Category: Industrial / Experimental / Ambient
Album: A Shadow the Size of Everything
Blurb: With each track telling its own story and transporting the listener across dynamic levels of audio terrain, the latest album from Steven Archer’s Hopeful Machines offers an arduous but rewarding listen.
Steven Archer is an author, painter, and musician, encompassing different styles and media to become truly worthy of the term “artist.” Of his several musical outlets, Hopeful Machines stands as perhaps his most experimental – free from the edgy but familiar song structures of Ego Likeness and the Dune-centric pursuits of Stoneburner, focusing on a purely abstract and exploratory form that bridges together everything from IDM to ambient to industrial and all points in between. A Shadow the Size of Everything is but his latest outing with this esoteric moniker, presenting nearly 70 minutes of darkly mechanical atmospheres that are rather cinematic in scope and require no small amount of desire on the part of the listener to endure.
The opening title track brilliantly sets the stage, beginning with intertwining layers of unsettling samples and pads that gradually give rise to a slowly processional but bombastic percussive break that, along with sparse but effective synth accompaniment, builds to a tense and offbeat climax. Throughout the album, the artist expertly crafts each track with a vibrant balance of organic and synthetic sonic ingredients; for instance, the scathing layers of “Downlight” resonate with a depth and intensity not commonly heard outside of live instruments, the fullness of the drums really standing out amid such electronic cacophony. Similarly, the almost groovy bass and steady beats of “The Whole in the Land is a Knife in the Sky” hint at similar modes one might experience in his other bands, but given added dimension by a series of rather ghostly distortions that are almost vocal in nature, though clearly electronically generated. Furthermore, there are the operatic choirs of “The Beauty Queen” that swell in tandem with swirling and sustained synth passages, finally erupting into a hail of infectious techno beats that immediately bring to mind the kind of sounds one might hear in a soundtrack to a video game like Mirror’s Edge, while the moody acoustic strumming of “The Smell of 4AM Sugar Factory Burnoff,” with its subtle glitch touchups and a rather catchy, fluidic bass line evokes just what its title would suggest to fellow residents of the artist’s Baltimore hometown. Concluding the proceedings is the lush ambience of “Advantages of Empathy,” the almost shoegazer-esque pads intermingling into a shimmering haze that eventually leads into a relentlessly throbbing bass and tribal percussion, hinting with the samples at an approaching menace that ends the album rather abruptly.
It might perhaps be cliché to refer to primarily instrumental music such as this as bearing the qualities of a soundtrack to an unproduced movie, but with the varying degrees of mood and musical motifs that Steven Archer weaves into Hopeful Machines, it’s as apt a description as any. However, where the music on A Shadow the Size of Everything differs is that while the thematic focus of the project is felt in the whole, each track stands as its own conceptual piece, each telling its own story to draw the listener in and traverse across dynamic levels of audio terrain. At least, this is how this writer has perceived A Shadow the Size of Everything, making it an arduous task to absorb as a complete album, but with each of the 10 sonic journeys taken yielding numerous musical rewards.