Jun 2023 18

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Album CoverPsykosonikUnlearn
Label: WaxTrax! Records / TVT Records
Release Date: 1995-11-06
Author: Trubie Turner (Flexei)


Although Psykosonik’s self-titled 1993 debut remains a fun album that managed some successful singles and soundtrack appearances, it is unquestionably a relic of the early ‘90s, rife with clichéd techno elements of the time and inundated with cringeworthy tech babble that sounds like it came from the writer of the film Hackers. Just two years later, Psykosonik would return with a streamlined lineup and the shockingly more mature Unlearn.

From the opening moments of the largely instrumental “Secret Life,” it becomes clear that Unlearn is a very different animal from its predecessor with a smooth heartbeat-like rhythm and astonishingly organic sound from a fully electronic composition. Rather than the in-your-face bombast of the first album, Unlearn is much more focused and takes a mellower approach, cultivating a deeply layered and rich soundscape that subtly blends world music and electronica, much like Delerium and Deep Forest were doing at the time, but also incorporates a trance techno sound that still shows signs of the band’s spacey rave influence. While he was largely relegated to barking out lyrics on the debut, Unlearn also better capitalizes on its secret weapon – Paul Sebastian’s silky smooth voice. The album also excels in its subtler moments with surprising splashes of organ or heavily processed guitars that are almost subliminal in their addition, revealing themselves depending on how deeply you let yourself sink into the experience; there is even room for jazzy funk interludes like “Breathing Room.”

However, Unlearn does have its weaknesses with it clocking in at over an hour, and some of the later tracks like “Object Disorient” and “Chromagnum” do somewhat overindulge in new age mysticism that can lead to the album fading off into the background. The record also flows exceptionally well from track to track, making it an excellent overall listening experience, but it does make it harder for tracks to jump out for single fodder. While Unlearn certainly combines a variety of influences and styles, it has stood the test of time because it dared to blaze a new trail. In a time when many acts chased trends or aimed for a possible mainstream breakthrough (in the mid-‘90s, electronic music arguably hit its mainstream peak), Psykosonik bucked the trend – and potentially the following garnered from the first album – to create a wholly unique sonic experience that has yet to be replicated almost three decades later. Paul Sebastian and Daniel Lenz did start work on a third Pyskosonik album, entitled Spiritual Machine. Though there are some stories that it was completed and a disagreement with the TVT owned WaxTrax! Records caused the album to never see the light of day, according to a 2020 interview with Sebastian, the album was actually only half done, and they were struggling to get it together, “particularly in the vocal department,” and much of the work on that album can be found reworked and incorporated into Daniel Lenz’s first solo album, 2009’s Stuck in a Dream.

Lenz and Sebastian would continue their own separate musical endeavors. Lenz teamed with vocalist Brent Daniels – a.k.a. Free – for the Hednoize project, and has also released several solo albums, which have featured guest vocals from both Daniels and Sebastian. Lenz’s solo work shows him playing with a variety of electronic musical styles, with the earlier work having a strong Crystal Method feel to it, while his more recent work has delved into grittier modern sound profiles with touches of dubstep and bass noise. He has also been particularly successful in the soundtrack department with many of his tracks appearing in trailers for major films – you have likely heard his work without realizing it. Sebastian, after a stint working as a composer for Thomas Dolby’s Beatnik, Inc., released several singles with Caesar Filori under the moniker of Basic Pleasure Model that, though it may at times venture a bit into the realm of easy listening, very much feels like a spiritual successor to Unlearn. Sadly, the project has yet to see a full album release despite decades long assurances from Sebastian it would be coming soon. Both artists have continued to produce stunning works on their own, but according to Sebastian, a third Psykosonik album still isn’t entirely off the table. It’s hard to not long for what could have been with Spiritual Machine or what could be in a third album. Thankfully, we can still revisit the brilliant Unlearn and continue to revel in the experience.
Track list:

  1. Secret Life
  2. Unlearn
  3. Need to Die
  4. Eye of the Mind
  5. Vacuous
  6. Breathing Room
  7. Alone
  8. Imagine
  9. Ride
  10. PGP
  11. Chromagnum
  12. Dreaming Real
  13. Object Disorient
  14. Within
  15. Maurautis

Basic Pleasure Model
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Daniel Lenz
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WaxTrax! Records
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