South Strider – Intrepid Travels EP
Release Date: November 5, 2013
Record Label: Self-Released
As someone who spent two and a half years of his college career as a vocal performance major, and years before that as a choir singer, I have always held melody to be the most important ingredient of any musical work. That’s not a self-aggrandizing claim about the overarching importance of vocalists either, but rather a weakness that I think most musicians have. While we all hopefully have some ability to take in, analyze, and see the value in every single component of a musical performance, the majority of the musically inclined population tends to take stock of the components that relate most closely to their own art first. Guitarists admire the chord progressions, percussionists revel in great beats, bassists adore funky rhythms, and singers have tunnel vision for melodies.
Because of my musical roots, I’ve never been able to find much to appreciate in electronic or ambient music. It took me years to appreciate hip hop, and even then, I fell for the more melodic aspects of the genre than I did for the difficult rhythms or the innovative beats. For me, electronic music is the most challenging genre because it’s an art form that I can’t really understand. When I listen to albums like the one I am reviewing today, an innovative collection called the Intrepid Travels EP by the musical project known as Sound Strider, I feel like an explorer without his compass. I have no reference point for this kind of music, nothing beyond the avant garde compositions I learned about (and largely disliked) in my music history classes.
All of this left me feeling remarkably out of my depth when I pressed play on Intrepid Travels, a promotional release that recently landed in my inbox, and heard nothing but percussive sounds, ambient loops, and foreboding spoken-word samples about the future and outer space. The song that breaks the silence, a challenging five-minute soundscape called “The Stakes” isn’t entirely devoid of melodic reference points. A psychedelic series of synth pops appear halfway through, juxtaposed alongside a space shuttle launch countdown and a voiceover ripped from a Lyndon B. Johnson presidential campaign ad, and the product of the equation is a perfect example of the entrancing listening experience that Sound Strider are capable of producing—even for someone with no real clue about this genre.
Ultimately though, Intrepid Travels amounts to little more than percussive noise for me. There are plenty of cool rhythms here, and the sheer number of sonic sources that Sound Strider taps to produce this record is remarkable. At its best, Intrepid Travelers plays like a patchwork quilt of different sounds, from famous speech or advertisement excerpts (one of the greatest joys of this record is Googling where all of the little sound bites came from) to synth blasts, technically thrilling drum solos, or even the sound of the wind.
The production is also stunning throughout, building a sonic atmosphere deserving of the album’s clever cover art (which depicts the Magic School Bus blasting past Saturn). However, to a guy like me, most of these songs just feel unfinished. Listening to Intrepid Travelers feels a bit like listening to a building block track from one of the recent Justin Timberlake albums. These guys are every bit as skilled behind the boards as any of the biggest producers in pop, but without vocals or guitars or any instrument to really add melody to the proceedings, their music feels rudderless, like something that I wouldn’t mind hearing as part of a dance club DJ set, but nothing I will ever be inclined to put on the record player of my own accord. Maybe that’s the quality of the music or maybe it’s my own (admittedly) limited knowledge of the genre, but I personally like the items in my record collection to have a bit more universal appeal (and a lot more replay value) than that.
If you want to throw up play the track "Childhood's End" and try to read a trivial piece of journalism like an article from TMZ or something. I am still cleaning bits from my keyboard. Not sure if that is a positive review of the album or not.