Jan 2021 04

Album CoverSteven Alexander Ryan & Justin McGrath
Album: High Level: Soundtrack for the Graphic Novel
Category: Electronic / Ambient / Soundtrack
Label: Federal Prisoner
Release Date: 2020-08-21


With this year’s release of the High Level graphic novel, acclaimed artist Rob Sheridan introduced audiences to his own vision of a post-post-apocalyptic cyberpunk future, in which the remnants of human society are overshadowed by the titular metropolis where the wealthy and powerful have hidden themselves. Although comic book soundtracks are not a new phenomenon, they do present the unique challenge of both providing an audio accompaniment to while also filling in the gaps and providing a greater feeling of movement to the otherwise static illustrated images; taking up that challenge with this album are musicians Steven Alexander Ryan and Justin McGrath, whose shared history with Sheridan and their associations with Nine Inch Nails, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Puscifer, and The Black Queen perhaps provided them with the most intimate possible insight into the artist’s concepts.

Throughout the High Level soundtrack, the pair showcase a series of soundscapes that are as imaginative and as hallucinatory as Sheridan’s visuals, their command of fluid analog textures and compelling harmonic passages recalling the best synthesizer scores of the ‘70s and ‘80s when composers like Wendy Carlos, Isao Tomita, and even John Carpenter were breaking down the barriers between modern technology and classical orchestras. With little-to-no break between the 41 tracks, individual moments become anchors for the ears, such as in the thematic opening of “Benny’s Bar,” a brief rhythmic sojourn of atmospheric synthwave with crystalline guitar strums and trickling electronic arpeggios deliver the rush of sensation one feels when entering a crowded room. Similarly, the pulsating bass lines and noisy klaxons of “Octobot” instill an unyielding tension of what could be a chase sequence, the guttural chugs of distorted guitar on “High Priest” evoke a sense of menace and doom, like coming face-to-face with a personification of pure evil, and the cold ambience of “Sunken Lands” conjures images of being submerged in the murky depths of a dark ocean, the bubbly flutters of seemingly random effects echoing seemingly without end to encompass the listener in sound. Some tracks like “Blue Rose,” “Pleasure Island,” “Warehouse District,” “Chosen One,” and “Southern Checkpoint” are notable for their percussive and rhythmic qualities to keep things in a state of motion, making them ripe for dance floor remixing, while others like “Daytime Faire,” “Envy,” and “All Hail the Red King” feature melodic phrases that are almost lyrical, as if to suggest the possibility of vocals that never appear.

Without reading the graphic novel or having access to its optical presentation, it’s almost difficult to judge the record on its effectiveness as an auditory companion… almost, for when listening to what Ryan and McGrath have crafted on High Level, one is not only transported to another plain of existence within the mind, but the urge to seek out and explore Sheridan’s book becomes all the stronger.
Track list:

  1. Somewhere Else (Light)
  2. Onida
  3. Benny’s Bar
  4. Ordell Faire
  5. Shower and a Drink
  6. Warehouse District
  7. High Priest
  8. Welcome to the War
  9. A Wide Berth
  10. Artifacts
  11. _does_ezra_dream
  12. Daytime Faire
  13. Keep Warm
  14. The Road to Hell
  16. Outlands
  17. Nibi Outpost
  18. Supplies
  19. Octobot
  20. Unjust Business
  21. Life Support
  22. Forever in the Field of Dreams
  23. Sunken Lands
  24. Pleasure Island
  25. The Room
  26. Blue Rose
  27. Nord on a Real Train
  28. The Auction
  29. Sanctuary
  30. Black Helix Outpost
  31. Haven
  32. Chosen One
  33. Low Level
  34. Envy
  35. All Hail the Red King
  36. Somewhere Else (Dark)
  37. Southern Checkpoint
  38. Bleed Out
  39. Her Name Was Minnow
  40. Welcome Back
  41. Revenge (Part 2)

Steven Alexander Ryan
Website, SoundCloud, Bandcamp (with Justin McGrath)
Polyfuse/Justin McGrath
Website, Twitter, Bandcamp
Federal Prisoner
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube
High Level
Website, Facebook, Twitter
Rob Sheridan
Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube
DC/Vertigo Comics
Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube
Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

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