Electronic Cinema later on in that same year in 2016, which is also when these songs on the new EP would have been written.  We’ve been a fan ever since, loving the bizarre, artistic, & fresh perspective that Alien Skin has when it comes to creating music that reaches deep into the beyond for new ideas we’ve never heard before.  1980 Redux strengthened our support of this project as Alien Skin flexed its artistic muscle even further – and I’d say the same is true once again with A Spoonful Of Voices.  Even when reaching back into the past, each time we hear from Alien Skin, it’s always a highly worthwhile listening experience – what more could you ever ask for?

From what I’ve read, “Winter On Mars (Draft Mix)” is the only song that technically appears on that record of the same name, but in a different form.  Here in the early ‘Draft Mix’ as the opening track, it works well as it escalates the interest and additions to the versatile structure of the song along the way.  It also somewhat establishes the artistic sound of Alien Skin and the anti-typical nature it has in the writing & style of the music…there are plenty of hooks and access points into a song like “Winter On Mars (Draft Mix)” but they won’t be what or where you’d expect them to be.  You might hear a catchy synth sound, a melodic vocal section, or even the sheer amount of space in the music might actually grab your attention on this opening tune from A Spoonful Of Voices.  Having that amount of space in the atmosphere of the music in a song can pose a risk when adding vocals to such sparseness – because it puts the pressure on them to find flawless tones, which is tough for anyone to achieve as it is, let alone when directly in the spotlight.  The verses from George are right on the fence…JUST finding that melody he’s looking for…I think…it’s a tough call…it’s an artistically expressive and complex part to sing.  The chorus brings in a smoothness that has a higher degree of accessibility through the hypnotic repetition of the vocals and stunning atmosphere surrounding & closing-in on George’s voice.  Entering what’s essentially a second chorus and into the quick instrumental break around the first minute was one of my favorite spots in this cut…I’m still somewhat unsure of the verses of this first track on the whole, but I felt like the chorus(es) really developed this song into something captivating as it continued to play on.

I would only HOPE that there was at LEAST a little bit of debate when it came to whether or not to include “The Volunteer” on the Winter On Mars record back when it was originally created!  There is…hmm…well, let’s just start by saying there sure isn’t too much not to love about this song – this is a fantastic tune.  Assisted by the stunning vocals of Deity, she adds a completely amazing & exotic texture to the entire sound of this song and really complements what George has already got goin’ on, which is excellent as well.  For the majority of its structure, sound, & melody – “The Volunteer” is pretty much ALL-hook from the music to the vocals.  It takes a turn towards a more artistic direction in the chorus here, which while I can understand usually implies that the accessibility drops along with that, but I felt like this entire song really moved & flowed in a way that people will genuinely accept it readily.  George sounds at his best here on the vocals throughout “The Volunteer” and I honestly can’t get over what a fantastic voice he’s found to bring into the mix with what Deity adds to this song…it’s breathtaking.  Like LISTEN to the layers around the 3:20-ish mark…it’s GORGEOUS…mysterious, melodic, haunting, beautiful, oddly-uplifting…it’s all of these things and more & a truly fantastic song all-around.  This is art.

The most head-scratching moment on the new EP comes from “Every Colour On My Palette.”  What’s definitely going right here, is the idea itself, which is wonderfully artistic and expressive once again, with another fantastic set of vocals from the vivacious sound of Deity on the mic, this time solo.  Musically, I’m not quite sure where George is at on this one…the clarity in the guitars is stunning, the vocals too – so we almost HAVE to assume that the low-end synth sounds he’s using are also clear, even with their rumbly textures…but…but…well…even still, ain’t those up and above the red-line brother?  I honestly couldn’t tell you 100% for sure…what I do know is that if it sounds somewhat blown-out to me, it’s going to strike other similarly…I get the same heat for intentionally using static in a lot of my own music; it’s a similar addition to the atmosphere that can quite often be mistaken for a lack of consistency in the production.  That may/may-not be the case here…the ultimate point is that there’s certainly a risk being taken with this mix that might cause listeners to raise an eyebrow or two.  I get the idea behind the contrast of the low-end fusion with the bright angelic sound of Deity’s vocals – ultimately, the direction of the song is great – the way that the instrumentation springs further to life outside of the vocals is equally cool.  Lyrically, it’s 100% awesome and that connection to the words is something you can really feel in the way that Deity sings this song with such passionate emotion, technique, and style.  I suppose ultimately what I’m saying is…around the like, 2:25-ish area, that low-end sound is dialed-back just enough to make sense in how it’s trying to compliment the atmosphere…outside of that, it’s often rumbling a bit too much into the rest of what’s happening to not notice it.  Sometimes that’s not even such a bad thing…but considering the quality of the guitars, the other electro additions to the music, and the high-caliber quality of the performance of the guest-star here…you’ve gotta consider what you want that main feature of the song to end up being.  Here it becomes that deep synth vibe dominating the mix, and I suppose that seemed like a strange call to have made here considering how involved everything else is and how much it would all stand-out with that low-end reigned-in about 30% more.

