MEDIA REVIEWS OF 'WINTER ON MARS' ALBUM
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numberSTEREO STICKMAN Considering the twelve month time frame, Alien Skin’s early 2016 album Winter On Mars is notably different from the year’s later release European Electronic Cinema. As the opening and title track begins, the sound has a lightness, but the synths and the rhythm have a certain energy and drive that is heavier, and somewhat unexpected. If ever people were born to create – destined to make art, to express and clarify for us the profound parts of life we so frequently misinterpret; George Pappas was unquestionably one of them.

The leading voice on this project has the brilliance and familiarity that always works so well. The female harmony adds a lot, but there is still that unusual switch from the joyful to the melancholy that Alien Skin so uniquely manages to master each and every time. The music on the whole strikes as just a little bit more indie in this case.

The songs have a hard sound of reality to them, seemingly an alternate reality, though often heart breakingly real when really paid attention to. The melody of the opening track is instantly addictive, and these lyrics about alienation – addressing a second person, or you, the listener – really draw the mind to focus on the theme. The Empty Wait continues this new and unique sound with awesome relevance, but the song itself is so more cinematic now; the rhythm is not so easily noticed, but the musical build up is as creatively brilliant as ever. Alien Skin creates these songs that seem so much more like short movies or dreams than four minute tracks. It’s a skill that transcends style and shines brightly regardless of the musical setting in question.

Language Of Love follows The Empty Wait perfectly. The rhythm returns, with it’s part organic, part industrial sounding core, and then this huge hook section – followed cleverly by a mood altering bit of saxophone – waves it’s melancholy white flag and fills the room with feeling. Jasmine keeps the jazz element topped up; still leaning towards the electronic world of musical freedom, but with a distinct and effective atmosphere that takes you wherever the music may go. The words themselves sound a little like Jazz Man on occasion, which furthers the feeling of a vintage jazz cellar bar somewhere down town. To listen fully, of course, is to witness the beautiful imagery and storytelling that never fails to captivate within Alien Skin’s songwriting.

Happier Than Blue develops on this further. The concept is classic Alien Skin in that it’s so completely removed from the norm or from what’s expected. The artist’s way with words is stunning, always unpredictable; always the sort of writing that at first confuses, then later makes you realize the point of it, makes you understand the idea, and perhaps wish you had thought of it first. Instrumentally this track has an uncommon, indie hypnotism to it that sounds impossibly real yet dreamlike. Another of the many ways in which the artist breaks down the walls of what’s expected and walks the path much less traveled by.

Mother Of Mine is a bass-driven fusion of cinematic style and heart breaking, emotional reality. The songs the artist writes are so consistently original that there’s very little to compare it all to. Each time a song begins, the sound is fresh, familiar, always relative to the creative mind, but always once again brand new. The melodies are wonderfully unique, yet still effective and warm and memorable. The ideas are the sort of thing most of us would love to talk about, but never find the time – or perhaps the bravery. We so often shy away from depth and forever lean in favour of small talk. These songs are a green light for abstract thought and genuine, deep running emotions.

She’s Paper Thin further emphasises this point incredibly well. A beautiful song, a great energy, yet once again – there’s that something, that reality just beneath the surface, always reminding you that things are never quite what they seem. There’s always some level of complexity to each and every situation, and it’s striking to hear it all expressed with such skillful, artistic wonder. The Penny Whistler takes things even further in this respect. Patch Of Grass yet another example, with it’s talk of the urban mess. The Song has a beautifully folk-like centre that could easily convey these ideas via a purely acoustic, intimate live performance – something that’s actually true of many of the songs on this particular album. It would be a pleasure to witness the collection performed in this manner.

An often notable thing, perhaps about all of Alien Skin’s work, is that the songs don’t simply comply with the verse-chorus, verse-chorus structure or industry standard. They do have incredibly effective structures, but the music and the melodies, the notes chosen, continue to build in intensity throughout – right up until the finish point. It’s a rare way to make music, particularly vocally and lyrically weighty music, and this is a shame – it works so well, it creates such a powerful soundscape that has a huge effect on you as you listen. Admittedly, if the balance wasn’t quite right, this sort of experimentation could be disastrous, but that’s never a concern with Alien Skin. Have confidence in the artist’s work and the results are immensely rewarding.

