Synthetic Block The Opposite of Staring into Space by Synthetic Block (Jonathan Block) Ironing Board Recordings, 1999 Hear Synthetic Block! http://www.members.tripod.com/~synthetic_block/ Jonathan “Synthetic” Block’s offering for 1999 is a major improvement over his lackluster 1998 self-titled Synthetic Block album. He’s learned to vary his chord changes and harmonies, he’s included dissonance to move things along, and he’s pepped up his pacing with some good techno/electronica rhythms. He can also liquefy his sound into smooth chill-out ambience. Though he uses only a synthesizer, he can get a good variety of textures, from spacey swoops to chug-along beats. Each piece now has more structure, more different types of sound, so that what you find at the beginning is not what you find in the middle or the end an important criterion, in my opinion, even for ambient. He’s got a kind of TV or film-style sound, which suggests action sequences in a thriller or science-fiction series episode. It suggests rather than describes, so that you can put the appropriate skulking about, car chase, hidden planet, or floating starship image alongside what you hear. I wouldn’ t be surprised if Block did music for video games or commercials, if not actual TV or films it seems to be just the type of music they use. There is enough of a rock element to attract younger listeners, and enough ambient to hold a more sophisticated (or faded-out) listener. Some of the more interesting tracks are the slow ambient first piece, “Trylon,” which is my favorite; the technoid (and oddly titled) “A Science of Forget” (track 3), and the ominous, somewhat “dark” track 7, “After.” The album title is also one of the cleverest I’ve seen “The Opposite of Staring into Space,” something I do too often it seems. Yes, the words count too, in this very electronic album tailor-made for screen-starers like you and me. HMGS rating: 8 out of 10 Hannah M.G. Shapero 6/27/01
Synthetic Block by Jonathan Block Mindspore Records, 1998 Hear Synthetic Block! http://synthblock.tripod.com This guy’s got the Sound, all right, that sequencer-driven, ‘70s Euro-sound that has been so successful for so many years. It still sounds good in the new millennium, even with a kind of retro synthesizer quality, imitating guitars and percussion and organs just like we used to try to do on the old Mini-Moog. He’s got the modal harmonies and earnestly minor keys that the old ‘70s Euro-rockmeisters used, too. So why am I not overly excited by this album? I tried to sustain an interest in it, but it just got too repetitive. Yes, ambient is supposed to be repetitive and trance-like, but there is interesting trance and dull trance. The problem with Synthetic Block, for me, is that despite changes in rhythm or “arrangement,” Block uses the same key and chord sequence throughout a piece, and never changes it. He intensifies his rhythms, he builds up layers, but it is harmonically and structurally uninventive. Somehow, other artists get away with this more successfully, and I’m not sure why perhaps they choose more unusual setups to begin with, rather than rather standard rock layouts. The last track, “Ping,” is for me the best of the lot. It updates the old sound into a zippy techno beat, and there are a few boinky special effects to liven things up. Though it’s still repetitive, at least this is something you can dance to. The rest of the album, in my opinion, needs a bit of electronic caffeine. HMGS rating: 5 out of 10 Hannah M.G. Shapero 6/19/01
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