“Privileged Girl” was almost like a Brian Eno-meets-Mike Oldfield kind of sound…highly interesting song to listen to.  I really liked the repetitive electro-beat happening in the background of this track, I like the added colorful sounds swirling through the music, loved the sound of Deity & George together again, and overall I felt like this hypnotic melody hit the mark in its own subtle way.  “Privileged Girl” isn’t going to fight as hard for your attention as some of the other hooks will at first, but there’s something really special about this tune that always kept me sincerely entertained and listening.  Like, I love the synth-horn sounds around the ninety-second mark and again approaching the second minute…there are tiny tweaks that are being made to the music along the way that complement the vocals very well.  I really do think you have to admire just how much the label of art applies to Alien Skin as music does – it’s tracks like “Privileged Girl” that prove that to be true.  From the imagery in the lyricism & story it tells, to the way the song continually develops and evolves the vocal melody, which is always enticing to listen to, but really finds its own peak deep into the song around the 2:10 mark as the song transitions into an incredible bridge.  Right around that time, a whole set of new hooks are unleashed into the music…arguably the most accessible ones that “Privileged Girl” has to offer overall, and they’re used SO SPARINGLY it would almost HURT if there wasn’t in fact, a repeat button I could simply press to relieve the potential pain of not hearing that moment again.  It’s a brief, but extremely effective highlight inside of a song that was impressive from the get-go & really holds your attention firmly from beginning to end with its dreamy nostalgic vibe in the music & lyrics.

And although I’d advise a similar caution with the low-end threshold on “The Wishing Well” as I did with “Every Colour On My Palette” earlier – there ain’t nothing stopping me from saying that this is likely one of my favorite tunes from the entire Alien Skin catalog.  “The Wishing Well” is S-T-U-N-N-I-N-G people.  George has selected well when it came to this collaboration with Deity – she’s an absolutely incredible singer…when she heads into the chorus of “The Wishing Well” I just about died and went to wherever it is we go next…it’s just mind-blowingly incredible.  Whatever tweaks have been made on the sound through the production or the way that the layers are interacting…whatever’s involved here, when it comes to pure beauty and an enchanting sound – Deity has IT.  And from what I can tell, she continually brings her A-game every time she’s stepped to the mic…she’s gorgeous and flawless in her vocals, making an essential contribution to the songs on A Spoonful Of Voices.  Musically, it’s all aces for its ideas & sounds…it’s right on the line for the low-end maximum, but this time I felt like it worked in the song’s favor for the most part, really enveloping us in sound and contrasting perfectly with all the brighter elements in the electro additions over-top.  The pattern of the vocals and the way that Deity sings this song absolutely steals the show in my opinion…it’s such an incredibly graceful performance.

The album ends with a less-than one-minute-long song called “No Life On Mars,” which concludes the record with the somewhat melancholy & isolated sound of the sad realization that Mars ain’t gonna be the place to settle down or vacation just yet.  I certainly have no complaints here – the guitar is sweet, the electro-sounds in the background are off-the-charts cool & subtly placed in behind the vocals, which George sounds fantastic on once again…it’s a short & to the point ending, but as I mentioned early on in this review, sometimes it’s that definitive closure we’re looking for in a project that allows us to move on to the next.  “No Life On Mars” brings A Spoonful Of Voices to a hauntingly poetic & poignant conclusion…another trip into the universe of sound that Alien Skin thrives in that’s been highly inventive, creative, artistic, and thoroughly satisfying to listen to on multiple levels, as expected.
Read the original review on the page of SleepingBag Studios