Since transitioning The Anix from band to solo project, Brandon Smith seems to be on an unstoppable creative high; following almost a full year since making his debut on the FiXT imprint, Hologram sees him putting forth an even stronger effort. From the onset of “Renegade,” the album takes on a tougher, grittier atmosphere that contrasts with the sleekly cybernetic vibe of Shadow_Movement, with the more forceful percussion standing out in the mix of layer synths, caustic guitar and bass lines, and Smith’s powerfully emotive vocals. The same can be said of other songs like “Enemy In the Mirror” with its guttural drumming and soaring synths driven by the simple vocal hook that burrows its way into the listener’s brain with each permutation, or the rhythmically charged singles “Disappear” and “Chrome,” both laden with shrill layers of distorted synth arpeggios and choral and almost orchestral pads and Smith’s acerbic and assertive vocals making for some of the album’s most poignant moments. “Live Forever” is notable for its juxtaposition of minimal guitar leads and twinkling synths giving way to an almost romantic chorus, the subtle vocoders in the bridge acting as a fine counterpoint to the very human emotions on display, while the sustained tones and pulsating effects of “Talking In My Sleep,” along with the light vocal accompaniment of Emmanuella, bear a resemblance to the recent waves of ‘80s synth nostalgia. This is also true of “Everlasting Love” as its celestial arpeggios flutter beneath the virulent thrust of what is ultimately an alt. rock ballad, serving as a reminder of Smith’s strengths as a songwriter and The Anix’s past as a full band on the periphery of the mainstream. On that note, the faithful rendition of Deftones’ “Digital Bath” is simply excellent as it captures the melodic and dystopian fury of the original, complete with the peak of that vocal high note… again, simply excellent. Perhaps Shadow_Movement may have suffered slightly from Smith writing and producing on his own rather than with a full band in mind, and while its thematic concept may have seen him creating his own audiovisual world, Hologram simply feels like a more focused effort that solidifies his sound and style as a solo artist. Is Hologram a better album than Shadow_Movement? In this writer’s estimation, it most certainly is.