Persona by Rival ConsolesRelease date: April 13, 2018
Label: Erased Tapes
Taking its cue from the 1966 Ingmar Bergman film of the same name, Persona explores an electronic landscape of impatience, impermanence, and, much like the aforementioned Swedish masterpiece, themes of duality, self, and fractured realities. Erased Tapes primordial son, Ryan Lee West (aka Rival Consoles), said this of his new record:
“I think all these emotions we have make up our persona. So in a way by finding new ones you alter or expand upon your persona and that is what I want my music to try to do. I deliberately aimed to be more sonically diverse with this record. I wanted to experiment more. I wanted to create new sounds and new emotions”
And on Persona he has undoubtedly succeeded in his task. Sounds range from speculative ambient pads and optimistic bleeps to rising bass roars, finger-picked guitar, and pounding kicks… often within the same track. We are taken on an emotional gamut which encompasses precarious rhythms pointedly testing out unsteady grizzled glitches, brazen drums striding in and bumping up against confident basslines, and fragile melodic lines ushered into a safe arena to explore freely and without inhibition. That these parts are often improvised is truly unnerving.
This all occurs whilst keeping Bergman’s film firmly in mind. A film of which I am gladly not alone in expressing adoration for (I am currently writing this whilst sat beneath a Polish poster for the original theatrical release). The work of David Lynch, Shane Carruth, and Peter Strickland would be slight, if not non-existent, without this beguiling and rule-trashing cinematic outing. Blurred personalities, shattered psyches, and a Jungian separation of self from soul weren’t exactly fresh themes when this hit cinemas – Vertigo was clearly a touch stone – but in Persona the experience simultaneously burrowed deeper and reached new heights (further evidence of the intended duality). The section of the film that Rival Consoles particularly focussed on for this album is the opening collection of images which flit from subliminally pornographic to harrowing and political: the infamous footage of Thích Quảng Đức self immolating makes an appearance. But it is the poignant shot of a young boy reaching towards a projected image as it shifts between two women that captured West’s attention. The boy’s arm bisects the screen and delivers, in that moment, a cornucopia of emotive ideas and understanding as to how humans develop what can be described as their persona.
In exploring these themes West must have been aware of the tendency to boil them down into polar notions of good/bad, light/dark, self/other. The option to use a binary sonic palette to reflect the film’s black and white colour scheme must have been overwhelmingly tempting but, instead, he opted to concentrate on individual melodic strands telling their own tales of desire, doubt, and mental decay. Patterns swirl and weave in stereo. Moving away from one another and then merging back together not unlike the two protagonists of the film. On the title track there is an increasing urgency to the expanding synths. The ambient threads spike and schism as bubbles skitter and burst just prior to a dropped beat restoring order.
And beats-wise this album has plenty. From the fading, strengthening, and staccato crush of ‘Unfolding’ to the dystopian clash and stutter of ‘Sun’s Abandon’, Persona straddles a space between emergent clubbed euphoria and carefully considered introspection. Tracks like ‘Memory Arc’, ‘Be Kind’, and ‘Untravel’ appear to try and stitch a hopeful yearning for reality back into proceedings. Taking their time to smooth and dismiss the nagging need for nihilist abandon that ‘Phantom Grip’ or ‘Hidden’ seek to instil. In fact, on the previously mentioned ‘Untravel’ Rival Consoles seems to reach his zenith. Chords which sway from blissful to distraught rhythmically build towards an intense melancholic crescendo entirely devoid of percussion only to peter out before flailed arms can demand their erroneous entitlements. Encapsulating in one, surely not but apparently so, improvised instance the transcendent power of music to forge an emotional experience and add to our ever developing personas.