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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

STEVE ROACH: Skeleton Keys (2015)

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

“Skeleton Keys is an amazing work about sequences, about ambient rhythms made up on splendid sequencing patterns”

1 The Only Way In 7:15 2 The Function Inside the Form 8:23 3 It's all Connected 9:28 4 Outer Weave 5:12 5 Symmetry and Balance 9:35 6 Saturday Somewhere 10:50 7 Escher's Dream is Dreaming 9:48 8 A Subtle Twist of Fate 13:24 Projekt Records | PRO00315 (CD/Vinyl/DDL 73:57) (V.F.) (Ambient sequencer-based EM)

I love this title! I often use the movement of a squamate's skeleton in order to put words and to image the ballads, the twists and the jerky movements of some figures of ambient rhythms forged in lines of sequences with an enticing complex evolutionary. Steve Roach couldn't choose a better theme to explain in few words the magnificence of the hypnotic protean movements of SKELETON KEYS. Imagined and conceived in the threads, the inputs and outputs as well as the knobs of the impressive wall of analog modular synthesizer­/sequencer-based system, this last Steve Roach's album is the answer to this ceaseless curiosity of this new generation of artists regarding the analog EM. A little like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream have made in the 70's, Steve Roach takes the stick of the Pilgrim to feed well the imagination of these emerging new synth players by building an enormous bridge between Empetus and his powerful At the Edge of Everything where the pulsing rhythms of SKELETON KEYS fascinate and whip up constantly the curiosity of the...ears. Like the gait of a centipede's bones structure or still like these ink bubbles which spread their brilliance over a blotting paper.

And that begins with the oscillations of The Only Way In where several movements of sequences are interlocking rhythms and harmonies in an undulatory pattern, as abstract as ambient. Oscillatory hoops open the door. From then on, agile metallic wings are sparkling and flickering on the light jerks of bass sequences and of their discreet reflections. The metallic line irradiates of its iridescent chant while the main movement of rhythm stagnates in its furtive approach. The color of sequences is as much attractive as its approach with organic tints which chirp in an electronic universe which multiplies its charms as the drawings of a spirograph. The Function Inside the Form offer a livelier, a jerkier pattern with a thick cloud of organic oscillations which caw as in these structures of rhythms of the Empetus years. The same goes for It's all Connected and its softer approach where the weak jolts are crackling among the electronic percussions beneath the soothing tears of a synth. Tears and more discreet breezes that we can also hear on Outer Weave which is more fluid and benefits from a main line of oscillatory rhythm of which the ample repetitive loops are coupled to the jingles of percussions, so drawing a strange effect of a wild race such as Pink Floyd's On the Run, while that another parallel line of sequences makes skip its keys with sonic reflections a bit organic. Built a little on the same bases, Symmetry and Balance show some more of velocity, we are almost in the electronic ambient funk, but with a slightly different approach at the level of the sequencing and with a accentuated use of the percussions.

Saturday Somewhere offers a splendid structure of ambient rhythm. It's like being bewitched by the psychedelic colors of the ink spots on a spirograph. The rhythm skips slightly with keys full of rhythmic and organic tones which shine of their multicolored shadows beneath these soft caresses of a synth and of its charmer perfumes of a spatial desert so unique to the roaming poetry of Roach. The approach doubles its depth with curt pulsations which sound like bass percussions, bringing the ambient basis of Saturday Somewhere towards a hypnotic unsuspected vigour. I won't say that it's the cornerstone of SKELETON KEYS, because Escher's Dream is Dreaming leads us in the Berlin School territories with a minimalist structure which rises and falls, comes and goes, with the double of its keys which skip in their shadows, a little as these choreographies of synchronized swimming, to forge a fascinating undulatory ritornello which sinks between our ears like the blows of mass from the bass pulsations are hammering. Here also the play of the percussions, its nuances, its subtleties and its gradations in the strikes give a stylish depth to the sequencing of which the fanciful tones equal to the bewitchment of its multiple hypnotic twists. A Subtle Twist of Fate feeds itself on the same charms of the oscillatory ambient rhythms but in a more ethereal, a more ambiospherical envelope which brings us back to the ambient works of the Dreamtime Return era. It brings nothing really new to the album, which by the way is also available in vinyl, but it explains all the possibilities and especially the nuances of an album which develops its structures of rhythms like the skeletons of the creatures from deserts.

Ah this Steve Roach! He is as much attractive as destabilizing and now surprising. As much incredible as it can seem, he is reborn out of this new fountain of youth that is the revival of the analog EM. It seems to me that for the last three or four years he became again this impressive magician of the sounds who imposed silence, the attention as soon as the first key of one of his albums fell. And it's exactly what is happening with SKELETON KEYS. As soon as the hoops of The Only Way In get multiply and are transformed into sequences, we enter into an absolutely mesmerizing sound universe where the sequences embrace forms and colors which seem so much in accordance with the uncountable and fathomless possibility of this art, that we begin dreaming and hoping for more. And we are convinced that it's just a new portal that Steve Roach has just opened.... Knowing Steve Roach; he is already in the chinks of other possibilities.

Sylvain Lupari (May 11th, 2015) *****

Available at Projekt

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