STEVE ROACH: Now / Traveller (1992)
Now / Traveller is a beautiful jewelry box where Steve Roach weaves the main lines of his music to come. A Must have!”
NOW 1 Growth Sequence 9:05
2 Cloud Motion 5:15 3 The Ritual Continues 4:47
4 Comeback 6:00 5 Inquest 7:00 TRAVELLER 6 Worlds 3:20
7 Mysteries Continue 6:04 8 Light Sound 1:46
9 Snow Canon 4:22 10 Traveler 8:12 11 T.B.C. 5:06 12 Canyon Sound 2:58
13 Time for Time 3:33 14 Reflector 6:50 Fortuna 17048-2 (CD 74:18) ****½ (Ambient, tribal and sequenced base EM)
Now and Traveller! Steve Roach's first 2 opuses on the same CD. Previously the Californian synthesist had released an album with Moebius, an American group that made EM inspired by the German progressive electro scene of the 70's, kind of Kraftwerk at their debut. Then comes NOW in 1982 and TRAVELLER the year after where already Steve Roach seemed to have defined his style and his structures. His musical signature! If Now was only available in a cassette format, Traveller became the first significant work of Roach to be pressed on vinyl in 1983. Besides being atmospheric, harmonious and sequenced, Roach already flirted with the landscapes music. The Fortuna record label, for a long time associated with the American esoteric music in the course of the 80's, took back the rights on Traveller which saw a second edition being published in 1987. But no signs of Now until 1992 when Fortuna offered Now and Traveller on the same CD; NOW & TRAVELLER. An excellent initiative which presents us a sonic universe to the greatness of a musician who quietly is eventually going to favor the contemplative music of ambiences, a more discreet style on NOW & TRAVELLER.
Growth Sequence opens with a great line of sequences where the keys run in cascades with tones of xylophone. A nice synth covers this structure of static rhythm, blowing heat and an undulating envelope which sounds out of balance with the fury of sequences. Electronic percussions get grafted to the sequences and shape a furious tinkling rhythm of which the frenzy is stuck into an intense minimalist spiral. Steve Roach multiplies very inspired solos which spin of their tones and of their singings on a structure of rhythm fattened by the arrival of percussions with tones of clogs. This is a very good track with a synth as much agile as intense which wraps a hyper nervous tempo, showing clearly the influence of the Berlin School movement, mainly of Klaus Schulze, on Steve Roach. Cloud Motion is the first ambiospherical track from Roach to get into my ears. It's Roach as we know him today, except that the approach is less atonal. We feel some subtle modulations throughout the caresses from a synth and its rather angelic singings. The Ritual Continues boards the very first spiritual tribal approaches of Roach. The rhythm is finely jerky and reminds me of these duels of voice and hypnotic rhythms that we will hear a few years later with the music of Dead Can Dance. In fact Now becomes a kind of introduction to the universe of the American synth wizard, because Comeback presents us his approach of abstract music with modulations which roll in loops and among which the echoes, as well as the jingles of maracas, get lost in an intense atmospheric broth. Inquest closed NOW with a dark music piece which presents a delicious ambient rhythm. An infernal spiral, a bit frayed, spins in a movement of the sequences which draws a slow minimalist rhythm, a little as a painful sinister walking where one has the feeling to bear the whole world on our shoulders, fed by shavings of percussions which burst in the dense blackness of a synth and its macabre harmonies. It's a great track of ambiences that would have made the delights of B horror movies.
From the first flocks of sequences which ring of a harmonious transparency, even if a little dissonant, Worlds began TRAVELLER with a clear difference from NOW. Steve Roach presents an articulated music where sequences and their jerky rhythms prevail over the desert atmospheres. The sequence keys are champing at the bit and jostle of their frenzied drumming, like non-coordinated scissors snips, on a structure of rhythm which rises and falls such as in a dance of phobic serpentines. The movement is as curt as crystal clear and as heavy as fragile, creating an attractive parallelism and a hypnotic harmonious duel. Mysteries Continue proposes a more intimist tempo. It's doubtless the first track which announces Steve Roach's real sound colors with a delicious and bewitching ambient tribal rhythm where float these elusive synth pads. It's a quiet, contemplative title which is also lead by a delicate tempo which we can be considered as clanic...well, sort of. Light Sound is a beautiful little jewel of ambience music, just like Canyon Sound, with a synth to floating lines and to waves slightly musical which get into us. Snow Canon is a totally brilliant title. We close the eyes and we are in the middle of winter where the snow falls, frivolous and swirls on a line of rhythm structured above the furtive chords of a bass line and livened up by jerky pulsations. It's a wonderful wintry bolero sculptured in the frosty harmonies of a candid virginal ritornello. Steve Roach architects a fascinating melody which floats like an open dream on this delicious movement of electronic musical cannon. This is a track that I often listened and which I'm still listening at madness since the writing of this chronicle. It's the kind of composition that goes out of the brain of a genius. After this marvel, Roach throws us 2 tracks magnificently sequenced in Traveller and T.B.C.. Huge sequences tumble in a deep oscillatory movement and hang on to electronic percussions which roll and bang over the lines of a synth at both melodious and cosmic. It's a mixture of Jean Michel Jarre, for the analog cosmic illusions, Klaus Schulze for the percussions and the rhythmic orientations, and Tangerine Dream for the solos of synth as melodious as spectral, in particular for Traveller because of its heavy frightening finale. Cheerful, Time for Time presents a minimalist harmonious approach with a beautiful melody which sounds like a duel for typewriter. Reflector ends TRAVELLER with a fascinating procession of which the sinister atmospheres reminds me of the heavy walking of the remorseful in Inquest, except that the spiral bursts out and spins in fury under the caresses of a synth with morphic harmonies.
I prefer TRAVELLER to NOW, in particular because of its whirlwinds of sequences which presents us a more aggressive Steve Roach that we know today, although Empetus and Stormwarning are two masterpieces of the genre. But no matter, we have both albums for the price of one. And they are two very solid albums. Without being really the glints of what the Californian synthesist was going to become, except for bits of NOW, NOW & TRAVELLER is a beautiful jewelry box where Steve Roach weaves the main lines of his music to come. Ambient or sequenced, the music of Roach gets inside us like a wave of emotions on the boulevard of the lost. Written between 1982 and 1983, the music is always on the agenda and seems not to have taken a wrinkle. And if you still don't have NOW & TRAVELLER, you are missing a piece of history in contemporary EM. A must!
Sylvain Lupari (October 5th, 2013) ****½*
Available on Steve Roach's Bandcamp