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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Integral - "Rise"

Artist: Integral
Album: Rise
Year: 2008
Label: Tympanik Audio
Genre: Downtempo, IDM
Website: www.myspace.com/integral

Packaging: 5/10
The packaging is again a one-fold digipak, but the art is pretty damn amazing. I cannot tell you exactly what the hell is on the front cover (some sort of organic space ship?), but the design is beautiful and strange. The inside is some sort of green-ish interior, akin to a cavern perhaps. The textual content is just several sections of ‘thank yous’ which is boring, although I suppose necessary.

Composition: 8.5/10
As I have mentioned before, when we’re talking about IDM it takes a pretty intense composition to strike me. Upon my first listen or two I felt rather indifferent about the album. But with repeated listens it began to wrap its digital tentacles around my head and suck me in. There are many good things about this album. One is that they use tons of layers of rhythmic noises, many of which I cannot even fathom what the source of the sound was. It sounds like they use everything from sucking noises to sampled acoustic drums. The opener ‘Digital Drops’ sounds like you’ve landed on a alien world and there are a bunch of weird creatures making sucking and popping sounds. As weird as that sounds, it is actually very complex and well done. Integral does a superb job of layering a bunch of atypical rhythmic elements with beautiful pads and textures while keeping the vibe of the track quite extraterrestrial and supremely laid back. In addition to using a bunch of weird sounds, they do a good job of making the tracks progressive enough to keep the listeners attention while retaining a singular vibe.
Basically the whole album sounds like exploring a primitive alien world; walking on the jungles of the surface and observing the strange plant-life and creatures and spelunking through the cavernous innards of this mysterious world. At times “Rise” seems to take much influence from film scores, and sounds like it could have been conceived as such.
Integral also seem to favor the use of ethnic sounds...though not overwhelmingly ethnic like This Morn Omina or Shpongle or the like; strong enough to be noticed but subtle enough to blend in with the mix. It is a combination of these ethnic elements and the plethora of strange clicking beeping and sucking noises that create and maintain the core of these soundscapes. As I mentioned there is a heavy use of pads and occasionally melodies. The pads and melodies are usually a bit lower in the mix than the rhythmic elements, but help to solidify the texture of the piece...and they work incredibly well. The pads resonant with some pretty alien tones themselves, and the subtle melodious lines are beautiful but never too forward...always knowing and keeping their space within bounds of the other frequencies.
All of the tracks are mainly downtempo, at around the same BPM and level of movement. They are downtempo, yes, but they are constantly chock full of sounds and layers that are ever moving and ever shifting. There is also a nice range in the track lengths...some are 2 minutes while others are 7. The longer ones tend to ebb and flow as whole entities...although it is because the individual cells of that entity are slowly evolving and shifting which results in a global movement of the song. I read Integral’s website a bit prior to the review and noticed that they use some experimental music making techniques and interesting sound mangling software, so for that I give them a bit more credit as experimental/idm musicians.
The only downside I suppose is the same pace throughout and the lack of emotion. But to their credit this album is like watching someone draw a picture of a planet and it’s inhabitants...emotion simply is not a factor...it’s more about watching the beauty of the thing unfold before your eyes.
The only super annoying thing I found was that on "Doors" there is a knocking sound that repeats every 3 seconds or so...it sounds very much like someone knocking on a door (I guess it was intentional), but it's louder than everything else in the mix and annoys the hell out of me so much that I can't listen to the first half of the track (I honestly think someone is knocking on my door everytime).
As a final note, the last track on the album is almost entirely an acoustic/flamenco guitar piece...as strange and that sounds, it is recorded incredibly well and doesn’t sound that out of place...if there was a way to make an acoustic piece sound like it was being played on an alien planet, this would be it. It’s a very interesting way of ending the CD and honestly, I did enjoy it. I liked it as a standalone track, but I don’t think they should try to add it into their trademark style.

Production: 9/10
It’s a Tympanik release, so it’s got solid production and mastering. The individual sounds are very clean and crisp, and the overall mix has a nice even level to it. The very clean nature of the production allows for the subtle bits of atmosphere to shine through and for the bigger chunks to fully ensnare the listener. One thing to mention is that there was some violin used on Track 3, and since someone not in the band is credited for it I was assume it was recorded from a real violin...anyway the sound and texture of the violin is absolutely beautiful and they edited perfectly so that it fits completely into the mix without sounding out of place whatsoever...this can be very difficult to do when trying to add real instruments into a digital landscape. The same goes for the guitars in the album closer...very professional sound quality and tone.

Artistic Merit: 6.5/10
While Rise is a solid downtempo/idm album, there is not much completely new territory explored. They are able to conjure up strange and utterly alien territories, but I think there is still much space left to be delved into and further explored. There is a bit of experimentation with outside instrumentation such as violin and acoustic guitar, and I hope they continue to work with more such sounds on future records. They sound like they are already well on their way to developing a signature sound, but I think there is still room for them to develop into something colossal.

Flow: 8/10
All the songs have a similar tone and pace to them so there is an even flow from one track to the next. The songs are differently enough from each other that there is only a small and usually unnoticeable amount of monotony in atmosphere and sonic texture between songs.

Overall: 8/10
Overall Integral’s Rise is a very strong debut album. It’s a solid buy for any fans of downtempo-idm, especially if you are into sci-fi or sounds that explore otherworldly atmospheres. To be honest it has very much grown on me with time. At first I was a bit indifferent, but with repeated listens I find myself discovering more and more what it has to offer, and those subtleties are increasingly beautiful. While there is much to be enjoyed here, I hope that Integral continues to improve and evolve their sound in the future because there is HUGE potential here.

-dan barrett

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