Thomas Szirmay has been a progressive music reviewer for some years now, his first attempt at scribing for Prog Archives occurring in 2004.
Years later, he has, like me, branched out on his own, reviewing and publishing as Prog Rogue on Facebook. Our thoughts on music are uncannily similar, a type of mutuality based upon, ironically, telepathic waves flying across the vast ocean, and Thomas has become one of my best friends.
It was, though, with some surprise on my part that he contacted me with the news that he and a very old friend were collaborating on a musical release. I say this as it is my experience that most people who write about music (and Thomas is a remarkable music critic) tend to have all the musical nous of Bugs Bunny, the reason why, in my opinion, if you really don’t like an album you review, it is best to be at least polite about the musicianship and effort that goes into producing a work of art. Thankfully, that is not an editing task I have to undertake with this warm album.
Thomas & Jeremie Arrobas are based in Montreal and have released Telepathic Waves under the moniker Enigmatic Sound Machines. Arrobas is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer and programmer, the creator of a multitude of audio, video, and visual arts projects. The collaboration has Thomas playing the role of musicologist, researcher, producer and arranger, and writer.
This album harks back to the golden age of pop electronica. Think of Ultravox, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, and OMD, with clear hints of more progressive artists such as Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, you will not be too far off. This reviewer has long had a mixed relationship with such music. I grew to really enjoy TD rather late in life. I have long thought of Numan as a genius, and some of the New Romantic era stuff released in the 1980’s simply brings out some nostalgia as opposed to sheer love. However, I find much of this genre of music somewhat cold and distant. It is not that I do not enjoy miserabilist music per se, it is simply that I need my music to move me, to spark an emotional reaction, and not to have the feeling that I am merely listening to a robot masturbating with all its might.
Thankfully, ESM avoid this trap, and I am glad to report that the melody which is inherent in Thomas’s written word (you can hear him singing when he writes) has cut across to this album. Vocally, one should not expect anything akin to Jon Anderson in his experimental pop/synth work with Vangelis. It is more like listening to a narrator with a touching fragility to the voice, not unlike, in fact, the fine work on the Glen Brielle album I reviewed earlier this year.
So, what do we have here?
The project name gives us the inspiration for the opening track. After the introductory vocals/lyrics, the track bursts into life with a lovely melodious set of chords. Said lyrics are interesting perhaps giving a historical perspective to the author’s thoughts, although the final words of the song bring with them a darker vibe.
1 by 1 has an incredibly well produced video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iE5Ja0iE3_4 , and I love the images brought to us on a track which is striking and talks of our possible futures being lined up one by one. You can hear the electricity crackling off the VDGG at the close.
Blindfolded follows. Musically, probably the closest to Kraftwerk, we have a German spoken passage by Thomas in a track which veers between strongly relentless chords and more expansive music, with the dystopian sirens perhaps describing an Orwellian nightmare of propaganda being whispered into the ear, persuading, threatening.
I Will Be Your Fire is a delight. Opening with fragile, pretty chords, this is a love song, the simple notes, soaring choral effects, and orchestration brightly accompanying the genuine emotions being pushed at their subject. This is a highlight of 2023, not just of this album.
I Don’t Know Your Name is up next, and it is heavily influenced by the poppier end of the 1980’s electronic music. Bright and breezy taking me back to those heady youthful days of chasing girls but never remembering their blasted names on the follow-up attempt.
Little Submarines has a cracking image attached to it. Another track with a distinct pop sensibility and some nice sung words in addition to the spoken narration, there are some interesting noises produced on this track. Little submarines? Or sound machines? There is a questing feel to this pretty number.
It’s Not What You Told Me is a clever track basically excoriating our political masters, with the world being full of lies, and the anger comes across in some interesting sound effects above the relentless pulse below, which increases with intensity as the track progresses, pleasingly. Top stuff, and a track I think deserves wider airplay.
Strange Desire is another very pop infused song of sheer carnal desire, the synth chorus being particularly effective. This track brings a smile to my face, a rarity with this musical genre.
You Stand Alone follows, and I really like the melody which opens this, with pretty notes above a light bass undertone, a song of regret over a broken heart (walking the valley of shadows, indeed) but is delivered with barely an angry note or word, so perhaps it was a love affair deep in the past which is now remembered with some fondness, because some of the synth leads are simply lovely.
All I Have To Say is very good and very reminiscent of classic Depeche Mode. If you appreciate that venerable outfit, you will enjoy this track, extremely effective listening on a good set of headphones with effects, multiple voices, and very catchy melodies.
Dead Can Dance, a great title. You dance because you’re dead, the dead can dance, this I take as a commentary on dance culture again back in the day and it is very hypnotic with a very good, distorted guitar thrown in for good effect, this is a track which has become a bit of an earworm in the Lazland household.
The penultimate track is Sometimes. It is beautiful in parts, with some lovely vocal effects at the start in a jazz infused song with chimes emphasising the yearning words. If you think that electronica is simply about a cold terrain, then give this a listen, because there is a yearning quality to the words on this, a track which I believe is a discussion of life itself.
We close with Free At Last. Trancey to begin, sitting in the rain, with melancholy dripping as well as the water falling off. The Free At Last passage is, though, lighter, and patently looking to the future, and as we develop the song the melodious tendencies inherent in this project come to the fore with some multiple chords and notes entering our consciousness before an explosion of sound with the electronic orchestra leading us to a classical denouement.
This album is available on all major streaming platforms – I have mine on iTunes. I believe that the duo is planning a physical release via CD Baby, and when this happens, I will update my news page accordingly. For now, though, I report that I rather enjoy this release. When Thomas informed me of the project, before I heard a note I imagined some type of classic progressive rock album, full of massive solos and suchlike. The album was, therefore, a bit of a surprise, but a welcome one, because the name of the project is a decent observation – enigmatic, indeed. As a debut, it is very good, and I hope that the project develops.