Thursday 12 March 2015

Review of 'The Mainframe' by Joker

The other week I praised Sour Soul for sounding like a movie, but this largely-instrumental electronic epic, The Mainframe, really could be a Hollywood movie score. 

It’s creator is Joker, a Bristolian producer and a pioneer of a music genre called purple – a melodic take on dubstep that blends bassy abrasive wubs with nostalgic 90s-inspired synths.

Purple derives it’s name from the effect it has on some music listeners with chromesthesia – a cool psychological condition that causes people to associate certain sounds with colours. Different genres of music, keys and tones allegedly cause people to see different colours. Artists such as Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, Frank Ocean and Pharrell Williams all claim to be magically gifted with the condition.

A colour chart made by people who can not just hear but also see musical notes.

Joker’s second album, The Mainframe, sees the artist expanding on his signature purple style. It feels less purple this time round and more rainbow (can that be a new genre?). The sounds and contrasts are more diverse and more intense. There are orchestral strings this time round and every synth texture imaginable. Subtlety has taken a backseat. In fact, subtlety has jumped ship completely. Instead, the listener is given stark extremes. One minute you’re been wrapped up under a warm blanket of soft, soulful electric pianos and next moment you’re diving headfirst into a shrill dubstep drop fearing the sudden movement in your bowels.

Sometimes, it does feel like Joker is throwing slightly too much at the listener without giving you a chance to breathe. His songs refuse to sit still the same way the camera does in a Michael Bay movie, each scene shaky and packed with an equal amount of explosions. This busyness and excessiveness is frustrating at points. However, more often that not it’s what makes the album as exciting as it is.

There’s never a dull moment on this record because it’s so fast paced and so chock-a-block with ideas. Joker shows all the impatient playfulness of a child but all the cohesiveness of an adult, constantly going off on different stylistic tangents but always keeping the album flowing (every track on this record segues neatly into the next). There some truly creative moments such as the Peruvian synth panpipes on ‘Scene 3 (Spirit Ruins)’, the catchy and melancholy groove on ‘Mahogany’ and the cold and industrial introduction of ‘Fuzz Bop’. Perhaps the only idea that really falls flat on it’s face is ‘Lucy’, a track featuring a vocal feature from Sam Frank in which the white artist sings rather cringeworthily in falsettos ‘Let me be your little honky boy’. I’m usually inclined to skip this track, but otherwise the tracklist’s pretty solid.

The Mainframe definitely won’t appeal to EDM fans who like their music minimalist. Overall, its more of a showy album, but one that has a charm to it. These aren’t dense Oneohtrix-Point-Never-style tracks full of cold and skittering bleeps and bloops and ever-changing time signatures. Despite the density, the tracks have a real sense of melody and an element of fun that overall outweighs any pretensions.