The collection leaves you behind as Mars Epilogue tip-toes past and away, with it’s chamber of reverb and snippets of an alienation themed dream – only a feeling of emptiness or longing remains as reality storms back in. The imaginative nature of these songs is superb, and the atmospheric instrumentation surrounding and underlining the concepts is always appropriate and striking. Winter On Mars is another incredibly creative and compelling project from Alien Skin.

Take home the album, or in fact, take home Alien Skin’s entire discography over on Bandcamp. Find and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Check out our previous write-ups for the albums Creature With The Human Face and European Electronic Cinema. You can also read our in depth interview with Alien Skin or visit the artist’s Website for more information.

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numberRATED SOUND 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 his input Real Life 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. His 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 album 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 are 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 of fancy, on the surface, with a backbone that is very much rooted in hard reality and it comes highly recommended.

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numberNO MORE DIVISION  Winter On Mars contains atmospheric soundscapes but still lands in the realm of pop. The vocal melodies are often catchy and are the focal center of the songs while multiple layers of sound support Alien Skin's voice. Pappas points to a number of influences including David Sylvian, Martin Gore, David Bowie, The Beatles, Tangerine Dream and Scott Walker. Right off the bat I was reminded of Bowie. That being said I wonder if Brian Eno was an influence. I couldn’t help but think of albums like Ambient 1: Music for Airports and Music for Films. I also heard some influence from Scott Walker after his days as a teen idol. Although albums like The Drift and Bish Bosch are far more experimental and esoteric than Winter On Mars.

The balance between palatable melodies and the atmospheres that Pappas creates is impressive throughout the album. Completely ethereal ambient albums such as Selected Ambient Works Volume II by Aphex Twin can serve best as mood music. Winter On Mars is certainly not that for a number of reasons. The vocal melodies give the songs a sense of energy and the songs serve a narrative. According to his Bandcamp page, “songs are peppered with narratives and a menagerie of quirky, curious characters wandering aimlessly in the lost and found of the author's imagination.”

Now I have to admit I wasn’t sure what every song was about and there is some ambiguous language but Pappas certainly paints some interesting imagery whether he is singing about a “patch of grass” or a “penny whistler.”

Winter On Mars is a very fluid and cohesive album. In fact it was so fluid and consistent I felt like the album could almost be one long track. “Patch of Grass” was a song that immediately stuck out to me. Another one I sure wouldn't pass up is “She's Paper Thin.” I’m not sure the name of the female singer [ed. Deity] who is present on some of these tracks such as  “She's Paper Thin” but she certainly sounds great.

Some people get the itch early on in life to make music and it just never leaves. I think that's fair to say about Pappas. In Pappas’ case it's nice to hear that he is constantly evolving just like Bowie, Walker and Eno did. [Matt Jensen]

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numberMUSICBLOGGED Alien Skin is a rather new electronic music project that originates from an eclectic background. George Pappas, the composer behind the moniker was in fact a member of hit-charting Australian band Real Life, who made big waves in the 80s with their hit single “Send Me An Angel”. Following the experience with this synth-pop act, George abandoned the easy melodies and sugary arrangement in order to create a textural, dark and haunting blend of sound that bridges the gaps between the twisted darkness of Aphex Twin and the cinematic atmospheres of Sigur Ros. This is the premise behind the Alien Skin project.

Alien Skin’s recent studio album, “Winter on Mars” is a portrait of strikingly beautiful sonic landscapes that feel strangely familiar, yet absolutely foreign, much like a red canyon on Mars. The album features 11 lush and blissfully atmospheric tracks that blend in elements such as shoegaze and dream-pop in all the right ways: Think “My Bloody Valentine” jamming with ‘Viva La Vida’ Era “Coldplay” and Slowdive.

“Winter on Mars” demonstrates George’s unique ability for blending poetic lyricism with striking sonic features, coupled with a voice that reminds me of eclectic artists including David Bowie or Iggy Pop, among others. [Ben Corke]

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