R23X is about to make a much larger name for himself in the nebulous sound world curated by the Dream Catalogue label. VELTAHL is a striking moment of clarity sustained over 20 tracks of kaleidoscopic digital fantasia. It’s an explosion of crystalline tones and warped samples, adventure music for kids who grew up on pixelated visions of the future.
Although it came out just before new year’s day, I consider VELTAHL my first real album of 2017. Trading in midi sequences, ambient washes, reverb-drenched vocals, and razor-cut JRPG samples, it’s a cornucopia of sounds that fit together in odd harmony. The individual pieces are as familiar as can be, but the total effect is disarming, a fond confusion.
Every time the album concludes, I’m left holding only a couple fleeting tangible memories. But rather than feeling unmemorable, it simply feels unremembered. There’s so much going on, with such spare grace and empty space, that it’s impossible to frame in one sharp image.
Beats run low and slow, jacking from hazy bass wobble to knife-edged clarity. Vocals enter sparingly, taking flight like the last birds left in an abandoned Final Fantasy jungle. Throughout the set, neon signposts of the recent past, themselves visions of a future we haven’t reached, erupt in miniature flashes. They’re unmistakeable, yet never linger beyond a fraction of a second. Menu beeps, battle crashes, and yearning melodies are shredded and reformed; while familiar, the sound is never the same as it was remembered.
The sound is pure zen futurism for people who grew up playing 16- and 32-bit games all afternoon. It’s a new evolution for the artist, who previously traded in refreshingly bent nostalgia for this era. The golden age of JRPGs has been mined before, but never this creatively. R23X has taken those old pieces of digital history and built something new, a vehicle for cresting the horizon.
Coming just about one year after the first time I mentioned the artist, discussing the exquisite label compilation Best of Dream Catalogue 2814-2815. The leap in sound is startling, with a new found sense of direction and purpose pouring through every second.
If you’re not already convinced, watch the cyberpunk video for New Wares Are The New Heirs:
For this first single, R23X enlisted the help of Devora Shavinksy on vocals and Denver Jackson on visuals. It’s a perfect blend of organic and digital elements, and a great way to introduce the album. Welcome to 2017, guys. The future is here, all over again.
As the release notes say,
A distant, desolate future holds the key to a mysterious, forgotten past……….
New wares are the new heirs — yet, they have fallen as well. The only organic humans left are isolated, amnesiac warriors — awoken at random from their thousand-year sleep — carrying nothing but a glaive and a survival energy pack. Recovered from pods scattered across the wastes, mired in the vestiges of an ancient, hopeless war.
A bildungsroman for a forgotten soul. An immortal’s tale unknown — reborn only to accept an ancient defeat and to face a hopeless future. Project VELTAHL has failed.
If this alternate-reality game description sounds appealing, then this music is made for you.
Listen to the album streaming above or purchase it on digital or vinyl from the Bandcamp page.