There is a sad notion in electronic and keyboard-based music that the imperative for actually knowing how to play has been somewhat diminished by the increasing advancement and inherent convenience of programming. Whether or not this is true seems to depend on the individual, but in the case of Chase Dobson, playing over programming proved paramount on The Mechanics of Time Travel. His skills in production, engineering, sound design, and programming have earned him a formidable reputation, all of which only helps to solidify the depth of his composition and performance on this album.
Tracks like “A Secret Pool,” “Solina,” or “The Aura Yellow” almost hint at Dobson’s work in the pop realm as the melodic ascensions of arpeggios and washes of pads supplemented by trippy beat structures have a discernible allure, offset by the presence of distorted voices and vocal samples to infuse a slight narrative vibe befitting the album’s themes. Analog synthesis abounds, particularly in the washes of ambient pads and vibrato tones, while the rhythmic core of the album shines brightest on tracks like the expansive if somewhat repetitive title track, the rather bouncy clapping and gated synths of “Diazepam Sunrise,” and especially the syncopated majesty of “MeO.” And then you have “432hz,” in which the various elements coalesce into a harmonious and nostalgic reverie, like memories of childhood and a yearning for terra firma when lost in the infinite cosmos.
Dobson’s use of analog synthesis certainly recalls the pioneering works of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, while the crisp production and dynamic beat structures pull those sounds into the ambient/IDM works of Autechre or Aphex Twin in the early ‘90s. And through it all, the artist’s tastefully angular bass lines, arpeggiated melodies, lush pads, and sharp rhythms achieve an effective balance of chilled out stasis and perpetual motion. The Mechanics of Time Travel isn’t a gamechanger, nor does it try to be. There is a simplicity in the joy of playing, which then translates to the joy of listening – after all, isn’t that what we enjoy most about live performance?