If you’re looking for a fresh sound to tune into or willing to explore your experimental side, then Soundscape‘s Earthlings could be the album for you. They employ a wholly unique sound, which combines bass, drums and effects. The result is a wonderful plateau of sound, which shifts and rolls through various levels each song, enveloping the listener in a fantastically zen cloud of sound. The bass tone is sublime throughout the album. It has a brilliant reverb that almost ripples, whilst the smooth drums don’t punctuate the mix, but rather hold it down tightly, being wholly erratic at the same time.
This is Soundscape‘s second album, but you can really tell and feel in their sound how much further they have developed since their last record, 2014’s Earthbound, and certainly from their EP from 2011. The band members both went to the revered Berklee College of Music: Jake Dick (who some of you might know from whacky prog-metal band Native Construct), who plays the drums, and the fantastic Matt Kniffin (original founding member of the band), who has sublime control over the sounds that his bass commands. I certainly think fans of Ewan Brewer or acoustic artists like Andy Mckee or Jon Gomm will be able to wrap their ears around this without any trouble.
Earthlings is a concept record which follows various animals on planet earth, with the sound in each song attributable to that particular animal. At first I was sceptical about how this could possibly work with so few instruments, but taking into consideration the aforementioned ‘ripples’, the description of which I gleamed from the song “Stingray”, it seems fairly apt. Songs like “Ants” are scatty and frenetic, whilst “Python” is smooth and slow, thus making this a very wholesome experience.
“Ants” was the first single released from the album, which makes perfect sense, as it is certainly more appealing to those of the heavier persuasion, with the rhythmic drums playing off the fast-paced, twisting bass twangs. The distortion effects on the bass are fantastic in this song, and it really draws you in before shifting to a new pattern immediately, in which the drums taking the lead. “Cheetah” also follows the same frenetic pace, but this time with a smoother entry, creating an almost gliding sound before ramping up to the faster, more frantic pacing again.
Soundscape have crafted their album really well, starting off smooth, leading into three rather intense tracks, only to bringing things back down later on. “Panda” is a fun and playful song, similar to something out of Andy Mckee‘s repertoire. With hints of an Eastern vibe, the song dips and troughs, placating before rumbling back in with a mesmerising wave of bass, with perfectly off-set drums. Something to mention further is the band’s dynamic shifting through time signatures, which, whilst frequent, does not confuse and distort your perception of the particular song – it seems purely natural.
I really enjoyed the next track after “Panda”, the darker “Crocodile”. If you fully lend your mind to this piece, the name makes perfect sense; some sections are rolling like the death grip of the beast, before going back to a solemn rumble almost. In making their music follow the themes of the animals they represent, Soundscape added a whole new intrigue to their music, and it makes you want to dig deeper into the sounds. “Crocodile”, like many other songs on the album, is five minutes and over, yet I cannot say that I’ve ever found myself bored of any of the songs, which I credit to the frequent rhythmic shifts and the excellent tones of the bass guitar. Some might find the full 50 minutes a challenge, but I implore you to persevere, as some of the later tracks have fantastic switches which aren’t as present in the earlier, softer tracks.
Something which becomes very obvious after listening through the album a number of times is the focus and time spent on the production of Earthlings. Aside from some over-the-top cymbal crashes, the landscape of sounds the band has created is so unbelievably smooth, making it hard to pick out many other faults. The mix lends a certain calmness to the album, whilst not obscuring the sound. It does, however, stop the bass and drums from getting too intense for the listener. I believe the background effects are also critical to the album’s sound, as they create a brilliant atmosphere, which I usually enjoy from more psychedelic artists like Spongle and Infected Mushroom, or even from more downtempo glitch like Trifonic or Telefon Tel Aviv. This album is perfect to listen to in a variety of situations, but I certainly found doing certain things to it, like writing or exercising for example, to be most rewarding, as the minimalist instrumentation does not overwhelm the senses.
This band is certainly one of the more exciting experimental bands I’ve checked out in recent times, and I certainly feel like I’ll have this album on a lot in the future, be it while gaming or cycling around the city. It’s certainly worth checking out their first album Earthbound too, just to see how far the guys have come in puncto song structure and production skills. If this is also another teaser of what to expect from Native Construct‘s drum patterns on their upcoming record – I’m completely game for it too, as I can see Jake Dick’s drumming working wonderfully with their obscure time signatures and circus-esque sound.
To summarise, this album is a brilliant work of art, one that fans of metal, jazz and acoustic music will all be able to enjoy. A suggestion for future releases might be to throw in one or two guest instrument spots, not something intense like horns, but maybe the subtle usage of strings to lead the mind further down the rabbit hole. You cannot fault the mix or production, and neither the structure or even the tones. I also really like the artwork and branding of the album too; the vivid purple and the weird alien landscape speak to me. The album’s out, so make sure to pick it up on the available mediums and get really buddha to Soundscape‘s amazing… soundscape.
Score: 9 /10
Notable Tracks: “Ants”; “Stingray”; “Panda”
FFO: Andy McKee, Mestis, Animals As Leaders, Ewan Brewer