The Road to the Sun
Label: Exponential Records
Electronic music can be every bit as inspirational and evocative as it can be mechanic and insipid. Although there are generally mixed feelings about what is usually referred to as “bleeps and bloops,” electronica has been changing the landscape of music and instrumentation since the 1970s, and remains an important benchmark in musical progression. The perception of electronic music is the assumption that it is simply abrasive noise or cold, heartless wankery.
A.M. Architect is the side project of two non-electronic musicians: Diego Chavez, also known as Aether26, and Daniel Stanush. The two were members of San Antonio-based The Panic Division, where Chavez handled keyboards and programming, and Stanush was their former guitar player. They brought their traditional instrumental talents together and decided to try their hand at something else: electronica with an underlying hip-hop influence, live instrumentation, and more importantly, a soul.
Their debut album The Road to the Sun is a marvelously crafted, fully realized testament to music of all kinds. The album consists of rhythmically-supplementing keyboards, peddle steel, and electric guitar, and always manages to maintain a sound without abrasively assaulting the audience. Although it does also include synths and drum machines, they blend with the actual instruments to create a sound that’s enveloping and mildly thick without being dissonant. “Please Help Me” is constructed around a somber, steady keyboard melody that is, in portions, punctuated by what can only be described as a lovely, mildly muted guitar riff that really opens the song up. What could have been a steady, silent mood piece effectively becomes an emotive plea.
The lack of vocals in electronic music is also a frequent complaint. On The Road to the Sun, A.M. Architect employ very spaced out and spare vocals, particularly on the beautiful penultimate track, “You Gave Me Love.” The song is interspersed with a hazy, digitally tinged female vocal that runs with the hi-hat and keyboard and creates a lovely architecture of what love might actually sound like.
The success of most tracks can be attributed to an attack and release, between tracks and within the songs themselves. “What If” is fuzzed out and glitchy; while it sounds like the most conventional song on the album, the background effects and the increasing and haunting keyboard/guitar/synth medley that comes in the latter half solidifies it. The usage of instruments gives these songs room to move, and despite their technical properties, the combination of these elements, intermingled, make them stand out much more than just the ambience they’re supposed to be. Rather than fade into the walls, the songs linger, ebbing and flowing: breathing.
Title track “The Road to the Sun” is split in two, with part one being a steel guitar and keyboard holding hands and steadily gaining speed as the percussion intentionally struggles to catch up, while part two loosens all the instruments and drastically flips the speed, invoking the idea of achieving orbit, and also involves a stuttering and faded vocal that sublimely transforms the song. As wary as one can be about sequel songs, the placement of these two as individual pieces serves as a proper juxtaposition of the sound of each track, and joins them in tandem.
Tempos change and pitch shifts, with some songs having multiple breakdowns, as in the fantastic “Next of Kin,” which is a lovingly assembled, keyboard-based mid-tempo suite. There is a wonderful live guitar riff that interjects itself with its energetic and confident time shift and high-pitched rearing; the song jumps right out, leaving behind a touch of staccato drumming, lilting keyboards and buried sub-vocals. On an album full of fantastically crafted pieces of music, “Next of Kin” can be recognized for daring to do what electronic music rarely does: use live instrumentation the way a traditional musician would. This track achieves synergy in ways that a lot of music does not as a whole, much less the electronic kind.
With The Road to the Sun, A.M. Architect manage to shirk expectations of both side projects and of what electronic music can achieve. The implementation of live instrumentation and indie rock sensibilities propels the structure of this album forward, while smooth, unobtrusive refrains and percussive support make the tracks stand out as properly crafted and meticulous. Even if electronica and ambience is not your cup of tea, there are enough traditional sounding pieces throughout this album to appeal to most. You could even argue that it doesn’t sound like an electronica album, if you must. If only more electronic musicians could take this route.
by Rafael Gaitan