For his third full-length album under the Rival Consoles moniker, Ryan Lee West continues exploring the minimal experimental techno direction of his 2013 and 2014 EPs rather than the dancefloor bangers of his previous full-length, 2011's Kid Velo. He eschews samples on this album, playing all of the instruments by himself, with the exception of a few contributions by guest musicians. He also limits himself to three layers of instruments per song in order to challenge himself to get the most out of a restricted setup. The tracks with steady dance beats are hazy, intricately detailed techno along the lines of Jon Hopkins or Max Cooper, with the galloping beats and gliding guitar of "Howl" setting the stage for the rest of the album. Other tracks play around with dynamics and tempo; "Walls" starts out slow and dramatic, eventually gaining growling bass and uptempo beats, as well as slightly warped staccato synth notes and cello flourishes, ending with a calmly paced series of drum rolls. "Low" strays far from the dancefloor, consisting of bleary, melancholic synths that sound lost and disturbed, and accompanied by live drums playing stumbling, non-straightforward rhythms. As messy as that sounds on paper, it holds together remarkably well, suggesting a feeling of displacement or alienation but soldiering through it anyway. "Morning Vox" (which sounds like it consists of more than three layers) has stuttering melodies and clicky IDM beats, and comes close to sounding like one of Orbital's more cerebral-sounding mid-'90s deep cuts. Finale "Looming" pulls together a lot of the ideas explored throughout the album, beginning with clicking beats and ripping/peeling sounds before building up a storming beat and dropping in sharply distorted guitar and wavy synths. Howl finds Rival Consoles limiting his palette in order to creatively push himself, resulting in what is easily his most cohesive, expressive full-length to date.
(LP - Erased Tapes Records #ERATP 076LP)
Review by Paul Simpson